Olly Groome reports from The Valley
Charlton kept their unbeaten home record intact thanks to super sub Igor Vetokele’s second-half strike as the Addicks shared a 1-1 draw with Sheffield Wednesday at The Valley on Saturday.
The striker had only been on the field for five minutes when he fired home Rhoys Wiggins’ cross with 20 minutes remaining to cancel out Royston Drenthe’s opener which came in a difficult first 45 for the hosts.
And despite an improved second-half showing in which the Addicks were the better side, the draw was a fair result in an entertaining clash in SE7.
Bob Peeters made three changes to the side which lost at Fulham as he welcomed Yoni Buyens back into the midfield following his one-game suspension while Rhoys Wiggins returned at left-back following a foot injury.
Elsewhere, youngster Karlan Ahearne-Grant made a return to the starting XI for his full Valley debut alongside George Tucudean up top while Vetokele made his much-anticipated return to the matchday squad, taking his place among the substitutes.
The Angolan was joined on the bench by defender Oguchi Onyewu, who signed for the club on a short-term deal on Friday afternoon.
After an immaculately-observed period of silence before kick-off, the action got under way. And despite the Addicks making a confident start in possession, it was the visitors who came close with four minutes on the clock when Joe Mattock’s header was nodded just wide from a corner.
Three minutes later, however, and the hosts would have their first sight of goal when Tucudean raced onto Buyens’ delightfully-chipped ball over the top to fire a shot goalbound on the half-volley.
But Keiren Westwood, who has been in fine form for the Owls between the sticks this season, got down well to make a good save at his near post.
Charlton were enjoying all the action in the early exchanges and Franck Moussa fired a deflected shot wide of the post before Johnnie Jackson delivered the resulting corner perfectly to the back stick where Jordan Cousins was fast approaching.
The midfielder was on for a free header, but as he leaped he just could not keep his header down as it dipped over the bar.
Moments later, hoever, the action switched to the other end where former Real Madrid and Everton man Royston Drenthe opened up before sending in a vicious shot from 25 yards which may have beaten Stephen Henderson, but not the left-hand upright.
After a comparatively frantic opening, things seemed to die down somewhat after an injury to Wednesday skipper Glenn Loovens which saw a break in play, but on 27minutes a lightning-quick manoeuvre saw the Addicks go behind.
With the excellent Drenthe picking up possession midway into the hosts’ half, the wide man suddenly burst forward to leave every red shirt in his dust before powering an unstoppable drive low into the bottom corner to put the Owls 1-0 in front.
Ahearne-Grant looked for a quick reaction when he forced Westwood into a near-post stop from a thunderous drive, but failed to make the Irishman work from the rebound before the flow of the game was disturbed again following another lengthy stop in play which occurred following a more serious injury to Joe Mattock.
Although it appeared innocuous at the time, the Wednesday defender was stretchered off in a leg brace 12 minutes before the break, during which time the Addicks failed to find their spark.
There was a decent shout for a penalty when Moussa wound up a shot and fired into a crowded area. But despite the ball appearing to striker the arm of a yellow shirt, referee Andy D’Urso waved play on.
And there was very nearly outrage in the fifth minute of time added on when D’Urso failed to award what looked like the most concrete free-kick you’re likely to see all season, leading to Wednesday very nearly doubling their lead.
Cousins went toe-toe-toe with an Owls defender on the corner of the box before the ball finally ran loose. And as the academy graduate was brought down by a trailing leg as he tried to advance, there was disbelief as the visitors broke down the other end with no sign of a whistle in sight.
Atdhe Nuhiu laid off for Chris Maguire who, thankfully, fired just wide much to the relief of the Valley faithful, thus saving the referee any controversy which would surely have been heading his way.
The much-needed break saw Peeters shuffle his pack, bringing Johann Berg Gudmundsson into the fray in place of Ahearne-Grant as Moussa shifted up front to join Tucudean in attack.
And despite the Owls making the first impression in the second period when Nuhiu sent a powerful header straight at Henderson, the Addicks stepped things up as they went in search of the equaliser.
Tal Ben Haim’s swashbuckling surge forward won the first of a series of corners, and although the hosts failed to test Westwood from the set-pieces, Chartlon continued to threaten in and around the box and were really piling on the pressure when Solly narrowly cleared the crossbar with a 30-yard piledriver on the hour.
Then, with 25 minutes remaining, Peeters unleashed Vetokele from the bench with Moussa giving way.
And the switch nearly paid immediate dividends when the striker flicked on a header for Tucudean who volleyed a shot into the ground to send the ball looping towards goal. But with the back-peddling Westwood doing well to tip the ball over for a corner, the Addicks would remain locked out.
But not for long.
With 20 minutes left, Wiggins surged forwards from left-back to dance past Liam Palmer and drive into the box before finding Vetokele in acres of space on the right.
And Charlton’s top scorer made no mistake, side-footing home for what was a fully-deserved equaliser and Vetokele’s seventh og a hugely impressive season so far.
With the score finally at 1-1, Peeters’ men were in the ascendency, looking far the more likely to grab a winner as Buyens picked out Jackson beyond the Owls’ backline. But the skipper’s cross agonisingly fell just behind the advancing forwards allowing the visiting defence to clear their lines.
Wednesday were looking for a penalty on 77 minutes when Nuhiu took advantage of Andre Bikey-Amougou’s slip before tumbling to the ground.
It certainly looked as if the big forward could have stayed on his feet, but instead found himself on the ground with the appeals vehemently waved away.
The game began to stretch and Charlton came close when Cousins cleverly sent Vetokele through on goal with a pass on the halfway line, but with a heavy first touch, he was rushed into his shot which rolled harmlessly wide.
It had certainly been a more action-packed half then the first and with the game delicately poised with 10 minutes left on the clock, it was vital for the hosts to keep the pendulum swung in their favour if they wanted to claim a fifth home win of the season.
And they thought they had done it when, with the game moving into injury-time, Tucudean knocked the ball into the path of substitute Lawrie Wilson who in turn struck past Westwood.
But the celebrations were cut short by the linesman’s flag to deny a late winner as the sides were forced to settle for a share of the spoils.
In truth, it was a good result for Peeters’ men who put on a good showing following a disappointing result at Fulham last time out.
And with Vetokele back firing on all cylinders, the long trip to Leeds United on Tuesday night looks all the more appealing.
Charlton: Henderson; Solly, Wiggins, Bikey, Ben Haim, Moussa (Vetokele 65), Jackson ,(Wilson 81), Buyens, Cousins, Tucudean, Ahearne-Grant (Gudmundsson 46).
Subs (not used): Pope, Harriott, Onyewu, Fox.
Goal: Vetokele 70
Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood; Palmer, Mattock (Dielna 34), Lees, Loovens; Maguire, Semedo, Maghoma (Coke 61), Helan, Drenthe (Taylor-Fletcher 73); Nuhiu.
Subs (not used): Kirkland, May, McCabe, Lee.
Goal: Drenthe 27
Referee: A D’Urso
Att: 16,850 (2,216 from Sheffield Wednesday)