James 50 og
BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT THE VALLEY
A proper crowd and a proper match – it was like someone had flicked a switch to show what life would be like freed from the shackles of Roland Duchatelet’s reign.
Except the Belgian businessman is still the owner. Despite fresh takeover speculation exciting supporters – daring to dream once again of a brighter future – it only matters when there is some kind of official announcement.
Let’s not forget that the Andrew Muir-fronted group who generated a similar buzz last season – the Australian tycoon attending the play-off semi-final first leg in a brazen show of confidence – have been on the scene for more than 18 months.
The messages are confusing. Duchatelet wants to sell. Duchatelet thinks Charlton can win promotion and he will demand even more once they secure Championship status. This has become the norm when sifting through the wheat and the chaff. Separating them is a challenge.
But what isn’t in doubt is that underneath it all, there is a damn fine football club. A football club that is not reaching its potential. A young manager showing major promise despite working on one of the tightest budgets in decades. A squad which – with a few quality additions in this January transfer window – is easily good enough to at least snare a top-six spot.
Saturday was highly enjoyable. A crowd of 16,317 – comfortably the highest of the campaign – were treated to an excellent game of football. Sunderland, who can match the Addicks in terms of a fall from grace, looked every inch a promotion contender. But that also applied to the hosts.
The atmosphere crackled. And that’s something we’ve not been able to say very often in SE7, certainly since the drop into League One.
Charlton are keeping themselves in the hunt despite their now regular injury issues. They seem to happen on such a frequent annual basis that putting in planning permission to build a standalone large treatment room at their training ground might not be a bad shout.
They have eight players unavailable – at least six of those senior ones who would be expected to start. Sunderland had similar problems and only named a bench with six substitutes.
“I’d love to play these sides with our full side, “ said Bowyer, when asked about matching fancied opposition. “You have your full side – we have our full side.”
In terms of the final outcome, a draw was a pretty fair reflection.
Sunderland were in the ascendency in the opening 45 minutes as Charlton struggled to play their way through organised opponents.
Luke O’Nien’s second-minute opener could very well have been intended as an attempt to put the ball back across the face of goal but instead soared into the top left corner of the net.
That early setback did not quieten the home support, even if there were occasional grumbles as the Addicks were forced backwards with their passing.
Sunderland went very close to making it 2-0 on 37 minutes as a ferocious strike by Lynden Gooch crashed back off the crossbar – Dillon Phillips could very well have got a vital touch – with Charlie Wyke heading the rebound over.
Charlton were so much improved after the interval.
The tempo was higher, they looked more confident and began to ask proper questions of the Wearsiders’ backline.
Tariqe Fosu, Lyle Taylor and Karlan Grant suddenly became visible.
Taylor, who rejected interest from Sunderland in the summer before joining the Addicks, created the 51st-minute equaliser. His turn and cross in the box saw the ball come off the planted left foot of Reece James and spin in at the near post.
Chances then came and went for the South Londoners. Darren Pratley headed an Albie Morgan free-kick wide while Sunderland keeper Jon McLaughlin used his left leg to block Taylor’s shot as he stormed into the box.
Anfernee Dijksteel’s cross took a nick off a home defender but Grant could not get a clean enough connection at the back post.
Sunderland seemed happy with a point – Charlton are now unbeaten in eight League One matches at The Valley – but had a big chance to treble that return late on.
Max Power put a late shooting chance on a plate for Duncan Watmore but he produced a panicked snatched effort which soared into the packed Jimmy Seed Stand housing 3,125 Black Cats supporters.
“He’s going home, Roland’s going home,” chanted the Covered End in the first half. But that’s part of the problem – Duchatelet has barely been in the UK during his ownership of Charlton.
It will be hard for the next custodian of the club to be any less hands off in their approach. His five-years anniversary recently passed and he can count the amount of Addicks matches he has been to on one hand – with fingers to spare.
One of the few things he has got right of late was to give Bowyer a crack at management. It’s the first proper connection between the fanbase and a boss since Chris Powell was here. But for things to really lift off, the change needs to happen at the top of the club.
It’s the perfect time with the January transfer window open. Otherwise the fear will be that once again Charlton do not strengthen their hand as they look to kick on in the second half of the campaign – and instead Duchatelet cashes in on some of his playing commodities and weakens it.
Charlton (4-4-2): Phillips 7, Dijksteel 8, Bauer 8, Sarr 8, Solly 8, Bielik 8, Pratley 7, Morgan 7 (Williams 68, 6), Fosu 8, Grant 7, Taylor 8. Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Stevenson, Clarke, Marshall, Ajose.