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Determined Addicks Stop Luzon Run

This did not heal the wounds that had grown wider and wider over recent weeks, but it offered temporary pain relief for the depressed, the downbeat, and the disillusioned.

The result not necessarily one that would be celebrated normally, but the adverse circumstances in which Charlton recorded their first point since Boxing Day meant the goalless draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers provided a desperately needed boost.

It was not a perfect performance, with a toothless Wolves unable to exploit a sometimes shaky Addicks defence and new head coach Guy Luzon still having a list of things to work on longer than the length of this winless run. But it was an organised display that saw each man in red show fight, endeavour and effort for 90 minutes; qualities that recent evidence suggested Charlton no longer held, and qualities that were needed to halt persistent attacks from the hosts.

You didn’t walk away from Molineux under the impression that the problems at this football club, on and off-the-pitch, had been addressed in one afternoon. You did, however, feel a heat-warming sense of pride in the men who had given everything for the badge on their shirt.

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That the credibility of the controversial decision by Luzon to drop goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, the only player to come away from last weekend’s 5-0 thrashing at Watford with any credit, and replace him with the network’s Marko Dmitrovic wasn’t tested amplifies how defiant Charlton were.

But it was a defiance that wasn’t expected before kick-off. While the inclusion of new signing Milos Veljkovic, replacing Lawrie Wilson, offered hope of greater resolve in the middle, Morgan Fox bizarrely starting ahead of Rhoys Wiggins and the out-of-sorts Andre Bikey keeping his place in the side had most throwing in the towel before Andy D’Urso had blown the game’s first whistle.

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And the potential faults in Charlton’s backline were exposed as early as the second minute. Rajiv van La Parra’s change of pace too much for Fox, but the winger’s cross could only be headed into the side netting by James Henry.

The flip-flap loving van La Parra, who had the Molineux crowd roar in anticipation each time the ball came his way, proved to be a constant menace for the Addicks, linking up superbly with full-back Dominic Iofra on the right.

On several occasions Wolves got in behind down that flank, but Bikey and Fox, although regularly having to back track and recover, were just about doing enough to prevent van La Parra from executing an accurate final ball.

Charlton, too, were having difficulty finding a way through the opposition back four. While certainly looking more composed in possession than at Vicarage Road, a lack of self-belief in the final third meant promising positions were frustratingly wasted.

Playing more directly than in the past, Callum Harriott and Igor Vetokele were struggling to hold the ball up, while opportunities to run at Wolves’ back four were carried out half-heartedly or passed up in favour of more cautious tap back to another red shirt. Tedious for the neutral; frustrating for both sets of supporters.

But, through the metronomic play of Jack Price and Kevin McDonald in the centre, Wolves remained largely in control of the contest, with the pace down either flank always keeping Charlton on their toes.

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Clear cut chances, however, remained at a premium. Hassling in midfield and defiance at the back meant Kenny Jackett’s side were severely restricted; Dave Edwards blasted over having responded quickest to a blocked shot, Iorfa couldn’t apply the finish his fantastic run deserved and Dmitrovic was happy to watch as Henry’s strike flashed across the face of goal.

In fact, Dmitrovic’s goalkeeping ability wasn’t tested until the half’s closing stages, and not before the Addicks had come agonisingly close to taking the lead. Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s cross-cum-shot narrowly escaping a sea of red in the Wolves box and curling just wide of the far post.

The Serbian ‘keeper made sure Charlton went in level at half-time, collecting an over-hit through ball with Benik Afobe approaching before collecting van La Parra’s poor cross after the Dutchman had made Fox look rather silly.

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But Luzon’s side, but for those moments where a Wolves man had ghosted past a red shirt, were far from being made to look silly in the first period. The quality wasn’t great, possession could have been looked after better and there was next to no cutting edge in the final third, but the resilience shown was pleasing. Two banks of four doing the job asked of them.

Nonetheless, there was a feeling that a better, more potent, side could take advantage of a Charlton backline who were defending a little desperately at times. A feeling, also, that one goal would again see heads drop and set the hosts up for a comfortable victory.

The introduction of Nohua Dicko at half-time suggested Jackett felt the same, and he was intent on exploiting the weaknesses in his side’s opposition. More defiance required from the Addicks.

And that there was as Wolves started the half in impressive fashion. In fact, they would have been ahead just three minutes into it had Bikey not got something in the way of van La Parra’s goal-bound header. In recent weeks, such an attempt would have certainly crept in; fortunes changing for the Addicks?

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If chances not creeping in suggested they were at the back, then chances not quite creeping in suggested they weren’t in attack. Harriott, suddenly clicking into gear, drove forward with intent before seeing his well-hit drive tipped away by former Charlton stopper Carl Ikeme. Promise and frustration in equal measure.

But there was soon to be more promise on show for the Addicks, not least with Wolves evidently beginning to rush their play and losing composure for a period. A Fox cross marginally avoiding everyone in the middle, a Cousins header saved well by Ikeme and a timely intervention from Richard Stearman preventing Vetokele running through on goal the result of a growing sense of intent among Charlton’s side.

Although briefly quelled, with van La Parra stabbing straight at Dmitrovic, such intent was almost rewarded when an unrelenting Vetokele, playing at somewhere near his best for the first time in months, pressed down on goal despite having Wolves defenders for company the entire way. It took a combination of those defenders’ efforts and Ikeme to prevent the Angolan from scoring.

Sensing the tide of the game was changing, Luzon threw on Tony Watt for the hard-working, if largely ineffectual, Harriott, and immediately his directness and ability on the ball began to cause Wolves problems.

Alas, Wolves themselves had started to again ask serious questions of Charlton, with the wings exploited and Dicko’s dramatic fall leading to laughed off claims for a penalty. By organisation, by effort and with the help of some amount of luck, the Addicks continued to stand firm.

It meant when Watt raced past a Wolves backline seemingly scared to make an attempt to dispossess him, Charlton had a glorious chance to give themselves three points to defend, as appose to just one. Ikeme, however, saved well from the Scot.

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And with that, attentions completely turned to protecting the point by any means necessary. Bikey and Ben Haim would have sacrificed their mothers if they had to, with the pair throwing themselves in and around Charlton’s box with a fierce desire.

And when they were beaten, Wolves failed to take the opening. And what a glorious opening it was. Had Afobe directed his header a fraction either side of Dmitrovic, the hosts would have claimed all three points. Instead, the former Arsenal man could only send the ball straight into the clutches of Charlton’s stopper.

Wolves’ frustration was clear to see, and expressed by Dicko deep into stoppage time, as the forward reacted aggressively to being dispossessed, and sparked a shoving match with Charlton’s centre-backs. Not in that battle, nor in the battle throughout the 90 minutes, were Bikey, Ben Haim and their teammates going to be beaten.

A performance that, although included some threat on the break, was built around grit, fight and a resoluteness at the back that wore Wolves thin. Charlton had come to frustrate, and for once had not frustrated their own supporters. Something resembling a cheer emerging from the away end, followed by applause for the players who had given them something so desperately needed; something to be proud of.


 

That pride reserved both for individual performances and a collective effort that meant Wolves rarely looked like completely breaking the Addicks down.

At the back, there was both composure and execution that had been missing for weeks. Individual mistakes few and crosses and corners, if a little unconventionally, dealt with. Even Bikey and Fox, after a first half were they looked a little shaky, excelled in the second period.

Ben Haim and Solly, whose potentially man of the match performance included an absolutely incredible tackle on Dicko that resembled the one he made on Wilfried Zaha at Selhurst Park a few seasons ago, were largely faultless.

In the midfield, there was pressing and energy. Better on the ball, with Veljkovic doing the simple things oh so well, but still particularly brilliant, faults in possession were made up for with the hard work without the ball. Wolves forced to hurry their patient moves with Cousins especially unrelenting his desire to press.

And up top, there was pure hard work. Largely toothless, and even in those promising moments lacking a final ball or a composed finish, the forwards did a job that might not have provided Charlton with their first league goal since Boxing Day, but contributed to the resolute nature of the performance. Long balls chased, defenders hassled and even Simon Church, brought on late on, fought hard for the side

Before the game, all I wanted was the players to show some fight after the complete lack of it at Watford. I got that and more.

Luzon certainly has plenty to work on. His long ball tactic won’t work without a proper target man, self-belief and confidence must be instilled in this side and the need to improve ball retention some of the many issues that need to be resolved on the pitch. But there is now a platform, provided by the effort of his players and the structured system in which they were deployed, from which the Addicks can look to improve.

Of course, such fight will count for little if it is followed up by a tame and effortless defeat in what must be considered a must win game against Rotherham next weekend. If the Addicks aren’t in a relegation battle right now, they will be should they go eleven games without victory.

It’s temporary pain relief, but the days of pain are not yet out of sight.

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