|The 21st anniversary of the great return to the Valley|
was not celebrated with on-field success.
The main differences between today and Tuesday night's win against Doncaster were composure on the ball, accuracy of passing and success down the wings. Ipswich did their job after taking the lead, closing down each Charlton player with haste and forcing mistakes. Morrison and Dervite initially struggled to deal with the loose ball, and a good through ball released McGoldrick in on goal, only to be denied by a great Alnwick save, diving to his left. From the corner, the keeper was forced to make another save from a free header, and then reacted superbly to block a close-range shot. Clearly rattled, Charlton still struggled to settle. Another routine corner was not dealt with, and Smith headed Ipswich in front. From that moment on, it was an exercise in game management for Mick McCarthy's men. For all their efforts, Charlton were not playing much coherent football - a consequence of both Ipswich's high-tempo pressing game and a desertion of composure. The game saw few chances, as Charlton struggled to create down the flanks, whilst long balls forward were easily dealt with by the strong centre-back pairing of Smith and Berra. Frustration was compounded late on, when at last a chance was created, but the referee had failed to play advantage, having blown early to deny Stewart a clear chance on goal. It was not a game worth recounting in any great detail. Instead, it served to highlight a number of issues Charlton are going to have to deal with in order to avoid an unpleasant relegation scrap.
One of the main issues facing this current Charlton side is the lack of goals being scored. 14 scored in 17 games this season shows why wins have been few and far between. Only Yeovil (13) have scored fewer. Ipswich hassled the Addicks well, but that does not entirely explain why the only shot on target was a mis-hit Wiggins cross. Pressed high up the pitch, decisions were rushed and too often we resorted to searching balls over the top for Church to chase on to. With Stewart more suited to cutting inside, and Jackson playing more centrally, we struggle for width - a price worth paying to be more defensively solid. The full-backs are important players given the way Powell sets the team up, but today they struggled for support, and the final ball was often blocked, or just poorly hit. Wiggins didn't have the best of games, whilst Wilson managed a couple of decent crosses without success. The other option available was the long ball - often decried for its predictability and lack of success. Kermorgant was winning the odd header, but was visibly annoyed at times when team-mates failed to make the correct run for the flick on. Similarly, Church struggled to get on the end of the hopeful balls aimed in his direction. The one save Gerken made was when Wiggins got into an advanced position in the box and skewed his cross towards the top corner. Not a prolific afternoon in front of goal.
How do we remedy the lack of goals? The suggestion that Kermorgant is more of a hindrance than a help is odd, given his creativity and strength in the air. Whilst we did resort to too many long balls, this was fuelled by a lack of success in other areas of the pitch. This is symptomatic of the style of play Powell is forced to adopt with the resources he has available. Counter-attacking play is the best method with which to have success, but as was seen last season, this was often to the detriment of home successes. By committing more players to attacking roles, he leaves the defence slightly more exposed, and we probably don't have the individual skill to deal with that imbalance. The game against Doncaster showed that success can be had at home with this style, but the high-tempo pressing game of Ipswich caused innumerable errors. Decision making was rushed, and thus poor. The accuracy of passing fell and the tight control of the ball required deserted Charlton. When usually they can break quickly up the pitch, Ipswich's defensive mentality for much of the game prevented significant counter-attacks. The consequence was a lacklustre performance which left many feeling dejected.
The one chance we did create was after an incompetent refereeing decision, late on when Kermorgant was cynically fouled (again) and an advantage was not played. Sordell's well-timed through ball had released Cameron Stewart clean through on goal for the first time, but to the utter dismay of every Charlton fan, play had been halted. It merely served to make the afternoon's experience an even more painful one.
The long-ball to Yann is an easy option, and rightly it has been pointed out that we resort to it too often. When used well, it is a deadly weapon, as Kermorgant has the ability to rise above defenders and create goal-scoring opportunities. However, when defences work out how to deal with it, which usually involves inhibiting Yann so that he can't leap as successfully, alternative routes to goal need to be used. Kermorgant dropping deep offers a good option as he is a skilled distributor, but the issue today was a lack of space as well as a lack of quality out wide. We struggled to get Stewart in good advanced positions. Jackson is better employed centrally. Without the full-backs charging forward we have little else to offer, especially when the midfield has little time on the ball. What all these deficiencies really point to is a lack of quality player able to change the game.
Our squad is thin, and after two seasons without investment, its lack of evolution is becoming clear. Powell continues to do a great job with the players available, but the lack of depth in quality means he is restricted in his tactical approach. Without the variety, there is no reliable formation set in stone that will guarantee success. The players work hard and often they are rewarded for their graft with victory, but when that extra bit of quality is required to get something from a game, we often fall down.
The potential takeover offers hope, along with fears of a relocation from the Valley. In the short term, though, it could provide the relief needed. There is no doubt that the uncertain contract situation will be affecting various players in different ways from others. Uncertainty breeds doubt, and confidence falls. Whilst today's performance is clearly not all down to the off-field situation, it certainly plays its part. If the purchase of the club does go through, the contract situation needs to be resolved quickly, as it will bring necessary stability. The potential to bring in a couple of quality players, especially in attack, would hopefully bring the impetus we need to increase our goals-per-game ratio. That said, without it we need a more balanced strategy. The searching balls for Church are too often uncusccessful, and without dominance in the air, long-balls to Yann become too much of a lottery. What is missing is composure, conviction and accuracy. When chances do come, we need to be far more clinical, but the lack of opportunities created must be remedied as well. To do that, the midfield needs to be stronger, and the defence must refrain from pumping long-balls forward all the time. Kermorgant and Church received poor service, with the former having to adjust to inaccurate long-balls too often, and the latter chasing numerous lost causes. With accuracy and composure we may have created an opening to level the game.
Credit must be given to Ipswich. It was a classic Mick McCarthy victory, which involved defending the lead from early on with high-tempo pressing up the pitch. His tactics played a massive part in the result. Charlton improved as the game went on, but failed to find the incision required. I never like to hear booing, but the crowd's reaction was one of frustration at full-time, understandable after a game with such limited success. Criticism of Powell overlooks the issue he has with squad depth - his options are extremely limited. He is confident in the eleven men he sends out onto the field, but is not always rewarded with success. He will be as gutted as anyone after the defeat, and will use the pain to motivate a return to form.
The whole afternoon was one that is best forgotten, mainly due to the crippling despair it inflicted on me. Looking ahead, we have the chance to repeat our successes away from home with trips to Reading and Yeovil. The latter is a huge fixture - potentially what pundits love to call a "six pointer". I will simply term it a must-win game. We are struggling - that much is clear to see. Faith in the manager and the squad is required. If investment does come, Powell is exactly the man to use it wisely. Now is not a time to panic. There is plenty of time left in the season, but still clearly a lot of work still to do.
Keep the faith.