Ipswich Town 3 (Smith 31, Murphy 60, McGoldrick 90), Charlton 0
Kevin Nolan reports from Portman Road.
Colourless and lacklustre, Charlton slipped to routine defeat at the hands of promotion aspirants Ipswich Town in chilly Suffolk yesterday. Hot on the heels of table toppers Bournemouth, Town were hardly hotshots themselves but had more than enough about them to cruise comfortably to victory.
The details of Charlton's latest setback, as much as its reality, causes concern about their long term prospects. Tuesday's line-up, with the exception of long-term absentees Stephen Henderson and Rhoys Wiggins, seems just about the strongest available to Bob Peeters. At the halfway point of this grinding, gruelling season, the selection barrel has been scraped. Unless there is unprecedented activity in the January transfer window, what you see is what you get in S.E.7 these days and on an increasingly threadbare squad rests the Addicks' chances of staying in the Championship. No need to panic but relegation is a far more viable prospect than promotion. It must be avoided at all costs. As no doubt it will be.
There were sporadic passages of play at compact Portman Road during which Charlton held their own. Some of their football was neat, if toothless. But there was never any valid hope that they would come through against the odds. They have lost the knack of quarrying useful results -admittedly the great majority of them draws- from unpromising circumstances. The rock-like defence which has kept them afloat has shown signs of cracking recently under the strain of protecting no more than the one goal per game regularly provided at the sharp end. Ominously, had the Tractors been a little luckier, this emphatic score line might have been doubled.
As early as the 8th minute, notice was served that the visitors were in for a difficult evening. A clumsy foul by Andre Bikey on Daryl Murphy conceded a needless free kick, which David McGoldrick cleverly curled round the wall but, with Neil Etheridge beaten, the ball rebounded harmlessly off the right post.
Regular setpieces were a steady source of problems for Charlton and it was from the ninth of ten first half corners that Town eventually broke the deadlock just past the half hour. Paul Anderson's outswinging delivery caused chaos, which centre back Tommy Smith resolved by bashing home his fourth goal of the season from two yards. With their feeble goal-a-game ratio on their minds, the Addicks already were up against it.
The livewire hero of Saturday's recovery against Cardiff City, Johann Berg Gudmundsson, again provided faint hope for his laborious side. His slow-motion close range header was cleared off the line before he combined with Chris Solly to fashion a chance which George Tucudean scooped over the bar. Gudmundsson somewhat blotted his copybook on the stroke of half-time with a thoughtless foul on Jay Tabb. Up stepped McGoldrick to bend a carbon-copy free kick past Etheridge but he was even more unfortunate to hit the same post again, with the rebound trickling to safety off the comprehensively beaten keeper.
To his credit, Gudmundsson kept trying and his purposeful run stretched Town's rearguard early in the second period but Smith crucially overpowered Tucudean near goal. The Icelandic playmaker then set up Solly to cross accurately and Johnnie Jackson to head narrowly too high. Just as abruptly, the Addicks' hash was settled on the hour.
A raking shot from Cole Skuse returned Anderson's partially cleared corner, a deflection flicked up for McGoldrick to head against the bar, leaving prolific scorer Murphy to nod the ricichet neatly into an empty net.
The diminutive Tabb was a restless influence and his cute pass was carelessly sidefooted over the bar by McGoldrick. Frankly, the untroubled Tractor Boys could afford his profligacy.
Gudmundsson's fierce, angled drive, from Tucudean's adroit lay-off, not only stung Bartosz Bialkowski's hands but represented Charlton's solitary effort on target. It was entirely academic, of course, and really no surprise when McGoldrick finished them off in added time with a well taken third goal.
Peeters is experienced enough to know that his side stand at a critical crossroads in yet another problematic campaign. Victory has been tasted on just six occasions, the last of which was the 1-0 triumph at Reading on November 8th. The most recent of four home successes was the 2-1 squeaker over Bolton Wanderers back on a distant October 21st. Charlton have, frankly, forgotten how to win. And they need to quickly remember how it's done before the memory atrophies. Like we said, though, no need to panic yet.
Ipswich: Bialkowski, Bishop (Bru 84), Smith, Chambers, Parr, Anderson (Stephen Hunt 60), Berra, Skuse, Tabb, McGoldrick (Hunt), Murphy. Not used: Gerken, Mings, Ambrose, Sammons. Booked: Smith, McGoldrick
Charlton: Etheridge, Gomez, Ben Haim, Bikey, Solly, Gudmundsson, Buyens, Jackson (Bulot 70), Cousins, Tucudean, Vetokele. Not used: Pope, Wilson, Thomas, Fox, Pigott, Ahearne-Grant. Booked: Tucudean.
Referee: Christopher Kavanagh. Att: 26,157 (1023 visiting)