There’s rarely anything straightforward about Charlton’s cup ties, but this was as routine as they come. In fact, the game was over long before Simon Church had silenced his critics, or at least made them cripple over with laughter.
That late goal from the Welshman, the fourth of the night for the Addicks in their first game at the refurbished Valley, rounded off an efficient display against a poor and depleted Colchester United side.
The U’s had been on the back foot before defender Mangus Okuonghae, sliding across the goalmouth with technique a seasoned goalkeeper would have been proud, handled in the area and received his marching orders. Yoni Buyens coolly converted penalty, his first goal for his new club, was effectively the match-winning goal 23 minutes in.
Down to ten men, there was little Joe Dunne’s side could do but chase both the ball and shadows as Charlton perfectly exploited the space available to them. Dunne himself cut a frustrated figure on the touchline, visibly furious with the penalty decision and his own side’s timid performance.
And there was space on the right hand side of the box available to Lawrie Wilson three times in the opening 15 minutes of the second-half. The curly-haired wizard’s first effort flashed agonisingly wide, but he lashed emphatically beyond a faultless Chris Lewington twice after to give the hosts a lead that didn’t flatter them at all.
In fact, Lewington was singlehandedly preventing the scoreline from needing to be written in words on the vidi-printer. The former Dagenham ‘keeper pulled off a string of excellent saves to deny George Tucudean, Johann Berg Gudmundsson and substitute Simon Church as the final period of the game became little more than an attacking training exercise for the Addicks.
In fairness to Colchester, the adversity they suffered didn’t prevent them from at least attempting to play football. When they had possession, they passed the ball around sharply, but failed in the final third – half their own ineptitude, half a resolute backline of Morgan Fox, Michael Morrison, Andre Bikey and debutant Joe Gomez rarely giving them so much as a sight of goal.
The visitors, however, didn’t have possession often. Instead, they spent much of the game depicting mentally and physical drained figures as more and more time was given to the Addicks on the ball to effectively do as they please attack after attack.
If anything, it was something of a surprise that Church’s late tap-in, pouncing with purpose on Lewington’s parry after Gudmundsson’s fierce strike, was the only goal scored in the final half hour of the game. For all of Church’s flaws, he cares enough and wants to prove people wrong so strongly that his ‘shh’ celebration was done with a great deal of emotion despite the near irrelevance of the goal.
But there was nothing irrelevant about the way the Addicks played. A performance of promise and intent to follow on from the glimpses of real quality shown in the second half at Griffin Park on Saturday.
The 4-5-1 variation that was used for much of the game suits the players available to Charlton perfectly, allowing those midfielders who have the ability to get forward (Franck Moussa, Callum Harriott and Wilson) to do so with the knowledge the deeper middle men (Jordan Cousins and Yoni Buyens) are sitting back and covering. The options in midfield are also healthy, with Gudmundsson impressing as a deep-lying playmaker after coming off the bench and skipper Johnnie Jackson to come back into the side.
Of course, to get excited about such a display against opposition who effectively rolled over is dangerous, with the visits of Wigan Athletic and Derby County to The Valley over the next week the real examination of where Bob Peeters and his squad stand.
While it may seem an odd criticism in a game in which four goals were scored, the main concern the Belgian will have with his side is a lack of quality up top. But for Igor Vetokele, a second half substitute who didn’t have the time to impact upon the game, there isn’t another forward available to Peeters who you would have your faith in should he start. Tucudean again struggled, under-hitting passes, letting the ball run away from him and proving wasteful in front of goal, while the rebirth of Church, regardless of the goal, isn’t forthcoming.
What you can get excited about, however, is Charlton’s latest academy graduate. In his first competitive senior game, Joe Gomez was exceptional at right back. In the early stages, he was put under some pressure by the considerable pace in Colchester’s side, but he quickly settled.
In fact, the 17-year-old looked more like a natural as the game progressed, both solid at the back and effective going forward.
Shout out, also, to Morgan Fox, who has developed incredibly quickly. The nervous and uncomfortable left-back who played at Hillsborough in the FA Cup last season is a different man to the confident and purposeful player who wore Charlton red tonight.
Now, who fancies a trip to Wembley?