Two contrasting values were displayed by Charlton Athletic Football Club this week. One value that highlights once again the incompetence of Roland Duchatelet’s regime and the damage that it continues to cause to the club. Another that shows the strength of this football club lies beyond this failed ownership, and there’s a spirit and identity they will never truly tarnish.
The first value a financial one. A staggering £13.5m loss for the 2015/16 season, which amounts to more than 100% of turnover. An extra £5m spent when compared to the 2014/15 season, and emphatic failure despite that.
Those figures leaving the club in £61.7m of debt, the majority of which is payable to Duchatelet at 3% interest per year. The notion that he invests in the club is a myth, and the money he loans to the club evidently isn’t being spent wisely. Financial stability often offered as the saving grace of this regime, but they are failing even on that front.
Disastrous financial values to go along with their misguided values of the club and lack of value towards committed supporters. Financially, emotionally and morally they continue to instil an unbreakable brand of failure upon this club.
But the reason supporters are so committed in their fight against the regime, in their fight to win back their club and move it into safer hands, is because there remains a strong belief that the true values of Charlton sit underneath the layer of mist that currently covers the club.
Opposition to the regime expressed in the knowledge that there is most certainly a better alternative to this. That the club we were once proud of, that had such a positive name throughout football and built the strongest of relationships with its supporters, has not died. It merely hidden while this regime continues to oversee failure.
And that has been reaffirmed by the other value that Charlton Athletic Football Club have expressed this week. That a community football club, that does value its supporters highly, still exists.
It through extreme sadness that the club have expressed this value. The match against MK Dons on Tuesday night dedicated to supporter PC Keith Palmer, who was a victim of the terror attack in Westminster last week. Dedicated to the extent that Tuesday is no longer a game of football, but an event held to honour both a committed supporter and a man who has rightfully earned hero status.
There would have been no complaints had the club merely instigated a minute’s silence and the players worn black armbands. The traditional show of respect after someone with connection to the club has lost their life. That in itself, given that nature of PC Palmer’s death, would have brought emotion around The Valley and no doubt meant a great deal to his family.
But to take this dedication to PC Palmer above and beyond the usual practices feels like an expression of the true values of this football club that have often been shunned under the current regime. There is immense pride being felt towards Charlton Athletic for the first time in quite some time.
A 50% donation from ticket sales to his family, Johnnie Jackson seemingly and unsurprisingly the figure to instigate the players donating their match fee, and shirts with PC Palmer’s warrant number on them all adding to this incredible show of support and memorial. A permanent memorial next to the Sam Bartram statue the finishing touch of this incredible gesture by the club.
The club haven’t simply got this spot on, but they’ve gone beyond what would have been asked for. This a simply incredible display to honour a hero, and one that supporters have reacted positively to.
Many of those that, for justifiable reasons, have not visited The Valley in some time will be in attendance on Tuesday night. For above Duchatelet’s failings sits an act by the club that reflects the genuine Charlton Athletic they once had a strong connection with, and the opportunity to pay respect to PC Palmer.
For those uncertain about whether to end their periods away from SE7, I would ask that you consider two things. The first is obvious, and that there is much more to life than football, and that the opportunity to come together to pay respects to PC Palmer should sit above any grievances with those that run the club. The second is that, from a football perspective, this will be a night of emotion and pride that will resemble the Charlton of old.
It comforting that as the horrific financial values are being analysed, they take nothing away from the most important value being displayed this week. That Duchatelet’s failings might have damaged the club to the point where it’s merely a shell of what it once was, but cannot strip away its identity. An identity formed around these acts which hold such high status in the community, and to the club’s supporters.
And so we enter the final month of the season. A season that has occasionally flirted with the idea of having some purpose, but rarely been little more than a tedious chore. For every moment of promise, there’s been ten of painful disappointment.
A play-off challenge made impossible many weeks ago, relegation remains plausible but a comfortable final seven fixtures should spare Charlton Athletic from the ultimate embarrassment, and the club seemingly trapped in this position of unrelenting failure while Roland Duchatelet and his regime remain in control.
But there does, in these final seven League One fixtures, remain something to play for for Karl Robinson and his side. In particular, something to play for Robinson, beginning with Saturday’s trip to London Road to face Peterborough United.
Improvement in the four fixtures that preceded the international break, but it the run of eight games without victory that has so far defined Robinson’s time in charge. The inability to end that run, to inject effort and intensity into his players, and the divisive and misguided comments made to the media.
Seven fixtures to follow in which Robinson can leave supporters with serious doubts and concerns about whether he’s the right man to lead the club forward, or can leave supporters with the smallest amount of expectation and optimism that his leadership can bring success to SE7 in what might well be the post-Duchatelet era.
A chance to prove himself, and a chance for his players too. Those that have been in and out of the starting XI, or performed without consistency, can prove they have value in Robinson’s future squad.
Little to play for, and the sooner this season ends the better. But those in red, and the man leading them, cannot relax in these remaining fixtures. For their own sake.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0-2 PETERBOROUGH UNITED (17/12/2016)
A desperately poor Charlton performance, lacking defensive structure and attacking intensity, was punished by an efficient Peterborough side at The Valley in December, with the 2-0 defeat leaving Robinson still searching for his first win as Addicks boss.
The points Peterborough’s from the moment Ryan Tafazoli rose unchallenged to convert from Paul Taylor’s 21st minute free-kick. The Addicks offering very little in response, completely unorganised, and fortunate that Leonardo Da Silva Lopes didn’t show greater potency in front of goal. The half-time boos entirely justified.
A flicker of life at the start of the second period, with Josh Magennis hitting the inside of the far post having broken into the box from the left and Jordan Botaka seeing a deflected strike come back off the crossbar, but it was little more than a flicker.
Victory sealed for Posh with 66 minutes played, as Gwion Edwards finished emphatically following a marvellous solo ran that started from just inside Charlton’s half. Red shirts showing little in the way of resolve as the Welshman darted past them, leaving Dillon Phillips powerless to prevent the visitors’ lead being doubled.
Charlton’s afternoon summed up as full-time approached, with what appeared a goal-bound Morgan Fox header deflected away from goal by Nicky Ajose. The forward attempting to flick the ball over the line, but succeeding only in keeping Peterborough’s clean sheet intact.
Occasional wins have maintained a place in League One’s top half, but Peterborough’s form since the turn of the year means the situation they find themselves in isn’t too dissimilar to Charlton’s. A genuine chance of challenging for the play-offs replaced by stagnation, and an acceptance that another season dwelling in the third tier awaits.
Victory over Gillingham at weekend, therefore, came as a welcome relief. And not only because Junior Morias’ winner in the 1-0 victory at Priestfields came in the game’s final minute, giving Posh three points that their performance warranted.
The result ending a run of five games without a win. A run that confirmed their challenge for a top six place was over. Grant McCann’s side sitting in the final play-off spot after their win over Rochdale on February 25th, but now find themselves eight points off sixth even after Saturday’s victory.
That constituting a disappointment for the Posh, who expected to mount a serious and season-long play-off push. A somewhat inexperienced squad failing to perform at a high level on a consistent basis.
Little more than pride to play for during the remainder of the campaign, therefore, and some points to prove among McCann’s young squad. A large squad, in which several players will want to prove their worth for next season.
If nothing else, a degree of pride was restored by the Addicks prior to international call-ups enforcing a fixtureless two-week period. A run of eight games without victory finally ending, with some fight and quality shown during periods of the four fixtures that followed.
Some fortune involved in the victory over Scunthorpe United and draw with Walsall, but the second-half performance against Bradford, though only earning Robinson’s side a point, was as good as any that has been seen by The Valley crowd this season.
A valiant display at Bramall Lane following, and offering a suggestion that a platform is in place for a positive end to the campaign. At the very least, a base from which a few positive results can be picked up, and a finish lower than the Addicks have ever managed before can be avoided.
Though that the only hope for the remainder of the season is to continue to avoid a record low finish reaffirms how disastrous this campaign has been. Just four wins under Robinson’s stewardship, the play-offs 16 points away, and that run of eight games without a victory still hanging over the Addicks.
Peterborough look set to be without both goalscorers from December’s victory at The Valley, with Tafazolli and Edwards expected to miss Saturday’s fixture at London Road.
Defender Tafazolli is nearing a return from a groin injury, but this weekend will come too soon for him, while midfielder Edwards, who was mightily impressive in SE7, is a doubt with a knee injury.
There are also concerns over Tom Nichols, after the forward was withdrawn 21 minutes into Saturday’s victory over Gillingham with a hip injury. The 23-year-old is expected to return to training at the end of this week, but there remains uncertainty as to whether he’ll be fit enough to start at the weekend.
Should Nichols be unavailable, replacing him shouldn’t prove too much of a dilemma for McCann, with Morias the man who replaced him at Priestfields. A place in the starting XI reward for his match-winning strike.
Elsewhere, West Ham loanee Martin Samuelsen is available again having been away on international duty with Norway’s U21s, but Jermaine Anderson remains a doubt with a knee issue.
Despite being unavailable for Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifying victory over Norway, Josh Magennis is expected to be involved for Charlton’s trip to London Road this weekend.
The forward missed his country’s win with a reoccurrence of the hamstring problem that he suffered during the victory over Scunthorpe United at the start of March, but will be fit enough to feature in Robinson’s squad on Saturday. Whether Magennis, who hasn’t scored in his nine appearances that have followed his hat-trick against Bristol Rovers, is involved from the start is less certain.
There will also be a return to the squad for Jason Pearce, expected to feature for the first time since suffering a groin injury at Bradford in December. With minutes under his belt for the development side, there is a chance the experienced centre-back could come straight back into the starting XI, but it more likely Pearce will be eased back in, with Patrick Bauer and Jorge Teixeira maintaining their places.
But Pearce’s expected return is timely, with the Addicks suffering another defensive injury. Ezri Konsa picking up a hamstring injury while away with England’s U20s, and is unlikely to feature at the weekend. The teenager joining Lewis Page, who is out for the remainder of the campaign following hamstring surgery, in being unavailable, while Chris Solly has started running again but remains a doubt.
Joe Aribo, however, is expected to return having missed the Bradford draw and Sheffield United defeat with a slight niggle.
KEY BATTLE – A FINISHING TOUCH IN THE FINAL THIRD
There certainly no embarrassment in coming away from Bramall Lane without points, but Charlton had every right to feel a degree of frustration following their defeat to Sheffield United a fortnight ago.
It the consequence of something that has haunted them throughout this campaign. Passages of positive play few and far between, and an inability to provide a touch of quality in the final third has made the few even fewer.
Konsa wasting a wonderful opportunity to draw the Addicks level midway through the second period, but it much more complex than simply wasting chances. It about getting into promising positions, and then failing to deliver a testing final ball or cheaply losing possession.
There no denying that Charlton have been incredibly tame throughout this campaign, and particularly so since the start of February. Even the fantastic performance against Bradford was tainted by Lee Novak and Tony Watt’s spectacular misses.
And so it’s vital that, at London Road and in the six fixtures that follow, the Addicks find a bit of potency in the final third. Make the most of the chances they create, and the positions they get into, instead of ending games feeling that a touch of greater quality would have earned them greater reward.
Failing to make chances tell a problem that Peterborough, with an abundance of creative midfielders but endless struggles in front of goal, have also suffered from, and so it might well be the case that the side who makes the most of their chances at the weekend comes away with the points.
Despite both sides having very little to play for, both have points to prove. A competitive encounter, particularly if the Addicks emulate the fight and determination shown in the fixtures prior to their enforced break. A chance of victory with greater potency, but a draw would be a reasonable result. Peterborough United 1-1 Charlton Athletic
If the main purpose of Charlton Athletic’s development squad is to mould young players into figures that will fit seamlessly into the senior side, then the evidence provided during their Kent Senior Cup semi-final against Welling United suggests it is most definitely working.
For Jason Euell’s side suffered the most Charlton of defeats. A lack of cutting edge in the final third, followed by some truly horrendous efforts from 12 yards, allowing the Wings to progress to the competition’s final.
Though never in complete control against a robust Welling side, enough chances were created by the young Addicks to feel victory should have been achieved over the course of 90 minutes. Openings both before and after Chris Millar’s emphatic volley had given the visitors the lead with 44 minutes played.
But their wastefulness was punished with 15 minutes remaining as Welling, who themselves had created chances in a relatively open contest, drew level. A deflection helping Alex Cathline to turn home Dan Walker’s low delivery across the face of goal.
An equaliser that would ultimately see the contest prolonged, with spot-kicks required to determine the victor.
And from 12 yards, the young Addicks showed a similar tameness to what had they had provided when in attacking positions for much of the game. Wings goalkeeper Chris Lewington saving from George Lapslie and Brandon Hanlan, before Millar dragged wide, leaving Welling, who had converted through Sam Hatton and Walker, on the verge of victory.
Matt Fish given the opportunity to deliver the winning moment, but Dillon Phillips’ palms preventing the full-back from scoring. A save, however, that was merely academic, with Louis Michael Yamfan blasting the following kick over the bar. Four penalties taken by Charlton, and not a single one converted.
Defeat that was, therefore, somewhat harsh on Euell’s men. But defeat that the young Addicks will reflect upon as just punishment for their wastefulness in open play, and their tameness from 12 yards.
In truth, the development squad of course exists to fine tune young talent, and there were some encouraging signs at Park View Road. The quality of the opposition, with the Wings sitting 16th in the National League South, not something that taints those positives.
Euell’s side featuring first-teamers Phillips, Karlan Ahearne-Grant and Hanlan, as well as Aaron Barnes, who wore the armband having signed a new contract with the club last week. And it was Barnes who was catching the eye in the game’s opening moments.
The full-back a powerful defensive figure, while his pace, strength and intelligent footwork were seeing him create a genuine threat each time he looked to press forward. An early delivery picking out Ahearne-Grant, but the forward taking too long in possession, and ultimately seeing his shot blocked.
If Barnes was delivering the power and pace, then Lapslie was providing calm and composure in the centre. Extremely confident on the ball, and always looking for the next pass before even having received possession, the blonde-haired midfielder was central to allowing the Addicks to settle into something resembling a rhythm.
A rhythm that wasn’t quite functioning to the point where it featured a threatening end product. Early frustration for Hanlan and Ahearne-Grant, who were losing their duels with Welling’s backline, as Charlton struggled to turn comfortable possession into genuine threat. The latter denied as he looked to race through on goal, with Millar unable to coordinate his feet properly as the loose ball feel to him with an unguarded goal in his sights.
But when threat did finally arrive, it was Hanlan who delivered it. Red shirts powerless to stop his driving run into the box from a wide right position, only for Lewington to race off his line and superbly block the forward’s prod towards goal.
Greater composure in Welling’s backline for panic to have set in, but there was certainly a sense of unease with Hanlan beginning to find his feet. A red shirt dispossessed inside his own half, Hanlan bursting forward once again, and a powerful strike swerving just wide of goal. The Addicks starting to claim dominance.
Dominance that Rhys Murrel Williamson did his utmost to interrupt. A free-kick from a wide position curled over the bar, before a yard of space was offered to the forward on the edge of Charlton’s box and his resulting effort driven not too far wide of Phillips’ right-hand post.
But, if the quality of the chances being created was anything to go by, dominance remained with the Addicks as the game reached the half hour mark. Only an excellent finger-tip save from Lewington, diverting the ball onto the post, prevented Lapslie from volleying the Addicks in front, before the goalkeeper won a foot race with Hanlan to pounce on a loose ball inside the Welling penalty area.
The Wings, however, continued to pose a degree of threat when they countered. Pace and strength in abundance down either flank and up top meant they were always likely to do so.
But it was indecisive Charlton defending rather than excellent Welling attacking play that meant only Phillips’ fingertips were required to keep the scores level. The Addicks standing off Danny Waldren as he drove into the box relatively unchallenged, before Welling’s captain saw his strike tipped onto the post by the young goalkeeper.
A sense growing at Park View Road that it would take something special to beat either of these goalkeepers, which only grew when Lewington palmed away a Lapslie strike from the edge of the area.
So there no doubt that Millar’s 44th-minute strike which gave the Addicks the lead was an emphatic one. Even in the build up to the goal, Lewington had saved a Hanlan strike from a tight angle, but Millar was alive on the edge of the box to volley beyond even the clutches of this seemingly unbeatable stopper.
The goal giving the Addicks the advantage at the break, and they began the second period on the front foot also. Archie Edwards beating his man before shooting off-target from a tight angle, while Taylor Maloney should have done much better than fire timelessly over the bar after the ball had fallen to him on the edge of the area.
There certainly no chance of the Addicks merely resting on their advantage for the remainder of the game, and the need for Euell’s side to find a second goal was almost as strong as their need for a first. Murrel-Williamson’s strike, breaking into the box and firing against the far post, the perfect reminder.
But the rhythm the visitors had throughout much of the first half had seemingly been lost. Possession now being given away far more frequently, and those in midfield for the Addicks struggling to create any openings when the ball was at their feet. The performance becoming quite lethargic.
At least they were remaining relatively composed at the back, with Dan Bowry and Anfernee Dijksteel comfortable, and Phillips there to rely upon during the moments where they weren’t. A bit of a scramble in Charlton’s box concluding with the goalkeeper claiming the ball from a Cathline effort.
And while the Addicks still had the pace and strength of Ahearne-Grant and Hanlan to call upon, there always the hope that a second goal would come as a consequence of one of the pair capitalising upon a Welling defensive slip-up. So close that hope came to being a reality as Hatton’s weak header was latched onto by Ahearne-Grant, only for Lewington to deny the forward.
A relatively comfortable stop, with the shot coming from a tight angle, but one that would prove crucial. For by the conclusion of Welling’s next attack, they had cancelled out Charlton’s advantage.
No challenge to Walker’s run down the right, and his ball across the face of goal finding an unmarked Cathline. The forward not making the soundest of connections with the ball but, via some aid from a deflection off a Charlton body, enough to divert it over the line. The scores level with 15 minutes to play, and penalties looming.
A penalty shoot-out evidently something Welling were quite happy to see the game go down to, with the Wings doing their utmost to slow the game down. Ahearne-Grant, shooting straight at Lewington from the edge of the area before curling a quickly-taken free-kick wide, not quite doing enough to prevent such an outcome.
An outcome that would be faced with Charlton unable to regain their advantage. No extra-time; the game heading straight to spot-kicks.
It Lewington who was the chief instigator when it came to slowing the game down prior to full-time, and his confidence with regards to a penalty shoot-out appeared to be justified when the goalkeeper got down to his right to save Lapslie’s effort from 12 yards. Hatton converting underneath Phillips’ hands to give the Wings a 1-0 advantage.
The tie far from lost after just one penalty for each side, but it appeared as if the Addicks were heading out of the competition by the time both teams had taken two. Lewington again making the save, this time from Hanlan, before Walker scored with conviction.
And if the tie was not last at that point, it certainly was as Millar’s spot-kick trickled harmlessly wide of Lewington’s right-hand post. That Phillips saved Welling’s following penalty, taken by Fish, provided no real hope of a Charlton recovery.
Particularly with composure still absent from the spot. A fourth successive penalty missed as substitute Yamfam fired horribly over the bar and Welling’s victory was confirmed. A 2-0 penalty shoot-out defeat meaning the Addicks were to miss out on the Kent Senior Cup final for the first time in three seasons.
Welling, who will go onto face Dover Athletic in the final, rewarded for showing a degree of determination over the course of 90 minutes, and then some competence during the penalty shoot-out. Charlton, who did enough during the game to deserve victory, punished for failing to find the finishing touch to their attacking moves, and for producing some desperately poor penalties.
Even in what is hopefully the final weeks of the Roland Duchatelet regime, there remains a commitment to alienating supporters, and devaluing those who have given so much to the club.
The Player of the Year event one that has been organised by hard-working and devoted supporters for some time, but has been cancelled this year largely as a consequence of Katrien Meire’s stubbornness and ignorance.
Jean Huelin, who has helped run the event for the previous six years, was informed by the club she shouldn’t be involved. An email sent that was accidently forwarded to a club official which Meire took exception to, and consequently decided to ban Jean. Those involved in the event deciding as a collective that they would not organise it without Jean being involved, and it therefore cancelled.
The email situation a bit of an embarrassing moment, and something that has been admitted to, but there no doubt that deciding that Jean, who was named supporter of the year last season, can’t be involved in the running of an event she has dedicated so much time to is outrageous.
Nonetheless, with seven remaining league games following this enforced two-week break, it seems a reasonable time to begin to consider who has shone in a miserable campaign. Who has succeeded, while others in Charlton red have struggled. Who deserves to succeed Jordan Cousins in being named as Charlton’s Player of the Year.
In the first few months of the season, before he suffered a hip injury, Declan Rudd might well have been a serious contender. The Norwich loanee proving himself to be an excellent shot-stopper, consistently making vital interventions and allowing Russell Slade’s unconvincing Addicks to remain competitive.
Alas, since Rudd’s return to the side, the goalkeeper has struggled. The occasional excellent save still being made, but mistakes racking up. Regularly being beaten too easily, fumbled crosses leading to goals against Rochdale and Scunthorpe United, and a weak attempt to keep out Mark Marshall’s strike allowing Timothee Dieng to equaliser during the draw with Bradford City.
Trust lost in the 26-year-old to the extent that many have called for Dillon Phillips to return to the side. The Rudd seen at the start of the season absent since his return to the side, and the goalkeeper’s efforts in recent weeks confirming he’s not going to be receiving many votes.
There possibly more serious contenders in front of Rudd, and not least Ezri Konsa. A teenager who has performed with the maturity and quality of someone with far greater experience, whether that be in the centre of defence or, what was originally an unfamiliar role, in the centre of midfield.
Defensively sound, physically strong and comfortable in possession, Konsa has rarely slipped below a consistent standard of quality that the 19-year-old has set for himself. A quite remarkable achievement for someone so young to perform consistently in a struggling side, in a position that demands a lot. An England U20 call-up and a new contract the very least his efforts have warranted.
Of course, as was always likely to be the case in his debut season, there were less comfortable moments for the academy graduate. As I write this, his miss at Bramall Lane is still fresh in my mind, while his slip and overall performance at The Den will be in my mind forevermore. But moments such as those barely measurable in comparison to his overall efforts.
If you include Konsa in your considerations, it’s probably only fair to also make note of Patrick Bauer. The German did well enough last season in the Championship, so it’s no surprise that he’s performed at League One level. His mentality correct, his efforts largely solid, and a likeable character.
Bauer not quite as consistent as the teenager who has accompanied him at centre-back for much of the campaign, not least during the run of eight games without victory. Numerous errors, bullied by opposition forwards, and a general lack of composure across the backline in that period. The German in particular appeared to vanish over that period of a month or so.
Whether it be Konsa, Bauer or even Jorge Teixeira, Charlton’s backline would have certainly benefited from the leadership and control of Jason Pearce. The value of the job he was doing only really noted after he sustained his groin injury. The summer signing hasn’t really played enough to be a genuine contender, though his efforts in the first half of the campaign do deserve recognition.
Maybe you’d place the injured centre-back on a list of contenders if you’re looking to fill it out, alongside Ademola Lookman after his January departure, and some of those who have performed consistently in Charlton colours, but without eye-catching quality. Chris Solly, Adam Chicksen and Fredrik Ulvestad fit into that category – no qualms at all with how they’ve played, but not done quite enough to be a genuine candidate for Player of the Year.
As such, Player of the Year appears to be a two-horse race. A contest between the match-winning (that is match-winning if we actually won games of football) Ricky Holmes, and the talismanic Josh Magennis.
Replacing Johann Berg Gudmundsson wasn’t meant to be possible, but Holmes’ attacking qualities, whether he be playing out wide or sat behind the forward, have gone some way to achieving that. A genuine roar of excitement each time he has the ball at his feet, consistently testing final balls, and the ability to score a goal out of nothing. Quality.
The sort of player you can give the ball to in a crisis and expect to produce magic. How he’s been hovering around League Two for much of his career is a mystery. Not least when it’s reasonable to feel a little concerned about whether he’ll be a Charlton player come August – he could certainly play at a higher level.
Magennis, meanwhile, would appear be to be the first forward Charlton have had since January 2014 who is capable of winning a header. Particularly capable, too. The summer signing from Kilmarnock has bullied several opposition defences, been dominant in the air, and held the ball up superbly.
All that, while being far from just a stationary lump of a target man. Quick, intelligent with the ball at his feet, and, as has been shown throughout the campaign, capable of a quality goal or two. His performance against Bristol Rovers a stunning effort.
The only disappointment for Magennis being his performances following his return from injury. You do wonder whether he was rushed back too soon, but even so, there were some dire efforts from the Northern Ireland international during the run of eight games without victory. Not least at Boundary Park – a crucial 1st-minute miss and an overall uncharacteristically weak performance.
While at the same time, Holmes has been next-to-unplayable. Three marvellous free-kicks, three goals in the defeat to Shrewsbury Town while his teammates offered very little, and endless running and effort both with and without the ball. It probably over the course of the previous six weeks that the summer signing from Northampton Town has made himself Player of the Year.
Where will my vote be going? Probably in line with the previous two paragraphs. Difficult to split the pair, but Holmes’ performances in a testing period have convinced me it’s he who warrants it more.
That is, of course, if we’re actually getting a vote.
A promise made prior to kick-off at Bramall Lane. Whatever the result, it would be wrong to be disappointed with Charlton Athletic. Irrational to feel anger at the Addicks for failing to beat League One’s runaway leaders.
But as Sheffield United celebrated their victory, embracing and acknowledging their delighted supporters now fully expecting a return to the second tier, it was difficult not to feel a touch of disappointment.
Not disappointment that translates into anger. Far from it. This 2-1 defeat was not an embarrassment for Karl Robinson’s side, and the effort of each of his men could not be questioned.
It disappointment that translates into frustration. For the Addicks, in the game’s opening moments, were dominant. And even when the Blades showed their true quality, pushing Charlton onto the back foot and constantly making the visitors squirm as they persistently threatened an uncomfortable defensive line, positive positions were taken up and chances created.
It disappointment that, with intensity maintained, greater resolve, and more intelligent decision making in the final third, the Addicks may have taken something away with them from South Yorkshire. A chance they might have punished a United side whose wastefulness in front of goal meant they could never quite kill the game off.
A United side who, despite sitting comfortably at the top of the division, began the game without composure. Ricky Holmes’ splendid 3rd-minute free-kick, flighted over the wall and beyond the fingertips of Simon Moore, the catalyst for a spell where the ignorant neutral might have thought the league leaders were in purple. Tony Watt clipping the bar, Ezri Konsa forcing a good save out of the home goalkeeper, and the Blades barely managing a touch in the opposition half as the Addicks pressed with unrelenting intensity.
Charlton in such a state of control that United’s 14th-minute equaliser not only came against the run of play, but was their first meaningful foray forward. The faintest of touches allowing Jack O’Connell to glance home Mark Duffy’s wicked delivery from the right. A cruel blow for the Addicks.
It from there that pattern of the game changed. Robinson’s men still making threatening moves forward, but United dictating. The final ten minutes of the first-half foreshadowing the Blades gaining an advantage, and there little surprise when Daniel Lafferty, having seen an initial header parried, pounced to rifle his side in front three minutes into the second period.
That advantage being doubled always looked likely, as Chris Wilder’s side continued to be the game’s dominant attacking force, but the Blades were wasteful. The chance of an equaliser still there for Robinson’s men, who had the determination with which to break into the opposition’s half with regularity despite being penned into their own. Konsa missed, Holmes wayward, Tony Watt running into dead ends from decent positions.
But there not enough. Neither enough potency from the Blades to seal their win, nor Charlton to make the most of the chance they were effectively being given by United’s failure to find a third. As full-time approached, the Addicks were a spent force, with neither the quality nor energy to break down a defence that stood firm.
The hosts celebrating with all the delight you would expect of a side closing in on a league title, but you sense a degree of relief made that joy more emphatic. They had been pushed. They had not waltzed to victory.
And, as such, there certainly no shame in either the performance or result. But you were left replaying moments of frustration in your mind. Moments that suggested the Addicks, with a touch more quality, might have been able to force the unlikeliest of results.
Not even an anticipation that United would need to work for their win prior to kick-off, and that despite Charlton arriving at Bramall Lane on the back of a 45-mintue spell against Bradford City in midweek that was as good a performance as any during this campaign. The champions elect surely too good for Robinson’s indifferent side.
An increase in confidence not necessarily gained by the XI that had picked, with the exclusion of Johnnie Jackson, who seemed the perfect character for this sort of fixture, a particular disappointment. Konsa, having signed a new contract on Friday, replacing the skipper in the centre, Nathan Byrne in for the injured Lewis Page, and a first start since recovering from injury for Jake Forster-Caskey as Andrew Crofts dropped to bench.
An increase in confidence, however, offered by Charlton’s start to a fixture in which the expectation was they would be forced onto the backfoot. The Addicks playing with the same intensity seen at The Valley on Tuesday night, forcing themselves into the final third, and asking questions of United’s defence. Forster-Caskey seeing an effort blocked behind, before the midfielder was hauled down on the edge of the opposition’s box.
A scorer of several free-kicks against Sheffield clubs sat on the bench. You would have wanted Jackson standing over this set-piece. But there no complaints with Holmes, converting from a deal ball twice in recent weeks, shaping to shoot.
And there certainly no complaints as the winger whipped his effort into the top corner of United’s goal. A moment required to make sure their eyes were not deceiving them, before the energy involved in Charlton’s celebrations reaffirmed the unlikely nature of this lead. A spectacular goal, creating spectacular joy.
But within that joy was caution. The visiting supporters not naïve enough to believe this meant the game was won. Knowledge that they would be punished if they sat deep for the remaining 87 minutes.
So that the Addicks continued to attack, and continued to attack with real threat and intensity, provided as much pleasure as the goal itself. Corners forced, something of a scramble in United’s box, and Watt ultimately hooking an effort back over his head and against the bar. Charlton fans with hands on heads, but no enjoyment taken away from this opening.
In contrast to the home supporters, as groans and grumbles began with Konsa being allowed to shoot from the edge of the box. Moore saving with relative ease, but the Addicks were cutting through United with relative ease. The discontent growing among the Bramall Lane crowd as Billy Sharp miscontrolled a pass out of play; this not the performance of champions.
Pleasure to be taken in just how much Robinson’s men were making the hosts struggle, as these groans reaffirmed Charlton’s dominance. A real crushing disappointment, therefore, when the Bramall Lane crowd rose in celebration at the conclusion of their side’s first attack of the afternoon.
Duffy’s ball from the right marvellous, but several red and white shirts were without company, and Declan Rudd was left in no man’s land. The delivery might have curled in without O’Connell’s touch, but the defender made sure. A faint nod, sending relief through the home stands and delivering a cruel blow to those who sat in the away end.
The game would now surely revert to what was expected. And there no doubt that the Blades immediately gained confidence. A fantastic tackle from Patrick Bauer required to prevent Paul Coutts getting a clear run on goal, searching balls down either wing finding their targets, and Lafferty should have done better after the ball fell to him on the edge of Charlton’s box.
But the Addicks were not yet willing to accept their position as whipping boys. A first effort from Lee Novak tame, but a second after being teed up perfectly by Forster-Caskey required a crucial block from Chris Basham’s head to prevent it being goal bound. Both of the forward’s efforts more threatening than what followed another run forward by Holmes, as he flashed horrible off-target.
Alas, there no denying the Blades were growing into the game with every moment, and they could feel hard done by not have been given a penalty just before the half hour. John Fleck receiving the forearm of Nathan Byrne, enduring a torrid afternoon, in his back as a cross came into the box. The home crowd enraged, and with good reason.
Outraged that would have no doubt increased had Watt, waltzing into the box in the fashion the Scot’s capable, not seen his driven strike tipped behind. The Blades dictating, but Charlton’s efforts making this an even contest.
Or at least that was the case until the final ten minutes of the half approached, as United’s pressure made the visiting supporters count down the seconds until half-time. Sharp, getting into forward positions but so far frustrated, forcing a save out of Rudd before breaking free and sending a ball across the face of goal that, somehow, no one in red and white could connect with.
A 15-minute chance to breathe not gained without three further moments of concern. Bauer almost diverting a cross from the right into his own net, Novak the unlikely figure that provided a crucial block to deny Ethan Ebanks-Landell, and the same United man getting away from his marker and diverting the following corner just over the bar.
Relief for the Addicks that the half-time whistle was soon to blow, with them largely clinging on in the half’s final moments, but no denying they warranted praise as they left the field. Even once the intensity of their opening spell had died down, they had held their own.
But those United openings needed to act as a warning. A warning that they would be placed under a similar level of pressure in the second period, and needed to provide a greater deal of resilience. Not much resilience on show as Fleck’s early corner was headed off-target by Sharp without a Charlton challenge.
And very little resilience at all as the Addicks had no answer to a brutal Blades break. A United man sent free down the right, his cross picking out an unmarked Lafferty at the back post, who looked certain to score. And though Rudd did superbly to keep out the header, the goalkeeper could not cling on, and the wide man followed up to give his side the advantage.
Charlton responding as Holmes won a corner, with Bauer glanced wide, but the confidence of those in the away end crushed. The genuine hope that the opening period had offered now crushed. The chances of getting back into this game against the champions-elect highly unlikely.
An unlikeness not helped by the Addicks, in those rare moments where they were not desperately defending against United attacks, lacking composure in front of goal. It bad enough when the ball fell to Holmes at the back post, and the winger volleyed in the general direction of the corner flag, but Konsa’s tame poke towards goal was truly gutting. The youngster meeting a cross barely a few yards from goal, and a proper connection would have turned the ball home, but Moore was able to claim his weak stab.
A deflected Forster-Caskey effort well held by Moore and Holmes sent another volley horribly off-target either side of Kieron Freeman dragging an effort wide of goal for the hosts, but the Blades pressure was building.
A free header for O’Connell from a United free-kick, but the defender somehow unable to direct the delivery goalwards, before substitute Samir Carruthers broke free of Charlton’s defence and fired with some velocity into the side netting. Wilder’s side without the finishing touch to their excellent forward moves, but still seemingly the most likely to score the game’s next goal as Robinson’s men looked increasingly tame and drained.
But there was undoubtedly frustration for both sides as they entered their respective final thirds. Watt the leader of the pack for Charlton, but he couldn’t help himself but run into dead ends, while a rather pathetic Sharp dive as he raced for a loose ball with Rudd was not what was required for the hosts to seal victory.
That, at least, meaning that an opportunity to steal a point remained open for the Addicks, but this final 14 minutes of the game was in complete contrast to their first 14. They had not given up, still fighting as much as they possibly could, but there was no longer the energy to properly test a strong United defence. Too slow, too lethargic in possession, and attacks being stopped before they had started.
There still, however, that bite in the Blades’ move forwards. A strong save from Rudd required to deny Lafferty, before Jay O’Shea was guilty of clearing the crossbar after receiving the ball in a glorious position after the Addicks were cut apart down the left. Less than five minutes to play, and attention turning to maintaining their advantage for the Blades.
Defending single-goal leads so often a tale of horror for the Addicks, but certainly not one for United. Confidently defending as this tired group of Charlton bodies forced themselves forward without the required result. The game ending with the Blades holding onto possession with strength, and Robinson’s men looking the weak and spent force they were.
But that isn’t to say the Addicks were worthy of criticism as they cautiously approached the away end, in some contrast to the unrelenting fist-umping occurring among those in red and white. Enough awareness in an away end, an away end that had voiced frustration throughout the second period, to know their players had fought hard for much of the game, and warranted appreciation. Applause for those disappointed faces, who had far from embarrassed themselves at the league’s leaders.
Easy to understand why disappointment was expressed in their faces, and frustration had been expressed at times by the visiting supporters.
The players will have felt that their efforts, hardworking and determined for much of the game, were worthy of more. Never getting near to matching the intensity on show prior to United’s equaliser, but still fighting and attempting to compete. Still creating chances.
Those in the away end appreciating the hardworking efforts of their side, and also finding frustration in the chances not taken, but so too was there a disappointment that that opening spell could not be repeated at any stage throughout the remainder of the contest.
Not for the want of trying, it can fairly be suggested. The midfield battling against opponents of greater quality, Holmes running himself into ground once again, and Watt let down by his own dubious decision making. Those chances, not least Konsa’s glorious opportunity to restore parity, the consequence.
But so too did the Addicks, once losing that early intensity, bring pressure upon themselves. Sitting too deep, the backline – the dreadful Byrne in particular – increasingly lacking composure, and both confidence and quality draining from Charlton’s attacking efforts as the latter stages of the second half were entered. Robinson’s reluctance to utilise pacey, attacking options that sat on the bench until Jordan Botaka’s 80th minute introduction difficult to fully understand.
However, given the class and quality of the opposition, who had the Addicks penned in their own half for much of the second period but lacked a real end product that many of their threatening attacks warranted, it’s a defeat that needs to be accepted with a certain amount of grace. We had a very good go against strong opposition, were ultimately beaten by the better team, and it not a result that requires recrimination.
Nonetheless, you couldn’t help but look around Bramall Lane and be reminded of Charlton’s failure this season. A full Bramall Lane, creating incredible celebratory scenes come full-time, as we stumble towards a bottom-half finish with one eye still on the bottom four.
Port Vale, occupying the final relegation zone, six points behind us with three games in hand. They’ll play twice before we play again, and the scene at the bottom of the division may be a little uncomfortable when we travel to Peterborough. Enough quality in the squad, enough teams between us and the bottom four, and enough winnable games on the horizon to mean we shouldn’t get sucked into any relegation battle, but still a need to keep half an eye on what’s occurring down there.
But that period without a game may well be exactly what we need. Many of those Charlton bodies quite obviously exhausted at full-time, and that’s exhaustion that has been shown in the closing periods of many games over the previous few weeks. A freshened group of Addicks with the newly discovered fight and determination should do more than enough to comfortable guide themselves away from the minute threat of relegation that still exists.
And it remains, after those many weeks without energy or effort shown, a source of solace that some fight has been discovered. Certainly enough fight shown at Bramall Lane to come away without feelings anger or embarrassment. Sheffield United had to battle for victory, and I asked for no more than that.
The effort, energy and determination of Tuesday’s second-half performance during the draw with Bradford City has come at the perfect time. Putting in arguably the best 45-minute display of the season four days before travelling to the league leaders suddenly makes that prospect a less terrifying one.
A hope that, after such an excellent performance against the Bantams in midweek, Charlton Athletic will at least be competitive in their efforts against Sheffield United. Three weeks ago, Karl Robinson’s men would have certainly wilted against such tough opposition, but they have discovered a touch of fight in their previous three outings.
But so too might it raise expectations to a level where too much pressure is placed on the Addicks, and an unlikely result at Bramall Lane becomes one that is demanded. Misplaced anger and disappointment at Robinson and his side if they return south with a 12th defeat of the League One season to their name.
A defeat that, in truth, remains the most likely outcome. The Blades eight points clear at the top of the division, unbeaten in their previous eight games, and boast the division’s best home record. Chris Wilder’s side a fearsome opponent.
In reality, however, the Addicks travelling to Bramall Lane will do so with a healthy mixture of confidence and caution. Believing their side will offer something, but accepting that taking anything away from the fixture remains an impossible task, and any sort of result would be a fantastic achievement.
But an expectation does exist. A reasonable and fair expectation. That the effort and energy displayed in those final 45 minutes against Bradford on Tuesday night is repeated in Yorkshire this weekend.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-1 SHEFFIELD UNITED (26/11/2016)
Patrick Bauer stole something of an undeserved point for Charlton with a stoppage-time equaliser against the Blades at The Valley in November.
The Covered End rising in celebration as the German bundled the ball over the line three minutes into additional time, having earlier risen in protest. The game delayed by soft taxis and footballs being thrown on the pitch, accompanied by empathic chants against Roland Duchatelet and his regime.
Charlton, however, had not risen their performance levels for a game against a promotion-chasing side, despite newly appointed boss Karl Robinson watching on from the director’s box. The Addicks competitive for the opening half hour, but capitulating after a cleverly worked free-kick caught out a static defence and allowed Mark Duffy to give the visitors a 32nd-minute lead from a relatively tight angle.
Chances for United both before and after the break as Wilder’s side took complete control of the contest, with the side Kevin Nugent was temporarily in charge of losing any degree of defensive structure and lacking attacking quality.
The only Addick who could be proud of their efforts was Dillon Phillips. The goalkeeper saving from Billy Sharp, John Fleck and Duffy, preventing the scoreline from accurately reflecting the gap between the two sides. The deficit, somehow, only one heading into stoppage-time.
A period of stoppage-time that offered little hope of a Charlton response, even after Jordan Botaka had won the Addicks a free-kick in a dangerous crossing position. It with shock, therefore, that The Valley celebrated as Adam Chicksen’s delivery was flicked on by Josh Magennis and Bauer forced the ball over the line from very close range.
Missed chance after missed chance replaying in the heads of those in Sheffield United colours. Maybe not deserving of it, but Charlton had taken advantage of their opposition’s wastefulness to steal a point.
Sheffield United: WWDWDD
Having been the division’s perennial bottlers for the previous five seasons, Sheffield United supporters will be wary of celebrating promotion too soon, but they find themselves in a position from which even they will struggle to fail. The Blades on the cusp of a return to the Championship.
Comfortably League One’s most threatening team at their best, and more importantly comfortably the division’s most consistent side, a promotion-winning formula has finally been found at Bramall Lane. For which manager Wilder must take a heap of credit.
The former Northampton Town boss, who might have joined Charlton in the summer had the club given him the reassurances he required, set to earn a second successive league title having won League Two with the Cobblers last season. A winning mentality instilled into a stagnating club, and a side of real quality finding themselves eight points clear at the top of the division.
The Blades suffering just three defeats in their previous 33 league games, are the Football League’s top scorers, and go into Saturday’s game without defeat in eight.
And even when questions are asked of them, they respond in style. A two-goal lead thrown away against Swindon Town in midweek, but an advantage almost immediately regained and Wilder’s men ultimately recording a 4-2 win.
An excellent manager, a quality side, and collective mental toughness. A combination that creates champions.
There a combination of frustration and pride come full-time in midweek, as Charlton’s valiant performance against Bradford City warranted more than just a point.
High intensity pressing and quality going forward meant the Addicks dominated the second period, and would have won the game were it not for horrendous wastefulness. Lee Novak and Tony Watt must still be wondering how on earth they failed to take the most glorious of chances.
But, as a sparsely occupied Covered End attempted to make the noise of one at full capacity, the dominant emotion was one of pride. A squad that had given very little over the course of a run of eight games without defeat, having their application and effort constantly questioned, had given their all. It was pleasing to see.
Of course, it doesn’t detract from a season of failure. Too often have they performed without pride, embarrassing themselves and insulting supporters. Robinson’s side sitting 15th in the League One table as a result, marooned among the also-rans.
But that isn’t to say displays of fight and determination can’t be appreciated for what they are. The Addicks doing themselves proud on Tuesday night.
United boss Wilder confirmed after Tuesday’s victory over Swindon that influential midfielder Mark Duffy will be available having recovered from an ankle injury sustained during the draw with Rochdale earlier on this month.
Duffy, who has six goals for the Blades this season, was set to make his return at the County Ground in midweek, but wasn’t risked. The creative midfielder definitely fit for the visit of Charlton, and an immediate return to the starting XI likely.
A return to the starting XI also a possibility for Jake Wright. The defender was on the bench on Tuesday night, having been a doubt for the fixture after coming off midway through the first half during the victory over his former club Oxford United. A starting place for the summer signing made more likely by Wilder’s side suddenly starting to leak goals.
Elsewhere, former Addick Leon Clarke is recovering from an ankle problem and unlikely to feature, while Samir Carruthers, a player who worked under Robinson at MK Dons and was a target for Charlton in January, has struggled for game time since joining the Blades and looks set to have to settle for a place on the bench once again.
The revolving door that leads to Charlton’s treatment room continues to spin relentlessly, with Addicks dropping out as others make a return to fitness.
The latest member of Robinson’s squad to enter the treatment room is one that has already spent plenty of time in there despite being at the club for just two months. Lewis Page pulling up on Tuesday night, and unlikely to be fit for the trip to Bramall Lane.
It gives the Addicks a bit of a problem in the full-back positions, with Nathan Byrne absent in midweek, Chris Solly still recovering from a calf problem, and Jay Dasilva largely untrusted. Adam Chicksen playing at right-back against Bradford, but one option is to revert him back to his more natural position and play Ezri Konsa on the right side of defence.
There are, however, options for Robinson in midfield, with Jake Forster-Caskey and Jordan Botaka returning to the matchday squad on Tuesday, but Joe Aribo is a doubt having missed out through injury in midweek. Magennis’ hamstring injury meaning Lee Novak and Tony Watt are likely to continue in attack.
But the biggest news is that there’s an outside chance Jason Pearce may be involved for the first time since early December. The centre-back recovered from a groin injury, and getting minutes under his belt for the U23s last Sunday. A place on the bench likely, but even that would be great to see.
KEY BATTLE – DEALING WITH AN AERIALLY DOMINANT FORWARD, AND HIS GOAL-SCORING PARTNER
Particularly since the turn of the year, Charlton haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory defensively. Plenty of points dropped and games lost as a consequence of individual errors, or a collective lack of cohesion and structure.
Weak defensive efforts that have been on show this week. Walsall wasting several glorious chances gifted to them and, though tightening up impressive after the break, the Addicks struggling to deal with Bradford in the opening 45 on Tuesday night. Walsall’s goal coming from the simplest of long balls over the top of a defensive line sitting far too high, and Bradford’s equaliser coming from tame defending and a goalkeeper error.
But it against teams with tall, aerially dominant forwards that the Addicks have really struggled in recent months. AFC Wimbledon’s Tom Elliott, Rochdale’s Calvin Andrew and Northampton Town’s Michael Smith just three examples. Whether it be Teixeira, Bauer or Konsa in the centre of defence, all have struggled to contend with any sort of physical presence in the opposition’s attack.
A concern, therefore, that Saturday’s opposition have James Hanson. A figure shaped so perfectly into the target man mould he might well have been created in a laboratory. Just one goal to his name since joining the Blades in January, but his presence telling, and supporting his rather potent strike partner.
Hanson making life even easier for Billy Sharp, who has made a mockery of opposition defences with 26 goals to his name this campaign. The traditional target man/poacher partnership.
And one that means constant cohesion and composure must be on show from Charlton’s backline, and in particular their centre-backs, throughout Saturday’s contest. Promising that Bauer and Teixeira come into the game on the back of an excellent 45 on Tuesday night, but any mistakes will be punished by this pair, and they must remain solid for 90 minutes.
Not too fussed about the result, as defeat at Bramall Lane is the most likely outcome for any team in this division, but desperate to see the Addicks play with the same level of determination and intensity as they did during Tuesday’s second half. Sheffield United 2-1 Charlton Athletic