With the pitch “sorted”, in as much as a football match finally went ahead, Charlton were finally able to get 2014 up and running. Postponements galore had followed the hard-earned win at Ipswich, but on Tuesday the Addicks welcomed Oxford to The Valley. A classic game of two halves, the home side were dreadful in the opening 45 as Oxford raced into a 2-0 lead. Booed off at half time, and following a few choice words from Chris Powell, the Addicks rallied and clawed the game back to 2-2. Green, introduced as a second-half substitute, was inspirational, and as a result Charlton travel to Oxford for the replay this week.
The game was followed by the long trip up north to in-form Middlesbrough. The Addicks reverted to a 4-5-1 formation, and introduced loan goalkeeper Thuram-Ulien. It was the Liege ‘keeper’s debut, and he’ll have been disappointed with Ledesma’s strike that broke the deadlock early on, which bounced through his arms. It was to be the only goal of the match, after a late Church leveler was unfairly ruled out for a foul on Shay Given. The result continues ‘Boro’s good form, and leaves Charlton hovering just one place above the relegation zone.
One positive from the three games played so far in 2014 has been the emergence of Jordan Cook as a first-team starter. The 23 year old Sunderland youth-team player signed for the Addicks in July 2012 on a free transfer, but found regular opportunities hard to come by and in 2013 was sent on loan to Yeovil. Back with Charlton this season, his first major contribution came against Ipswich on New Year’s Day. When Sordell pulled up with a hamstring injury, everyone expected Powell to introduce Simon Church. However, Powell sensed Cook’s pace could cause havoc with the Ipswich left back, introducing the youngster over Church, and it was an inspired change. Cook created all kinds of problems, and was a major part in the battle back to take a point from Portman Road.
His performance earned him a start against Oxford, and although the first half was largely woeful, Cook came out of it with another good performance under his belt. The youngster also started against ‘Boro, and continued to look dangerous as he grows in confidence with every start. Despite Stewart choosing to sign for Leeds, Harriott’s comeback and Cook’s recent form will be encouraging going in to the next few fixtures.
On the other hand, the goalkeeping situation is far from encouraging. For the last two or three seasons, Ben Hamer has been the undisputed number one at the club. Whilst fans are torn over whether his confidence breeds good performances or his arrogance leads to mistakes, he has made crucial saves over the past few seasons that have won important games for the Addicks.
Following his injury, Ben Alnwick came in and hasn’t put a foot wrong. The former Tottenham ‘keeper was released from Barnsley at the start of the season, and the Addicks snapped him up on a one-year deal. Alnwick has produced some solid performances, encapsulated by the penalty save that earned Charlton a point at Ipswich.
Hamer came back in for the game against Oxford, but seemed off the pace for the two goals that Charlton conceded. Both Bens were then unavailable for the trip to ‘Boro, so Standard Liege loanee Thuram-Ulien played. Despite some good saves, he was at fault for the goal, and Powell will have a decision to make ahead of the Oxford replay. I believe Alnwick is the best ‘keeper at the club, and if he’s fit then the number one jersey should be his.
Charlton is still a club of uncertainty. The new owner has been in charge for over two weeks and publicly at least there is still no news of new contracts. Rumours are that players are waiting to see if Powell will still be there before making their decisions. Whilst this shows the solidarity between the staff both on and off the pitch (which has been one of Charlton’s big strengths in recent seasons) it doesn’t make the future any clearer. Anil Koc is rumoured to be another Liege midfielder joining on loan, which indicates that perhaps Stephens and/or Cousins may be off, or perhaps Powell just wants more options in those positions.
With Oxford on Tuesday, and depending on the result, either Huddersfield or a break next weekend, the players can take a break from the league. It’s clear that the Addicks are in a relegation scrap now, but with Powell at the helm there is no doubt that this side can dig themselves out of trouble.
In Powell We Trust!
By Tom Wallin