A time for giving, particularly towards those who struggle on their own. A time for inviting people to your residence, and hoping you’ll be able to put up with them despite not having a concreate plan. A time for ending a celebratory atmosphere by being hit by a surge of lethargy, and struggling to remain awake.
With time remaining in Charlton Athletic’s final game before Christmas, the Addicks embraced the spirit of the season. An 89th-minute equaliser gifted to a poor Blackpool side, having sat on a lead for much of the second period and invited the Tangerines into their half, and ultimately losing concentration having at least kept themselves alert to the limited threat the opposition offered for much of the contest. A free-kick not dealt with, the robust Armand Gnanduillet able to head towards goal, and Clark Robertson getting a touch to make sure the ball crossed the line as Karl Robinson’s men stood motionless.
The hosts stricken by injuries, and an argument that the award of the free-kick which led to the visitors’ goal was a soft one, but they only had themselves to blame. There no real excuse. A side who looked in relative control threw away two points through their own errors of strategy and performance.
It an ending to the game in some contrast to a stylish Charlton start. Joe Aribo giving the Addicks an advantage after 15 minutes with a wonderful individual goal. Quick feet and close control allowing him to weave through several Blackpool bodies as he burst into the box, before keeping his balance and composure to finish well beyond the dive of Ben Williams.
But Charlton’s self-inflicted punishment began in a first-half period of control, aided by the return of structure, cohesion, and effective attacking movement. Williams denying Leon Best after the forward dived to head an excellent Jay Dasilva delivery towards goal, before Josh Magennis pull-back was rolled wide from an excellent position by the same man. The story again one of a failure to take chances and, despite the Tangerines struggling to make any impression on the game, an invitation for the visitors to get back into a game they should have been out of always there while their deficit was only one.
An invitation formally produced in the second period. Robinson’s side abandoning their improved attacking efforts, and simultaneously their control, to drop deeper and allow Gary Bowyer’s men to consistently ask questions of Charlton’s backline. Rarely did the Addicks threaten to finish the game off, while Blackpool, though still struggling if not aiming for Gnanduillet from a set-piece, were allowed to ask questions of the home backline.
At least the towering Naby Sarr was able to win the majority of the deliveries sent into Charlton’s box. But the occasional scramble and moment of panic reaffirming that this game was far from won. The backline rejecting Blackpool’s list of ambitious Christmas requests, before ultimately caving in to Gnanduillet and Robertson’s suggestion in the final moments.
Little suggestion that the Addicks were unfortunate, or that their early dominance took dominance over what followed. Boos at full-time, reflecting the unacceptable nature of the second-half effort, and several crushed bodies on the pitch who knew they’d thrown away the additional two points they should have had. One win from six league games, containing several poor performances, and an automatic promotion push continuing to fade alongside the fear of the play-off position being lost.
The distraction of Christmas Day most definitely needed for frustrated Addicks. Hopefully they’ll be receiving, as well as giving. Or at least not inflicting disappointment on themselves when celebration should be enjoyed.
In truth, there a pre-match fear that unwrapping this contest wouldn’t be pleasant, for it would be done without the company of many of those the Addicks mostly deeply treasure.
Jason Pearce, Patrick Bauer Ahmed Kashi, Jake Forster-Caskey, Ricky Holmes, Tariqe Fosu and Billy Clarke all confirmed as being absent in the lead up to the game, with a further blow revealed before kick-off. Chris Solly joining the long list of injured bodies, and youngster Anfernee Djiksteel forced to start in what seemed a very flimsy side. The entire regular midfield five, or at least the one that played consistently at the start of the season unavailable probably the most striking element; Johnnie Jackson, Aribo, Mark Marshall, Ben Reeves and Josh Magennis played where Kashi (surprisingly named among the substitutes), Forster-Caskey, Holmes, Clarke and Fosu didn’t.
A headache for Robinson and the Addicks, and a headache for Leon Best – coming into the side to lead the line – just four minutes into the contest. A clash of heads between the recent signing and Gnanduillet leaving him in a heap on The Valley’s turf. Seemingly in a state where it appeared he wouldn’t be able to continue, there relief the Addicks wouldn’t be left a further man down as Best gathered himself after a considerable amount of time on the deck.
Soothing relief, however, offered in the composed and competent style Charlton had started the game in. Far from a roaring siege on the Blackpool goal, with a tame Reeves poke the best they could manage in the opening moments, but a return to basics on show. A deeper-sitting Jackson certainly helping, as was a quicker tempo with which the ball was being moved.
Though a reminder of the self-inflicted suffering Robinson’s side have delivered in recent weeks was pictured with 14 minutes played. Gnanduillet already proving himself a nuisance from Blackpool’s long balls forward, and his presence in the box forced Ezri Konsa to head towards his own goal. His intervention originally catching Amos off-guard, but the goalkeeper responding to push the ball away in commendable fashion and prevent a third own goal in as many weeks.
Such a moment, not only conceding but doing so again via a player in Charlton colours, would been crippling to a side already lacking in confidence. Their state meaning gaining the advantage in this contest crucial, to prevent further crisis as much as to gain self-belief. But Aribo certainly did enough to inject a bit of self-belief into this group of Addicks with 15 minutes played.
It a display of the sort of quality that, when performing to their maximum, exists in this side. A true display of the quality of Aribo, only seen in glimpses from the youngster particularly in attacking positions. Ultimately, it was the moment this out of form side desperately needed.
A cohort of Blackpool defenders embarrassed as the youngster danced around them in rhythmic fashion, with a roar of expectation increasing with each touch that deceived the man ahead of him. The largest roar appearing as, having waltzed past the Tangerines, a clear view of Williams’ goal was presented to him. The nature of his run not enough to take away his composure with the chance on offer, and a cool finish to put his side in front following.
The Valley, and its occupants, suddenly altered considerable. An intensity in Charlton’s attacking play, suddenly believing they could test what appeared a weak Blackpool as a regular occurrence. Token gesture chanting from the Covered End, the sort that feels a duty at the start of a game, replaced by something that created meaningful noise.
A notion reflected in the Addicks, not only comfortable and in control with the ball, striving forward in a spell of possession. Magennis might have done better after fighting off a defender to allow a Marshall cross to sit for him, with the somewhat unbalanced Northern Ireland international only able to flash over the bar, before Marshall himself had a go, cutting inside but firing comfortably wide. These, however, were merely the warm-up acts for two golden Charlton chances; the Best they were going to create.
Both coming as a consequence of this new-found desire to push forward without caution and tentativeness holding those in red back. Dasilva skilful feet finding himself space, his cross from the left beautifully whipped and flighted, and only a Williams’ reaction save prevented Best from opening his Charlton account (in the right net) via a diving header. The Valley too deep in a sea of encouragement to wonder what a failure to take one clear opening might mean.
Besides, given the positivity of the home side’s play, and Blackpool’s weakness, greater chances would surely follow. A greater chance following just moments later, as Magennis’ body strength got him away down the right. His cut back perfect for Best, but his attempt to pass the ball into the net with a first-time connection was a poor one, rolling harmlessly wide.
Now maybe, given how often the Addicks have dropped points having failed to take chances this campaign, there was some degree of concern. A worry that they would come to regret their tameness in front of goal, regardless of the lead they held. But at least the efforts of the visitors offered hope that one might be enough.
Horribly misplaced passes a regular occurrence as the Tangerines struggled under any Charlton pressure, their midfield too slow in finding their next pass, and a total reliance on knocking the ball forward and hoping the battling Gnanduillet would continue to make Konsa and Sarr work. Though a reflection of whether Gnanduillet was showing enough to be decisive on his own came with the awarding of a free-kick in a dangerous position. The forward firing straight into the legs of those in the wall.
Slightly more threatening as a cross from the left was nodded down by Danny Philliskirk, but his resulting volley comfortably off-target. Blackpool really not showing enough to have you concerned as both sides went in at the break. The greater concern coming from a fear of the Addicks finding a way to throw away their relatively comfortable advantage, rather than the Tangerines enforcing it.
A second, subsequently, needed. And quite early on in the second period, too, to avoid panic setting in. A team shot from Marshall, on his weaker foot after coming and comfortable left by Williams to head off-target, not going to provide that goal, but at least there was still an intent to attack.
But that early shot, two minutes into the half, was not reflective of what was to follow. Nor was Colin Daniel’s header, from a good position to nod back across the face of goal but instead heading straight into Amos’ hands, the catalyst for a change in the pattern of the contest. But an anxiety, a cautiousness, and a reluctance to get at the Tangerines soon began to grow.
They were allowed to come at Charlton, despite their sluggishness in the centre and tameness in the final third remaining. But it meant the Addicks were inviting pressure on themselves. One of many balls into the box, and one of many causing something of a scramble, resulting in Sessi D’Almeida’s follow-up from the edge of the box being well blocked when it at least appeared an accurate strike.
A trend that grew greater as both sides made substitutions. Best battling to peg the Tangerines back, but an injury forced him off, while the introduction of Viv Solomon-Otabor gave the visitors a direct winger that meant they were in a better position to make more of the invitation the Addicks were offering. With a little less than 25 minutes remaining, and the knowledge that their attacking intent had concerned a flimsy Blackpool defence, the Addicks appeared to be making the drive to secure victory harder than it needed to be.
And Bowyer’s side, albeit regularly blunted in their efforts to get forward, were certainly threatening more than they did in the opening period. Solomon-Otabor’s delivery causing carnage in Charlton’s box, as Jackson dived to compete with Curtis Tilt at the near post, and Amos getting his body in the way to keep the ball out. A struggle to properly clear following, but the resulting strike from Daniel clearing the crossbar.
To Charlton’s credit, there remained a calmness in possession. Jackson excellent, simply via the medium of working hard and keeping things simple, while Aribo was quick in his decisions to either make the next pass or drive ahead. But that possession, through both a loss of intensity and regularly frustrating decision making, was not being turned into anything threatening.
But for all the struggles of the hosts to put the game to bed, the introduction of a 20-year-old league debutant might well have done it. George Lapslie introduced, and one minute later coming as close to scoring as any Addick had during the half. A lovely interchange with Aribo sending him through, but Curtis Tilt did just enough to get back and block.
An uninspired Valley crowd suddenly finding positive voices, but they would not last. Lapslie’s effort not inspiring a Charlton surge to kill the game, for still they sat deep, and still Blackpool were given the opportunity to deliver from wide. Gnanduillet throwing himself about with strength and desire, but the home side’s backline, and particularly Sarr, were winning the majority of balls into the box that they were inviting.
And so, in uncomfortable fashion, it did appear the Addicks were doing enough. Horrible to watch, but if achieved, it what was required. A victory of any kind to boost confidence.
Those perceptions, however, had come too quickly. A minute remaining, but not enough had been done to secure victory. Blackpool able to steal a point, in part from their own determination, but largely from Charlton’s faults.
The ball delivered into the box from a free-kick, one that the Addicks would surely again deal with, but the resistance crumbled. Gnanduillet rising to head towards goal, a melee of bodies between him and the net, and faint touch from Robertson making sure the Tangerines had found an equaliser. Deathly silence, aside from the small cluster of visiting supporters celebrating with all they had.
It quite unbelievable that the Addicks had put themselves into this position, quite unbelievable they hadn’t won the game. Though self-pity and anger would have to wait. Five minutes of additional time signalled, and some hope offered.
Hope that, after Dasilva had bombed forward and forced a corner, a dramatic winner would be found deep, deep into stoppage-time. The corner, however, cleared at the front post and for a moment it appeared Solomon-Otabor might be leading a breakaway. Not that defeat would have been any more painful in the raw emotions of the moment; merely confirming the dire nature of Charlton’s second-half efforts.
Players in red looking like they had just experienced defeat at full-time. Bodies bent over, faces drained of all positive emotion, and a shared persona that was asking how. How had the Addicks not won this game?
But it not really a question that needs to be delved into too deeply. The Addicks were on top during the first half, comfortable for most of it and enjoying a spell of real dominance after scoring, but couldn’t make the most of it. They then grew tame, sat deep, and invited the opposition to have a go at them.
To one degree or another, we’ve been here before. So many times. So many points dropped through little but self-infliction, that may ultimately prove costly as the season develops.
That are proving costly now. Eleven points off the top of the division and, as a result of Portsmouth losing and Peterborough United winning, only holding onto a play-off place by a point from two teams. Confidence, in line with overall displays, growing more concerning in a run of one league win in seven.
Our chronic inability to finish becoming, if it’s not already, embarrassing. The contrast between the comfortable first-half performance and the lacklustre effort in the second difficult to make sense of. The defensive display somewhat better than in recent weeks, but it counts for little when a simple free-kick defeats them at the last.
This really was our chance to gain confidence, to win, and to have some sort of platform from which to go into two tough fixtures. The quality Blackpool displayed explaining their run of form, and yet the Addicks couldn’t take advantage. The quality Southend, strong at home, and particularly Wigan, having won 7-0 today, will be too great if we continue to perform in such a manner.
With injuries, a hectic period that allows little time to work on improvement, and confidence crushed, you worry how greatly the concerns will grow after the remainder of the festive period fixtures.
Concerns that really can’t be ignored now. We’re not performing like a side with promotion ambitions.