In a city with highly respected education institutions, Charlton Athletic showed they’re still struggling to learn from previous experience. Plenty of practice papers surely taken, but finding the answers in the real thing continues to prove tricky. Hard work not being rewarded as it should be.
For a critical fault that has proved frustrating on numerous occasions throughout this campaign was displayed once again at Oxford United’s Kassam Stadium. A fault that taints the overall quality of this collective. A point away at a side sharing a spot inside the top six to be applauded and appreciated, but it might have been so much more had the Addicks shown potency in the opposition’s box.
Excellent chances not taken either side of Karl Robinson’s men gaining a 18th-minute advantage at the Kassam. Tariq Fosu pouncing as Simon Eastwood hesitated on coming towards a loose ball after Curtis Nelson lost possession, the winger rounding the stranded goalkeeper, and scoring his sixth goal in four games. Wasted chances of little interest to any Addick as Fosu’s name was sung by delight away supporters.
In fact, such wasted chances seemed to have little negative value in those moments, only providing further encouragement. For the Addicks were playing with such quality, and held such a control of the game, that those chances, as they did a first, surely foreshadowed a second goal. A confidence aided by Oxford’s rather panicked defending, and misplaced passes that quickly blunted attacks and increased quite vocal frustration within the home sections of the ground.
But the importance of the inability to take those chances would become clear with 35 minutes played. The U’s providing no real test to Ben Amos in the Charlton goal up until that point, and Chris Solly had had few more challenging things to do than superbly head away a James Henry delivery. Unfortunately, that cleared cross fell straight to Christian Ribeiro, whose accurate left-foot volley found the far bottom corner of Amos’ goal.
The game might have been out of sight had Robinson’ side made their dominance count for what it was worth. Instead, Clotet’s men were invited back into the contest, themselves now racking up chances, and made Charlton thankful to hear the half-time whistle. A situation that wasn’t occurring for the first time this season.
And while both teams, with the Addicks taking some deep breaths during the interval and composing themselves once again, contributed to an excellent game of football in the second period, with the pair obviously intent on winning the game, it was the visitors who had more right to be ultimately frustrated. Oxford threatening, and just as likely to gain the advantage each time they attacked, but Charlton’s threat a more persistent one. One they should have made more of.
In fact, with a minute to play, the Addicks failed to take arguably the best chance either side had to win the game. Substitute Karlan Ahearne-Grant found in a glorious position, but his first-time effort curling comfortably wide. Inexcusable not to have at least tested Eastwood in the Oxford goal; arguably inexcusable not to have scored.
The game subsequently concluding with a sour taste of frustration formed from the failure to make the most of the chances created, not least during the first-half period of dominance that meant the U’s were able to get back into the game. But so too was there reason to be pleased with the overall performance and the gaining of a point against a strong side. There also a niggling voice that suggested, given the threat Oxford posed, that there should be some relief felt in coming away from the Kassam without further suffering having been inflicted.
It’s probably easier to understand most Oxford University degrees than it is this Charlton side, at times.
Something usually fairly straight forward is Robinson’s team selection, with changes rarely made unless injury or suspension enforces them. But Charlton’s boss made two alterations to his starting XI for the trip to the Kassam by choice. Ezri Konsa and Billy Clarke dropping to the bench, with Naby Sarr and Ben Reeves, making his first league start for the club, coming in.
And one of those fresh faces came desperately close to opening the scoring for the Addicks with just five minutes played. A sublime set-piece delivery from Ricky Holmes beating all inside the Oxford box, and placed perfectly onto Sarr’s head, but the Frenchman could only head a glorious opening wide. A positive start for the visitors, that raised the volume coming from an already vocal away end, but they really should have been celebrating an early goal.
Attempts made by the hosts to immediately silence the visiting supporters, and the momentum their team was trying to build, but in rather tame fashion. Alex Mowatt, the match-winner in Oxford’s victory over Bristol Rovers at the weekend, striking a free-kick straight into the wall, while to call Ryan Ledson’s scuffed effort unthreatening would be flattering. Defensive resilience, and a sensible composure while in possession of the ball away from the opposition’s final third, increasing the control that the Addicks were steadily building.
Control that wasn’t translating into a lead, but it really should have been. Josh Magennis, in typically powerhouse fashion, bursting down the right, breaking into the box, and cutting back perfectly for a relatively unmarked Holmes in the centre. Premature celebration in the away end as ball neared Charlton’s talismanic winger, but Holmes somehow allowed it to creep away from him, when connection would have surely put the visitors in front.
A danger that this sort of wastefulness could frustrate. Frustrate players, supporters, and Robinson, who was watching from the touchline with an uncharacteristic level of calmness. Frustration certainly as Fosu broke forward to the sound of expectation, only to shoot horribly wide from distance with better options available to him.
But frustration certainly wasn’t the feeling among the visiting supporters, mightily impressed with the way the Addicks were passing the ball around with intent, before driving forward threateningly once an attacking player had been found. Oxford struggling to settle, even to leave their half in any sort of composed manner, and Charlton well on top. Fosu leaving Ribeiro for dead, and not for the first time, before shooting across the face of goal.
The goal coming. Surely coming. And with 18 minutes played, any slight sense of frustration was emphatically swapped for pure joy.
A catastrophe for Oxford, but equally reward for the Addicks and more specifically for the energy, intensity, and pressing of Fosu. Nelson pressured by the Charlton winger, the U’s skipper forced into forcing a ball back to Eastwood, but it one his goalkeeper wouldn’t have any chance of winning if he wasn’t fully committed. He wasn’t, allowing Fosu to steal in and round him, drive into the box as desperate Oxford defenders gave chase, before finding the bottom corner of an empty goal.
Unquestionably deserved. For Charlton and for Fosu. And the away end, having enjoyed the performance thus far, were certainly enjoying having to celebrate.
The U’s tried to respond, but it really only increased the confidence of the visitors. Henry shooting harmlessly wide, to a chorus of mocking cheers almost as loud as the cheers of celebration were for the goal two minutes previously. The hosts rattled.
Rattled to the extent that they might well have quickly found themselves two goals behind, and their backline would have taken much of the blame. All in yellow seemingly assuming that Fosu’s delivery was heading out of play, but Holmes had stretched to reach it at the far post, and his volley only narrowly missed the target with goalkeeper Eastwood equally unprepared. Something of a hostile atmosphere growing inside the Kassam.
An atmosphere that only grew as the Addicks maintained their control. A certain expectation that the hosts would struggle each time Fosu and Holmes broke forward. A certain expectation that the hosts would struggle each time they broke forward.
So there no question that Oxford’s 35th-minute equaliser came against the run of play. So too did it come out of nothing. But it was another reminder that the Addicks needed to make more of these periods they had on top.
Experienced winger Henry getting a bit of space on the right, before delivering a testing ball that Solly did well to head away. Alas, the ball landing straight at the feet of Ribeiro, and his volley finding the bottom corner, with Amos stranded. Suddenly, the emotions the two sets of supporters had been feeling had been swapped.
As had the overall pattern of play. Within a minute of equalising, Josh Ruffels found space on the edge of area to curl a sublime effort narrowly wide of Amos’ far post. Justified confidence among the visiting supporters replaced by a fear of collapse.
A fear that only increased as the U’s continued to create, and continued to look like a completely different side. Sarr largely composed throughout, but had occasionally threatened to get himself into trouble before being rescued, and on this occasion found himself caught out as Jack Payne sent Wes Thomas though on goal. The forward, thankfully, not taking the best of touches, and firing wide of one post, as Sarr kicked the other in frustration.
Some reprieve from the carnage offered with a minute of the half remaining as Magennis did well to tee up the rather quiet Reeves, but the time required to take a touch with his chest meant what appeared a clear opening became one that was easily charged down by a number of yellow shirts.
But half-time was desperately required, to give the Addicks a chance to settle and to half Oxford’s momentum. In fact, the visitors were incredibly fortunate not to have been going in at the break behind. Ricardinho – because every League One club needs a full back called Ricardinho – striking towards the bottom corner, with a superb Amos save preventing what appeared a goal-bound effort from putting the hosts ahead.
In the space of ten minutes, Charlton had gone from being in complete control to rather fortunate not to have fallen behind. It not particularly pretty. The U’s remembering how to play football, and the Addicks stuck in their shells.
The first 35 minutes of that first half, however, had been so impressive that a chance to settle during the interval would surely result in such performance levels returning. But, if only to calm the discomfort the final period of the opening 45 produced, a strong start was required after the break. Patrick Bauer getting himself in a bit of a mess and ultimately allowing Payne to shoot, well wide of Amos’ goal, not quite what was in mind.
More promising, and in fact the catalyst for Charlton finding their feet again, was Ricky Holmes doing something a bit ridiculous and it almost coming off. A cleared cross looping up to Holmes on the edge of the area, and the winger setting himself for the sort of volley that would find the Kassam Stadium’s car park 99 times out of 100. His effort struck superbly, with near-perfect timing and real venom, but not quite dipping enough to sneak underneath the crossbar.
Energy and intensity, with very obvious attacking intent, returning to the visitors’ play. Not quite at first-half levels, but they certainly now looked comfortable, and they’d certainly regained a threat. Magennis breaking forward, cutting back to Holmes, only for a yellow shirt to throw himself in front of his goal-bound strike.
Though Oxford provided a near-immediate reminder that they would not be rattled on this occasion, and would continue to search for victory as they had been doing. Henry delivering to Thomas just inside Charlton’s area, and the forward using all his neck muscles to test Amos. The visiting goalkeeper needing to tip the effort over the bar.
But it a rare opening for either side’s centre forward, with both defences doing an excellent job of keeping things relatively tight in the centre, and aiding this high-quality affair. Plenty of threat out wide, and a great deal of it unstoppable, but an answer waiting in the middle. Charlton’s promising moves so often blunted as a visibly exhausted Magennis became marked out of the game, with no real option in reserve.
To the Northern Ireland international’s credit, however, he kept going. Eastwood with body behind the ball as he shot from the edge of the area, before Magennis nodded just wide from Dasilva’s excellent left-wing cross. Twenty minutes to play, with neither side abandoning hope of victory.
And there a growing sense that Charlton had slowly become the side most likely to win the game, largely because of the effect the pace in their side was having in this period of the contest. Holmes breaking forward, and maybe should have shot, but ultimately teeing up Fosu to curl a good opening wide. Oxford flat-footed in their efforts to deal with the break.
The Addicks also having the advantage of the recently introduced Clarke’s fresh legs, playing out wide with Holmes moved into the centre. The Irishman beating Ricardinho, cutting inside, and unleashing a swerving effort that forced Eastwood into a very uncomfortable save. The volume and confidence increasing again in the away end.
Said volume just brought down a level as former Addick Jon Obika, an infamous scorer of late goals, was introduced from Oxford’s bench. Involved immediately, teeing up Henry to fire harmlessly wide, before testing Amos with a shot of his own.
Robinson, with full-time moments away, responding by making a substitution of his own. Fosu receiving a standing ovation as he was replaced by Ahearne-Grant. Some disappointment Charlton’s goal scorer didn’t have another few minutes in his legs, but at least the academy graduate would provide pace from the bench.
Pace, but not finishing. For barely more than a minute after coming on, Ahearne-Grant wasted a glorious opportunity to win the game for the Addicks.
Holmes, having driven forward, might have shot for himself, but saw the youngster in space inside the box. Then subsequently saw the ball float harmlessly off-target, and several red shirts drop to the floor in disbelief. Ahearne-Grant curling wide from an inviting position; he simply had to score.
Charlton’s final chance to win the game, but not the game’s final chance. For in the final minute of two added on, Ricardinho struck a fierce first-time effort from the edge of Charlton’s area that climbed just over Amos’ bar. The Brazilian with chances to give his side the advantage at the end of each half.
Ultimately, however, the full-time whistle blew with neither side having the advantage. Totally meaningful appreciation for those in red as they approached the away end following their largely excellent efforts, but hardly a mood of celebration among the visiting supporters. A positive point and overall performance, but the sense of frustration hard to shake.
First of all, what a bloody great game of association football. Two strong teams, with attack-minded players who display real quality on the ball, both going for the win for the duration of the contest when either might have justifiably settled for the point at some stage. Two big chances created late on as a result of the same intent that had been shown throughout the game, not just half-hearted hopefulness.
And in a game where both sides will feel they did enough to win, will look back and see moments in which they might have lost, and will believe they both played well in a competitive contest, a point for each probably stands as fair. A fantastic battle once Oxford found their equaliser.
But the frustration for Charlton comes from the fact that Oxford were able to find their equaliser. It another moment in a game where they had complete control, and subsequently allowed the opposition back in. Sometimes, such as on Saturday against Doncaster, it happens without the other team punishing, sometimes, such as tonight, it happens and completely changes the overall pattern and nature of the game.
That inability to make such a level of control count for what it’s worth is becoming incredibly frustrating. The inability to take chances is becoming incredibly frustrating. Excellent overall performances aren’t being rewarded as they should be, and it’s ultimately going to prove costlier if it’s not addressed.
Equally concerning is the way we respond once a team finds their way back into a game after it seemed like we had total control. Oxford could have easily found the lead before half-time, and the pattern of the game had been completely reversed. While a team scoring will, of course, resulting in them gaining confidence, it quite bizarre how quickly we seem to fade.
At least there was a very positive response in the second period, only let down by the inability to convert an opening. A wasted opportunity to gain a greater advantage in the first period, and wasted opportunities to regain an advantage in the second. Perfectly reasonable, I would suggest, to be pleased with the point and overall performance, but frustrated that a familiar story has hindered us somewhat.
For the competitiveness in the second half, combined with Oxford’s position in the league, makes that point a good one. And there no doubt the overall performance, removing the inability to convert, was promising. Excellent individual efforts in a collective display that had both structure and composure, and energy and attacking intent.
This wasn’t the Sarr of Fleetwood, too often flirting with getting himself into trouble, but he and Bauer largely dealt with the considerable threat at hand well, while Solly and Dasilva were excellent. Ahmed Kashi and Jake Forster-Caskey did the simple things well, though it was a shame that Reeves was fairly anonymous, in complete contrast to the always involved and absolutely outstanding duo of Holmes and Fosu. Oh, and as if we didn’t know already, we probably need a striker, as Magennis was hard-working for much of the first half, before looking absolutely shattered for much of the second.
It’s just, with something a bit more in front of goal, that performance might have resulted in greater reward.