Saturday, March 22, 2008

Point of No Return

Charlton Athletic 1
West Bromwich Albion 1

This game, for me, summed up Charlton's whole season...reasonable in patches, but ultimately not good enough.

Sure, we were up against a good side in West Brom, but having played them three times previously, we should have known what to expect.

Alan Pardew started the day by playing the expected defence, but with Jose Semedo in a midfield protecting role rather than the flamboyance of Zheng Zhi. Up front, Andy Gray partnered Leroy Lita, while Darren Ambrose and Jerome Thomas provided the width.

The game started in tight fashion, with both sides probing, rather than throwing players forward. Albion started with five in midfield, but Miller and Gera were quick to support Phillips whenever they could. Charlton struggled to create much initially, and the picky ref didn't do the home team many favours early on.

Slowly, both teams came to settle, but not until the rain (or was it hail?) had lashed down midway through the half.

Greg Halford, who had his second best game for the club since joining on loan, broke the deadlock after half an hour (top). Ambrose floated over a free kick from the left and Halford headed back toward the far corner; everyone seemed to wait and see which player – defender or attacker – would be first to the ball, and too late, Kiely realised the ball was going to go in. It was a strange goal, and one which took most of the crowd by complete surprise. No matter, the Addicks were in front; as with the cup game, it was now a case of if they could hold onto the lead?

A Charlton corner then broke on the edge of the area to Sam Sodje who expertly took the ball past the advancing defence and into a one-on-one situation with Kiely. Sadly, the chance to extend the lead was not so expertly taken, and Sodje blasted the ball over the bar from ten yards out. This was a key moment in the game, and reflected the missed opportunities of the whole season.

Semedo was being called on to make more and more tackles in midfield, and the wide players were getting less and less time on the ball. Gera was booked for callously stopping a Charlton break on the half way line, but little else was going for Charlton, with the ref giving little to the home team, although he did try to play the advantage rule whenever he could.

Just before half time, a West Brom free kick was nodded back at the far post and Phillips, who had been well shackled up to that point, struck home. It was the hammer blow that Charlton just did not need – another home lead lost.

The half time mood wasn't good. The crowd – with only about 1300 Albion fans and with many gaps in the season ticket home area ranks – seemed resigned, and toilet talk was if we could hang on for a draw?

Early in the second half, Semedo was booked, which led to him being withdrawn after an hour - Pards could not afford his side to be reduced to ten men which may have happened. With the more forward minded ZiZi on the field, Albion immediately switched to a 4-4-2 formation, but I think this may have been an error. Miller and Gera had been causing plenty of problems for the Charlton fullbacks when coming from deep, but now Miller and Phillips were being picked up by the two centre backs, and Charlton seemed settled.

Leroy Lita had a half chance, similar to one he missed in the first half, but that was about it as far as the Addicks were concerned in an attacking mode. ZiZi was well off the pace; Iwelumo came on for Lita; and West Brom took off Miller for Bednar.

It was now, with only fifteen minutes or so to go, that the game swung back in favour of the away team; Bednar started to hold the ball well, and provide crossing opportunities, and there looked just one winner. Cook came on for Ambrose but with little effect, then Gera hit the bar with a vicious dipping volley in the last minute.

Four minutes injury time failed to find a winner, as the game really opened up as both sides were desperate for a win.

It was not to be though, and a few Charlton fan boo's greeted the final whistle. Again, the expectation has been high, and these fans vented their disappointment.

Overall, most of the team played OK; there were no real stand-outs though, and again, that sums up the season – plenty of effort, but no real direction or top draw performances.

Pardew's team continue to stumble toward the end of the season, and only then will we know if it has been good enough. It certainly doesn't look like it on present form.

Maybe, like me, they should get away for Easter and try somewhere or something new? We need a change of luck and fortune...

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