A bizarre afternoon at The Valley saw the match between Charlton Athletic and Doncaster Rovers abandoned at half-time, with torrential rain leaving the pitch resembling a Sunday League style swamp and rendering it totally unplayable. With the Doncaster down to ten men and leading 3-1 at the time of the abandonment, the events that preceded the second half failing to start only multiply the strangeness of a ‘game’ that will live long in the memory, and not for the right reasons for both sets of supporters.
The visitors were in front after just two minutes; Charlton were caught out by a quickly taken throw giving Theo Robinson the time to pick out Paul Keegan, who headed home beyond the clutches of Ben Hamer. 16 minutes later, with the ball now holding up in areas of the pitch, Doncaster doubled their advantage. Michael Morrison had just about cleared the danger moments earlier after a driven ball across the face of goal was sucked into the quagmire in and around the six-yard box, but he wasn’t alert to the dangers of the next Doncaster attack as he appealed for an offside that wasn’t there only for Robinson to square the ball for Chris Brown to finish past a frustrated Hamer.
Donny again capitalised on both a lack of concentration and poor defending to grab a third after 23 minutes. David Cotterill’s corner was won without challenge by Bongani Khumalo on the edge of the box, but his header appeared to be causing no concern to Charlton’s defence as it floated harmlessly towards goal. Rhoys Wiggins attempted to clear, only for the ball to ricochet off the body of Brown and bounce, luckily for Doncaster, into the back of net. That goal may not have been weather nor pitch assisted, but they were certainly making a profound effect on the game, and referee Collins opted to suspended play after 27 minutes. The groundstaff, with some ‘help’ from the Doncaster players, attempted to make the pitch playable, and play resumed 30 minutes later.
However, it was clear conditions were no better than they were when the referee ordered the players off the pitch, with passes barely reaching their targets, the ball stopping dead in certain areas of the pitch and players’ mobility limited. But, despite angry calls from the crowd and questioning from Charlton players, the game continued and The Addicks gave themselves an unlikely route back into the match. Mark Gower’s free-kick from the half way line, after some pinball on the edge of the area, was eventually knocked into Simon Church’s path, with the forward finishing clinically past ‘keeper Ross Turnball. Although Doncaster immediately saw a Robinson goal disallowed for offside, Charlton’s hopes were lifted on the stroke of half-time as Keegan was shown a second yellow card for pulling back Yann Kermorgant. But that was the final meaningful action of the contest as referee Collins inspected the pitch at half-time and saw it fit to abandon the game.
With the prospect of a full game in store prior to kick-off, the team news made for some exciting reading for Charlton fans with a trio of changes. Young midfielder Jordan Cousins, who impressed after coming on at half-time in last week’s comeback draw at Barnsley, made his first senior start, replacing Dale Stephens and partnering Gower, a player at the other end of the experience scale. There was also a first start of the season for Leon Cort, who took the place of Dorian Dervite as Powell aimed to freshen up his mistake ridden back four, and a return to the starting line-up for Bradley Pritchard, who replaced Lawrie Wilson, after completing his three-game ban following his red card on the opening day at Bournemouth.
For Doncaster, who have started the season brightly, things were far more straightforward. Manager Paul Dickov had the luxury of naming the same side that conceded a last minute equaliser away at Wigan Athletic in midweek. A strong back four of James Husband, Rob Jones and a pair of Premier League Loanees in the shape of Tottenham’s Khumalo and Man City’s Reece Wabara protected former Chelsea ‘keeper Ross Turnball, whilst experienced pair Richie Wellens and Keegan started in the centre of midfield. David Cotterill and James Coppinger occupied the wings, supporting forwards Brown and Robinson, who had two goals to show from his first two games in Doncaster colours.
“This is going to be called off, you know”. Those were the words of my father as we crept along the M25 on our way to The Valley, putting the meaningfulness of the team news in jeopardy. The windscreen wipers couldn’t cope with the downpour, the surface water on the road made driving conditions difficult, and frustrating slow for someone as inpatient as me, whilst a number of owners, who were unwilling to continue through the heavy rain and guided their cars into the hard shoulder. It was a throwback to the game against Hull City at the beginning of last season, in which the rain lashed down and prevented any kind of spectacle, but I had no doubt the game would go ahead and reach a conclusion.
The water that sprayed up off the pitch during the warms up whenever a boot was placed into the ground or a ball was struck did little to change my opinion; I’d seen worse. Even as Doncaster took the lead, I saw nothing to suggest the game’s lifespan was in any doubt. With barely two minutes on the clock, Charlton’s defensive frailties that had marred them throughout the start of this season were shown once again as Robinson was allowed to move into space unnoticed and collect the ball on the right wing from a quickly taken throw-in. His ball in was perfect for Keegan, but the midfielder still had a lot to do as he rose and powerfully headed into the top corner past Hamer. Robinson himself than almost made it too shortly after as his powerful shot from a tight angle stung the palms of Hamer, but Charlton were all at sea in the damp conditions.
The Addicks fashioned a chance of their own, but Callum Harriott’s strike from just outside the area was straight at Turnball, who comfortably saved, whilst Robinson broke free once more only to fire another shot from a tight angle way off-target and into the side netting. It was at this point, somewhere around the ten minute mark, that the wellbeing of the pitch began to be questioned. The amount of water rising off the surface with every foot movement increased whilst Doncaster’s right wing was beginning to hold up the ball and preventing it from bouncing.
In the meantime, Charlton attacked and, after Church fired horribly off-target, they almost drew level through an unlikely source. Arguably The Addicks’ best passing move of the season saw Wiggins deliver an excellent cross to Pritchard at the back post, whose vicious first time volley brought the very best out of Turnball, who reacted quickly and tipped the ball over the bar. Pritchard had surely never struck a ball so sweetly; the lack of resulting goal suggested it wasn’t going to be Charlton’s day. In Doncaster’s next attack, the certainty of that view grew. After the ball held-up in the waterlogged area surrounding Hamer’s goal, Charlton’s number one attempted to claim the motionless ball only for Morrison to almost kick it straight out of his hands and away. The sloppiness at the back wasn’t punished that time, but Doncaster came again as Robinson was allowed to break free down the left after Morrison seemed to stop expecting an off-side cool, a Sunday League area fitting of the Sunday League conditions, allowing the Jamaican forward to centre for Brown to tap in from close range. Hamer showed his anger by throwing the ball into the water-soaked patch in front of him, only for the ball not to bounce. After watching their team capitulate, Charlton fans now wanted the game off.
But, despite the shambles at the back, along with the healthy layer or two of water covering the pitch, Charlton were looking threatening when going forward. Harriott came close again as Kermorgant played the young winger in only for his shot to be superbly saved by Turnball, who was keeping the score to nil. Mark Gower’s resulting corner was met by Kermorgant, whose header was kept out by a combination of ‘keeper and crossbar. The home side certainly deserved a goal for their efforts, but, almost unbelievably, found themselves three goals down not long after. Khumalo’s header from Cotterill’s corner was smashed clear by Wiggins and straight at Brown, who, although knowing little about it, gleefully accepted his second goal of the afternoon. As lucky as it may have been, they do say you make your own luck, and scoring three past a defensive line in disarray didn’t flatter Doncaster at all. Kermorgant’s header in Charlton’s next attack was well wide of the goal and the grumblings around The Valley grew louder.
But Doncaster’s luck ran out not more than five minutes later as the worsening conditions and unplayable surface forced referee Collins to point to the direction of the tunnel and suspend play. The home fans celebrated, believing the game to be off, but were forced to wait whilst the groundstaff tackled the problematic pitch. Paul Dickov and his team protested vividly to the officials, whilst Dickov, Chairman John Ryan and the players occupied the pitch for much of the suspension period, even ‘helping’ the groundstaff’s efforts by unhelpfully helping themselves to some forks and shovels, only to move the surface water from one area of the pitch to the other. Meanwhile, the professionals were dealing with the swamp in Charlton’s goal area and the right wing Doncaster were attacking down; the two areas of the pitch causing the most concern.
Eventually, in conditions no different from what was left behind, the players returned 30 minutes later and got back underway. The unplayable nature of the pitch was summed up by Kermorgant’s powerful crossfield ball stopping dead in its tracks, but this wasn’t evidence enough for referee Collins, who continued with the game. With both sets of players frustrated, and the conditions making for some unintentional challenges, the game got a little heated. Kermorgant shared a brief scuffle with a Doncaster player, which was made to look worse by the conditions, and thankfully Collins told both parties to get on with the game without disciplining them, but a yellow card was awarded to Keegan after he kicked the ball away following a separate foul on the Frenchman. Gower’s resulting free-kick saw Church lay back to Cousins, who had the ball nicked off his feet from behind, only for it to fall kindly to Church, who finished past the previously unbeatable Turnball. Game on?
It was almost game over again moments later as a Doncaster free-kick was flicked on for Robinson to finish past Hamer, but the forward was in an offside position and the goal was disallowed. In an end to end second half of the first half, Harriott forced another save out of Turnball before the momentum swayed in Charlton’s favour. Kermorgant, battling with both opposition and the pitch, managed to somehow turn with the ball when others found it difficult to do so without, resulting in Keegan bringing him down and earning himself a second yellow. In truth, Charlton were still a long way from getting anything from the game, and only the bog in front of hamer’s goal prevented Brown from adding a fourth and sealing his hat-trick as he missed his kick with the ball lying motionless after a free-kick, conceded by Gower for which he was booked, was pumped into the box and flicked on.
The referee soon blew for half-time, with a chorus of boos aimed mostly at the officials’ decision to continue the game. Charlton’s substitutes warmed up at half time, but they were openly joking with fans about the farcical situation as their passes barely moved in the soggy conditions. Thankfully, common sense prevailed as referee Collins expected midway through the interval and Doncaster’s players came out and clapped their fans and handed out their shirts shorty after; a clear indication the game was off. Official confirmation soon followed, leaving Doncaster fans angered and Charlton fans confused as to why it wasn’t called off sooner.
Despite Powell suggesting after the game he would have liked to continue, and Charlton have something resembling momentum, it’s hard to deny that The Addicks were saved by the weather. Whilst Doncaster, and especially chairman John Ryan, may wish to believe it was some kind of conspiracy, there is little that could have been done, and the only person that should be questioned is referee Collins for not calling the game off sooner. It was clear the pitch was unplayable from the time of Doncaster’s second goal and, whilst he has a duty to get the game played, coming back out after the suspension was beyond farcical.
Also beyond a farce was Charlton’s defending. Michael Morrison and Rhoys Wiggins, two of the stars of the last two campaigns, looked a shadow of their former selves, as they have done all season. Their individual errors and increasing dramatically game by game, and with the likes of Richard Wood and Cedric Evina waiting in the wings, their positions in the starting line-up must be coming under threat. Leon Cort and Chris Solly coped slightly better, but weren’t without fault. The three goals conceded are another three that could have been easily prevented; the poor defending and individual errors have to stop.
Thankfully, they haven’t cost Charlton any points, and the threat shown going forward is something that has at least allowed me to be somewhat optimistic. Kermorgant looked back to the Kermorgant that we all worship, whilst Church took his goal well, but the build-up play was especially promising with Harriott, Gower and Pritchard doing well in the testing conditions. But the stand out performer was Jordan Cousins. I’m always cautious with youngsters coming into the team, but he really does appear to be the real deal. Composed, strong and a great passer of the ball, he does the simple stuff well whilst carrying off a sense of real quality. Once Johnnie Jackson returns, he could form an exciting partnership with the 19-year-old.
A win in the Capital One Cup at Huddersfield on Tuesday would be nice, but a win is needed in the league sooner rather than later. With Leicester the visitors to The Valley next week, I fear the worst and have little confidence in the defence to prevent The Foxes’ attacking force from causing damage. Dare we dream of another Kermorgant inspired win? My god do we need it.