Nobody is saying that Charlton Athletic’s troubling start to the League One campaign is behind them. But maybe, just maybe, Tuesday’s draw in Kent can be a small step in the right direction.
Nigel Adkins’ perpetual positivity has jarred with some of the club’s fanbase after a torrid opening to the campaign. But even he struggled to extract many plusses from the losses to Cheltenham Town and Wycombe Wanderers.
And the disappointment and frustration at Charlton occupying a relegation spot means that patience has worn paper thin with plenty of the club’s supporters.
Putting aside a defensively abject Crawley Town, swatted aside 6-1 in the EFL Trophy, the Addicks produced their most cohesive 45 minutes of the campaign in their 1-1 draw at Gillingham.
Sometimes managers can be guilty of attempting to slant the post-match narrative. But Adkins was absolutely correct in claiming that Charlton’s dominance in the first half should have been rewarded with more than just Elliot Lee’s first league goal since his loan move from Luton Town.
Conor Washington had two chances before being forced off at the interval with an ankle injury. His delay on shooting allowed Jack Tucker to make a crucial block after Lee’s excellent pass sent him through on Jamie Cumming’s goal.
It meant the situation was salvageable for the Gills. A double sub and shape change at the start of the second half saw them finally make territorial gains.
Lee found it harder to find pockets of space to operate in and home striker Vaidane Oliver had better support from his team-mates as he won 16 headers, as many as Alex Pearce and Samuel Lavelle combined.
Charlton paid the price for hitting the snooze button as they defended a corner at The Rainham End. They were outnumbered on a short corner and luck deserted them as Kyle Dempsey’s shot came back off the right upright before deflecting in off Ben Purrington.
There was more of an ebb and flow feel to that second half and the Addicks looked at least a touch fortunate to survive a handball appeal involving Ben Watson. Craig MacGillivray was also beaten all ends up by Danny Lloyd, the ball coming off the same post as the leveller.
But Charlton also created too. Cumming made a jaw-dropping save to deny Josh Davison and then seconds later was able to turn away Lavelle’s effort from the resulting corner.
This was Charlton’s first point of the season away from The Valley but they need to follow that up at home to Portsmouth tomorrow for it to ease some of the pressure that has ramped up on Adkins.
He made seven changes for their latest match and there were some bold calls as well. Jayden Stockley has worn the armband this season whenever Jason Pearce has not been involved but the targetman – a priority signing from Preston in the summer – was dropped to the bench.
Diallang Jaiyesimi missed out on the matchday squad for the second fixture in a row. Charlie Kirk did make the bench, but was also unused. Neither winger has featured since mediocre outings in the Cheltenham defeat.
Chris Gunter, Harry Arter, Pape Souare and George Dobson – all starters at Wycombe last weekend – were not in the matchday 18.
It is a sign of the strength in depth that despite those absences, Adkins was able to have Akin Famewo, Alex Gilbey, Jonathan Leko and Sean Clare as substitutes.
Davison and Corey Blackett-Taylor made the most of their opportunities. The latter is ultra rapid and can sear a full-back. The fact his end product is a little hit and miss is the reason he is not operating at a higher level.
With Gilbey, laid low by Covid-19, making his first appearance since the 2020-21 finale against Hull City, Charlton have a squad that should be producing better results.
Adkins has more than 550 matches under his belt as a boss in English football. He knows the score if there isn’t a significant upturn.
Ben Watson. Sometimes the stats don’t lie – completed the most passes (92) and touches (109) out of anyone on the pitch.
A first league goal for Lee. Great approach play by Blackett-Taylor, whose chest control left Gills defender Tucker scrambling.
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