It was a performance that did not warrant victory. Unorganised, unimaginative and lifeless; such woes would have been capitalised upon by the opposition under most circumstances.
But when you have a match-winner in your side, you’ve got every chance of claiming three points regardless of whether the overall efforts mean they’re deserved or not.
For the second half impact of Johann Berg Gudmundsson, a half-time substitute, was at the heart of an unlikely turnaround for Charlton.
The Iceland international was ably assisted by Stephen Henderson, who saved a Billy Sharp penalty and made a string of other stops to make sure Leeds United didn’t go in at the break more than a goal up. Steve Morison’s volley putting the visitors ahead as the interval approached.
And for much of the second 45, it looked like the former Millwall man’s goal would be enough. The Addicks too slow, too static, and too cautious in their attempts to get forward in search of an equaliser.
So it was the case that Charltoin’s 75th minute equaliser had not been coming, and came out of nothing. Gudmundsson’s sublime ball to the back post met by Tony Watt and emphatically volleyed beyond a hapless Stuart Taylor.
The goal did not energise the entire side, but it certainly did Gudmundsson. A stunning run resulted in a shot that Taylor could only parry straight to Igor Vetokele, forcing the stand-in goalkeeper to haul the Angolan to the crowd. Yoni Buyens, as ever, making no mistake from the spot.
It wasn’t pretty, and many were totally perplexed as to how the Addicks had managed to pull off such a fightback when disappointment looked a certainty, but the class of Gudmundsson met the full-time whistle was met with celebrations.
The absence of the winger’s name from the starting XI meant Charlton’s below par performance was probably predictable.
The Icelander was benched, along with Jordan Cousins, Roger Johnson and Rhoys Wiggins as Guy Luzon continued his rather random end-of-season rotation policy. Chris Eagles, Joe Gomez, Tal Ben Haim and Morgan Fox coming into the side.
But, minus Rudolph Austin firing an effort just wide for Leeds after capitalising on the space offered to him, the Addicks started the game in bright fashion.
There was more energy and attacking intent than shown in Charlton’s recent dead rubbers, with Eagles and Frederic Bulot lively, and Watt and Vetokele looking to play in a direct fashion. Bulot’s shot-cum-cross narrowly avoiding Red shirts and the far post.
Such intensity, however, could not be maintained. The flow of the hosts disrupted by Alou Diarra jarring his knee in a strong challenge, forcing him off despite a valiant attempt to hobble around and continue.
Losing the Frenchman was by no means a disaster, especially with Cousins onto replace him, but it seemed to be the catalyst for change in the game’s overall pattern.
For Charlton were suddenly sluggish, and Leeds had burst into life. Luke Murphy left unmarked at the back post, but somehow conspiring to volley over, while indecisiveness from Henderson saw Morrison charge down his clearance and knock the ball just wide of goal.
Players in Leeds shirts weren’t being picked up, communication was seemingly non-existent and the gap between midfield and defence was far too big. Henderson called into action to deny Murphy after the midfielder was allowed to drive forward, before Sharp wasted a glorious opening, heading over from Sam Byram’s delivery.
The only silver lining for the Addicks was that Neil Redfearn’s depleted side was not infallible. With first choice goalkeeper Marco Silvestri one of the six players to declare themselves unfit for the game, Taylor was making his first league appearance of the season, and looking rather uncomfortable.
Having already struggled to deal with a number of corners delivered into his six-year box, the experienced benchwarmer flapped at another and sent it straight to Ben Haim on the edge of the box. With Taylor out of position, the Israeli only needed to get his effort on target, but a slight deflection on its way to goal meant the shot bounced back off the post.
And it proved be double frustration for Ben Haim as the defender gave Leeds a wonderful opportunity to take the lead just two minutes later.
Again, the Addicks were too slow and standing off their opponents far too much, resulting in Sam Bryam being picked out with a clear run to goal just inside the box. Ben Haim had to make some kind of intervention, but his challenge was rash, sending the Leeds man crashing to the ground and giving the referee little choice but to point to the spot.
It would have been a lead that Leeds’ efforts, or at least Charlton’s sloppiness, had warranted, but Henderson had other ideas. There was little wrong with Sharp’s penalty, but the goalkeeper dived full-stretch to tip the spot kick onto the post. A truly fantastic save.
It should have lifted the Addicks, or at least awoken to them the very real danger their performance was putting themselves under. It certainly got a previously sombre Valley crowd going.
Alas, those in red could not respond. For before the penalty save celebrations had stopped, Leeds were ahead. Horrendous marking from a corner, awarded after Henderson was forced into another fine stop, allowed Murphy to pick out Morison, who emphatically volleyed home. An effort struck so powerfully that not even Charlton’s number one, who got fingertips to it, could keep it out.
And although Cousins, driving forward in a manner his teammates had not for much of the half, searched for parity before the break, Taylor’s save meant the Addicks went in behind. A position they deserved to be in.
Nonetheless, it was not a case that this game was out of reach for the hosts. Leeds not an unstoppable force; Luzon’s men just not performing to the standards they have shown they are capable of.
So the sight of Gudmundsson, who would replace Eagles, going through a vigorous warm-up at half-time was promising. A player capable of providing the pace, energy and attacking intent that was missing.
His appearance had also seemed to have injected some life into his teammates. Vetokele may have sliced a glorious opening wide after superb play from Watt allowed him to tee up his strike partner, but it was promising.
But, much like in the first period, early promise could not be maintained. It was not for the want of trying, but the Addicks were really struggling to make any sort of impact in the final third. Gudmundsson lacking a final ball, Watt taking too long in possession and absolutely nothing going for Vetokele. The Angolan’s cynical scythe on Charlie Taylor summing up the level of frustration inside The Valley.
The visitors were also struggling, limited to ambitious long range efforts that were never going to trouble Henderson as the game entering an incredibly stale period. You could have fallen asleep were it not for the ever noisy Leeds fans making a racket in the away end.
They had previously sung “who needs the Italians”, and they had the cause to sing that again when Taylor made a good stop after the ball had fallen kindly into a shooting position for Buyens. It wasn’t pretty, but Leeds were doing a decent enough job of clinging onto their lead.
However, affording space to Charlton’s two most dangerous players meant their work was undone with 15 minutes to play.
But to focus on the role Leeds’ backline had in the equaliser would take away from the brilliance of the goal. Gudmundsson’s outstanding cross finished in a fashion such a delivery deserved, with Watt’s volley too good for the English goalkeeper in front of him, and the absent Italian one.
It was undeserved on the balance of play, or it was at least the case that the Addicks had not done enough to warrant an equaliser, but that mattered little as the mood, and noise, increased in the Covered End.
Gudmundsson was seemingly thriving upon it, and there was a roar of expectation as he collected the ball inside his own half and bombed forward. He’d got to the edge of the box before a Leeds man applied any real pressure on him, but he was still able to get a shot away that was difficult for Taylor to deal with. The goalkeeper palming it away and not able to react to collect the loose ball.
Vetokele, however, was. The forward who had frustrated home supporters and been frustrated with himself showed great strength of character to be alive inside the box and touch the ball beyond Taylor just as the ‘keep tried to reclaim the ball. The second stonewall penalty of the afternoon.
And unlike Leeds’ spot-kick, there was never any doubt about Charlton converting theirs. Buyens converting was a formality, and, somehow, the Addicks had managed to record a remarkable turnaround having looked hopeless six minutes earlier.
But with ten minutes remaining, celebrations had a hint of caution about them. The sluggishness in defensive duties throughout the afternoon meant this game was not won. Austin, the bulldozer-type character constantly at the heart of everything for Leeds, drilling another effort goalwards that Henderson saved well.
Heads, however, had seemingly dropped among the visitors. Not at all surprising given their situation, and making Charlton’s task to close out the game a slightly easier one, even with five minutes added on.
In fact, Leeds could not muster a single meaningful opportunity has the game headed towards its conclusion. The Addicks sensible at the back; the Whites without threat or firepower.
It meant those cautionary celebrations could finally become full-blown victory fist-pumps. Not pretty, not one that will last in the memory, but an enjoyable victory nonetheless.
In truth, this was a harsh defeat on Leeds. In the circumstances, their efforts were commendable, and they looked to be dealing with Charlton’s threat very well before Gudmundsson burst into life.
And that was undoubtedly the difference between the two sides come full-time. The visitors depleted and lacking quality; the Addicks able to write off a poor performance with individual brilliance.
For Luzon’s men were, at times, very disappointing, especially against such a troubled opponent. As has been the case in recent weeks, urgency, energy and intensity doesn’t seem to be something that can be mustered up by this side in a state of having nothing to play for.
But there’s more than one way to win a game, and there is absolutely no shame in relying upon the quality of an individual or too to see you over the line. Henderson’s saves, penalty and in open plan, Gudmundsson’s creativity, something that was desperately lacking while he wasn’t on the pitch, and the character of Watt and Vetokele to keep plugging away in a testing afternoon all crucial.
If it was even needed, today was a huge reminder that keeping the quality that exists in this squad into next season is absolutely vital. That quality has pushed the Addicks into 10th, and the platform is now set.