Several Charlton Athletic bodies curled over in exhaustion come full-time, just about finding the energy to drag themselves from The Valley’s turf towards the tunnel. It another game the Addicks had failed to win, with Tuesday’s first victory in nine not followed up, but there was no reason to question their effort.
Karl Robinson’s men had responded well to dire a first-half performance against Walsall, battling in determined fashion for much of the second period with a side who showed several moments of quality. An effort made more commendable by absentees, injuries and the obvious exhaustion.
But it through good fortune that the Addicks, these tired Addicks who had commendably fought to escape embarrassment, were not leaving the pitch come full-time with heads bowed. Fortunate that Tony Watt’s second-half strike, cancelling out Simeon Jackson’s cool finish as half-time approached, was enough to earn a point.
For the visiting Saddlers, in behind down either flank with regularity throughout the first half as a dysfunctional Charlton stood statuesque in their attempts to defend, could have killed the game with any degree of potency in the final third. They warranted an advantage bigger than the one given to them by Jackson, latching onto a long ball and rifling into the bottom corner with 44 minutes played, come the break.
A lack of end product, and a Joe Aribo goal line clearance, hampering their attacking efforts, but it a quite woeful miss from forward Jackson that was the peak of Walsall’s wastefulness. The Canadian sliding to meet Phil Edwards’ delivery, but somehow managing to send the ball over the bar from as close to the goalline as possible.
Watt’s 61st minute equaliser, therefore, punishment for Walsall’s wastefulness rather than reward for Charlton’s efforts. It only after the Scot had finished emphatically, with the ball falling to him after an Adam Chicksen delivery skimmed off Ricky Holmes’ head, that the Addicks found this extra level. Their effort and energy thereafter unquestionable, and a deflected Aribo effort had former Addick stopper Neil Etheridge concerned.
But even in the second period, one evenly contested with the Addicks discovering a degree of fight and, despite needing to replace an injured Ezri Konsa with Fredrik Ulvestad at centre-back, offering greater defensive composure, the opposition only had themselves to blame for not finding a winner.
Amadou Bakayoko somehow placing wide after being teed up by the lively Erhun Oztumer, and the faintest of touches from George Dobson would have turned in Jason McCarthy’s powerful cross-cum-shot in stoppage-time. Cries of “wahay” from the Covered End, covering the sound of deep breaths being taken.
Wastefulness that made emotions mixed at the conclusion of this contest. Relief, and acceptance that some good fortune was involved, that defeat had not been suffered, appreciation that a set of Addicks who have so often wilted in recent weeks were able to fight in testing circumstances, but frustration that a 27th league game had concluded without victory.
The sort of game that really confirms Charlton’s season will be petering out into nothingness. But at least Robinson’s men were willing to battle with only pride really left to fight for. That as much a relief as Walsall failing to finish.
In truth, a point was seen as something of a positive prior to kick-off despite the Addicks coming into a game on the back of a victory for the first time in nine. Injuries and the need to rotate making Robinson’s starting XI appear a weak one.
The absence of the injured Josh Magennis and the benching of Lee Novak, apparently nursing a calf niggle, meaning Watt was placed up top on his own. A deserved starting place, having scored the winner from the spot against Scunthorpe in midweek, but not a role that suited the Scot.
But Tuesday’s other hero, the inspirational skipper Johnnie Jackson, was not involved from the off. A result, presumably, of Charlton’s leader not having enough in his aging legs to cope with two games in five days. Andrew Crofts coming into the centre, part of a five-man midfield that included Chicksen, with the natural left-back pushed forward and Lewis Page coming into the side.
Nonetheless, there was hope that the depleted Addicks would have confidence from Tuesday, and perform to a reasonable standard. A wild Watt shot not really a sign to justify such hope, particularly with Oztumer already dictating for the visitors, and the opposition full-backs getting forward with intent beyond Charlton’s back-line.
And with five minutes played, a move involving Oztumer, a Walsall full-back and an invisible bunch of Addicks should have seen the Jon Whitney’s side ahead. The Turk sending Edwards beyond Nathan Byrne, his driven cross perfect for Jackson at the far post, but the forward somehow contriving to miss a chance that was genuinely easier to score. Mocking whistles around The Valley’s half-empty stands, but so too frustration that their side had started so poorly.
A response expected, but it was not forthcoming as the Saddlers continued to dominate. McCarthy meeting an Edwards corner, and Aribo’s intervention required to clear the ball off the line. The defensive effort once again weak.
Byrne and Page struggling to contend with Walsall’s threat down either flank, unsure whether to go to the man with the ball or cover the overlapping full-backs. It Edwards that was causing the greatest concern, but McCarthy, Kieron Morris and Oztumer not far behind. Rudd required to claim a low delivery from the rampaging left-back, before an Oztumer cross needed the goalkeeper to push it behind for a corner, headed over by Eoghan O’Connell.
And it not just at the back where the Addicks were unsettled, as moments of possession were constantly ended by tame crosses or misplaced passes. Boos from the Covered End in response to Page finding himself in a decent position down the left, but the ball ultimately being worked back all the way to Rudd. A grim opening.
It seemingly no nearer to its conclusion as Charlton stood off Morris, and the winger drove a shot just wide. Bizarrely gaining a corner for his troubles, despite it seemingly going straight through into the side netting, which thankfully came to nothing.
The hosts desperate, and Watt’s desperate tumble inside the opposition box reaffirmed that. The Scot appealing with conviction, having fallen to the turf under the slightest contact from James O’Connor, but lacking the deception of Luis Suarez.
The only real hope for the Addicks coming through Holmes. Roars of anticipation each time the winger received the ball, driving with his usual intent. A wayward shot from distance, however, not what was required to inspire his side into at least competing with their opponents.
But it was Holmes who led Charlton’s attempts to grow back into the game beyond the half hour. Interventions required down either flank to snuff out his crosses after he drove into promising positions, before an excellent block from O’Connor was required after O’Connell had gifted possession to the winger on the edge of his own box.
These attempts to grow into the game, however, were tame at best. The Addicks unable to shake a certain sluggishness out of their play, Walsall comfortable in possession inside Charlton’s half, and the backline still flatfooted as Edwards continued to find ways in behind.
So there was little surprise when Robinson’s side, not recovering from their dire start, found themselves behind with one minute of the opening 45 remaining.
A frustrating simplicity about Walsall’s goal, with the visitors having threatened through passing play for much of the half but finding a way through via the simplest of long balls. Flatfooted again at the back as Jackson comfortable beat Konsa and Byrne to the ball, the forward racing forward in composed fashion, and finishing with much greater accuracy than what was shown in his earlier miss. Far too easy for the Saddlers.
And there a degree of good fortune that the Addicks did not find themselves further behind as the half-time whistle neared. Oztumer bursting into the box from wide, beyond the clutches of any red shirt, but referee Kinseley blowing up just as he did so. Frustration among the visitors, but the real disappointment belonged to the hosts, who trudged off to the sound of boos for the umpteenth time this campaign.
A vast improvement required in the second period, but it began with the same sort of sluggishness and sloppiness that had stifled any attempt to get back into the game during the first half. Frustration not quelled.
And five minutes into the half, frustration was replaced by deep concern. Konsa going down in agony, almost in tears as he was treated and subsequently guided off the pitch, with Robinson without a natural centre-back to call upon in reserve. Jackson replacing the young defender, and the unlikely figure of Ulvestad dropping into defence.
Square pegs most certainly in round holes, with the build-up of injuries really beginning to tell. More alterations to the XI and formation as Page was replaced by Novak, and pieces of paper were passed to Jackson in order to explain what was going on. It fair to suggest the Addicks were slightly unsettled.
But, quite unexpectedly, it was soon to be Walsall who were left in disarray. It not a goal that Charlton’s efforts warranted, but the Addicks had somehow managed to draw themselves level just beyond the hour.
The unwarranted nature of it taking nothing at all away from Watt’s clinical strike. The forward alive at the back post after Holmes hadn’t quite connected with a delivery into the box, and the Scot driving across the face of goal and into the far bottom corner. A knee slide in celebration that Jackson would have been proud of following.
The equaliser, therefore, only valuable if the Addicks were able to build on it. The Valley faithful finding their voices, Holmes and Watt looking threatening, and Jackson charging into tackles like it was 2013. Promising.
But just four minutes after drawing level, the defensive frailties in this Charlton side were unearthed once again and the Saddlers found themselves through. Chicksen dispossessed inside his own half, McCarthy racing into the box, and Oztumer would have turned the ball goalwards were it not for a vital interception from Jorge Teixeira. Less promising.
However, that opening for Walsall did not interrupt the improved effort and application from Robinson’s side. Pressing higher up the pitch, offering a bit more in midfield, and showing a real increase in energy and intent on the opening hour. Even a touch more composure being offered at the back, with Ulvestad doing a sterling job in the circumstances.
And the result of showing a touch more determination was two chances in quick succession from which to win the game with 15 minutes to play. Again, Watt left free at the far post, and a strong Etheridge save was required to turn his powerful volley behind, before the resulting corner concluded with a deflected Aribo effort needing the fingertips of Walsall’s goalkeeper to prevent the ball dipping into the net. It out of the question 20 minutes previously, but there was now half a chance the Addicks could win this.
Alas, such confident thoughts were tainted five minutes later, as Oztumer was sent free down the left. The diminutive playmaker turning inside, and teeing up unmarked substitute Bakayoko. A golden opportunity, somehow sent wide. The forward frozen in what was presumably a mixture of embarrassment and disbelief; the Addicks relieved.
A moment of relief to follow at the other end, as Holmes’ overhit cross almost sneaked in. Etheridge tipping the ball behind, and avoiding embarrassment that would have eclipsed the sort his teammate had suffered in front of the opposition’s goal. Still there this faint hope the Addicks could nick it, while remembering they could crumble defensively at any moment.
A faint hope that increased slightly as seven minutes of additional time were announced. But those in red had very little left to give. Possession falling to both Chicksen and Holmes with space to run into, but their legs unable to carry them forward.
Those seven minutes, therefore, becoming quite a nervy period. Not least when McCarthy got the better of Chicksen, and burst into Charlton’s box from wide. His strike powerful, beating everyone in the middle, which included the outstretched leg of substitute Dobson. The slightest touch would have turned it home, with Rudd beaten and the ball flashing narrowly beyond the post.
Further concern to follow, with McCarthy and Oztumer two against one down the right. There need for McCarthy to be offside, and he would have been clean through had he not been, but the offside flag raised as Oztumer attempted to play him through. Another outtake of breath, and the final relief coming with the referee blowing for full-time seconds later.
They’d given their opponents far too many chances to win the game, they’d had periods in the game where they appeared a complete shambles, and not enough chances were created by themselves to suggest victory was warranted. But at least the Addicks had offered a degree of fight, and their efforts were appreciated as they headed towards The Valley’s tunnel.
Efforts appreciated, but there no doubt the Addicks were walking off The Valley’s turf thankful to good fortune that they had not suffered defeat.
Walsall should have killed the game off. Walsall had several glorious chances to regain their lead after Charlton had equalised. Walsall, for large parts of the game, much the better side.
But with Robinson’s side so often falling to pieces in testing situations, it was pleasing to see an increase in effort and fight after the break. The frustration of failing to record victory still there, and one win in ten doesn’t make for great reading, but at least the mentality of those in red couldn’t be questioned. Somewhat refreshing.
Those fighting qualities seen most of all from Jackson, who got stuck in straight from the off after entering the fray and made a genuine difference in the middle, Ulvestad, who was superb in an unnatural position, and Watt, who is finally rewarding those supporters who have long stuck by him.
Watt a figure that divides fans. In fact, Watt divides me. Exciting to watch when he’s running the ball and capable of real quality, but so often lets himself down with poor execution or decision making. Sometimes appearing a character who wants to give his all, and others appearing like he doesn’t want to be here, or playing professional football at all.
His recent transformation into Mark Renton, minus the heroin, from the film Trainspotting meaning I just about sit in the pro-Watt corner of SE7.
But he’s someone whose almost childish happiness and delight when he is performing, and in particular scoring goals, you can’t help but warm to. He doesn’t always show it, but his head is generally in the right place.
A shame, however, that his equaliser merely provided a point that cements Charlton’s position among the also-rans. Cementing a season of disappointment, and not quite enough to distract from it.
At least there was a point to be gained. The Addicks certainly worked for it, but they can count themselves somewhat lucky that they have it.