With a performance neither brilliant nor bad, Charlton’s 1-1 draw with Sheffield Wednesday continued their sluggish crawl towards the season’s end.
The Addicks may have jigged through a more enjoyable afternoon at Hillsborough if one of a number of massive opportunities during a period of first half pressure had been converted.
Their wastefulness meant they were ultimately made to work hard for their point. Caolan Lavery capitalising upon on some inviting Charlton defending to put Wednesday ahead against the run of play towards the end of the opening 45.
But for long periods of the second half, Guy Luzon’s side were frustrated. The bounce of the ball not going their way, Wednesday’s back line defiant when called upon, and Stuart Gray’s men possessing an increased attacking threat.
It meant Charlton’s 75th minute equaliser was also somewhat against the run of play. Johann Berg Gudmundsson, as if to make up for scoring a relatively average goal in midweek, created space for himself inside the box and lashed past a previously unbeatable Kieron Westwood.
Nonetheless, it was a goal the Addicks had done enough over the 90 minutes to deserve. Although good fortune was required for them to cling on, with Lavery and Lloyd Isgrove crashing efforts against the woodwork before Atdhe Nuhiu somehow conspired to head wide from close range, a share of the spoils was an adequate reflection of a well-thought, if low in consistent quality, contest.
That absent of consistent quality was helped by the absent of a consistently quality player from Charlton’s side. Seemingly in need of a rest, Tony Watt was benched, with Simon Church given a rare start alongside Igor Vetokele.
There were also starts for the previously suspended Chris Solly and Yoni Buyens, replacing Tal Ben Haim and Alou Diarra, while Chris Eagles came in for Frederic Bulot as Luzon looked to freshen his side up following a flat performance against Fulham on Tuesday night.
It seemed to have the desired effect in the game’s opening moments, with Charlton, backed by a noisy away following hoping to emulate celebrations from previous years at Hillsborough, full of energy. Gudmundsson brought the game’s first save out of Westwood, while Eagles flashed an effort just over.
But Charlton’s moves forward were largely coming through direct or wide play as Buyens and Jordan Cousins struggled to retain the ball.
In fact, Wednesday were presented with a fantastic opportunity to score when the Standard Liege loanee was caught in possession in midfield. The move forward eventually seeing Lavery cut inside and curl an effort just beyond Stephen Henderson’s far post.
The Addicks, however, were undeterred by that slip-up, and continued to press forward with intent. Only the assistant referee’s flag denied the lively Eagles after he was played in and dinked over Westwood, before the ‘keeper tipped Simon Church’s shin-roller volley wide.
With Wednesday evidently there for the taking, the continued struggles in the middle were proving a huge source of frustration in the away end, who were seeing a decent attacking performance tainted by sloppiness.
And it might well have been tainted further were it not for the intervention of Henderson.
Again, the sloppy Buyens was caught out in the middle, and suddenly a host of blue and white shirts were bearing down on Charlton’s goal. Lavery led the charge, and teed up Lewis McGugan as he entered the box, but a momentary hesitation from the Watford loanee allowed Charlton’s in form goalkeeper to leap at his feet and block the effort.
Before the supporters behind Henderson’s goal had finished acknowledging his brilliance, the Addicks were launching a break of their own. Marvellous football, involving a trademark Gudmundsson swivel, took the visitors from front to back, but Morgan Fox could not conclude the move with the finish it deserved, striking over.
Given Wednesday’s increasing threat on the break, it seemed vitally important that the wasted chance tally stopped increasing and Charlton’s pressure finally told. Those in red, however, had other ideas, with Buyens seeing an effort deflect just out of reach of Church, before the less than impressive Welshman saw a tame drive parried behind after Vetokele played in his strike partner.
And with Westwood pulling off a save that defied several scientific laws, the beliefs of two religious groups and a political ideology from the resulting corner, reacting to block Fox’s point-blank stab towards goal, there was a growing feeling the gods were against the Addicks.
But the only factor against Charlton as they fell behind with 41 minutes played was their own ineptitude. Their finishing had allowed for a situation in which Wednesday could take the lead, while the questionable defensive efforts of Fox, to allow Lewis Buxton to burst past him, and Roger Johnson, to let Lavery connect with the cross unchallenged, meant a very soft goal was conceded.
On balance, Luzon’s men didn’t deserve to go in at the break behind, but they only had themselves to blame.
It meant a high intensity response wasn’t necessarily required after the break, just marginal gains in certain areas, especially in front of goal.
Alas, the interval seemed to suck the life out of Luzon’s side. They were flat, without composure and penned in by a group of Wednesday players looking to double their lead. Southampton loanee Lloyd Isgrove forcing two earlier saves out of Henderson as the away end began to groan at their side’s performance.
And with Charlton’s goal continuing to be peppered, as McGugan shot over and Henderson had to acrobatically tip over a Lavery header, those groans in the away end were replaced by cries of ‘Tony Watt Watt Watt’. Some fresh impetus needed to be added to the side, and he was seemingly the only man who could provide.
His introduction may not have impressed the man he replaced, with the ineffective Church taking his shirt off and heading down the tunnel in disgust, but Watt’s appearance with just over an hour play brought the loudest cheer of the afternoon from the away end. A performance heading towards being a dire one finally had something to lift it.
At the very least, there was now some optimism among the travelling supporters, and the familiar roar each time Watt touched the ball was heard. But, as was the case for his teammates, things just weren’t going his way. Kamil Zayatte standing up to the test when Watt went direct, and a cutting edge deserting the Scot when he attempted to move forward down the flanks.
In fact, the Addicks were fortunate to still be in the game after Maguire got the better of Johnson and delivered a driven cross that narrowly avoided the blue and white shirts in the middle. Wednesday continuing to look the side most likely to score the second goal of the afternoon.
But, with many beginning to feel that the Addicks were going to leave Sheffield empty-handed, a piece of brilliance drew the visitors level.
Eagles, putting in a decent shift down the left, pressed forward and saw an effort saved by the Westwood, seemingly impersonating a brick wall.
The ball, however, popped loose, and fell to Gudmundsson. With a Wednesday defender immediately shutting him down, the Iceland international’s task was not an easy one, but his touch into space was perfectly weighted, and the resulting strike hit so powerfully that even Westwood crumbled in the face of it.
Against the run of play and barely deserved on the basis of their second half performance, but Charlton’s attacking quality had finally produced a reward.
Nonetheless, any Addick who had begun to dream of claiming all three points, or even started celebrating a draw, were immediately brought back down to earth. The excellent Lavery given the space to shoot from 25 yards, and Henderson could only stand motionless as the effort cannoned back off the inside of the post.
And Charlton hearts were made to skip a beat once again less than a minute later as Isgrove’s acrobatic effort looped up and down onto the top of the crossbar. Despite Henderson’s brilliance, it was another effort he would not have had covered if it were on-target. The Addicks extremely fortunate.
In fact, the luck that had escaped them in the first half had now returned in huge amounts. Stevie May’s cross was perfect for an unmarked Nuhiu, but somehow the robust striker couldn’t direct his header towards goal. There were some sarcastic cheers in the away end, but most were too getting their breath back.
Something that Zayatte also needed to do after putting his body on the line to block off a trademark run towards goal from Watt. While the centre back appeared to be out cold for a few seconds, The Scot would have been in a fantastic position to score a stoppage-time winner were it not for his intervention.
With the delay needed to treat Zayatte taking the last bit of spark out of the game, both sides had to accept that their efforts would only be rewarded with a point. Wednesday fans with arguably the bigger claim that they should have achieved victory, but Charlton supporters appreciative of their side come full-time.
It was performance that certainly deserved applause more than the displays against Millwall and Fulham did, with character shown to snatch the goal on the break and spark seen during some stages of the contest. Taking a point from an efficient and robust Wednesday side a pretty decent effort.
Particularly impressive were Gudmundsson and Eagles, who kept plugging away down the flanks while their teammates struggled, while Henderson, and his woodwork, were vital in the Addicks securing a draw.
But this was certainly a game that the Addicks would have won at the peak of their winning run. In fact, while Wednesday can suggest the same about their late chances, they might well have won if they had shown at least an ounce of composure in front of goal during the first half.
Nonetheless, the overall composure and organisation at the back, as well as a persistent threat on the break that were so crucial to Luzon’s side lifting themselves up the table, were disappointingly absent.
The biggest issue came in midfield, where Buyens played like a man desperate not to impress and be sent back to Liege, while Cousins had arguably his poorest performance of the season. Neither were strong enough in the tackle, both kept giving the ball away, and the Addicks continued to be put under pressure by their errors.
It was also rather sloppy at the back, with Johnson’s efforts again questionable, while Vetokele, although lively at times, struggled to get the ball under his control with his first touch so often deserting him. Even when a competent strike partner was given to him, he wasn’t at his best.
And Vetokele’s performance probably sums up the entire side’s, and Charlton’s end to the season. There’s nothing to worry about, it’s simply a response to mid-table obscurity offering little motivation, but it remains somewhat disappointing knowing this group are capable of more.