With all the resilience of the England cricket team’s batsmen in defence and all the accuracy of their bowlers in attack, Charlton only had themselves to blame as their winning run ended in disappointing fashion.
They were not outclassed to the extent that a 3-1 defeat suggests; Blackburn Rovers certainly made to work harder, and longer, for their victory than England’s opponents in Australia.
But the visitors were gifted their win by moments of madness in the hosts’ defence. The previously reliable Roger Johnson imploding in emphatic fashion to allow regular nemesis Jordan Rhodes and winger Craig Conway to give Rovers a two goal lead after just twenty minutes.
And while there was fight shown for much of the second period that Peter Moores’ men could only dream of, multiplied after Yoni Buyens’ second penalty in as many weeks halved the deficit, Charlton’s wastefulness in front of goal prevented their pressure from telling. Igor Vetokele and Tony Watt guilty.
However, a crime of a more serious manner was still to be committed. Like bowling half-trackers to the world’s best batsmen, leaving Rhodes free in the box, arguably the division’s best finisher, is suicidal. The Scot nodding home after a deflected shot looped up perfectly for him.
Charlton’s effort did not die, a disallowed goal, after a push in the build-up, from Simon Church suggesting just that, but the third defensive mistake had killed their momentum. Attempts to get back into the game felt as meaningless as a cricket victory over one of the associate nations. Blackburn, if a little nervy, seeing out the game commendably.
There’s no need to look at the data for this one. The error-prone Addicks victims of their own frustrating downfall.
While the return of Vetokele, replacing the totally absent Christophe Lepoint to the disappointment of his fan club In the West Stand, encouraged optimism before kick-off, disruption to the back four brought about some concern before Rhodes had even made his first attempt to get beyond it.
In truth, Tal Ben Haim was always likely to come back into the side after impressing earlier on in the season, but it seemed very harsh on 17-year-old Joe Gomez. The teen also arguably a better partner for Johnson than the Israeli, with the experienced pair both similar in style and lack of mobility.
Those concerns only increased with the promising start Blackburn made to the game. Alex Baptiste striking from 30 yards and forcing Stephen Henderson into a save, with Chris Brown heading over from the resulting corner and Rhodes latterly getting the better of Johnson and blasting an effort off-target.
The Addicks, through the diligence of Watt and Vetokele, looked threatening when they moved forward without actually creating an opening, but attentions were largely focused on the ease with which Rhodes had been able to get in behind.
And worry turned to anger with 14 minutes played as Charlton laid the red carpet down and allowed the forward the simplest of routes to goal.
Failing to react after Conway’s quickly taken throw, Ben Haim and Johnson were left looking at each other as Rhodes collected the ball and drove through the gap between them. Johnson attempted to make amends, but was brushed aside with the same defiance that Rovers have laughed off interest in their star striker, allowing Rhodes to give his side the lead via the post.
A huge blow it may have been, and especially disappointing given the manner in which it came, but belief had not been totally crushed. Guy Luzon’s side showing in the victory over Cardiff that they had the character to overturn a one goal deficit.
Whether they had it within them to come from two goals down was a more testing question. Defending that would have drawn tears and created a poisonous atmosphere had Charlton’s Championship status not yet been secured meant that question was about to be asked.
Having been given the ball by a team mate and without a blue and white shirt in his immediate proximity, there seemed to be little pressure on Johnson. But the centre-back completely lost his head, swinging and missing with his foot and only succeeding in deflecting the ball with his hand as he attempted to get his body behind it.
It gave Conway the chance to intervene, brushing aside the disorientated Johnson and finishing clinically beyond Henderson’s desperate dive. He may have injured himself in the process of doubling Blackburn’s lead, but nothing was hurting more inside The Valley than Johnson’s ego.
Thankfully for the former Wolves man, there was no witch hunt from the home crowd. Recent form and their status in the division meant, after laughing in disbelief at the comedy of errors, support for Charlton immediately continued.
Spurred on by their supporters, the hosts almost pulled one back immediately. Watt driving forward and playing Vetokele in, but the Angolan could only fire over from a tight angle.
That move probably summed up Charlton’s efforts in the opening period. Intent not lacking, but execution way off. Their endeavours into the final third littered with misplaced passes, over-hit crosses and rather soft shots. Watt’s strike from the edge of the box comfortable for Jason Steele and Johann Berg Gudmundsson, after a signature run into space, scuffing his effort wide.
And although the Addicks continued to press forward, they remained horribly uncomfortable in defence. The back four and Buyens doing very little right in the first period, and such error-filled play might well have given Rovers a third.
After failing to control the ball, Chris Taylor robbed Ben Haim and won himself a free-kick for his efforts, which was directed towards three blue and white shirts that had been left unmarked in Charlton’s box. Home supporters thankful that Ben Marshall could only head wide.
Blackburn, however, were not immaculate at the back themselves. As half-time beckoned, Watt was gifted the ball inside the opposition’s half, and was only prevented from scoring by brave goalkeeping from Steele. But bravery was lacking from the referee, who opted not to give the Addicks a penalty after Vetokele’s follow up appeared to be blocked by Henry’s hand, and Frederic Bulot, who backed out of the battle to get to the loose ball first.
Nonetheless, it was a positive note to end the half on. A reminder that Charlton still had it within themselves to turn their intent into something more meaningful, and equally that Blackburn were not infallible.
That was reaffirmed ten minutes into a quiet start to the second half. A half that would not be quiet thereafter.
The simplest of balls forward from Jordan Cousins caught out Henry, forcing Steele to clatter into Vetokele in order to deny him the opportunity to score. Whistle blown, penalty spot pointed to and Steele somewhat fortunate to receive just a yellow card.
Alas, that was where the good fortunate ended for Blackburn’s goalkeeper. Buyens might have been struggling otherwise, but he again converted his penalty with all the composure and calm of a man in the form of his life.
With one rash bit of goalkeeping and one excellent spot kick, the entire complexion of the game had changed. The Addicks still behind, but momentum, and an increasingly vocal Valley crowd who celebrated the goal with real belief, was on their side.
In fact, the roar of expectation from the Covered End may have again become one of celebration just two minutes later.
Blackburn were struggling to deal with Charlton’s sudden increase in tempo, and equally unable to prevent Bulot from delivering a stunning cross. There were arms a loft in premature celebration as Vetokele flung himself at the ball and headed goalwards but, agonisingly, those arms were soon holding heads as the effort bounced off the crossbar and away.
That did not deter the Addicks, however, and an even better chance to equalise was created just beyond the half hour. Vetokele playing in Watt, who outmuscled Henry and raced towards goal. You would have heavily backed the in-form forward to score, but Watt, to the dismay of the Covered End, dragged his effort behind.
And for all Charlton’s fight, character and determination, it was that moment that proved crucial. For Blackburn soon realised they could not afford to sit back and hold onto their slender advantage, instead beginning to press forward again.
In truth, you could almost suggest Blackburn, having endured a spell of pressure, began to dominate. The Addicks struggling to dispossess their opponents in and around their box, resulting in Johnson making a stunning block to deny Tom Cairney, before he and Corry Evans forced Henderson into two fine saves.
But Gary Bowyer’s side continued to press forward, and were eventually rewarded when yet more comedy defending from Charlton gifted them a third. Taylor’s effort from the edge of the box ballooning up off an Addick and straight to the unmarked Rhodes, who had all the time in the world to pick his spot and nod past Henderson. With 12 minutes to play, it was now certainly game over.
To their credit, however, Charlton did not give up. Ben Haim did his best to give Blackburn a fourth, almost letting Brown in, but thereafter the Addicks found one last burst of energy to increase their tempo.
Crosses were pinged into the box with regularity, through balls sent into the path of Vetokele and Watt, and possession was largely kept by the men in red. But the Addicks continued to be frustrated as Blackburn saw the game out in a professional and organised fashion, cementing the belief that, despite the three helping hands they were offered, their win was deserved.
Only when Eagles headed wide from a Gudmundsson cross and Watt forced a strong save out of Steele from a header of his own were Luzon’s side allowed a sight of goal. Charlton’s day rounded off with Church unfortunate not to score his first league goal of the season after Watt, reacting to his own saved header, was penalised for a push as he attempted to tee up the Welshman.
Regardless, there were no boos or angry cries at full-time. A ripple of applause followed a sort of stunned silence.
For this performance was not a total disaster, and you could not question the effort and fight of the side. But it was a performance uncharacteristic of the recent upturn in form.
There will be suggestions that Charlton were unlucky. Even after going two goals behind, the game might have had a different outcome had one of the many chances created at the start of the second period been taken.
And while that’s not a totally inaccurate suggestion, it seems fairer to say that the more organised and fluent side were victories against one who struggled at both ends of the pitch.
Defensively, it was rather embarrassing. Rhodes now has eight career goals against the Addicks, and most of them have been gift wrapped for him.
Chris Solly and Morgan Fox were nowhere near their best, but it was centrally where the problems occurred. The costly errors horrendous from Ben Haim and Johnson, but their overall play wasn’t any more promising.
Luzon spoke about being more aggressive defensively post-match, and that’s a fair enough comment with the Addicks frequently bossed off the ball.
But composure and agility were the factors most missed today. Johnson and Ben Haim normally have the first quality in abundance, to make up for their lack of the second. Without a calmness about their work, they’re incredibly painful to watch.
With both out of contract in the summer, performances like that won’t do the pair any favours. Personally, I’d like to think they both just had a terrible, terrible day, but they cannot play together. They’re far too similar, and allow strikers like Rhodes, who pride themselves on their movement, to run a mock.
Going forward, the Addicks were considerably more impressive. The drive of Jordan Cousins again excellent, and the forward four consistently attempting to make things happen.
But, much like the back four, it was just one of those days where almost everything that was attempted failed to come off. At the very least, the potency on the break that has been seen in recent weeks was not there, the accuracy of Charlton’s passing was consistently disappointing, and the finishing was frustrating.
Nonetheless, it’s not a performance worth getting too angered about. You would hope it was simply an off day, and not the beginning of another poor run of form.
In fact, more telling that today’s performance will be how the Addicks respond on Tuesday. After such a defeat, there’s probably no better time to play Blackpool.
A win there, and maybe I’ll be able to get away with laughing at our defending, instead of crying.