There have been more comprehensive and composed beatings of Welling United in previous years, but Charlton Athletic’s 4-1 victory at Park View Road offered a useful beginning to pre-season and to Russell Slade’s reign as Addicks boss.
Not useful in the sense of this performance being perfect, or testing opposition were overcome. Charlton’s efforts indifferent during periods, and the result more a reflection of the Wings always appearing overawed regardless.
But the afternoon provided what seems the fairest reflection of where the Addicks stand as they prepare to attempt to escape League One at the first attempt. An accurate foundation crafted, on which both encouragement and caution lie. More useful, with competitive fixtures still a month away, then a brutal basing of Welling that totally distracted from the improvement still required.
Enough passages of excellent forward play, not least Nicky Ajose helping himself to a hat-trick in his first 45 minutes in Charlton red, to provide genuine promise that Slade’s men will be a threat in the coming campaign. The summer signing from Swindon scoring three second-half goals, adding to El-Hadji Ba’s early first half header.
Enough bright moves ended by Callum Harriott running into a dead end or a horror miss to remind that fine tuning is certainly still required at this early stage of pre-season. Slade’s side frequently looking to exploit the flanks, but their end product often sloppy or wasteful.
Enough anti-Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meie voices, paired with voices of displeasure that met questionable moments in defence, to reinforce the idea that a considerable amount more must be done before supporter trust returns to club or side. A Roland out banner displayed behind one of the goals and CEO Meire the target of post-game chants, while disastrous defending from a combination of Tareiq Holmes-Dennis and Jorge Teixeira was punished as Welling briefly drew level from the spot.
Of course, the heavy analysis of pre-season games is misguided, but it does seem reasonable to suggest the combination of those factors seen at Park View Road provides evidence of where the strengths in Slade’s side lie, where there remains a need to strengthen, and that the strength of opposition to the club’s regime remains intact.
The strength of that opposition possibly also displayed in what appeared a comparatively low crowd, not matching the numbers of recent years.
But those Charlton supporters that were in attendance came with excited intrigue as to how Slade would have his side play, and how both new signings and those partaking in trials would perform. The support the team not the regime a mantra many will continue to abide by.
The visiting Addicks, however, were made to wait to see the three signings that have offered encouragement over the summer months. Slade naming two separate XIs, with Ajose, Ricky Holmes and Lee Novak featuring in the second half team. An interesting mix of youngsters, forgotten senior players and trialists joining Nick Pope, Morgan Fox and Harriott in the first.
A mix that combined well enough almost immediately to give Charlton an early lead. Harriott teeing up trialist defender Lewis Buxton, whose excellent delivery was converted by Ba. The first goal of Slade’s reign coming just three minutes into it.
And that the goal had its origins in successful wide play would have seemingly pleased the new boss, with there a noticeable attempt to feed the ball into the channels both before and following the opener.
Trialist Lee Crofts and academy graduate Olly Muldoon, though not completely dictating in the middle, offering excellent balls to the flanks as soon as possible after receiving a pass. Fox and Buxton getting forward well from the full-back positions in support of Harriott and Emmanuel Sonupe, another trialist. Pace and energy, with a little bit of craft, in these early Charlton offerings.
It no surprise, therefore, that the chances the Addicks were able to create thereafter were born out of either lively wide play, or an exploitation of the pace they possessed against a very sluggish Welling backline.
Harriott hauled down after a drop of the shoulder and a drive forward, with Fox forcing a good save out of Wings goalkeeper Chris Lewington from the resultant free-kick, Sonupe denied having been played through down the left, and the stopper called upon again to just about beat Karlan Ahearne-Grant to the ball after the pacey forward was set through on goal. Certainly some promising signs.
But that isn’t to say that the Addicks were, by any means, in control. The sort of sloppiness you might expect from a scrambled together side in their first pre-season outing on show as the first nugmeg of Roger Johnson’s season was inflicted upon him, before Fox was robbed of possession and the corner that ultimately followed saw George Allen nod into the hands of Pope
Buxton also guilty of gifting the ball to the opposition, as Ollie Sprague, Welling’s one source of liveliness, picked up his loose touch and rounded the former Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham United man with relative ease. The attack fizzling out, but a little frustrating that a side that looked so powerless in the fact of Charlton’s early pressure were now finding faults in the Addicks.
Probably not frustrating enough, however, for the response to be a smoke bomb thrown onto the pitch soon after. Merely teenagers behaving arrogantly and seeking attention, and not the way to be protesting regardless, but the sight of red smoke enough to spark the first meaningful “we want Roland out” chant of the afternoon. A second smoke bomb, appearing after Ahearne-Grant had made an unsuccessful burst into the box, rather less well received by anyone who has completed their GCSEs.
Those enforced stoppages of play coinciding with a lull in Charlton’s attacking efforts, as the Harriott prior to his loan to Colchester United last season appeared to appear. A horrible shank over the bar and a lack of end product, shared by his teammates, frustrating given how brightly he started the game, though his deflected free-kick at least forced Lewington to react before calmly collecting the ball.
So, despite Sonupe just side-footing a chance across the face of goal as the half came to a close, the interval was probably needed. Welling largely chasing shadows, but the meaningful energy and liveliness that was being shown by the Addicks in the opening period of the first 45 minute of their pre-season had long been lost, making for quite the dull affair.
A hope, therefore, that the introduction of what was arguably a stronger second half XI would reinject some intensity into a low key contest. And maybe Johnson having to continue, with Alou Diarra injuring himself and unable to take his place on the pitch, would give Welling an opportunity to work their way back into the game, too.
But there was certainly a lively start from the Addicks as the second period got underway. Cristian Ceballos striking across the face, Holmes striking above the stand, and Novak unsure whether to strike having been marvellously played through by Jordan Cousins, with the result a shot-cum pass that was hacked away before Ajose could help it over the line.
So it was against the early run of play in the second period, although maybe not overall, that Welling were able to draw level. A reminder of the questionable composure and discipline that existed in Charlton’s backline throughout the entirety of last season as a spot-kick was gifted to the opposition.
The penalty conceded as a consequence of Holmes-Dennis slicing two consecutive clearances in horrible fashion, before Jorge Teixeira saw it fit to bundle over a Wings forward. Much greater composure and control in the strike from the spot, as Sprague finished impressively.
Many able to relax given the non-competitive nature of the game, but the equaliser did provide a touch of comfortability around Park View Road. A worry about what the Addicks failing to beat the Wings would say about the season ahead.
Ajose quickly putting Charlton back in front, therefore, needed. The striker’s first goal for the club a consequence of excellent positioning and a perfect delivery, as Ceballos volleyed cross bounced up for him to head over the line with ease.
Enough to settle the nerves among the Addicks in the crowd, but seemingly not among those in Charlton’s backline. A bouncing ball not won by Johnson, and the pace of Welling’s forward too much for him. Stephen Henderson, thankfully, off his line quickly enough to make himself big and block the ball away.
Composure seemingly also lacking among members of the defence when they ventured forward. Trialist Alex Pike teed up invitingly by Novak, with a clear sight of goal, only to fire so horribly wide that the ball trickled out for a throw. Probably not the best thing to do when attempting to win a contract, irrespective of the fact the former West Ham man operates at full-back.
But composure is something that Ajose was keen to show he possess in abundance. A second goal for the summer signing from Swindon, and another constructed by a pinpoint pass and a cool finish from an excellent position. Novak tapping across goal for his new strike partner to tuck home.
Now, with around 20 minutes to play, there was more fluency in Charlton’s forward play than there was in the opening stages of the match. Johnnie Jackson and Cousins dictating in the middle, Holmes-Dennis recovering from his earlier mishap to support Holmes on some strong runs forward, and both Ajose and Novak proving a handful even when the goal was not in their sights.
Another goal the reward. This time, Ajose doing all the hard work himself, as he robbed a Welling defender of the ball inside the box, and coolly converted beyond the desperate dive of the Wings goalkeeper. A friendly against non-league opposition, of course, but a hat-trick whatever the circumstances for a forward in your first game for a new club is very promising.
A shame, therefore, that before Ajose had had the opportunity to take full acclaim, more attention seeking and immature teenagers attempted to have their moment of fame by running on the pitch without purpose. The size of the steward that dealt with the main culprit most pleasing.
So too the fact that a more meaningful display of displeasure was made come full-time. Meire reminded that her continued insistence on lying won’t be forgotten.
But it would not be a lie to suggest that there were encouraging signs in the final half hour of that second half performance, to go alongside the early energy and intensity and the somewhat frustrating and underwhelming middle period.
Maybe most pleasing was the fact there already appeared a degree of cohesion and fluency among the exciting attacking arrivals in this Charlton side. At the very least, it’s certainly going forward where this unit offers most promise.
An element of frustration slightly tainting that attacking play, given the wastefulness and lack of ruthlessness that appeared either side of half-time, but not enough to feel it is something to be concerned about. Just some fine tuning needed, particularly in the case of Holmes and Harriott, whose liveliness and energy was occasionally let done by questionable end product.
Fine tuning is probably something that is also needed for Sonupe. Not outstanding, but a certain amount of quality hiding in a little bit of a weak frame. He and Crofts, lovely and composed in the middle, the two trialists that made me want to see more.
And I’d certainly like to see more defenders, and more defensive shape and composure, brought to the club. It can’t be forgotten that Patrick Bauer, should he remain, Chris Solly and Harry Lennon are to return, but the uncomfortable and not exactly composed defensive effort was a collective issue as much as it was individual. A feeling of unease each time a very tame Welling side got forward, and plenty to work on there.
Regardless, it is most certainly a useful start. Useful to see some early encouraging signs, and so too where there is room for improvement for Slade and his side with plenty of time still in hand before the first League One fixture at Bury.