Matt Riggs reflects on Saturday’s draw at the iPro Stadium…
As a 25-yard Tony Watt strike sails over the head of an ex-Charlton keeper via a deflection to give the Addicks the lead at promotion-favourites Derby County, it’s hard to sit there in silence.
Unfortunately for me, it was a must having picked up a ticket from a friend among the home fans at the iPro Stadium. The smirk that undoubtedly emerged on my face was sweet, nonetheless.
Charlton’s display against QPR last weekend was fast and fluid – this one, to pick up a 1-1 draw with Derby, was hearty and heroic. Charlton knew the Rams would come at them; they knew they’d have to defend, and defend they did.
The first half was one of dominance for Derby, yet it was probably Charlton who had the best opportunity to take the lead when a hopeful Chris Solly cross almost found the back of the net via Cristian Ceballos.
The youngster, on his full league debut, looked bright – and then he took a corner.
Funnily enough for Addicks fans, that wasn’t the first time they’ve seen somebody do the seemingly impossible and pass it straight out for a goal kick. Bryan Hughes on his return for Hull City, anyone?
It was perhaps surprising, though, to see Ceballos get the nod ahead of El-Hadji Ba in Guy Luzon’s starting XI, given the possession and control Derby were always likely to get. To keep Cousins on the left-hand-side and remain with Ba in the middle may have seen us better prepared for the ball-chasing that was inevitable.
The feeling that the pace of Ceballos down the left would see us counter-attack dangerously was favoured however, and it wasn’t a bad league debut for the winger. He was replaced by Bergdich early in the second half, but given his lack of match fitness, that wasn’t a shock.
And although Charlton were under the cosh during the opening 45 minutes, credit goes to Luzon’s men who never gave up chasing Derby who, mostly through George Thorne, were tiring the Addicks.
At half time I was forced to endure the usual “this lot are s***” comments, but the break – in which an iPro pie, one of the league’s better excuses for grub, was consumed – was clearly an important tactical 15 minutes for Luzon. There’s no question that Charlton were solid in the first half, but they returned even sturdier, it seemed, and crucially, like they could give the Rams some trouble up the other end.
The early part of a campaign is an important period for a football fan – you can see new signings in action and make a judgement on where your side could end up. But, most importantly, it highlights the front runners for the next name on the back of your shirt.
It’s not hard to guess who’s currently winning the race. Only four letters keeps the costs down, too.
Watt worked hard all game, and was deserving of the slice of luck he got when his pot-shot ballooned over Carson. What’s more, the Addicks could have had a second in almost identical fashion as, later, Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s deflected effort was inches away from the opposite top corner.
But this wasn’t one of those typical smash and grab displays – Charlton could have had more. First, admittedly, there was a hefty chunk of defending to do, but although Derby dominated possession and will feel as though they were the better team, the Addicks created the better chances and will be disappointed to have only taken one.
Following Watt’s opener, Makienok, who will seemingly game-by-game get to grips with English football, may have either laid the ball off for Gudmundsson to finish or dispatched better himself. Either way, it could, and probably should have been 2-0.
Unfortunately, though, for all the desperate blocks, the life-on-the-line tackles and brave counter attacks, it was Charlton errors, not Derby brilliance, that told to introduce the equaliser.
First, Ahmed Kashi gave the ball away sloppily – his performance was a far cry from last weekend’s heroics – which resulted in Patrick Bauer scrambling the ball from his own goalline. To his credit, Kashi continued to look for the ball throughout, but occasionally the quality of execution of his passes let him down.
Then, the stupidity of Zakarya Bergdich, who went bundling into the back of Tom Ince – who, let’s be honest, was never likely to stay on his feet – gave Derby a cheap free-kick which resulted in Chris Martin’s goal.
It would have been easy to crumble, but Charlton almost responded in spectacular fashion, as Gudmundsson and Makienok both had chances to win the game. The former seemed a certainty to at least hit the target with his left-foot drive.
But it wasn’t to be, and Luzon and co. travelled home with a hard-earned, but thoroughly deserved point. Derby and their supporters will, no doubt, disagree having looked at the game’s stats, but Charlton simply created the superior opportunities.
There were, again, terrific displays put in by Jordan Cousins and the pair of centre-backs, while the rest of Charlton’s line-up did their reputations absolutely no harm – with Kashi, perhaps, the sole exception.
Derby will certainly be disappointed that they failed to break down one of the (misguided) bookies’ favourites for relegation, but they’ll face far worse defensive displays at the iPro this season, I’ve got no doubt. Charlton were again impressive and it will just add to the growing quiet confidence around supporters at the Valley. Should the Addicks again avoid defeat in the midlands on Tuesday, Hull City will arrive in South East London with plenty of reasons to fret.
I’m sure, with his players showing a different side to their game, Luzon learned a lot on Saturday. I, for one, learned two things – it’s even harder than you imagine having to clap an opponents’ goal, and if Cristian Ceballos ever goes to take a corner again, don’t watch.