There was an expectation that Guy Luzon would provide another opportunity for his new side’s cohesion to grow, and the club’s new signings a further taste of English football, in Charlton’s pre-season trip to Southend United.
But, with the Championship getting underway in just 11 days’ time, Luzon decided not to gel his starting XI, instead giving those on the outskirts of the first team a chance to impress. One final look at those who could provide support or push themselves into the head coach’s plans throughout this campaign.
And if this friendly fixture was effectively a trial match for the development squad and the outcasts, then few were able to complete it successfully. Error prone at the back, wasteful in possession, and lacklustre going forward, the Addicks fell to a 2-1 defeat.
Not even those whose places in the first team are assured this season all managed to impress. While club captain Johnnie Jackson and new signing Ahmed Kashi were composed in midfield, Nick Pope was far from it. One-time Charlton target Anthony Wordsworth’s 30th minute strike trickling underneath him to give Southend the lead.
Among the youngsters, it was the tenacious Mikhail Kennedy who provided the largest cause for optimism, and he fired the visitors level three minutes later. A composed finish after a quickly-taken free-kick had caught Southend off guard.
But Charlton were extremely disappointing after the break, rarely enjoying a sustained period of possession and often allowing Southend to come forward a little too easily. Substitute goalkeeper Dimitar Mitov keeping the sides level.
But even he could not prevent a former Addick from giving the Shrimpers a 58th minute lead that their pressure arguably deserved. Having saved from Charlton academy graduate Myles Weston, David Mooney was able to tap in the rebound at the far post.
There was something of a late rally from the Addicks, with a succession of corners from Kennedy testing the Southend back four, but the equaliser that would have salvaged some pride could not be secured.
If Luzon was all but certain of the group of players who would form his first team squad before tonight, then little was done to change his mind.
Among those who were hoping to change his mind before kick-off was the banished Andre Bikey, who baby-sitted a back four which also featured Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, Harry Lennon, and Aaron Barnes.
And the bulldozer-like centre-back was characteristically unorthodox in the game’s opening moments. After a miscued header fell straight to Weston, who failed to capitalise, Bikey opted to clear a low-ish delivery whipped into the box with a two-footed scissor kick, serenaded with a cry of ‘beeeeeeast’ as he did.
Another man in the side attempting to win Luzon back over was Callum Harriott, but his and Charlton’s first shot of the night would have done little to help his cause. The winger clearing the roof of the South Stand after Karlan Ahearne-Grant’s shot-cum-drive across the face of goal was missed by Joe Pigott and fell to him.
But that was a rare opening for the Addicks in the first half, who found the attacks Jackson and Kashi started were breaking down, and Southend’s passing moves were causing concern.
Concern that only grew as Charlton’s back four displayed a lack of composure. Bikey gifting the ball to Weston on the edge of his own box, and thankful that the forward could only blast wide of Pope’s left hand post.
In fact, the visitors were thankful on several occasions that their opponents could not apply the finishing touch to the chances they were creating. Wordsworth blasting against the roof of the away end after the ball appeared to sit up perfectly on the edge of the box for him, Ryan Leonard firing straight into Pope’s hands from distance, and Cian Bolger flashing a header narrowly wide from corner.
So too were the Addicks thankful for the referee’s generosity. A Southend man viciously taken to the floor by Barnes, with appeals for a penalty turned away as Leonard pounced on the loose ball and skewed over.
But such good fortune was not to last. A fantastic passing move from Southend, around static Charlton defenders, concluded with Wordsworth striking first-time through the legs of Pope. An incredibly poor goal to concede.
To their credit, however, Charlton’s response was both unexpected and excellent. A quickly-taken free-kick completely wrong-footed Southend, allowing Ahearne-Grant to send Kennedy clear. The winger took one touch, before rifling across the face of Ted Smith’s goal and into the far bottom corner. Composed and clinical from the young Northern Irishman.
The goal appeared to provide a much needed surge of confidence to the largely young Charlton side, and they were able to end the half strongly. Ahearne-Grant sent through on goal by Harriott, but the young forward’s touch big enough to allow ‘keeper Smith to come out and deny him.
It meant half-time probably didn’t come at the best of times for the Addicks, halting the momentum they had only just gained. That view only enhancing as they began the second period in sluggish fashion.
And were it not for Mitov, a replacement for Pope during the interval, then Southend would have surely capitalised. The young Bulgarian goalkeeper first tipping over from Wordsworth’s narrow-angle free-kick, then blocking an effort away from the resulting corner, before pulling off a simply stunning save to deny Bolger a headed goal from close range.
Alas, Mitov’s excellence did not excuse Charlton, who failed to click into gear after Southend’s early rampage and were soon suitably punished.
In fact, the goal was reflective of the sloppy manner in which they were playing. Holmes-Dennis’ horribly misplaced pass sending Weston through, with Mitov able only to parry his effort into the path of Mooney, who tapped in from close range.
At the very least, it was hoped that conceding would finally wake the Addicks up. But, although not helped by the influential, but still not fully fit, Johnnie Jackson going off, they remained clumsy at the back and unable to produce a cohesive forward move.
That true to the extent that Mooney might well have doubled his side’s lead. Soutend’s summer signing foiled by Mitov, coming off his line and pouncing on his toes as Mooney barred down on goal.
The desperate situation meant Luzon turned to Reza Ghoochannejhad, who is seemingly being given another chance to prove himself in SE7. The Iranian received a good reception as he was introduced, but they may be to do with the fact he replaced the ineffective Harriott.
And while the forward himself had little direct impact on it, Ghoochannejhad’s introduction was followed by a late siege from the Addicks, who finally found some spark in the game’s final ten minutes.
But all they had to show for it were a handful of half chances. Lennon heading over from one of a succession of Charlton corners, and Holmes-Dennis forcing Smith into a save after his overhit cross looked to have been creeping in.
As such, the young Addicks and those with a touch more experience trying to impress were left frustrated. The side not only suffering defeat, but doing so with an incredibly disappointing performance that convinced neither Luzon nor the Charlton supporters in attendance that they were ready for first team football.
Pope and Mitov will head to Bolton on Friday night, as will Jackson, Kashi, and Ahearne-Grant should their legs allow another appearance, but the chances of any others who featured at Roots Hall appearing at the Macron, which offers the final chance for the Addicks to develop some cohesion and match fitness before the season gets underway, are incredibly slim.