Saturday, 15 December 2012

Bolton scoreline no fair reflection of battling Addicks performance

Seven games unbeaten, off the back of two good draws against Millwall and Brighton, the Addicks travelled up to Bolton with hopes of extending that record. Bolton, lying eighteenth, possess numerous quality players, and their league position represents a significant under-achievement for the recently relegated side. Managed by Dougie Freedman, who has struggled to make his impact felt, Bolton represent a side who could either unleash their quality, or stutter and fail to produce a cohesive performance. We were hoping for the latter, and whilst it largely came true, it was two moments of quality that determined the result, despite an excellent effort from the visiting side.

View from the away end at the Reebok as the teams emerged before the start
The long trip up to Bolton began before dawn. The Valley Express, driven by a man in an Arsenal hat, departed, carrying hopeful Addicks up North. Typically, it was cloudy and damp - isn't it always up there? Arriving at the stadium with over an hour before kick off allowed us a good time to take in the surroundings. Thankfully, the Reebok is not built in central Bolton, which appeared bleak and miserable - for most of the game, so was the home support. The ground, situated in a retail park, is a smart one, and a good contingent of over 600 Charlton fans filled a few blocks in the away end.

The team selection was again a bold one, but also clever from Chris Powell. Solly returned to right back, with Seaborne on the left. This allowed Wilson to push forward to right midfield. Jackson, Stephens and Frimpong formed the central trio, Haynes starting wide left, and the talismanic Yann Kermorgant up front on his own.

In the opening stages Bolton were allowed possession, whilst Charlton got men behind the ball. The pressing was effective. Bolton passed well but failed to break down the defence, misplacing passes and exhibiting a lack of control in crucial areas. The Addicks took a while to get into the game, but soon were calmly passing the ball round the back. Occasional breaks were made, utilising the width of the five-man midfield. A few corners were won, but none were effective.

The first real chance came after Bolton gave in to the impatient crowd, tired of their inaccurate passing, when they lumped the ball forward to Kevin Davies. A corner was won, and after a flick on the ball fell to Eagles around eight yards out. He fired a shot on the turn that was well saved by Ben Hamer. After more battling between the boxes, two chances fell to Charlton before the break.

Wilson turned brilliantly deep in the visitors' half, and passed in to Frimpong. The right-midfielder continued his run forward, showing his bundles of energy. Frimpong interchanged with Kermorgant, and the ball was worked out right where Wilson ran on to it, having beaten the defender. His cross fell at the back post where Haynes was free, level with the post. His free header was directed agonisingly wide.

Soon after, a long ball was won by Kermorgant, who controlled superbly, turned and fired a left-footed shot that was well saved by Bogdan. Half time arrived, and the hone side were booed off. A mark of their poor performance, but also an indication of how well the Addicks were executing their game plan. You still felt the game could go either way, though, given the quality Bolton possess.

Charlton continued in the ascendancy after the break, another golden chance arriving. Threatening down the right flank, with support found inside, Kermorgant's link-up play was instrumental in the way Powell wanted the team to play. The fiesta chance came when Wilson crossed and Kermorgant out-jumped his marker, but could only direct his header back across goal, wide of the target. A bigger chance came about from the remnants of a corner. Kermorgant from the corner of the box curled a cross towards three Addicks players, all onside. It fell to Wilson, but the header was again wide of the mark. Charlton had let the home side off the hook a couple of times.

As 70 minutes approached, you felt that the first goal would decide the game. The home support was beyond restless, clearly unhappy at their sides showing, rarely singing in support. The Addicks kept the faith as ever, hopeful that the next chance that arrived would this time be taken.

The two managers made their moves. Powell took heart from the success in playing through Bolton's defences, and instructed Haynes to go up front, switching to 4-4-2 from 4-5-1. Freedman put on Martin Petrov and David Ngog - two players who wouldn't look out of place in the Premier League. Add to that Kevin Davies, Chris Eagles and Jay Spearing, and you can see the makings of a potent attacking force. Ultimately Bolton benefited from the changes, taking advantage of one less red defender in their way. Ngog got the ball on the edge of the box and shaped to shoot. He drew a diving slide to try and block the shot from a defender, and turned to pass them. He fired a close-range shot past Hamer and put Wanderers one up.

The relief in the stadium was palpable. Suddenly, from being downbeat and depressed, the home support were cocky and cheerful in poking fun at the loyal away following. Despite attempts to draw level, Ngog found himself in a similar situation minutes later. He again beat a defender, shot, and despite a touch from Hamer, he doubled the advantage.

The Addicks looked crushed, and despite attempting to score, the game appeared to be lost. One moment of controversy remained, however. Kermorgant crossed from the by-line, and Bogdan took an awkward catch standing on his line. He took a couple of steps back into his goal, attempting to hold the ball outside of the goal line. It looked like he failed to do so. We were incensed, and despite our dubious viewpoint perpendicular to the line, the jubilant reaction of the Bolton fans in line with the incident suggested out angered appeals were warranted.

Charlton couldn't create any significant chances, despite the introduction of a lively Wright-Phillips and Jordan Cook with under 10 minutes to go. The unbeaten run came to an end, in a game where Charlton had dominated for large periods. The performance deserved a point, but in this league you have to take your chances, and that process the difference today. With the quality on Bolton's side, its by no means a defeat to worry about, despite the frustrating nature of the match itself.The tactical shifts were key to the change in direction of the game, and Powell's gamble in an attempt to nick a goal backfired. That said, his tactics from the start had been spot on, and had we taken those chances we could well be celebrating on our way home. Instead, Bolton rode their luck, created two golden opportunities and scored from them. As we've found all season, the margins in this league are fine indeed.

Aside from the odd mistake, and lack of clinical finishing in front of goal, you can't really fault any of the players today. The midfield three worked tirelessly all game, Stephens and Frimpong in particular winning tackles, beating players and spreading the play with good passing. Jackson worked well but in advanced positions he struggled. Solly and Wilson worked brilliantly on the break, creating overlaps and putting balls into the box. Kermorgant dropped off in order to link up play, often with Haynes. Not only did he battle hard in the air, but on the ground his skilful touch created a number of openings. Haynes did struggle playing wide left, but a couple of times his pace really threatened to create a goalscoring opportunity. Hamer was solid in dealing with crosses, distributed well, often aiming at Kermorgant who would win header after header, and choosing the right moment to roll it out and set up a counter-attack.

Dervite had again been preferred ahead of Cort, and his efforts alongside Morrison were valiant. They kept Bolton quiet for large periods of the game, but struggled against the niggling fouls that Kevin Davies cleverly makes almost every time the ball is hit towards him. He's an expert in nudging defenders off balance, and making it look like he's the one being fouled. Despite a brief five-minute period after half time, the referee failed to penalise these fouls, and the poring goal came following more physical fouls on the back two. With a stronger ref, Bolton would have struggled, particularly as the same tactics were employed against Kermorgant, who was often nudged off balance prior to jumping, preventing him from rising to head the ball.

A frustrating loss. Charlton needed three things today, but lacked them: a clinical edge in front of goal; a bit of luck; a competent referee. On the whole, it was an admirable, battling performance, and the scoreline didn't reflect the dominance the Addicks had for large periods of the game. Feeling soured after being denied after Bogdan's back-pedalling, and conceding twice from a man I have long maintained is useless, the trio back is unlikely to be a jolly one. But play like that next weekend against a struggling Sheffield Wednesday side, and the travelling fans could well return along with three points. A frustrating result, but I have no complaints with the efforts of the players. Missing those chances proved key.

Powell continues to extract performances from his squad, and playing like that we should be confident of a mid-table finish. All good runs end eventually. Let's hope the next one can start next Saturday.

Up The Addicks


Tapped up on my phone on the way back home. A good away trip, just not the result you want. As its my first away trip of the year, it would probably be fair to blame me for the end of the run.
For less long-winded views on the Addicks, follow me on Twitter: @ramblingaddick.
Thanks for reading.

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