The voice of Karl Robinson, bellowing from Highbury Stadium’s away technical area, was a powerful noise in the opening minutes as Charlton Athletic began their battle with Fleetwood Town.
Charlton’s boss desperate to make a point from the sidelines. His tones dissecting the gaps between chants from both home and away supporters. Most certainly louder than a quiet game of football.
“Quicker, quicker,” Robinson continued to shout. Rotating his arms around one another, signalling that he wanted the ball to be moved at a greater pace. Sharing the frustration of the visiting supporters, as the Addicks held very tame and very unthreatening possession, and sharing their fear, as the signs of another deflating sluggish performance were on show in these early moments.
But come the concluding minutes of this contest, it was those of a Fleetwood persuasion calling for greater pace. Pleading for the ticking clock to move quicker. To escape from a rampant Charlton side, performing with all the pace, power and threat they had been lacking in recent weeks.
For Robinson’s men had not simply listened to their boss’ impassioned pleas, nor had they merely taken them onboard. They had displayed what was requested to great effect, turning tedious and tiresome to dynamic and driven. An almost perfect performance built on crushing direct bursts forward, and tireless pressing of the opposition, ending a run of four winless games and earning the Addicks a warranted 3-1 victory.
A collective effort that was almost perfect, inspired by an individual display that was most certainly perfect. The sluggishness, infecting the game in general and not just Charlton, only broken in the 13th minute when Tariq Fosu scored the first of three goals that would make up a marvellous, match-winning perfect hat-trick. The hosts caught in possession, Billy Clarke feeding Ricky Holmes, and the winger delivering a cross so perfect that even a man of Fosu’s relatively limited height could head the visitors in front.
But the Addicks would soon create a challenge for themselves. Despite threatening in the moments that followed taking the lead, showing much greater energy and intensity, the Cody Army would find a 25th-minute equaliser with their first effort on goal of the game. Jake Forster-Casker dispossessed inside his own half, Jordy Hiwula feeding Bobby Grant as Charlton’s backline were caught flat-footed, and his finish rocking the Addicks.
A repeat of Tuesday night in the Black Country, where allowing Walsall to score a soft goal gave them a route back into the game they probably didn’t deserve. Fleetwood created openings, Charlton off the pace. The response to conceding poor.
Or at least it was for little more than ten minutes. For having started to warm the gloves of home goalkeeper Alex Cairns once more, Robinson’s men would regain the lead with five minutes to play until the break. Fosu toying with Fleetwood defends, dancing inside with all the flair of a showman, before providing a left-footed finish with all the composure of an experienced striker.
Concern, however, a nagging noise that prevented this lead to be properly enjoyed as the second-half progressed. Robinson’s men continuing to play with direct attacking threat, if anything improving as the minutes progressed, while Uwe Rosler’s side became increasingly frustrated as their moves forward were blunted by a resilient opponent, but nerves remained while the lead was only one. An uncomfortable away end taking endless pleasure from the manner in which those in Charlton colours were pressing high up the pitch, preventing Fleetwood attacks, but desperate for the game to be killed off.
And so it was the celebrations behind Fosu’s third with 71 minutes played that had the greatest amount of energy behind them. Pleasure, pride, and pure relief. The winger’s perfect hat-trick, his marvellous performance, and the victory Charlton’s efforts deserved confirmed as he drove into the box and finished with his right through the legs of Cairns.
There needed to be no pleas for anything more. Robinson’s impassioned and vocal cries were certainly not the overpowering noises come the conclusion of the contest. The sounds of the celebratory chants and cheers from the away end, and the clapping reciprocated between players and supporters, all that could be heard.
For the first time in five games, victory could be enjoyed. For the first time in five games, a performance of real quality could be admired. A point that hadn’t been reached quickly, but the injection of pace, tempo, and power into this display, pleaded for so desperately by leader and followers, made it a marvellous one.
It not the style of play that brought about the immediate concern as Addicks began to arrive at Highbury Stadium, but those who would be carrying out.
Half of Robinson’s first choice back four absent, with Chris Solly joining Jason Pearce in the treatment room, and some reshuffling required. Ezri Konsa shifted to right-back, a position he’d looked somewhat uncomfortable in when asked to perform their last season, and Naby Sarr given his first league start of the season, with a point to prove after his long period of exile. A worry, not least with manner in which Charlton’s overall sluggish efforts of late had invited teams to threaten.
Comfort, therefore, to be found in those who occupied the bench. Mark Marshall, having suffered injury prior to the campaign, involved with the matchday squad for the first time, and Ben Reeves, struggling with fitness since arriving in the summer having not had a proper pre-season, returning after brief flirts with it. Pleasing to look towards those in reserve and see players who had the ability to change the game for once.
And if the game’s opening exchanges were anything to go by, the sooner it was seen as appropriate to bring the returning pair on, the better. Fleetwood set up to frustrate, structured and displaying a defensive resoluteness that showed no signs of any cracks, while there no pace or attacking intensity to the possession the Addicks were invited to have. Slow, sideways passing with little purpose, that frustrated both supporters and Robinson.
But just as thoughts of banging my head against the terrace barrier in front of me in Highbury’s away end started to come to mind, a Charlton player dared to venture outside his own half, and found himself rewarded for pressuring an opponent.
A’mari Bell caught out, with Clarke robbing the ball from his feet and bursting forward with such intent, backed by a roar of encouragement from the visiting supporters, that it appeared for a moment he may have continued alone towards goal. But Holmes, as he so often does, had burst into space down the right, and made himself available for the pass that the Irishman played perfectly. A cry of anticipation meeting Holmes’ resulting cross, largely because Josh Magennis’ frame was situated inside the box, but the ball floating over the Northern Ireland international’s body and finding a route to goal via the head of Fosu.
A goal, in truth, completely out of nothing. But one that reflected the reward that would come from being brave enough to push forward with greater pace, energy and intensity. Sloppy Fleetwood a step behind, and the Addicks, with the assistance of some well-executed passing, able to take advantage.
And while the away end sung, sung with all the vigour the game they had witnessed in the first 13 minutes hadn’t inspired them to do, Robinson’s side sought to add more life to the game. They might have chosen to continue to play as they had done, slowing the game down in the immediate aftermath of gaining the advantage, but they suddenly gained the confidence to drive at their stunned opponents. Konsa crossing to deep, and Fosu curling over having brought the ball under his control, before Magennis got himself between goalkeeper and backpass, but couldn’t get the ball out of his feet and Cairns was able to pounce.
Encouraging, and no doubt a monumental improvement on the tedious opening moments that threatening another sluggish performance, but memories of the midweek at Walsall did immediately come to mind. Fosu and Magennis hadn’t missed massive chances, but a failure to take openings when on top at the Bescot had crippled the Addicks. Robinson’s men had to make their advantage count at Highbury, and make their actual advantage unassailable.
So at least those in the away end, thick-skinned and almost accustomed to predictable and repetitive disappointment, were prepared for what was to follow.
Fleetwood had not threatened once 25 minutes into the contest, but Forster-Caskey’s failure to get a bouncing ball under control and subsequently gifting possession Hiwula possession meant an opportunity to break through had suddenly opened up for them. Konsa and Patrick Bauer, wearing the armband in Solly’s absence, hadn’t responded quickly enough, and Hiwula’s ball played Grant through on goal. A driven strike, the first one sent towards Ben Amos’ goal, beating the Charlton goalkeeper and levelling the scores out of nothing.
Perplexed faces on the pitch, and, having seen this all before, expressions that sat somewhere between frustration and anger in the away end. As the hosts began to create some noise, the response to this unexpected disappointment was vital. The pacey Bell being allowed to bomb forward and his subsequent strike on goal being just about tipped over the bar by the wrists of Amos, evidently unsighted, not exactly encouraging.
It the beginning of a passage of play that saw the Cod Army come alive, pushing into Charlton’s half on a consistent basis for the first time and as such preventing the Addicks from getting out of it. Moves down either flank causing concern, as wing-backs Lewie Coyle and Bell got forward. The energy that had been injected into Robinson’s men after they’d gained the advantage seemingly now lost.
But it a period with limited affect, and limited duration. Limited affect because those in centre for the Addicks stood firm, not least Sarr, who had been an unbeatable colossus. Limited duration because it would only take ten minutes before the pace, energy and intensity returned to their own attacking play, and they began to push the hosts onto the back foot again.
It coming as little surprise that the catalyst for Charlton’s move towards regaining control of the contest was the quick feet of Fosu. A drive into space, and a drive towards goal from the edge of the box. Relatively comfortable for Cairns, but it a provider of proof this group of Addicks weren’t willing to make the rest of the afternoon comfortable for the goalkeeper or his teammates.
In fact, Cairns was sweating just a minute later. Giving Holmes a sight of goal within 30 yards of it is an amateur mistake, and the talismanic figure took up the invitation offered by the lack of Fleetwood shirts around him. A stunning, dipping effort that was heading for the top corner requiring an equally excellent save from the man between the sticks for the Cod Army, evidently unimpressed by the lack of support offered by those in front of him.
Unimpressed as his defenders allowed Holmes a shot on goal, but no doubt furious as defenders in red shirts stood bemused and embarrassed by Fosu’s footwork before the winger reinstated Charlton’s advantage five minutes before the break.
A Holmes ball from the wing finding Fosu on the boundaries of the box but in a position too wide and too far out to be threatening, not least with the sea of bodies in front of him. Recycling the ball back into the middle might have been sensible, but fuelled by confidence he waltzed past the Fleetwood defenders in front of him, and then some more, and suddenly found himself in a shooting position. The most eccentric of young wingers often perform a moment of quality and lack a finish to match, but Fosu coolly converted beyond the helpless Cairns and ran off to celebrate with all the joy that such a goal deserved.
Joy echoed in the away end, knowing that the brief passage between Charlton’s goals was not enough to detract from the quality of this performance, but the agenda now a simple one. Just get through to the interval. The Addicks had failed to keep a lead for a little over a minute in midweek with the game in its dying moments, so nothing was certain.
But as the referee’s whistle threatened to signal the end of the game’s first half, the Addicks threatened to signal the end of the game as a contest. Every header his inside his own box, but now Sarr had climbed highest to win one in the opposition’s. A Fleetwood body blocking his goal-bound nod.
Not that that could take anything away from this Charlton effort as the half-time whistle was actually blown. Two marvellous periods of play, of real attacking energy and intensity, that pushed the opposition deep into their own half and made Robinson’s side a genuine threat. The period following Fleetwood’s goal able to be downplayed by just how positive the response had been, when so often this side had faded without resuming previous levels of performances.
Maintaining a level of performance now the challenge. And maintaining, or ideally doubling, this single-goal advantage. Rosler sending his men out about three decades early for the second half, making two substitutions and changing from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2, suggesting there would be a response from the Cod Army.
But disruption to Charlton’s plans came not through the threat Fleetwood could offer. Clarke slipping as he shaped to shoot, and injuring himself in the process. A debut for Marshall seven minutes into the half, giving the Addicks the terrifying attacking midfield three for Holmes, Fosu and Marshall, but possibly being introduced a little earlier than Robinson might have liked.
A terrifying three that meant the chance of a third for the Addicks was, at the very least, as high as an equaliser for the Cod Army. The introduction of Godswill Ekpolo had given the hosts some pace down the right, but they needed to pray for something more threatening. The Addicks pressing high up the pitch, frequently robbing the ball from their opponents in the centre of the pitch, and desperate balls forward were too easy for Bauer and Sarr.
But a rare chance for Fleetwood, coming 15 minutes into the half as if to reaffirm just how quite Charlton’s pressing had kept them, did provide the reminder that a one-goal lead was precarious. Far too easy for the hosts as Bell cut in from the left, supplied Ekpolo down the right, and he drove forward as if no Addicks were in front of him. His cut back perfect for Hiwula, but thankfully for Robinson’s men the forward’s finish – first time from the edge of the box – was a poor one.
For it to have been a wake-up call, the Addicks would have had to have been performing complacently before it. This simply a blip in their intense, structured and resolute efforts. Immediately resuming responsibilities, and almost catching the Cod Army out and the end of one move started having pressed their opponents, but Magennis’ header from Holmes’ cross was a tame one.
Still, however, you wanted that third. For every piece of excellent pressing play, or every time Fleetwood showed their tameness going forward, the fear that an equaliser for the hosts would appear out of nothing did not decrease. Charlton calm, in complete control, but the concern a natural one.
So just the sight of Fosu running through on goal, leading a counter-attacking that those in red had no chance of stopping, brought about premature relief-filled celebration that those in the away end knew wouldn’t be misguided. A man with this confidence, with this opportunity, would not miss. And he most certainly didn’t.
A perfect hat-trick for Fosu celebrated wildly, as if the goal were defining in the game, and not simply one that provided a cushion. Near confirmation that this excellent Charlton performance would be getting what it warranted. Confirmation that Fosu’s performance had got what it warranted.
There still, of course, no room for complacency with 19 minutes to play, and as the game entered its final ten minutes, the Cod Army should have reduced the deficit. Substitute Ashley Hunted delivering for Devante Cole, but the forward somehow managing to skew over from just a few yards. It followed by confusion between Bauer and Amos as red shirts swarmed, but the goalkeeper recovered, and the position Charlton were in meant this was all rather funny.
A position that meant Fosu could receive the ovation he deserved. Replaced by Reeves, giving him some minutes, as full-time drew near, with mighty applause in recognition of his efforts. A stunning performance from the young man.
But even with him off the pitch, the Addicks might have added to their total in additional time. A cross-cum-shot from Magennis stylishly flicked home by Forster-Caskey, only for the assistant referee’s flag to deny him the goal. A margin of three would not have been flattering.
Not that failing to have that goal awarded took anything away from the full-time celebrations, and the appreciation for the efforts of those wearing Charlton colours. A marvellous collective effort, driven by the energy and intensity that individuals put it, on top of the footballing quality that was provided. A performance far greater than anything seen in recent weeks, and one to be enjoyed.
This the closest the Addicks have come to being in complete control of a game this season.
And were it not for the small ten minute period that followed the gifting of a goal to Fleetwood, then the Addicks would have had total control of this contest. Only then did they appear uncomfortable, but even then they managed to resume playing with attacking intensity before the loss of it had proved too costly.
It a performance in contrast to what has been seen in recent weeks. Too often the Addicks have knocked the ball around inside their own half with no genuine attacking intent, no energy, and no purpose. Too often they’ve expected the chance to come, and not gone about and threatened themselves.
Too often, as a consequence of that sluggish possession, have a team with limited attacking threat been invited to attack. Too often have they managed to take advantage of that. Too often have we been making the same mistakes, and had no response when those mistakes have been made.
There a concern when the Addicks started the game slowly, and there a concern when a goal was gifted to Fleetwood and they began to come forward with Charlton suddenly sluggish, but on both occasions Robinson’s men brought themselves alive.
The first goal setting the game up, with Clarke pressing to rob possession, and his teammates getting forward quickly to join him on the counter. It the catalyst for energy and intensity to spread through Charlton’s attacks, and to exist while they didn’t have the ball. Fleetwood managing to play how they would have liked to today for no more than ten minutes.
And all it took after Fleetwood did get into the game was one attack to rekindle the energy that the Addicks had previously been displaying. Energy that didn’t last for a spell, but lasted for the remainder of the game. A threat on the counter always there, and often there as they rushed and dispossessed while on the ball.
While when they did attempt to push the ball forward, they found a backline that, in a 3-1 victory, might not get the praise it deserves, but deserves plenty. Konsa excellent in a position he’s previously found difficult, Bauer solid, and Jay Dasilva continues to improve both going forward and defensively with every game. Though it Naby Sarr, winning everything in the air and looking a class above with his feet, that deserves special mention, given that he looked a different player to the one that earned the reputation he has been looking to shake off.
And then, of course, there’s Fosu. Supported most notably by Holmes, no less superb than you’d expert, the young winger was sensational. The hat-trick no fluke, and a marvellous effort particular given that recent weeks have seen struggles for the summer signing.
Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t mean the performances of recent weeks can be forgotten, but what it does do is reaffirm the quality that’s in this side. Not seen for the previous four games, it needed to be seen again. To reassure, and to calm.
The frustration being that we find a performance like this, but now don’t play for 14 days. As Robinson might say, it’s a shame that period isn’t going to move quicker.
The possibility that Charlton Athletic might be travelling to Fleetwood Town on Saturday with confidence and belief reinstated lasted a little over one minute.
For it seemed that Ricky Holmes’ stunning volley at the Bescot Stadium in midweek, struck first-time from the edge of the box and looping over Walsall goalkeeper Mark Gillespie, had done enough to secure an 88th minute victory. Enough to secure a first victory in three games. Enough to end a run of performances that had brought about genuine worry, and bring about hope that the Addicks were about to regain their stride.
But a little over one minute later, however, Daniel Agyei had curled a stunning equaliser for the Saddlers into Ben Amos’ top corner. Karl Robinson’s men sitting deep, standing off their opponents, and allowing Agyei to come forward unchallenged before he unleashed an effort to match the aesthetically pleasing qualities of Holmes’ strike. Mistakes of past being repeated, the same sluggishness of previous fixtures on show, and an injection of confidence replaced by a crushing sense of concern.
The confidence that would have existed had the lead been maintained would have been genuine. The encouraging start that the Addicks made to the match could have been seen as something to build upon, the nature of the strike uplifting, and a sudden sense the performances seen in the early weeks of the season may return. Needed to lift a set of deflated supporters, and also with consideration towards the self-belief required to compete with Uwe Rosler’s counter-attacking side at Highbury Stadium.
Alas, the blow dealt by Agyei’s equaliser has been a tough one to take, or at least it has for supporters. Heartbreak that such a wonderful winning moment was taken away from them, and anger with their side’s inability to maintain a lead. A question over where the result and performance that will see them rediscover their best form is coming from.
You worry, too, that it will be a tough one to take for the players. Who thought they might have finally done enough to end this sluggish run of disappointing performances and results. That they will head to Fleetwood deflated, and be exploited by a side coming into the game on the back of an impressive away win at Bradford.
A response needed. But a response has been needed in the previous four games, and it hasn’t come. As close as they’ve been to delivering one on Tuesday, only for it to be crushed in quite emphatic fashion.
The Addicks need to step up.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-1 FLEETWOOD TOWN (04/02/2017)
Fleetwood’s second-half pressure ultimately told as Amari’I Bell struck a stoppage-time equaliser at The Valley in February.
It not long into the contest before it became apparent that Charlton would be spending much of the afternoon on the back foot, with a need to defend diligently against a side attacking with intensity and threat. And when the backline didn’t have the answer, the Addicks were thankful that Declan Rudd did. The stopper twice denying Devante Cole, before a Cian Bolger header from a Kyle Dempsey corner was wonderfully tipped over the bar.
And such defiance, unconvincing or not, meant that the hosts were able to gain the advantage when a rare chance came their way with 37 minutes played. A half-cleared corner picked up by Jake Forster-Caskey, the midfielder dancing into the box, and his low pass turned home by Ricky Holmes. The simplicity of it making Fleetwood’s inability to convert all the more frustrating for them.
But it not enough to halt their confidence or intensity going forward, and Charlton became increasingly nervy as the second-half progressed. A mistake from Adam Chicksen allowing Cole through on goal, with Rudd rushing out to save, before David Ball was allowed to wander free inside the area and turn a wonderful opportunity from Ashley Hunter’s delivery over the bar. There a certain amount of determination against the persistent pressure, but greater cracks appearing.
So when Patrick Bauer flicked a Charlton free-kick into the path of an unmarked Tony Watt, The Valley was ready to first express a sigh of relief, and then celebrate a near-certain victory. Alas, the Scot managed to blast over the bar completely unchallenged from six yards out. A quite disastrous miss.
Particularly disastrous as, four minutes into ten minutes of stoppage-time, the Cod Army managed to find the equaliser they arguably deserved. The Addicks unable to deal with a Dempsey corner, the ball falling to Bell, and the wing-back able to bundle home from close range. No question it had been coming for much of the game, but still devastating given the determination to cling on that had been shown by Robinson’s men.
But by full-time, they were quite fortunate to come away with a point. Nathan Byrne dismissed for a two-footed lunge on Ball, before the same Fleetwood man turned on the edge of the box and curled a spectacular effort against the post.
It was, however, a result that gave Uwe Rosler the confidence to celebrate provocatively towards Charlton supporters at full-time. Raising a fist several times towards the West Stand as he departed towards the tunnel, for no justifiable reason. Strange man.
Of the 18,799 spectators that were in attendance at Bradford City’s Valley Parade on Tuesday night, only 99 of them were sat in the away end.
The huddle of visiting supporters a reflection of Fleetwood’s small size, and an opportunity for many to mock.
But as those that made up that huddle celebrated a fine three-goal victory for the Cod Army at a ground that once graced the Premier League, to have taken such a moment to ridicule the relatively small standing of Fleetwood would have been incredibly misjudged. Instead, while the 99 celebrated and the 18,700 slumped, you were reminded further of this club’s incredible overachievements that have seen them climb from the ninth tier to genuine promotion contenders in the third. It might be for few, but Fleetwood continue to bring unimaginable joy to those who have followed the club through their rise.
A win, nonetheless, that was needed. Before scoring three times at Valley Parade without reply, and in doing so inflicting Bradford’s heaviest home league defeat since April 2015, two heavy defeats had been suffered. A 4-2 loss at home to Southend United last weekend, just seven days after a 4-1 defeat at Portsmouth.
And a win that Uwe Rosler will hope will see his side put those defeats behind them, and regain their stride. Which isn’t to say, not least given that to be flirting with a top six position remains an overachievement for a club of Fleetwood’s stature, that their start to the season hasn’t been a handy one. Five wins from their nine games, and just two points off the play-off positions with a game in hand.
Arguably League One’s smallest club continues to compete with the division’s best.
If there is anything to take from Tuesday’s draw at Walsall, and it’s the fact that the first 35 minutes saw football played that reflected the quality of that seen in the early weeks of the season.
The period between Tariq Fosu’s opener and Tyler Roberts’ equaliser provided the best and most fluent football the Addicks have played for quite a number of games. Most certainly over the course of the previous four. The ball moved with purpose, energy and pace exerted, and there a genuine threat.
The problem being that Robinson’s men were unable to make the most of their period of domination. Chances wasted, and Walsall, without creating anything beforehand, able to steal an equaliser that punished poor Charlton defending. The fluent attacking football replaced by the sluggish and frustrating stuff, which allowed the Saddlers back into the game and arguably have the better of the second half until Holmes’ goal, that has been seen during previous weeks.
No doubt an improvement on a side without a ‘Plan B’ being tormented by Wigan Athletic, and one without any quality whatsoever struggling to make an impression against Gillingham and Bury, but still undoubtedly a frustration.
And still the question remains as to whether this is just a slump, that will be resolved once a few issues have been ironed out and the confidence that a win brings is gained, or whether these recent performances have been more reflective of what we’re likely to see throughout the campaign.
Every reason to believe it’s the former, despite the sloppy response to Holmes’ strike on Tuesday night preventing a first victory in four, but with each game that ends without a win concerns that it’s the latter will grow.
Fleetwood will welcome back Aiden O’Neill after the midfielder missed Tuesday’s victory over Bradford City through suspension.
O’Neill was dismissed during the defeat to Southend United last weekend, but the Burnley loanee has been a regular in Rosler’s starting XI this season and is likely to come straight back into the side on Saturday.
But the Cod Army are likely to remain without Conor McAleny, with the forward struggling to shake off an ankle problem. The former Charlton loanee, who scored a match-winning goal at The Valley last season while on loan with Oxford United, made a return from his injury during the defeat to Portsmouth, but has since missed the following two games with a reoccurrence of it.
Charlton will be without Jason Pearce after it was confirmed that the centre-back would miss ten weeks of the campaign with a knee injury.
No question that the man replacing him, Ezri Konsa, is an excellent young centre-back, but Pearce’s leadership and experience will undoubtedly be missed. There few, if any, other figures in this side who share the qualities he has.
Though a boost does come for the Addicks in the form of Mark Marshall and Ben Reeves being in contention for the trip to Fleetwood. The pair having not made a league appearance yet this season, with Marshall suffering a knee injury during pre-season and Reeves’ lack of proper preparation for the campaign making fitness an issue. Neither are likely to be fit enough to start, but having options on the bench that could genuinely make a difference will be huge.
Lewis Page (ankle) and Harry Lennon (groin), however, remain unavailable.
KEY BATTLE – NULLIFYING FLEETWOOD’S COUNTER-ATTACKING FOOTBALL
The game at Walsall on Tuesday might well have been won inside the first 35 minutes had Charlton shown any sort of composure and competence in front of goal.
Their overall performance in that period excellent, taking control of the game and playing impressive passing football, but the inability to add to Fosu’s opening goal would ultimately come back to haunt. Sloppy defending effectively gifting the Shakers an equaliser, and the Addicks fading thereafter. Charlton harming themselves, more than a case of the opposition growing into the game.
And if a similar situation were to repeat itself on Saturday, there very little doubt that the Addicks would ultimately be punished. Punished by a side who are happy to soak up pressure, and counter attack with genuine threat.
For Rosler’s Fleetwood pride themselves on an impressive brand of counter-attacking football. Setting up with three-at-the-back, utilising Lewie Coyle and Bell at wing-back, and boasting an abundance of pace in the forward positions. They needed only 40% possession to win their game at Bradford in midweek by three goals.
If Robinson’s men are able to take control as they did in the opening period at the Bescot, then they must produce greater reward for themselves. For Fleetwood are unlikely to falter while the scores remain level or the Addicks have only a slender leader, irrespective of the pattern of play, when they have such effective options to utilise on the break. The Cod Army capitulating twice in recent weeks, but first those goals need to be scored, and chances need to be taken.
If they’re not, then the hosts will find ways to come at the Addicks, in much more fluent and regular fashion than Walsall managed on Tuesday night. The Saddlers gifted an equaliser; Fleetwood having the quality to create openings and goals of their own against the run of play. An improvement in both boxes required.
It can be nullified by finding some attacking fluency and taking the chances that follow, crushing them as a result. It can be nullified with stubborn resistance, blunting their attempts to get forward and successfully dealing with those that are more threatening. But either way, the threat that Fleetwood pose going forward needs to be dealt with.
A tough one, even for a side that has form and confidence. Not expecting the winless run to end this weekend but, with Peterborough United coming to The Valley next weekend, showing some quality and competing is vitally important. Fleetwood Town 1-1 Charlton Athletic
The antidote to Charlton Athletic’s tedious and tiresome slump had seemingly been found. The symptoms relieved by an injection of individual brilliance, relieving a weight of frustration and providing unmeasurable joy as is it travelled through the veins of the Addicks that occupied the Bescot Stadium’s away end. Suddenly, with one strike of the ball, a stuttering season was reignited.
For the brilliance of Ricky Holmes’ 88th-minute volley provided so much. The picturesque beauty of what appeared a match-winning effort, leaving those in Walsall colours both astonished and crestfallen, adding all the more emotion and inspiration to the celebrating visiting supporters. The sort of volley, struck on the full as a half-cleared cross fell to him on the edge of the area, that would more often than not trouble the back of the stand, but Charlton’s winger managing to dip the ball over Saddlers’ goalkeeper Mark Gillespie.
It sent the away end, having become increasingly agitated by their side’s performance throughout the evening, into a frenzy fuelled by disbelief, relief, and pure joy. Holmes mobbed by his teammates as he perfected a knee slide in front of the away technical area. Celebrations so aggressive that the goalscorer’s hair knot came undone.
A single moment that meant the 35-minute period of dominance that the Addicks enjoyed at the start of the contest, lost in the frustration that followed, could be celebrated for future reference. Karl Robinson’s side rediscovering the fluent attacking football that had been absent for the previous three games, and were left frustrated that they didn’t have greater reward for their efforts. Tariq Fosu finishing from Jake Forster-Caskey’s ball through with 13 minutes played, but numerous chances not taken.
A single moment that meant there was seemingly not to be punishment for a failure to take earlier chances, and the frustration over the increasing sloppiness in Charlton’s play could be forgotten. A goal gifted to Walsall four minutes before the interval, as the visiting defence allowed an unchallenged Tyler Roberts to prod home a Nicky Devlin delivery, and victory as likely to be claimed by Jon Whitney’s side as it was Robinson’s thereafter. The Addicks never regaining control of the game, with possession not kept as confidently and their attacking moves lacking the fluidity seen before, while the liveliness, and growing confidence, of the Saddlers meant they were able to provide at least as great a threat as their opponents.
But Holmes’ volley appeared to have provided the difference between a sluggish draw with the need for inquest, and remarkable victory with promising signs and an uplifting moment that reinstated belief in this group of Addicks.
And yet, Charlton supporters would still be leaving the Black Country feeling sick. The antidote lasting only a minute. A minute later, celebration was replaced with gut-wrenching silencing.
Surely, with two minutes to play, the Addicks would have had enough determination and resolve to maintain their lead. But they stood off substitute Dan Agyei, allowing him to cut inside and curl a quite stunning effort into Ben Amos’ top corner from the best part of 30 yards. As Walsall celebrated, you couldn’t help but admire an effort that matched Holmes’ for beauty and quality, but feel aggrieved Robinson’s men had not prevented it from occurring.
One injection of quality had seemingly won this game for the Addicks, patched over the wounds of previous weeks, and made this night a marvellous one. But the inability to add to a lead when on top, the conceding of a soft goal, and the failure to show resolve once gaining a late advantage meant Charlton had inflicted suffering upon themselves. Whether they warranted reprieve from the suffering or not.
And still the Addicks linger in their slump. A slump that needs to quickly find a certain cure before its symptoms become any more severe.
There also no immediate cure for Jason Pearce, who was left out of Charlton’s starting XI with a knee injury sustained during Saturday’s draw with Bury. A chance for Ezri Konsa to start in the league for the first time this season as a result, with Holmes also coming into the side, replacing Karlan Ahearne-Grant having completed his one-game suspension.
Konsa immediately looking comfortable within the back four, and Holmes, moved centrally with Billy Clarke playing wide right, attempting to dart forward with the ball at his feet in the opening moments, but the start to the contest from Robinson’s side wasn’t entirely convincing. Zeli Ismail first going close for the Saddlers, striking a half-cleared corner back towards goal and only narrowly wide, before the Addicks were left fortunate that a clean through Roberts denied himself an opportunity by tripping up over the ball. Walsall, with some confidence having beaten Oxford United at the weekend, asking questions.
But it certainly wasn’t the case that Charlton were appearing as lost, disorganised and lifeless as they did in the opening period of the weekend draw with Bury, and there were at least attempts at quick passing play that suggested this display would not be quite so sluggish as the previous three winless efforts.
Attempts, unsuccessful but with signs of encouragement, seen before one passing move ended with Forster-Caskey lifting the ball over the top and playing Fosu through. The winger, struggling as much as anyone in recent weeks, taking the ball into his stride and finishing past Gillespie in the Walsall goal with all the confidence of a man in much greater form. Somewhat out of nothing, Charlton found themselves with a 13th-minute advantage.
Out of nothing it may have been, but its importance seemed to stretch beyond simply giving the Addicks an early lead. Those that occupied the away end, celebrating seeing their side go in front for the first time in four games, had seemingly been given the same injection of confidence that those they supported had. Belief among the visiting fans, as the tiresome sluggishness of recent weeks began to leave minds, only increasing as the fluidity and threat in the passing moves of Robinson’s men increased with each one.
On another night, or in another moment without an injection of confidence provided, maybe Clarke would have simply held the ball up and subsequently passed it back towards the defence, choosing not to show adventure. Instead, the Irishman, flocked by red shirts, drove into the centre from wide and managed to get a fierce shot away. Fired low and hard, the palms of Gillespie required to turn it around the post.
But that save from Walsall’s stopper a fairly regulation one in comparison to what was to follow. In fact, the away end had already started to celebrate when an unmarked Magennis rose and headed powerfully across the face. Surely a certain goal, but Gillespie’s fingertips were able to direct the ball onto the post, and the hosts escaping with only critical cries of frustration from their supporters as further punishment.
Immediately came the concern, as has been the case on countless occasions before, that a failure to convert while on top would come back to haunt the Addicks. A failure to convert that continued, despite Charlton’s fluent attacking football and subsequent control also continuing. Ahmed Kashi with time to steady himself on the edge of the box, but lifting the ball over the bar, Holmes played through by Fosu, but the winger blasting horribly off-target from an excellent position, and Patrick Bauer’s big German frame rising above all to meet a Forster-Caskey corner, but should have done better than the tame header at goal that followed.
If not only to take advantage of the way the Addicks were playing, then the need for a second was made doubly important by the evident concern among Walsall bodies. Defending panicked, clearances rushed, and possession rarely held for long enough in order to execute meaningful attacks. The home supporters growing increasingly frustrated, and increasing their deficit would surely be crushing.
The ball moving from player to player with purpose and pace, Forster-Caskey in particular carving out attacking passes from midfield, and Holmes’ regularly carrying the ball forward with threat. It certainly not for the want of trying that a second couldn’t be found, and there no drop in intensity to Charlton’s performance. Gillespie reacting to comfortable claim a deflected Magennis effort, before a Holmes free-kick cleared the bar by only a slender margin.
So maybe Walsall’s first genuine opening since the Addicks had gone ahead would actually prove beneficial. A reminder of the quite immediate need to be more clinical, and how a one-goal lead is very unlikely to be enough irrespective of what level of control is had. Kieron Morris, a scorer in the same fixture last season, striking from distance, and Amos required to make a strong to keep out the attacking midfielder’s testing effort.
Instead, as Morris and key man Erhun Oztumer then saw efforts blocked inside Charlton’s box, it foreshadowed the fact that the one-goal advantage would not be enough.
For with four minutes to play until half-time, the Addicks switched off defensively. The ball cut back to an unchallenged Devlin, who had time to deliver towards the front post for a completely unmarked Roberts, and the West Brom loanee needing only to hang a boot out to force the ball beyond Amos. If not taking the chances created by their dominant play wasn’t self-harm, then this certainly was.
And before the half-time whistle was blown, there was still time for 5’3 Oztumer to win a header inside Charlton’s box. The visitors should have been going in at the break in complete control, both in terms of the scoreline and in the game’s overall play, but instead they went in somewhat deflated and leaving their supporters somewhat concerned. They’d left themselves needing to start again in the second period, and with greater work required than should have been needed.
A fast start, and a fast return to the fluent football, desperately required to settle nerves. Instead, Walsall made the more encouraging opening to the second period. Oztumer’s free-kick off-target by the smallest of margins with Amos well beaten, before Roberts found himself in an excellent position but couldn’t coordinate his legs smoothly enough to turn Morris’ cross towards goal.
Though if Walsall were keen on doing some self-inflicted suffering of their own, that too would have been welcomed. James Wilson’s under-hit back pass almost allowing Holmes in, but Gillespie just beating the Charlton man to the ball. The pair colliding, but the goalkeeper doing enough to prevent Holmes from forcing a way through.
It seemed, however, that a moment like that to come off in Charlton’s favour was now what was required. For the Addicks had hit a lull. Possession too regularly being gifted away, the energy in their passing and movement fading, and attacking moves fading to nothing as supporter frustration began to increase.
By contrast, Walsall had discovered some energy. Pace and intensity displayed, alongside belief from their supporters, as they continued to pick the ball up in midfield at the expense of Charlton’s continued stuttering. Edwards bombing forward, cutting inside, but firing comfortably enough over the top.
Though there was no feeling of comfort as Edwards’ free-kick found an unmarked Wilson at the back post with a little more than 20 minutes to play. A glorious chance, but the Walsall centre-back failed to get a clean connection, and could only divert the ball wide. Somehow, it was now the Addicks that were on the back foot.
A feeling not helped as the ever-lively Roberts found space to shoot, forcing Amos into another parry away, but the immediate sight of Fosu shaping to shoot in the opposition box as Charlton broke did offer some release. The ball fed to Charlton’s goalscorer, only for Wilson to make a defiant block and prevent his strike from testing Gillespie.
And as Konsa shaped to shoot with 15 minutes to play, there a few in the away end who thought they might well be on the verge of celebration. A free-kick sent into the box from deep, the Saddlers unable to deal with it properly, and the loose ball falling to Charlton’s young defender just a few yards out. But, having turned to shoot, Konsa could only succeed in firing a very decent chance comfortably over the bar.
And with that, the sense that this game was heading for a draw only grew. Frustrating for both sides, but not least the Addicks, still replaying every missed opportunity from their period of dominance in their heads. Amos doing well to fist away a Jon Guthrie header, and Magennis, showing signs of life for possibly the first time all half, bursting forward only to fire a cross-cum-shot across the face of goal with no one to receive, as confirmation of frustration drew closer.
Which isn’t to say that, as the Addicks brought the ball forward in the closing stages, there wasn’t still encouragement from the away end. Hope expressed as Chris Solly crossed, only for a Walsall head to clear. The ball falling straight to Holmes, but surely an attempted volley would end up in the car park behind the stand.
But, of course, this is Ricky Holmes. Charlton’s midfielder with match-winning qualities striking the ball superbly, timing it perfectly and just taking a little bit of the pace off the strike in order to get it to go up and down, and beating the fingertips of Gillespie. Uncontrolled release of joy in the away end, knee slides on the pitch, and in quite staggering style the Addicks had somehow managed to steal three points.
Well, steal three points assuming they could survive for the two minutes that remained. A relatively simple task. Remain firm against a side that, in response to Holmes’ goal, are going to be crushed.
But you could see it happening the moment they stood off him. The moment they allowed Agyei the space and opportunity to travel with the ball, cut inside, and curl an effort towards goal. Just one minute later, Walsall’s young Burnley loanee had struck a spectacular equaliser, punishing a Charlton defensive effort that hadn’t responded to the task at hand in quite emphatic fashion.
They stood with hands on hips as the hosts celebrated, barely believing what had just happened. The away end full of supporters in equal states of disbelief, but expressing for greater levels of anger. Not only crushing to see such an excellent moment go relatively unrewarded, but to see a lead gained so late on not held on to.
Morris struck an effort off-target in four minutes of stoppage-time, while Bauer headed a Holmes delivery into Gillespie’s clutches, but this game’s story had been told. The home supporters left to enjoy a moment of celebration. Charlton supporters, once again, left deflated.
A real punishing, sickening, crushing level of deflation. From the joys of Holmes’ quite incredible winner to the misery of an avoidable equaliser being conceded just a minute later. The celebrations of Holmes’ goal lost in the fury that followed.
The small margins of football mean that had Holmes’ goal gone untainted, it might well have set us away again. Walsall finding an equaliser so quickly, and in such circumstances, feels crushing. A worry we may find ourselves stuck in this slump further still as a consequence.
But, beyond the context of the game’s decisive two minutes, the more important aspect of Charlton’s failure to win, and with regard to future games, is their inability to make the most of their period of dominance, and the stutter that followed.
For a large part of the first-half, Robinson’s men were excellent. Pacey and fluent attacking football, to provide as great a threat as has been seen all season. But its value is only so much when you can’t find reward for it.
And its value is even less if you find ways of harming yourselves. In addition to Charlton’s failure to take chances, Walsall’s goal before half-time was an awful one to concede, while all the control the Addicks had for much of the first period was replaced by something that failed to create genuine openings and frequently gave the ball away.
It has become evident that we can’t perform to that impressive first-half level, on the occasions that we do, for the entirety of the games. That makes it even more important that we take our chances. It makes it even more frustrating that we struggle.
The answer, of course, is to take our chances. But the answer must also be to cut out errors in the other box, and to avoid the extent of the stumbling that follows thereafter. To find potency, resolve, and consistency.
At least there was an undoubted improvement on the previous three games. At least, in that first-half period, the attacking football that had been absent reappeared. At least there were some promising signs in this performance, rather than only concerns to take as has been the case of late.
But it doesn’t provide much comfort in the immediate aftermath of a rather crushing night.
Port Vale’s late equaliser from the penalty spot to deny Charlton all three points at Vale Park, a sluggish group of Addicks having no response to Ollie Banks’ early opener for Oldham Athletic at Boundary Park, and the performance against Shrewsbury Town at New Meadow that led to Karl Robinson suggesting that 40% of his squad didn’t care enough. Oh, and the pathetic defeat to Millwall at The Den. Midweek away games were rarely much fun last season.
And as Charlton prepare for their first midweek game away from The Valley during this campaign, there’s a fair amount of pressure on them to produce greater reward than many of their Tuesday ventures did last season.
For having delivered three substandard performances in as many games, there is an ever-growing sense of concern among supporters of the Addicks that quickly needs to be blunted. Optimism fading, as the impressive early-season performances are replaced by sluggish and disjointed efforts, while a lack of trust in Robinson’s men to rediscover their previous form is appearing. Something inspiring required, to reinstil belief.
Attempting to obstruct Charlton from getting their season back on track is Walsall. A side with pressures of their own, or more specifically on boss Jon Whitney, but one that come into the game on the back of a few promising results. A draw with Peterborough United and victory over Oxford United reflective of the fact the Saddlers do have the quality to win games of football.
But they’re the sort of side who would struggle to contain a group of Addicks who did rediscover the fluent play, supported by defensive determination, that got the season off to such an impressive start. Like the Gillingham and Bury games before this one, it’s winnable. Unlike the Gillingham and Bury games before this one, the true quality of Robinson’s men needs to be displayed once more.
And needs to be displayed in the sort of fixture that so often brought about heavy sighs of disappointment, and subsequently long and gloomy trips home, last season. A win on the road in midweek required.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-1 WALSALL (11/03/2017)
Tony Watt, having previously gone without a goal in Charlton colours for the best part of 19 months, scored for the second time in four days to earn the Addicks a point when Walsall visited The Valley in March.
Robinson’s men going into the game on the back of their first victory in nine, secured in stoppage-time via a Watt penalty, but the early indications were not to suggest that the 2-1 win over Scunthorpe United had completely revitalised a beleaguered outfit.
In fact, Charlton continued to look like a fragile side that lacked confidence and self-belief. They sat deep, too afraid to challenge the dominance of Erhun Oztumer in the middle, and allowed Walsall to come at them without showing any reasonable threat of their own. Joe Edwards played through down the left by Oztumer, and Simeon Jackson somehow managing to turn the resulting delivery over the bar from a glorious position.
Only good fortune preventing the Addicks falling behind for much of the half but, with a minute of it remaining, the punishment they had long deserved would finally be inflicted. Jackson, exploiting a horrendously high Charlton line, latching onto a volleyed Kieron Morris clearance, racing through on goal, and converting coolly beyond Rudd. Impressively awful.
A second-half response required, and Watt’s right foot delivered with 61 minutes played. The Scot’s first-time finish rifling beyond Neil Etheridge from a tight angle after Joe Aribo had squirmed the ball to him. Punishment for Walsall’s wastefulness more than reward for Charlton’s efforts, but it instilled energy and confidence into Robinson’s men.
So much so that, for a period, it was the men in red creating the best chances to win the game, with a Watt volley and a deflected Aribo strike requiring intervention from Etheridge.
But ultimately, the game ended in a similar fashion to how it started, with the Addicks requiring some good fortune to maintain parity. Amadou Bakayako horribly scuffing an effort wide having been played into an excellent position by Oztumer, and George Dobson just failing to get what would have been a decisive touch on Jason McCarthy’s low cross. Walsall supporters left to question quite how their side had not collected three points, while Charlton fans took rather large sighs of relief.
Having not won away from home since Boxing Day 2016, Walsall’s first victory on the road in 16 attempts will no doubt act as a massive confidence boost for Whitney’s men.
A side that have typically lacked fluency, and as the ability to take control of a game, under Whitney’s management were dominant at the Kassam Stadium. The second goal given to them by Tyler Roberts just after half-time, adding to Erhun Oztumer’s first-half conversion of Joe Edwards’ cross, a more than warranted reward for their efforts. Not even Ryan Ledson’s 78th-minute penalty, halving Walsall’s advantage, took away their control of the contest.
And it following a commendable draw with Peterborough United, in which the Saddlers led for 34 minutes following the influential Oztumer’s strike gave them the advantage.
The sort of results so desperately required after a 5-1 thrashing at Rotherham at the start of the month that placed further doubts over whether Whitney was the right man to lead Walsall forward. The club stagnating somewhat, a 14th-place finish last season failing to impress, and one victory in the final ten games of the campaign meaning there was pressure on the boss to prove himself at the start of this one. Something he hasn’t quite done.
But there no question that a draw with Peterborough and victory over Oxford are results to build upon.
It the opening 35 minutes at The Valley on Saturday that was so alarming. A group of players in red who looked completely lost, completely baffled as to what to do when the ball was at their feet, and repeating the same sloppy mistakes. They stood and watched as a Bury side, without a win in seven, not only took the lead but continued to have control of the contest.
The immediate response to Jermaine Beckford’s goal, albeit a rather impressive strike, non-existent. As has been the general response to the defeats against Wigan Athletic and Gillingham. The Addicks weak, sluggish, and lacking cohesion.
And while there was eventually a response of sorts, it was tame. Josh Magennis’ equaliser the catalyst for it, but the introduction of energy and intent was not matched by end product. Robinson’s men blunting their own attacks, making wrong decisions or running into dead ends. We did enough to win the game, suggested Robinson, and three points might have been claimed had Joe Murphy not saved from Magennis’ header in stoppage-time, but that felt like an extremely twisted take on a performance that reaffirmed plenty of cracks.
It in some contrast to the impressive efforts seen in five of the first six league games of the season, and that is what is making these incredibly sluggish and sloppy efforts most frustrating. For this side has shown there is a great deal more to it. But at present they are not showing that, and beginning to highlight concerns over a lack of ‘Plan B’, a lack of depth, and simply the general quality of the side.
Is the Charlton seen in the previous three games more akin to the one that will be seen throughout the season, or is the Charlton seen in the early weeks of the campaign just hiding, and that is what we’ll be treated to as the months follow? The performances and results in the coming weeks will provide an answer.
Walsall boss Whitney switched from three-at-the-back to four at the weekend, and might well choose to play the same side in the same shape following their impressive victory over Oxford United.
A back four of Nicky Devlin, Luke Leahy, James Wilson and Jon Guthrie provided more reliable protection to goalkeeper Mark Gillespie, greater freedom was offered to wingers Kieron Morris and Zeli Ismail, while Erhun Oztumer and Tyler Roberts ultimately made the difference.
Whitney does, however, have the luxury of a fully fit side to choose from, and may well make changes to conquer a different opponent or to deal with the three-day gap between fixtures. Shaun Donnellan, Amadou Bakayoko and Dan Agyei among those on the bench for Walsall at the weekend, while Florent Cuvelier and Simeon Jackson didn’t even make the 18.
The Saddlers squad is also likely to feature Liam Kinsella, son of former Addick Mark.
Charlton will welcome back Ricky Holmes after the influential winger missed the draw with Bury through suspension.
Holmes, who was forced to sit out against the Shakers having collected five yellow cards this season, will undoubtedly come straight back into the side, with Karlan Ahearne-Grant unlikely to retain his place in the starting XI.
But there are concerns that a squad that is already short on numbers will be missing key players at the Bescot. Billy Clarke fell awkwardly during the second-half of Saturday’s draw with Bury, and despite attempting to continue was ultimately withdrawn, while Jason Pearce was seen leaving the ground on crutches after Robinson seemingly had Naby Sarr prepared to replace him without doing so for the final 20 minutes of the game. Losing an important creative force and the side’s defensive leader would be huge blows.
In addition, Mark Marshall (knee) remains unavailable, fitness concerns mean Ben Reeves continues to be protected by Robinson, and both Lewis Page (ankle) and Harry Lennon (groin) are long-term absentees.
KEY BATTLE – OZTUMER V HOLMES
Having Ricky Holmes in your side is an escape clause. In situations where you’re struggling to put together passes, simply force the ball towards the winger, and watch him force the opposition onto the back foot. That sort of ability was so desperately missed on Saturday.
Karlan Ahearne-Grant and Tariq Fosu attempted to drive Charlton forward in the second half, but it was all pace and no bite. They ran into dead ends, delivered aimlessly, or made the wrong decisions. Holmes, in similar circumstances, more often than not glides forwards, creates openings, and forces opposition defences into retreating further and further in order to contain him.
A gradual way in which he changes matches, but so too does Holmes have the ability to provide a moment that wins a game. A quality, given the current sluggishness with which the Addicks are playing, which is welcomed back into the side equally as much. You need only watch his goal against Oldham Athletic earlier on this season, as I’m sure you’ve all done about 6,548 times on repeat already, to be reminded of that.
However, Walsall can also boast a player with the ability to change, and potentially win, a game on his own. Erhun Oztumer, despite being the only professional footballer smaller than Chris Solly, is sublime with his feet, able to dictate play from behind the front man, and capable of scoring extraordinary goals. Whitney’s side would be incredibly weak without him.
He showed his talents at The Valley last season, central to Walsall’s domination of the game, and already has five goals in all competitions this season. Two more than Holmes’ tally of three, though his influence on the Addicks, of course, goes far beyond his ability to convert.
And given Charlton’s recent sluggishness and Walsall’s indifferent quality, it might well be the impact that those two creative and match-winning talents have on the game that will prove decisive.
There can surely only be improvement on the overall performance on Saturday, but it’s difficult to feel confident of victory on the basis of the three most recent displays. Walsall 1-1 Charlton Athletic
As the referee signals for full-time, the high-pitched tones of his whistle are often accompanied by distinctive sounds expressed by those who occupy the stands.
The displaying of emotion, more through noise than poetic word, that would give a clear indication of the game’s events and subsequent outcome even to someone who had not witnessed a single moment of it. Faint cries of celebration from barely populated away ends hardly heard as the boos of home supporters take control. Or the existence of visiting supporters forgotten as they are submerged by a delirious moment of home joy.
But it was a glum and miserable near-silence, draining to the extent that it required energy to create, that helped express the overriding emotion as Charlton’s encounter with Bury reached its drawn conclusion.
A third sub-standard performance in succession from Karl Robinson’s side did not warrant the courtesy of applause. A second-half resurgence of sorts, which moved the Addicks from absolutely pathetic to a side showing intent without the end product to match, meaning the creation of a hostile and emotionally disappointed atmosphere would have been somewhat misplaced. The overall quality of the game, in which two sides so clearly short on fluency, cohesion and confidence so often blunted their own attacking moves, had claimed decibels from each Covered End chant throughout the game, and even greater reluctance to place effort into producing volume came with the forced acceptance that a sluggish display and unenthralling game had produced an uninspiring result.
The Valley simply left flat. Hugely disappointed that their side had once again failed to deliver a performance that emulated the impressive early-season efforts. Energy drained by the sometimes infuriating, sometimes tiresome, sometimes promising, sometimes frustrating, but almost always disappointing 90 minutes, and this deflated silence provided the perfect tune.
Though for the game’s first 35 minutes, it appeared unavoidable that the end emotion would be much more severe. There no response to Jermaine Beckford’s emphatic ninth-minute opener for the visitors, curled spectacularly into Ben Amos’ far top corner from the edge of the box, as Charlton’s sluggish play and inability to retain possession invited further opposition pressure. With Lee Clark’s Bury, a side that hadn’t won since the opening day of the season, dominating against a group of Addicks who could take no control of the contest, there was both embarrassment and concern.
Josh Magennis’ 39th-minute leveller, therefore, was more relief than cause for celebration. The Northern Ireland international’s header, converting from Jake Forster-Caskey’s cross, had come while Robinson’s men remained without any sort of composure, and would count for very little unless there was overall improvement. An opportunity to get out of jail.
An opportunity, however, that Charlton never truthfully did enough to make the most of. The complexation of the game changing in the second period, with Robinson’s side finding energy and having the better of the scrappy affair – leaving Clark’s men resorting to running the clock down where possible – but still their play frustrated. Invited to come forward, but decisions, executions and movement all poor.
But there was, whether warranted or not, to be a chance for the hosts to turn the succession of groans into a concluding delirious celebration deep inside stoppage-time. Chris Solly’s delivery finding Magennis’ head and the ball directed towards the top corner, only for Bury goalkeeper Joe Murphy to pull off a stunning reaction save. A bump of fists between forward and gloveman affirming the quality of the stop.
Alas, such an opportunity was not enough to prevent The Valley descending into near-silence. Not enough to divert from the reality of this display from Robinson’s men, and the disappointment shared. Not enough to suggest their performance, against a Bury side that grafted and scrapped considerably once their initial dominance faded, warranted victory.
If nothing else, it not a performance of a side with promotion ambitions. It a performance that left a group of supporters, so encouraged just a few weeks ago, deflated and with a growing sense of concern that needs to be quickly quelled. A need to start making more positives noises.
That need, in truth, already existing prior to kick-off at The Valley. The Addicks coming into the encounter on the back of disappointing defeats to Wigan Athletic and Gillingham, and a result against a Bury side without a win in seven required to reignite early-season optimism.
Though it certainly not the case that victory felt anything like a forgone conclusion. Charlton’s task to bounce back from consecutive defeats made all the more difficult by the absence of Ricky Holmes, forced to sit out the game through suspension. Karlan Ahearne-Grant called up to the starting XI in his place.
And anyone who had considered victory to be a forgone conclusion were reconsidering their stances within the game’s opening minutes. Those in red static, struggling to find the next pass, and making no impression on the game whatsoever. The difficult in moving the ball on meaning that Ahmed Kashi was caught in possession by Beckford, the forward racing through, but a well-timed recovery challenged from Jason Pearce prevented a shot on goal.
It often the case that such a moment is the catalyst for a side bursting into life, but still those in red were near motionless on The Valley’s surface, unable to offer anything in possession and inviting a Bury side without confidence to discover their long-lost stride. All far too easy for Greg Leigh down the left flank, his ball across the face of goal finding former Addick Michael Smith, and only an excellent block from Jay Dasilva preventing his resulting strike from causing more harm.
The Covered End understandably critical, but so too attempting to instil some kind of life into a side that hadn’t yet arrived. Expression of frustration followed by vocal support for Robinson’s men, and they did at least find a way in which to get forward. A bit of space for Fosu, a flighted delivery to the back post, and Forster-Caskey’s header deflected only just wide.
But if any among the home supporters were hoping this was the moment where Charlton discovered how to play Association Football, they couldn’t have been more wrong. For just a minute later, Reilly was allowed space in the centre, and able to feed an equally open Beckford with a defence-splitting pass. The experienced forward cutting inside as red shirts stood off, and unleashing a stunning curling effort that whistled into the top corner and even earnt a scattering of applause from the Covered End.
No denying it was a moment of individual quality from a striker who, when fit and functioning, still possesses great talent. But it was a moment of individual quality that took advantage of Charlton’s sluggishness and their dire start to the match. This, with nine minutes played, simply had to be what brought Robinson’s men alive.
Still, however, they appeared lost and frightened with the ball at their feet, and equally so without it. Confused and helpless looks as short passes were made inside the Charlton half, followed by quickly blunted bursts into the opposition’s territory. The fluency of the early weeks of the season not only dead, but replaced by something so poor it must have existed in an illusion.
At least there was a certain tameness, not reflective of Beckford’s strike, to Bury’s attacking play. Smith knocking down a Leigh cross into Beckford’s path, only for him to volley the ball in the general direction of the corner flag, before a brainless foul from Kashi on Chris Maguire saw the same Bury man deliver a free-kick from a glorious position that deflected off a Charlton body and over Amos’ bar. A more potent side would have been pinning the Addicks to the wall.
And so, with the deficit remaining as one, there always chance Charlton could find a way back into the contest despite appearing completely out of it on the basis of the overall play. Unlikely that a flowing move would get them back into it, but a lob up field was perfect for Ahearne-Grant to run onto. The youngster attempting to force the ball over the onrushing Murphy, but succeeding also in forcing the ball over the bar.
A tired and frustrated crowd, needing immediate salvation, groaned with displeasure, but so too was there appreciation for the effort. Appreciation too as Magennis spun on the edge of the box and struck powerfully into the hands of Murphy. The overall play still largely horrifying, but at least now the Addicks were finding ways to get into the opposition half and conclude their attacks.
But very, very slight signs of encouragement were going to count very little if Charlton were to remain inviting defensively. In not too dissimilar fashion to Beckford’s goal, Maguire cut inside from the right as red shirts stood off him, and only a strong palm from Amos kept out the former Oxford winger’s effort. Applause for the goalkeeper’s save masked further frustration.
For as equally as the deficit gave the Addicks every chance of getting back into the game despite their efforts, a second goal would surely crush them. So to draw level, somewhat unreflective of their performance, with six minutes to play before half-time appeared huge. Magennis meeting Forster-Caskey’s delivery in typically emphatic fashion, and the ball nodded back across the face of goal to draw the sides level.
Now this, this, had to be the moment that inspired the Addicks to perform. Ahearne-Grant, seeing an effort deflect narrowly wide, and Ahmed Kashi, striking over the top from a half-cleared corner, attempting to instil further confidence that that would be the case as the half-time whistle approached. Most, however, just feeling extremely fortunate that this first-half performance, dire for the most part, had concluded with the Addicks level.
Nonetheless, there immense pressure on Robinson’s men to remerge after the break having utilised the effects of their leveller and begin to take control of the affair. No longer could they be chasing the game. They had to rediscover their qualities.
Skewed long-range efforts from Fosu and Forster-Caskey weren’t really what was meant to be on the agenda, but there were some signs to be encouraged by. Energy, intensity, a greater desire to move the ball forward instead of pausing with confusion inside one’s own half. There was, if nothing else, greater attacking intent.
But it soon became apparent that that intent didn’t have the end product to match. Charlton’s decision making, delivering and quality in the final third was doing Bury’s defending for them, with Fosu and Ahearne-Grant struggling. The relative short period of encourage signs replaced by further frustration.
Telling, as such, that it was a Bury side who were now sitting deep, taking time out of the game, and seemingly uncomfortable with the pace and energy at which the Addicks were getting forward with that created the first opening of the half that tested either goalkeeper. Substitute Neil Danns’ strike from the edge of the box needing Amos’ fingertips to prevent it from creeping underneath his crossbar.
But Bury were uncomfortable, were on the backfoot, and would need to remain defensively sound to avoid gifting Charlton openings. Something they didn’t do as Murphy’s pass out from the back found Magennis, but the Northern Ireland international’s attempt to find a man of his own was equally poor, as the ball ran away from Fosu. Another moment of frustration, but underneath the realisation that this was side to be exploited.
And exploited they almost were. Forster-Caskey’s free-kick picking out the formidable head of Patrick Bauer, but the German knocking an excellent off-target, before a deflected Billy Clarke effort wrong-footed Murphy and the goalkeeper was required to tip the ball over his bar. Charlton still struggling to show any sort of composure, control or reliable threat in the attacking third, but at least there were now chances to be had against a nervy Shakers side.
Though it apparent that, in a game where the Addicks still had little fluency, any chance that was created had to be taken. So it understandable that frustration continued to override any other emotion when the hosts faltered in front of goal. Dasilva delivering, an open Forster-Caskey heading towards goal, but his effort from a glorious position comfortable for Murphy.
Ultimately comfortable, too, was Fosu’s free-kick that the goalkeeper took into his chest on the bounce. But it a clever idea from the younger winger. The ball swerving and bouncing just before him, and might well have needed to have been parried into a body of players by a less confident goalkeeper.
But time was fading for near-misses, half-chances and clever ideas to be taken with appreciation. As stoppage-time approached, at no point had the Addicks shown the sort of control, composure or attacking quality that would have made them dominant and given them a clear gripe should they not have found the winner in the game’s closing stages. They found small improvements, they found ways to take advantage as Bury sat deep and kept more than half an eye on the block, but did not look fluent or threatening.
Which isn’t to suggest, however, that mass celebration would not have spread around The Valley had the Addicks found a winner inside the three minutes of stoppage-time awarded. A winner they so nearly did. Murphy’s reaction save to prevent Magennis’ header, turning Dasilva’s cross towards goal, from giving the hosts a late winner was as stunning as Beckford’s goal.
A softener, knowing that a chance had been created good enough to win the game in the dying minutes? The Valley’s misery, portrayed in the crowd’s near-silence and deflated moods among supporters and players suggested not.
A performance that was not good enough to avoid criticism, not good enough for a side wanting to be promoted, most definitely suggesting not.
In fact, displeasure and concern as a consequence of the overall performance would not have been displaced by a winning goal. A winning goal that would have provided a victory so desperately required, but would have papered over the cracks somewhat.
The cracks that have appeared over the course of the previous three games. Three games being quite a short span of playing time, but these cracks rather large. The performances of the season’s opening weeks appear to have fallen down them, and getting them back is proving tricky.
For it really is difficult to understand where the defensive determination and attacking fluidity shown at least in periods during five of the seasons’ opening six games has vanished to. It’s not just a case of a slight step backwards after an excellent start. It’s a quite concerning series of performances.
The near confusion when in possession during the first half allowed Bury, a side with little confidence at all, to take control of the contest. I thought that Robinson had done enough over the summer to make his style of football work among this squad, and it was imbedded in them. But they all just looked lost.
And while the equaliser, with Magennis’ threat proving as vital as ever, a catalyst for second-half improvement, it was more in mentality than quality. Energy and intent discovered, but wasted attacking moves became incredibly tiresome to watch.
Of course, there is the argument to be had that the absence of Ricky Holmes made a huge difference in Charlton’s capabilities going forward. And with Ahearne-Grant struggling to make any sort of impression, there’s no doubt that that was the case. But to suggest a side with promotion ambitions is reliant on a single player to perform with any sort of fluency against opposition without a win in seven is concerning.
So too can you point towards the lack of options in reserve available to Robinson, not least with Mark Marshall and Ben Reeves still injured/unfit. Probably best summed up by young striker Ahearne-Grant being replaced by young striker Joe Dodoo, with both playing out wide and both not providing any real threat. Huge sympathy for the manager in such a situation, less so towards those above him.
Ultimately, the previous three games have provided genuine concern. Concern as great as the encouragement before it. The point today not a great deal better than the previous two defeats, on the basis of performance.
No doubt, as seen within those opening six games of the season, there’s quality within this side, but it desperately needs to be displayed again soon. A revitalising performance and result required. For that was deflating.
(Apologies once again for the lack of photos. I’ve used a camera during games at The Valley for three seasons now, have simply been left to myself, and never had a single comment from steward or fellow supporter. But I was abruptly told today by a steward that I couldn’t use it during the game. It appears the steward was a new one, and hadn’t been specifically informed to get me to stop using my camera. Probably just wanted to do something that felt right. I’ve got the impression it’s something that will be resolved. Two games where my camera required fixing, and now this with it perfectly functioning. Going well.)
For the second weekend in succession, Charlton Athletic will face a side whose start to the League One season has been desperately poor. Who occupy a place inside the relegation zone, and require considerable improvement in order to prevent their season revolving around their proximity to the division’s bottom four. Who appear shot of confidence and strategy.
Bury, like Gillingham before them, seemingly the ideal opponent to face when looking to bounce back from a disappointing defeat and a dire performance. But such a notion has been somewhat rubbished by the failure of Karl Robinson’s side to deliver a fluent effort at Priestfield on Saturday in response to the crushing defeat inflicted by Wigan Athletic. Instead there’s a touch of worry about the encounter at The Valley.
It surely self-defeating to approach such a game with a sense of nervousness or discomfort. The result of which only allowing a fragile opposition the opportunity to impose themselves in the game, when an early goal might well crush them. The Addicks, and their ever-confident boss, will no doubt boast belief going into the contest.
And it belief that they can, of course, justify. Their performances in five of the season’s first six games were a marvellous mix of fluent attacking efforts and determined defensive battle. Individual quality, collective shape, and moments of brilliance fulfilling the potential that this side seemingly had.
But as questions have been asked of this side, they haven’t been able to provide the answers. No response to strong opposition, no ‘Plan B’ when required, and no alternative when it apparent that tired bodies can give no more. The first signs of frailties have provided great cause for concern.
And so there a strong need for Robinson’s men to deliver a reminder of their qualities when Bury arrive in SE7 this Saturday. To replicate their early season form, with a performance that mixes determined defensive efforts and fluent attacking moves. To settle any growing discomfort that may exist among Charlton supporters, who have seen promising collapses several times before.
The Valley crowd needing to see that the previous two performances were merely blips, and those in red delivering a performance confidence.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0-1 BURY (25/02/2017)
Charlton sunk to a new Lowe as Ryan’s first-half goal was enough to give Lee Clark’s side victory at The Valley over a sluggish group of Addicks in February.
They only had themselves to blame as they fell behind with 21 minutes played. The backline given several opportunities to clear as Jacob Mellis attempted to deliver for Lowe in the centre, but on each occasion gifted the ball straight back to him. Lowe unmarked as he collected Mellis’ successful pull back, and finishing emphatically.
The response that followed hardly that of a team who knew losing to a side struggling to maintain their third-tier status wasn’t good enough, and were desperate to put things right. But as half-time approached, the Addicks were highly unfortunate not to draw level. Lee Novak, playing against the man who led him at Huddersfield Town and Birmingham City, connected with Jake Forster-Caskey’s cross but saw his header cannon back off the crossbar.
In fact, the much-criticised Novak, and his equally criticised head, seemed like offering Charlton’s best chance of getting back into the contest. A second-half delivery from Ricky Holmes met by the forward at the near post, but Bury goalkeeper Joe Murphy doing well to block the nod towards goal.
But those headed openings were not reflective of a side growing back into the game, nor of one taking control. The Addicks remaining sluggish and sloppy, while Bury remained defiant and determined enough to have their lead protected in relatively comfortable fashion. The quick feet of Stephy Mavididi began to become more influential, but the Shakers’ backline remained unmoved.
And confirmation of Charlton’s defeat probably came with another 15 minutes still to play. Holmes picking out an unmarked Novak at the far post, but the forward heading horribly wide. The typically sluggish and wasteful effort that made up so much of last season.
Beckford, Dawson, O’Connell, Ajose, Thompson, Aldred, Skarz, Murphy, O’Shea, Maguire, Bunn, Ince. And, in fact, several more. Few League One sides had a list of summer additions to match the impressive one belonging to Bury.
Enough to make many suggest that the Shakers were dark horses for a play-off position. There enough talent within their squad to challenge and, in the shape of Lee Clark, had an experienced leader who could successfully oversee the gelling of the bodies together. If nothing else, they wouldn’t be spending a season looking over their shoulders, and ultimately finishing one point above the bottom four, as was the case last time around.
Alas, eight league games into a campaign that seemingly promised so much, and Bury supporters are starting to express concern. An opening day victory over Walsall has been followed by seven league games without a win, five of those ending in defeat, and a place in League One’s relegation zone is currently being occupied. Faith in Clark, as performances continue to fail to reflect the pre-season optimism, fading at some rate.
The Shakers were, at least, able to produce an improved display that should have resulted in victory over Plymouth Argyle last weekend. Against another side who occupy a spot in the bottom four, Clark’s men were dominant, going close on several occasions, including hitting the post three times. A run of three consecutive defeats brought to an end, but greater signs of encouragement are certainly required.
And greater additions to their collection of points.
The mind of a Charlton supporter is fragile. And with good reason. It replays the past misdemeanours and failings of Roland Duchatelet’s regime, and fears constantly when the next one will come.
But even the supporter of a football club that has the luxury of being composed, owning an untainted and clear mind, would respond to the events of the previous week and a half with a degree of justified concern.
The crushing defeat inflicted by Wigan at The Valley was deflating, but there appeared enough reason to write it off as an extraordinary event. In combination with the loss at Gillingham, the pair of poor results provided genuine worries. The optimism provided by the impressive beginning to the campaign somewhat dented.
For the Addicks were outclassed by Wigan, unable to respond to their pressing place, and constantly exposed on the counter. Against the Gills, they were tepid and tame going forward, and too easily allowed a side short on confidence into the contest. A common theme in both defeats was that Robinson was unable to provide an alternative plan, while alternative options for his tired and sluggishly performing players were limited.
It brings about the worry of a collapse. The opening partnership’s century stand becomes devalued if the middle-order can’t add to it significantly. Resistance and recovery required.
And there a need to defeat the concerns that exist over this perceived lack of ‘Plan B’, and a lack of alternatives when it comes to individuals. Concerns that simmered while the Addicks were winnings games, but have now reached boiling point given that they are part of the reason why consecutive defeats have been suffered.
So too, however, has this Charlton side shown its undoubted qualities within the first eight games of this league season. Qualities shown both defensively and going forward, that were not displayed in flukish fashion and can be repeated.
But it does, for the fragile minds of Charlton supporters, need to prove those qualities once more.
Bury will be without Charlton loanee Nicky Ajose, with the forward unavailable to play against his parent club.
But Ajose’s absence is unlikely to hit the Shakers hard, with Clark leaving him out of his matchday squad for four consecutive games. Just one goal in four league appearances for the 25-year-old, but with no reported injury, his total absence is somewhat mysterious.
The likelihood is, however, that Bury will have another former Addick up top, with Michael Smith starting the previous two. Smith, who scored against Charlton while on loan at Northampton Town last season, joined the Shakers in the final hours of the transfer window and will be hoping to reform an embryonic partnership with Jermaine Beckford at The Valley. Beckford a scorer of four goals this season, but missed out on the goalless draw with Plymouth having picked up a slight knock to his knee.
Though injuries is one of the reasons that Clark has used a quite staggering 28 players in Bury’s eight league fixtures so far this season. Defenders Craig Jones (groin) and Eoghan O’Connell (knee), midfielder Stephen Dawson (knee), and wingers Danny Mayor (hip) and Jay O’Shea (knee) are all likely to remain unavailable for the weekend trip to SE7.
Charlton will have to manage without their most persistent and potent threat, as Ricky Holmes serves a one-match suspension for collecting his fifth yellow card of the season during last weekend’s defeat at Gillingham.
A loss made more harmful by the lack of genuine wide options in reserve. With Mark Marshall unexpected to return until late October, and Ben Reeves’ fragile fitness meaning he continues to be protected, the likelihood is that a natural forward will occupy the flank Holmes leaves vacant. Karlan Ahearne-Grant has done well enough when deployed as a winger this season, and is arguably the favourite to come in.
But further changes, despite recent performances, appear unlikely. Robinson seemingly with faith both in his system of choice, and those who have made it up for the most part this season. That, and not having a great deal to choose from in reserve.
Elsewhere, Lewis Page (ankle) and Harry Lennon (groin) join Marshall, Reeves and Holmes in being unavailable.
KEY BATTLE – CREATING AN ATTACKING THREAT WITHOUT HOLMES
Irrespective of how sluggish, disjointed, and tame the Addicks were for the majority of Saturday’s defeat at Priestfield, there were still roars of encouragement from the away end whenever Ricky Holmes burst down the flanks with intent. Still genuine hope while Charlton’s key man remained on the pitch.
For Holmes, irrespective of the situation, has the ability to change a game on his own. Whether that be from a spectacular run forward that leaves opposition defenders for dead, or an incredible goal out of nothing, the Addicks have so often turned to the winger to salvage something from uncomfortable situations.
And in more positive situations, Holmes drives Charlton forward. When Robinson’s men have been at their fluent best this season, their dangerous attacking play has largely gone through the 30-year-old. Quick, creative, and potent.
Alas, the Addicks will have to cope without the suspended Holmes this weekend at a time when his absence will be particularly felt. After two sluggish performances as a collective, the individual brilliance of the winger is desperately required. Relying on him might excuse others, but his ability to make an impression going forward so often lifts the entire side.
His loss made a touch more concerning by the struggle that Tariq Fosu has had in previous games, with the winger’s early impact fading somewhat. An inexperienced and out of position Ahearne-Grant on one flank, with a slightly out of form Fosu on the other, hardly ideal. A need for one, if not both, of them to step up.
The loss of Holmes’ drive also allows Bury to be more forward thinking, and not simply come to The Valley to defend irrespective of their recent form. If Charlton’s attacking threat is perceived to be less threatening, or shown to be as the match progresses, they may well commit more men forward and ultimately stamp their own mark on the game.
No doubt there still attacking quality in this side. Fosu displayed plenty in the early weeks of the season, Billy Clarke has made an impression, and Josh Magennis’ presence is always a threat. But Holmes’ absence, combined with the sluggish nature of the previous two performances, give you a concern that Bury may capitalise.
I fear another sluggish effort, particularly without Ricky Holmes’ influence. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Bury