Five Thoughts: Charlton Athletic 0-0 Fulham

Cameron Ramsey 23rd January 2020

I wasn’t at The Valley but I must admit, I’m actually glad I wasn’t able to make the trip in the end. 7pm finishes are a soul destroyer, but Fulham’s torpid 0-0 draw against Charlton Athletic was also a dispiriting ordeal to digest. I hear there were in excess of 2,700 in the Jimmy Seed stand and I’m deeply sorry for all of you.

Still, a point is a point in the grand scheme of things (love a cliche) and we’re only 4 points off first. All is well in SW6 and was it truly that bad in SE7? We didn’t lose, so I’ll pick up the toys I’d hurled so from my pram a few moments ago, begrudgingly.

Lee Bowyer and Scott Parker shook hands on a point, knowing that it was progress in some way or another. Fulham’s faithful virtually outnumbered Charlton’s patchy following and the Addicks’ social media admins are a bunch of whoppers if they thought their men were the better outfit. Lads, we were both equally as shite as one another, trying to score points on Twitter won’t drag you away from League 1.

Missing Mitro’ Madly

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To those who still believe we play better football without Aleksandar Mitrovic, please make yourself known. With no focal point in the final third to build from, Fulham were utterly powerless against Charlton’s rigid defensive line and rarely Tom Lockyer and Jason Pearce, who were rattled to high heaven when the Addicks visited Craven Cottage in October. We’re genuinely blessed that Mitro’ isn’t out of the picture for longer than a couple of weeks because without him in the fold, we look completely lost in front of the target and, in cursory terms, bang average.

The Whites brushed the ball from left to right without variation and Charlton anticipated our detectable methods. We still had more than enough ingenuity and firepower on hand to trouble the hosts greatly but our strategy was painfully frigid. Conception of chances was non-existent and that’s simply because we made things far too easy for Charlton’s back four to repel our flaccid motives on the break. Bobby Decordova Reid is a free-roaming attacker and shouldn’t be tasked with spearheading our attack, it simply goes against his natural acumen as an elusive instigator. He performs so much better behind an out and out target man, within those congested pockets, because that’s ultimately how he’s wired. He’s a phantom offender, not lone hold-up man.

We have no back-up. No alternative. Aboubakar Kamara is even out of contention and he’s arguably the only plausible replacement we have on our books for the sidelined Serb. Jay Stansfield is a natural striker, of course, but we’ll explore his importance a little later and we’re kidding ourselves, almost literally, if we think the 17-year-old is the answer to our woes in the scoring department. Perhaps, seeing as it’s January, we should dip into the transfer market for another capable, dependable hitman. Glenn Murray would do absolute bits in our set-up and I’m sure he wouldn’t necessarily mind playing second fiddle to Mitro’ for the remainder of the campaign. After last night’s bereft showing, we certainly require depth and resolve up top.

Hector’s Headless Header

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We can harp on incessantly about how Michael Hector should have diverted his 50th-minute header and, as there’s more or less nothing to prattle on about otherwise, we’ll do so for a brief moment. I don’t think Hector really realised just how much time he had to compose himself before meeting Ivan Cavaleiro’s enticing corner. Peeling from his marker, the 27-year-old combined bonce with ball but somehow, despite being unmarked, his butted effort flashed past Dillon Phillips’ left upright. The game’s key opportunity to steal a march, blown by a man that’s aerially imperious. Not intentionally digging him out, but give me strength.

Moving on swiftly, Hector has undoubtedly plugged the gaps in our leaky rearguard. As far as additions go, he is different gravy. Charlton’s attackers are rapid but the Jamaica international, who’s a military road block in comparison to Tomer Hemed, Alfie Doughty and Lyle Taylor, fastened a lid tightly on the Addicks’ impotent strike force and rarely appeared flustered or agitated whilst screening possession. Charlton’s home support, all 7 of them, whinged for a penalty midway through the second-half after Doughty (forgive me if I’m wrong) buckled under Hector’s shadow. Behave, that Stage Coach playacting doesn’t wash here.

There was an uncharacteristic 10-minute spell where Big Hec’ and Tim Ream’s feet morphed into pitching wedges, but all in all our central defensive pairing did more than enough to restrain and retain Charlton, who only registered one solitary shot on target, which Marek Rodak smothered routinely. We know the statistics, but that’s now three clean sheets in a row with him on the turf and order has seemingly been restored to our erratic defensive line and discipline. Hector has steadied the heart of our defence, transforming them into a secure regiment that’s confident and equipped. His authoritative presence alone will be vital as we tail the automatic spots.

Predictable Plodding Patterns

The magnitude of Wednesday night’s encounter was monumental, but the Whites failed to slip out of neutral in their mundane, plodding patterns of play. The game stagnated under the sheer lack of gumption, with both sides being visibly happy to settle for an uneventful, excruciatingly boring draw. Not quite the humdinger we were all expecting before kick-off and that, especially as it’s only bloody Charlton, is unacceptable to say the least. Urgency? Never heard of it. Innovation? Don’t be ridiculous. Banal sequences and a severe lack of interest? We’re cooking with gas, lads.

Maybe I’m being a tad unfair to Bowyer’s men. The Addicks were organised, resolute and determined to suppress the Whites, but we didn’t exactly raise any issues. Blame it on lazy tactics. With 68% possession, the Cottagers hesitantly administered predictable sequences and Charlton, prepared and aware of the visitors’ default tempo, barricaded Phillips’ target methodically. A 10-minute spurt, just to crank up the tempo, would have surely broken Charlton’s defence but everything was, well, meh, like they didn’t give a damn about 3 points and closing the gap on West Bromwich Albion and Leeds United.

Maybe, as we’ve the small matter of contesting Manchester City in the FA Cup on Sunday, we were merely attempting to conserve our energy and, in turn, preserve our dwindling available squad, but isn’t that particular trip to the Etihad a total write off in Parker’s eyes? Concentrate on the league, implore your squad to give everything they’ve got in the games that actually matter, because as much as a cup run would be fantastic, it’s highly naive and unrealistic for us to even dream of scalping City in their own back yard. Act on necessity. It’s imperative that we maintain momentum and we lifted our foot off the pedal. Cruise control should not be an option when we’re supposed to be chasing.

Tired Tom’s Toil

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I refuse to slam Tom Cairney too drastically, although a tiny bit of stick is in order. TC wandered aimlessly through proceedings against Charlton until he was replaced by Stefan Johansen in the 77th minute and for a figurehead that’s meant to galvanise and lead by example, his influence faded with every passing minute he spent meandering within the midfield department. It’s factual, Cairney has not been himself of late and his slackened work-rate is having an adverse effect on our production.

Of course, he threaded BDR through in the 15th minute and yes, he supplied Joe Bryan with an opportunity to strike in the 22nd, but something seriously wasn’t right about his outing at The Valley. He’s our trusted catalyst, the overseer of rhythm and tempo and with notable faces out of the frame, we needed him, more than anyone else, to step up to the plate and deliver a show-stopping performance. Spreading play to the advertising hoardings, reluctant to pierce Charlton’s shape, paused in his fundamental decision making, his mind was definitely elsewhere.

Cairney, however, is so much more than just a playmaker. He’s a match winner, an integral member of the fold and, most importantly, our club captain. One uncharacteristic slump of a performance will never change his standing in the camp but now, given an obvious dip in mentality, I’m starting to question his credentials for that particular honour. When he’s operating at full tilt, the entire squad functions in perfect harmony. If his batteries are sapped of life and energy, though, our matchday XI also struggles to run at optimum capacity. A chain reaction that hinges solely on Cairney’s form and condition. We do ask for so much from the resourceful 29-year-old, although if I were Parker, I’d hand him a weekend off. The guy needs a break.

Stansfield’s Second Showing

Give Jay Stansfield more game time during the period Mitro’s out on the physio’s bench. I don’t mean a full 90, but he definitely needs a little longer than 3 minutes to express himself. Well, it was more 5/6 minutes against Charlton, although this point still stands. Emerging in the 88th minute for Joshua Onomah, Stansfield had a very limited margin of time to alter the latter stages although it’s another milestone reached. A Championship debut at the age of 17, and that needs to be recognised in my opinion.

Charging into the action, or what was left of it anyway, the groundbreaking hotshot contested headers with Lockyer, galloped after Charlton’s passive passes at the back and was basically all you’d expect from a hungry teenager on their first senior league cameo. Surely with the game languishing in stalemate, 10 to 15 minutes would’ve been enough for the trigger-happy youngster to carve out a shooting opportunity at least? I’ve no need to repeat his exact record for our development folds, but the lad is a frightening goal mouth assassin.

Filling Mitro’s void, full-time, is not wise for his development, although I would love to see Stansfield ply his budding trade for a good 20 minutes or so in the first-team proper. His name will feature heavily on our bench for the next few weeks, I’m sure, and there’s an enthusiasm in the youngster that has to be harnessed as much as humanly possible. One flash of bravery could result in an assist, a goal or, considering he’s a next-gen machine, a consummate brace within 5 minutes. Stansfield has broken boundaries during his time at Motspur Park and we’re all desperate to see what he can really do in the big boy’s world.