Olly Groome reports from The Valley
Charlton’s search for a win stretched into a seventh game as they fell to a 2-0 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers at The Valley on Monday.
In a game of very few chances, there was little to separate the two sides in the first half, but the visitors’ efficiency won through with Jordan Graham opening the scoring on 55 minutes before Harry Lennon netted an unfortunate own goal with seven minutes left.
Karel Fraeye made three changes to the side which earned a point at Bristol City on Boxing Day, with Naby Sarr, El-Hadji Ba and Karlan Ahearne-Grant all coming into the starting XI in place of the injured Alou Diarra, Jordan Cousins, who was still feeling the effects of illness, and Simon Makienok, who took his place amongst the substitutes.
The opening exchanges were very cagey, with the sides evenly matched as they felt each other out in the centre of the park.
A pair of dangerous low crosses into the hosts’ penalty area caused some early concern, but it was the Addicks who shaded the first 25 minutes, certainly in terms of possession, without creating anything meaningful in the final third.
The first, and only, real opportunity of an otherwise quiet first half came when the visitors clipped a free-kick into the Charlton penalty area just before the half-hour mark. With the ball bouncing kindly to Benik Afobe, the former Arsenal forward scooped out a shot 10 yards from goal, forcing Stephen Henderson down to his left to make the save.
With the game heading for the break, the home side suffered yet another injury blow as Ademola Lookman pulled up in front of the East Stand with a hamstring problem.
After being seen to by physio Erol Umut, the youngster was not deemed fit to continue, resulting in Makienok’s emergence from the bench.
The Denmark international made an immediate impact, but not quite in the way you might expect. Making his way out of the box after defending a Wolves free-kick, the 6ft 7in striker collided with referee Keith Hill who lay flat out on the floor for a good number of minutes.
Indeed, that proved to be the most entertaining moment of the first 45 and, more importantly, gave Dr John Fraser one last run out on the Valley turf before he embarks on his retirement having served the Addicks for 23 years.
And with the half-time break extended to nearly 25 minutes, the teams emerged for the second half without Mr Hill, who had to be replaced by one of the assistant referees.
It did not take long for the first opportunity to arise in the second period with Wolves taking advantage of Charlton’s sloppy corner-kick routine.
A swift counter saw the Midlanders stream forward before Graham looked to curl an effort inside the post from the edge of the box. Thankfully, the ball spun the right side of the upright to safety.
Moments later, however, Wolves did take the lead through Graham.
Afobe did well to beat his man down the right-hand side before cutting in and sending a deadly cross through the six-yard box.
Henderson made an initial save in the crowded area but there was nothing he can do when the ball fell to the feet of the Graham, who smashed it home from close range.
Wolves went straight on another attack shortly after the restart with Afobe drawing a good save from Henderson to claw the ball out of the bottom left-hand corner, while Charlton looked for a response at the other end.
Ahearne-Grant combined superbly with Morgan Fox down the left before the latter put in the cross. Stopper Carl Ikeme palmed the ball out as far as Ricardo Vaz Te, but under pressure, he could only scoop his shot over the crossbar from 12 yards.
Another good move saw Makienok nod down a cross from the right, teeing up Harry Lennon, but an amber shirt got a solid block in to deny the defender a second goal in three days.
With 10 minutes left on the clock, there was a welcome return to action from the bench for Cristian Ceballos after four months out with injury, who replaced Fox, as the Addicks looked to salvage something from the afternoon.
But the hosts continued to struggle in the final third, without a shot on target going into the dying embers of the game.
And with seven minute left, Wanderers hammered as final nail into Charlton’s coffin, making it 2-0 from a set-piece.
Graham claimed the assists, swinging in his corner from the left which was met by Wolves skipper Danny Batth at the back stick. His presence put Lennon under pressure and the defender put through his own net.
The loss leaves the Addicks in 23rd position, two points adrift from Rotherham United in 21st.
Next up is a visit from Nottingham Forest to The Valley on January 2nd, as Fraeye’s men look to begin the new year with three vital points to turn their season around.
Charlton: Henderson, Solly, Sarr, Lennon, Fox (Ceballos 80), Ba, Jackson, Ghoochannejhad (Holmes-Dennis 66) Vaz Te, Lookman (Makienok 45+1), Ahearne-Grant.
Subs (not used): Pope, Charles-Cook, Moussa, Muldoon.
Booked: Ba 77 (Foul on Batth)
Wolves: Ikeme; Iorfa, Batth, Ebanks-Landell, Doherty; McDonald, Coady, Henry, (Byrne 71), Edwards, Graham (Ojo 89); Afobe.
Subs (not used): McCarey, Golbourne, Wallace, Sigurdarson, Le Fondre.
Goals: Graham 52, Lennon (og) 83
Referee: Keith Hill (Matthew Buonassisi 46)
Att: 18,059 (1,881 from Wolves)