Eye Witness Assessment: Chris Powell Needs to be Bolder at Charlton
Money and opportunities are in short supply at Charlton Athletic at the moment but in spite of the fact that key players are injured and a rumoured takeover is in the offing, I couldn’t help feel that Chris Powell could have been bolder as the Addicks tumbled to a narrow 1-0 defeat at Reading on Tuesday.
The likelihood of new ownership is still uncertain. Wyn Grant’s excellent Football Economy website reported a fortnight ago that an investment company had agreed a price of £18 million for the club with the buyers reputedly attracted by the relatively low level of debt at £4 million as well as the prospect of a stadium move to a new ‘entertainment zone’ beside the O2 at Morden Wharf on the Greenwich Peninsula.
Such a prospect has inevitably stuck in the craw of many fans. Having stewarded the admirable Return to the Valley campaign two decades ago now and having been forced to desert their stadium — surely one of the most characterful and best for atmosphere that English football has to offer — supporters have been swift to react. Last week, the ground was designated as an Asset of Community Value (AVC), by no means a failsafe insurance policy that the club remain where they are but, as Matthew Derbyshire explored for us recently in the context of Oxford United, a measure that can cause a few extra headaches for the more machiavellian of developers.
News of that bid has gone a little cold since and was temporarily supplanted by the rumour that American Joshua Harris, owner of basketball’s Philadelphia 76ers and ice hockey’s New Jersey Devils, was about to throw his helmet into the ring. Having shelled out $320 million dollars for the Devils as well as the lease on Newark’s impressive Prudential Center arena as recently as August, Harris may well have the purchasing power to gazump the previous bidders.
Harris is co-founder of venture capitalists Apollo Global Management which also owns publishing behemoth McGraw Hill, so for a takeover to happen would constitute a dramatic change in fortunes for the South London side, forced to cut their cloth for a few seasons now after the milk and honey of the Premier League years.
Powell has been admirable and central to that of course, taking the club back into the Championship at the first attempt after a one season slide into the third tier and overachieving massively in securing a ninth place finish in 2012-13. Indeed, the Addicks finished the season sensationally, building a fantastic run that was only punctuated once in defeat at home to Millwall and featured a startling 6-0 away win at Barnsley.
Nevertheless, Charlton figured in few people’s thinking when it came to speculating as to the favourites for this season and it has been a somewhat troubled campaign. Central to this has been a striking conundrum that was exhibited in microcosm at the Madejski Stadium this week.
Marvin Sordell joined Bolton Wanderers from Watford for an estimated £3 million fee a year and a bit ago. His auspicious beginnings at Vicarage Road had earned him an England under-21 call up as well as, most notably, three appearances for Great Britain in the Olympic Games. Despite a torrid season for Trotters, struggling to come to terms with relegation after many years in the top flight, it was nonetheless a significant signing for the Addicks when the 22 year old from Elton John’s home town of Pinner joined on loan in August.
Arriving at the same time was Simon Church, a Reading youth product and a player on first glance who appears to have all the attributes, not least a Duracell bunny tendency to work hard all game, a cluster of Welsh caps and the occasional ability to finish with aplomb.
Unfortunately, ‘occasional’ is the operative word as far as Church is concerned and one has to wince with sympathy that he is currently Charlton’s top scorer on five. Nor, however, has Sordell been impressive. Left out of the team for spells, blogger Al Gordon has named him ‘Marvin Sodall’ while Powell has clearly chosen to go with the better attitude and work rate of the Welshman.
Fair? Yes. Sensible? Probably not. Despite the odd flick on and clever run, Church squandered his main opportunity, shooting tamely at Alex McCarthy when clean through just before half time. Sordell, on the other hand, looked immediately more lively on his introduction as part of a triple substitution midway through the second half. He may not be a permanent employee and, save for a goal against Nottingham Forest, his contribution has been negligible, but surely Sordell is going to provide you with more skill and penetration.
On that point, a dire goals scored record of 14 is the joint worst in the division while 71% of the club’s goals have been scored in the second half, so despite a well maintained period of pressure for the final half hour of this particular game, the ability to turn possession into clear cut chances is sorely lacking. Yann Kermorgant, returning to the team after absence remains a talisman but there is perhaps a tendency for the team to kick long when the Breton is in the side while Powell’s 4-4-2 formation was just as prosaic and uninteresting as that system always seems to be these days.
Sordell and Danny Green both showed prominently in that late onslaught while Cameron Stewart showed pace and trickery throughout the entire match — starting on the right against makeshift left back Shaun Cummings and switching to the left to torment Stephen Kelly later on. I once saw Stewart perform outstandingly for Hull City and he remains a Tigers’ employee — if the Premier League is proving demanding, he still showed here that he has what it takes to flourish in an attack minded formation – unlike Cedric Evina who struggled to make much impact creatively from the other flank.
The main highlight of Charlton’s season to date has been the emergence of 19 year old midfielder Jordan Cousins — tall and powerful despite his years. Cousins has been subjected to mild criticism that he delivers sideways too much but here he was adding some beautiful raking passes to the usual calm lay-offs and he looks a terrific prospect. Ditto Dale Stephens, a more attack minded midfielder with a lacing of grit and who looks a real bargain having joined from Oldham for £350,000 in 2011. Throw a third central midfielder in there and the formation might make for a more modern look — a 4-3-3 that would see Stewart and Sordell raiding from wide areas ahead of the trio and Kermorgant as the pinnacle.
At the back and on this showing, the Addicks do have problems though — and this despite a far better record than rivals Barnsley, Millwall and Bournemouth. On this occasion, Michael Morrison was immediately bested by Pavel Pogrebnyak after the Russian wove his way into the box minutes in and the hold-up play, strength and movement of the man rumoured to have received a £5 million signing on fee in 2012 was often too much. Beside him, Dorian Dervite has the poise of a continental centre back but was occasionally wasteful with his clearances. Full backs Rhoys Wiggins and Lawrie Wilson also struggled with the pace of the Reading wingers and Charlton badly miss the up and coming Chris Solly, currently sidelined.
With Ben Alnwick doing all that was asked of him in goal, there was no lack of effort on show from the Londoners and the promise of an influx of money, while potentially risky for the equilibrium Powell has created, should help the manager improve the squad, provided a new contract can be agreed extending beyond the current one which runs out at season end. In the meantime, however, the team has to be allowed to escape the straitjacket that can lead to prolonged bouts of centre midfield head tennis (as in the miserable home defeat to Ipswich recently) and to balance the mix more towards the flair players Charlton possess.