Saturday, 21 December 2013

Bolton 1-1 Charlton: Battling Addicks Fight for Important Point

Whilst not quite at their best at times, each Charlton player gave everything to earn a deserved point against one of the league's biggest underachievers. 

'Could today be the day our fortunes finally change?'

The away trip to Bolton had all the hallmarks of one of those battling Charlton performances that were so often produced last season - underdogs nick three points thanks to a superb team effort. The scent of optimism was enough to tempt me into travelling to the Reebok for a second year running. A late Ngog brace had sunken us that day, leaving me with a feeling of unfinished business.

When you've suffered the pain of defeat at a ground before,  the thought process reaches a fork in the road - either its a bad ground, and we'll lose again, or this time we can get the right result. For most of the journey North, the mind kept venturing nervously up both paths. I couldn't decide if it was our day or not.

Traffic on the M6 distracted me from those mental wanderings. Every other car seemed to have Manchester United fans in them, heading to Old Trafford from down south. We support our local team, and all that.

Eventually the congestion cleared and we arrived at the Reebok to the joyous news of a Chris Solly return. Wilson has done an admirable job at right-back, but the return of the tenacious 5'3" defender was exactly the lift we needed.

Wilson pushed forward to right midfield, with Green dropped to the bench. Powell made two other changes, with Dervite and Pritchard being replaced by Richard Wood and Simon Church. It meant a return to the standard 4-4-2 formation; a risky move given Bolton's strength centrally.

Nerves built in the away end. The tumultuous experience of watching Charlton for 90 minutes was about to begin...

The game:

Charlton started by far the better of the two sides, playing some swift and clinical counter-attacking football.

Kermorgant immediately found himself in the game, exhibiting excellent control and flicking on headers with skill. Wilson broke down the right and the ball found its way to the Frenchman outside the box, and despite the scuffed shot, Lonergan had to dive to tip the ball around the post.

Soon after, Wiggins stole the ball up the pitch and skilfully beat two players. He advanced towards the box before clipping a cross towards Yann, the nearside of the penalty spot. He swept the bouncing ball towards goal on the turn with a clean left footed strike. It found the inside of the far corner. The Addicks were one up.

Unexpected joy in the away end. Yann had started with real intent and had his first goal since his return from injury. Only Charlton's 17th of the season, but one that gave them a great chance of taking three points away from the Reebok.

Bolton had been sloppy with their passing in advanced areas of the pitch, and the home crowd grew increasingly frustrated.

Charlton had further chances - Yann was inexplicably unmarked at the back post, heading a free kick across goal and winning a corner - but none as clear-cut, as Bolton finally grew into the game. Spearing, Danns and Moritz started to test the Charlton back line, with Joe Mason looking to get on the end of any loose balls.

The first couple of chances were blasted well wide and over the bar, but the warning signs were there for the Addicks. If anything, the midfield were sitting a little too deep, allowing Bolton time to build attacks.

Chung-Yong Lee came closest to scoring the equaliser. His header back across goal from the far post was diverted away by Richard Wood, skillfully avoiding a potential own goal, before Morrison was able to hoof the ball clear.

A cross to the front post was almost clipped in by Mason, but it was too close to Alnwick who was able to make the save. Cousins and Morrison were also forced to make key blocks to avert danger.

Charlton were struggling to relieve the pressure, and just before the half time whistle came the sucker punch. Having failed to clear, the ball found its way to right-back Kevin McNaughton, who jinked left before getting his body around the ball and curling a lovely shot into the top corner.

It was a painful end to the half but not something that was unforseen.

Charlton were an improved side following the interval, with periods of defensive solidity broken by forays forward.

The best chance was created by Kermorgant following a cut back from Cameron Stewart. Yann and Wilson both went to control the ball, but Wilson tapped it aside for Yann. As the ball fell down the Breton dinked a magnificent dipping shot towards the top corner, but Lonergan was able to tip the ball over the bar at full stretch.

Kermorgant again won the ball up the pitch and threatened to beat players. He made it to the by-line and curved a cross towards the penalty spot, only for it to be blocked by an outstretched arm. No penalty, despite it being in clear view of an incensed away end. Still no sign of any luck regarding refereeing decisions.

Bolton were spurred on again and once again controlled the game. Powell switched to a more defensive formation, replacing Church with Evina. The former had struggled to get on the end of flick ons for much of the game, despite his great industry. Kermorgant stood staring at the bench in disbelief at the move. He clearly wanted to try and win the game.

At that stage, it could've gone either way, but Bolton's attacking threat gave Powell a cause for concern.

The defending became a little more panicked, with tackles not cleanly winning the ball. Alnwick had to dive at full stretch to push a header around the post. Solly dived in recklessly and gave away a free-kick on the edge of the box, but Eagles' effort was headed away by Wiggins in the wall.

Given the amount of defending the Addicks had to do, they continued to put every effort into their performance. Nobody threw in the towel. Yann charged around after defenders, hoping to force an error.

Dervite replaced Stewart as 90 minutes approached; the forward had troubled but was limping after picking up a knock. The move meant all Charlton players ended up defending down the far end. Panic ensued in the away end, the potential torment of conceding a late winner too much to bear.

Charlton had no options up the pitch to clear to, but twice they were denied a counter-attack by cyclical fouls. Only one received a booking thanks to increasingly random officiating. Despite that, Charlton seemed content to let the game calm down.

One last chance fell to Mark Davies on the edge of the area, but his powerful shot flew narrowly over. Alnwick looked to have had it covered. Just.

The whistle eventually came, greeted by boos from the home crowd, and a huge collective sigh of relief from the travelling Addicks. It had been battling performance but the late onslaught left many feeling weary - both off the pitch and on it.

Yann was the most prominent player to thank the away fans, who responded with appreciative applause. He'd been by far the best Charlton player, constantly threatening and winning the ball.

Powell clapped the fans after most players had filed down the tunnel. He looked slightly apologetic for the team sitting deep late on, but appeared pleased with a point and appreciative of the support.

Once he'd gone, Yann ran over to the front of the away stand. Not pleased enough with his heroics on the pitch, he pulled off his shirt and handed it to a kid. He ran off to the dressing room having thanked the fans once again. Inspiration.


It wasn't Charlton's best performance in terms of pure football, but once again the fight and determination was there in spades.

At 0-1, another goal was needed but it didn't quite fall for us. Defensively we resisted but couldn't withstand the relentless pressure before half time.

Alnwick made a couple of fine saves to keep Bolton from going ahead, but the same could be said of Lonergan in the opposing goal.

Solly demonstrated how well he reads the game, making a number of crucial defensive interventions. Wiggins was more successful in attack but also defended well.

Richard Wood was a welcome presence, and made a vital headed clearance off the line, but a couple of errors almost resulted in goalscoring opportunities. He's still the right man to partner Morrison, though. Both won headers and tidied up at the back, despite the odd panicky moment.

Dale Stephens didn't have his best game. On a few occasions his touch deserted him, and in the first half a misplaced pass went straight to a Bolton player free to run at the defence. Cousins worked hard again, making plenty of tackles, but lacked consistent authority to protect the centre backs all game. That said, he was one of the best defenders, putting himself about attempting to nullify Bolton's dangerous midfield.

Wilson's crossing wasn't quite as clinical as hoped, and he spurned a great chance early on at the back post by firing wide. He was strong in defence alongside Solly. Stewart was largely prevented from cutting inside, but he gave McNaughton the runaround and threatened. His crosses were just a little too close to Lonergan.

Church fought hard to latch onto long balls over the top but couldn't find himself in genuinely threatening areas. The nature of our counter-attacking game means he only ever gets to feed off scraps.

Kermorgant was fantastic. Winning the ball in the air, exhibiting great control to create chances and chasing the ball down with hunger. It was an archetypal Yann performance - his best of the season. He scored a great goal and almost had a brilliant second. He looked desperate for the three points, shown by his reaction at the Church substitution and his disappointment at full-time. A fit and firing Kermorgant is a huge asset to Charlton, and hopefully he can continue to lead the team going forward.

One thing the Addicks missed today was the organisation and inspiration brought by Johnnie Jackson. He might not appear to be the most skilful player, but we needed his influence in defence today. A poor red card decision has cost us his presence, but whilst it was unlikely that the final result would've been affected, he could well have strengthened the defensive areas. His leadership inspires both players and supporters - hopefully he can come back into the side and make a positive impact.

Powell's tactics today were perfect in terms of nicking the goal, but ended up seeming overly defensive towards the end of the game. Bolton's strong midfield meant they were always going to dominate possession, but the midfield sat a little too deep, pushing the back four even deeper. Once Bolton grabbed a foothold in the game they were able to start threatening.

Powell placed more value on securing the point than risking none to grab three. Away from home against a side with a lot of quality in it, the decision was understandable.

As the horror of clinging on for a point subsided following the final whistle, the result appeared better than initially thought.

 It was a hard-fought team performance, with all eleven players giving it their all to secure the point. The performance typified the belief Powell instills in his players. With a little more ambition and confidence in the upcoming home games, the results really could start to come.

Yann's desire was great to see - his heart is in this club and he wants us to turn the corner more than any. It was uplifting and inspirational to see him back to his dominant best. His belief needs to be replicated in the stands for the remaining games.

Chris Powell is the man to lift us away from relegation, as performances like today's show. With continued faith, the growing confidence of these players will translate into more points.

There remains a lot of work to do, and the next two home games are vital. But performances like today's can fill you with nothing but hope. A hard-earned point against a good side away from home. There's more to come from these players.

And Yann is well and truly back.

No comments:

Post a Comment