15th December 2008: Under the stewardship of caretaker manager Phil Parkinson, it looked like the Addicks might secure a vital three points to give hope of survival. 2-1 up in the 4th minute of stoppage time, Derby had a throw which bounced away from one defender, was flicked on by another and bobbled its way straight to an unmarked Nathan Ellington in the box, who fired home an equaliser. The only feeling I can remember is one of utter dejection. Whilst yesterday's game was slightly different, it resulted in a similar low following the full-time whistle.
Saturday's game was always going to be a tough one. Derby arrived on the back of five straight victories, following a revival in fortunes brought about by the appointment of Steve McLaren. Charlton had failed to win in three, with a broader trend of 4 goals in 5 games suggesting reason for concern. Defeat was not a surprise, therefore, but the match left an unexpected feeling of misery and dejection - the pattern of the match again followed a similar trend to those of recent weeks, as the Addicks were competitive and full of energy, but again fell agonisingly short.
A shift in tactics saw Powell give another chance to Danny Green on the right-wing in place of the industrious Simon Church, whilst Pritchard returned centrally in the absence of Johnnie Jackson. It meant a 4-5-1 formation with Kermorgant on his own up front, and whilst the defensive approach is never completely welcome at home, it was understandable given Derby's strong recent form.
McLaren's impact on Derby was clear to see from the outset. Short goal kicks were taken to give the ball to the centre back, who worked with the full back to try and move the ball forward, shifting play to the other flank if the route was blocked. Charlton didn't press relentlessly, but they did their job sufficiently to force some long balls forward. The home side stole the ball in midfield and played it forward to Kermorgant on occasion, with the Frenchman distributing the ball to the wider areas.
Chances came. Morrison found himself in space 25 yards out, and whilst his powerful shot was on target, it was comfortably caught by Grant in goal. Stewart's cross found its way to Stephens in the area but his volleyed effort went over, with the timing made more difficult by the blustery wind. Green curled a free-kick towards the far post, and it ended up heading for the top corner, only to be tipped over the bar. Kermorgant was forced to improvise, given the absence of a strike partner, but Pritchard's advanced role meant he could collect a number of the knock-downs. Stewart was quiet, but Stephens and Green were positive, whilst Jordan Cousins was covering a lot of ground in an excellent defensive display.
Derby threatened too, but the game remained even. Chris Martin had a shot from outside the box delfected on its way wide, and Alnwick caught a header following the corner. Some neat play worked the ball forward outisde the area, where a clumsy Dervite intervention conceded a free-kick. Jamie Ward struck his effort towards Alnwick's left post, but as the keeper dived across, the shot flicked the head of Wiggins, deflecting it to the right of the keeper and into the back of the net. It was a sucker punch following positive Addicks play. Another example of luck deserting the Addicks.
Charlton didn't respond to the goal well, and Bryson found space among a number of red shirts who didn't close him down, striking his shot across goal towards the top corner. Alnwick was forced into a two-handed save high to his left to keep the score at 0-1 going into the break. A late half-chance fell to Kermorgant, 35 yards from goal following a headed clearance by the keeper, but he couldn't manage to reach the goal with his chipped effort and it was headed clear.
The response after half-time was much better, and almost immediately rewarded. Wilson broke down the right and crossed for Stephens, who couldn't connect cleanly and his shot bounced wide. Kermorgant had a chance to shoot through a clutch of players, but it bobbled towards goal, and Morrison failed to control on the turn to keep the chance alive.
Derby were attempting to control the game, taking time out whenever they could and making subtle fouls to kill any momentum the Addicks could build. The home side struggled to break down the well organised Rams but it wasn't down to a lack of effort. Dale Stephens was throwing himself about in midfield, riskily but bravely jumping into tackles in an attempt to win the ball. Cousins continued to mop up defensively alongside him. Green couldn't get into the game - a familiar tale - and was replaced by Simon Church, with Pritchard being hauled off to unfair sarcastic cheers, to be replaced by Callum Harriott.
Powell changed the formation to a rather lopsided one, with Harriott employed as an attacking midfielder just behind the strikers, whilst Stewart continued to play left wing. Initially, chances were hard to come by, but as Derby sat deeper and deeper, Charlton began to create. The best of them fell to Morrison, who found himself at the back post leaping to get on the end of an exquisite chipped cross from Kermorgant. His header went narrowly, agonisingly wide. A big miss.
Stewart threatened sporadically, whilst Harriott twisted and turned but couldn't beat enough players to get a clear shot on goal. The Addicks' attempts to score were summed up when Kermorgant struck a shot from a cross, which was blocked by Harriott standing just a couple of yards in front of him.
Charlton could have had a penalty if it weren't for weak, feeble refereeing. Kermorgant was marked from a corner by two players, both with arms around his chest. In attempting to free himself, the Frenchman went to ground, but was inexplicably penalised for an infringement, despite having been contained by the arms of the opponents. The decision was especially galling when Morrison was later deemed to have fouled Martin (who was backing into him) for putting his arms around his chest. It typified the inconsistent performance of the referee, and once again the Addicks didn't get the decisions. Kermorgant didn't get a decision all game, until late on when the referee finally gave him a free-kick. His sarcastic applause of the ref was thoroughly warranted, such was his incompetence, but out came the yellow card. Another jobsworth.
Derby continued to grind, wasting time and using their physicality to impose their defensive strength. The ref only waved his arm occasionally to encourage quicker play. They had to cope with spells of good pressure, but only one chance caused any great alarm. Kermorgant flicked on for Church, bursting through into the box alongside a defender, but his rushed effort from the angle was well saved. It was a tough chance.
In a late gamble, Powell hauled off Wilson and sent Sordell on up front, though all he managed was one overhit pass when a counter-attack beckoned. The gap at right-back allowed substitute Connor Sammon into space following a poor clearance, and he slid a through ball to Bryson who chipped Alnwick and put the game to bed. It was a sickening late blow but all too predictable given the recent run of luck endured by the Addicks.
All the passion and anger directed at the referee and the frustration at Charlton's lack of an equaliser was replaced solely by a feeling of deep resignation. The Valley fell flat. For all the fight they had showed, once again the Addicks had fallen short, and though the result had been predictable all week, the nature of the game meant that there was a lot of hurt.
There weren't really any players who could be singled out as having poor games, but I am increasingly inclined to think that we are better off with Richard Wood at the back instead of Dervite. He looked a bit clumsy in defence today, and whilst he is assured on the ball, the organisation and conviction brought by Wood is something we really need at the minute. Wiggins didn't quite hit the heights of his performance at Yeovil last week, whilst Green again struggled to come up with that well executed cross.
Cousins and Stephens again played well, the former in particular impressing thanks to his defensive exploits. We aren't being outplayed in midfield, but that is largely as a consequence of fielding an extra player centrally so as not to be overrun. That in turn is having an impact on our goal-scoring ability. Kermorgant did his best in isolated circumstances, but he was missing a player ahead of him who he could link with and create chances for. When someone clicks with him, it'll be a hugely profitable partnership, but it is something still eluding us. Stewart was kept quiet, but he is always a threat when cutting inside off the left, and can make ground to put in crosses as well.
Derby were strong, and you can see why they have been winning games. It is a confidence thing. Powell can only instill a certain amount of that in his sides, but the rest is down to results, which continue to evade Charlton. That tiny absence of conviction when critical moments arise is what is costing us at the minute. With the resources available we don't have a large array of tactical options open to us, and Powell is trying to make the most of what he has available. Its not easy, hence the struggles, but criticism of effort and desire is definitely a long way wide of the mark. Faith in these players is needed, as we are unlikely to be able to bring many others in. These are the players who will have save this club from relegation. Full backing them is crucial if we want to avoid a repeat of the last time we were relegated, and ended up sinking without trace.
Powell tried a new system against a side which needed to be contained, and it was largely successful. The only breaches to the defence were caused by a deflected free-kick and an absent right-back late on when chasing an equaliser. The players once again played well, but the failure to seize upon those crucial moments in the match is what is frustrating at the moment. Had Morrison's headed chance found the net, it could well have acted as a catalyst enabling Charlton to go on and win the game. Instead, it went wide, and further chances could not be taken either. Whilst the absence of goals is one of the major reasons we find ourselves struggling, again you got the impression that fortune was not on our side. Our league position cannot be blamed simply on bad luck, but fortune has definitely not helped recently. Decisions are more often than not going against us. More decisive performances are needed on the pitch, but also you sometimes need that rub of the green to help you out.
A few words on the relegation battle, and reactions after defeat: Again there has been widespread criticism of the performance, brought about largely thanks to the result. Powell's suggestion that the players gave it their all has been met with scepticism by a number of fans, but this feeling is simply born out of a frustration at the result. When times are tough, there is obviously anger at the situation, but many choose to channel this in completely the wrong way by vehemently criticising the players and the manager, when ultimately they put up a good fight. It indicates that many fans feel that Charlton have an obligation to them to win games, and that failure to do so justifies any form of criticism. Whilst everyone has a right to complain, in the aftermath of a defeat it is rarely constructive in nature, and the direct attacks on players and individuals is more likely to have negative consequences than positive ones. The existence of social media means that instead of calming down over a pint, or in the car on the way home, the immediate feeling of frustration is encapsulated in a series of tweets, often directly attacking the club's players. The atmosphere between fans of differing views can become poisonous, and particularly so given that many take a perverse pleasure in moaning after defeat. The dissenters are a vocal minority, but one that can clearly have an impact on player morale.
The critical, negative reaction comes from an inability to be objective about things, and view the wider situation that the club, players and manager are in. The game frustrated, but it didn't tell us anything we didn't already know about the situation that Charlton Athletic Football Club is in. The squad is weaker than it was last year thanks to the dire financial situation, and we have a co-chairman who is gambling with the contract situation which is creating a huge amount of uncertainty off the field. You cannot suggest that this doesn't impact on the playing staff in any way. Whilst commitment is visibly there, contractual uncertainty breeds doubt, which is not something that helps keep a group strong and resolute. Powell has no money for additions, thus must make the most of what he has available. What he has achieved so far is remarkable, and thankfully the majority realise this.
Powell is undoubtedly the man we want in charge, as his fighting spirit and resolve has often been embodied by Charlton in some of the more unlikely victories during his tenure. We must stick together and keep the faith, as the season ahead will be full of difficult times. Supporting a football club is not a one way street - the players need us to back them. Their effort is there. All that is lacking is that little bit of quality, and that little bit of luck.
Objectivity after defeat is difficult. I had to avoid social media last night due to the outpouring of emotion following the result, as I knew it would further increase the pain. We all feel the pain of defeat, but we need to accept that times are tough. I have always been one to have faith in the people I support, and I see no reason why these players, and this manager, cannot turn the current run of form around. It will be hard, but it can be done.
Keep the faith.