A group of supporters, united by disillusion towards the way the club they love is being treated, rose as a collective. The posters they held reading “we are the 2%”, accompanied by a chant of “stand up for the 2%”.
Katrien Merie had suggested that it was just a tiny proportion of Charlton fans who were displeased with the way she and Roland Duchatelet controlled the club. The number on their feet in the second minute, combined with the amount of unoccupied seats in the home areas, suggesting her belief was misguided. A point made, by committed supporters taking part in a superbly organised protest.
And by the time Meire stood up to leave her seat at full-time, the percentage of supporters against the regime she is part of would have only increased. At the very least, the unrest made clearer by the fact the final moments of the three goal defeat to Ipswich Town were played out in front of a near-empty stadium.
Supporters escaping a sombre Valley, and the shambolic efforts of those wearing red. The performance lacking any of the commitment that had earlier been shown in the stands, and in complete contrast to the determination shown by the visitors to capitalise on every Charlton mistake. A cohesive unit, built over many years by an experienced boss to compete successfully in the Championship, ruthlessly punishing a side that showed none of the organisation those who supported it possessed.
The catalyst for such an embarrassing capitulation – if not the overall running of the club – the withdrawal of Johnnie Jackson in the 13th minute. A hamstring injury forcing the side’s leader off the pitch, and leaving Karel Fraeye’s system in tatters. The Addicks in chaos without their captain.
And it was chaos in Charlton’s box that led to the Tractor Boys taking a deserved 28th minute lead. Head tennis played as the Addicks attempted to defend a corner, but opportunities to clear were missed, ultimately allowing Daryl Murphy to nod home.
So too were defensive faults to blame for Ipswich’s second in first-half stoppage-time. The game all but lost as the Addicks stood off Luke Chambers, and Freddie Sears was allowed to run onto the full-back’s ball forward without attention. Sears’ strike deflecting past Stephen Henderson off the boot of Patrick Bauer. The half-time boos predictable.
Nor did it take a physic to suggest Ipswich would punish this sluggish Charlton effort with a third goal after the break. Murphy, doing everything that the struggling Simon Makienok wasn’t, picked out in space to finish coolly beyond Henderson.
In truth, the Addicks were only denied a consolation goal by inspired goalkeeping from Dean Gerken. Ricardo Vaz Te denied on two occasions.
But the focus for supporters was no longer this 2% effort on the pitch. Attention on the 100% shambles, that had not been justified by two successive wins prior to this, those off the pitch were overseeing.
Irrespective of the angst that was going to be expressed two minutes into this lunch-time kick-off, there were few fearing such a disappointing performance.
The side unchanged after the hard fought efforts to secure three points at St Andrew’s last week, with Fraeye avoiding the temptation to bring the fit again Chris Solly back into the starting line-up. At the very least, inspired by Jackson, there was an expectation that effort would not be questionable.
And, as the raising of the 2% posters showed the extent of the unrest among supporters, there was some encouragement to be had on the pitch. Intensive pressing on Ipswich’s back four whenever they had the ball, possession maintained in a relatively comfortable fashion, and Ademola Lookman lively.
But, after protest against the club’s ownership had turned to vocal support for the side’s skipper, it was Ipswich who were able to create the game’s first genuine openings. Brett Pitman not striking the ball cleanly, and allowing Henderson to comfortably keep out his effort from the edge of the box, before the forward hung a cross up for Murphy to head narrowly wide. The first signs of defensive unease from the Addicks.
That unease, however, would not be contained just in Charlton’s back four. Worry as the physio was called to tend to Jackson, and heartbreak for both supporters and the skipper as he hobbled off. Confusion following, with Solly brought onto replace the influential midfielder, Tareiq Holmes-Dennis pushed to left-midfield, and the diamond in midfield abandoned.
Whether it was the absence of Jackson or the change in formation, it almost immediately went flat. The initial spark lost, replaced by sluggishness going forward and a lack of composure at the back as Ipswich began to take relative control of the game. A Fox headed needed to prevent an Ipswich cross being converted.
In fact, were it not for the intervention of Henderson, then the Tractor Boys might well have taken the lead with 19 minutes played. Sarr only succeeding in heading a Town cross to an unmarked Sears at the back post, but the former West Ham man was denied superbly by Charlton’s goalkeeper.
A let off for Charlton, that had to be taken as a wake-up call. Particularly at the back, where Fox was struggling with the pace of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Bauer was showing an uncharacteristic amount of uncertainty, and Sarr was losing every battle with the excellent Murphy. Johann Berg Gudmundsson, taking a wayward Holmes-Dennis effort in a sensitive area, was woken up more literally.
But even those that were still squinting at Gudmundsson’s pain would have had their eyes opened by a dazzling run from Lookman. The youngster arguably the only player injecting some belief into the stands, and life into his side, as he cut in from the left and drilled a shot wide of Gerken’s goal.
Alas, the belief provided was merely false hope. The Addicks so unorganised at the back that they were always likely to be punished by a potent Ipswich side.
It would have been unjust had they not been properly penalised for such a diabolical attempt at dealing with Ipswich’s quickly taken short corner. Henderson providing a temporary reprieve, blocking Sears’ strike after Maitland-Niles’ cross had eventually found its way through to the forward.
Out the ball seemingly went, with Sarr heading away and Makienok flicking on, but Jonathan Douglas was able to knock the ball back into the box. Too dangerous for Henderson to claim, Alou Diarra not winning the duel convincingly enough, and the ball eventually looping to Smith. Shouts for a foul on Solly heard as he brushed the full-back out the way and headed to Murphy, but greater anger was directed at Charlton’s defensive efforts. The Irish striker nodding in with ease. Comical.
A quick response desperately needed, particularly given the way Mick McCarthy’s side’s cling onto leads away from home.
Something a bit more testing than Lookman’s poke at Gerken required, particularly as Charlton defenders were left looking at each other in confusion while an unmarked Douglas cursed being able to only glance a header wide of goal. Jordan Cousins, though on target, producing an equally tame nod at the other end.
It quickly became apparent that the sanctuary of the dressing room was where this mess of a Charlton side needed to be. Attacking threat all but non-existent; defensive flaws existing weightily. Four minutes of additional time hardly ideal.
Particularly not for Sarr, who decided not to track the run of Sears, and allow him a free run on Chambers’ through ball. Bauer stood in his way, and the angle was tight, but the diminutive forward’s strike was powerful, and found its way beyond a motionless Henderson via a nick of the German defender’s boot. Delirious supporters in the away end; disillusioned occupiers of the home.
The anger only increasing as two of the half’s villains made a final impact before half-time. Makienok, who had not won a header in the opening 45, taking too long on the ball inside the box when a chance appeared to be on, and Fox gifting possession to Maitland-Niles before having to haul him down. A few more than 2% of the crowd booing at the break.
Confidence sucked from a fragile side, and not much hope existing in the stands, even with Fox withdrawn and Vaz Te appearing for the second half. Excellent crosses not being attacked doing little to ease the tension around The Valley beyond the 45.
And while Holmes-Dennis was crossing to forwards intent on not moving for the ball, Murphy was continuing to deliver an almost perfect centre forward performance. His first-time strike vicious, but thankfully crashing against the stanchion. Vaz Te responding with a tame effort, and Makienok responding by just being tame in general.
In fact, the only aggression seen from the Dane all afternoon came as he swiped at Christophe Berra when attempting, and failing, to win a header. Makienok by Ipswich’s centre-back pairing, and he had seemingly given up trying to overcome the challenge.
So too had his teammates, outclassed by an Ipswich side showing they possessed some style in addition to their resoluteness, determination and grit. Their third goal a wonderful flowing move of one touch football, with Douglas ultimately cleverly feeding Murphy to finish via the post.
They probably appreciated it with great delight on Sky Sports, and the away end certainly did. But all Charlton supporters could offer in response were boos.
“You Belgian wankers, get out of our club” heard as Smith rose highest to head a corner off-target. The only intensity in the stands; the Addicks downbeat and beaten, and Ipswich, despite the margin of their lead, doing all they could to slow the game.
It’s probably a good job Ipswich were happy to settle for three, however, as they remained a threat whenever the opportunity arose to break. Pitman should have done better when presented with an opening, but tamely struck at Henderson.
Both the nature of the game and the mood of the supporters overall meant little emotion was shown as Bauer’s header was saved at point-blank range from Gerken. Little positive impact, merely heightening the sense of resignation.
But, around 80 minutes too late, suddenly the Addicks found something that resembled a bit of life. Lookman’s cross marvellous, Vaz Te bravely meeting it, and Gerken pulling off a stunning reflex save. The goalkeeper following that up with a one-handed stop to deny the Portuguese forward’s volley from distance.
Maybe if that energy was found at 2-0, there would have been a more impassioned response from supporters. Instead, they began to leave. The Valley as empty in the final minutes of the game as it has ever been, and those that remained released their anger towards the hierarchy. At least they rewarded with a hilariously wide diving header from Reza Ghoochannejhad.
So the boos at full-time were not emphatic. The players that trudged off were not told that they weren’t fit enough to wear the shirt. The atmosphere did feel poisonous.
Instead, it was apathy that overwhelmed The Valley. The number of red seats emphatic, and the few that stayed until the very last whistle were largely stunned into a depressive silence. The supporters that had been so defiant, and done themselves proud, during the second now crippled by what they had seen.
This ownership crippling a club that has defied so many obstacles, and was once one that you could be proud of. A crippling mix of anger and apathy.
And so too was there some jealously felt at full-time. Especially as a near sold-out away end celebrated their side’s victory, with some rather emphatic celebrations from those wearing blue.
A moment that they most certainly deserved. McCarthy’s side are always excellent at getting the job done when they come to The Valley, and that was no different today. The cohesion, work ethic and understanding of the manager’s mantra strongly shared by the side.
That complemented by some fine individual talent. Smith and Berra as dependable as any centre-back pairing in this division, Douglas metronomic, and Murphy the sort of forward that I dream will one day wear a Charlton shirt when we’re done with this awful experiment. They’ll overachieve once again.
Meanwhile, Charlton’s group of players appeared disorganised without their captain’s presence, and Fraeye’s formation change was bizarre. Confidence so weak that any moment of adversity cannot be dealt with, work ethic extremely low, and the head coach unable to instil a mantra as the players still don’t know if he’ll be here next week or month.
That all not helped by some individual performances that were almost insulting. The contrast between Makeinok’s efforts against Sheffield Wednesday and those seen today was incredible, and summed up the overall lack of intensity and quality. Few headers won, rarely were Ipswich’s defence genuinely tested, and his attitude appalling.
Bauer and particularly Sarr lacking any sort of composure, with the latter bullied by Murphy. Fox in desperate need of a break from the side. Cousins and Diarra second best in midfield, with Gudmundsson unable to provide any sort of spark. Weak and lifeless.
There isn’t even much solace to be taken from the very few positives. Lookman lively, Holmes-Dennis assured, and Vaz Te providing a late impact. But the manner of the defeat makes it hard to feel enthused.
In fact, the biggest positive to take is the protest, which I’m incredibly proud of. Not the flashiest of protests – literally black and white – but a simple and effective one, that took no support away from the side whatsoever.
Those involved did a marvellous job, and the number of Charlton fans that took part in it has delivered a clear message.
Either that, or the performance has. Change at this club, if it wasn’t obvious already, is needed.
It’s a combination to make Charlton supporters shudder more than the deadly – to those sitting in the crowd – strike force of Pawel Abbott and Akpo Sodje. The Sky cameras appearing at The Valley, ready to broadcast a fixture with Ipswich Town.
For not only is the club’s record in TV games astonishingly poor, with the comeback draw against Fulham in October at least preventing a 14th defeat in 22 games since the start of the 2009/10 season, but Ipswich are yet to be denied three points on their visits to The Valley beyond Charlton’s return to the Championship.
The Tractor Boys have delivered three almost perfect away performances in SE7 in the previous three seasons. Danny Haynes’ penalty against his former club providing the Addicks false hope in 12/13 after a dire first half performance had left the two goals down, Tommy Smith’s fifth minute header all that was needed in the following season as Mick McCarthy’s side expertly ground out the remainder of the game, and Noel Hunt, a man who had not scored since 72BC, grabbing a stoppage time winner in last season’s televised encounter providing further frustration.
Charlton fans, therefore, are well within their right to feel less than confident about Saturday’s lunch time kick-off. Some of the more sensible supporters may well take part in the second minute protest, then escape The Valley in order to avoid the predictable frustrating events that will follow.
Or at least that would be the extent of the fear heading into this game had the Addicks not proving themselves to be made of tougher stuff in recent weeks. In the backdrop of off-the-pitch chaos, those on-the-pitch have provided hope to supporters with an impressive victory over Sheffield Wednesday, and a dogged win against Birmingham City.
And though Town, unbeaten in five, are in decent form themselves, any belief that Charlton may get something from the game is not at all irrational. A tough encounter, obviously, but fear is minimal.
LAST MEETING: IPSWICH TOWN 3-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
A Charlton side riddled with defensive errors and toothless in front of goal were crushed at Portman Road in their final fixture of 2014.
Though the Addicks were more competitive for much of the game than the scoreline suggests, they were spineless in the areas where it mattered most. A failure to clear a corner allowed Ipswich the softest of openers, with defender Tommy Smith converting.
A weakness existing in attack, too, as George Tucudean failed to convert when one-on-one with Bartosz Bialkowski, and Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s team follow-up effort cleared off the line by Christophe Berra.
Such failings meant confidence was crushed, and the game over, by the time Ipswich doubled their advantage just before the hour. David McGoldrick’s header from yet another poorly defended corner bouncing back off the bar, and Daryl Murphy able to capitalise.
Given the somewhat half-hearted manner in which the Addicks performed for the rest of the cold December evening in Suffolk, the only surprise to those frozen souls in the away end was that Ipswich’s third didn’t come until the 90th minute. McGoldrick played through, and easily finishing beyond Neil Etheridge. Grim.
Town midfield Jonathan Douglas expressed his frustration after his side were held to a draw by Wolves last weekend, and that’s possibly the emotion that best sums up Ipswich’s season so far.
For though McCarthy’s side, given the club’s lack of financial clout, are always overachieving when they challenge for the play-offs, their efforts in recent seasons mean there is now a certain expectation on them to be serious contenders for a top six spot.
As such, despite sitting three points off the play-offs and seemingly starting to build momentum after five games without defeat, there is an element of annoyance that the Tractor Boys do not have more points to their name at this stage of the season.
That seven games have been drawn is a particular frustration, especially those stalemates in games that appeared winnable. The Wolves game a perfect example of that, with town leading twice, and performing well enough to deserve victory, but unable to avoid being pegged back on both occasions.
Town not too far away from being where they want to be, and a 5-2 away win at Rotherham prior to the international break shows their ruthless streak, but the strive to be more consistent continues.
There is an argument that Saturday’s hard fought win over Birmingham was more beneficial in improving the confidence of the Charlton side than the impressive display in victory against Sheffield Wednesday.
For not only was a first away win since March recorded, and back-to-back wins achieved for the first time this season, but a show of character in somewhat testing circumstances was required to secure the result.
Given the pressure applied by the Blues, a weaker Charlton would have crumbled. That they were able to hold on after Johnnie Jackson’s 50th goal for the club suggests the mentality of the side has dramatically improved, and Karel Fraeye has at least had a short-term impact.
With the Addicks still hovering just above the bottom three, two victories does not address the issues the club faces, both on and off-the-pitch, but Charlton supporters will certainly tell you that it’s a welcome relief to have something to smile about after yet another period of extreme misery.
The trip to Charlton is expected to come too soon for Ryan Fraser, despite the Scottish winger closing in on a return to full fitness.
Fraser, who impressed in the opening months of the season, has been out since the start of October with a knee ligament injury, but McCarthy is keen not to take any risks on the Bournemouth loanee.
Elsewhere, Town will be without forward McGoldrick, who remains a few weeks away from recovering from a groin injury, while long-term absentee Teddy Bishop is the only other player not available for the game in SE7.
Having narrowly missed out on selection for last weekend’s win over Birmingham, Chris Solly could return to the Charlton side that faces Ipswich.
The vice-captain, who was ruled out of the victory at St Andrew’s through injury, could come in for Morgan Fox, allowing the impressive Tareiq Holmes-Dennis to keep his place. The youngster moving to his preferred position of left-back.
There could also be a return to the starting XI for Reza Ghoochannejhad, who couldn’t begin the game in Birmingham after a gruelling time travelling on international duty, while Ricardo Vaz Te is moving closer to full fitness after getting more minutes under his belt for the U21s in the week.
Ademola Lookman will have something to say about the chances of either of that pair starting, however, given the excitement he provided on his full debut.
Elsewhere, the Addicks remain without Igor Vetokele, Ahmed Kashi, and Cristian Ceballos, but El-Hadji Ba returns from suspension.
KEY BATTLE – LIMITING IPSWICH’S CHANCES
The victory over Birmingham has been heavily celebrated, and so it should be. The determined 1-0 win reminiscent of Charlton away performances of old, digging deep to grind out a result that didn’t appear possible before the game, or at moments during it.
At the very least, it was heart-warming, with the Addicks showing the sort of character that had absent during the 12-match winless run. The mentality of this side stronger than they had us believe.
Nonetheless, it would be wrong to suggest the performance at St Andrew’s was faultless. Gaps found in the back four on a number of occasion, and both supporters and players left thankful that the Blues lacked composure in front of goal.
For not only could Birmingham have very easily equalised, given the quantity of very good openings they produced in the dying moments of the game, but logic suggests they would have won the game had they taken the lead. Momentum firmly with them if they had managed to take one of their chances either side of half-time.
Charlton possibly fortunate that Clayton Donaldson was absent from Gary Rowett’s side. City’s top scorer possessing the finishing ability that was required.
So it is of some concern to the Addicks that Saturday’s opponents have not only scored nine goals in their last three games, but possess a potent strike force, even with McGoldrick injured.
Murphy, including a hat-trick against Rotherham, has four goals in his last two appearances, while Brett Pitman has contributed a further two over the course of the three most recent games, and has five for the season. Even Freddie Sears, though goalless since September, has an impressive scoring record overall since signing for Ipswich last January.
As such, presenting chances to the Tractor Boys is likely to be suicidal. The Addicks will need to be tight, rather than fortunate.
It appears the Addicks have finally found something that resembles a backbone. It needs to be shown again. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Ipswich Town
Maybe it’s the way he responds to the net rippling that makes a Johnnie Jackson goal so special. The release of passion by facial expression, fist pumps and a knee slide, all contained in an instinctive movement towards his supporters. Players and fans wonderfully connected in a euphoric moment.
Or it could be his ability to so frequently triumph in times of adversity. Whether in the context of overall low confidence or simply during a game which the Addicks are trailing heavily in, a Jackson goal quickly reinvigorates his side and supporters. Hope restored, where it might merely seem a consolation if it were scored by another man.
You might also suggest it’s the manner of his goals that makes them feel like something above and beyond an ordinary strike. Not just game and mood changers, but match-winning, season-defining and historic goals regularly scored by the skipper.
And it’s a combination of those factors, in addition to everything else that contributes towards him being a club legend, that have made each of Johnnie Jackson’s 50 goals for Charlton Athletic a more incredible moment than the last. The nature of the man himself meaning a strike from the skipper feels twice as valuable as any other goal.
That especially true in times of dissatisfaction, disillusion and apathy. A rallying cry from a player whose background is heavily linked to the ownership that have caused such a degree of negative feeling among supporters is looked upon cynically. A rallying cry from a player who scored his first goal for the club, a header against Dagenham and Redbridge, in September 2010 inspires.
For Jackson has earned the unlimited trust, respect and admiration of Charlton fans with his continued whole-hearted efforts for the club. They know that, even in times of complete despair, summoning up the energy to support their captain will be rewarded. That he perfectly represents the supporters on the pitch, and takes great pride and pleasure in providing them with unforgettable moments.
In fact, the three goals the skipper has scored this season to take his tally for the club up to 50, in 209 games, are perfect examples of the marvellous occasions that every Jackson goal is. Perfect examples of the supporter-player bond, his determined character that allows him to triumph in times of adversity, and his continued ability to score the most important of goals.
The Addicks, both players and supporters, dead and buried against Fulham until Jackson left the bench. The cheer of expectation and enthusiasm from the crowd influential; his powerful headed goal that quickly followed instilling belief into supporters and teammates. Jordan Cousins may have got the equaliser, but it was Jackson’s goal that was celebrated with more vigour, knowing what was to come.
For many of Jackson’s most important goals for the club, and arguably the most historic, have not been winners, but those that have instigated incredible comebacks.
His two goals that sparked the unforgettable turnaround against Cardiff City just reward for the continued backing of the Covered End, and his strike against Bolton Wanderers not only the catalyst for another two-goal deficit to be overturned, but the catalyst of the eight game unbeaten run at the end of the 2012/13 season. On both of those occasions, Chris Powell and his side were under pressure, with the worry of relegation a serious one.
And when he is not single-handedly inspiring his teammates to come from behind to win, his goals frequently set the tone for what is to come. Fitting that it was Jackson who opened the scoring against Sheffield Wednesday, scoring Charlton’s first goal in over five games and providing the impetus for the Addicks to record their first win in 13. Again, his ability to overcome adversity, and fill both his side and his supporters with energy and belief, is sensational.
But so too has he been able to make joyful times even more enjoyable. His two emphatic penalties at London Road in the 2010/11 season helping to set up a 5-1 victory over Peterborough that has claimed cult status, his spot-kick against Bournemouth rounding off an impressive 3-0 victory that set the tone for the title-winning campaign, and his well-taken goal against Barnsley crippling their confidence in preparation for the record-breaking 6-0 win. Always contributing to the party.
If not contributing to it, then making the party. A vital Jackson winner in the tightest of games, at times when victories have been desperately needed, have sent supporters delirious on many occasions.
The most recent being his header, and 50th goal, against Birmingham. The Blues dominant in a game few expected the Addicks to win, but Jackson, celebrating with a knee slide well below his normal standards, scoring the goal that gave his side an unlikely victory, and lifting them out of the bottom three. Those in the away end at St Andrew’s losing themselves in yet another incredible moment supplied by their skipper.
And yet, as marvellous as that Birmingham winner was, it has nothing on the celebrations that have followed many other Jackson winners. The ones that have turned him from cult hero into club legend, and proven him to be the perfect leader of Charlton Athletic. Always finding a way to score when it is needed most.
An incredible game of twist and turns against Watford in January 2013 set up perfectly for Jackson’s header, and perfect knee slide, to secure a 4-3 victory for the Addicks. I have never celebrated a goal, and nor has the crowd-diving Jackson, like his stoppage-time header against QPR, and still find myself getting emotional watching it back given the importance of the win to both the club and Powell. The skipper’s late strike against Norwich last season, in a game that Charlton had faced constant pressure in, one of the few that comes close to that QPR moment.
Given the emotion it invokes, it’s arguably the QPR goal, heading Astrit Ajdarevic’s corner through Rob Green’s legs before setting off to hurdle over a gate that just about held back delirious Addicks, which stands out the most in his Charlton career show reel.
The adversity overcome substantial. Powell’s relegation-threatened side, dismantled further by Roland Duchatelet, holding off Harry Redknapp’s big-spending QPR for the majority of the game, before being frustrated as they began to pressurise the visitors in the closing moments. The character required to avoid defeat, let alone win the game, astonishing.
The release of pure delight simply unforgettable, if not repeatable. The figure that stood for everything so wonderful about the Addicks scoring a dramatic winner that had the potential to save Charlton’s season. The celebrations unreal.
The display of emotion between player and manager heart-warming. Jackson, as much as anyone else inside The Valley, knew the importance of that goal to Powell, and the relationship between the pair is an important part of both of their Charlton careers. The perfect representatives of this football club.
Others will point to the back-to-back free-kicks against the Sheffield clubs. The one at Wednesday expertly curled into the top corner, and giving the Addicks an advantage that allowed them to defend resolutely for the remainder of the game. The one against United an unstoppable strike, and allowing even the most cautious fans to finally believe that, as early as January, Charlton were going up.
Some might even suggest that his goal in the win over Watford, that helped secure Charlton’s Championship status, should be as celebrated, given the importance of the fixture. While Callum Harriott took most of the praise that night, it would not have been a defining night in this club’s recent history without a crucial Jackson goal. The man to triumph in adversity.
But to truly understand the sheer joy a Johnnie Jackson goal causes, in addition to the supporter-player relationship, a goal with lesser importance should be looked at.
True, the Addicks were trailing Peterborough at London Road in a game they could do with taking something from, but it was not a desperate situation prior to Callum Harriott feeding the skipper through to finish superbly and draw Charlton level. Fist pumps followed
However, had you been completely naïve of the context in February 2013, you might have thinking this was a season-defining goal judging by the response from the away end.
The terrace, containing a healthy number of Charlton supporters, bouncing as they sung the skipper’s name. Louder and louder, with increasing passion and meaning, as the actions of the other 21 players on the pitch in front of them became largely irrelevant.
But before they had stopped the chorus of “Johnnie, oh Johnnie Jackson runs down the wing for me”, those in the away end focused once again on the game itself. For less than five minutes after Jackson had pulled them level, inspired by momentum increased from the noise created by the Addicks, Danny Haynes had capitalised on a goal-mouth scramble and fired Charlton in front. Pandemonium, with the skipper’s strike the catalyst.
Even in games, and in moments, with lesser importance, a Jackson goal counts for so much more.
Why? Because there is a desire for Jackson to score more than any other player. It seems acceptable for even the most emotionless of men to express their love for the skipper in a way that would be more fitting of a 13-year-old girl towards her favourite boyband member.
The desire existing because of his longevity, his work ethic, and his passion.
The desire existing because of his leadership, ability to score defining goals, and unit supporters and players in his celebrations.
The desire existing because he represents a pure and perfect side of Charlton Athletic, connecting the Charlton that supporters are currently calling for with this one that still feels distant, if not poisoned.
But, more importantly than anything else, the desire exists because he gets it. He gets what this club means to its supporters. He’s one of us.
When Johnnie Jackson scores for Charlton, a fan is celebrating on the pitch. That fan has been lucky enough to score 50 more times than anyone else who joins in with his fist pumps and admires his knee slides.
Some of the sales have been justifiable. Joe Gomez deserving his move to Liverpool, and providing the club with a sum of money that could not realistically be turned down.
Some of the departures have been player instigated. There is an argument that club could have done more to keep Diego Poyet, but the boos sent his way at Stadium:MK suggests many think the manner in which he left for West Ham is worthy of criticism.
And some of the moves have come about as a result of a player needing to play more first team football. Lawrie Wilson and Rhoys Wiggins both wonderful servants to the club, but it was probably the right time for both of them to move on.
But that there has been an element of logic in some of the departures under Roland Duchatelet’s reign takes little away from the anger caused by a number of situations where players have bizarrely been transferred out of the club.
Nor does it make it any less frustrating that a theoretical XI formed of former Charlton players that have departed in the previous two years or would be quite a force.
Ben Hamer and his startling beard could stand between the sticks. Michael Morrison and Dorian Dervite would be the leading candidates to form a sold centre-back pairing, with Gomez and Wiggins either side of them. Poyet sitting deep, allowing Dale Stephens to be a more creative influence alongside wingers Frederic Bulot and Wilson.
Up top would, of course be Yann Kermorgant. The sale that has caused the largest amount of anger among Charlton supporters, and one that continues to be rightly held against Duchatelet and Katrien Meire.
And now it would appear that Kermorgant has a forward partner in this team of the unwanted. A partnership that many haven’t been able to think about without fainting in excitement since February of this year.
For Tony Watt, the catalyst behind the on-the-pitch upturn in fortunes last season and a mightily impressive figure at the beginning of this, has been allowed to join Cardiff City on loan. A loan that, given previous examples of moves like this and the fact an agreement is in place, is likely to become permanent.
On the face of it, sanctioning such a move would appear to be yet another action of self-harm from those at the top of the club. Another wound opened up just as events on-the-pitch had applied a plaster or two.
For the Scot possessed an ability to a change a game that few other players in my time supporting the Addicks have been able to match. At a club where tenacious graft makes players valued, and collective performances are celebrated in heart-warming fashion, Watt’s individuality was both different and exciting.
His directness, never afraid to take on an opposition defender and attempt to carve an opening out of nothing, proved a wonderful attribute at its best. He pushed entire sides onto the back foot, created space for himself and his teammates, and last season’s run of seven wins from nine would not have been possible without his influence.
The solo strike against Huddersfield, the skill to keep the ball in the corner against Nottingham Forest, the run to set up Simon Church against Reading. A roar of anticipation each time Watt carried the ball forward, which grew louder after his performances and goals at the start of this season.
And while he has been unable to match the game-changing impact he made against QPR, along with the goal and performance against Derby County, you could quite clearly see that the Addicks were weaker whenever he wasn’t in the side. His ability to carry the ball sorely missed.
In fact, even in his final appearance against MK Dons, the only opportunities Charlton carved out during a dire display came through Watt’s endeavour to get forward. Excitement from the way end still existing whenever he attacked.
That isn’t to suggest his performances, hindered by horrendous decision making and a growing frustration that frequently meant his forward runs were little more than stutters, were up to scratch. He certainly wasn’t providing the impact required at a time when Charlton were without a win in 12. The game changing impact he showed when it was needed most last season.
As such, it was apparent confidence was lacking. An asset so crucial to the Scot.
But now that confidence, on the back of the impressive victory over Sheffield Wednesday and the hard-thought win at St Andrew’s, has seeming returned to the side, Watt would appear the sort of player that you want involved.
An environment, irrespective of the continuing protests against the ownership, in which Watt can rediscover his best form is appearing. Where his teammates can share their confidence with him, as he instilled confidence in them last season. With those around him now performing, he has a platform from which he can attempt to display his individual flair and brilliance with less risk, and less resulting frustration.
At the very least, particularly given the size and health of the squad, he’s a player you want to have around as an option.
Ricardo Vaz Te will take a few weeks to get up to full fitness, and you would hope is the replacement for the injured Igor Vetokele. Simon Makienok has been frustratingly inconsistent, both in performances and in keeping fit. Reza Ghoochannejhad yet to earn the trust of supporters, irrespective of his efforts against the Owls.
Even the emergence of Ademola Lookman, a 17-year-old who shares the direct and confidence style of Watt, is not a justification for his departure. Lookman was lively against Birmingham, but so too did he tire quickly, and a lack an end product. You also worry that, like Karlan Ahearne-Grant, too much too soon will prove a hindrance to his development.
It seems that once the Addicks finally get a bit of strength in depth, a move is always made to return the squad to a somewhat fragile state. Based on previous evidence under this regime, it can be suggested that the decision to move Watt is, at least in part, financial. There being no desire to spend even a fraction over this theoretical budget in order to improve Charlton’s on-the-pitch prospects.
However, once you dig below the surface, you can possibly find some evidence to argue that the decision to move Watt on isn’t complete madness.
That does not include the suggestion that he is overrated, or not as good as we originally believed. The sort of frustrating revisionism that creeps in whenever a player moves on. It happened when Stephens, Kermorgant and Morrison were let go. It even happened when we were unable to retain Bulot.
The main legitimate factor is the suggestion that the Scot was a disruptive figure in the dressing room. His attitude poor, his motivation lacking, and his workload not enough.
In truth, I think it’s a suggestion that has been born out of logical thinking, rather than clear evidence. The striker seemingly disruptive at both Celtic and Standard Liege, and moving him for a reason related to that makes more sense than those at the top of the club simply making another bizarre decision.
And if that is the case, you can then argue that possibly the loan move to Cardiff will be more productive for him than simply staying in the same environment, possibly harming his teammates.
An opportunity to rediscover some motivation, and do some further growing up, under a manager in Russell Slade whose man management is very well regarded. Something that Watt maybe wanted, given a message he posted on Instagram thanking Charlton for making the move happen.
But then you could suggest that the failure to control a player that is something of a maverick is simply poor management. The Addicks quick to move him on, rather than fight to control him, and return him to the player he showed himself to be for a long enough period to suggest that is the ‘real’ Watt.
If Karel Fraeye wants to prove himself fit for the job, he shouldn’t be shying away from challenges like this one. He should be controlling the forward, and getting the best out of this maverick.
Besides, his relationship with supporters was a strong on, and he appeared relatively well-liked in the changing room.
Having been one of the men brave enough to approach supporters at full-time following the Watford defeat, the supporter-player bond has always been tight, while social media puts a question mark against this disruptive influence accusation. Even today, Makienok showed his appreciation.
And if he is a poor influence, then the fact there is a permanent agreement in place almost defeats any of the possible positives of this loan move. If he finds his best form at Cardiff, he will no longer be a Charlton player. A player capable of providing excitement has seemingly been lost.
Either way, whether there’s some logic behind the move or not, it’s frustrating to lose a player capable of so much. Who, aside from those moments where frustration overwhelmed, provided more effort than arguably the other network signings combined. Who raised expectations each time he so much as touched the ball. Who prevented a complete implosion last season.
I really do hope we have not seen Watt represent the Addicks for the final time. If we have, I cannot help but feel it’s another weak decision under this regime.
It almost feels insulting to judge Johnnie Jackson on the basis of statistics. Like judging Birmingham City’s St Andrew’s ground on the number of seats it contains, not its character and wonderful ‘proper’ football ground feel.
ProZone cannot measure the importance of his leadership, particularly in adverse times. Opta cannot tell you his influential qualities, for no number can show the way he can inspire those around him. WhoScored cannot apply a rating to the legendary status he has created for himself in SE7, which is impossible to describe with a simple figure.
And even on a day where Jackson, on his 209th appearance in a Charlton shirt, reached a highly commendable landmark, the figures would still be doing him a disservice.
For though his second-half goal, perfectly timing a run to connect with Tareiq Holmes-Dennis’ cross and thunder a header into the bottom corner, was his 50th for the Addicks, the story of it, and not the statistic, was more important.
Like so many of his goals, this one was vital. Tainted only slightly by an uncharacteristically poor Jackson knee-slide, which was quickly addressed by the chaos above him in the away stand.
It gave Charlton the lead in an incredibly tight affair, with both sides unable to make the most of prior half-chances. An advantage that would ultimately be match-winning, as Jackson and his side dug in for the remaining 29 minutes of the match.
Unquestionably, the Blues, applying an uncomfortable amount of pressure in the closing stages, had cause to feel that the result was harsh on them come full-time. The hosts inches away from equalising on a number of occasions.
But there was little sympathy among the celebrating Charlton supporters, sharing the delight of their first Championship away win since March, and their first back-to-back wins of this campaign, with their skipper. His joy, as you would expect, expressed just as passionately.
And as the away end cheered and Jackson fist-pumped, a neutral could not have guessed that this was a set of fans apathetic towards their club. A crucial goal from their hero far more useful in reconnecting supporters and club than any of Katrien Meire’s misguided words.
That connection between Jackson and his supporters is one that you can do justice with a statistic. 100%.
However, the fitness of a number of Charlton players was somewhat below 100%, with a handful of absentees weakening the side that took to the St Andrew’s pitch.
Chris Solly’s absence meant a start for Holmes-Dennis in an unnatural right-back position, while Tony Watt’s injury, and the inability of Reza Ghoochannejhad and new signing Ricardo Vaz Te to start, meant 17-year-old Ademola Lookman was given his full debut. A tough test for both youngsters, given Birmingham’s pace out wide and the resolute figure of Michael Morrison leading the hosts’ backline.
The return of Jordan Cousins, in for the suspended El-Hadji Ba, provided some cause for optimism among the supporters who have travelled to the home of a side sitting in the play-offs, as did the unavailability of Birmingham’s talismanic forward, Clayton Donaldson.
Nonetheless, Gary Rowett’s side still evidently possessed a reasonable amount of quality going forward as they issued an early warning. Karel Fraeye seemingly not setting up his men to press in the manner they did against Wednesday, allowing Jacques Maghoma the time and space to drill a strike straight at Stephen Henderson.
And though the Addicks continued to look a little fragile defensively, particularly when faced with the pace of Demarai Gray, there were some promising signs going forward. Lookman’s confidence, constantly attempting to beat opponents with speed and clever footwork, warming up the frozen bodies in the away end, while Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s free-kick warmed the hands of Tomasz Kuszczak.
In fact, after the lively Jon Toral had fired harmlessly over the bar from the edge of the box, it was the visitors who had the game’s first clear-cut opening.
Morgan Fox’s hack clear was superbly kept in play by Simon Makienok, and his subsequent run and through ball provided a wonderful opening for Lookman. But the youngster, with a reasonable amount of time and space, could only fire against the side netting.
Such an opening increased the volume in the away end, but it proved not to be the catalyst for Charlton domination. Nerves felt each time the constantly uncoordinated Naby Sarr was forced to make an intervention, while Nicolai Brock-Madsen, hindered by Fox’s grab of his shirt that went unnoticed, was unable to connect with a marvellous defence-splitting low cross from Toral.
You would call the affair end-to-end if there was a touch more quality involved, with the faults of both sides often making it a testing watch. Although that might have been influenced by the bitterly cold wind, which caused the away supporters to sing “we’re fucking cold”.
But you could not fault Holmes-Dennis’ attempt to add some extra class to the game. A superb shimmy to beat men in Blue on the right, followed by a determined run towards the box, allowed the youngster to get into a position from which he could test Kuszczak. The ‘keeper doing well to palm away the fierce drive.
Nor could you accuse Birmingham’s Gray of lacking the quality required to liven things up. The winger the focal point of almost every Blues move, with Fox having to dig deeper and deeper to keep out the exciting youngster.
And though the Welshman, if a little unconvincingly, was standing firm, there was always going to be a moment when Gray found a way through. Fox left for dead, Sarr in no man’s land, and Toral’s first time strike wonderfully saved by Henderson.
A let off for the Addicks, but the pattern of play was changing. Birmingham growing in confidence, and beginning to take control. Charlton visibly on the back foot, not helped by uncomposed clearances and a general lack of calm when the Blues attacked. Gray the architect again as David Davies lofted an effort over the bar.
That sense of panic was summed up by Henderson’s indecisiveness as Davies fed a ball through into the path Brock-Madsen. Thankfully, the Irish stopper eventually decided to come off his line, and did well to block the forward’s strike. Calm restored as Toral’s floated header fell safely into Henderson’s hands.
But just as those in the away end began nervously counting down the seconds until half-time, Charlton were able to find an unlikely late burst of attacking energy. A glorious one-touch passing move, more Brentford than Barcelona but still much better than anything seen in the preceding period of play, almost resulting in Lookman being put through.
A minute later, however, and only Kuszczak stood between the youngster and his first senior goal. But, having done superbly to get in front of his man and latch onto Makienok’s flick-on, the youngster’s effort was rash, and troubled only those sitting behind the goal.
Nonetheless, those brief moments of attacking quality meant the Addicks could go in at the break with a degree of confidence. Gray’s influence, combined with some uncomfortable Charlton defending, meant it was the Blues who had narrowly edged the half, but there remained a threat from the visitors when they were able to get forward.
It was, therefore, vital that the Addicks began the second half with at least a degree of composure and control. Not allowing Birmingham to dominate the game as they did towards the end of the first period, and at least compete evenly with their opponents.
Alas, the Blues, evidently encouraged by their exploits prior to the break, were intent on building upon the relatively handy foundations that had been set. Gray driving forward, and lashing an effort goalwards that required a diving Henderson to intervene.
But there was little Henderson could do but watch as Birmingham’s next strike moved towards goal. Stephen Gleeson’s superbly struck first-time effort so close to nestling into the top corner that it appeared to be heading in from my position in the away end. Nerves increasing.
If that had made Charlton hearts rest in mouths, than they were dangling from lips as Maghoma broke into the box. His cross-cum-shot avoiding all those across the face of goal, but only flashing wide of the far post by the narrowest of margins. The Addicks static, unable to deal with Birmingham’s rampage.
So the free-kick the visitors were awarded on the hour appeared little more than an opportunity for some respite. A chance to catch breaths; making the Blues hold theirs merely an afterthought.
But, having exchanged passes from the set-piece and been played into a crossing position, Holmes-Dennis’ delivery raised hope from the moment it left his boot.
Hope becoming expectation as the sight of an unmarked Johnnie Jackson, so potent in the box from set-piece situations, moving to make contact with the ball appeared.
Expectation became celebration as soon as the skipper headed the ball powerfully. Such was the fine nature of the nod, there was no need to wait for the net to ripple in order to begin the carnage. Arms and cheers all over the away end, as Jackson peeled away to celebrate.
Few were getting ahead of themselves, however. With just less than half hour remaining, there was still plenty of time for Charlton to do what the skipper had done while celebrating – slip up. His knee slide more of a swan dive.
But Birmingham, so dominant prior to going behind, looked rattled. No longer calmly playing the ball out of defence and using confidence-fuelled pace to exploit Charlton’s backline. Instead, they panicked. Misdirected long balls unthreatening.
And a big part of that was the newfound energy the Addicks were exerting. The Blues pressed while in possession, and the dominant Alou Diarra intercepting every loose ball.
It meant the Addicks were able to cause something of a threat on the break. The introduced Vaz Te giving Paul Caddis a testing time on the wing, and Makienok should have done better than heading Gudmundsson’s cross horribly over.
While Birmingham had Gray, however, there remained a chance the day would end with the rather cheerful away supporters feeling blue. Charlton sat off him, the winger drove forward, and his drilled strike fizzed past the post.
A second needed, both to confirm the victory and prevent nerves from growing in the away end. Vaz Te’s inability to connect with Holmes-Dennis’ cross, and as such wasting a wonderful opportunity, not ideal.
But time, with much of it wasted by the Addicks, was growing ever more precious, and the home supporters increasingly becoming frustrated when their side took too long in possession. A threatening run, like the one Patrick Bauer was able to go on that resulted in Gudmundsson firing straight at Kusczczak, desperately pleaded for by the St Andrew’s regulars.
And though Reece Brown was able to get a shot away, firing comfortably over Henderson’s bar, there remained no indication as four minutes of stoppage time were announced that this Birmingham side, a shadow of the one seen before going behind, would be able to draw level.
Alas, a stress free ending to a Charlton game was always going to be too much to ask for. The hearts that had been pushed back into their proper place after the Addicks had taken the lead again dangling from lips as only the most crucial of headed interceptions from Holmes-Dennis prevented Jonathon Grounds from converting Gray’s excellent delivery.
Panic consuming Charlton’s box, and the away end. Henderson thankful to claim a tame Gleeson strike, but was unmoved as the ball fell kindly to Brown and his effort curled agonisingly wide of the far post.
And there was yet more suffering to come, beyond the initial four minutes indicated. With almost the final kick of the game, Viv Solomon-Otabor came even closer to equalising, placing his strike just fractionally the wrong side of the post.
The full-time whistle that followed producing a cheer, influenced by both delight and relief, as loud as the one that came after the Jackson goal.
They had been forced to dig deep, they had been severely tested, and there was more than an element of good fortune. But this felt like a classic Charlton away victory, the sort not seen since March, and the post-match celebrations of both those in the stands and on the pitch only confirmed that.
Of course, the outcome could have been so different had Birmingham taken just one of their chances.
A point would have been theirs with some composure in the game’s final minutes, and the pattern of play at the time suggests they might well have gained all three points had they taken the lead during their dominance at the start of the second half. Defeat harsh on a side that threatened constantly.
As such, it is only fair to admit that there was an element of luck about Charlton’s victory. Had it been the Addicks on the end of such a defeat, after cursing the inability of the forwards in front of goal, I would have felt a terrible sense of frustration.
But more than a healthy amount of that luck was deserved, such was the effort put in, fight offered, and character shown by a group no longer appearing to be overwhelmed by a lack of confidence.
For the Charlton side of a few weeks ago would not have come away from such an encounter with all three points. They would have crumbled under the adversity they were put in at several points during the game.
Henderson’s saves vital, Fox, though beaten often by Gray, battling incredibly hard, and Diarra constantly breaking up Birmingham’s attacks. Their defensive fight complimented by Bauer’s resilience, Holmes-Dennis’ maturity, and the midfield’s determination. Only Sarr, with sliced clearances aplenty, made you feel particularly uncomfortable.
So too was there enough going forward to suggest that the Addicks were not completely dominated in the overall play. Gudmundsson lively, Makienok frustrating but still a nuisance, and Lookman a real talent. Vaz Te also making a decent enough impression.
You could, therefore, suggest the appointment of Fraeye has been justified. There has undoubtedly been improvement.
That is, of course, incorrect. It telling that it was Jason Euell’s name sung through the game by the away end, and not the coach whose appointment remains an insult to the club and its supporters by a stubborn and misguided ownership. The mood remains one of strong opposition – nothing had changed off the field.
But those on the pitch are doing their bit to lessen, or at least halt, the apathy and disillusionment. No more so than Johnnie Jackson.
His performance epitomising the entire side’s, with fight and determination, and his goal so typical of a man who always seems to score when it matters most. That it was his 50th strike merely confirming his status as a club legend.
Long may he, and his teammates, continue to heal the pain caused by those above them.
There is an argument that the international break came at exactly the right time for Charlton Athletic, irrespective of the impressive performance in victory over Sheffield Wednesday in their final fixture before it.
For the break remained desperately needed by all. Supporters wanting time away from a club that continues to be in a state of crisis. Interim-but-not-actually-interim head coach Karel Fraeye having a period of time during which he could attempt to instil his beliefs into the side. The chance for some physically and mentally exhausted players to recharge.
But so too could it be suggested that the two week gap without Championship football has harmed the Addicks. The confidence and momentum gained from that Wednesday win potentially lost without a fixture following closely after. At the very least, there has not been the opportunity to show that was more than just a one off.
In the eyes of most, the ‘real’ Charlton remains the side that went 12 games without a win, and not the one that emphatically beat an in-form Owls side. The one without cohesion, confidence or attacking threat, and not the one that pressed, played with energy, and scored three very good goals.
As such, there is a considerable amount of pressure on the Addicks to prove themselves at St Andrew’s on Saturday. Unquestionably a tough trip, with Gary Rowett’s Birmingham City surpassing the pre-season expectations many had of them and flirting with the prospect of promotion, but the strength of the opposition will provide no excuse.
Especially given what remains almost universal feelings of some form of disillusionment with the state of the club, supporters require another positive performance from their side on Saturday. Fraeye’s men need to show the international break has benefited them, and not blocked the faint hope of progression that exists.
LAST MEETING – BIRMINGHAM CITY 1-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
Lloyd Dyer’s late strike meant the Addicks left St Andrew’s in April with the defeat their performance deserved.
Without anything to play for, Charlton’s efforts were somewhat half-hearted, and the Blues should have capitalised on the sluggishness of their opponents long before Dyer’s 82nd minute strike.
In fact, only Stephen Henderson’s constant interventions, and some wayward Birmingham finishing, kept the scores level for such a long period. The goalkeeper tipping Robert Tesche’s effort onto the bar, and fortunate that Diego Fabbrini could only stab wide when Demarai Gray presented him with a glorious opening.
While Roger Johnson struggled, Michael Morrison remained composed. The Blues continuing to carve out decent openings, while Charlton were restricted to isolated periods of play in and around Birmingham’s box.
So there could be no feeling of injustice when Dyer finally gave the hosts the lead, and ultimately victory. There could, however, be complaints about Charlton’s defending, as those in red stood off the Watford loanee and allowed him to drill an effort into the bottom corner.
That the Addicks in the away end, long frustrated by the nature of the game, had their applause for former vice-captain Morrison returned at full-time a small crumb of comfit.
Though Chris Hughton’s Brighton remain unbeaten, Steve Clarke’s Reading have excelled, and Carlos Carvalhal’s Sheffield Wednesday have been impressive in both league and cup, it is arguably Rowett that has been the most impressive manager so far in this Championship season.
The one-time Charlton defender, having built a reputation for himself through his transformation of Burton Albion and cemented it by taking the Blues from 23rd when he took over in October to 10th at the end of last season, has received much of the credit for his Birmingham side being able to enter the international break sitting sixth in the table.
For his squad, in terms of depth and individual quality, cannot match those belonging to other clubs with promotion ambitions. The confusing and frustrating situation regarding the club’s ownership, with a takeover still being sought, restricting the club in the transfer market.
But Rowett has built a cohesive and quality unit with the players available to him, able to play excellent counter-attacking football. Morrison defiant at the back, Gray creative and potent out wide, and Clayton Donaldson the focal point in attack.
And though the 5-2 demolition of Fulham at Craven Cottage prior to the international break was their first in four games, six victories had been recorded in the nine before that mini-winless run. Rowett’s management meaning the Blues are outdoing clubs with much larger financial clout.
For 90 minutes, those on the pitch finally provided some joy to suffering supporter. The Addicks dominating an in-form Sheffield Wednesday side with an excellent team performance, and recording a deserved 3-1 win.
A winless run of 12 brought to an end, a goal scored after five games without the opposition’s net rippling, and an enjoyable Valley atmosphere experienced for the first time in a number of weeks.
But was telling that as the Addicks celebrated their first win since August, there was still a chant of “we want Roland out” from the Covered End.
For though the victory over Wednesday was mightily impressive, it did little to change emotions among supporters who had earlier protested against the mismanagement of their club. Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire continuing to encourage apathy and anger, while the unjustifiably appointed Fraeye is incredibly hard to support.
Much more needed, on and off the pitch, for fans to feel a healthy connection with their club again.
Birmingham will be without David Cotterill after the winger sustained a knee injury in the goalless draw with Blackburn two games prior to the international break.
It was originally hoped that Cotterill, who missed the victory over Fulham and was also forced to withdraw from the Wales squad picked to face the Netherlands, would have an outside chance of being fit for the clash with the Addicks, but it now appears that the wide man will be absent for around a month.
The Welshman’s injury could hand another opportunity to promising youngster Viv Solomon-Otabor, who scored his first goal for the Blues against Fulham and has been compared to fellow academy graduate Gray by boss Rowett.
Elsewhere, Birmingham’s centre-back pairing is likely to feature two players who have spent time at The Valley previously in their careers. Jonathon Spector a squad player during a loan spell in the 2005/06 season, while Morrison earning cult status for playing his part in Chris Powell’s successful side.
Ricardo Vaz Te could be in the Charlton squad for the first time after joining the club during the international break.
The former West Ham forward, who was a free agent after leaving Turkish side Akhisar Belediyespor, provides a much needed additional option in attack following the news that Igor Vetokele will be absent for an extended period of time.
The Angolan, who last played for the Addicks against Blackburn in September, recently had a groin operation, and won’t return until after the Christmas period.
And there are additional concerns for Charlton in attack, with Tony Watt’s gym-related Instagram photos indicating he remains unfit, while Reza Ghoochannejhad is a doubt after sitting through a gruelling 25 hour flight. With a late decision being made on Chris Solly, who came off injured against the Owls, Charlton’s small squad will be stretched to the limit.
Fraeye will also be without El-Hadji Ba, who picked up his fifth yellow card of the season in the victory over Sheffield Wednesday. He’ll be replaced by Jordan Cousins, should the academy graduate have recovered from the knock that kept him out of the Wednesday win and Fraeye opt to continue with his diamond formation.
KEY BATTLE: BREAKING DOWN BIRMINGHAM’S BREAKAWAYS
It is through clinical counter-attacking style that Birmingham have managed to, against expectation, weave their way into the top six. Rowett a rare highly-rated boss in modern times who does not favour possession over potency.
Such a system, however, is not unstoppable. There are two ways the Addicks could halt the Blues’ breakaways.
The first being to sit deep, and force a side that capitalises on gaps presented to them by the opposition to create unassisted space and openings. Given Charlton’s reluctance to keep cleansheets – just one all season – that seems like a tactic that is unlikely to be successful. Pressure will ultimately be invited.
The second is to replicate the pressing and energy that was so crucial in the victory over Wednesday. The cohesive and determined effort, which stopped the visitors playing and ultimately allowed Charlton some attacking dominance, was in complete contrast to the miserable sluggishness of the previous 12 games.
Applying pressure higher up the pitch could well leave gaps, perfect for Birmingham to exploit, and replicating the performance seen at The Valley will be incredibly difficult away from home. The Addicks without an away win since March.
But if it is done as successfully as it was against the Owls, you could certainly suggest that it is a better option than simply sitting back and attempting to frustrate the Blues.
A tough game for the Addicks, whether they were travelling to St Andrew’s in form or not. Injuries don’t make it any easier. Birmingham City 2-0 Charlton Athletic
#5 – Djimi Traore and #6 – Amdy Faye
If Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Merire, not that anything that has happened in Charlton’s past particularly interests them, are looking for evidence to support their flawed recruitment process, then it would be worth studying the summer of 2006.
For newly appointed manager Iain Dowie was given the finances to shape the squad with a degree of freedom. A boss having the dependency to build a side how he wishes something that supporters currently crave.
But the signings that summer, though initially causing a degree of excitement, ultimately proved to be huge failures. A club that had held European ambitions ending the campaign in the bottom three, with a weak and disjointed squad, led by three flawed managers, constantly finding new ways to disappoint.
Of the eight additions Dowie made, only Scott Carson and Andy Reid, though injured for much of the season, managed to impress. Carson’s resilient efforts between the posts earning him the Player of the Year award, and Reid adding to the promise shown in the top flight before his injury struggles with a stunning half-season in the Championship.
Cory Gibbs, signed before Dowie’s appointment, a parody of an injury-hit footballer, and Omar Pouso’s existence still questioned by those who did not see his single appearance. A past it Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink absorbing as much of the club’s wage fund as he did food. Souleymane Diawara, though going onto enjoy a successful career in France, error-prone and a wearer of gloves in August.
But of all the signings, it was two made on the same day that failed particularly spectacularly. 8 August 2006 possibly one of the darkest days in Charlton’s recent history, with £2m spent on both Djimi Traore and Amdy Faye. A thought that makes you shudder.
Traore arrived with dust not yet settling on the Champions League winners’ medal he collected with Liverpool in 2005, but mockery still directed his way for an infamous FA Cup own goal in the same season. The Malian left-back started against AC Milan in that famous night in Istanbul, despite having somehow turned the ball into his own net against Burnley four months earlier.
Capable enough to play at the highest level, but equally capable of more calamities than just his cup howler. A predictably mixed response to his capture, but a certain amount of expectation existing nonetheless. At the very least, no slack could be cut with Chris Powell the man he would be replacing among the left-sided full-back options.
Faye signed from Newcastle United without the baggage of any high-profile errors, but lacked a shiny, Champions League medal-shaped beacon of hope. Little to be particularly excited about, having been in and out of the side at St James’ Park, but nothing to cause alarm.
The Senegal’s midfielder’s job was probably to fill the void left by Alexi Smertin. A strong and composed holding player, favouring the simple option but also possessing the ability to pick out a teammate with a 50 yard pass.
In summary, it appeared two necessary cogs had been added to the squad with the new season 11 days away. Alarm bells not ringing.
Alas, Traore provided concerns just 26 minutes into his debut for the Addicks. Already on a yellow card, the summer signing lunged in recklessly on Lee Bowyer and received a second booking. Those supporters that were more concerned by his struggles than encouraged by his medals hardly enthused by such an act of ill-discipline, but at least it saved him from facing Cristiano Ronaldo four days later.
Faye, meanwhile, wasn’t fairing much better in the early weeks of the season. Think Yoni Buyens, but without the promising start, the penalties, and the occasional performance that suggested he was a competent footballer. Far too slow on the ball, unable to break up play without conceding a foul, and his passing rarely anything more than wayward.
Injury to Traore spared the sight of him in a Charlton shirt until Les Reed had replaced Dowie, but Faye, despite continuing to fail to impress, kept his place. The similarities with Buyens growing.
But it was when the pair combined again that they inflicted greater misery on supporters of the Addicks, already growing disillusioned with the post-Alan Curbishley era. The “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” chant that followed the defeat to Wycombe Wanderers in the League Cup powerful, and Traore and Faye were two of the players who the brunt of the abuse was directed at.
And even when attaching the blame to them is harsh, it seemed incredibly fitting that Traore was involved in one of the most controversial moments of that season. After being bizarrely penalised in the final minute of Alan Pardew’s first game in charge, Fulham were able to score a late equaliser.
In some regards, it summed up his Charlton career. The opening day sending off, the injury and the costly conceding of an unjust free-kick. Luck against him; any sort of effort was never going to be rewarded.
But, in truth, that is a rather kind assessment. The Traore that represented Charlton looked more likely to turn the ball into his own net, than the one that won a Champions League medal. Uncomfortable, uncomposed, and unthreatening going forward. Celebrations had when he departed for Portsmouth in January, ignoring that a £1m loss had been made.
Faye, however, decided to hang around for longer. Long enough to, unbelievably, score the winner against Portsmouth – Charlton’s first away win in the Premier League for over a year.
Long enough to make the most crucial of mistakes in what was a relatively tight game against Chelsea at The Valley. Frank Lampard robbing Faye in midfield, and driving forward to score what would prove to be the winner for his side.
Long enough to still cause stress and frustration even after his contributions had helped to relegate the Addicks to the Championship. Finding a way to rid the club of the unwanted Faye, on a long-term contract, proved difficult.
An unsuccessful loan move to Rangers, who had as much praise for him as Charlton fans, got him out the way for the 2007/08 season, but he returned for the start of the following campaign. Stoke finally taking him off our hands for good, after one of the most uninterested performances I’ve ever seen from a Charlton player, during a pre-season friendly against Atletico Bilbao.
The crisis that followed beyond Faye’s departure nowhere near as depressing as having to watch the midfielder and Traore represent the Addicks.