The season in one post
9 months ago 1,600 Addicks welcomed Bob Peeters’ new look team with 7 new signings at Griffin Park, and most left with a positive feeling. It was a gritty Charlton performance that Charlton fans could relate to. Yet the biggest reservations pre-season were over the unknown head coach and the lack of obvious goals in the side. Roland Duchatelet had added some much needed quality, but on the face of it, Peeters’ squad was thin and lacking in Championship experience.
Nonetheless by the time pre-season promotion favourites Derby came to The Valley we were three games unbeaten and Peeters had warmed the Addicks’ fans with his over enthusiastic tête-à-tête with then Wigan boss Uwe Rosler the game before.
The Derby game was a little surreal if we are honest. Peeters’ passing game, still a work in progress, was some of the best I had seen for a long time, but the Valley crowd came across as unsure to what they were witnessing. However it was a great 3 points won at a spruced up Valley and with two away draws following we sat happily in 6th place at the end of the opening month. The end of the transfer window with no additions sent some ominous signals even though we remained unbeaten but goals were becoming hard to come by, as were wins, as Peeters too often settled for a point as opposed to go for all three and the early season attacking dexterity had been taken over by a cautious will not to lose. But lose we did for the first time of the season at Bournemouth.
My son and I witnessed it, and although hindsight is a wonderful thing, it was less Bournemouth’s greatness, but more about how rubbish we were. 11 games undefeated had sugar-coated the team’s shortcomings and the need for more bodies was even more apparent as we ended last 15 minutes when the barely 17 Karlan Ahearne Grant, Andre Bikey and Lawrie Wilson playing as our front line.
Peeters became pretty adept at playing players out of position, and Bikey became a regular up front towards the end of games as the head coach appeared to banish his principles and simply lumped the ball up front. It was as puzzling as it was frustrating to watch.
Peeters reign was confusing more than anything. He had built a rapport with the fans and came across honest and passionate in his interviews, but despite being a young coach still learning his trade, his tactical naivety was being unlocked by far superior managers in the division. About this time some of us that keep an eye on Roland Duchatelet’s network highlighted that Guy Luzon was to remain on the payroll despite being sacked by Standard Liege.
Back to the league and we were still the draw specialists, a humiliating 0-3 televised defeat to Fulham, was the exception not the rule and by the end of November after another Sky TV defeat, this time to Ipswich, we were placed 10th but the overall feeling was that if we could add more goal threat to our build up play then better than that was certainly not out of reach.
One of the disappointments of the season was the week before Ipswich when George Tucudean failed to become the most famous Romanian since Nadia Comăneci! Addicks certainly would have coveted George like John Hendry and Kim Grant, and ‘that Millwall miss’ was probably the death knell on his Charlton career.
A week before the Millwall game on November 8th, we won at Reading. Remember that date as it became material and it was also the last game that Stephen Henderson played for some while as he succumbed to a shoulder injury. As we moved into December the draws kept coming interspersed by defeats. Francis Coquelin returned to Arsenal to kick start his Premier League career, and was much missed in our midfield, but our ability to finish teams off reached epic proportions and set alarm bells ringing after Blackpool, already marooned to the bottom of the table, left SE7 with a point.
Although punctuated by some good results and the occasional bout of very good football, Bob Peeters’ team has now only won two games since September, which was frankly not good enough. Peeters’ had became more and more scared of his own shadow and whether that was due to teams finding us out, Vetokele not being fully fit (was he ever fully fit?), a general shortage of players, or a combination of each no one knew, but watching us had become very frustrating and results were being underscored by poor defending, slow starts and an anxiousness to go for it, especially when we were on top.
Behind the scenes stuff was still happening that raised eyebrows. As the early season form of Ben-Haim and Bikey started to dissolve, Michael Morrison was sold to Birmingham. After Blackpool we lost at Blackburn and drew with Cardiff in a familiar game of two halves.
Christmas and New Year started to unravel like a Norwegian spruce for Peeters. Another early FA Cup exit followed a league thrashing at Portman Road. Peeters’ soundbites were getting a little tiresome. He was blaming everything but himself. Fatigue, other teams being better headers of the ball (it’s true, take a look back), injuries, young guns, a lack of physicality, set pieces, Tal Ben Haim (at least twice) and the size of the squad, were rolled out on a regular basis, and it all came to a head after the Brighton game on January 10th. Cracks had started to appear in Peeters’ armour. Andre Bikey went public on dressing room arguments, there was talk of senior players upset with the Belgian’s management style and then there was the continual theme of Duchatelet meddling in team affairs.
In Israel the media were already talking up Guy Luzon’s appointment as Charlton’s fourth manager/head coach in less than 12 months. The Brighton performance was woeful and after I got off the plane Sunday night after being at The Valley on the Saturday the text that welcomed me saying that Peeters had gone was not a whole surprise.
Nonetheless I think most Addicks felt that Peeters just wasn’t given the enough support in the transfer market and the squad was desperately thin, but 6 wins in 26 games told it’s own story, this despite 24 hours before Katrien Meire writing in the matchday programme that the club “can take many positives from the first six months of the season.” We were rarely thought worthy of being talked to by Meire or Duchatelet but when we were, it just left us scratching our heads.
What followed were some of the most farcical days ever as a Charlton fan, and that is quite an achievement. With the Israeli media already touting Luzon as the new manager, his wife following the club on Twitter, and the man himself apparently holed up in the Bexleyheath Marriott, Katrien Meire announced that the club will carry out an extensive search for a new head coach.
Luzon got the job of course, and the press conference that followed is best glossed over. Then with the club showing Luzon taking training leading up to the Watford game, it came to pass the night before the match that the Israeli didn’t have a work permit. For the 2,000 Addicks at Watford, the day was a horror show. The angst and anger surrounding the club was running out of control. Something Meire witnessed on a train on the way home from Hertfordshire that evening.
Luzon’s ‘first game’ was a decent goalless draw at Wolves, with network signing Marko Dmitrović becoming the 3rd goalkeeper to appear in between the sticks following Henderson’s injury and Tony Watt coming on as a substitute. Luzon’s first home game against Rotherham on January 31st saw Charlton’s first league goal since Boxing Day, from Jordan Cousins, but there didn’t appear to be any demonstration of an increased desire or the need to impress the new boss, and in true Charlton spirit we threw away the 3 points in injury time.
If I’m honest the apathy for me had started to run pretty deep at this point. Defeat away to promotion chasing Middlesbrough and then a flawed fightback at home to Norwich only further opened wounds around the Addicks, as a call for a fan’s public meeting was well received and was duly well attended.
Then on the day of Luzon’s 5th or 6th game, depending on your view, Charlton finally gave us something to smile about beating Brentford 3-0 with Watt and Vetokele starting and Stephen Henderson back in goal. The win in front of thousands of empty seats did not plaster over the cracks, but for those of us struggling to live with the pain, proved very welcome and lifted the club out of the bottom four.
After over a month in charge Luzon had hit on a very simple formula. He kept it uncomplicated playing round pegs in round holes with more adventure and a tighter defensive unit which included experienced new signing Roger Johnson. A terrific win at Wigan followed, with a goal from another debutant Chris Eagles.
Three more wins from the next four fixtures including 3-0 against Huddersfield in front of a football-for-a-fiver bumper crowd of 25,500. Chris Powell got a deserving and fantastic welcome back to The Valley, but as we swept his new club aside there were signs that we had all finally ‘moved on.’
Blackburn beat us for the third time this season, but we bounced back well winning at a forlorn Blackpool 3-0 and we could afford to smile at Millwall’s demise, who had sacked Ian Holloway, whilst we talked about a top half finish. Tony Watt with a lot of prove was proving a revelation, and Frederic Bulot had come back from the African Cup of Nations with a body transplant.
With Bikey banished, Johnson shared defensive responsibilities with Tal Ben-Haim and 17-year old Joe Gomez, who played like he’d been around for ever. Morgan Fox was improving greatly and Jordan Cousins was excelling in his preferred central midfield position, after being played out left under Peeters.
The experienced Frenchman Alou Diarra had been brought in, Yoni Buyens’ penalty taking had him mentioned in the same conversation as Derek Hales, Darren Bent and Clive Mendonca and Johann Berg Gudmundsson was often, simply brilliant. With safety secured and in fact the Addicks the first club to not be able to go up or down, it was all about finishing the season strongly as the club announced season ticket prices for next season.
Unfortunately next on the fixture list was Millwall, and Luzon and the players did their utmost to show us that some things never change with an inept performance at The Den resulting in a 2-1 defeat despite taking the lead.
The next three games against relegation threatened Fulham and safely in mid table Sheffield Wednesday and Bolton all ended in draws, as the players seemed to be more concerned with summer thoughts of beach and flip-flops as opposed to climbing as high up the table as possible.
There was what was to be one last victory against Leeds United at The Valley. Leeds so often have the copyright on mismanagement in this relentless division, and nothing has changed this season. The Addicks delivered a great 2nd half to win 2-1 and moved into 10th.
Unsatisfactorily the last two games were two that belonged in Luzon’s first month at the helm. If we thought we’d rolled over at Birmingham, worse was to come at home to the Champions Bournemouth. On goals scored, we managed to hold onto a top half finish.
Better and less stressful than last season, but quite a bit short of our first season back in The Championship under Chris Powell. The Bournemouth game was a fitting epilogue to a season that was at times chaotic, depressing, uplifting and perplexing. It sure is never dull being a Charlton fan.