Derby day. Ninety minutes of maximum fight and desire; no excuses. The fans need the bragging rights, the players need the pride. Both managers might tell their player, and the press, it’s just another three points; it’s not. Victory feels sweeter than in any other fixture, defeat hurts more. For Charlton fans, the previous derby days this season were ones to forget. With Crystal Palace doing the double over the Addicks and, despite coming away from the New Den with a point, a disappointing display in the away fixture at Millwall, today’s home game against the Lions was the last chance of the season for Charlton to regain some derby pride. A sold victory over Huddersfield last Saturday coupled with Millwall’s excursions in the FA cup on Wednesday and their current poor league form had given the Charlton fans cause for optimism. That’s despite the disastrous home form, the 24th worst in the league, that has left many disgruntled. But once again, the home and derby curses struck again as the Addicks were left embarrassed by a 2-0 defeat to their South East London neighbours.
The first half, an even affair with both sides creating a handful of half chances, contained far more positives than negatives for the Addicks and they started the second brightly. A signature free-kick from Yann Kermorgant went just wide and Lawrie Wilson connected to a ball played across the face of goal but somehow put over whilst a livid Kermorgant berated the referee for not awarding a penalty for a foul in a build-up, all of this inside the first ten minutes of the second period. Millwall had barely got out of their half, let alone threatened the Charlton goal, since the start of second 45 but it only took one move for the Lions to take the lead. Two players signed on loan on Friday, Richard Chaplow and Jermaine Easter, combined for the latter to turn in the former’s low cross with the clock on 58 minutes. The goal completely changed the game as Millwall came alive and just six minutes later they had a second; Shane Lowry’s long range free-kick somehow beat the hapless David Button who seemed to be well out of position. Millwall created little for the remainder of the game and when Charlton did the finish was lacking, summed up by Ricardo Fuller’s volley into the upper north from a decent scoring position. The final whistle was met by boos and grumblings from the home fans, partly due to another substandard home performance, partly due to the humiliation of another derby disappointment.
For Charlton, the main piece of team news saw the return of Kermorgant to the starting line-up after being forced to sit out the past three games due to suspension. The Frenchman replaced Fuller, who had been ineffective in Kermorgant’s absence. That was the only change for the Addicks from last week’s win over Huddersfield despite the signing of Mark Gower on Thursday, who wasn’t fit enough to even for a place on the bench. As a result, Johnnie Jackson and Bradley Pritchard continued in the centre of midfield, Matthew Taylor kept his place with ex-Lion Leon Cort still injured whilst youngster Callum Harriott was rewarded with his third start in a row after his winner on Saturday.
Millwall’s side was packed with ex-Addicks players looking to prove a point. Danny Shittu, scorer of the goal that sent the Lions to Wembley in midweek, was sold to QPR as a youngster without making an appearance at Charlton and started at centre back whilst two former loanees who split opinion amongst Charlton fans, Dany N’Guessan and Rob Hulse, started on the left wing and up front respectively. The 4-5-1 formation Kenny Jackett went with saw new signing Chaplow come in to replace Andy Keogh whilst Karleigh Osborne replaced Mark Beevers at centre back.
It was Millwall who had the first chance of the game inside the first minute as the returning N’Guessan held off Solly and fired a shot across the rain sodden surface and wide of the far post. Charlton immediately responded with a chance of their own as Rhoys Wiggins’ pass in the path of Pritchard was hit first time and struck well enough for Forde in the Millwall goal to be forced palm away. Haynes put the ‘keeper under pressure but the Irish international reacted quickly and pounced on the loose ball. In an end to end first half, it was now the away side’s turn to carve out an opportunity as Hulse broke into the box only for his cross-cum-shot to be blocked by Michael Morrison, giving Wiggins the chance to head away with Smith lurking, but the header was tame and fell kindly to Trotter who fired horrendously wide. There was still time for one more chance to be carved out for the home side as Jackson’s header was met by Morrison and knocked down to Pritchard, but he connected off balance and sent the ball sailing over the bar.
The two stand out performers on the pitch amidst the frenzy of opportunities were surprisingly defenders. The returning Kermorgant was winning the majority of balls played over the top but the excellent Shittu proved an impossible barrier to pass as, if not collecting the loose ball, he thwarted Haynes’ attempts to collect the ball time and time again whilst putting his body on the line to block a Jackson volley after 12 minutes. As for Charlton, Morrison was proven too tough an opponent for Hulse as the striker on loan from QPR struggled to win a header and constantly found himself disposed even when meeting the ball first. Morrison even had time to pull off a clever piece of foot work a Premier League winger would have been proud of to prevent Hulse robbing him of the ball. After another fine piece of defensive work, an excellent tackle by Osborne to prevent a Charlton break, the Millwall defender was forced off the field with an injury and replaced by Adam Smith.
With the defences on top, the chances dried up, and when Millwall were presented with a corner just past the 25 minute mark, Taylor’s attempt to dink the ball in at the far post went horribly wrong, rolling out of play and trickling into the side netting. Both sides exchanged crosses, Charlton’s left hand side synchronising well but lacking the final ball on several occasions, with little threat and it took until the half hour for the next meaningful opportunity. One of many long balls was flicked on by Kermorgant into the path of Haynes who only had the onrushing Forde to beat, but the ‘keeper was able to just about win the race and get the ball away for a throw. The Millwall stopper had to be on his toes again just a few moments later and as the lively Harriott cut inside from the left and, unchallenged, unleashed a terrific strike that look destined for the back of the net but for Forde’s intervention.
Millwall were starting to come under heavy pressure and Hulse’s long range effort that sailed way over the bar offered little relief. The threat from Charlton continued to come down the left and Harriott’s deep ball in to the box was met by Kermorgant, who attempted to replicate his ‘Yann-Basten’ effort from the final day of last season but the ball looped harmlessly away from goal. The Lions had the best of the final few minutes with Shittu shifting through the gears to outpace Harriott and deliver a cross that was met by Button, whilst Adam Smith really should have done better from Hulse’s knock down after some excellent work out on the left by N’Guessan, but the substitute could only poke wide. As the half time whistle blew, both sides would have been happy with their first half displays but it was Charlton who, albeit marginally, were on top.
The Addicks so easily could have been ahead on several occasions within the first 10 minutes of the second half. Harriott’s trickery on the edge of the box saw him brought down by Alan Dunne, resulting in a yellow card for the Millwall defender and a free-kick to Charlton in an excellent position. Kermorgant and Jackson stood over it; the former stepped up and curled his effort inches wide of the post. Initially it looked to be heading into the top corner but the ball moved away from goal; agonising for the home fans. Kermorgant was proving an impossibility to cope with in the air for the Lions defence and his flick-ons played in Haynes on several occasions with the striker in front of Shittu in each of them only for the robust defender to get back and prevent him from getting a shot away. There were several shouts for infringements in Shittu’s dispossessing of the ball and he appeared lucky to get away with raising his hands and pushing Haynes off the ball, but referee Swarbrick saw nothing wrong with the incident.
Shittu and Forde were proving the difference for Millwall as Kermorgant himself managed to break free after Millwall lost control of the ball in midfield but the former of the key men raced off his line again to send the ball clear for a throw. Charlton continued to press and Chris Solly’s free-kick could only be cleared into the path of Harriott, but the winger fired over from an excellent position. With Millwall struggling to withstand the Charlton pressure, the Addicks wasted their best opportunity to take the lead with 56 minutes on the clock. Again, the threat came from the left as Wiggins crossed, Kermorgant flicked on and Wilson stuck out a leg to seemingly turn the ball in from a matter of inches. But, under pressure from Smith and Forde, Wilson somehow managed to get his effort to clear the ball. Whilst Kermorgant complained to the referee for not awarding a penalty with the Frenchman being hauled down in the build-up, there was a feeling of disbelief around the ground as to how the Addicks hadn’t gone a goal up. It would prove to be crucial.
Millwall brought on new signing Easter for N’guessan as the away switched to a 4-4-2 formation and it proved to be an inspired change from Jackett as, with his first touch of a ball in a Millwall shirt, Easter gave his side the lead. Chaplow collected the ball out on the left and swung a low cross into the box for Easter to poke underneath Button from close range. Against the run of play and totally undeserved, it was a huge blow to take for the Charlton fans and players whose performance up to that point hadn’t warranted the lead. But the performance took a severe nose dive from that moment forth. The lucky break for the away side saw the tides turn completely and it was now they who were exerting pressure on the opposition’s goal, an Easter ball in was collected by Button and two blocked shots in succession threated to double the lead, but it wasn’t to be long before Millwall added a second. Adam Smith was clipped by Pritchard 30 yards from goal, resulting in a yellow card for the Charlton midfielder. Seemingly too far out to shoot, Lowry stepped to do exactly that, and, defying all logic, curled the ball past Button into the top corner. Button may have been out of position and arguably should have stopped a dead ball effort from such a distance, but that takes nothing away from the sheer brilliance of the goal. The wonder strike had seemingly killed the game off and given Millwall all three points with 25 minutes left.
Chris Powell responded immediately, bringing off the ineffective Wilson and Haynes, who arguably had his worst 65 minutes in a Charlton shirt, to be replaced by Fuller and Scott Wagstaff. Another penalty claim for the Addicks was waved away soon after as Fuller was hauled down by Shittu. The defender had his hands all over the substitute and it looked to be a stonewall penalty but Swarbrick barely batted an eyelid. Charlton endeavoured but with no reward as their numerous crosses and balls played forward provided very few opportunities. Pritchard’s defence splitting ball into Harriott with the winger choosing to take a touch instead of shooting first time, resulting in Millwall getting clear, the best of the bunch. There was still over 15 minutes to play at the point, but with the clock ticking away, the fading hope of any points turned to black. Solly’s driven cross was prevented from finding a Charlton shirt by the body of Forde after the right back’s original ball in after collecting a Pritchard throw had caused confusion, whilst Fuller unforgivably wasted a glorious opportunity to pull one back with 5 minutes to play as he sent the ball soaring into the third row of the upper north after the ball fell to him from a half cleared cross. Millwall rarely got forward in the closing stages, they had no need to, the points were there’s. An almost empty Valley serenaded the Charlton players off the field with a chorus of boos at the final whistle; an all too familiar sound at home this season.
Another case of what might have been for the Addicks. A hatful of points have been lost through wasted chances and bad luck, but that’s football, only it seems to happen week in, week out at the Valley. Up until Millwall’s opener, the performance was solid. Morrison and Taylor were rocks at the back, Wiggins and Solly were fantastic, especially Wiggins down the left with Harriott, whilst Jackson and Pritchard were excellent in the centre. Kermorgant also put in a decent shift whilst getting no protection from the referee. After the goal, it’s difficult to praise any of them, summed up by Kermorgant’s constant moaning.
But those mentioned above didn’t have poor performances; Button, Wilson and Haynes did. Gone was the assured performance of last week from Button to be replaced with a shaky display characterised with poor distribution, fumbling from crosses and two goals conceded which he arguably could have done better with. Wilson, who not only missed the best chance of the game, also missed his team mates with his passing, which was way off target throughout his time on the pitch, whilst Haynes was highly disappointing, unable to cope with Shittu and seemingly throwing a strop as he came off.
Disappointing? Of course. Sickening? Most definitely. Disastrous? No. There will of course be an outraged backlash after this and there’s no getting away from the fact the home form isn’t good enough, but calling for Powell’s head or anything of a similar nature is nonsense. The squad isn’t good enough; Powell has worked wonders to grind out some brilliant victories with a substandard set of players for this division and should be praised no end for keeping us in the division. Yes, the gap between us and the bottom three is now only five points, but I have no fears about relegation and I still believe we’ll finish around about 13th.
To sum up this week, I leave you with this message posted on Twitter by club legend Jason Euell: ‘As a fan I feel sick that we lost to Millwall,but I still continue to back and have belief in the Gaffer and The Boys. So should you.’