A cold Tuesday night game away to Northern opposition never tends to end well for Charlton, and that proved the case once again as a Joel Lynch wonder strike left the Addicks with too much to do to salvage a point.
277 hardy souls, plus myself made the journey Up North for the second game at the John Smith Stadium already this season, following the 3-2 Capital One Cup defeat in August. This time, it was cold.
When the team news finally arrived, the fears of an absent Kermorgant were confirmed. Marvin Sordell was the only change after Saturday's draw at Watford, meaning the 3-5-2 formation would be retained. It also meant that Chris Solly still hadn't recovered from his knee problem. The main concern was that the midfield would struggle to link up with the forwards, given how instrumental Yann is in the air as well as on the ground. Huddersfield had James Vaughan up front, as well as the pacy Sean Scannell out wide, playing a similar formation to ours.
Early on, Charlton struggled to maintain possession, with loose passes often drifting to the opposition. Huddersfield looked to play diagonal balls for their pace-men in the empty full back channels, which was limited in its success by some good one-on-one defending by the back three, with support from the midfield. We also had to avert danger on occasion when Huddersfield broke centrally, and ran at our penalty area. They were largely restricted, but Dervite, and in particular Morrison, were forced to make a number of crucial defensive headers from well placed crosses. Despite the Terriers' threats, Hamer was largely untroubled.
The away side grew into the game, as the composed midfield started to influence the rest of the side. Stephens looked especially confident, often shrugging off an opponent and spreading the play. Pritchard was energetic as always, but couldn't quite form a cohesive link with either Sordell or Church to create anything meaningful. The times we threatened most were when Jackson and Wiggins overlapped down the left, harking back to those glorious League One days.
Late in the half, Charlton had their first genuine chance of the game. More good play down the left flank saw Wiggins cut the ball back to Church, who headed downwards towards goal, but lacked the power from that distance to beat Smithies, who saved it fairly comfortably.
Stoppage time arrived, and just as the interval approached, Huddersfield struck a significant blow to Charlton's chances. Another cross to the far post this time eluded Morrison, who was just cleared by the ball, and found Vaughan at the back post. He had risen to flick the ball into the top corner with a gently nodded finish. It was tough to take so close to the half time whistle.
We'd been the weaker side but the home team were hardly running us ragged. Powell faced a tough team talk to revitalise his players. The main issue was that the long ball forward was being won comfortably by the defenders, often uncontested. Yann's absence was telling in that area, leaving the Addicks bereft of incision in and around the box. Sordell cut a forlorn figure, often attempting to beat players and make passes, but losing the ball. His work rate flagged as well, leaving little for the travelling fans to feel optimistic about. His waywardness became even more evident shortly after half time. Stephens and Jackson interlinked well before curling a ball to Sordell on the edge of the area. It looked like he had time to take the ball down and move into a better shooting position, but he attempted a first time volley. It sailed hopelessly into the away end.
Simon Church had also failed to make an impact on the game, and when his chance arose, he blew it. He had his first opportunity to break into the box unchallenged. He flicked the ball past the defender, but instead of chasing it to shoot, he decided to go to ground. With no contact, it was a deserved booking for diving, but what was more frustrating was that he'd been waiting 45 minutes for an opening, but refused to take it when it arrived.
Huddersfield continued to probe going forward, with a long ball down the left channel releasing Vaughan towards Hamer's goal. Dervite did well to block his route to goal, but Vaughan cut inside and shaped to shoot. Dervite threw himself in front of the ball and made a superb block, keeping Addicks hopes alive.
Powell made a positive move by calling on Callum Harriott and the newly signed Cameron Stewart to join the action, but before they could, Huddersfield doubled their lead.
"2-0 would be the nail in our coffin", I muttered. The ball was passed out left to Joel Lynch, who from 35 yards out, struck a devastating shot at goal. Hamer stared, jumped, flapped and fell, powerless to intervene as the ball dipped onto the underside of the crossbar and crashed into the back of the net. Heads dropped. I was mortified, given my incredible, accidental foresight. We'd defended the box well for the whole half, but how often do strikes like that go in? I really can't (and won't) blame any of our players.
Charlton were left with a huge task to salvage something from the game, but valiantly persevered. Stewart replaced Wood, who had been solid if unspectacular, and a little unsure at times. Harriott replaced Sordell, who'd had a night to forget. He'd continued to lose possession, and was on a completely different wavelength to the midfielders looking to play him the ball. His final act had been to inadvertently block a Jackson shot at goal. It was probably curving wide, but it rather summed up his evening. The formation became a 4-3-3, with Stewart out left.
The changes had the desired effect, with a new vigour and spark going forward. Stewart looked a handful on the left, often throwing a step over to deceive his opponent. Harriott too looked hungry for the ball.
Almost out of nowhere, we found that elusive goal. Stewart again looked to beat his man out wide by cutting inside. He glanced up at goal, before firing a powerful dipping strike towards the top corner. It crashed into the underside of the bar, and landed in the back of the net with alarming similarity to Lynch's strike. Get in.
The hope of salvaging a draw was suddenly back. We continued to press, facilitated by an almost Charlton-esque display of defensive sitting-back from Huddersfield. Pigott replaced Jackson, who was somewhat unfortunate to be withdrawn, and the Addicks continued to create openings. Most balls into the box were headed away to the awaiting Addicks on the edge of the area. Stephens came closest, firing two shots towards goal, the second of which appeared to strike a raised arm in the box. Desperate appeals from the away fans were in vain, as the referee waved away the protests. Hamer came up for the corner, but it sadly came to nothing. Full time arrived, and the hopes of the Addicks of stealing a point were finally deflated.
Charlton's players came over to applaud the travelling fans. Jackson in particular showed true gratitude to us for our support. Given the small number that had travelled, it was a struggle to make ourselves heard, but the late surge really lifted the away support, and we almost had a point to celebrate. Alas, it was not to be.
Fearing a bout of criticism for the performance from many who weren't present, I should emphasise that it was just 'one of those nights'. Our main problem was the absence of Kermorgant. He really is our most important attacking player, perhaps even the most vital altogether. He is the link between midfield and attack that makes the 3-5-2 system work. Without his authority in the air, and the creativity on the floor, we looked toothless in attack. It was only when Powell added Stewart and Harriott that we looked a potent threat. Perhaps, in hindsight, Powell might have gone for a different formation, but his initial aim seemed to be solidity at the back, which worked well enough all game, but wasn't helped by the absence of ball retention up front. The second goal was the killer blow. It came out of nowhere and gave the Addicks too much to do.
Sordell, as I've said above, was ineffectual at best. Church struggled to make an impact given the lack of service, as well as having to adapt his role to play behind Sordell. Wilson's passing was initially wayward, but he grew into the game.
There were plenty of positives. The midfield trio really looked cohesive, as the system gives them the space to play through the opposition. Stephens was good on the ball, whilst Jackson roamed out left on occasion to link up with Wiggins. Morrison looked back to his best, winning vital headers in the box. Dervite was superbly calm on the ball, making good decisions, as well as that crucial block in the second half. Wiggins threatened to overlap, especially when Stewart came on. The Hull loanee was confident in his technical ability, and produced a stunning debut goal to spark a revival. Harriott didn't quite have the same impact, but he won the ball and put a lot more effort in than Sordell.
I should also emphasise Jackson's leadership role. He was visibly trying to lift his men, clearly unimpressed by the performance. We needed him to take charge, not through a lack of interest but more a lack of concentration and composure. He adds unseen value to the side in this regard, whilst still being worth his place as a footballer alone. Sadly the result didn't come, but Jackson looked like a man who won't just let performances like this become a regular occurrence.
Huddersfield were probably good value for their win. Whilst they created little in the second half, they were more composed and clinical on the ball throughout the game. James Vaughan was a fantastic addition, and he proved his worth with his goal. But it was Lynch's strike that effectively won the game. It really was an unstoppable effort. Sometimes you just have to accept those as an opposition and move on.
Millwall winning makes Saturday a little more worrying. Charlton need Kermorgant fit, as there was a big Yann-sized hole in our side tonight. Without him, I'm far less confident in our ability to produce goals. Powell would be better off playing Stewart and Harriott if Yann is out, as they have a certain spark about them. Not the best start to the season, but the positives are there. We just have to be patient.
On a cold Tuesday night, up north, Charlton lost. It's happened before, and it'll happen again. We just need to keep the faith and back the players. We've been here before, so there's no need for panic. Unless we lose Yann...