Charlton Athletic are showing signs of progress but will it be enough for a serious promotion push?

6 min

Football is a frustrating sport with games often shaped by distinct moments – sometimes sublime, sometimes unfortunate.

In terms of Charlton’s defeat at Peterborough it was the latter – Lee Bowyer’s side seemingly in control until Deji Oshilaja and Jason Pearce collided as they challenged for the same innocuous punt upfield just past the hour mark.

Neither Charlton defender got to it and Sammie Szmodics capitalised to make it 1-1 before adding a second later from another mistake to seal Peterborough’s win.

Cue a mood of frustration tinged with despair – instead of celebrating a second impressive away win in a week, Charlton were once again ruing what might have been.

Tuesday’s trip to fellow promotion rivals Peterborough was never going to be easy, particularly on an almost unplayable pitch, but there was a feeling of hopeful optimism following the win at Bristol Rovers and a second-half comeback against Rochdale.

It’s unfair to say the result was solely determined by Pearce and Oshilaja’s miscommunication, but it was the definitive moment the game switched in Peterborough’s favour.

In an ideal world one of them would have got to the ball with the other tracking back to cover in case there was a misjudgement from his defensive partner. Instead Charlton’s centre-backs both moved into a strange half-space not quite forward enough to really go for it but not far enough back to recover.

A lack of consistency in the middle of defence undoubtedly accounted for elements of the mistake with Oshilaja and Pearce just not comfortable enough with each other to anticipate each other’s movements -having started just two games together this campaign before Tuesday night.

It’s hardly a surprise – with the Addicks having 12 centre-back pairings this season due to injuries and suspensions.

Akin Famewo and Ryan Inniss look by far the safest duo but have started just four times alongside each other. Darren Pratley has the most centre-back appearances of any Charlton player this season (12) with Bowyer frequently forced to rely on right-back Chris Gunter as a makeshift central defender.

The lack of familiarity has brought mistake after mistake – another innocuous long ball undid Charlton against Accrington Stanley when Pearce and goalkeeper Ben Amos weren’t on the same wavelength.

At Hull City, more confusion. Charlton failed to deal with a simple ball across the box, allowing multiple opposition players the chance to tap home before Hakeeb Adelakun duly obliged. Against Burton Albion, a procession of mistakes gifted the hosts goal after goal in a 4-2 defeat.

Until Charlton can get key personnel back and playing regularly, they will continue to suffer a lack of consistency and communication at the back.

But defence isn’t the only issue with errors at crucial moments plaguing the entire team – evident by Szmodics’ second goal when midfielder Andrew Shinnie lost his footing at a vital moment. 

Although the pitch was a contributory factor, it’s not the first time Charlton have found themselves slipping during big moments. 

Rochdale’s opening goal came as Alex Gilbey forgot to track Matty Lund on the edge of the box; Omar Bogle failed to make contact with a great chance six yards out to level at Hull while last week’s win at Bristol Rovers was nearly ruined by Charlton’s inability to take a number of chances to close out the game. 

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On Tuesday night it was Gunter who missed a glorious chance to make it 2-0 seconds before Peterborough equalised. 

Nevertheless, the way Charlton have played in the past two and a half games is encouraging despite garnering just four points from 12.

The side appears to have rediscovered their backbone that Lee Bowyer has so publicly demanded over the past few months, evidenced by the comeback against Rochdale and a hard-fought win at Bristol Rovers.

At Peterborough, Charlton’s fighting spirit was on show – making 26 tackles to Peterborough’s 21 with Bowyer’s side committing 24 fouls, comfortably more than their previous high of 19 against Lincoln in September

Bowyer also seems to be finally settling on a formation, and while that won’t necessarily last as rotation and injury absences continue to play a part, he does at least seem to have stumbled upon a system that fits this group of players. 

Having tried a back three, a 4-3-3, and a 4-4-2 diamond, it’s now a flat 4-4-2 that seems best suited to the side – allowing Bowyer to utilise Liam Millar in his best position out wide on the left.

With Alfie Doughty’s injury and imminent departure, Charlton have lacked someone with the drive to counter at pace with Millar slotting in perfectly as an out and out winger since arriving on loan from Liverpool.

Elsewhere, Jake Forster-Caskey has leapt to the top of Bowyer’s central midfield list, starting Charlton’s last six games due to his mix of unrelenting pressure and passing range allowing him to take responsibility on both sides of the ball.

Alongside Forster-Caskey, Bowyer has a few options depending on the type of game and opponent he faces. 

At Bristol Rovers Albie Morgan was excellent, linking up play all over the pitch while Darren Pratley put in a typical battling performance in a game that required it on Tuesday.

Although the lack of a second natural winger is a problem, it appears Charlton have finally found some balance with the flat 4-4-2 formation, allowing for attacking width as well as defensive solidity.

So progress is being made, albeit inconsistent and far from perfect but the team that lost at Peterborough felt notably different to the side that fell to Accrington Stanley at The Valley just 11 days earlier. 

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“The players gave me everything,” Bowyer said after the Peterborough match. “I just walked around, shook everyone’s hand and said: ‘Look, as a manager, what is important to me is that you just give me 100%.’

“Taking away the couple of mistakes that they (Peterborough) scored from, I thought we were very good. Full control of the game. So, very disappointing. We ain’t miles off it. It’s just stupid mistakes that are costing us.” 

Tuesday’s game marked the half-way point in Charlton’s League One campaign, leaving Bowyer’s side sixth in the table with 36 points. 

With a slow start down to the summer’s ownership issues, at times Charlton have shown signs of what they are capable of this campaign but, unable to do it consistently, still have plenty of unfulfilled potential.

And with half a season still to play, there is enough time to realise it, but as the grains of sand continue to fall, at some point ‘progress’ becomes less acceptable and results become the necessity.

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