BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT THE VALLEY
If anything sums up Charlton Athletic’s defensive struggles this season it is that they have already conceded 22 goals at The Valley – seven more than when they last won promotion from League One.
Sixteen of those have come in the seven fixtures in SE7 since December.
The Addicks have shipped 35 goals. They only conceded 40 in the successful 2018-19 campaign in the regulation 46 matches. Lee Bowyer’s side are only five off that total and still have 20 games to play.
Time is running out to correct Charlton’s failings. Tuesday’s chastening reverse to Portsmouth saw them drop to eighth in the table.
Pompey joined Accrington Stanley, Peterborough and Hull in being promotion rivals who have taken maximum points off the South Londoners in recent weeks.
Bowyer remains upbeat and is convinced that the Addicks are capable of going on a run to drive themselves firmly into the equation.
They won 12 and drew six of their final 20 matches when he enjoyed his first promotion as manager – with 11 clean sheets. It’s hard to see them replicating that kind of return now.
That’s not to say they can’t. But their defending has too often been uncertain, unconfident and error-riddled since Akin Famewo and Ryan Inniss were both sidelined with injuries.
The question is whether at least one centre-back should have been procured in the January transfer window. Inniss has missed 16 games and been out since November 21. Famewo could be back in the squad for Rochdale tomorrow but has been available for two of their last 17 league fixtures. It’s a big ask for either just to instantly step back in.
But Charlton incomings were exclusively on the attacking side – Ronnie Schwartz, Jayden Stockley, Diallang Jaiyesimi, Liam Millar and Matt Smith.
What you can say is that Stockley, even just in his first couple of outings, has played the centre-forward role far more adeptly than Omar Bogle, who was shipped off to Doncaster.
The Preston North End loanee was Charlton’s best performer against Portsmouth. Time and again he won balls into him and created opportunities for his team-mates, but the visitors defended diligently pretty much throughout.
Millar has also made a promising start since arriving from Liverpool.
The Addicks have six loans and only five can be in a matchday squad. When Famewo is fit then it isn’t immediately clear which one will miss out. Stockley, Millar and Ian Maatsen must be some of the first names on Bowyer’s teamsheet. The most likely rotation in or out of the matchday 18 may be Smith, who was a regular in Swindon’s side before his recall by parent club Arsenal.
It is Bowyer’s call on where to spend the budget. He wasn’t helped by the likes of Bogle and Marcus Maddison both backfiring as signings. The argument on the pair will be that it was a bit of a mad dash after Thomas Sandgaard’s takeover to actually get players through the door.
In the case of Maddison, he could have been a game-changer. Bowyer felt he could correct the former Peterborough playmaker’s flaws. But his attitude and approach, something which has impeded him playing at a higher level, did not change. When Bowyer blasted him for pulling out of a tackle in the loss to Accrington it was game over for his Charlton career. He didn’t feature again.
It tells you plenty that Maddison’s next stop is League Two. There was no queue of clubs queuing up, much as there wasn’t when he left Hull City.
I’ve largely avoided talking about the Portsmouth match, just because it is a bit depressing.
Pompey were the superior side. Michael Jacobs’ opener was an excellent finish. Tom Naylor showed greater desire to put them back in front soon after Stockley’s goal. Charlton’s shape was all over the shop when Andy Cannon smashed home a third – compounded by Ben Watson not clearing his lines on the edge of his own box.
Without a couple of Ben Amos saves – including a superb one from Ellis Harrison just moments before Pompey went 2-1 up – the away team could have been bigger victors.
Albie Morgan struck the bar early on for Charlton, Stockley again involved with a cute chestdown, but the hosts only had one shot on target all evening.
It’s now 38 games in all competitions – since the play-off final against Sunderland – where the Addicks have conceded the first goal and not gone on to win.
They need momentum. They need more confidence. They need both those things sharpish – and it only comes with putting victories on the board.
Their character and resolve are about to be tested. Bowyer admitted post-match that anything less than the top six is a failure. The chances of getting to the play-offs remains firmly in the balance.
Jayden Stockley. Displayed determination and power to claim his first goal for Charlton. The Preston loanee won the most aerial duels – nine – out of any player on the pitch.
Not many for the Addicks from an attacking sense. Has to be Stockley emphatically heading home Andrew Shinnie’s corner.
Pics by Keith Gillard
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