If Charlton Athletic’s first defeat of the season had been inflicted by a side who were simply better than them on day, then there would have been an element of acceptance.
For if the Addicks had been outplayed by Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux, there would be a stronger desire to reflect on the start to the season and completely ignore the loss. Eight points gained from five sides likely to be in the top half, and only one able to overwhelm Guy Luzon’s side.
But there was a sense of frustration among those who had travelled to the midlands as they began their journey back down south. Their side not outplayed, but victims of their own mistakes.
In truth, neither side were able to gain a real advantage in a horribly scrappy affair. But Charlton matched their opponents for much of the afternoon, and offered strong defensive resilience in most of the moments that they didn’t.
The issue for the Addicks was that their attacking moves, hindered already by an injury to Simon Makienok, regularly broke down through miscommunication, indecisiveness and poor decision making.
Made more of annoyance by the fact their one truly fluent move of the afternoon resulted in Charlton taking the lead just after half-time. Zakarya Bergdich playing into Igor Vetokele,the Angolan feeding Johann Berg Gudmundsson, the makeshift forward finishing through Carl Ikeme.
It was, however, the faults on show at the back that ultimately proved disappointing. Stubborn, structured and disciplined at the start of this campaign, Luzon would have been equally disappointed to see his side concede two soft goals, with Wolves otherwise frustrated.
Both involved the dangerous Sheyi Ojo given space. The first coming from a quickly taken throw, with the Liverpool loanee driving forward and cutting back to James Henry. The Charlton target picked out an unmarked Dave Edwards, who finished at the second attempt.
The second saw a ball through to Ojo seemingly destroy the shape of Charlton’s back line. Chris Solly high up, Alou Diarra drawn across, and Adam Le Fondre unchallenged as he converted what would ultimately prove to be his side’s winner.
So while the Addicks can fairly claim defeat as a little harsh, and Wolves will struggle to prove they were dramatically the better side, Charlton only have themselves to blame that there unbeaten record has been lost prior to the international break.
The confidence held prior to kick-off, strengthened by the return of Solly and centurion Jordan Cousins moving back to midfield, makes the defeat even more difficult to accept. The absence of Tony Watt’s name from the teamsheet the only major blow.
But it was a name who might well feature in Charlton’s line-up beyond the end of this transfer window who had the game’s first chance. Benik Afobe holding the ball up well for Henry, for who Luzon continues to attempt to lure to SE7, with the winger curling narrowly wide.
And it was Wolves who started fractionally the better of the two sides at Molineux. The Addicks getting forward well down the wing, but unable to deliver. The lively Henry crossing to Edwards, who headed comfortably over Nick Pope’s goal, and Dicko, who could only skim the surface of the ball with his head.
The theme continued. Charlton not lacking in attacking intent, with Karlan Ahearne-Grant running the channels well, but cutting edge, and a Tony Watt-like presence, desperately lacking. Pope needing to get finger tips to an effort from Henry, before throwing his cap on a bizarrely weak Afobe drive from a free-kick.
Nonetheless, those in the away end were not nervy. The brilliance of Solly, Ahmed Kashi and Patrick Bauer meant there was a strong sense the Addicks were firmly in control of their own destiny. The vice-skipper relentless in his harassing of Henry, the Algerian full of energy and diligence in the middle, and the rather large German winning his duel with Afobe in comprehensive fashion.
In fact, so strong did Charlton appear at the back, the more pressing concern was the forced removal of Makienok. The Dane withdrawn through injury, and replaced by Vetokele, who himself looked in some troubled having taken a knock to the back of the head attempting to hold up the ball just minutes after coming on.
And while he continued, the Addicks were certainly less effective without a physical presence in attack. Luzon’s side needing a decent amount of time to change their game plan to accommodate for the lack of Makienok, and it did not change before Henry’s delivery skidded past a diving Edwards in the middle.
But, once Charlton settled down and found some sort of rhythm, they were able to end the half in relative strong fashion.
The rhythm, in truth, was mostly based around giving the ball to Gudmundsson and hoping the Icelander could create something, but that it isn’t to say it was a bad ploy. The winger typically cutting inside, and ambitiously firing over.
His sudden burst into life pushed Wolves’ defence back a little, giving Charlton’s midfield a touch more space. Cousins allowed to run forward, and curl an effort not too far over Ikeme’s crossbar.
And, as half-time approach, there was still one more opportunity for the Addicks. Ahearne-Grant crossing for Gudmundsson, whose downward header was well stopped.
So maybe the Icelandic winger’s influence in the half’s closing moments convinced Luzon to push him further forward. Ahearne-Grant, getting into decent positions with the ball at his feet but unable to deliver, withdrawn, and replaced by El Hadji-Ba to allow Gudmundsson to push further up.
In truth, it seemed something of an odd call. The balance of the side lost, with Cousins heading out wide, and Gudmundsson placed in a slightly unnatural position.
But, with almost everything Luzon touches turning to gold, his decision payed dividends ten minutes into the second half.
The otherwise ineffectual Bergdich was able to break forward, with Gudmundsson and Vetokele running off him. The better ball seemed to be to feed the Icelander, but Vetokele accepted the pass, and did superbly to feed his new strike partner.
And while Ikeme would have been disappointed to not save the strike, Gudmundsson’s effort was crisp and managed to sneak underneath the former Charlton goalkeeper. Not so much against the run of play, but a goal out of nothing in a match with few clear openings.
The hope was that Gudmundsson’s goal would open the game up a little, allowing the Addicks to build upon their lead and make a scrappy game a touch less difficult to watch. That hope increasing as Bergdich caught Matt Doherty in possession, and burst forward, but the Moroccan selfishly shot across the face of goal with Vetokele and Gudmundsson waiting with space in the middle.
With that chance flashing wide allowing Wolves to settle, and an unfortunate injury to Nouha Dicko stopping the game for some time, the goal did not have quite the impact Charlton supporters thought it might.
Kenny Jackett, however, opted to throw some new life into his side. Dicko stretchered off and replaced by Le Fondre, and Ojo brought on for Kevin McDonald.
And it was not long before Ojo, impressive so far in his loan spell at Molineux, made a telling contribution.
Having dealt with a Wolves corner, the Addicks didn’t respond quickly enough to a quickly taken throw, with Ojo beating Morgan Fox before cutting back to Henry. The winger’s driven ball into the box met by Edwards, also in too much space, whose slightly mishit effort bounced back off Diarra, allowing him to finish at the second attempt.
At least three opportunities missed for Charlton to defend the move, and, just ten minutes after going ahead, momentum had now firmly switched to the opposition.
There was a roar of expectation each time the home side moved forward; their confidence increasing with each move. Solly needed to make a superb tackle on the rampaging Ojo, and Afobe heading for Pope to save. Charlton crippled by indecisiveness each time they moved into Wolves’ half.
But it was Edwards, often a hard worker for Wolves but rarely a goal scorer, who was given a glorious opportunity to give his side the lead. A corner headed back across goal, with those in white and red static in the centre, which Edwards latched onto, but he could only skew his header wide at the far post from very close range. A big miss, and a reminder to the Addicks that they desperately needed to regroup and reorganise.
Or, they could get down the other end, retake the lead and kill of Wolves’ momentum. Lovely passing triangles between Bauer, Kashi and Ba, eventually resulted in the former latching onto Fox’s ball on the edge of the area. His shot, hit with venom, deflecting wide.
Nonetheless, Wolves continued to press with a sense of menace. Their threat growing as the Addicks began to look more and more unstructured at the back. Le Fondre finding space to volley over from Ojo’s cross.
The warning, however, was not heeded. With five minutes to place, the prolific poacher was able to do what he does best.
Solly had gone to the ball, allowing Ojo to be played in down the left. Diarra came to attempt to block off his cross, but he was merely left in the wilderness, and Le Fondre was able to move into the space the Frenchman’s absence created. Ojo’s delivery tucked in typical Le Fondre fashion.
A nice move from the hosts, undoubtedly, but another goal conceded which could have been much better defended.
And with that, the game was done. A disjoined Charlton attacking unit were never likely to find a way past Wolves’ defence in the game’s dying moments, irrespective of seven minutes being added on.
Even in stoppage time, the Addicks were too indecisive, passing tentatively when a shot or a cross was on. Gudmundsson blasting over a free-kick the only real opportunity as Charlton supporters were forced to exit a ground in a state of disappointment and frustration for the first time this season.
And it was frustration that was the greater of the two feelings, with a genuine belief that Charlton could have done more to get something from the game.
For it was the sort of performance where few individuals underperformed. Bergdich again struggled, physically and in his execution, but performances were of decent standard aside from him. Bauer and Solly superb, Kashi continuing to impress, and Vetokele and Gudmundsson working hard up top.
But, as a collective, it was a slow, sloppy and lethargic performance. One that suggested this was one game too far for the Addicks. No fluency to the attacking moves, and a previously unflappable defensive unit completely losing its shape and structure in the game’s final 20 minutes.
In truth, it was the sort of game where if Watt was available, Charlton would have had the advantage. His direct runs a contract to the stuttering moves forward made by those in white and red, and would have tested a Wolves defence that looked uncomfortable in the few moments where they genuinely had something to defence.
And that Wolves were rarely tested, despite matching them in the overall run of the game, is also a huge frustration. Their successful attacking moves greater in numbers, but Wolves also lacked a little bit of cohesion in a desperately sloppy affair.
But they were able to capitalise on Charlton’s sloppiness, while the Addicks could not on theirs. The introduction of Ojo and Le Fondre, the former’s pace and the latter’s movement, swinging the game Wolves’ way and allowing them to breakdown a normally stubborn backline. With injuries a hindrance, there was little Luzon could do to change the game in the way Jackett could.
Nonetheless, despite the frustration of defeat, it remains an unquestionably superb start to the season. The Addicks overachieving in these early season encounters.
But maybe the defeat offers a little reminder that, while this squad is a strong one, further reinforcements are required in order for it to be one that challenges for a top six place come May. The next few days if not decisive, then relatively crucial.