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Academy Graduates Help Addicks Power Past Posh

While Joe Gomez spent the afternoon celebrating his call-up to the England U21 squad, those who he played alongside in Charlton’s esteemed academy were filled with pride of equal measure by the end of the evening.

For the majority of the seven homegrown players who contributed to their side’s League Cup second round win over Peterborough did so with success. The impressions they made as the Addicks romped to a 4-1 victory as promising as those Liverpool’s young full-back with Sparrows Lane blood running through his veins has given to a Premier League audience.

It began with debutant Mikhail Kennedy, a forward whose physique makes him appear just a boy, giving belief that he is a man in character. The 17-year-old pouncing on former Charlton goalkeeper Ben Alnwick’s spillage, and finishing emphatically just three minutes into his first senior appearance.

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Jordan Cousins characteristically went box-to-box, Regan Charles-Cook battled with determination at right-back, and Harry Lennon engaged in a fiercely contested duel with Connor Washington. But it was not until the second half, after a period of Posh domination, and Callum Harriott frustration, at the end of the first, that the young Addicks showed this test was not too much for them.

Kennedy, with the appeals of a child hauled to the ground on a Sunday league pitch, won his side a penalty, which fellow 17-year-old Karlan Ahearne-Grant emphatically dispatched. The joy in his celebration infectious.

It was from there that the hosts crumbled at London Road. Intensity dropped, organisation non-existent and defensive diligence lacking.

The motivated young Addicks, however, were relentless. The pace and energy of their counter-attacking moves deserving further reward.

But the third Charlton goal was something not even the confident youngsters would have attempted. Substitute Ahmed Kashi spotting Alnwick off his line, and lobbing him with a delicious strike from all of 50 yards.

It was not long, however, before another academy graduate made a positive contribution. Debutant Oliver Muldoon crossing superbly for Igor Vetokele to score on his return from injury.

And while Jerome Anderson, beating Naby Sarr to a cross, headed a late consolation that Posh scarcely deserved, it took nothing at all away from a fantastic night for the Addicks, and for the club’s academy.

A night topped off with the third round draw, which Charlton were in for the first time since 2007, pairing them with Crystal Palace. We have been spoilt, in success, pride and excitement, in this season’s early weeks.

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The optimism that already existed did not prevent nervousness before kick-off.

Granted, Patrick Bauer was still leading the backline, El Hadji-Ba and Cousins formed a formidable midfield partnership, and Johann Berg Gudmundsson was in reserve in case of disaster. Against a relatively inexperienced Peterborough side, that would surely be enough.

But Charlton’s League Cup record and the weight of youngsters in the side meant you could not help but feel at least a little uneasy.

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The Addicks, however, settled any anxieties just three minutes into the context. The pace of Ahearne-Grant allowing him to get in behind, his driven cross fumbled by former Addick Alnwick, and Kennedy more than happy to accept the gift. The Northern Irishman lashing into a near-empty net to score his first professional goal on his first professional appearance, and give his side the lead.

It was not just the fact that they had a goal advantage that settled the nerves in the away end. Peterborough stunned by intensity of the Addicks, as they attacked with speed and energy in the game’s opening moments.

And that drive was led by Ahearne-Grant, whose movement with and without the ball continued to cause problems. The forward driving into space, before drilling a shot that Alnwick claimed at the second attempt.

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In fact, it took the hosts until beyond the tenth minute until they felt brave enough to come forward. The Addicks guilty of standing off their opponents a little, as Marcus Maddison was fed on the left and drilled a strike just wide of Nick Pope’s post.

A sign, perhaps, that this Peterborough side, with it too benefiting from the exuberance of youth, were going to cause at least few concerns for Guy Luzon’s young side.

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However, were it not for some characteristically poor decision making from Harriott, then Charlton’s lead would have been stretched to two.

Zakarya Bergdich’s cross only half cut out, and finding its way through to the transfer-listed winger, but Harriott opted to head at goal when he had the space to let the ball drop and volley in the simplest chances. Alnwick gleefully claiming the soft nod.

And while Connor Washington, with a Posh attacker again given far too much space by the Addicks, flashed an effort narrowly off-target, Harriott was soon prevented with another opportunity to double his side’s lead.

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Cutting in from the right, the winger had a sea of red to aim for in the middle, but instead he attempted to curl into the far corner. Catching practice for Alnwick, despite his earlier error.

By this time, the visiting supporters were increasingly getting on the back of the underperforming Harriott, and Luzon’s side were growing increasingly sloppy. Neither situation helped when Harriott once more attempted to cut in from the right and spliced horribly wide, while Soulymane Coulibaly drove forward down the other end and lashed a strike over the bar.

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And were it not for the body of Pope, then Peterborough would have grabbed the equaliser they had been pressing for. Washington’s low cross turned goalwards by Sarr, with the young goalkeeper, through a combination of positioning and good fortune, thankfully able to turn the ball behind.

With Charlton, lacking cohesion in their attacking moves and seemingly a little caught out by the pace among Peterborough’s side, on the back foot, half-time was desperately required. Paul Taylor’s run exposing the uncertainty in the visitors’ midfield and defence, before the former Ipswich man fired over.

But, as the half neared its conclusion, something resembling the potent Addicks attacking moves that had dominated the opening 15 minutes returned. The ball falling kindly to Bergdich inside the box, but his volley found the roof rather than the back of the net, and a superb passing move concluded with Cousins blasting over when he probably should have tested Alnwick.

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Nonetheless, Charlton were able to go in at the break ahead. A lead, given their excellent start to the match, they had just about earned, but one they would only protect with improvement in the second period.

Removing the struggling Harriott would have probably helped, too. The academy graduate getting a first time strike all wrong after Bergdich had cut back to him inside the box at the start of the second period.

Six minutes into the half, however, and his misses were made meaningless. The tenacity of Kennedy earning his side as penalty, as Alex Davey stuck out a leg as the young forward attempted to round him. Ahearne-Grant dispatching the spot kick with all the composure and quality of a seasoned professional.

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And although Posh responded almost immediately, with the lively Maddison collecting the ball on the edge of Charlton’s box and again driving just wide of the far post, there was a growing sense there chance had gone. As songs about Wembley emerged from the away end, the confidence that the hosts had started to play with towards the end of the first half quickly vanished.

It seemed as if Posh, who fielded as many young players as the Addicks, had lost both drive and determination. No longer were they driving into space, and the organisation of their midfield would have given Gary Neville a heart attack.

As such, Charlton, boosted by Harriott’s withdrawal and Vetokele’s introduction, were given incredible amounts of space to launch counter attack after counter attack. The ball carried through the centre with relative ease.

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And two of those forward moves, mixing flowing passing and elegant drives forward, game desperately close to concluding with a third goal. Ahearne-Grant played through one-on-one with Alnwick, only for the one-time Addick to save, and substitute Kashi driving against the post from the edge of the area.

But it was not long before Kashi, immediately dominating midfield from the moment of his introduction, was scoring from distance. A much larger distance, in fact.

The Algerian displaying superb vision to spot Alnwick off his line, and calmly lobbing him from close to the half-way line, in a manner that made a difficult skill far, far too easy. His first Charlton goal coming in some style.

As you probably would expect in such circumstances, there was a slight drop in tempo from the Addicks thereafter. The need to exert no longer there to such an extent.

Consequently, an equally half-arsed Posh were able to look to regain some pride. Pope, however, had other ideas, racing off his line to deny Washington when clean through on goal.

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In fact, their pride would be dented further before the full-time whistle, and Charlton’s night made even sweeter. Superb movement from Vetokele matching Muldoon’s superb cross, allowing the Angolan to turn in from close range for his first goal of the season.

The winning margin meant that the celebrations from the Posh fans who had not yet left London Road when Anderson headed rose above Sarr to head home in stoppage time were tinged with sarcasm and self-pity. Their side as lethargic and disappointing as the Addicks were energetic and excellent.


 

In fact, the only genuine disappointment from a Charlton perspective is that Harriott was unable to make the most of the opportunity he was given to impress. The winger evidently not the player he once promised to be, and in desperate need of a move away to get his career back on some of track.

And Harriott’s disappointing night probably acts as as much of  a warning sign against getting carried away as Gomez inspires the belief that any player the academy produces will be of quality.

But those who were involved at London Road certainly stood up to the test offered.

For even those who were not always on top, Lennon particularly struggling against Washington, were unrelenting in their efforts. The centre-back, playing somewhat out of position at left-back, constantly battling with the winger despite standing little chance of winning the duel for pace.

Charles-Cook, excellent going forward and strong defensively after a tricky spell during the first-half period of sloppiness, and Kennedy, with a well taken goal and a general liveliness that meant he didn’t look out of place at all, were impressive, while Ahearne-Grant is growing in confidence and becoming more and more of a threat with each game. That Cousins captained them felt fitting.

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You, of course, cannot ignore the contributions of the more senior players in the side. Pope composed, Bauer almost immaculate once again, and Kashi, goal and otherwise, sublime. Just Sarr, decent but dominant enough to suggest Alou Diarra’s place is in trouble, and Bergdich, though lively a little frustrating in both his decision making and execution of his final ball, anything less than superb.

Nor can you get away from just how poor Peterborough were in the second half, providing a platform from which Charlton’s youngsters could impress.

But, regardless, this feels like a night to celebrate the youngsters and the academy. By no means are these players who are the finished article, or who we should be reliant upon in the Championship yet, but they are group with a huge future.

Should they maintain their place for the Crystal Palace tie their efforts have been rewarded with?

Certainly not, but we’ve got every chance if they could inject their confidence, energy and drive into those who will represent the Addicks at Selhurst Park.

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