5 games unbeaten, 7 and a half hours without conceding a goal, Charlton have begun November the way they finished October. After a battling 0-0 draw against Wigan last Sunday, the Addicks made it 9 points from 5 games with a hard fought victory over Birmingham at St Andrews. Dale Stephens scored the only goal of the game in front of a vocal away following, as Charlton’s robust defence once again shut out the opposition strikers to keep a fourth consecutive clean sheet.
Kermorgant was still ruled out following a recurrence of his ankle injury last weekend, but the traveling Addicks did welcome back skipper Johnnie Jackson to the starting line-up. He joined Pritchard, Cousins, Stewart and Stephens in midfield, with Wilson, Morrison, Dervite and Wiggins ahead of Hamer, and Church up front on his own.
El Classico it was not, but Charlton made the better of the early stages with Church, Stephens and Jackson all going close. As the teams went in 0-0 at half time, it looked more and more likely that one goal would decide the game. That was how it proved early in the second half, Stephens steering the ball passed Randolph after the ‘keeper had blocked the original shot. Birmingham went close in the latter stages of the game, Morrison clearing one off the line, but the Addicks have forgotten how to concede goals, and held on for a vitally important three points.
Charlton’s recent run of form has coincided with a series of fantastic performances from the match winner Dale Stephens. Accused of going missing in games, he has show in the last month just how important he can be to the Addicks’ attack. Earlier in the season he came under immense criticism, and I pointed out that he plays better with Hollands alongside him, because he does the work in front of the back four and allows Stephens to push on. In this recent run, young Jordan Cousins has come in and played an almost identical role as Hollands, and the results are there for everyone to see. Previously, Gower and Jackson have both lacked pace and aggression, but Cousins combines both with an uncanny experience despite his age. With the youth product alongside him, Stephens has felt comfortable coming forward, and his assist for Church and goal today show the positive results of Powell’s decision.
Another revelation in recent weeks has been Lawrie Wilson’s performances at right-back. Last season, when Solly was forced to fill in on the left, Wilson had an extended run in the team with mixed results. His inconsistency combined with some poor decisions left fans uncomfortable with him in that position, but this season he has grown in confidence game after game. Either as a wing-back in a 4-5-1 or a right-back in a 4-4-2, Wilson has combined his marauding runs with intelligent defending. He has more than filled Chris Solly’s small but metaphorically big boots, and it is a joy to watch a player playing win such confidence.
Another change in recent weeks has been the communication and relationship between Morrison and Hamer. Earlier in the season saw regular mid-game fallouts between the two players, blaming each other and criticising each other for their mistakes. Alongside Wood in recent weeks, and Dervite today, they have tightened themselves, and have looked to support each other rather than pointing the finger of blame. Hamer has made some important saves in recent weeks, whilst Morrison’s defending against Birmingham was almost impeccable.
Whilst there are a huge amount of positives to take from the recent games, Pritchard’s performances have come in for some deserved criticism. Played out on the right, he doesn’t appear to be getting involved in the game, and when he does he has been guilty of some big mistakes. His performance against Millwall was dreadful, and in the first half against Birmingham he looked off the pace. Whilst Powell won’t be keen to make changes unless enforced (with Kermorgant’s return a possible exception), he needs to consider whether Pritchard can continue to justify his position, particularly with Jackson back.
One option would be a 4-5-1, with Stewart on the right, Harriott on the left and Stephens and Jackson ahead of Cousins. Alternatively, they could stay with 4-4-2, with two of Jackson, Harriott and Stewart on the wings. With Solly on his way back to fitness, Wilson could even push forward to right wing, allowing Solly the chance to slot back into his defensive duties.
Either way, the formation considerations are now a way of looking at all available options, rather than desperately looking for ways to improve the side. After a shakey start Charlton have grown into this season by building their performances from the back. Goals have been at a premium, but with the defence refusing to give anything to the opposition, one goal a game is proving enough at the moment. An away day to QPR aside, November sees Charlton welcome Leeds, Doncaster and Ipswich to The Valley, and if they can get some good results in those games, they’ll be in a strong position entering the Christmas period.
Momentum remains important, and with the team high in confidence, Powell will want the games to continue coming thick and fast, as the Addicks drag themselves further and further from the relegation zone.
In Powell We Trust!
By Tom Wallin