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.