Football League Championship
The Valley, Charlton
Admission: Season Ticket
Attendance: 16,369 (1,500 away)
Match Rating: 2
Continued bizarre vagaries of the Football League Championship fixture list meant a second consecutive Saturday trip to The Valley, with the following three Saturdays taken up with away games and an international break - after a similar pattern in late August/early September. The old routine of home one week, away the next, really does appear to be a thing of the past now.
Although it is a theme I keep mentioning on this blog, it is still hard to believe that Charlton went into this game, the tenth of the season, still unbeaten in the league. Even more surprising considering Charlton went to top of the table Norwich City, and pulled off a smash-and-grab victory thanks to Johnnie Jackson - rather ironically, as he was the player that many Charlton fans - myself included - felt was living on borrowed time in the Charlton line-up. But no-one could ever doubt his commitment and leadership skills, or his ability to come up with crucial goals in big games. And so Charlton came into today's game in sixth place, just two points adrift of the the top three, with four wins and six draws from their ten games. After only just escaping relegation from the Championship on goal difference last season, this season has been similarly hard going, and came into this game in 20th place in the 24 team division, after two wins and four draws from their ten games. They did win 1-3 at Millwall in midweek though, which brought to an end a run of seven games without a win.
On a damp and very chilly afternoon, Charlton dominated the early stages and star stiker Igor Vetokele almost gave them the lead with just three minutes on the clock. With a mixture of strength and skill, he managed to break free of covering defenders to the left of the area, before curling a shot past former Charlton keeper Darren Randolph, but also the wrong side of the far post. They did take the lead on 11 minutes though, with a very well worked goal. Frederic Bulot sent in a perfectly judged cross from the left, and an unmarked Vetokele headed down into the bottom left corner of the net for his sixth goal of the season, although first in six games. Inexplicably, that was as good as it got for Charlton, who allowed Birmingham increasingly into the game. They had some good chances to equalise, and it appeared that they had on 34 minutes. The ball was cut back from the byline, and Koby Arthur's shot beat keeper Stephen Henderson and was goalbound before Clayton Donaldson headed the ball in from very close range. It was unfortunate poacher's instinct though, as he was offside and the goal was ruled out.
So despite a strong start, Charlton held a slightly fortunate half time lead in the end, but they came out with good intent in the second half, and almost extended their lead within a minute. Vetokele yet again showed good strength in recovering from a slip to send in a cross to Lawrie Wilson in the box, but he matched a dreadful overall performance with a shot that was sliced high of the goal, although admittedly with his "wrong", left foot. Similar to the first half though, Charlton's performance soon waned badly, and Birmingham scored a deserved equaliser on 53 minutes. A corner was played to an unmarked Stephen Gleeson in a central position just outside the area, and he passed the ball to his left to David Davis, who checked, and despite facing towards the corner flag, placed a low shot on the turn which just eluded Henderson's hand and went just inside the far post. Despite some huffing and puffing, neither side looked likely to score a winner, and a point apiece was certainly a fair reflection on the game. Another point and stretching their unbeaten start to the season to eleven league games was very welcome, yet there was much disappointment at a lacklustre performance, when three points really could have been there for the taking. None of the Charlton players really stood out, and unfortunately Yoni Buyens, who looked so good in the opening couple of games, had another poor afternoon, being wasteful is possession too often, and whilst Michael Morrison, a regular last season, did not really take his chance to demand retaining his place after stepping in today for Tal Ben Haim, who sat this one out due to observing Yom Kippur. What is becoming glaringly obvious is that Charlton really need a second striker, to stop Vetokele being so isolated, and to provide the knock-downs and divert some of the defenders' attention away from him.
Video highlights can be found here