Managerial Methods: Chris Powell dazzles with pragmatism at Charlton
When Bradley Wright-Phillips bundled home a corner from less than a yard out to clinch promotion for Charlton at Brunton Park on Saturday, it was a moment that was symbolic of their season on many levels. The goal itself was unspectacular, but it’s impact was a devastating blow for Carlisle and the significance was huge for League One, sparking delirious scenes among the 930 Addicks fans who made the mammoth 660-mile round-trip to Cumbria.
It might sound unfair to label any team ‘unspectacular’ when they sit on 94 points with three games remaining but then Charlton’s performances haven’t stood out from the crowd as much as their results. The Londoners have been outstanding in ways that aren’t always appreciated – ways that should enable them to settle comfortably back into the Championship next season – and that understated brilliance is purely down to Chris Powell.
They say flair is needed to win titles, that risks should be taken if you want to be the best, but sometimes it can pay handsomely to be pragmatic. For Charlton, the beauty can be found in the numbers rather than the narrative and the incredible job that Powell has done in 15 months at the helm can be summed up in three double-digit figures: 19, 17 and 20.
Nineteen represents the slump that Powell endured at the back-end of last season – just two wins and 12 points collected from the last 19 matches, to be precise. In the end, a goalless draw at Hartlepool on the final day spared Charlton the embarrassment of their lowest-ever league finish but it was enough to raise concerns from outsiders that Powell might not be up to the scale of the task facing him in his first managerial post.
Seventeen, then, relates to the number of new faces that walked into The Valley last summer. You often hear talk of a manager clearing the decks and starting afresh during the close season, but this was an overhaul of epic proportions. With the full support of chairman Michael Slater and the financial backing of CAFC Holdings, Powell was in a privileged position. But he was also frugal. There were no marquee signings, but many of the new arrivals certainly caught the eye among punters with knowledge of the lower leagues.
Michael Morrison was fairly safe bet at centre-half on the basis that he was instrumental in Leicester’s title-winning season under Nigel Pearson two years previously. However, Ben Hamer, Rhoys Wiggins, Matt Taylor, Danny Green, Dale Stephens and Danny Hollands, they were all names that aroused intrigue in light of their standout quality with smaller clubs. Whether they would all step up and maintain those standards under increased scrutiny, and in each other’s company, would be a source of some fascination.
The answer to that question is provided by the number 20. Twenty is the one that most defies probability, the figure that underlines this extraordinary feat of teambuilding and earmarks Powell as an excellent managerial talent, a master tactician in the making. Twenty indicates the number of times that Charlton have triumphed with a clean sheet this season.
Given such a vast turnover of players in such a short space of time, few punters expected them to be leading the way so early in the campaign. Few were inclined to disagree that, pound for pound, the Addicks’ starting eleven was on a par with most in the division, but surely they would need some time to gel?
Evidently not. Powell had clearly done his homework in terms of positions and personalities, the main components slotted seamlessly into a balanced set-up and Charlton went 12 matches unbeaten at the beginning of the campaign.
However, the true extent of Powell’s tactical potential only became apparent later. As the season entered its dirty phase, once the clocks had gone back, their approach evolved into one of high-uncertainty avoidance. The Addicks were solid and disciplined with the emphasis on keeping their defensive shape. No freebies were handed out to anyone.
As it stands, more than half of Charlton’s season (over 32 hours on the pitch) has been spent either locked in goalless stalemate or sitting on a 1-0 lead, and yet they haven’t played out a single goalless draw. For a team that’s only recently been thrown together, that’s an awful lot of playing time to keep your concentration.
When Wright-Phillips wheeled away towards the outpouring of joy that spilled over the perimeter wall of the visiting enclosure, there were still 14 minutes left to play but nobody doubted for a moment that Charlton were home and hosed. On 29 previous occasions when they had broken the deadlock this season, only three times did the opposition manage to level things up at one-apiece.Chris Powell, football, managerial methods
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