Prior to the Milwall game, Powell was keen to remind fans that Charlton had exactly the same amount of points at this stage last season, and that didn’t turn out so bad. Having said this, it’s not so much the amount of points that Charlton have gained, but the nature of the performances in the points they’ve lost that has begun to worry Addicks fans. Lest we forget that if it wasn’t for a biblical downpour at home to Doncaster, the situation would look a whole lot worse than it does at present.
It could perhaps be described as an indifferent start, a combination of disappointing performances and spirited comebacks with their backs against the wall. More importantly, it appears to be a confused start to season two in the Championship as Charlton struggle to get to grips with a number of factors shaping the performances.
For the first time in perhaps 5 seasons, the aim of the season is noticeably unclear. Since Charlton hit the lows of League One in 2009, they’ve always known what they had to do. For three years, it was all about rebuilding, about clearing out the dead wood and reshaping a team that could compete at the higher levels of the English game. In addition, it was about promotion. Charlton, as a club, both financially and in terms of stature, were not prepared to stay in the third tier, and with the arrival of Powell, and a significant clear-out, the legendary left-back finally brought some joy back to SE7.
Last season, their first back at Championship level, again the goal was clear…survival. By hook or by crook, the Addicks wanted to submit their place in the second tier, and anything more would be a bonus. As it was, and Powell himself admitted it, Charlton overachieved, finishing just a matter of points from making the playoffs. Whilst the home form was decidedly inconsistent, the Addicks enjoyed a fruitful return from their away trips, and feeling was that with more consistent home form this season, perhaps the Addicks could make a serious impression on the league.
A summer of economising combined with rumours of a financial crisis quashed any hopes of building on the fantastic end to last season. Fuller, Haynes, Taylor and Wagstaff amongst others were all shown the door, as the board continued to keep fans in the dark regarding the financial situation and potential takeovers. Whilst a few new players came in, expectations appeared low amongst fans, and the confusion over the aims for the season became more and more visible. Was it survival? Was it a top half finish? Was it even promotion?
Consolidation appeared to be the main goal. After several roller coaster years, a solid mid-table finish would be a good return for a club that had spent far too many years yoyo-ing through the leagues.
The other problem is a real lack of consistency, both in terms of formation and personnel. Powell experimented with the 3-5-2 throughout pre-season, and yet as the season started the Addicks returned to a more traditional 4-4-2. An injury to the talismanic skipper Johnnie Jackson for a few games added to the confusion as no clear leader established themselves, and the side looked low on confidence. More recently, Powell reverted to the 3-5-2 and it served Charlton well with a win against Leicester and a solid point at Watford. Rather than kick starting their season, these results appear to have been a false dawn, as the Addicks have followed up Tuesday’s loss to Huddersfield with a really poor performance against local rivals Millwall.
The formation changes have perhaps been part of the reason behind the changes in personnel, as Powell tries to find his most effective side. Injuries to Solly, Kermorgant and Cort haven’t helped matters, but Powell has also rotated his fit players throughout the two formations, with no clear idea about who should start. Wood, Dervite and Morrison at the back; Pritchard, Stephens, Gower, Harriott, Cousins, Stewart, Wilson, Hughes and Jackson are all fighting for the midfield spots, whilst Kermorgant, Church, Pigott and Sordell are vying for the two places up top.
The Millwall game at the weekend was a microcosm of the season as a whole. Jackson and Church looked hungry, but the rest of the side looked devoid of confidence. Hamer diligently tried to build play from the back, only to see the defenders lump a long ball forward. When Jackson or Stephens did come short to receive the ball, they turned to drive forward and the lack of movement ahead of them was almost laughable. Pritchard, given his chance to audition for a regular start was woeful, constantly giving the ball away including the ball that gifted Millwall the only goal of the game. There was a gaping Kermorgant-shaped hole in the final third of the pitch, and Charlton’s dependency on him is extremely worrying.
When Harriott and Stewart came on, and the Addicks reverted to 4-4-2, they did look better, but they failed to trouble Forde in the Millwall goal. Harriott was one of Charlton’s most important players in that fantastic surge at the end of last season, but he’s another who seems to be finding a starting place hard to come by.
All in all, it’s a worrying start. No one (Powell included) seems to know who should play or how they should play. No one seems to know what the aim of this season is. No one seems to know what’s going on behind the scenes. What is the truth of the finances at the club? Just how safe is Powell? Confidence of the players is clearly at a low, but their lack of passion is also worrying. Kermorgant is clearly in a class of his own, but the Addicks can’t keep relying on him to dig them out of trouble.
With some big games coming up, Powell needs to pick his players up, and fast. A consistent formation and consistent starting eleven may at least start to breed some confidence amongst the players, but this is a results business, and results need to improve quickly. As a reasonable and level-headed fan, my expectations are just to survive, but with some of the comments floating around social networks, it appears that some of the more reactionary fans are seriously concerned. I believe Powell remains the man to carry our club forward, but it won’t be long before some Addicks fans really start to panic.
In Powell We Trust!
By Tom Wallin