A match-winner. A man who can transform the course of games on his own. A player who possesses the individual ability to be the difference between two sides.
Ricky Holmes had been lively in his performances for Charlton Athletic up until the visit of Shrewsbury Town, but this was the night where the former Cobbler proved the extent of the individual attributes that supporters of Northampton Town had suggested existed.
Proved to the extent that his efforts allowed for an evening under The Valley’s floodlights that could simply be enjoyed, without the club’s running and supporter disconnect overwhelming. Even The Valley’s emptiness, a deeply upsetting consequence of this regime and the anger and apathy it has created, could be ignored for the duration of the 90 minutes.
For this was a game that, though featuring better Charlton chances, was open and well-contested until Holmes cut inside from the left and spectacularly struck beyond the previously defiant Jayson Leutwiler and into the top right corner of the Shrewsbury goal with 22 minutes played.
This marvellous moment not only giving the Addicks the lead, but creating a clear divide between two sides that didn’t seem to have too much between them. The winger’s first goal for the club inspiring, totally breaking the rhythm of the visitors, and allowing the hosts to take a composed and dominant control.
A control that was reflected in the scoreline just two minutes later. The goal itself not quite as spectacular as Holmes’ effort, but the trademark kneeslide that followed Johnnie Jackson bundling the ball over the line after something of a goalmouth scramble more than making up for that. A joy and confidence in the celebrations that was reflected around The Valley.
And whether or not Holmes meant to extend the lead further with 31 minutes on the clock is questionable, but it was certainly his individual brilliance that had moved the Addicks into a position from which greater club concerns could be ignored and points celebrated with almost an hour still to play. The winger’s corner curling and dipping beyond the fingertips of Leutwiler and finding the back of the net.
The control Russell Slade’s Holmes-inspired side had gained in the space of nine minutes reaffirmed by a previously composed and patient Shrewsbury side seemingly losing their heads. Ivan Toney blasting the ball against the advertising boards as he mis-controlled it out of play.
Focus regained by the Shrews after the break, with their passing slicker and the occasional opening appearing, but it mattered little. Charlton simply sitting deeper, and collectively in control of proceedings despite offering a more conservative approach to the second 45.
In fact, such was their control, the most horrendous of misses from the desperately unfortunate Nicky Ajose could be laughed off. It mattered little when this victory, the first of the season and the first under Slade, was Charlton’s from the moment the ball left Holmes’ right foot with 22 minutes played.
It fitting that it was Holmes, alongside the adored skipper, who leapt from the tunnel during the full-time celebrations. The final act of enjoyment in this night of total distraction, from the suffering the club has inflicted upon its supporters, carried out by the man whose brilliance had instigated it.
A dominant victory, or any sort of victory for that matter, did not feel assured before kick-off, however, as boss Slade opted to deploy the midfield that has so far frustrated this season once again.
The momentum gained from the second-half effort in the weekend draw with Northampton Town seemly dented as one flank was left without a proper dynamic and attacking threat once again. Jackson, Andrew Crofts and Kevin Foley all shoehorned into the same side, with Ademola Lookman being kept in reserve particularly frustrating given that there was a three-man Shrewsbury defence for him to exploit.
But there was early encouragement, helped by the fact Jackson was most definitely playing in the centre, and Foley was the unfortunate chap occupying a wide position. Only the fingertips of Leutwiler denying Ajose, as he made space for himself inside the box and shot towards the bottom corner, though the less said about Morgan Fox’s horribly wayward effort from the resulting corner, the better.
Moments of concern in the opening moments, too, as Micky Mellon’s side showed quality in midfield and attacking intent through lively wing-backs Joe Riley and Junior Brown. Several men in blue and yellow inches away from turning in a corner that flashed across the face of goal, with Charlton’s defence a little static.
And so the pattern of the game developed. The directness of the Addicks, and the relentless running and strength of Josh Magennis, creating openings for the hosts, and the visitors causing problems with Riley and Brown always seemingly having a yard of space. Leutwiler again needed to keep his side level, this time standing tall and saving superbly as Magennis broke into the box and fired goalwards.
It was seemingly going to take something a bit special to beat such a defiant goalkeeper, so Holmes supplied. Lively but maybe just lacking an end up product up until the 22nd minute, the winger suddenly found a moment of match-defining quality. A powerful and pacey run, a drop of the shoulder to cut inside from the left, and a sublime finish into the far top corner that gave the Swiss stopper no chance.
A gentle and immediately reminder that the Shews still possessed quality, as Toney’s effort from the best part of 25 yards bounced just wide of Declan Rudd’s goal, but the course of this contest was decided. The impact of Holmes’ strike too great for it not to have been.
Such a feeling reaffirmed as Ajose attempted to turn in a cross from the left, and the ball ultimately fell kindly to the feet of Jackson. The skipper finishing from close range to double his side’s lead, and seemingly give the Addicks an unassailable advantage. Delight amidst the somewhat empty Valley stands.
Delight, mixed with a sense of surprise and shock. It hard to believe that Charlton had put themselves into such a position so quickly when the game appeared closely contested just three minutes previously. Undoubtedly a position Slade’s side, through their attacking persistence and the brilliance of Holmes, could claim to deserve to be in.
Attacking persistence that did not desist. Jackson’s shot from distance a little weak, and a splendid block denying Ajose from close range, but the energy, pace and strength in the forward play unrelenting in its quality.
And it was from a move of attacking intent that the corner was won from which Charlton scored their third. Foley, rather unusually, finding some space further forward, and seeing an effort deflect narrowly over the bar.
Narrowly under the bar the destination of the ball from the resulting set-piece, as Holmes somehow managed to deceive Leutwiler and find a gap between his fingertips and the roof of the goal from the impossible angle that a corner kick offers.
A reaction that mixed pleasure with slight embarrassment suggested he might not have meant it, but it mattered little. Holmes mobbed by his teammates, and the Addicks out of sight with 59 minutes left to play. The 9,000 or so inside The Valley creating the noise of many more.
Or at least they were out of sight in theory. A voice in the Covered End quick to mention the fact Shrewsbury came from three goals down to record victory the last time these two sides met, and a group of supporters so used to being disappointed were desperate to see their side go in at the break without giving the opposition any sort of momentum to build from.
Rudd on hand to alleviate any fears, as Toney, a physical presence in attack and proving a handful to Jason Pearce and Ezri Konsa, first saw a tame shot held before a powerful goal-bound strike was parried away by the Norwich loanee. The goalkeeper probably would have stood no chance had Toney struck his efforts with the same power that he struck the ball against an advertising hoarding with as half-time approached.
A half-time whistle that was met with a completely contrasting reaction to the boos of Saturday. This, unquestionably, a completely contrasting performance to the abysmal first 45 three days ago.
The desire among supporters, therefore, to see more of what they had under The Valley’s floodlights, and not see their side revert back to the previously displayed unjointed efforts, irrespective of the scoreline.
At the very least, though, Charlton’s start to the second period was a slow one, as Shrewsbury attempted to give themselves some chance of getting back into the game. Jim O’Brien and Brown possibly too quick to shoot, and firing horribly off-target, but Louis Dodds another man in blue and yellow to afforded space, and his strike only narrowly going over Rudd’s crossbar.
So, of course, it was Holmes that injected some life in the second half efforts of Slade’s side. His pace and power down the left too much for several Shrewsbury men that attempted to track him, and Lutewiler doing well to intercept his driven cross with Magennis lurking.
Nonetheless, it quickly became evident that the Addicks would not be attacking the Covered End with the same intent as they did the Jimmy Seed Stand in the first half. With such an advantage there was undoubtedly no need for them to, and their play became more about retaining what they had.
Retention achieved, largely, with control and composure. The ball retained comfortably for extended periods, and though Shrewsbury were allowed to knock the ball around themselves in midfield, there was little desire among Charlton’s defence to allow their moves forwards to develop into anything meaningful.
It is, therefore, probably reasonable to point out that the Shrews, for all their composed passing play, lacked anyone with the ability to break down a defence in the same way that Holmes could. Substitutes Shaun Whalley, firing horribly wide, and Moha, striking straight at Rudd with minimal force behind his drive, not possessing the individual ability to give the visitors any sort of hope on this frustrating evening for them.
In fact, despite their obvious attempts to simply control the contest for the remainder of it, it remained the Addicks who offered the most genuine threat when a rare dynamic forward move was instigated. A swerving shot from Lookman too much for Lutewiler, and Ajose somehow managing to fire the rebound over the bar from a matter of yards. It probably telling of The Valley’s rather joyous atmosphere that the forward’s name was consequently sung, instead of the summer signing being lambasted.
And while Toney, possibly enduring the most frustrating night among a frustrated side, attempted to taint the mood somewhat as he pounced on a drive cross and turned the ball fractionally wide, all that really remained, as had long been the case, was for the battered and bruised supporters of Charlton to enjoy their first victory of the season, and their first under the stewardship of Slade.
As those post-match celebrations took place, in fact, with great applause from the players, a fist-pump from Slade, and joyous tunnel jump from Jackson and Holmes, it became apparent that this was one of those rare moments under the stewardship of Roland Duchatelet where the damage that has been inflicted upon club and supporters during his stewardship was irrelevant.
Much like it mattered little to the Covered End that Slade lacked hair, the state of the club momentarily mattered little. A rare night in SE7 that was simply to be enjoyed and savoured. The Addicks marvellous.
The empty seats reinforcing the need for Duchatelet’s regime to end to be considered another day, as for now attention must focus on an excellent effort from Slade’s side.
Of course, and deservedly so, Holmes takes the bulk of the attention. If not for an outstanding man of the match display that created a chasm between the two sides, then for the fact his stunning individual strike that opened the scoring turned a game that might have gone either way into one the Addicks never relinquished control of.
But to simply focus on Holmes, as much as he deserves such attention, would be to ignore the efforts of his teammates and an excellent collective performance, much improved on the tentative and disjoined displays seen prior to half-time on Saturday.
I think almost as important as Holmes, certainly in the overall play if not in the creation of those match-defining moments, is the presence of Magennis in attack. His ability to hold up the ball, and that he seems to win almost every single header, giving Charlton a real outlet, and meaning Slade’s side can play a direct style of football without aimlessly punting the ball forward and persistently losing possession. A shame his strike partner hasn’t quite found his feet yet, but there little to knock in Ajose’s overall play even if his finishing has so far left a lot to be desired.
In fact, Ajose insistence on coming out to support on the right flank in the first half certainly helped Charlton’s attacking intent, and prevented the lack of proper right winger from being completely detrimental. The sooner two proper wingers are deployed from the start, the better, especially with Foley probably the most error-prone Addick on the night, and both Jackson and Crofts, much-improved, showing real class and composure in the middle.
Even the backline, easily ignored in these sort of victories, were very encouraging. Rudd commanding, Pearce could do with keeping his hands down a little but otherwise a strong presence in the heart of defence, and Konsa possessing the ability and maturing of someone ten years older.
With all that in mind, I could throw forward the arguments of the need to continue to perform in such a manner before there’s any sort of getting carried away, and the obvious fact that continuing to offer support to the side does not mean the regime should be afforded any slack.
But, instead, I’m simply going to continue to saviour the moment. To saviour the most enjoyable night under The Valley’s floodlights for some time. Up the Addicks.