MONDAY BIG MATCH VERDICT: Bolton Wanderers 1 Charlton Athletic 1
PATIENCE is the operative word at Wanderers; in the stands, on the pitch and in the boardroom.
For what seems the umpteenth time at the Reebok this season, the Whites were lukewarm when they should have been red hot. And this apparent lack of progress is starting to make the locals restless.
Without an end product, the passing style of football that Dougie Freedman has implemented in the last 14 months has a tendency to frustrate – and that was the overriding feeling among the fans walking away from what felt like another missed opportunity.
A sluggish start – also a recurring theme of late – allowed Yann Kermorgant to give Charlton a precious lead to defend. But consider that Kevin McNaughton, a full-back whose last goal came before we even knew the recession had started, was the only Wanderer able to beat Ben Alnwick in the following 80 minutes, and you will get a good grip on where Freedman’s problems are right now.
The Whites boss is in the middle of a massive rebuilding job, and it shows.
The league table displays a side sitting 18th, six points clear of the bottom three but 11 away from the top six and with just five wins to show from nearly half a season’s work. Whichever way you slice it, it simply isn’t good enough.
Since the two-month unbeaten run ended at Middlesbrough there have been some worrying dips in form.
And worse still, Freedman’s two most consistent players of the last couple of months are due to head back to their parent clubs after Boxing Day – effectively putting the Whites boss back in the same situation he found himself at the start of October, when the table looked even more bleak.
McNaughton and Neil Danns will leave behind massive holes but the question now is to what extent will Wanderers back their manager in the January window?
Freedman remains confident Phil Gartside and Eddie Davies are on the same page and appreciative of the stage of redevelopment in which the club currently find themselves.
There have been no public declarations one way or the other by chairman or owner – but they will know full well this is a job half finished and that a challenge for the top six looks improbable without reinforcements.
A regular supply of goals still remains an issue, and it is highlighted in a side that regularly carries just one recognised striker.
Charlton are the division’s lowest scorers but switched from their regular 4-5-1 to a front two and earned instant reward for a lively start.
Wanderers were sloppy in allowing full-back Rhoys Wiggins to get round the back, cutting a low cross back for Kermorgant to slam home unmarked.
Lawrie Wilson missed a good chance at the far post to make it two for the Londoners, who were in dreamland after a poor run of results.
It took Wanderers until the midway point in the half to start moving the ball around with any purpose and give their concerned fans something to cheer.
Chris Eagles escaped a couple of challenges to bring a save out of Alnwick before Chung-Yong Lee narrowly failed to get a toe on Andre Moritz’s clever chipped pass.
Joe Mason went even closer, producing a brilliant improvised shot from Chung-Yong’s cross that sadly went straight at the Charlton keeper.
Even though the Whites had got their act together, the sense of concern around the ground was obvious. This was another one of those days.
Enter McNaughton, changing the tone of both managers’ team talks with a superb curling finish into the top corner after he had popped up unannounced on the edge of the box.
The Scot’s last strike came against Barnsley for Cardiff in May 2008 – a wait of 209 games for club and country.
Back on level terms, the money would have been on Wanderers to go on and win. But while Mason wasted a great headed chance a few minutes after the restart, the football slowed to a crawl in the second half.
Moritz attempted to get things moving but despite being surrounded by Chung-Yong and Eagles, the midfield continued to look a rather sterile zone.
Even the arrival of Mark Davies failed to spark things – his little scurries from the middle of the park cheered ironically by a crowd frustrated by how pedestrian the game had become.
Charlton nearly seized their chance to steal all three points as Kermorgant forced Andy Lonergan into a fine save late on.
Jermaine Beckford came off the bench but wasted another glorious chance, failing to make any contact with a cross from fellow sub Rob Hall.
And so another afternoon at the Reebok ended with supporters voicing their discontent at two points dropped.
Freedman refused to be downbeat, praising the build-up play and arguing all his side had lacked was a killer touch in front of goal. But as the Scot will surely admit, that is quite some thing to lack, and certainly not an easy thing to fix. It will take patience – but that appears to be wearing thin.