Free Speech Day it might have been at The Valley, with numerous supporters following CARD’s wishes and coming to SE7 with a banner bearing an anti-regime message, but it was the silence that existed for much of the game which did a better job of exposing the current state of the club.
The ground barely a third full, those within it evidently uninspired by an underwhelming contest between Charlton Athletic and Chesterfield, and the atmosphere muted at best. The disconnection created by Roland Duchatelet’s regime, that Katrien Meire refuses to acknowledge to the extent it needs to be, obvious.
A sluggish Valley crowd half the result of the mood the club’s ownership have instilled upon their supporters, but also a consequence of those underwhelming events on the pitch.
Chesterfield structured and determined, showing the sort of resilience that will be required to escape a relegation battle, but also very much possessing the quality that reflected their tag as the division’s least in form side. A side to be beaten.
Understandable, therefore, that the tentative mentality, sideways passing, and overall lack of energy and intent displayed by Russell Slade’s side meant the silence was only interrupted by grunts of disappointment, and half-time boos.
And when the Addicks found an extra gear in the second period, still lacking in quality but possessing enough attacking intent to pen the Spireites deep inside their own half, the occasional promising move was punctured by an extraordinary lack of composure in front of goal. Nicky Ajose, having wasted a wonderful opening in a rare first-half move, particularly guilty as he headed wide from a marvellous Jordan Botaka delivery.
The first-half hesitation, and the tameness that followed in the second, meaning it seemed that another disappointing draw against weak opposition was moments away from being confirmed. A disappointing draw for which Slade could claim no excuses to avoid criticism of himself or his players. Another dire afternoon on the pitch, to add to the overall gloom at the club.
So when Ricky Holmes, delivering a ball into the box for the umpteenth time, picked out an alert Lee Novak, getting in front of his man against his former club and glancing a header firmly beyond the reach of Chesterfield stopper Ryan Fulton with four minutes to play, it was with relief that The Valley rose. The threat of the silence being broken by full-time boos and angst avoided.
Instead, as Novak stood in front of the Covered End with hand to ear suggesting he had proven a point to those who had questioned his performances for the club, the silence was broken by joyous and relieved celebrations.
A rare moment to enjoy as disconnection and apathy continues to run through the veins of Charlton supporters. A warranted win, if not on the strength of performance but on the number of clear-cut chances created, displacing what was seemingly set to be a draw worthy of inquest and further unrest.
Not enough to diminish the on-the-pitch worry that accompanies the overall despair among Addicks, given the nature of the display and the fear a more competent opponent may have taken advantage, but Novak had at least found a positive way to break the silence.
In truth, against opposition who had taken just one point from their previous six league games, a single-goal victory was the absolute minimum demanded of the Addicks prior to kick-off, and the minimum expected once it was announced Slade had finally abandoned his single-striker formation.
Ajose, having scored a 90th minute equalise from the spot against Gillingham and made the point he should be starting rather clear to Slade in his celebration, handed a start for the first time since the middle of September and partnering Josh Magennis in attack. Johnnie Jackson sitting out as a result.
There also a change in defence, where Patrick Bauer, a victim of the virus that apparently affected a handful of players last week, returned in favour of teenager centre-back Ezri Konsa. With Botaka available again after injury, and ready to be deployed from the bench, Slade’s side was arguably at full strength.
Such perceived strength meant victory was the only acceptable outcome, despite the bald-headed boss suggesting in the week that Chesterfield possessed players capable of winning games. Gboly Ariyibi and Ched Evans, starting for Danny Wilson’s side, did at least mean the Addicks could not ignore their opponents’ threat entirely.
Nor could Meire ignore the numerous banners and flags visible around the ground as the game got underway. The opposition obvious, and the message apparent. This regime is destroying the club, and is not wanted here.
It would, however, have been nice if Slade’s side had taken one of the key principles behind the many North Korea flags that were on display. For instead of dictating, the Addicks were tentative and a little cautious in the opening exchanges.
Though a deflected Ademola Lookman effort was saved, with Chesterfield fortunate that the ball didn’t bounce away from Fulton, and Andrew Crofts shot horrendously wide with an ambitious effort from distance, it took barely 15 minutes for home supporters to grow frustrated with their side’s sideways passing and lack of intent.
In fact, though they were placing ten men behind the ball whenever the Addicks were in possession, it was Chesterfield who showed a greater amount of urgency and energy when going forward. The lively Ariyibi causing constant concern for Morgan Fox, and the winger firing over from just outside the box.
Which isn’t to say that the visitors, or the hosts, were looking particularly threatening. Evans’ attempts to play on the shoulder of Patrick Bauer proving unsuccessful, with the big German in formidable form, while Magennis and Ajose being on different wavelengths hardly helped with the Addicks struggling to make anything happen in the final third.
A real tedious affair, adding greater importance to the opening goal. An opening goal that, Chesterfield almost secured just before the half hour.
After Evans’ movement had finally allowed him to get the better of Bauer and break into the box, a poor touch meant his resulting shot was effectively a prod straight at Rudd, who was able to block the effort behind for a corner.
But from the resulting corner, initially half-cleared, Charlton’s defence were found to be unstructured and sluggish. The ball falling to Dan Gardner on the edge of the box, no pressure applied to him, and the winger able to bend an effort against the foot of the far post with Rudd well-beaten. A huge let off for the unconvincing Addicks.
A wake up call for those in red, and from the home crowd, who summoned a cry of support to demand much more from their unimpressive side. Not one that Charlton were willing to respond to, however, as the infuriating sideways passing and unwillingness to drive forward continued.
So, with ten minutes of the half remaining, it was to the surprise of all inside The Valley to see the Addicks complete a flowing passing move that concluded with Magennis sending Ajose through on goal.
The home crowd rising, beginning their premature celebrations in expectation of the forward handing their side the advantage, but somehow Ajose could only strike against the post. Heads firmly in hands, and remaining in them as the loose ball fell to Chris Solly. His follow-up effort, unsurprisingly, wayward.
Disappointment and frustration, undoubtedly, with there a growing feeling that that sort of miss would reflect Charlton’s fortunes and quite possibly the game overall, but a small hint of encouragement to also be taken. Proof that Slade’s side could play a competent style of football, and there every chance that attacking play would be rewarded.
In fact, with half-time approaching, there was to be one more opening for the Addicks, and another chance to make a rather underwhelming first-half effort meaningless. On this occasion, there was to be no fault attached to the forward involved, as Magennis headed powerfully towards goal from Holmes’ delivery, only for Fulton to pull off a marvellous reaction save. It would have been somewhat undeserved if a battling Chesterfield had gone in at the break behind, but such an outcome was only avoided thanks to their goalkeeper’s fingertips.
Nonetheless, there was no real feeling that Charlton were unfortunate to go in at the break without a lead. A smattering of boos and an overall sense of disappointment reflecting that, with most unhappy with the sluggish, cautious and unexpansive football on show. The division’s 23rd placed side needed to be put under greater pressure, and tested more.
It was to the credit of Slade’s men, therefore, that they seemingly appeared after the interval with a much greater attacking mentality. Fredrik Ulvestad more positive in his passing, Holmes driving forward with a real threat, and Solly playing as a definite wing-back in support of Lookman. Chesterfield dropping deeper and deeper, with Evans an isolated figure in attack.
But while there was most certainly a greater attempt to push forward, and a sudden discovery of some attacking energy, the quality of the end product meant frustration and disappointment continued to fill The Valley. Half a result of commendable defiance from the visitors, and a half a result of quite poor decision making from those in red when in a reasonably promising position.
Not until just before the hour mark did this more adventurous style of play result in a reasonable opening, with Magennis rising highest to nod Holmes’ delivery just wide of the post. The Northern Irishman giving Fulton something to worry about in Charlton’s next move, as the goalkeeper comfortably claimed another nod towards goal, but this slow improvement was still nowhere near enough to inspire.
At least Chesterfield had seemingly abandoned any idea of stealing victory, with even Ariyibi unable to get forward. A wayward effort from Jay O’Shea, struck from distance, fairly reflective of desperation that was to be found in the rare moments of forward play in Wilson’s side.
But, to their credit, it was with sternness and resilience that they continued to deny Charlton’s attempts to push forward. Ian Evatt, at 34 years of age, a colossus in the centre, while the wide men were pressured enough to prevent their constant forward runs from resulting in genuine threat. The visitors seemingly in control of their own destiny, despite being forced to sit so deep, and frustration among the home support again growing.
The response from Slade to throw on the fit again Botaka, replacing the ineffective Lookman, in the hope his skill and fresh legs would deceive a determined defence.
And, with 15 minutes to play, Botaka’s influence really should have made the difference. The winger in space, his delivery stunning, but the unmarked Ajose waiting in the centre somehow managed to nod the ball wide with the goal at his mercy. His reaction said it all; a huge miss, particularly in a game of limited openings.
A conflict over whether such a glorious opening was an encouragement or the wasting of it was a further sign that the Addicks were to be frustrated, but the atmosphere inside the ground suggested many were resigned to disappointment. Hushed, frustrated, without confidence.
Novak replaced the misfiring Ajose, and Chesterfield’s backline were certainly struggling to deal with the former Spirite forward and his fellow substitute Botaka more than anyone else in red, but that inability to add a final touch of quality to attacking moves was again on show. Deliveries constant, but so often blocked or beaten away.
And when they did find a man, as Holmes picked out Bauer at the far post from a corner with five minutes to play, the resulting effort on goal was uninspiring. An acceptance of disappointment heard in the sighs around the ground as Fulton plucked the German centre-back’s header out the air.
In fact, it wouldn’t have been surprising to the home supporters, so used to disappointment, had Chesterfield managed to steal victory. Ariyibi bursting forward for quite possibly the first time during the half to be on the receiving end of a Spirite break, but his resulting effort was fairly tame, and Rudd got down well to save.
An immediate move down the other end, but the volume of excitement as Holmes made another burst down the flank definitely lower than it would have been had he made the same move at the start of the half. Too many attempts to exploit the wide areas, and pick out a man in the middle, had resulted in failure.
But Holmes’ delivery was a useful one, perfect for Novak, who had moved away from his man in excellent fashion, with the striker producing a glancing header with the pace and accuracy to mean there were unexpected cries of celebration before the ball had even crossed the line.
An element of surprise in the response, with the goal interrupting a sense of certain frustration, but so too was there huge relief. Supporters spared the embarrassment and anger that would come with failing to defeat such a lowly side, while those on the pitch found a reward for the effort shown in periods of the second half, and a platform from which to release frustrations. Novak’s hand held to his ear, and Crofts aggressive in his interaction with the Covered End.
Alas, though a goal scored with five minutes to play and in such circumstances, felt like a winner, there was still time for frustration to return. For Novak to turn from hero to villain, as he wasted a glorious chance to double Charlton’s lead having been teed up by Botaka’s wonderful flick and resultant cut back.
In fact, in the three minutes of additional time added, the pattern of the game had very much reversed. Chesterfield pressing forward, Charlton sitting deep, half determined and half hopeful to maintain what they had.
But, in truth, it was through good fortune that the Addicks did not concede in that period of stoppage-time. O’Shea’s effort taking a wicked deflection, wrong-footing Rudd, and only narrowly flashing wide of the post. A relief greater than seeing Novak’s header find the back of net upon realising O’Shea’s effort had gone behind.
Relief, too, when the final whistle was ultimately blown. A victory that Slade’s side made hard work of, reflected in the fact that full-time was so desperately pleaded for, and an unconvincing performance, but a victory nonetheless.
A victory, therefore, from which mixed feelings are taken from.
No doubt in the joy and celebration as Novak’s late winner was scored. The quantity of clear-cut chances making that a goal that was just about deserved, and, though it was Holmes who provided, made more so by the influence of Botaka and Novak in the game’s closing stages.
For once, Slade’s subs helped rather than hindered. So too did he seemingly finally allow his side off the leash a little in the second period, where a restricted and dour first-half effort was replaced by genuine attacking intent. There no denying that elements of this performance, and Slade’s decision making, were an improvement in showings seen throughout this season.
In equal measure, there is no denying that there were still plenty of elements of the performance that were incredibly sluggish. Both during the first half, were the play was tedious, unthreatening, and lacklustre, and in the second, were the inability to break down Chesterfield despite the intent became incredibly frustrating.
Slade’s side still far from fluent, and still far from one that can realistically have ambitions of moving up the table. Further improvement most definitely needed, especially against opposition able to provide a great threat than Wilson’s men were.
Contributing to this mixed feeling also is the sense of sluggishness that existed around The Valley, with the increasing feel that apathy and disconnection is the overwhelming feeling amount supporters. .
The amount of banners, despite this being a protest that required individuals to do all the work themselves, and the definitive cry for Roland to be removed after scoring, reflective of that, and the focus on forcing change in order to be able to reconnect.
For low attendances and apathetic atmospheres have long passed a stage of being addressable by results, and it’s quite upsetting to think that Meire, at least in what she chooses to say, doesn’t realise that. The regime in general unaware of the damage caused, and I think that is greater reflected in days where victory is secured.
Nonetheless, the Addicks were able to secure a victory that expectation meant had to be secured, and there were signs of encouragement to be taken from a very mixed performance that was reliant on that late winner to be acceptable.
It very much an afternoon where a win being a win holds true.
There was an unquestionable sense of unity and positive determination as Charlton Athletic and Coventry City supporters lined the street for their pre-match protest march a fortnight ago.
An event far removed from the usual connotations of protesting. This not an intimidating scene that damaged the reputation of those presenting an important message, but a scene that showed the strength of feeling among supporters of both the Addicks and the Sky Blues in a manner that strengthened their cause and weakened further the positions of those damaging their clubs.
Particularly apparent was the unified nature of the protesting Charlton supporters. A togetherness among them, embodying the strength of community that has long existed in this club, and the notion that their actions in protest are an attempt to defend the club from Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire’s strangulation and disillusion-causing behaviour, rather than cause additional harm, reaffirmed.
A sense of togetherness and community made particularly apparent to myself as someone whose life has been rather restricted by crippling anxiety. A real sense that I was a part of a unified group, allowing me to communicate with people I’d never met before in a confident fashion. Something I simply wouldn’t have been able to do in other settings, including inside The Valley.
Such unity knocks back the suggestion occasionally made that the current situation in SE7 has created division between supporters. From what I’ve seen and experienced, that couldn’t be further from the truth. As a fan too young to have witnessed the years away from The Valley and subsequent effort to return, rarely have I seen Addicks as committed and united.
A committed and united attempt to protect and maintain the ethos of the club while those in charge at The Valley seek to damage and remove it, with the ultimate goal of protesting to remove this regime, reinstate that ethos and regain ‘our’ Charlton.
These, apparently, the actions of a group of supporters who at war with their club. A quite striking comment made by Meire during an infuriating discussion with TalkSPORT.
Division, of course, that exists as a consequence of alienating supporters and increasing discontent, but to call this a war is yet another misguided comment from a failing CEO.
Charlton supporters aren’t attempting to damage their club, they are attempting to save and protect it. Save and protect it so they can feel a sense of attachment to it once again, and not the horrible sense of detachment they do at present.
There is, instead, an attempt from the other side to damage both club and supporters. An obvious attempt, which they continue to distance themselves from. Meire’s rubbish about learning from mistakes, and attempting to brush previous actions that have driven lifelong supporters from the club under the carpet, fooling no one.
In her view, the drop in season ticket sales, and the record-breaking low attendances, a consequence of relegation, and not the way this regime have insulted and alienated supporters. The ignorance and naivety towards supporter emotions and feeling, let alone how to run a football club, incredible
The idea that trust and connection can be regained with a few results, for supporters are obviously passive viewers who merely need three points every so often to keep quiet, still being spouted out. The club still incapable of achieving results with this regime in charge, but it more the fact she continues to ignore the quite clear message that she is in no position to regain the trust of supporters.
A belief that she is not out of her depth, that Duchatelet is the right man to lead Charlton, and that the club is not for sale. Ignorant and arrogant comments given the weak position the regime is in, and a position they seem only willing to acknowledge in a way that benefits them. So many of her repeated messages becoming tiresome and increasingly insulting.
Even in an interview where she was largely unchallenged, with Jim White, Danny Murphy and Dean Saunders allowing her a platform from which to present a false image of herself and the state of the club, she shot herself in the foot.
Not simply with lies, inaccuracies and meaningless statements, but preventing phone calls from being made to TalkSPORT from Charlton supporters for the duration of the day despite rambling on about the need to improve communication. She’s ignorant, but not ignorant enough to know what she’s saying will be challenged properly by those affected by her damaging running of this club.
The soft interviewing meant lots of questions went unasked, and lots of her lies and inaccuracies went unchallenged, but one question not asked stands out for me.
Quite simply, why? Why are you still here? Why are you enticing this ‘war’? Why won’t you acknowledge the weakness of your position? There seems no benefit, for either her or the club, with her still acting as CEO and this regime still in charge.
The regime’s interests are evidently not focused on the good of the club. The appointment of an English manager and the signing of a handful of players with experience of the Football League nowhere near enough to show a change of direction. Supporters still disconnected, the club still weak and in tatters.
They seem to believe the emotion expressed in protests can be quelled, and the disconnection among supporters addressed, but there is an unwillingness to see the damage has already been done, and is unfixable.
Why does she continue to maintain her position? Arrogance and ignorance? Protected by Duchatelet? A belief she can protect her ego, regardless of what the state the club and its supporters are in?
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, she does maintain this untenable position, and there can be no denying that she and the regime hold the power. They can have these pre-determined interviews, they can twist the truth, and they can cling onto the club for no real reason.
They can make our cause appear weak, and undermine us. They can create the notion of a war, and attempt to imply it is us doing the damage.
And yet, Meire has fooled few. We maintain the support of so many, which is a real credit to our efforts, and their position remains so weak.
They’re going to take some shifting, sure, but this regime can’t even leave an interview constructed on their terms with any credit. If there was ever a war, they long lost it.
We’re going to have to keep going, but there’s only one winner.
Charlton Athletic’s game with Chesterfield this Saturday will see ‘Free Speech Day’ take place at The Valley, with protest group CARD encouraging as many supporters as possible to deploy homemade banners in an attempt to prevent the club’s hierarchy from silencing them.
A sea of anti-regime messages, and the occasional North Korea flag, will create quite the emphatic picture. An organised attempt by the club to remove those banners and flags will increase the sense of alienation supporters feel. A message that can’t continue to be ignored.
But there is one message that is being ignored. The one from manager Russell Slade that followed Saturday’s disappointing draw with Gillingham which seemed to suggest the performance, and result, was acceptable.
The second-half improvement, an improvement that required a late penalty to steal an undeserved point and was not enough to take the Addicks off the back foot for the duration of the half, heavily overstated by the boss. Frustration among supporters – already angered by results, Slade’s cautious tactics, and the fact their side sit 17th in League One – increasing as a result of the manager’s bizarre take on the game. This is far from good enough.
Increasing, too, is the sense of pressure on Slade. Not the sort of pressure that might see him lose his job, but the sort of pressure that requires him to desperately build some sort of relationship with his supporters. That needs a performance to back up his words, in the same way Charlton supporters have plenty of evidence behind the words in their banners.
And, with the Addicks playing a side at The Valley who haven’t won away all season and are without victory overall in six games, there can be no clutching at straws or desperate attempts to make the best of an underwhelming performance.
A need for Slade to lead his men to a comprehensive win over Chesterfield this weekend.
LAST MEETING – CHESTEFIELD 0-4 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (28/02/2012)
A Bradley Wright-Phillips hat-trick helped Charlton to a 4-0 victory over Chesterfield in February 2012, and moved the Addicks 13 points clear at the top of League One.
Wright-Phillips, who last weekend claimed the MLS golden boot having scored 24 goals in the regular season for current club New York Red Bulls, put the visitors ahead at the Proact Stadium two minutes prior to half-time. The forward pouncing on a Danny Green effort that had bounced down off the crossbar, and claiming the goal having made sure the ball crossed the line.
The points effectively sealed for Charlton 11 minutes into the second period, as Wright-Phillips turned inside the box and finished in typical fashion to double his side’s advantage.
Any lingering fears that the division’s bottom club, who boasted current Addick Ajose in their XI, might make an unlikely comeback were quelled just minutes later, with Green, enjoying a rare night where he lived up to his promise, crossing for Johnnie Jackson to finish.
And Green would claim a third assist, as he provided for Wright-Phillips to seal his hat-trick. An emphatic for Chris Powell’s side confirmed as the forward finished coolly from Green’s low cross with 24 minutes remaining.
With five defeats, and just a single draw, from their previous six league games, Chesterfield find themselves rock bottom of League One’s form table.
In fact, only Rotherham United, without a single point in their last six games, are in worse form than Danny Wilson’s side across all three division of the Football League. Form that has left them second from bottom in the overall table, and four points from safety.
Even the one point that Chesterfield have gained in their previous six league games came in circumstances that meant it felt like a defeat. A two-goal lead lost at home to Gillingham, with a Scott Wagstaff equaliser deep into second-half stoppage-time denying the Spireites victory.
It is, therefore, fairly reasonable to suggest that Chesterfield are struggling. A three-goal defeat to league-leaders Scunthorpe United last weekend reaffirming that, with supporters beginning to lose patience with the performances of their side and Wilson suggest it was effectively men against boys.
Hope existing in the form of Ched Evans, who returned to the side against Scunthorpe and is now without distraction, but the forward’s goals are unlikely to paper over all the cracks. Improvement required if points are to be picked up, and the boos are to stop.
On few occasions has a single kick of a football papered over as many cracks as Nicky Ajose’s equalising penalty in the 90th minute of last weekend’s draw with Gillingham.
For Charlton’s performance, one which saw them allow the Gills to dictate the game and find themselves rather fortunate to have the better of the referee’s decisions, was hardly worthy of a point.
The Addicks never truly recovering from a bizarre first-half performance, which highlighted the tactical faults in Slade’s set-up. Charlton playing like a team recently promoted from League Two, without the resources to compete, and refusing to press their opponents. Gillingham in complete control, and this exploitation of Slade’s defensive side coming after bizarre and defensive substitutions cost his side three points at Port Vale in the previous fixture.
The half-time introduction of Ajose did at least give Charlton some degree of cohesion and threat going forward. The midfield still far too deep, and Gillingham still finding ways through with Cody McDonald denied a clear-cut penalty after Ricky Holmes had missed a spot-kick at the other end, but at least Slade’s men no longer looked so hopeless in attack.
Improvement, however, that was only enough for the Addicks to steal a point they probably didn’t deserve. Performances concerning, just one win in the previous ten league games, and the idea of the club having a “top six budget” being mocked each week. Capitalising on Coventry’s woes feels like an exception to the norm, rather than something that can become a norm.
Confidence seemingly only to be found in Ajose, who made his point clear following his first goal for the club since August. Slade might say otherwise, but his celebration in front of the boss was quite clear. The forward believing he can play an important part in the Addicks improving, and many supporters would agree.
Chesterfield could hand a second senior start to 17-year-old Ricky German after Wilson suggested the young striker could “potentially…be very good” having made his full debut in the defeat to Scunthorpe.
German, possessing strength belonging to a man far beyond his years, is likely to partner Evans in attack, who will be hoping for an uninterrupted run in the side with injury and his well-publicised court case having disrupted his return to football.
But the positives of German’s unearthing and Evans’ return have been offset by injuries, set-backs and suspension leaving the Spireites without a number of players ahead of Saturday’s trip to SE7.
Full-back Paul McGinn (hamstring), forward Kristian Dennis (calf) and Bolton loanee Connor Wilkinson (knee) are all likely to remain absent having missed the game with Scunthorpe, while Tommy Lee’s hopes of returning to action have hit a snag after the long-serving goalkeeper suffered a minor set-back in his recovery from shoulder surgery.
Elsewhere, centre-back Tom Anderson will be unavailable against the Addicks having received his fifth yellow card of the season last weekend. The experienced Ian Evatt the man set to replace him in the back line.
Pressure, from both supporters and the player himself, is being placed on Slade to hand a first start to Ajose since September’s defeat to AFC Wimbledon.
Many are desperate for the summer signing from Swindon, dropped initially after a few wasteful games in front of goal, to be brought back into the starting XI as a result of the disappointing displays that have been seen when a 4-5-1 formation has been used, in addition to the impact Ajose had off the bench last weekend. The forward’s celebration increasing the demand on Slade to pick him.
Ajose replaced Jackson at half-time at Priestfield, and the skipper could be the midfield man to drop out so a second striker can start, but Andrew Crofts will do well to keep a hold of his place in the starting line-up.
Elsewhere, Patrick Bauer will be available having missed last weekend through illness, looking set to replace Ezri Konsa in the XI, but Jordan Botaka is unlikely to return from the injury that was suffered while on international duty with DR Congo.
KEY BATTLE – DICTATING, RATHER THAN DROPPING DEEP
The results, performances, and Slade’s tactical failings have been made more frustrating by the fact that this Charlton side can play.
When they have been allowed to play with energy and intent, the Addicks have impressed. Shrewsbury blown away, the first-half performance against AFC Wimbledon should have resulted in a larger lead, and Slade’s bizarre decision to withdraw Ricky Holmes and Josh Magennis at Port Vale meant a period of dominance was left meaningless.
As such, cautious efforts that see Slade’s side sat deep make even less sense. Too often this season have beatable oppositions been allowed to take control of periods of games, and ultimately take advantage of the lack of pressure on them when in possession.
An out of form Gillingham side allowed to dictate last weekend, and an out of form Chesterfield side can’t be allowed to do similar this weekend. Energy, high pressure and attacking intent required.
A part of that, in terms of shaping the side as much as bringing the individual in, will come down to whether Slade decides to give into supporter wishes, as well as logic, and provide an Ajose-shaped partner for Josh Magennis in attack.
Isolating the Northern Ireland international, despite his immense efforts in recent weeks, part of the reason why the Addicks have struggled to show energy and intent. Slow midfield passing, followed by long punts up field, and no support for Magennis.
This Charlton side can play better football than that. And they can afford to be brave and adventurous against the struggling Spirerites.
There is surely no excuse for Slade’s side failing to record victory. Surely? Charlton Athletic 2-1 Chesterfield
The efforts of Charlton Athletic’s supporters meant their protests were soaring before kick-off at Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium, but the disappointing performance of their side meant they were heading for further lows.
“DUCHATELET & MEIRE #TIMETOFLY,” read the banner attached to a plane that took several aerial laps around the ground in the early stages of the afternoon. The latest creative, and impressive, way Addicks have found to show their opposition to a club-strangling regime.
“You don’t know what you’re doing,” the chant sent towards Russell Slade as he replaced the tireless Josh Magennis with Lee Novak as his side continued to chase an equaliser their performance didn’t warrant. The second time Charlton’s boss has been subjected to such a chant in successive games, and there as much justification in that message as the one that flew above the ground.
For Slade’s side, a goal down after Bradley Dack had nodded in from Paul Konchesky’s delivery with 41 minutes played, were lamentable.
Particularly in the opening 45 minutes, which concluded with those in red booed on their way back to the dressing room, there a lack of intensity without the ball, forward intent minimal, and creativity non-existent. The Addicks organised like a newly promoted side, without the resources to compete against the Gills, and playing with both fear and caution.
And while the introduction of a second striker, with Nicky Ajose partnering Magennis in attack, meant there was some second-half improvement, it was still not nearly enough. Chances created, but against the run of play, with the Addicks still sitting off Justin Edinburgh’s out of form side and allowing them to dictate.
The failure to take one of those chances in particular seemingly affirming that Charlton would be receiving just punishment for Slade’s questionable tactics. A penalty awarded on the hour after Ryan Jackson wrestled Fredrik Ulvestad to the ground as a corner was delivered, but Gills goalkeeper Stuart Nelson, a first-half replacement for the injured Jonathan Bond, diving full-stretch to his right to deny Ricky Holmes from the resulting kick.
Ultimately, as frustration with Slade’s decision making and Charlton’s sluggishness continued, there was to be one final chance for the Addicks to rescue something they probably didn’t deserve. Anger for Gills boss Edinburgh as referee Hayward awarded Charlton a second penalty, Chris Herd having blocked a Lee Novak flick-on with an upright hand, despite failing to give the hosts what appeared a certain spot-kick earlier in the half after Cody McDonald was sent to the floor by Ezri Knosa when through on goal.
With greater composure and conviction than Holmes, Ajose converted from the spot to rescue a point for the Addicks in the game’s final minute.
But despite his substitute scoring the equaliser, Slade had certainly not rescued any pride for himself. Charlton still second best against a Gillingham side who have struggled for much of this season, and his inability to get a side that is good enough to compete to the top six standard that was promised by those above him still inviting angry responses.
If not reaffirmed by the performance and the Addicks lying in 17th, then it certainly made apparent by Ajose quite clearly celebrating in front of his boss in an attempt to make a point, and Slade’s attempts to applaud a still furious set of visiting supporters responded to with boos.
A club that has crash landed under its regime, and whose boss is failing to give them any chance of rising.
In truth, after the wingers in the side were given greater attacker freedom for much of Tuesday’s draw with Port Vale, there was not immediate and outraged opposition to Slade once again deploying his side in a 4-5-1 formation.
A hope that Ademola Lookman and Holmes would offer continuous support to Magennis, who has found himself isolated on several occasions this campaign. Alterations at centre-back, with Patrick Bauer and Harry Lennon replaced by Jason Pearce and Konsa, the only changes from the side that started at Vale Park.
But, before the plane and its banner had even departed the Priestfield Stadium airspace, it became quite apparent that hoping for attacking intensity, or any sort of intensity for that matter, was wishful thinking.
With and without the ball, Slade’s side lacked intent. Passes played sideways, before desperation resulted in an aimless punt up field, while the wide men were stationed far too deep and constantly running into dead ends when given the ball. Gillingham given the freedom of their own half, with Charlton unwilling to press, and allowed to build the confidence and rhythm that a side without a win in five games requires.
It no surprise, therefore, that the Gills rather quickly became the game’s more threatening side. Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, through pace and strength, causing all sort of problems to Morgan Fox, former Addick Franck Nouble giving Chris Solly a challenge on the opposite flank, and Dack keeping things ticking over in the centre. All the intent and creativity that Charlton lacked.
The Addicks thankful that, for all their forward power and moves into promising wide positions, Gillingham were still struggling to find the perfect final ball with 25 minutes played. That reflected in the fact that Charlton’s one shot on goal, a low effort from the edge of the area from Ulvestad that flashed wide, was as close as anything the Gills could must in their countless attacking moves.
Herd going closest for Gillingham in the early exchanges, but his effort from distance could still be watched wide by Declan Rudd, while a pair of strikes from Ryan Jackson following half-cleared corners were well-struck but never troubling Charlton’s goal.
However, when the hosts finally found the touch of quality that was missing from their forward moves, they really should have gone ahead. Emmanuel-Thomas leaving Fox for dead, before his perfectly weighted through ball sent Dack in on goal. Rudd, racing off his line and blocking the midfield’s effort from a relatively tight angle, sparing the blushes of his static defence.
And by the time the goalkeeper at the other end was given something to do, he wasn’t the same glove-wearer as the one who began the game. Sarcastic chants of “we’ve had a shot” from parts of the away end as Magennis stretched to knock a delivery towards goal, but substitute Nelson was down quickly to collect.
Not that such a tame effort was ever likely to change the overall pattern of the game. The Addicks still lifeless, still sitting far too deep, and an increasingly confident Gillingham continuing to be invited forward. A real concern when Dack popped up in space on the edge of the box, and fired over by a margin that was less than comfortable.
The danger Dack possesses when given a yard or two of space, however, was not a warning that Charlton’s backline heeded. For from Gillingham’s next attack, an unchallenged Dack gave his side the advantage that they arguably warranted.
At the very least, there was no question that this was punishment that the Addicks deserved. Nouble and fellow former resident of SE7 Konchesky combining on the left for the latter to cross perfectly for Dack, and the one-time member of Charlton’s academy nodded with relative ease past a motionless Rudd. One of Gillingham’s most potent threats, somehow, arriving in the box unnoticed.
And while a half chance fell the way of Slade’s side as half-time approached, with a well below-par Lookman lashing against the side netting having received a Magennis long throw, it was nowhere near enough to gloss over what had been a truly horrendous opening 45 for the Addicks. Almost all of the 2,300 supporters in the away end contributing to the chorus of boos that serenaded the players as they retreated down the tunnel.
Boos that were replaced by cheers as they remerged, with the sight of a ready-for-action Ajose providing, above anything else, a huge sense of relief. It quite obvious the lone forward formation was not working, and Magennis’ efforts would be much more worthwhile with a pacey striker alongside him. Johnnie Jackson, rather bizarrely played in a role that saw him sit slightly ahead of Ulvestad and Andrew Crofts, the man withdrawn.
The early exchanges of the first half, however, failed to offer the encouragement that those frustrated supporters required. A change in formation had seemingly not been accompanied with a change in ethos, as the Addicks continued to stand off the Gills, and give Emmanuel-Thomas and Nouble far too much space to run into.
Thankfully, their efforts in the final third still left a little to be desired. Billy Knott, with a strike from a half-cleared corner, troubling the supporters in the back row of the Rainham End, before Rudd got down well to deny Emmanuel-Thomas after those in red had allowed him to cut inside far too easily.
The hour mark approaching with Charlton still second best by quite some distance, so Lookman finally making a positive impact on the game was timely. The winger getting the better of Konchesky, delivering superbly for Magennis, and only an excellent reaction stop from Nelson kept out the Northern Ireland international’s header. Promise.
Promise that would become premature celebration as, after a lengthy chat with several individuals on both sides who were grabbling in the box, referee Hayward awarded the Addicks a penalty from the resulting corner. No question about the legitimacy of his decision, with Jackson rather brainlessly throwing Ulvestad to the ground despite being spoken to seconds previously.
A wonderful opportunity from Holmes to rescue Charlton from this concerning position they found themselves in, and lay a foundation from which they could potentially go onto win the game in its remaining half hour.
Instead, Holmes, and many of those beyond the goal he fired his penalty towards, were left head in hands as Nelson saved superbly. Little to bemoan about the power and direction in the winger’s effort, but Gillingham’s replacement goalkeeper was not to be beaten. A moment that gave the impression his side were not to be beaten, either.
An impression that might well have been secured just a few moments later as the hard working and combative McDonald was played through on goal at an angle, with Konsa for company. It appeared the teenage centre-back had clumsily hauled the forward to the floor, denying him a chance to double Gillingham’s lead in unfair fashion, but referee Hayward quite adamantly waved for play to continue. The home supporters bemused; the visitors quite aware they’d been fortunate.
Fortune that would continue as a corner was rather bizarrely awarded to the Addicks despite Nelson running past a loose ball to allow it to trickle out of play. The goalkeeper quite clearly fuming as he was forced to make another impressive save from the set-piece that followed, with Konsa’s volley tipped behind.
There, of course, a chance that Gillingham would lose focus and concentration as a result of their anger towards these rather questionable refereeing decisions. And though Edinburgh was certainly occupied with the fourth official, his side managed to maintain their composure. The backline still solid, control in midfield, and forward intent still be showing.
In fact, with a little over ten minutes to play, it remained the Gills who were on top, and they might well have put the game beyond Charlton’s reach. The ball falling kindly to Dack inside the box, but the midfielder rushing his effort slightly, and only able to fire wide when the very least he should have done in such a position was test Rudd.
Though in the eyes of many in the away end, the decision by Slade that followed to replace Magennis with Novak was as good as conceding another goal. A bizarre call, with the Northern Ireland international still proving a handful. One of Gillingham’s own handfuls, Nouble, shot off-target after the game resumed.
But, with the hosts arguably becoming a little guilty of failing to put the game to bed, the Addicks still only required one decent opening to rescue the most undeserved of points from this contest. The opening seemingly coming as Lookman teed up Novak, but the defiant Nelson refused to be beaten one-on-one.
Wasting such an opening deflating, and numbers beginning to exit the away end. A feeling, and quite a reasonable one, that this game was lost.
No real cries of encouragement as Fox sprinted over to take a throw, delivering the ball in the general direction of Novak’s head. But there were soon shouts for hand ball, as the forward’s flick on struck the hand of Herd. Shouts that were responded to – a second Charlton penalty awarded with the 90th minute approaching.
Possibly a little harsh, given that the gap between head and hand was minimal, but there no doubt Herd’s hand was raised, and the ball struck it. Gillingham quite possibly more furious with several previous decisions made by referee Hayward, not least his failure to award them an earlier penalty.
Nonetheless, Ajose now stood over the ball, and needed to finally find a way past the unbeatable Nelson to steal a point. The eyes deceiving and the finish cool. Nelson sent the wrong way, and Ajose sprinting off to celebrate in front of Slade. The forward’s point most certainly made.
But it not yet confirmed that Charlton’s point was definitely gained. Encouragement towards the Addicks stealing victory into stoppage-time existing to begin with, but a foul from Konsa on McDonald just outside the box created quite an uncomfortable moment. A golden opportunity for Gillingham to regain their lead deep into additional time.
Pearce, however, as he had been for much of the game, was determined to at least protect this rather fortunate point. The centre-back racing out of the wall and throwing himself in front of McDonald’s powerful strike. The final whistle following almost immediately.
A final whistle that was met with what was little more than a slightly calmer version of what would have occurred had the Addicks not rescued a point. The mood certainly not one of celebration, appreciation for the players minimal, and Slade receiving the same level of boos as the match officials were from the home supporters.
This, unquestionably, still nowhere near good enough.
In fact, it almost insulting that Slade seemed to think that there was pride to be taken from stealing a point against a struggling side.
A struggling side that Charlton, for the duration of the game, allowed to dominate. That not to patronise Gillingham, or take anything away from their impressive exploitation of Emmanuel-Thomas and Nouble, but their dominant attacking efforts were only possible as a consequence of the Addicks sitting ridiculously deep.
It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever why a side that have been without a win in five and have struggled for much of this season weren’t got at. Why a leaky defence wasn’t tested, and a midfield allowed to settle. Why it took an embarrassing first-half showing for a second forward to be deployed.
The suggestion of a second half improvement is, to be fair, not incorrect. After a painfully stale opening period, with no energy or intent on show whatsoever, there were more encouraging moments for the Addicks going forward. At the very least, they were able to threaten on a handful of occasions.
But that shouldn’t need to be the case. We shouldn’t have to keep recovering from dreadful starts, we shouldn’t keep finding ourselves punished by questionable tactical decisions from Slade, and we shouldn’t keep needing to be rescued in fortunate circumstances for just a single point.
We’re not a relatively small club, attempting to hold our own in the third tier, we’re a club that should have ambitions of getting out of this division at the first attempt, and playing with the sort of quality that reflects that.
On previous occasions, you could argue that Ajose’s penalty is a starting point for improvement and an overall recovery. At least Slade might go two up top from now on.
But there’s only so many times such a position can apparently exist before it becomes tedious. There are issues with this side that won’t be resolved by a crack-covering goal.
It is, unfortunately, undeniable that pressure is beginning to build on Slade. An improvement in performances and results desperately required.
Despite having led Charlton Athletic for just 13 league games, there is already an element of pressure on the figure hired by Roland Duchatelet’s regime to suggest change in their flawed policies had occurred.
Pressure that exists not as a direct result of the regime’s ways, nor even remotely as a consequence of the fact the Addicks face a Kent derby at Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium. Pressure that Russell Slade, the English manager supposed to rescue Charlton from the turmoil they have been placed in, has placed upon himself.
Through his actions and his words, the bald-headed boss has damaged any sort of trust that exists between himself and the club’s supporters. Cautious tactics and bizarre substitutions turning three points into one point at Port Vale on Tuesday night, before entering a stubborn post-match tirade that belittled supporters and appeared to rid himself of all responsibility for failing to secure what, for much of the contest, appeared a certain victory.
Not so much pressure on Slade from above, particularly with there a real need for the hierarchy to stand by this boss and support their own words, but a failure to record victory at Gillingham on Saturday could leave the divide between manager and fans uncomfortably large.
That particularly true with the Gills on a run of just league win in their last nine. This, in theory, should provide an ample opportunity for Slade’s side to immediately bounce back from the frustration of Tuesday night. A combination of Charlton’s poor start to the season, the events of midweek, and the perceived form of the opposition providing no excuses for the boss.
A real need for Slade to inspire his men to victory, to prevent the patchy relationship he has with his own supporters deteriorating to the point where he struggles to command support.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 2-2 GILLINGHAM (20/03/2010)
A second-half equaliser from Dave Mooney rescued a point for Charlton on a frustrating afternoon at The Valley.
The promotion-chasing Addicks were in control for large parts of the League One fixture, and claimed the advantage they deserved when Gills goalkeeper Alan Julian allowed a tame Frazer Richardson strike through him.
But Gillingham struck back almost immediately with a stunning Andy Barcham strike, and the visitors would have the lead before the break. Dennis Oli making the most of a Rob Elliot mistake three minutes into stoppage-time.
A position Charlton’s dominance did not warrant, and Mooney was able to restore parity with an hour played. The Reading loanee finishing coolly.
And though the equaliser provided Phil Parkinson’s side with 30 minutes in which to make their dominance tell, they ultimately forced to settle for a point.
The pressure on Slade might well be relatively inconsequential, but the pressure that Justin Edinburgh currently faces certainly isn’t. The calls for the Gillingham boss to be dismissed continuing to grow.
Boasting a solid reputation this time last season, and seen by many as a talented young manager, a capitulation at the end of last season and a disastrous start to this campaign turning supporters against the 46-year-old. Time running out for Edinburgh to convince fans and club he remains the right man for the job.
The talk from the boss, rather optimistically, in the aftermath of Tuesday’s draw with Walsall was that a foundation has been set to build upon.
But this was seen as another frustrating performance, particularly with Walsall’s equaliser, scored by former Addick Franck Moussa, gifted to them after a mistake from goalkeeper Jonathan Bond. The Saddlers, second best until their fortuitous goal, the side most likely to snatch a late winner and come away from Priestfield in midweek with all three points.
A run of three consecutive league defeats brought to an end, but two points dropped, and the display providing no reassurance of improvement to follow. No reassurance that Edinburgh will ultimately be able to protect his job in the weeks to come.
To Charlton’s credit, their efforts for much of Tuesday’s game with Port Vale were impressive. So impressive that the Addicks had ample opportunity to kill the game off.
The lead gained after Fredrik Ulvestad turned in Ricky Holmes’ delivery could have been doubled on several occasions, not least by Ulvestad himself, who preceded to be incredibly wasteful in front of goal.
Port Vale’s late equaliser, coming after Harry Lennon hauled down Alex Jones inside the box and the winger picked himself up to covert, part punishment for Charlton’s failure to be more clinical in front of goal.
Nonetheless, such attacking intensity and persistent creating of chances would provide encouragement under normal circumstances, but this sort of scenario has been seen before this season.
A wasting of chances, followed by Slade instructing his side to drop deeper, before some rather bizarre substitutions ultimately lead to some sort of capitulation. The decision to withdraw the rampaging Holmes and the determined Magennis absolutely senseless.
Improvement needed, in front of goal and from the man in the dugout.
Charlton academy graduate Scott Wagstaff will not face his former team, with an adductor injury keeping the winger out of Saturday’s contest.
Gillingham’s pool of former Charlton players is drained further with Josh Wright suspended, and Lee Martin a long-term absentee. Paul Konchesky likely to line-up against his former club, while Franck Nouble was an unused substitute in midweek.
Elsewhere, centre-back Deji Oshilaja is also suspended, while Bradley Garmston and Aaron Morris remain absent through injury.
Charlton are likely to remain without Jason Pearce, after the centre-back missed the draw with Port Vale with a hip problem.
Harry Lennon, composed until conceding the penalty at Vale Park, looks set to continue to deputise, but Jorge Teixeira travelled with the squad in midweek, and might well be in contention.
There is also a slight doubt over the fitness of Ademola Lookman, who has a tight hamstring, but the teenage forward should be fit enough to travel to Gillingham.
Elsewhere, Kevin Foley and Jordan Botaka remain absent.
KEY BATTLE – UTILISING LOOKMAN, HOLMES AND MAGENNIS, AND KILLING A GAME OFF
Gillingham, much like Charlton, were seen as one of the clubs that would be in and around the top six prior to the season getting underway. The start to the campaign they’re enduring not predicted, with a group containing a number of players seen as talented at League One level.
And so, to underestimate Edinburgh’s side on the basis of their current form and their league position would be both naïve and dangerous. There certainly still enough quality among the Gills to cause this group of Addicks, with their many flaws, problems.
But, even with Charlton’s troubles and the potential danger Gillingham could cause, there is no excuse for Slade’s side not to attempt to control the game. Not to exploit the threat that Lookman, Holmes and Magennis pose.
The pace of Lookman and Holmes has put the Addicks on the front foot in the previous week, with neither Coventry nor Port Vale’s full-backs able to contend with them, while Magennis’ strength has provided the perfect out ball, in addition to the Northern Ireland international’s intelligence starting countless forward moves.
Coventry ultimately punished, as their defensive errors were capitalised on, but Port Vale allowed back into the game. The Addicks guilty of not taking their chances, in addition to Slade bizarrely withdrawing all three while the game remained in the balance.
Should the trio perform as they have done in the past week, then the game is Charlton’s for the taking. A need simply to be ruthless, and for Slade not to make the same mistakes as he did in midweek.
Should the Gills compete with Charlton’s threatening triumvirate, then you begin to worry whether the hosts, having nullified the opposition’s threat, will be able to cause concerns of their own on the break.
A lot rests on how Edinburgh’s men deal with Lookman, Holmes and Magennis, and how early Slade decides to withdraw them.
Tuesday’s first-half efforts, in addition to the Coventry victory, should be a base to build upon, but it’s difficult not to predict something sluggish and underwhelming. Gillingham 1-1 Charlton Athletic
The theme of recent months has been one of club officials attempting to assure unconvinced supporters that previous mistakes are being learnt from at Charlton Athletic. Namely Katrien Meire, without a great deal of evidence, suggesting this regime have learnt how to run a football club over the summer and now have good intentions.
Those suggestions, of course, laughed off. Seen as porkies among supporters, still firmly opposed to this regime.
But it’s not only in the boardroom where there is a reluctance to learn from previous mistakes. Not for the first time this season, Russell Slade’s substitutions and insistence on his side dropping deeper in a game they controlled was partly to blame for his side throwing away two points.
An 85th minute Port Vale equaliser, with Alex Jones converting from the spot having been brainlessly hauled down by Harry Lennon, largely the consequence of Charlton sacrificing the dominance they had maintained for much of the game and inviting pressure.
“Russell Slade, he ain’t got a clue,” sung by the majority of Charlton’s travelling contingent, with the decision to substitute Ricky Holmes, the main forward threat, and Josh Magennis, a real handful for Vale’s backline, a particular cause for frustration. The hosts allowed back into a game they should have been out of.
Of course, the Addicks, who had taken the lead when Frederik Ulvestad turned in Holmes’ flat cross with half an hour played, would not have had to worry about late equalisers if they had made the most of their earlier dominance. Magennis constantly causing problems and close on several occasions, while Ulvestad wasted two glorious chances to double his and Charlton’s tally.
But it was the decision to withdraw Charlton’s presence in attack, with Slade already deploying a resilient enough 4-5-1, which bore the brunt of supporter anger as Jones, via a desperate Declan Rudd fingertip, drew Vale level. The threat on the counter lost, allowing the hosts to attack with greater freedom, and the Addicks without an out ball, pegging them firmly inside their own half.
And though there were half chances for Charlton to regain their lead in the remaining minutes of the game, as Brandan Hanlan fired off-target and Ulvestad dragged an effort wide, momentum was lost. Roars of encouragement from the previously quiet home supporters as their side moved forward with greater intensity and intent. The visiting supporters ultimately thankful their side were determined in their efforts to defend deliveries into the box.
That an equaliser and the resulting moments of discomfort occurred, however, was almost entirely self-inflicted. The inability to kill the game off with the chances created, followed by Slade’s incredibly frustrating tactical change ups.
In fact, an incredibly frustrating evening in general at Vale Park. A need for Slade to start leaning from his mistakes.
Questions raised before kick-off with regards to Slade’s tactical set-up, as the 4-4-2 deployed for much of the victory over Coventry City at the weekend was replaced by what has so far been a largely unpopular 4-5-1 formation.
Lee Novak, having struggled to make an impression on Saturday, benched in favour of skipper Johnnie Jackson making a return to the side, while the injured Jason Pearce was replaced in defence by Harry Lennon.
It appeared an unnecessarily cautious approach against a side who had lost 4-0 to Sheffield United at the weekend, and were slowly slipping out of the early impressive form they began the season with. A defence that was surely there to be got at, while inviting them to control the game ran the risk of reigniting their forward threat.
The early signs weren’t exactly calming. Sam Hart finding himself in space down Vale’s left, Rudd flapping at his resulting cross, and Morgan Fox needed to put the ball behind.
But, to Charlton’s credit, ten minutes were barely on the clock before they began to settle, showing a certain amount of attacking intent that exploited the pace of Ademola Lookman and the rampant Holmes. The latter’s run beating black and white shirts in front of him, his cross parried by Jak Alnwick, and the Vale defence just about dealing with the danger.
And while Bruno Ribeiro’s side still carried a certain amount of threat, as Jones worked himself into a pocket of space on the edge of the box and fired straight at Rudd after Magennis, winning every ball sent his way, had turned in a similar position at the other end and flashed an effort just wide, it was with just over 15 minutes played that Slade’s side took total control of the game.
Not only exploiting the pace available to them in wide positions and utilising the physicality of Magennis, but affording the opposition no time in possession whatsoever. A frustrated Anthony Grant, holding the ball inside his own half with nowhere to go, became a regular picture. What was, on paper, quite the defensive set-up now appeared one instilled with energy and intensity.
Such energy and intensity, of course, was almost meaningless without a goal. Puzzled looks all around as Holmes met Fox’s delivery, Alnwick somehow clawed the ball away from close to the line, and a hack clear saved Vale’s blushes.
The goalkeeper, brother of former Addick Ben, called upon again twice in quick succession to deny Holmes and Ulvestad from distance in relatively comfortable fashion, but there was certainly nothing comfortable about the way his defence were dealing with Charlton’s growing forward threat.
In fact, even Alnwick himself looked uncomfortable as the unstoppable Holmes picked out the uncontainable Magennis in the centre. The Northern Ireland international’s header bouncing off the underside of the crossbar in such a way that there were celebrations in the away end, before Alnwick pounced on the loose ball and the Addicks were left to rue another missed opportunity.
These missed opportunities were stacking up, but at least Slade’s side were continuing to push forward with threat and intent. Those low crosses from either flank continuing to cause concern, as Magennis challenging for a Jackson delivery sparked another scramble that Vale came out of the better, before a bizarre tussle inside the box concluded with an old-fashioned drop ball, which came to nothing.
Nonetheless, maybe a reminder that Charlton couldn’t afford to get complacent was useful, as Port Vale enjoyed a rare moment in the opposition’s final third just before the half hour. The hosts breaking forward with relative ease, Quentin Pereira delivering an inviting cross, but the alert Rudd able to scramble across goal and collect Jones’ relatively tame header.
But before those supporting the Addicks had started to imagine a gruesome ending where their side’s dominance goes to waste and Vale steal an undeserved win, their side were on the attack again.
Or at least Holmes was on the attack with half an hour on the clock. Powering down the right, with those in black and white merely watching him as he sprinted past. The former Northampton man getting right to the byline, before delivering for Ulvestad, who just about managed to bundle the ball beyond Alnwick and give the Addicks the lead they had long deserved.
Joy in the celebrations, most certainly, but an element of relief in them, too. The fear that, in quite typical Charlton fashion, the dominance would count for nothing momentarily pushed to the back of the few hundred Addicks shivering to death in the away end.
Encouraging signs, in fact, that there might be more as Patrick Bauer’s dominant figure met a Lookman corner, only to head narrowly wide, before Jackson, linking the play up quite nicely but largely staying away from goal, saw an effort form range curl back in a fraction too late to challenge Alnwick.
But such was Charlton’s dominance, amidst the applause of appreciation that those in purple most definitely deserved, there’s was a touch of regret come the half-time whistle.
Regret that the Addicks hadn’t moved the game beyond the reach of Port Vale, and now the hosts would have a chance to regroup and offer something more threatening. Sam Kelly replacing Martin Paterson before the second period got underway, hoping to contribute towards that.
The second half, however, began how the first concluded, with Slade’s side looking much the more competent and threatening.
But replicating the first half also meant that the Addicks continued to show an alarming degree of wastefulness in front of goal. There little that could be done about Alnwick denying Magennis, flicking on Lookman’s free-kick, from point-blank range, but the embarrassed expression on Ulvestad’s face said it all as he pushed the rebound wide.
Charlton continued to cause a threat, as Magennis ran into a tight angle and shot tamely across the face of goal, but Vale were seemingly growing in confidence. Where they had previously stood motionless, uncertain what to do, they were now looking for a wide man or allowing Grant to bomb forward. A greater willingness to get forward on show.
And here, on the hour mark, was the first sign of the Addicks looking a little uncomfortable and dropping questionably deep. The threat dealt with well, with a succession of corners beaten away and Bauer and Lennon standing firm in the centre, but there definitely a sense that second goal could have been done with ten minutes earlier.
In fact, the pattern of play began to change slightly. The hosts in control of the ball, attempting to build attacks at their own pace with Charlton bodies sitting deeper and deeper, while the Addicks were reliant on exploiting the pace they had available on the counter.
With that pace still there to be exploited, it certainly wasn’t the case that Slade’s side were simply clinging on for dear life. Holmes again delivering, Ulvestad again meeting, but Alnwick able to make a point-blank save. The Norwegian would have doubled Charlton’s lead if he’d diverted the ball either side of the stopper.
At least the Bauer-led backline was standing firm, even if the midfield was now non-existent and these chances continued to be wasted. A loopy header from Rigino Cicilia, comfortably clearing Rudd’s crossbar, about as good as it got for Vale in terms of real chances with 15 minutes to play.
In fact, Charlton’s defence was not only led by the big German, but the still rampaging Holmes and the determined Magennis. The winger still allowing the Addicks to break, if only into positions that kept the ball further away from his side’s own goal, while the forward, despite taking a couple of hefty blows, continued to win almost every ball with relative ease. Holmes’ pace and Magennis’ strength crucial outlets for Charlton in the game’s closing moments.
So, having seemingly already instructed his side to sit deeper and allow the hosts greater possession of the ball in midfield, Slade’s decision to take the pair off, replacing them with league debutant Adam Chicksen and forward Novak, who has struggled to impress so far, was incredibly difficult to understand. It seemed to do little but invite pressure upon ourselves, particularly with Lookman already removed.
Pressure that Port Vale almost immediately inflicted, as a neat passing move concluded with Jones breaking into the box and Lennon rather brainlessly hauling the winger down. A penalty that referee Salisbury had little choice but to award.
As Jones, having dusted himself down, stood over the penalty spot, those numerous missed chances replayed themselves in your mind. The game really should have been killed off or, at the very least, there should have still been two players on the pitch that offered an out ball to the Addicks. That the opposition had the chance to equalise didn’t reflect the entire game at all, but this was a moment brought on themselves.
A slight moment of hope that the Addicks would escape as Rudd got a fingertip to Jones’ strike, but the effort too powerful, and not stopped from hitting the roof of the net. With five minutes to play, Vale were level.
It incredibly difficult to see how Slade’s side pick themselves up for the remaining minutes, so it came as quite a shock to see substitute Hanlan bomb into the box with the ball at his feet just a minute later. There nothing wrong with the young forward’s run, but plenty wrong with the finish, as he blasted horribly off-target.
That opening not enough to stop the cries of excitement and encouragement whenever the ball was at the feet of a Vale player. There now a real feeling that the hosts had the momentum with which to win this contest, and that was a fear of similar belief in the away end. Anger expressed in the general direction of Slade as the game continued.
And though Rudd almost presented the hosts with a fantastic opening, dropping a cross inches away from the feet of Grant before just about recovering in time to prevent a goalmouth scramble, Charlton were fortunate that Vale had no real end product to their possession in midfield and on the flanks.
In fact, it was the Addicks who had the final say of the game. Ulvestad, wasteful since opening the scoring, poking wide from a much more forgiving position.
But few were in the mood to forgive come full-time, as murmured boos and general grunts of frustration occupied the away end. Solemn faced players receiving gentle claps, but Slade, the cause of much of this frustration, staying well away from the visiting supporters. There no doubt that this was two points dropped.
And two points dropped largely as a consequence of two factors. A tameness in front of goal, and tactical changes that hindered Charlton’s control of the game and allowed Vale the opportunity to snatch an equaliser.
Of course, with greater potency in front of goal, there probably wouldn’t even need to be a discussion about Slade’s decision making. Ulvestad grabs a second or third, a Vale side that lacked genuine cutting edge are crushed, and the three points are sealed.
And the performance for large parts of the game was enough to warrant a victory by two or three. Holmes marvellous, Magennis winning every last little ball and doing something with it, and Lookman constantly pushing the Vale defence onto the back foot. That attacking trio enjoyed an impressive evening.
But the moment Slade’s side began to sit deeper, and Vale began to enjoy more possession of the ball in the centre, you sensed discomfort and concern. The second wasn’t coming, and the Addicks responded by dropping deeper, inviting more pressure, and ultimately withdrawing their main two outlets.
Taking off Magennis and Holmes dangled the carrot in front of Vale noses, and they gladly accepted it. The decisions making no sense, and reaffirmed as bizarre given the minimal impact Novak and Chicksen had after coming on.
Being cautious is one thing, and many managers would have attempted to simply see the game out in that situation, but Slade taking off Magennis and Holmes wasn’t just an act of caution, but one of self-sabotage. Losing those two took away any sort of out ball, and meant Vale would control the remainder of the game.
And it’s not the first time that Slade’s cautious tactics and bizarre substitutions have caused frustration. AFC Wimbledon and Oxford United for certain, with Scunthorpe a possibility given that we were in a position to win that game if attacking changes had been made. A need for Slade to be more decisive, and certainly more logical.
Or, failing that, some of his players could be a touch more potent in front of goal.