Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Revitalised Addicks Desperately Close to a Deserved Win

Charlton Athletic 1-1 Nottingham Forest

Following a difficult start to the season, and particular hardship in the last two games, Charlton rallied to produce a sensational performance which fell agonisingly short of victory. 

Forced into more changes to his team, the initial feeling was one of worry. It was going to take a spirited effort to get a result against what looked like a strong visiting Forest side. Bradley Pritchard was out following concussion on Saturday. Kermorgant wasn't deemed fit enough to make the squad, and neither was Jackson. With Cort and Solly still absent, Powell was once again forced to experiment tactically with the players available. Hamer remained in goal, whilst Richard Wood was preferred to Dorian Dervite at the heart of defence. Powell went with a central midfield trio of Cousins, Stephens and Gower, with Callum Harriott deployed behind the strike pairing of Church and Sordell.

The Match

The atmosphere built superbly, with a chorus of 'Chrissy Powell's Red Army' ringing around the ground. But the game got off to the worst possible start. Cousins was deemed to have made a very soft foul wide on the right, level with the 18 yard line. Andy Reid swung the kick in towards the far post, lobbing Hamer, kissing the post and landing in the back of the net. It was typical of our lack of fortune of late.

Ben Hamer stares aghast as Reid's free-kick goes in off the post

Despite the setback, the home crowd remained positive and noisy, continuing to back the team and refuse to give in to the negative minority that has been vocal recently. And despite the goal, the Addicks looked hungry, their spirit unwavering. They created a number of chances, many of which could (and probably should) have been taken: Wiggins crossed for Church, a deflection making the flight of the ball more favourable, but his header was weak and the ball cleared. Similarly, Sordell was on the end of a Harriott cross but couldn't score. Then followed an agonising quadruple-chance: Stephens shot from range but the keeper could only parry. A couple of scuffed Sordell efforts were blocked before the ball fell perfectly to Stephens at an angle about 10 yards out. He went for power but blazed the shot well over the bar.

Forest were clinging on, but almost doubled their lead following some very fortunate ricochets that almost took the ball into the net. Wood headed clear but only to Mackie, who stumbled into the box and had his low shot well saved. The ball bounced up into Wilson's chest and was heading in, but he managed to chase it and avert the danger with a clinical left footed clearance.

Half-time arrived, with the Addicks applauded off the field. The home side had been by far the superior team, but when you're struggling for points things don't always fall your way. The early goal could well have punctured the spirit and belief of Charlton, but they had admirably fought back, and were unlucky not to have at least been level.

Little changed after half time, with Charlton still creating chances and the home crowd continuing to be very vocal in their support.

After some clever interplay, Harriott was released into the area with a chance to shoot. The defender just got a boot to it, forcing the ball across the face of goal. Sordell slid but couldn't reach it. The ball ran towards Wilson in acres of space near the byline. Sordell was quick to his feet and free. Wilson swept in a low cross, and the striker turned the ball into the net with a clinical and powerful side footed strike.


The goal had been a very long time coming, and was nothing less than the home side deserved. Sordell was joyous, running over towards a leaping Wilson and sliding toward the North-East corner. The crowd had erupted - each chance had built the pressure and it was finally released in one explosion of ecstasy. For five full minutes the Covered End was so loud that you couldn't hear yourself think. The spirit of Cardiff rekindled.

Spurred on by the phenomenal home support, Charlton almost stole a second. Church applied the pressure out wide left, forcing a hasty clearance which bounced off Mark Gower into the path of Sordell in the area. Stephens was making the perfect run into the 18 yard box to be fed the ball, but Sordell - now brimming with confidence - turned and shot with his left foot, but couldn't beat the keeper.

Billy Davies was forced into a double change, and ordered his side to calm the game down, as they had been startled by the tempo and noise in the early stages of the second half. He succeeded to an extent, as Andy Reid had an opening but stabbed his shot over.

The home crowd began to waver, suddenly filled with nerves. But still Charlton created chances. A Harriott cross was almost turned in at the back post by Richard Wood, who stretched but couldn't reach the ball. Forest hit back, with Mackie's back heeled effort at the other end soon after was well saved by Ben Hamer.

Sordell was clearly on a high following his goal, as he turned to fire a 30-yard strike just wide of goal. Powell made his first change fairly late in the game, with Andy Hughes replacing Gower in midfield.

Charlton once again came agonisingly close to winning it. The ball was bouncing around in the Forest area, until Cousins flicked it goalwards with a technical left footed effort. It curved and crashed into the bar, and the ensuing scramble saw two more half chances blocked and cleared.

A Wiggins free kick was angled towards the far post, where Andy Hughes was in space. He scuffed his cross, which was chested back by Morrison at the front post towards Harriott, who fired his shot gloriously over the bar and into the upper tier.

For all the enterprise of Stephens, and the industry of Hughes, it was Jordan Cousins who continued to star; the ball broke loose in the Charlton box and it looked like Forest might have stolen a winner, but Cousins flung himself to ground and made a spectacular, vital block.

Despite a nervy string of corners for Forest, the game finished all square.

The Addicks were applauded from the pitch, and deservedly so. It had been a fantastic performance, one which would have seen us score about four or five goals if on a good run of form. But whenever things look bleak, Chris Powell manages to motivate his side to produce performances like that. He was cheered as he left the pitch. The way the game had gone, especially following the past two weeks, it felt like a victory. Powell showed huge appreciation to the Valley faithful, whose support had been flawless all night.


Player Performances

Few Addicks fans were able to agree on a man of the match, simply because so many had played out of their skins. For me, two players deserve particular praise, given what they were tasked with and what they produced.

Jordan Cousins: After impressing during his home debut in that infamous abandoned game, Cousins again showed his class with a clinical, all-round performance. He was strong in the tackle, precise in his passing and positive going forward. His block was crucial and he was ultimately unfortunate not to score. Not only was he technically very good, but also he was composed on and off the ball. A 90-minute showing that promises a lot to come from him in future.

Richard Wood: One of the less heralded signings, but definitely one of the most shrewd. Wood won everything in the air, timing his leaps to perfection. He was strong in the air, composed on the ball, and robust in the tackle. He even stretched to try and score at the far post. Before the game, you wondered why Dervite had been dropped, but Wood showed why Powell had put his faith in the former Coventry skipper. A classic centre-half performance.

It wasn't just the two above who deserved praise. Wiggins and Wilson were magnificent, especially given the absence of wide midfielders to work with. They always looked to burst forward on the counter, with Wilson creating the equaliser. Wiggins, criticised recently for his performances, emphatically proved his worth. Morrison was again steady at the heart of defence, leading the side well.

Stephens benefitted from the formation Powell had chosen, as it meant he had options open to him in the middle of the pitch. A few times he was able to instigate incisive fast-flowing passing moves, with the help of Mark Gower. He also played well, passing and hassling with energy.

Harriott was once again a live-wire, able to provide the link between the midfield and the forwards. Whilst he's someone that doesn't always offer an end product, the fact that be is constantly looking to create chances is a real positive, and with time he can become a quality attacking threat. 

Simon Church will probably be wondering how he didn't score tonight, but he put in a valiant and important effort up front. He was industrious, and was rewarded in his regular chasing down of the Forest defence by forcing the error that almost allowed Sordell to score. Church was forced off due to a leg injury, his absence allowing Forest more time at the back.

Sordell had a game of two halves. The first largely passed him by, as frustratingly he didn't quite appear to be on the same wavelength as the midfielders looking to play him the ball. But after his superbly taken goal, he was a man transformed. His confidence rocketed, which is what you want from a striker. He kept looking for goal, although he may have been better off looking for Stephens on the occasion that he was better positioned. However, his renewed self belief will give the whole squad a boost, as at last he's given them a reason to be confident in him.

Andy Hughes came on and orchestrated the midfield. He made one exceptional interception that enabled a counter attack, and was often seen motivating his team-mates. Whenever he takes to the field, he always proves his worth both as a footballer and a leader.


A word on Andy Reid. Forest as a side struggled to produce the quality they are capable of, but Reid definitely stood out as a professional tonight. His technique is superb, and he looked in better shape than ever. Whilst his goal was probably a fluke, he was unlucky not to score another in the second half. One of the few players who warrants applause on return to the Valley, and deservedly so.

Forest manager Billy Davies was full of praise for the Addicks, recognising that his side had been lucky to pick up a point. His assertion that Forest scored too early, however, was one of the weirder excuses I've heard from opposition managers. It was a fortunate goal, which meant that the Addicks had to rebound quickly and not let their heads drop. They did so magnificently.

Chris Powell is such a hero. Once again he's lifted his squad when morale hit rock bottom, to the extent that even though depleted by injury, his side made one of the promotion candidates look the weaker team. The performance was a testament to his continued belief in his players, and hard work on the training ground shaping them into a strong side.

You'd be a fool to want this club to be rid of Chris Powell. He has taken plenty of stick for recent results, and whilst some of it is justified, we are far stronger as a club with him at the helm than we would be without him.

Hopefully a similarly inspiring performance will be produced on Saturday for the visit of Blackpool. If we can maintain that level of quality, with the addition of players like Kermorgant returning from injury, then we have every reason to be confident of producing results.

Tonight, the passion was most definitely there, both on and off the pitch. It renewed the faith of many, and rekindled the spirit of others. If only we'd grabbed all three points...

1 comment:

  1. Great article summing up the match - and the crowd - to near perfection. My only minor dispute is with your statement that at half time "The home side had been by far the superior team". Personally I thought that at half time, man-for-man they were better than us although we had had more half-chances than they did. Second half though.... from the kick-off we played with belief and passion.

    I've always had a belief that Powell does well at half-time. Many times in the past two seasons, we've had a mediocre or poor first half and have gone on to dominate the second half. This game was - I think - the first time this season that his half-time talk had the desired effect.

    We're still in a table position we don't want to be in, and three points in the next match wont change anything. But this match, with a weakened team, showed that our recent run may suggest some things but doesn't prove those things - well other than perhaps we can safely say we're not going to win the league but then no realist would ever have made such a claim!