Iain Liddle reports from John Smith’s Stadium Stadium
A change of tactic, a change in personnel and a large upturn in performance levels galvanised Charlton on Tuesday evening. However, crucially, Chris Powell and his men were just short of a change in fortune at Huddersfield Town.
Having twice led through Dale Stephens and Marvin Sordell, the goals were cancelled out by efforts from Joel Lynch and Jonathan Hogg before Adam Hammill added a third to ensure Charlton were eliminated from the Capital One Cup at the second-round stage at John Smith’s Stadium.
However, the scoreline does not tell the true story on a hard-to-take evening for the Londoners.
If performances and results haven’t been to the players’, management’s or supporters’ liking so far this season – any of the travelling 159 Addicks in attendance could leave safe in the knowledge that the cup showing hopefully resembled an early turning point in the season.
The timid nature of the showing in the game that never was against Doncaster Rovers on Saturday looked a million miles away as, led by their fit-again captain Johnnie Jackson in the heart of 5-3-2 formation, Charlton seized the initiative.
The skipper was one of eight changes made by Powell, but they did anything but weaken his side with several players looking as though they had a point to prove to a manager desperate to end the club’s poor recent run in knockout competitions.
The changes almost paid dividends for Charlton as soon as the third minute when Cedric Evina aimed a hopeful ball forward from left-back, which Joe Pigott raced onto enthusiastically.
After beating Anthony Gerrard for pace, the young frontman unselfishly squared across the box rather than shoot himself but a stretching Lawrie Wilson’s effort lacked power and was repelled by the defence.
It was far from a fluke as, in their new formation, the visitors showed great urgency from the off and were not over-awed by their full-strength and in-form hosts.
Jackson, pulling the strings in midfield early on, fed Wood after six minutes whose cross was battled for by Pigott before falling to Lawrie Wilson whose fierce effort was blocked by goalkeeper Alex Smithies.
A stranger watching the opening quarter of an hour would have incorrectly guessed which side was coming off a morale-boosting 5-1 victory at the weekend – and Michael Morrison will wonder how he didn’t put Charlton ahead at that point.
Firstly, Stephens’ corner was headed back into his path by Richard Wood – but a defender bravely blocked his first effort, before, in the second phase of play, Stephens again played provider and Morrison was again denied.
For all Charlton’s good work early on, the Terriers sent a reminder that they had a hot-shot striker in their ranks in James Vaughan when an inviting cross from Hammill was met by the frontman, who nipped in ahead of Dorian Dervite, and poked just wide of Ben Hamer’s goal.
Back came the Addicks however through Evina, a marauding figure down the left flank, found himself in an advanced position and crossed invitingly for Stephens, although his attempted backward header – if you can imagine such a thing – glanced wide of the goal.
With 33 minutes on the clock, finally, the breakthrough came.
Part-time attacker met makeshift defender as Evina once again broke forward only to be tripped by Hammill on the edge of the box and, from the resulting free-kick, Stephens drilled a low shot through a sea of bodies which took a deflection before nestling in the bottom corner.
It was no less than Charlton deserved and also acted a wake-up call to a frankly under-par Terriers outfit.
First Vaughan’s weak effort was spilled by Hamer, although he quickly gathered the rebound, before the temperature on Mark Robins’ half-time hairdryer was turned down a notch as Town sourced an equaliser.
With their attackers off the boil, it took a defender to summon some inspiration and Lynch strode forward centre-back, exchanged passes, and fired a powerful low shot into the small space between a diving Hamer and his near post.
Undeterred, Charlton stuck true to the principles which had so far served them well at the start of the second period and began brightly.
Sordell, looking a striker in need of a goal, should have done better when found by Pigott – after a sublime pirouette from the insatiable Bradley Pritchard to take three Town men out of the game – but was crowded out by defenders inside the area.
Again they came. Stephens, who grew into the game as it went on, played a pinpoint through-ball to Pigott, whose touch just eluded him at a key moment, before almost making amends moment later as his top corner-bound shot was saved well by Smithies.
It took just 10 minutes of the second half for Huddersfield boss Robins to decide he had seen enough and he introduced the attack-minded Danny Ward in place of Jake Carroll – an inexperienced left wing-back.
The statement of intent was intended to put Charlton on the back foot, but minutes later they regained the lead.
Evina was once again at the heart of a promising Addicks move and he stood up a cross beautifully to the back post where the alert Pigott squared for Sordell to blast past Smithies.
To celebrate he simply stood, arms out wide, in front the away end – relishing the sound of the adulation after his first goal of the season. Clearly a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
Robins made his final change after 70 minutes by throwing on the experienced Jon Stead. If not by his direct impact alone – the game turned at that point.
Having worked tirelessly, selflessly, unquestioningly for so long – suddenly the visitors were a side with some players looking for those reserves of energy and coming up short.
Not that the effort was lacking, but where they had been first to every loose ball they were now, at best, level.
Town’s equaliser was cruel on the men from SE7 as the ball fell to Oliver Norwood on the edge of the area whose clean strike fortunately deflected off the unknowing Hogg and past Hamer.
Now for the first time, Huddersfield looked the side with the bit between their teeth.
Substitute Sean Scannell was the next to try his luck and forced a fine point-blank save from Hamer and, although Powell brought on Leon Cort to replace the tiring Wood, the winning goal quickly followed it.
Having had a testing time defensively all evening, Hammill showed his attacking prowess when it mattered most.
As Vaughan smelt blood and fired an effort at goal, which Morrison did well to block – albeit if it did appear to hit his hand in the process, before the ball fell to the former Wolverhampton Wanderers man who buried in the bottom corner.
Danny Green and Yann Kermorgant were introduced in a bid to find an equaliser, and the former was agonisingly close to providing the moment of magic required.
When Wilson was fouled on the right touchline, Green delivered a sumptuous free-kick which perfectly found the towering Morrison – but the central defender’s radar was off and his header flew over the bar.
It proved the final opportunity of note and, as the seconds ticked down, the last act of the night was Evina over-hitting a cross which effectively confirmed their exit from the competition.
Charlton were so improved, and so close, but agonisingly just short when it mattered.
Charlton: Hamer; Morrison, Dervite, Wood (Cort 78), Wilson, Evina; Pritchard, Stephens, Jackson (Kermorgant 85); Sordell, Pigott (Green 85).
Subs (not used): Pope, Wiggins, Hughes, Cook.
Goals: Stephens 32, Sordell 59.
Booked: Sordell 49 (foul on Clarke).
Huddersfield Town: Smithies; Gerrard, Clarke, Lynch; Hammill, Hogg, Clayton (Stead 70), Norwood, Carroll (Hunt 55); Paterson (Scannell 46), Vaughan.
Subs (not used): Bennett, Ward, Gobern, Wallace.
Goals: Lynch 40, Hogg 77, Hammill 82.
Booked: Hammill 37 (foul on Pritchard), Lynch 89 (kicking the ball away).
Att: 6,250 (159 Charlton)
Referee: Mr Geoff Eltringham.