• Albion v Charlton Athletic, 30.08.2014

    Back to the Amex, after a midweek cup win, at League One Swindon Town, for a first test against a side expected to challenge at the top end of this season's Championship table.

    Charlton have recruited well this summer, after their Belgian takeover, quality additions at both ends of the pitch, turning last year's also rans, into a competitive side, who garnered eight points from their opening four fixtures, including impressive wins over Wigan and Derby.

    The Albion fans arrived in bullish mood, the recent glut of attacking arrivals raising hopes of another successful campaign ahead. Adrian Colunga was given a home debut, after an impressive midweek showing, paired together with Joao Teixeira, in support of the central striker.

    Craig Mackail-Smith retained that position, keeping newest signing Sam Baldock on the bench. Such has been the scope and quality of the recent recruitment drive, that there was no space even amongst the substitutes for Agustien, Toko, O'Grady, McCourt or Chicksen. With Solly March and Dale Stephens soon to return from injury, the selection dilemmas facing Sami Hyypia are not about to get any easier.

    The Albion started confidently, comfortable in possession, passing crisply, and ambitious in intent. They swept forward in numbers, right from the start. Too many numbers as it transpired - after just five minutes, a loose pass from Crofts, saw the defence dangerously exposed, with the midfield runners all out of position. Charlton broke quickly, working the ball to Vetokele, whose early strike from 20 yards, was low to David Stockdale's right, but lacking in venom.

    Stockdale has made a mixed impression in his early Albion career. He is tidy and organised. He looks every inch a keeper who is well coached, and has worked hard to learn his craft. Its difficult to fault him in the technical aspects of goalkeeping thus far. What we are yet to see, is evidence that he is a natural shot-stopper. This one, he was visibly disappointed to have let through, and he admitted after the game that he was responsible for the goal.

    By contrast, only a fantastic reflex stop from Henderson in the Charlton goal, prevented an instant response - stretching out his left hand to deflect Teixiera's powerful close range effort behind for a corner.

    The following 40 minutes saw the home side entirely control possession, without ever completely opening up a resolute Charlton defensive unit - that unit now numbering ten. The Albion back line were cultured and comfortable, the midfield dominant. In attacking areas, Teixeira was full of tricks, and Colunga looks skillful and hard-working in equal measure.

    In the final moments of the first period, Charlton finally ventured back into the Albion half, first forcing a corner, and then hitting a pair of speculative shots, wide of Stockdale's goal.

    At half time, it is unlikely Hyypia will have been throwing teacups. The performance had been reasonable, lacking only a little urgency, and some better decision making. The one decision of his own, was to introduce Aston Villa loanee Gary Gardner in place of Andrew Crofts.

    The second half began at a quicker tempo. A sweeping cross-field ball, saw Joe Bennett win a strong header at the far post, to tee up Mackail-Smith, whose shot on the turn, passed agonisingly wide of the post.

    Moments later, a smart interchange down the left, saw Bennett free, to fire a powerful shot of his own into the side netting.

    Charlton continued to soak up the pressure. Wave after wave of Albion attacks floundered on the rock of Andre Bikey, and partner Tal Ben Haim. The front three darted about, and continued to probe. Each time though, it was all a little too clever. The pass and move. The tight triangles. The flicks and tricks. As they learn more about each others' games it will come for sure, but today it too often came to nothing.

    When finally an end to the frustration came, the route was simple. A pinpoint Danny Holla corner curled in. A firm Lewis Dunk header into the corner. Relief in the stands.

    From here, there could only be one winner, surely?

    Just two minutes later Teixeira got in behind Bikey, who let him run, from the angle at Henderson. Instead of shooting himself, he drew the keeper out then tried to square for Colunga to tap in, but he misjudged the pull-back, and the covering defender blocked and scrambled away.

    Liege loanee, Buyens now came to fore, as Charlton looked to hold onto what they had. Winning and looking after the ball well, buying time to allow his team to re-organise. The Addicks had by now cranked up the time wasting, taking an age over every throw, every goal kick. As much to their surprise, and entirely against the run off play, they found themselves back in front. The ball was given away cheaply, through sloppy play from a throw. Charlton stole possession, broke down right, and hit a low cross. Ventokele turned Greer smartly and shot in off the near post. Stockdale looked to have his angles all correct, but the ball bounced up, over his outstreched leg.

    Back to further pressure at the other end, but still no clear chances. Then, with a minute remaining of the 90, Holla was brought down on the edge of the box. Himself, Gardner, the newly introduced Lualua and Bennett all looked keen. The Amex held its breath, in anticipation of one of the fine strikes from the Dutchman's Youtube highlights, but sadly Gardner won out. Is there a bigger anti-climax in football, than a free kick smashed straight at a wall?.

    The fourth official signalled 4 added minutes. After 45 minutes of Charlton dawdling, it seemed very light. Remarkably, it proved enough, at least for the Albion to rescue a well deserved point.

    On 92 mins a corner won, led to everybody up. Stockdale looked and was waved up, too. He was very close to making a meaningful contact on Holla's cross - the ball evading the bundle, and arriving at Kazenga Lualua on the far side of the box. The situation was just the kind when adrenalin all too often gets the better of the livewire winger. When he cut back inside, a wild shot looked the inevitable outcome, but he kept calm, and clipped a delightful cross to the edge of the six yard box, where the unmarked Dunk cushioned his header into the top corner.

    After waiting three seasons to score, Dunk now has three in little more than a week, and could have had a couple more. Fantastic to see - goalscoring contributions from the centre backs have been near non existent for years, bar a handful from Matt Upson. Whatever Sami is passing on, it is bearing fruit quickly.

    The final whistle soon followed. Peeters came onto the pitch to lay into his defence for the late loss of concentration, before pulling his crestfallen team off the floor and waving them in the direction of their travelling fans.

    Nobody quite knew who should be celebrating this result. The lateness of the equaliser means the Albion have to be content in drawing a game in which they were comfortably the better side. Charlton conversely will be gutted at not winning, having led into injury time, but in light of day must surely consider it a good point, in a game where they took their only two chances.
    Comments 5 Comments
    1. theonesmith's Avatar
      theonesmith -
      A good report. Pretty sure it was Gardner who took the late free kick though - I wasn't happy about it, should have been Holla's.
    1. severnside gull's Avatar
      severnside gull -
      Was indeed Gardner but that aside an excellent report
    1. Dick Knights Mumm's Avatar
      Dick Knights Mumm -
      How the hell did Gardner pull rank. he is not even one of our players, and is off in January. Sami needs to have a word.
    1. Exile's Avatar
      Exile -
      Now edited. Thanks.
    1. APACHE's Avatar
      APACHE -
      A pretty good sum-up of the match, 2 cock-ups by the Albion and 2 goals given away and our goalie didn't make a real save all afternoon.
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