Just over a week ago, Charlton fans had vey little idea of what to make of Bob Peeters and his new-look team. A totally unfamiliar manager led out a largely unfamiliar team to play Brentford at Griffin Park last Saturday.
I’m used to quickly passing judgement when a team is announced before a match. “[Insert name here] is playing?! Oh, that’s not good.”…”Oh great, we needed [insert name here] – that means we can play [insert formation of choice]!”
But at 14:00pm last Saturday, it was impossible to have any of those reactions. Stephen Henderson, Andre Bikey, Tal Ben Haim, Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Yoni Buyens, Igor Vetokele, Franck Moussa and George Tucudean. Were these guys any good? Was this a good team? We hoped. We guessed. But we didn’t know. We had to wait and see.
Three games and seven days later, what we’ve seen has been pretty good. Against Brentford the team took their time settling in, but since the half-time whistle blew at Griffin Park this new side has demonstrated a remarkable lack of teething problems.
Vetokele has already made clear that no defender in the division can rest for a second while he’s in sight. His late chance against Wigan was a perfect case in point. In injury time after a third game in a week, a slouched back and hands on knees could have been forgiven. Instead, Vetokele hassled and harried, dispossessed his opponent and created a glorious chance that was all of his own making – only to be denied a by a strong right hand from Scott Carson.
Buyens was particularly outstanding against Wigan, he was assured and decisive in midfield, an expert performance that suggested we’ve got yet another cool head to replace Dale Stephens and Diego Poyet in the middle of the park.
In defence, it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for Michael Morrison who’s been benched for our first two league games. Morrison has been one of the most consistent Charlton performers of recent seasons, and committed his future to the club for a further two years in the summer. His time will come but for now, Bikey and Ben Haim look the part. Ok, they’re on the slow side. But, more importantly, they’re smart, switched on and strong (in the case of Bikey, this may be an understatement).
Gudmundsson and Moussa both look like players of attacking guile, agility and invention. The kind of players we were too often starved of last season.
Along with the impressive new boys, familiar faces Jackson, Solly, Wiggins and Cousins have been as excellent as we’ve come to except. Galvanised rather than hindered by the challenge of adapting to a new team.
And then there’s Peeters himself. It’s only been a week but most skepticism seems to have already morphed into support. On first impressions, it feels like he’s a good fit for our club. I didn’t see the incident with Uwe Rosler, although I did smirk at the various accounts being told online. But Peeters has displayed an earnest eagerness to interact with fans, who on Saturday were only too happy to oblige. Everything from his clumsy thumbs up to his side’s style of football is built to please.
“I’m pretty happy with the way our passing game is progressing and if we can keep it up we can hopefully have a good season,” said Peeters after the win yesterday.
“I’m not talking about promotion or anything, just be humble and hopefully we have an easy season and never get in trouble.” It was a sentiment of cautious positivity that was reflected in Charlton fans’ post-match discussions yesterday evening.
For a whole host of reasons, last season was a sorry one. The colour-scale was grey as unforgivable under-investment in the squad and pitch almost cost us. But things looked markedly sunnier yesterday.
The Championship season is a long-haul journey, after three games you’re barely past check-in. But quietly, Charlton fans may be starting to feel confident. Maybe not for anything spectacular. But maybe – just maybe – something better.