Iain Liddle reports from the iPro Stadium
A spirited second-half comeback was not enough for Charlton on Saturday as they fell to defeat at play-off hopefuls Derby County.
Johnny Russell and Patrick Bamford scored twice in the first half as the Addicks showed signs of fatigue after their recent exertions, including Tuesday’s victory at Nottingham Forest.
It seemed mental fatigue more than physical, with mistakes creeping into the game of the recently-rigid back four – with errors accounting for the first two goals.
A half-time tactical switch, in attitude as much as personnel, prompted the visitors to launch a spell of prolonged pressure but, as has often been the case this season, the clinical edge was missing.
Academy graduate substitutes Calllum Harriott and Joe Pigott offered signs of encouragement, with the latter showing good footwork on a number of occasions, but they came up against a resilient performer in Rams stopper Lee Grant who stood up to everything.
Chris Martin added a third late on to make it a second 3-0 defeat in successive Saturdays for Charlton, but there were many more positives to take from this one than the turnaround at home to another promotion hopeful, Burnley, last weekend.
Head Coach José Riga made two changes to the side which won at the City Ground with injured duo Dorian Dervite and Astrit Ajdarević not in the matchday squad. Replacing them in the starting line-up were Richard Wood and Jonathan Obika.
Charlton’s formation quickly resembled a 4-5-1 with Reza Ghoochannejhad and Obika lining up wide, but with license to attack and support Marvin Sordell up front.
As expected, the promotion-chasing home side raced out of the blocks and found encouragement from some early sloppiness from the left side.
Craig Bryson shot wide of Ben Hamer’s goal after just two minutes and the Rams pinpointed the Addicks’ left flank early in the contest.
A stray pass from Obika led to a Derby corner, from which Wood headed away powerfully before loanee George Thorne gave a glimpse of his eye for goal by shooting over 25 yards.
The first quarter of an hour was mainly contested in the Charlton half, but on the 15-minute mark they went closest to opening the scoring.
Ghoochannejhad carried the ball in from the right flank and fed Sordell, who teed up Jackson to shoot from 20 yards and force a good save out of Lee Grant.
Then, from the resulting corner, Jackson’s set-piece cannoned into an unknowing Wood and forced another stop from Grant.
Derby raced back down to the other end of the pitch and it was from the next passage of play that they opened the scoring.
A wayward shot from Patrick Bamford hit Michael Morrison and deflected wide for a corner, from which Craig Bryson fizzed an effort back over Hamer’s crossbar.
Seconds later, an aimless pass from Wiggins gifted possession straight back to Derby’s midfield, who carved open the Addicks defence and the ball was played across the penalty area.
It found a gleeful recipient in Russell at the back post who, with time to turn, span on the spot and drilled a shot into the bottom corner past the outstretched hand of Hamer.
It was the sort of error which undermined a determined Addicks side on too many occasions during the first half, with Russell curling over the bar minutes later after a foul was conceded on the edge of the area.
While Charlton were on the back foot for most of the first half there were signs of life and the Londoners caused another scare after 24 minutes.
Cousins this time advanced with the ball and played into the feet of Obika. The Tottenham Hotspur loanee played in Ghoochannejhad who unleashed a powerful snap-shot and saw it bounce off the head of a Rams defender.
Derby continued to press forward and their two young central midfielders continued to try their luck.
Firstly Jeff Hendrick shot over from the edge of the area, before Thorne produced a fingertip save from Hamer from a similar distance.
Chelsea loanee Bamford was a growing influence on the game coming in from the right side and, after Jackson’s free-kick was held by Grant, the forward made his presence felt.
Firstly he headed over Bryson’s corner before a more telling intervention arrived on 38 minutes.
Derby’s second goal was one that Charlton’s first-team analyst Brett Shaw may want to delete the tape of in the interests of team morale.
Wood gave possession back to Derby before, in an effort to see out the resulting danger, Jackson’s defensive header landed in the stride pattern of Bamford and he slotted past Hamer.
Two nearly became three on the stroke of half-time when Charlton’s goalkeeper had to be at his best to rush out and deny full-back Andre Wisdom from close range.
The Charlton side could have gone one of two ways at the break.
The half ended horribly and, against one of the best sides in the division, a weaker outfit could have capitulated in the second period.
Fortunately this Addicks squad is made of stronger stuff.
Riga introduced the returning Harriott in place of Ghoochannejhad, switched to a 4-4-2 and saw his side race out of the traps.
Suddenly Derby were on the back foot and vice-captain Morrison was the first Addick to go close in the second period.
The centre-back strode forward from defence, exchanged passes with Obika, and drilled a shot which deflected wide of the Rams’ goal.
Less than 60 second later, Harriott struck a fierce volley sweetly and again Grant had to be down quickly and at full stretch to deny the Londoners a route back into the game.
Charlton’s attacking approach made the home fans a touch restless and they had further cause to be apprehensive when Obika this time saw his shot blocked on the hour mark.
Substitute Pigott, on his first appearance since returning from a loan at Gillingham, then showed quick feet to create space and – again – had Grant scrambling into making a save.
The visitors were piling men forward in numbers in search of goals and, while one was not forthcoming on the day, the spell should offer encouragement for the important games ahead in the coming weeks.
Inevitably, given the recent schedule and the number of young players in the side, the Addicks began to tire around the 70-minute mark when Derby brought on two experienced heads in Conor Sammon and John Eustace to help see the game out.
One fleeting penalty shout apart, when Sammon body-checked Pigott in the area, Charlton were largely spent in the final quarter of the game and the introduction of debutant Davide Petrucci alone was not enough to summon another comeback.
There was still time for Derby to add a third when Martin turned in a near-post corner, which won’t help the goal difference, but was largely academic on the day.
The striker’s effort effectively blew the final whistle ahead of time and was the cue for fans of both sides to start leaving the stadium.
For those of a red persuasion, the next stop is now Elland Road on Tuesday evening.
It was the scene of a strong showing last season, when only a Paddy Kenny masterclass stopped them earning all three points, and they will require similar courage once again.
Charlton: Hamer; Wilson, Wiggins, Morrison, Wood; Ghoochannejhad (Harriott 46), Cousins, Poyet, Jackson (Petrucci 81), Obika; Sordell (Pigott 58).
Subs (not used): Thuram-Ulien, Nego, Lennon, Hughes.
Derby County: Grant, Wisdom, Forsyth, Keogh; Thorne (Eustace 70), Bryson, Hendrick; Bamford (Sammon 70), Martin, Russell (Naylor 87), Buxton.
Subs (not used): Legzdins, O’Brien, Whitbread, Bailey.
Goals: Russell 18, Bamford 38, Martin 84.
Referee: M Haywood
Att: 24,429 (including 644 Charlton).