It is five league games and a little over a month since Charlton Athletic last celebrated victory in the Championship. A relatively lengthy time to go without three points, and the contrast in mood between the last win and the latest defeat makes the gap between the two events appear like a chasm.
From a feeling of invisibility, brought about by high intensity and well organised performances against strong opposition, to worry about where the next win will come from, as mediocre opponents have capitalised upon tame and error-prone efforts from the Addicks.
An unquestionable and unifying spirit, displayed in the dramatic scenes up to and following Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s late winner against Hull City, replaced by justifiable accusations that the side lacks character, with them looking beaten long before full-time in several of their defeats.
The suggestion that Guy Luzon had won over Charlton supporters no longer made as adamantly, with a small handful of fans beginning to question once again whether the head coach is really the right man to lead the Addicks forward.
A disaster or a crisis this is not, but to be performing to such a low standard, and losing in such gutless fashion, is incredibly disappointing after the manner in which the season began.
As such, there are several issues that are facing Luzon and his side at present, and issues that desperately require solutions.
1: Injuries to key players
The most obvious issue, and the easiest excuse for the current lack of form. As was the case last season, Charlton’s small squad has been unable to cope with a number of players being crocked.
Nick Pope has, after his pretty unimpressive night against Huddersfield, been one of few players who can be proud of his performances in recent weeks, but it is hard to argue that both the leadership and goalkeeping ability of Stephen Henderson is not missed.
And at the other end of the pitch, an inability to keep Tony Watt, Simon Makienok and Igor Vetokele fit has proved costly. Without a fully firing Watt, the Addicks have lacked penetration in the final third, there is no Plan B without Makienok’s presence, and Vetokele is yet to return to anything like the potent goalscorer he was at the start of last season. You could even make an argument that Reza Ghoochannejhad’s absence, having looked lively before suffering injury against Nottingham Forest, has been a hindrance.
Then there’s the continued unavailability of Cristian Ceballos, the knocks that have kept Johnnie Jackson out of several matchday squads, and the need to occasionally rest Alou Diarra, leaving the Addicks a complete shambles at the back. At least Franck Moussa, having come off the bench against Cardiff City, is on his way back.
It’s left the Addicks seriously short on numbers, and persuaded Luzon to effectively concede the game against Crystal Palace by fielding a weakened team. The kids that are filling the holes in the squad, such as Mikhail Kennedy and Karlan Ahearne-Grant, talented, but not yet ready to have pivotal roles in the side.
Solution: Make further alterations to the transfer policy
Every week of every season, every club will have injuries. They’re an unavoidable part of professional football, and it is not the injuries themselves that are the key problem.
Instead, the injuries reveal that an issue that has plagued Charlton under the Roland Duchatelet era remains as detrimental as it ever has. The squad is far too small.
Instead of having the adequate strength in depth that a squad aiming for a top six finish should have, it lacks bodies in almost every area. Players well below the standard of the first choice XI, and academy graduates not quite ready for first team action, relied upon while other sides in the division replace quality with quality.
A particular annoyance both on the basis that lessons have not been learned from last season, and also because there did appear to be some change in the transfer policy over the summer. Not a dramatic rebranding, but the quality of players brought in, such as Bauer and Makienok, seemed higher than in previous seasons.
That, however, has not gone far enough. With the squad evidently short on numbers, only Conor McAleny has arrived on loan since the close of the window, while the excuse the budget has been overstretched has been used to justify not making any further signings.
If the budget has been surpassed, then it is not big enough. The transfer policy seemingly remains focused on profit, signing players with a potentially high resale value irrespective of the contributions they’ll make to the side, rather than primarily improving the Addicks.
As such, further investment in the side needs to be made. You could make a strong argument for a centre-back, a full-back, a winger and a forward being needed at the very least, and that’s while hoping this bizarre decision to look to loan Igor Vetokele out is reversed.
Charlton’s squad, although containing a number of quality players, does not have the required strength in depth to compete to the standard that those in charge at the club seemingly want it to.
2: Defensive naivety and mistakes
Maybe the most frustrating aspect of Charlton’s run of results is that the opposition have rarely had to perform beyond a certain level of competence for their victories.
For the Addicks have been conceding completely avoidable goals with some regularity since a simple Wolves move resulted in defeat at Molineux.
In part, it’s been a collective issue. The structure, shape and resilience that was so vital to the impressive performances at the start of the season, particularly against Derby County, has been replaced by something really rather ill-disciplined. The two banks of four not so obviously there, and the opposition creating opportunities from set-pieces with relative ease.
But so too are players committing horrendous individual mistakes. In addition to a failure to mark properly from corners, as was seen both at Blackburn and Cardiff, a lack of composure was previously resolute defenders has seen the opposition gifted openings. Diarra a shambles against Blackburn, Morgan Fox struggling against Cardiff, and even Chris Solly has struggled in recent weeks.
As such, the Addicks are being put on the back foot. The defence no longer able to offer a firm barrier, and keep Charlton in control of the game, and instead nervously attempting to fend off the opposition without great success.
Solution: A focus on shape and structure
After the defeat to Huddersfield, Luzon demanded that his side returned to basics. A comment that, although a little light on true meaning, was encouraging.
For it was with a very basic and simple approach that the Addicks returned to winning ways under the Israeli last season. Two rigid banks of four when out of possession, with that solid base allowing a forward four to play with directness and freedom when attacking.
So too did individuals within the side play with an incredible amount of composure. This a time before Roger Johnson imploded, and also one where Fox was improving with each and every week. Charlton resilient in defence.
And it’s that sort of structured and disciplined defensive effort that must return. At the very least, a gritty result gained through determined defensive efforts, where the opposition are not given the opportunity to score the simplest of goals, may be the catalyst for the Addicks getting out of this rut.
3: A lack of threat out wide
In addition to that resolute defensive shape, the wide men were pivotal to Charlton’s transformation in form under Luzon last season. Without Frederic Bulot and Gudmundsson, the counter-attacking football that gave the Addicks seven wins from nine would not have been possible.
So it is no surprise that Luzon’s side have struggled while those playing in the wide positions have been unable to make a positive contribution.
Jordan Cousins, as we’ve sort of known since the beginning of time, is not a winger, Mikhail Kennedy, for all his youthful endeavour, is not yet good enough to fulfil the role of ball-carrying and counter-attacking winger, and McAleny, primarily a forward anyway, has failed to make any sort of impression in his handful of minutes on the pitch.
Zakarya Bergdich has also failed to impress, despite the suggestion that he turned down Premier League clubs to join the Addicks in the summer. His first touch, strength and crossing ability indicates he might have meant the Scottish Premier League.
And with Gudmundsson having to fill in centrally in recent weeks, both up front and in the number 10 role, the direct drive down the flanks that was so crucial last season has been almost completely absent.
The opposition, therefore, have constantly been able to push Charlton onto the back foot. Without facing genuine threat, they can afford to be more adventurous, penning the Addicks in and putting increased amounts of pressure on Fox and Solly, who haven’t been able to get forward as much as they usually do in recent week.
Solution: Play players in their proper positions, recall Harriott
The first step to addressing the lack of threat from wide positions is a fairly simple one – play the best winger this club has had for some time, Bradley Pritchard aside, in his proper position.
For Gudmundsson is wasted in a central position. Playing there prevents him from doing what he does best – collecting the ball out wide, cutting forward inside and creating a chance out of nothing.
Seldom do those moves result in goals, but they do push the Addicks forward, inject a bit of confidence, and give the opposition something to think about. Time and time again a dull affair has come to life after a signature and drive inside from the Iceland international.
Pushing Gudmundsson back out wide, however, only resolves the issues on one flank. As was seen in partnership with Bulot last season, the Addicks are at their best under Luzon with an effective and direct winger on either flank.
So maybe there is some value in recalling Callum Harriott from his loan spell at Colchester United. A different Callum Harriott to the one that was sent there, with two goals, several assists and an appearance in the Football League Team of the Week a sign of his new found confidence.
Of course, Harriott is performing at a lower level, and he was sent to a League One club having struggled in a Charlton shirt for some time. His performance against Peterborough in the League Cup absolutely abysmal, and the feeling you got from Luzon was that he wanted rid of the winger permanently.
But Harriott has long needed this loan move. A player who has occasionally shown flashes of talent, but almost always let down by horrendous decision making and a lack of confidence that has grown and grown since his efforts in keeping the Addicks up in 2013/14.
It would certainly be no hindrance to have available a player who probably has more self-belief at present than the rest of the Charlton side combined.
4: Tony Watt
Charlton have not been a one man team under Luzon at any point, with the best performances built upon a strong collective effort. But the overall decline since Tony Watt has started to misfire shows how vital the Scot playing at his best is to this side.
No longer is there a roar of expectation as Watt collects the ball and drives forward. Instead, an expectation that he will eventually run into a dead end, or find some sort of other frustrating way to lose the ball.
His performance against Huddersfield was probably his worst in a Charlton shirt, and while he was livelier against Blackburn and Cardiff, he was still unable to contribute as positively as he normally does.
Is it an issue of fitness, as his form has dropped since missing the Wolves game through injury? Is it an issue of confidence, and this is the player that fans of his other clubs saw more often than we have previously? Is it a sign of the general unhappiness, and a sudden lack of motivation shared by the squad?
Whatever the cause, both Luzon and Watt need to work to resolve the forward’s lack of form.
There really isn’t much that can be done, but hope Watt rediscovers his best form as soon as possible. We’re a bit screwed if he doesn’t.
5: A drop in intensity, and a lack of character
If tamely throwing away the lead against Cardiff wasn’t enough to demoralise those supporters unfortunate enough to be spending their afternoon at the CCS, then Charlton’s response to going behind certainly was.
For from the moment Sean Morrison was allowed to head beyond Pope, the Addicks looked beaten. There was no drive, energy nor determination to get back into the game, with effortless sideways passes made, the sort a side attempting to run down the clock would make, and a complete lack of attacking intent.
It appeared as if heads had dropped and confidence diminished to such an extent that Luzon’s side had effectively given up. Character and intensity worryingly absence.
But that hasn’t just been the case when chasing the game. The Addicks, not helped by the struggles out wide and Watt’s form, have looked slow and sluggish with and without the ball for the majority of their recent games.
The high-intensity pressing that saw Luzon’s side completely dominate the second half against QPR and periods of the game against Hull has rarely been seen since. Even Ahmed Kashi, superb since joining in the summer, struggled against Blackburn.
And Luzon’s patient possession football has become a frustration, with the ball retained between those in defence and in the centre of midfield without a clear plan as to how to get the ball forward. It’s all just far too slow.
Solution: Captain Jackson, if Luzon cannot address it
These issues, largely based around motivation and energy, should be ones that Luzon can resolve. It is up to him to get the best out of the individuals lacking confidence and character in his side, and create an environment where there is a high level of intensity.
But, irrespective of whether Luzon can lift his side or not, similar issues will repeat themselves each time the Addicks pick up a handful of poor results owing to the lack of strong and definitive leaders in the side.
It is with guilt that I criticise Solly, but he is not a captain. Certainly someone who merits wearing the armband, given his contribution to the club, but not someone who can uplift, inspire and motivate.
And certainly not like Johnnie Jackson can. It is almost a year to the day since his incredible captain’s performance, involving fight in the middle for 90 minutes and a match-winning strike, against Norwich City, and that sort of character is required again.
Of course, he is currently injured, but once fit, he can play an important role in his side’s fortunes transforming again.
In these moments, where you feel the issues Charlton face are as much mental as they are about footballing ability, Jackson’s presence is greatly missed.
6: General criticism of Luzon’s managerial ability
As Luzon sprinted down the touchline to join in with the dramatic celebrations of Gudmundsson’s last minute winner against Hull City, he appeared to leave behind any remaining baggage that was still attached to him after the controversial manner in which he was appointed.
But despite seemingly doing enough to earn the respect of Charlton supporters, it has not spared him from criticism in recent weeks.
And it is fair to say that, after a near faultless start to the season, Luzon has started to make mistakes. None more frustrating than misjudging the importance of the Crystal Palace game and playing a weakened side, only to suffer a gutless defeat to Cardiff three days later.
So too, as mentioned above, has the structure of his side been lost, are players being played out of position, and such a dramatic drop of energy and motivation developing that you have to question the mood in the camp. An odd thing to say after that incredible moment against Hull.
There is always going to be criticism of a head coach when performances are of such a low standard. You could lay the blame squarely at the feet of the players for one or two poor performances, but a failure to address the issues that have seen six poor performances in a row means Luzon must take a portion of the criticism.
More needed from him, and from his side.
Solution: Stick by him, for all sorts of reasons
Despite this tough period, wanting rid of Luzon is incredibly short-sighted, in more ways than one.
The first being that it merely ignores all the positive work he has done, in tough circumstances, since becoming head coach in January. The transformation after the 14-game winless run, the start of this season and the respect the players have shown for him in the past indicate his managerial ability and that there is unlikely to be chaos in the dressing room.
So too is it hard to see any head coach working as well as Luzon does under Duchatelet. Most head coaches, including the other three that have been at Charlton since the Belgian bought the club, would be unwilling to work under his constraints and reign. But the Israeli appears to have a decent understanding of and happy to work in the environment that he has been placed in. Until Duchatelet changes the way his clubs operate, which won’t be happening, he’s the best we can hope for.
In addition, Luzon deserves and requires a bit of time to build something. Stability desperately required, and a knee-jerk removal of the head coach would only mean another difficult transition period, which can’t keep happening every season.
Improvement required, but that won’t be achieved by ditching the boss.
Energy, urgency and sheer determination have given Guy Luzon’s Charlton Athletic some spectacular moments in the previous nine months. Points salvaged from certain defeats and winning goals scored in games that were seemingly petering out.
It is, therefore, no wonder that those Addicks in the Cardiff City Stadium away end – many of who had seen their side complete a comeback victory against the Bluebirds in March and seal a dramatic 98th minute win against Hull City a little over a month ago – responded to a flat, characterless and unimaginative attempt to draw level with the hosts with frustrated boos.
In theory, given that they were 2-1 down, Charlton were chasing the game in its final ten minutes. But to refer to their effort as a chase would not be an adequate reflection of the energy exerted in the attempts to draw level.
For instead of throwing bodies, and ball, forward, the Addicks were tentative. The ball passed from the backline into midfield, and back into defence again. Possession kept as if Charlton’s goal was to see out a win; those in attack moving in a manner that would have been more fitting of a side whose job was done.
And Charlton were only in such a position, where their lack of attacking intensity proved so crucial, because their defensive efforts were uncharacteristic of the disciplined and structured displays that have been at the heart of the best performances under Luzon.
Poor finishing, desperate goalline clearances, and Nick Pope prevented Cardiff from taking advantage of a shambolic defensive performance from those in red until after Karlan Ahearne-Grant had given the Addicks a somewhat undeserved lead after the break.
But Charlton were not to be so fortunate thereafter. Joe Mason able to convert from close range after the Addicks failed to clear, and an unmarked Sean Morrison heading the simplest of winners with 14 minutes to play. The game over as soon as Pope’s net rippled for a second time.
It leaves Luzon’s side without a win in six, and with issues that need addressing in all departments. Pressure starting to build, and will only continue to if such inept performances are repeated.
The defeat is made even more frustrating when the importance Luzon placed on the trip to Wales is considered. The opposite of a performance lacking organisation, intensity and energy demanded after several of Charlton’s key men were questionably rested for the South East London derby defeat at Selhurst Park on Wednesday.
While they returned to the side – with Patrick Bauer, Ahmed Kashi, Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Tony Watt all starting – any pre-game optimism was quickly quelled by a disastrous opening ten minutes for the Addicks, which they somehow escaped without conceding.
Cardiff’s start, although confident and composed, was not one that belonged to a side who should have been able to leave their opponents in complete disarray. But Charlton offered little resistance to the Bluebirds relatively simple passing play and cross-field balls.
And it was dealing with set-pieces delivered into the box that those in red had most trouble with. Something that would be seen after Pope flung himself across goal to save Anthony Pilkington’s drive, and the unconvincing Naby Sarr nervously turned the follow-up over his own bar.
For organisation was clearly lacking as Peter Whittingham’s corner came into the box. Morrison left unmarked, and only an incredible goalline clearance from Jordan Cousins, diving backwards and hooking the ball away, kept the scores level.
A lesson, however, had not been learned as the Addicks set up for the resulting corner. Charlton bodies static as Whittingham’s delivery floated across to the back post.
And they remained static as pinball ensued, with the ball eventually nodded across to an open Kenwyne Jones. Sarcastic cheers emerging from the away end as the robust forward could only pick out the side netting, but they were merely masking the panic and fury among supporters of the Addicks.
Appropriately marking the chap winning every header in Charlton’s box would have at least calmed the angst in the away end, but those in red seemed unwilling to comply. Morrison again allowed to wander as a free-kick was swung into the box, and the former Reading man headed over Pope’s crossbar.
The issue in addition to Charlton’s failure to defend with any organisation or resistance was that they could not buy themselves even a moment’s relief by getting forward. Decision making, particularly from the struggling Zakarya Bergdich, incredibly poor.
So the sight of Johann Berg Gudmundsson driving forward and cutting inside in trademark fashion was most welcome, irrespective of the fact his shot was blocked behind for a corner. The winning of the set-piece met by a roar from the away end, which only built as Cardiff cleared for another.
And so it might have done, as Russell Slade’s men also saw no reason to mark giant centre-backs. Patrick Bauer’s unchallenged header only prevented from crossing the line by a timely intervention from Scott Malone.
The attack, however, was not yet over, and Gudmundsson was able to deliver another ball in the direction of Bauer’s head. The German rose highest to nod towards goal, but a reaction save from goalkeeper Simon Moore stopped the Addicks from taking a lead that, for much of the afternoon, had looked unlikely.
This period of positive play, though, was not enough to completely relax those in the away end. Songs from yesteryear sung in order to distract as Patrick Bauer exchanged a wayward header with Kagisho Dikgacoi, and indecisiveness meant a potent-looking break at each end, led by Joe Ralls and Tony Watt, amounted to nothing.
Fear still existed that Cardiff would be able to capitalise upon the faults in Charlton’s backline, and the Addicks gradually growing back into the game would prove meaningless.
Chances, therefore, needed to be taken. A rare piece of effective play from Bergdich, beating Malone and delivery an excellent cross to an unmarked Watt, creating a superb one, but Moore’s stop from the Scot’s downward header was sublime.
Regardless that such an opening couldn’t be taken, you could almost make an argument for momentum being with the Addicks. At the very least, you could suggest they had as much a right to claim to be ahead as the Bluebirds.
So, with half-time approaching, Cardiff issued a number of timely reminders that improvement was still needed. Pilkington jinking into space, and Pope required to pull off a one-handed diving save.
But it was their next move forward that created the most worry of the half, arguably more than any of their openings in the first ten minutes.
Possession tamely gifted to the Bluebirds in midfield, with Whittingham quickly feeding the run of Mason, who broke into the box and attempted to touch the ball around Pope. The goalkeeper sprung for him as he did, sending the forward sprawling, and immediately attracting the referee’s whistle.
The worst was feared. Pope, sublime up to that point, would surely be sent off, and youngster Dimitor Mitov would have to face a Whittingham penalty. But the referee’s arm pointed away from the penalty spot, and Mason was adjudged to have dived. A collective sigh of relief had in the away end.
It meant that, after Pope had made one last save from a Pilkington drive, the Addicks were able to go in at the break level. A position they were fairly lucky to be in, but one that they could certainly build upon.
Still, however, Luzon’s side were struggling to deal with balls into the box. The first chance of the half falling to Mason, who headed wide by the narrowest of margins.
And while they might have continued to look less than impressive at the back, at least the occasional move forward increased hope. Ahearne-Grant introduced at the break, replacing the awful Bergdich, and his pace immediately making an impact.
Watt, too, started the second period with an injection of pace, and the Scot was able to burst past Malone out on the right as the Addicks broke forward.
So too did he have the composure to look up and pick out Ahearne-Grant in the centre, his driven ball falling perfectly to the unmarked forward with 49 minutes played.
And with calm beyond his 18 years, the substitute took a touch and poked beyond Moore. It seemed an unlikely scenario that the Addicks would take the lead after the start they had, and this was certainly cruel on Cardiff, but that took little away from the pure joy expressed by Ahearne-Grant as he celebrated his first Championship goal.
Nonetheless, the somewhat unmerited position that Charlton found themselves in should have only acted as a reminder that they desperately needed to tighten up at the back in order to maintain their lead. A nervy moment as Mikhail Kennedy appeared to handle inside the box, before Gudmundsson burst forward amidst a sea of boos to test Moore.
But before Cardiff anger had subsided about that hand ball call, and just four minutes after they fell behind, the Bluebirds had drawn level.
There was no feeling of injustice as Mason, allowed to beat a host of red shirts to a bouncing cross at the back post, turned in, for you could not argue that the Bluebirds did not at least deserve parity. Instead, there was anger that Charlton had conceded yet another soft goal, and not addressed the errors of this week or past.
A response, once again, required, with those in the away end hopeful that the introduction of Conor McAleny, whose name was sung by the supporters of the club who he was on loan at last season, would help provide it.
But it was Watt, certainly more lively and threatening than he had been in recent weeks, who looked most likely to carry the Addicks to three points. The Scot dancing forward and unleashing a strike that Moore could only parry, with the goalkeeper able to deny Cousins superbly, who pounced on the rebound.
Watt’s energy, however, was not being replicated throughout the rest of the Charlton side. Especially with Sammy Ameobi and Craig Noone coming on, it was Cardiff who looked the most lively and most likely to score a winner.
That particularly true with Morrison still winning every header inside Charlton’s box. Another corner won by the centre-back, but thankfully sent over the bar.
And with the visual warning, if not the other 3,409, still fresh in their minds, the Addicks were forced to defend another corner just moments later. Whittingham swung the ball in, and there was an unmarked Morrison, this time able to power beyond a blameless Pope. It had long been coming, but to concede a goal like that after so many warnings was unforgivable.
But it could be partly forgiven if Charlton showed a bit of character in the game’s closing moments. If there was energy and drive, and a genuine attempt to draw level.
Instead, the remaining 14 minutes were spent wandering around the pitch without intensity and ideas. It might have even been better had the Bluebirds confirmed their misery when Mason turned Malone’s driven cross over the bar from close range.
For that would not have increased as the anger in the away end as much as Charlton’s attempts to draw level. No potency, and no threat, as sideways passes were made with attacks never looking like materialising.
It allowed Cardiff, after McAleny had ambitionless shot over from distance and Watt had headed well off-target, to see the game out in comfortable fashion. The ball kept in the corner, away from a Charlton side who had long looked beaten.
There can be several excuses made for such a poor performance, and most of them are valid.
The injury list is long, and a fully fit Charlton would have surely given a Cardiff side who were controlled and composed but not spectacular a better game. The return of Franck Moussa, who made an appearance off the bench late on, one positive to take.
You can even argue that, with a bit more luck, the Addicks could have taken something from the game. Moore having to be at his best on a number of occasions to deny Watt, Bauer and Cousins.
But it takes little away from just how poor Luzon’s side were throughout the vast majority of the game.
For even when you consider how much the Addicks are currently hindered by injuries, with their small squad suffering, it does not excuse a performance lacking any sort of defensive organisation and, for large parts, attacking creativity.
The inability to deal with the simplest of balls into the box was incredibly disappointing, while the lack of fight and drive having fallen behind was very poor. At least Luzon has admitted that, because a response is desperately required against Fulham.
It seems irrational to suggest a game in the second month of the season qualifies as being a must win. There will still be 37 games to play after Saturday’s trip to the Cardiff City Stadium, and losing out on or gaining three points will not be decisive.
But there is no shying away from the pressure that Guy Luzon’s side are under to get a positive result this weekend.
For not only do the Addicks head to Wales without a win in five competitive games, but also on the back of Luzon effectively admitting this league fixture was a bigger priority to him than Wednesday’s derby defeat to Crystal Palace.
Key members of the squad were rested, for fear they would suffer injury. A weakened starting XI outclassed by Palace, which will prove even more infuriating should Luzon not receive any reward for putting all his eggs in one basket.
So too, however, will the Bluebirds be desperate to return to winning ways. An impressive start to the season tainted by two successive defeats.
A challenging task for Charlton, therefore, but one that the last week has made one that must be passed.
LAST MEETING – CARDIFF CITY 1-2 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
The introduction of an unlikely hero helped the Addicks snatch victory from the jaws of defeat at the Cardiff City Stadium in March.
Charlton, in the midst of their run of seven wins from nine, looked set for a deserved loss when Federico Macheda punished the sluggish visitors and tapped in from Kenwyne Jones’ nod across the face of goal.
But their performance dramatically improved after Simon Church was brought on by Luzon. The equaliser coming immediately after, as Tony Watt peeled off his man inside the box and finished coolly from Chris Eagles’ low cross.
And the Welsh forward had a direct impact in the winning goal on the ground where he plays most of his international football. Church bombing into the box, and winning a penalty as Sean Morrison hauled him down.
Yoni Buyens, in typically composed fashion, finishing from the spot with three minutes to play to give the Addicks a dramatic victory that looked unlikely 15 minutes previously.
Written off before the season began, with boss Russell Slade not considered good enough job, sitting in eighth place of the embryonic Championship table constitutes an excellent start to the campaign for the Bluebirds.
But their two most recent results have knocked confidence somewhat. There no shame in a six game unbeaten start being ended by Hull, but that it was followed by a defeat to Rotherham, the first club this season to suffer such fate against the Millers, is extremely disappointing.
As such, a response when Charlton visit Wales on Saturday is demanded. For another defeat and it will not be long for the voices who doubt Slade’s credentials return.
As Johann Berg Gudmundsson bundled in Charlton’s 98th minute winner against Hull, it seemed as if Luzon’s side were near enough invincible.
But since then, just one win, a 4-1 victory over a tame Peterborough side, has followed. The Addicks winless in five, losing four in pretty tame fashion.
The defensive resilience that was at the heart of the unbeaten start to the season replaced by a tendency to concede avoidable goals. Attack threat replaced by indecisiveness. Luzon’s unquestionable decision making replaced by, well, questionable decision making.
None less so than his call to rest the key members of his squad for Wednesday’s League Cup tie with Crystal Palace. The head coach evidently not fully aware of the importance of the clash to supporters, and a tame effort in defeat following accordingly.
A response desperately required.
Simon Moore is set to start in goal for the Bluebirds, with first choice stopper David Marshall suspended for the next two games.
The club appealed the red card Marshall received for striking Matt Derbyshire during Saturday’s defeat to Rotherham, but only succeeded in knocking a game off his ban.
Changes, although otherwise not enforced, are also expected elsewhere, with Bruno Ecuele Manga, Aron Gunnarsson and Jones spending a great deal of time on the bench in recent weeks.
Charlton will be without Simon Makienok for the trip to Wales, with the striker still yet to recover from the injury that has kept him out of the last two games.
And there are also doubts about the availability of Igor Vetokele, who was left out of the squad for Tuesday’s defeat to Crystal Palace altogether amid rumours that Bolton Wanderers want to sign the forward on loan.
It leaves Luzon without much to choose from in attack, with Tony Watt likely to come back into the side, and Conor McAleny set for his first league start.
He will also be without his key man in defence, with Alou Diarra suspended following his red card in the League Cup loss at Selhurst Park. Patrick Bauer likely to come back into the side to replace him.
KEY BATTLE: PREVENTING SOFT GOALS
At the centre of Charlton’s impressive start to the season, while the likes of Watt and Gudmundsson were important, was an almost faultless effort from the backline.
Chris Solly his consistently brilliant self, Alou Diarra and Bauer forming a formidable centre-back partnership, and Morgan Fox proving to those who questioned his ability that he’s good enough for the Championship.
But, since the defeat to Wolves, with two preventable goals conceded, the Addicks have been gifting the opposition the softest of goals.
No one awake to defend the corner against Rotherham, Huddersfield’s opener incredibly soft, and all three conceded against Blackburn the result of poor defending. That’s without even mentioning Diarra’s clumsy efforts at Selhurst.
As such, for Charlton to get back to winning ways, it’s vital that they rediscover the defensive resilience shown in the first few weeks of the campaign.
A task made harder without Diarra, and the unconvincing Sarr playing in his place, but the Addicks must keep it tight at the back and build a solid foundation from which they can look to steal all three points at the Cardiff City Stadium.
It’s hard to be confident on the basis of recent performances, but I do expect Luzon’s side to be motivated for this one. While that might not be enough for victory, it should be enough to avoid embarrassment. Cardiff City 1-1 Charlton Athletic.
In the build up to Charlton’s trip to Selhurst Park, the message that Guy Luzon and his side understood the importance of a South East London derby was repeated again and again.
Luzon suggested he knew how much victory against Crystal Palace would mean to supporters, while several players reinforced his words by expressing their desire to play to their all in the League Cup third round tie.
And those who took to the Selhurst Park pitch to represent the Addicks certainly stuck to their words in the opening 45. Alan Pardew’s Premier League side superior in quality, dominating possession and regularly breaking forward with intent, but constantly halted by a determined Charlton defensive line. Effort not questionable.
What was questionable, however, was Luzon’s team selection. Patrick Bauer, Ahmed Kashi and Johann Berg Gudmundsson kept in reserve, in addition to the slightly out of sorts Tony Watt, with Charlton’s head coach unwilling to risk those fully fit key components of his side in case of injury.
It meant the second half capitulation that followed was both predictable and self-inflicted. The Addicks unable to successfully fight as the difference in class became more and more apparent, with Luzon suitably punished for underestimating the importance of this derby fixture.
For Charlton were already out of the contest by the time Gudmundsson was introduced. Frazier Campbell twisting and turning inside the box to poke beyond Nick Pope, before he was hauled down by Alou Diarra and Dwight Gayle added a second from the spot.
The Icelandic winger may have delivered the corner that briefly provided belief, with Naby Sarr heading through Wayne Hennessey’s hands, but it was merely false hope. Diarra adjudged to have fouled substitute Patrick Bamford inside the box, with a red card issued and Gayle again converting.
The forward still had time to complete his hat-trick, heading in from a corner, and the Eagles would have added further to their margin of victory were it not for Pope’s brilliance.
But the goalkeeper’s resilience mattered little to those hurting Charlton supporters in the away end. Luzon will argue his team selection will be justified with a win at Cardiff on Saturday, but that won’t sooth the pain of an 11th derby fixture without victory. The importance completely misunderstood.
Weak though it was, the XI that emerged from the Selhurst Park tunnel still received strong and passionate support from the visiting Addicks. Those in the away end did not deserve to be cheering on Sarr, Mikhail Kennedy and Karlan Ahearne-Grant in such a high-profile game, but they were determined to inspire them to perform beyond their perceived ability.
And it was Charlton who produced the game’s first effort on goal. Conor McAleny, making his first start for the club, driving forward and firing well wide from distance.
But that did not set the tone for the remainder of the half, as Palace quickly began to stamp their authority on the game. Gayle lifting a free-kick off-target, and Zaha, unmarked and in glorious position, ballooning a header from Lee Chung-Yong’s delivery well over the bar.
Their passing slick, while Charlton’s was erratic. Their composure on the ball reaffirming their class, while the touches of those in red and white full of panic. Zaha providing a constant threat down the flank, while Zakarya Bergdich struggled.
The Addicks, however, were unrelenting in their determination to hold off the threat of their superior opponents. It was desperate at times, with a heroic point blank block from Diarra needed to keep out a goal bound Campbell drive, but this resilient fight was enough to just about tame the Eagles.
Under no illusions about the difficulty of the task their side faced, there were cheers with each crunching tackle. Chris Solly flying into Pape Souare, Morgan Fox chipping away at Zaha, and Sarr offering much firmer resistance than he did during his league debut a week ago.
The longer Charlton successfully battled at the back, the greater their chances of taking something resembling pride from this derby clash. It doing no harm to their chances of taking a result from the game, either, as McAleny broke forward again and a flashed an effort much closer to goal than his first minute strike.
The rare shot in general direction of Palace’s goal, however, did not prove the catalyst for more or halt Palace’s persistent attacking play. The Addicks guilty of standing off Gayle, who shot comfortably wide.
But there was one more opening for Luzon’s side before the break, and this one that appeared much more promising than an ambitious drive from distance.
Having been unable to break down the left for the entirety of the half, Bergdich finally shrugged off Martin Kelly and fed the lively Ahearne-Grant. His resulting effort, however, was a tame one, curled within Hennessey’s reach despite being a few yards from goal.
Nonetheless, as the Eagles ended the half with Campbell again striking off-target by a large enough margin for Pope to be untroubled, the occasional breaks were merely a bonus to the defensive diligence. Charlton’s fight and resolve, in the face of an almost unrelenting Palace threat, incredibly encouraging.
The choice for Luzon, consequently, prior to the second period getting underway was one of two options. Continue to hope his troops would show the same amount of character and hold off Palace for as long as possible, or throw on Gudmundsson and co. in order to build upon the solid base that the first half efforts provided.
Given the nature of the derby clash, and the fact that Palace’s quality meant they would almost certainly eventually breakdown the Addicks, the latter option seemed the better way to go, in addition to correcting the misjudgement of selecting a weakened team.
Instead, the Israeli boss opted to keep things as they were, desperately hoping his side would find another ounce or two of fight to keep them in the contest for as long as possible.
But it took a little over five minutes for the first warning sign to emerge. Campbell unmarked in the middle, and glancing Zaha’s cross fractionally wide of the far post. The closest Charlton had come to falling behind.
Such an opening should have acted as a warning, to regain composure, keep track of those in the centre and deal with the increasingly lively Zaha. Instead, their resistance was weak as the Eagles swarmed forward once again, breaking through and gaining the lead a little less than a minute after Campbell’s narrow miss.
It could not have been simpler for the hosts. The ball worked up to Zaha with minimal fuss, before he exchanged passes with Gayle and fed Campbell as bodies in red and white stood statuesque. Although the ball was played to him with him his back to goal, and it monetarily appear to get away from him, the forward was able to find the space to turn and finish beyond a faultless Pope.
A determined 45 minutes undone in six second half minutes; a response as great as the passionate one from the away end required to give the Addicks a chance.
To their credit, they did not immediately cave in. Ahearne-Grant cutting inside and feeding Bergdich, but the Moroccan could only fire straight at Hennessey.
But it was two penalty calls that seemingly knocked any remaining hope, if not fight, out of Luzon’s side. Fury in the away end as McAleny appeared to be hauled down inside the box, but not in the opinion of referee Swarbrick.
And some light relief was offered as a celebrating Selhurst was silenced by the assistant’s flag. Campbell tucking in from an offside position following a corner awarded after a crucial Pope fingertip kept out Lee.
Campbell, however, was to have the last laugh. The former Cardiff forward driving into the box, and going over under a clumsy coming together with Diarra. There could be few complaints with the decision, only that the foul was not too dissimilar to the one that was seemingly committed on McAleny.
It matted little, though, as the sound of “Glad All Over” soon hid Charlton frustration. Gayle converting from the spot, leaving the Addicks in a position from which they not only had to listen to that god awful song and PA announcer encourage the celebrations, but from which defeat looked certain.
For the first time during the evening, the away end was anything less than very loud, as Pardew replaced the influential Campbell with Bamford. The former Derby and Boro loanee introducing himself with a wild strike from range that flew over the bar.
A lift needed, or at least something to get the miserable Addicks back behind their side, and that did not appear to be a corner that substitute Gudmundsson sprinted across to take.
But his delivery was superb, perfect for Sarr, and the French forward threw his head at the ball and got enough power behind it to force it through the hands of Hennessy. Unexpectedly, and somewhat undeservedly, Charlton had a lifeline and the away end was rocking once more.
Realistically, however, this tie would still end with Palace progressing. The goal not enough to inject extra spark in Charlton’s forward play, with Sarr’s second attempt to head a Gudmundsson corner goalwards much more tame, and Ahearne-Grant unable to nod McAleny’s delivery on-target.
So, with a little over 15 minutes to go, the introduction of Watt, replacing the Everton loanee, seemed pivotal. His energy, and ability to score a goal out of nothing, needed to come through if the Addicks were to, at the very least, extend the length of the contest.
But before the Scot had even touched the ball, his introduction had been made meaningless. Sarr indecisive on the edge of the box, Bamford taking over, and Diarra again clumsily dragging a player in Palace colours to the floor. A straight red the Frenchman’s punishment.
And Charlton’s was only extended as Gayle comfortably rolled the ball the opposite way to an early-diving Pope. With 14 minutes to play, this was most certainly game over. The away end beginning to empty and Yohan Cabaye being introduced only reaffirming that.
Watt, clawing back Adrian Marriapa and conceding a foul as he did, attempting to regain some pride with a signature run into the box, but firing wide in addition to Swarbrick penalising him.
In fact, the greater attempt to restore some pride was being made down the other end. Another fine stop from Pope denying Bamford from close range.
But there was little the goalkeeper could do from the resulting corner, as Gayle, a diminutive forward, was able to rise highest to glance beyond Pope for his hat-trick. The fight and resolve of the first half long since vanished.
Or at least vanished from all bar Pope. A wonderful, dipping effort from Cabaye superbly kept out, before he got himself up off the deck to deny Gayle from close range. Marvellous from a goalkeeper who did not cover himself in glory just over a week ago.
His best efforts, however, could do little to prevent the full-time whistle being met with a familiar feeling of despair. The Addicks outclassed by superior opposition, but so too were they punished for a questionable attitude taken towards a derby encounter.
And that is what makes tonight’s efforts particularly disappointing. The defeat was predictable, given Palace’s Premier League status and Premier League quality side, but I expected Luzon and his side to give their absolute all in order for a bit of derby pride to be gained.
With that in mind, they needed to give themselves the best chance of victory. The strongest possible team needed to play, and the fight was shown in the opening 45 needed to be replicated for the entire 90.
But the capitulation that followed was an almost direct result of the weak nature of the side. The Addicks unable to get forward on a consistent enough basis, or able to maintain possession, so as to give the back four a moment or two to breath. Diarra and co, having been so determined during the first half, were always likely to crack at some point in the face of unrelenting pressure.
The argument is that Luzon could not play his key players because he couldn’t risk them getting injured with the squad already paper thin and carrying a few nocks.
But then why is the squad so light as to not be able to cope with a derby fixture, and why wasn’t this game considered as important as a game against Cardiff that will long be forgotten when the Addicks finish marooned in mid-table?
It places an extraordinary amount of pressure on Luzon and his side to achieve victory on Saturday, with capitulation in a South East London derby taken in the hope Charlton will be 100% for the trip to Wales.
Even then, I feel incredibly disappointed that the importance of tonight, and what it means to supporters, was not understood by Luzon, or at least not reflected in his selection.
Feeling deflated following a derby defeat is becoming incredibly boring.
For some time, derbies have been a source of suffering for supporters of Charlton Athletic. Ten games against either of their South East London neighbours passing without the Addicks recording victory.
Not since Matthew Spring volleyed Charlton to a one-goal victory over Crystal Palace in January 2009, ending an 18 game winless run, has the desired amount of character been displayed. Too often have those wearing red failed to match the adrenalin and emotion in the stands.
And yet, excitement and expectation has existed in relation to the third round League Cup tie at Selhurst Park ever since the draw was made. The buzz that a derby clash creates, especially one away from home, overruling rational thought.
For the likely outcome of Wednesday’s tie isn’t pleasant. Charlton succumbing to stronger opposition, allowing Alan Pardew, whose misspending and dire management while in charge of the Addicks makes him a figure of hate, to celebrate the toppling of his former club.
But with the somewhat misguided excitement comes the belief that the Addicks, having blown brilliant opportunities to end their winless derby run, could record an unlikely victory over Premier League Palace.
Form makes Charlton’s chances ever slimmer, with Guy Luzon’s side desperately poor since the international break, before even considering the gap in quality that unfortunately cannot be denied.
This group of players, however, have already fought to achieve unlikely victories this season, showing that the recent run of results is not reflective of their true ability. A determined effort at Selhurst and some of the misery he inflicted may well be returned to Pardew.
LAST MEETING – CRYSTAL PALACE 2-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
A late capitulation at Selhurst Park saw Charlton, having been in control for much of the afternoon, gift Palace all three points in February 2013.
A failure to take more than one of a plethora of chances the visitors created during a dominant first half performance ultimately proved costly, with Johnnie Jackson missing two fantastic openings to add to Ricardo Fuller’s stunning solo effort.
It meant that when then Palace boss Ian Holloway introduced Stephen Dobbie and Johnny Williams with just over 20 minutes to play, the playmakers were able to put the Eagles on the front foot and help turn the game on its head.
And that was done in the space of just four minutes, with Glenn Murray pouncing twice from close range. The Addicks losing a game they seemed in a fantastic position to win.
Crystal Palace: LLWWWL
Some would suggest it speaks more of the arrogance and delusion expressed regularly by Pardew during his time as Charlton boss, but that the Palace manager was left genuinely angered by two narrow defeats to Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur indicates the extent to which the Eagles have grown in recent seasons.
For while you could argue endlessly about which club is the biggest in historic stature, there is no debate as to which South East London club are currently the strongest. Palace rising from mediocre Championship outfit, with financial difficulties and relegation worries, to a competitive Premier League club.
And their results prior to those single-goal losses to City and Spurs show just that. Chelsea beaten at Stamford Bridge, with wins also recorded against Aston Villa at Norwich in addition to progressing to this stage of the League Cup with a victory over Shrewsbury.
Following Charlton’s impressive start to the season, there were expectations that this South East London derby would become a Premier League fixture in 2016/17. The third round of the League Cup reached by scoring four against Dagenham & Redbridge and Peterborough, and eight points gained from the first four league games.
But supporters of the Addicks have been brought back down to earth in recent weeks, with just one point gained from the previous four league games.
And that is made even more disappointing by the fact that that last three sides played were without a win in the Championship this season. Luzon’s side left frustrated by Rotherham, punished for an error-ridden effort against Huddersfield, and simply abysmal in the defeat to Blackburn.
A response, therefore, is desperately required. There no better way than a derby encounter to get the best out of an underperforming group of players.
Palace will be without Scott Dann after the defender picked up a calf injury during training on Saturday.
And Dann, who missed Sunday’s defeat to Tottenham, is unlikely to be the only member of Palace’s first choice backline who will be absent on Wednesday. Joel Ward struggling to recover from a knee injury that kept him out of the trip to White Hart Lane.
But Pardew will have an additional option to call upon in attack, with Connor Wickham set to return from an injury of his own.
The former Sunderland man, who is yet to score for the club he joined in the summer, could come in for Wilfried Zaha, whose performance was criticised by Pardew on Sunday.
Luzon will be sweating over the fitness of forward Simon Makienok, who missed Saturday’s defeat to Blackburn.
The absence of Makienok, whose physique will provide both an outlet should Charlton be penned in and a constant test to Palace’s back four, was significant as the Addicks struggled at Ewood Park, and fingers will be crossed that he can recover from his training ground injury.
Elsewhere, there has been significant calls in recent days for skipper Johnnie Jackson to come into the side, with his leadership required to lift Charlton out of this poor run of form.
Should Luzon share the views of many supporters, then Jordan Cousins will head back out wide, or a change to a formation that accommodates three centre-mids may have to be made.
KEY BATTLE – RISING TO THE OCCASION
Having to play opposition of greater quality shouldn’t leave the Addicks in fear. Their best performances this season coming against QPR, Derby County and Hull City.
But their disappointing efforts in the past week and their recent record in derby encounters means that there’s genuine worry that Luzon’s side will be unable to replicate those determined, counter-attacking displays at Selhurst Park and will instead crumble.
With Palace’s side, irrespective of the absence of Dann and Ward, possessing a solid defensive unit and an exciting attacking threat, Charlton will be punished if they are not at their best. Tony Watt will find no way through if his poor decision making continues, and the likes of Yannick Bolasie and Bakary Sako will enjoy themselves if Alou Diarra and Morgan Fox are more Blackburn away than Derby away.
As such, Charlton’s greatest battle on Wednesday night will be with themselves. Their mentality needs to be spot on, and certainly not as weak as it was in the defeats to Huddersfield and Blackburn.
For this is a tie that the Addicks stand a chance of competing in if they rise to the occasion, and perform with determination, resolve and composure. The defensive organisation, seen superbly at the iPro, and effective threat on the break, not the indecisive that has been on show in recent weeks, that has been at the heart of Charlton’s best performances under Luzon required.
For every ounce of excitement in my body, there’s ten ounces of fear. Crystal Palace 2-0 Charlton Athletic
Having heard the importance of getting the basics right stressed in the build up to the game, the nature of Charlton’s gutless defeat to Blackburn Rovers will prove of particular frustration for supporters.
For they travelled to Ewood Park expecting a reaction to two disappointing performances and results in a week, but instead saw a third consecutive failure to beat a side who went into the game without a Championship victory.
And it was this failure that was arguably the most disappointing. Rovers, capitalising upon the sort of error-filled performance from the Addicks that supporters were promised would not be seen, were able to record their first victory of the season in emphatic fashion.
In fact, were it not for Nick Pope’s brilliance in the Charlton goal, then the visitors’ sloppiness would have been punished by regular nemesis Jordan Rhodes long before he nodded in Shane Duffy’s knock on from a corner on the stroke of a half-time.
More disheartening, however, was the response after the break. The character, fight and quality required to get back into the game nowhere to be seen, as Blackburn’s lead looked secure even before Tom Lawrence beat Morgan Fox with ease to tee up Rhodes for his second with 15 minutes to play. Guy Luzon’s side again looking like the one who went into the game without a win.
And there was yet more suffering for those in the away end at Ewood Park, as Charlton’s defence stood and watched Rovers work the ball to Lawrence, who finished fiercely beyond the blameless Pope.
The goalkeeper one of very few whose performance could not be heavily criticised. The tame, tentative and mistake-ridden efforts from those in red allowing Blackburn to completely dominate a game that should have provided a fantastic opportunity for the Addicks to bounce back.
This a long way from the determined, resilient and dangerous performances seen in the first month of the season. A long way from a performance where the basics were right.
For a head coach who had spent several days demanding the basics be done well, Luzon’s starting XI featured a very brave choice.
Instead of replacing Simon Makienok, having suffered a training ground injury, with Igor Vetokele or Conor McAleny, Luzon opted to hand a Championship debut to youngster Mikhail Kennedy. The Northern Irishman starting on the right wing, with Johann Berg Gudmundsson partnering Tony Watt in attack.
The other changes made by the Charlton boss, however, were more fitting of his mantra. The lack of width on the left addressed by bringing Zakarya Bergdich in for El-Hadji Ba, with Jordan Cousins moving back into the centre, and the return of Alou Diarra, replacing Naby Sarr, seemingly strengthening the Addicks at the back.
And the opening exchanges provided some encouragement for the handful of supporters who occupied the Ewood Park away end. Charlton not flawless, but Blackburn struggling to maintain possession whenever pressed by a player in a red.
In fact, it was from winning possession in midfield that the visitors carved out the game’s first opening. Energy and strength from Cousins allowing him to rob Danny Guthrie, and Watt knocked his perfectly weighted through ball over the on-rushing Jason Steele. A covering Blackburn defender required to clean up.
But Rovers, desperate for a victory after feeling their performance deserved one at QPR in midweek, responded by exploiting the faults in Charlton’s backline. Those in red stepping up a fraction too late, meaning an onside and unmarked Rhodes was free to collect Ben Marshall’s delivery just yards from goal.
A familiar tale, with Rhodes helping himself to four goals against the Addicks last season, but Pope provided a twist. The goalkeeper, having been at fault for Huddersfield’s opener on Tuesday night, saved superbly at the near post to keep out the prolific forward’s effort.
It should have injected some composure into Charlton’s side, with even those not used to playing Rhodes surely aware that you can rarely get away with gifting him more than one opportunity to score.
That warning, however, had clearly not been heeded. Diarra unaware that the Scotland international was lurking, and passing back to Pope without the pace to stop Rhodes intercepting. He drove into a position from which you could only anticipate the neck rippling, and there were cheers after the forward got his shot away.
But these were not from Blackburn supporters. Instead, the away end stood to applaud Pope for a second time, with his long leg blocking away the Scot’s goalbound effort. Those supporters, and Pope, only able to breathe once the resulting corner had been nodded wide at the far post by Rhodes. Charlton fortunate not to be behind.
It meant some forward threat, both to settle nerves and push Blackburn onto the back foot, of their own was desperately required. A cleverly worked corner, with Bergdich pulling back for Gudmundsson to shoot, at least forced a good save out of Steele.
And Steele was thankful that he wasn’t forced into a save at the conclusion of Charlton’s next move, as a counter attack suited to the opening month of the season almost gave the Addicks the lead. Gudmundsson’s ball picking Watt’s run superbly, but the Scot’s strike flashing agonisingly across the face of goal.
This was a rare positive period of play since the international break from the Addicks, with pace and penetration returning in attack.
But decision making was again proving Charlton’s Achilles Heel. Watt seemingly collecting Cousins’ cut back with a clear sight of goal, but taking too long on the ball and eventually being dispossessed. A glorious opening coming to nothing, which the Addicks could hardly afford as they continued to look uncomfortable in midfield at the back.
In fact, with half-time approaching, the sloppiness only increased among those in red. Cousins and Ahmed Kashi guilty of giving the ball away far too cheaply in the middle, Diarra fouling the hard-working Bangaly-Fode Koita to gift a dangerous free-kick that Marshall could fire over, and a poorly judged header from the centre-back would have fallen to Rhodes were it not for Pope’s intervention.
So there was no sense of injustice as Blackburn took the lead during first half stoppage-time, only disappointment that the Addicks had failed to address their half-long sluggishness.
And the goal was scored in a predictably soft fashion. Duffy rising unchallenged to flick on Craig Conway’s corner, and Rhodes able to pounce at the back post. Charlton punished for not doing the basics with any sense of composure.
A response, therefore, desperately required after the interval. This, given that confidence would have taken a hit after recent results, a huge test of character.
But the early signs were not promising. Kashi and Cousins, who needed to keep things ticking over in the middle, were continuing to lose the ball cheaply, and forward passes were being cut out by Blackburn’s resilient backline.
It was, therefore, something of a shock when a poorly performing Bergdich popped up at the back post to meet Watt’s ball across the face of goal. His strike beating Steele, inviting premature celebrations, but not Grant Hanley, with the Rovers skipper getting back to clear the goalbound strike behind.
But creating such an opening failed to provide the impetuous it should have done. Intensity and quality execution still lacking, irrespective of Conway rushing a strike on the break over the bar in a manner that suggested his side were under genuine pressure.
For Blackburn were not without chances to double their lead. Conway, showing a touch more composure than in his earlier dart forward, crossing just beyond Rhodes, who would have headed into a near-empty net had he made contact.
Charlton, however, continued to struggle to look anything but lethargic. The introduction of Vetokele making minimal impact, as Watt horribly sliced wide before holding onto the ball for too long during a break and wasting the chance to send Bergdich through.
Nonetheless, sensing his side would face some degree of pressure in the game’s closing moments, Gary Bowyer replaced Koita with midfielder Tom Lawrence.
And Lawrence went onto play an important role in Rovers seeing out the game, but maybe not quite in the fashion Bowyer primarily had in mind.
For a minute after being introduced, the Welshman shrugged off his countryman Fox and cut back to the awaiting Rhodes, who snuck the ball underneath Pope’s desperate dive. If Charlton’s lack of cohesion and energy didn’t mean it was before the goal, then the game was certainly over now.
Not only because scoring two goals in 15 minutes was unlikely task, but the poor response to conceding. Heads dropping, and any remaining fight drained from the Addicks.
In fact, the only member of Charlton’s side with some pride to keep intact was Pope, and he saved superbly from Marshall after a Blackburn break had concluded with the former Sheffield Wednesday winger meeting Conway’s cross.
But there was nothing the goalkeeper could do as Blackburn helped themselves to a third with five minutes to play.
The ball played around without challenge, as Adam Henley eventually fed Lawrence, who struck powerfully beyond Pope. He had done his utmost to keep a degree of respectability about the scoreline, but the margin of defeat was reflective of the nature of Charlton’s abysmal performance.
And the final act of the afternoon was fitting. A tame Gudmundsson shot, comfortably held by Steele, drawing sarcastic cheers from those visiting supporters who hadn’t yet left their seat. A shot with all the ferocity of Charlton’s performance.
For this was an incredibly disappointing, and worrying, afternoon for the Addicks. Their performance simply not good enough, and some way off the standards that were set in the opening weeks of the season.
And that is the most worrying thing. Despite knowing what Charlton are capable of, the previous week has given me no confidence that such performances will return in the near future.
Going forward, there was no cohesion whatsoever. Any chances created born out of individual runs forward, with passing play at an absolute minimum.
That largely a result of Kashi and Cousins’ struggles. The pair were either very tentative in their passing, looking to go sideways or backwards when forward balls were on, or inaccurate, cheaply handing the ball back to Blackburn under little pressure. Forward moves over before they had even begun, which was particularly frustrating given the promise from Luzon the basics would be right.
But so too, with the Addicks relying on it, was there a lack of individual creativity. Decision making again poor, as Bergdich and Watt struggled.
It allowed Blackburn, not outstanding but posing enough of a threat, to take control of the game. And Charlton’s backline had no answer. Diarra having his worst game in a Charlton shirt, and both Fox and Bauer guilty of switching off for goals two and three.
It would therefore be easy to accuse the Addicks of lacking effort. But I’m not quite sure that’s the case.
Lacking intensity and composure would be a more accurate suggestion. That and a cohesive game plan. A stale performance.
This now a big test for Luzon and his players. A response, which currently looks unlikely, desperately required at Selhurst Park on Wednesday.
For the third game in a row, Charlton’s opponent is without a win in this season’s Championship. As such, expecting victory is not unreasonable.
And yet, there is a certain amount of apprehension ahead of the trip to Ewood Park on Saturday. Not only because Blackburn have won the previous four encounters between the two sides, but also owing to the disappointing nature of the results and performances in the previous week.
Against Rotherham, a failure to make possession and pressure count cost the Addicks two points, and a disappointing effort in defence and going forward meant Tuesday’s defeat to Huddersfield was deserved.
With Blackburn having taken a point from their trip to Loftus Road on Wednesday that could have so easily been three, the worry ahead of the clash among Charlton supporters has only increased. The league position of Gary Bowyer’s side not reflective of the individual quality within it.
But the Addicks have not suddenly become a poor side overnight. The excellent performances in the first month of the season were not flukes.
A way, however, needs to be found to get back to that potent attacking play on the break, and to rediscover a bit of confidence.
A big test of character for Guy Luzon and his side.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-3 BLACKBURN ROVERS
A RoJo masterclass gifted Blackburn all three points at The Valley in March.
The visitors took the lead with just 15 minutes played, as regular Charlton tormentor brushed off Roger Johnson and finished in typical fashion beyond Stephen Henderson.
And Rovers went two in front just three minutes later, as Johnson comically gifted the ball to Craig Conway, who fired into the bottom corner.
Yoni Buyens, converting a penalty awarded after goalkeeper Jason Steele clattered into Igor Vetokele, briefly gave the Addicks hope of avoiding a second defeat in seven games, but the Standard Liege loanee played an unfortunate part in the goal that sealed Blackburn’s victory.
Attempted to block a ball played through to Rhodes, Buyens could only help it into his path, and the prolific forward was able to comfortably head past Henderson.
In truth, Blackburn’s start to the season has been something of a frustrating one. Their three league defeats suffered by just one goal, and their four Championship draws the sort of contests that could well have gone either way.
But that takes little away from the disappointment of Gary Bowyer’s side failing to experience victory so far this season.
In part, it is a consequence of a testing summer. A transfer embargo restricting business, and their squad only substantially added to in the final weeks of the transfer window.
They have, however, kept a hold of their better performers, with Rhodes and Ben Marshall staying at Ewood Park despite interest from other Championship clubs. Rhodes scoring in the 2-2 draw with QPR in midweek, which boss Bowyer felt was a game his side did enough to win.
As such, irrespective of their winless start to the campaign, there is enough quality in Blackburn’s side to test most of the sides in this division.
Originally viewed as nothing more than a small blip, the defeat to Wolves before the international break in fact set up what was to come.
For the failure to provide a persistent threat in attack, with decision making poor and creativity lacking, that made the Addicks look sluggish at Molineux has also been seen in the draw with Rotherham and the defeat to Huddersfield.
Against two sides who offered a stubborn resolve, Luzon’s side had no answer. Individually, particularly in the case of Tony Watt, indecisiveness and poor execution gave the opposition back lines an easier task. Collectively, there was no Plan B.
A superb start to the season has become an average one, and a return to the early season form is required sooner rather than later.
Blackburn could be without Tommy Spurr after the full-back was stretchered off unconscious in the first minute of their draw with QPR.
Spurr, who required oxygen having been floored following a corner, latterly came round in the dressing room and travelled back up north with the squad, but Saturday’s game might come too soon for him to make a full recovery.
Jason Lowe is also a doubt, having missed the game at Loftus Road, while Chris Brown and Chris Taylor are both out.
Charlton have no fresh injury concerns ahead of the trip to Ewood Park, but there could be changes to the XI that started against Huddersfield.
The most likely would see Alou Diarra, rested on Tuesday night, come back in for Naby Sarr, who struggled to content with Ishmael Miller.
There could also be changes in midfield, with the lack of width that comes from playing Jordan Cousins on the left frustrating supporters. Loanee Conor McAleny may come in for his full debut, with El-Hadji Ba dropped to allow Cousins to take up a more natural position.
Elsewhere, Stephen Henderson, Franck Moussa, Cristian Ceballos and Reza Ghoochannejhad remain unavailable through injury.
KEY BATTLE – RHODES V CHARLTON’S CENTRE-BACKS
In last season’s league encounters between Blackburn and Charlton, an early goal or two from Rhodes put the game very quickly beyond the Addicks.
And while Charlton were not the only that Rhodes tormented, the manner of the goals he was able to score made both fixtures against Rovers particularly frustrating.
For Tal Ben Haim and Andre Bikey allowed him to dance into positions at Ewood Park from which a goal scorer of his nature would not waste, and Johnson offered little resistance at The Valley.
But Rhodes, having found the flaws in Charlton’s centre-backs last season, will come up against a stronger paring on Saturday. The return of Diarra, following Sarr’s disappointing efforts in midweek, alongside Patrick Bauer, arguably the most consistent performer so far, gives Luzon’s side a fair chance of stopping their regular nemesis.
With that solid base, the Addicks stand a much greater chance of once again finding the potent attacking play on the break that was seen during the first month of the season. At the very least, they’ll be able to attack without having to search for the goals that cancel out Rhodes’ strikes.
A decent opportunity to get back to winning ways, but I expect a slow return to the performances that were seen in the first month of the campaign. Blackburn Rovers 1-1 Charlton Athletic