The argument that this equaliser was deserved is a slim one, but whether it was warranted or not mattered little as those in the Covered End rejoiced Patrick Bauer’s stoppage-time leveller in a game that had long seemed lost.
In fact, it a reflection of how tame Charlton Athletic were in their push for an equaliser that those representing Sheffield United were called into more vigorous action when required to assist in the clear up of the assortment of foam taxis and balls that invaded the pitch than they were by the Addicks.
Another well-organised effort from the protesting supporters as the game began, with the unrelenting opposition to the regime reaffirmed despite recent victories and managerial changes.
New boss Karl Robinson watching the sea of foam toys invade the pitch, and hearing the anti-Roland Duchatelet chanting, from the relative comfort of the directors’ box before taking charge of the side on Monday.
But, as has always been the case, the former MK Dons boss would have seen that the players who he will soon inherit are unaffected by the protests around them. The Addicks, offered unrelenting support by their supporters once the game had resumed, involved in a competitive opening half hour where neither side was able to truly get on top of the other. Defensively solid, but running into dead ends on the counter.
The capitulation that followed the Blades’ 32nd minute opener, however, was far more obvious and concerning. As was the defensive effort for the goal itself. The Addicks static as a cleverly worked free-kick deceived all in the centre, and Mark Duffy was unchallenged as he finished from a relatively tight angle.
United responding with pace, energy and an unrelenting effort that meant Charlton were given no time whatsoever when on the ball. The Addicks terribly slow, without structure, and carless in possession. Were it not for Dillon Phillips, making several excellent saves during the second half, the deficit would have been far more reflective of the gap between the two sides.
But while the deficit remained only one, regardless of the struggle Kevin Nugent’s temporary troops were having in creating any sort of opening, there was always some sort of chance that something could be stolen. Even deep into stoppage-time, where positive energy around the home areas of The Valley was difficult to find.
It more in desperate hope, therefore, than genuine belief that roars of encouragement were made as a clever run from substitute Jordan Botaka won the Addicks a free-kick in a crossing position with two minutes of additional time already eaten up. The expectation was that the Blades would easily nod the delivery away, with Charlton continuing to be little more than tame in the final third.
But Adam Chicksen’s delivery was perfect for Josh Magennis to flick-on, and the flick-on could only be buddled over the line by Bauer’s big German limbs. The first time the Addicks had genuinely threatened, but enough to steal a point that, on the balance of play, might not have been deserved.
Enough to prevent the confidence that Nugent’s temporary reign has injected from being tarnished by a poor and pointless performance, and enough to give Robinson some positive energy to work with when he begins on Monday morning.
Improvement, and plenty of it, still needed, but a solid base from which to work from under the new boss. Even if the regime provides no base whatsoever.
The impressive 5-1 victory over Bristol Rovers in midweek almost an irrelevance when facing Sheffield United, given their 14-game unbeaten run. A completely different challenge to the one the Addicks faced in the West County on Tuesday, where the absence of key players might well be made more obvious.
Declan Rudd, Chris Solly and Ricky Holmes still absent, with Nugent making just the one change from the side who performed so impressively at the Memorial Stadium. Johnnie Jackson returning, with Chicksen returning to the bench.
But the uncertainty of whether the midweek effort could be repeated against stronger opposition was a conundrum temporarily ignored as a protest against Duchatelet’s poisonous regime began as soon as the referee’s first whistle was blown.
The foam footballs and taxis, in homage to the marvellous #TaxiForRoland trip, forcing the game to be paused and will once again be what attracts important attention, but the noise and length of the “we want Roland out” is something not to be ignored. With the majority of those in the home ends on their feet and voicing their opposition, it apparent that the strength of the opposition to the regime remains just as strong.
As too does the support for the side. The Covered End, competing with a sold out Sheffield United contingent, immediately vocally backing the Addicks once the game had resumed.
And their vocal backing was rewarded with some early encouraging signs. Magennis a handful, Nicky Ajose and Ademola Lookman making positive runs, and a delightful Jackson delivery from the left somehow avoiding the red shirts in the centre.
In fact, it appeared there was to be a reward for the supportive effort and the early promise in Charlton’s play as Magennis was played through and converted in clinical fashion. The Valley cheer postponed by the sight of the assistant referee’s flag being raised – The Northern Ireland international venturing offside.
But that certainty isn’t to say the Addicks were the dominant side in these early exchanges. The opening a competitive one, with the pace, movement and individual quality in United’s side was also made immediately obvious. An early warning for the hosts with Daniel Lafferty able to get free down the left far too easily, and Morgan Fox’s desperate outstretched foot required to prevent his low cross from causing the damage it might have done.
It was becoming increasingly apparent, however, that Charlton’s main concern would be dealing with Duffy. He the first player the Blades looked to pick out when breaking forward, and the sort of playmaker who seems able to glide with the ball at his feet.
The midfielder involved in the build-up as Andrew Crofts threw his body in the way of a Jack O’Connell strike, and as the previously quiet Billy Sharp volleyed over from the edge of the box. Duffy’s presence, and United’s threat, slowly increasing.
A threat that was only going to increase if Charlton were intent on offering the occasional favour. Phillips, who had looked comfortable and composed on his home league debut, charge down by former Addick Leon Clarke as he attempted to clear, and the blocked ball bouncing across the face of goal. The hosts, and in particular the young goalkeeper, very fortunate not to have been punished.
But punishment for the Addicks, in which Phillips’ fault was minimal, was not far off. Jason Pearce’s match-long tussle with Clarke had involved a lot of loose limbs, and the Charlton centre-back was punished for grappling with the robust forward. A free-kick awarded to the Blades in a promising position.
Promising in the sense that it looked a reasonable position from which to shoot directly at Phillips’ goal. Instead, the visitors made it promising by conducting a clever set-piece that completely caught out a Charlton defence that simply failed to react.
Duffy running over the ball, and into a position from which to receive a pass, the dead ball knocked into his path, and the playmaker finishing clinically in the far corner beyond a sea of rather confused players in red. A clever routine, undoubtedly, but the Addicks certainly didn’t cover themselves in glory.
At least there remained a reasonable amount of time before the interval in which Charlton could redeem themselves. Something which Ajose attempted to do, latching onto Crofts ball over the top and volleying an effort only fractionally over the bar.
But the early spark that was in the hosts’ play had all but vanished. There a real struggle for those in red to get out of their own half, with slow and turgid passing often resulting in a pass back towards Phillips, and the home supporters becoming increasingly frustrated. And when there was a chance to break, with one coming as Phillips fed Lookman with an excellent piece of distribution, Charlton could only run into dead ends.
The Addicks simply having no response to the intensity of United’s pressing, that had only increased since they had gone ahead.
In fact, Nugent’s side were probably a little fortunate to have found themselves only a goal down at the interval. Sharp twisting and turning inside the area after Charlton failed on several occasions to properly clear a corner, but the prolific striker succeeding only in firing straight at Phillips having created a sight of goal for himself.
At least that opening, if the scoreline and overall performance didn’t do it, provided a reminder that a serious improvement was required after the interval.
A reminder that seemingly wasn’t taken on board, as the Addicks continued to look slow and without direction, while the Blades continued to threaten. Sharp’s mishit overhead kick no problem for Phillips, but the goalkeeper required to make a decent save after John Fleck was invited to shoot from the edge of the area. Charlton given no time on the ball; United afforded plenty.
That made even more obvious as Chris Basham, a player without a reputation that suggests ripping apart defences is his trade, was allowed to drive half the length of the pitch unchallenged. His shot, thankfully, flashing across the face of goal and behind.
But none of these chances for the Blades, certainly more than just half chances and largely being created as a consequence of Charlton’s sluggishness, were enough to wake the hosts up. The unrelenting energy of the Bristol Rovers win seeming a long time ago as the struggling Crofts lost possession, United broke, and Phillips was again required to make an excellent stop as the influential Duffy shot towards goal.
All this occurring while the Addicks trailed, and were not simply desperately clinging on for some sort of reward. The extent of their struggles reaffirmed by the fact it took until the 73rd minute for Moore’s gloves to get a bit of dirt on them, as he easily collected Lookman’s drive towards goal, with a frustrated Magennis waiting in the centre unmarked.
And it probably wasn’t until the 75th minute when those of a Charlton persuasion were given a touch of good news. Duffy still driving the Blades forward this late into a game which had long lost any sort of competitive spark, given the extent to which the Addicks were second best, and the sight of him being forced off injured, though unfortunate for the man himself, offered a brief moment of relief.
Brief, as still a 2-0 win for the Blades appeared for likely than a Charlton equaliser. Substitute Caolan Lavery’s header had enough power and accuracy behind it for many in the Covered End to accept their side were about to fall further behind, but they had not accounted for the flying fingertips of Phillips. A marvellous save from the young goalkeeper, somehow keeping his rather undeserving side in the game.
For though the Addicks were performing without any cohesion, structure or quality, there always remained a chance of a leveller while the deficit was only one. A typically strong run from Magennis creating a small roar of expectation, but Moore was equal to his fierce near-post strike.
Encouraging, too, was the sight of Botaka being readied on the touchline. His pace and trickery exactly what was required to test fading legs and lift this stale Charlton performance, even if one of his first involvements was to receive a Chicksen throw-in and send it straight back out of play.
His runs failing to achieve a great deal, but his confidence and energy was eclipsing all but Lookman who had already attempted to get the Addicks back into the game. The winger lurking in positions from which to break as Charlton defended a corner as stoppage-time approached meant that, though logic suggested otherwise, it wasn’t completely irrational to believe the hosts still had half a chance.
Still half a chance as Botaka glided beyond Lafferty, with only the stumble that followed the full-backs cynical trip prevented the substitute from breaking into the box. A free-kick awarded in a wide position, only a matter of yards from the box.
It didn’t seem like the most inviting position from which to test the previously untested United backline. Too close to treat it like a corner, not an angle to shoot from, and the Blades would surely have the advantage in challenging for a floaty cross.
But Chicksen’s delivery, picking out the head of a man who had been calling for the delivery to come his way from the moment the free-kick was awarded, was near enough perfect. Perfect for Magennis to meet ahead of his man, and flick on dangerously for Bauer to bundle in.
Such was the manner in which the Addicks had performed, and the somewhat undeserved nature of this goal, there was a moment of shock and surprise before finally coming to terms with the fact Nugent’s men had somehow stolen a late equaliser. It a shame that Phillips didn’t sprint up field to join in with the celebrations, as they were only possible thanks to the goalkeeper’s impressive efforts in keeping the visitors’ advantage to just the one.
It also a shame that this equaliser didn’t come five minute earlier, for there was suddenly momentum and energy throughout this Charlton side. Another run from Botaka, another cynical attempt to stop him, and a corner won. Moore just about intercepting the delivery, and the referee’s full-time whistle to follow, but this was a quite unbelievable finish from the Addicks.
Nonetheless, as several wearing Sheffield United colours dropped to the floor in disappointment come full-time, it was important to remember that this point alone was rather fortunate. Undeserved in the overall context of the game, and there no sign that a late equaliser would come before Bauer bundled the ball over the line.
And, as such, a good point against strong opposition was celebrated. Or a lucky escape. One of the two.
In truth, it was probably more a lucky escape than something to be wildly celebrated. This the first time in the previous week under Nugent’s stewardship where the Addicks haven’t been allowed to set the tempo of the game, and they struggled to respond to the dominance of the Blades.
Particularly against Bristol Rovers, the standout points of Nugent’s side were that they were pacey, direct and adventurous. Largely because of the way United pressed, but also because of their sluggishness and sloppiness in possession, Charlton were simply unable to replicate the style of play that was seen on Tuesday.
It seen at the back, with the defence cautiously knocking the ball between themselves before being rushed into a wayward pass or clearance. It seen in midfield, with Crofts, after a reasonable few performances, really struggling to retain possession. And it seen going forward, with the decision making of Ajose and Lookman rather disappointing, as dead ends were quite often run into.
From the moment they scored, the Blades had control, and Charlton were looking a little lost against a relatively impressive side. Wasteful on the ball, and that half the reason they failed to double their advantage, but mightily impressive without it. Chris Wilder evidently instilling a good mentality into his side.
But in undoubted that Phillips, not least considering his inexperience, deserves plenty of credit for restricting the Blades to just a single goal lead for the majority of the game. At least three of his stops in the second half, particularly the one from Lavery’s header, seemed destined for the net, and his efforts certainly kept the Addicks in the game. A role equally as important as his one while Charlton’s lead was just a single goal in Bristol in midweek.
So too can you credit the impact Botaka made, with the winger finally giving the Addicks some sort of attacking outlet. Directionless and dreary going forward before he was introduced. A useful time to make a big impact while your new boss watches on from the stands.
And what will, having seen both this and the fixture on Tuesday, Robinson have made of the side he’s about to inherit? That there’s certainly something there, some defensive solidity and attacking quality, but an improvement against teams who press high or attempt to take the game to the Addicks is desperately required.
Charlton Athletic face two very important battles as Sheffield United come to The Valley on Saturday.
The first with the Blades themselves. An incredibly difficult opponent, who are unbeaten in 14 league games, and are certainly going to prove more testing opposition that the Bristol Rovers side that capitulated during Tuesday’s 5-1 victory.
There no intense expectations on the Addicks, to be led by Kevin Nugent for one final time before Karl Robinson takes charge, given the quality of the Blades, but victory would make a very clear point. That this Charlton side, in spite of the crisis the club are in, can challenge for promotion.
The second against the regime. CARD planning a substantial protest against Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire, whose destruction of the club still obvious despite a recent improvement of results. An empty Valley, supporters undermined, and the bizarre sacking of Slade that exposed Meire as a liar once again in addition to everything that has gone before.
The appointment of a new manager almost meaningless while opposition to the regime remains so high, and the enjoyment felt in positive results tainted. This planned protest another chance to force change.
A win for the side and a defeat for the regime would be an incredibly successful day in SE7.
LAST MEETING – SHEFFIELD UNITED 2-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (9/3/14)
We don’t talk about this.
Sheffield United: WWWWWD
One point from his first four league games in charge suggested that Chris Wilder was going to be the latest Sheffield United boss to fail to get the club out of League One, but a quite incredible run since has made many pencil in the Blades as certs for promotion.
Wilder’s side playing 14 league games since, winning 11 and drawing three of them, scoring 31 times and conceding 13. Four of the six points dropped coming at the homes of other sides in and around the top two (Scunthorpe United and Bradford City), and not a single point dropped at home. The Blades climbing to second in the division.
And while many victories have been secured in emphatic fashion, with three or more goals scored on five occasions during this remarkable run, the importance of stealing three points from tight games is not lost on the Blades.
Having dominated for the duration of the game, Ethan Ebanks-Landell grabbed a winner against Bury in midweek in stoppage-time. A victory as important, and as promising in terms of United gaining promotion, as the wins that are secured by Billy Share and co firing several goals past opponents.
The sacking of Slade has undoubtedly reinforced the crisis that the club are in, and the need to force Duchatelet out. A successful protesting effort on Saturday as important as any result, irrespective of what manager elect Karl Robinson might say.
For what is the point of success if so few supporters are there to witness it, or feel any connection to the club while it is happening. Reinstating a bond between supporters and club vital.
But Nugent’s efforts as caretaker boss are to be appreciated regardless.
The emphatic victory over Bristol Rovers on Tuesday one of the most complete performances in recent times, and showing that there is enough equality in this side to provide on-the-pitch distraction to the disconnection and apathy that has been created by the actions of the regime.
At the very least, Robinson will inherit a side that has recently gained confidence.
Influential winger Mark Duffy (calf) and versatile full-back Kieron Freeman (back) are doubts for the Blades’ trip to The Valley, with both having missed the win over Bury in midweek having sustained injuries during the victory over Shrewsbury last weekend.
Stefan Scougall and Jack O’Connell filled in on Tuesday night, and they could be required again should the injured trio not recover in time.
There may also be a start for former Addick Leon Clarke, who was introduced at half-time on Tuesday in order to assist in United’s attempts to break down a rather determined Bury backline.
Charlton are likely to remain without first-choice goalkeeper Declan Rudd, with the Norwich loanee recovering from a hip injury.
Dillon Phillips, who performed admirably in Tuesday’s win over Bristol Rovers, will maintain his place between the sticks should Rudd not be available. The young goalkeeper, on his Football League debut, making several important saves with the score at 1-0 to prevent the game from turning the way of the opposition.
With Chris Solly (knee), Ricky Holmes (foot), and Lee Novak (hamstring) also likely to be absent through injury, a third game in eight days will prove a tough challenge for Charlton’s relatively small squad, particularly given the draining work that has gone into the previous two.
At the very least, there no real way for Nugent to rotate his side.
KEY BATTLE – THE ONE AGAINST THE REGIME (AGAIN)
On the pitch, stopping Billy Sharp from scoring is going to take a bit of effort, but the importance of one game is minimal in comparison to the long-running battle against Duchatelet.
Whatever it is that CARD have up their sleeves, or hiding in their backseat, the support for it is obvious. The appointment of Robinson not changing the extent of the opposition to the regime.
And while some will point out that Duchatelet is stubborn, and that these protests have no impact whatsoever, they certainly strength our cause and weaken theirs. At the very least, the football world will be on our side again.
The importance of forcing this regime out remains as high as ever.
Tough one to call. Sheffield United unstoppable, but Charlton have found some form. Not sure that said form is enough to stop the Blades. Charlton Athletic 1-2 Sheffield United
There are three types of individuals who would see the job of Charlton Athletic manager, and as such working under the one of the most heavily criticised and opposed ownership regimes in English football, as an attractive proposition.
The first being those who are, in one way or another, already part of Roland Duchatelet’s heavily flawed network. Moved from one part of it to another, irrespective of whether they are qualified or suited. Heavily opposed and understandably seen as a direct link to those above; it no wonder Chris O’Loughlin has been looked upon suspiciously.
The second being those who are desperate for a managerial job. The inexperienced, those who have been out of a job for a while, or those whose powers are seemingly fading. Charlton still a relatively large club, and working at The Valley gets a name into the public domain.
And the third is the naïve, optimistic, and arguably arrogant. Who believe they can heal all the damage that has been done under this regime through managerial panache and results. Ignoring what has previously occurred at the club while it has been under Duchatelet’s control, seeing it is an exciting challenge, and not quite understanding the emotions that supporters have been driven to feeling.
Success on the pitch is undoubtedly most likely to come from the appointment of a manager with characteristics that resemble the third description. Especially if you’d prefer to be a little less cynical and refer to that type of manager as a determined one.
In fact, you could probably label Russell Slade as determined. An obvious and proactive attempt made to instil some sort of normality at a club which has none.
He was unquestionably his own man, fighting against the regime over signings, and you never felt like he was one of them or working exclusively for them.
You can question some of his tactical decisions, and some of his post-match comments were a little frustrating, but the way in which he conducted himself overall was in contrast to previous bosses under this regime and deserves respect.
The consequence, of course, was that Slade was sacked just as results began to improve. Sacked after Katrien Meire had shown a long-term commitment to him. The true characteristics of the regime exposed again, and more upheaval required.
Assisted by the efforts of those who travelled to Belgium in order to protest, rarely has the media been so damning in their criticism of Duchatelet’s regime. Rarely has Duchatelet felt the need to speak, and speak with ignorance, arrogance and distain towards Charlton supporters. The inability to address the divide between club and supporters couldn’t be more obvious, and the need to force this regime out couldn’t be more apparent.
The actual number of supporters in attendance for the Port Vale game undoubtedly much less than the reported 8,992 at Port Vale, supporters completely disconnected and disillusioned, and anti-regime chants still being sung during the 5-1 win over Bristol Rovers.
Positive results are wanted, desperately wanted, but they aren’t going to solve three years of damage. Supporters aren’t protesting in the hope of enforcing a persistent upturn in results, but they are protesting in the hope of protecting the future of their club, forcing out of destructive hands, and being able to feel some sort of connection and bond once again.
And so, the suggestion from manager elect Karl Robinson that “we need to stick together, the protests need to stop on Saturdays” to a supporter after Bristol Rovers is not a sign of positive determination, but a naïve and arrogant belief.
It completely disregards the feelings and the mentality of Charlton supporters. They are not passive supporting robots, who can immediately decide all the damage and disconnection is meaningless because sticking together with something they don’t believe in is more important. It’s simply not.
It disregards the fact, despite the opposition and the disconnection, the side maintains support. Protesting has quickly turned to positive energy on numerous occasions, and Addicks deserve plenty of credit for that. Not having their actions questions and told how to think.
It ignores that anxiety and fear over the way the club continues to be controlled by a poisonous regime overwhelms any positive feeling created by a result. The fear of what will come next, and the knowledge that three years on they still haven’t learnt from mistakes, and continue to damage both the club and relations between the club and its supporters.
How can you believe he’ll be allowed to manage, allowed to lead, and given a reasonable amount of time? The protests stop, he’s ultimately sacked, the unchanged ownership remains, and we find ourselves repeating a similar process. The manager almost an irrelevance while this regime is in control; getting them out of the club anything but.
Which isn’t to say I want Robinson to fail. No one does. No one wants the Addicks to actively fail, and everyone hopes that the new boss elect will be able to make what is a useful Charlton side a consistently competitive one.
Robinson, as a character, is someone I don’t particularly appreciate. The sort of managerial personality I’m not a fan of. Arrogant, always looking to deflect criticism, the referee the first person to blame rather than himself or his side.
But his managerial record is handy. MK dons consistently competitive, the 36-year-old assisting in the development of some big talents, and a promotion to his name.
That tainted slightly by MK’s relegation last season, and their struggle at the start of this season. Supporters long frustrated by his decision making, and feeling like it was definitely time for him to move on. His ‘highly-rated’ tag is fading a little.
You hope, therefore, there will be no continuation of a difficult final period in charge at Stadium:MK, and he’ll be able to instil the sort of positive football he got the Dons to play upon this Charlton side. There’s going to be a need for some individual improvement in midfield, but there every chance Robinson’s style of football can help to get the best out of our promising forwards.
Nugent has set that up nicely for him, if only by instilling confidence into them as a consequence of the victories over Port Vale and Bristol Rovers. Whether Nugent stays on, even if only to help with the transition, should be entirely up to Robinson, but it may be wise to keep the current caretaker boss around for the time being.
Then again, it should be up to Robinson not to use O’Loughlin and Thomas Driesen, but it won’t be.
Those sorts of restrictions on Robinson’s ability to manage, in addition to simply having to work under Duchatelet and Meire, reaffirming that he’s not simply walking into a job where results will make everything better. Where he can transform the club.
Results are important, of course, but it’s difficult for many to see the importance of them when there’s no connection to the club. When connection won’t return until this regime have departed.
The importance of forcing this regime out of the club, of instilling connection once again, and as such protesting, will remain high until it brings a different kind of result. The result of feeling like we’ve got our Charlton back.
As the man about to be appointed Charlton Athletic manager allegedly watched on, the man keeping his seat warm led the Addicks to their most complete performance in some time.
In fact, Karl Robinson might have even felt immediate justification for his decision to ignore all the warnings he would have received about working under Roland Duchatelet’s regime, such was the manner in which the side he will inherit ruthlessly defeated Bristol Rovers at the Memorial Stadium.
Or maybe he would have been slightly concerned that Kevin Nugent had led this group of Addicks to such an impressive victory that his offer of employment would be withdrawn, and instead handed to the caretaker boss. Those that had travelled to the West Country treated to a quite remarkable 5-1 win.
The scoreline suggests an emphatic rout last for the duration of the contest, as does the fact Nugent’s side went in at the break with a two-goal lead, but it wasn’t until the start of the second half that the extent of Charlton’s domination became apparent.
For the game could have very easily turned not long after Ademola Lookman, via the help of a deflection, fired beyond Rovers goalkeeper Kelle Roos to give the visitors a 26th minute lead.
A barrage of attempts on Charlton’s goal, protected by the inexperienced Dillion Phillips in the absence of the injured Declan Rudd, as half-time approach seemingly suggesting that it was only a matter of time before the hosts equalised. The post hit, a reaction save required, and a goal-bound strike beaten away.
But the Addicks responded by doubling their advantage on the break a minute before half-time. Josh Magennis, unplayable after bursting into life 20 minutes into the evening, turning home Adam Chicksen’s low cross, and filling the away terrace with a rather shocked sense of joy and relief.
Five second-half minutes all that were needed for Patrick Bauer, with a typically powerful header, to convert Lookman’s corner, and it to become clear that the Addicks were in complete control of this contest. Victory secured, but the Addicks rampant, and Rovers, who would lose Jake Clarke-Salter to injury having already made three substitutions, crumbling.
A first Charlton goal for Chicksen, shooting from distance and beating the unfortunate Roos with a slight deflection, making it four with 14 still to play, and the fifth coming with five minutes remaining as Nicky Ajose finished superbly from the edge of the area.
No genius tactical strategy, merely a reward for direct attacking play and a brutal ruthlessness in front of goal.
And while Phillips recklessly hauling down Rory Gaffney inside the box gave Rovers the opportunity to grab a consolation goal in stoppage-time – the resulting spot-kick converted by Matty Taylor – it didn’t prevent this being a near complete performance, let alone taint the result.
Robinson, undoubtedly as impressed and pleased by the performance as those supporters who had travelled to Bristol, will soon learn that leading the Addicks isn’t as easy as this result suggests. Joyous results a distraction from the cancer that Duchatelet his inflicted upon the club.
But, if nothing else, he will inherit a side who seem to have discovered some confidence while Nugent has been their fostered leader.
A result of this nature made even more remarkable given that a victory of any kind seemed unlikely before kick-off.
The Addicks, without a manager and without a win away from home since August, were left without their first choice goalkeeper. A hip injury making Rudd unavailable, and forcing Nugent into handing Phillips a Football League debut.
With Ricky Holmes, Chris Solly and Lee Novak also missing out as a result of injury, and the questionable decision made to start Chicksen over both Johnnie Jackson and Jordan Botaka on the left side of midfield, it was fair to suggest that a depleted Charlton side took the Memorial Stadium pitch.
Meanwhile, Darrell Clarke was able to recall top scorer Taylor to his starting XI, and it was the prolific forward who had the game’s first opening. A miscommunication between Bauer, who had won absolutely everything and looked unbeatable up until this point, and Kevin Foley allowed Taylor in behind, but Phillips did well to deny to the striker from a relatively tight angle.
That chance in contrast to the overall pattern of the game’s opening exchanges, with both teams looking comfortable on the ball but both defences in no mood to be beaten. Bauer quickly returning to his Berlin Wall impression, while Tom Lockyer and Clarke-Salter, by winning the majority of aerial challenges and quickly halting any runs, had Magennis and Ajose under control.
It beginning to seem like this stalemate would only be broken by an out-of-character defensive capitulation from one of the sides, so serious questions were asked when Byron Moore was left totally unmarked with the Addicks slow to react to a quickly-taken Rovers corner. His header, thankfully, directed wide, but Phillips and Jason Pearce unforgiven as they looked around for answers from their teammates.
Answers wanted from those in backline, but they instead received one moments later from a duo found further forward.
Magennis, mistiming jumps and committing unnecessary fouls, had struggled to make his usual impression on the game, but a superb chested control of a long ball forward and subsequent knock into the path of Lookman was much more in character.
A touch inside giving the teenager a sight of goal and, with a roar of expectation from the travelling supporters behind him, the confidence to try his luck. His effort powerful, and probably goalbound without the deflection that followed, but the slight deviation giving Roos absolutely no chance. The Addicks, slightly against the run of play, had found a way to take the lead.
And with the goal coming somewhat against the run of play, a sense of nervousness was tainting the joy in the away end. A lead that felt uncomfortable from the moment Lookman had broken free from the mob of teammates that celebrated with him.
Though Magennis would soon volley over from a tight angle, it apparent that the hosts posed some sort of threat. Phillips warming up for what was to come with a marvellous reaction save to prevent Taylor’s attempt to turn a cross goalwards with his hand, thankfully spotted by the officials.
As such, another Charlton move against the overall pattern of play culminating in a superb goalline clearance from Lockyer felt like a huge moment. Lookman and Magennis combining again, with the winger playing through the Northern Ireland international, but the Gas defender able to get back and acrobatically clear after Magennis’ attempt had cleared Roos.
For the threat that Rovers were flirting with posing was soon unleashed. Chris Lines’ corners causing great concern for the Addicks, and the combination of Bauer and the post just about managed to keep Clarke-Salter’s out.
The danger far from over, however, as another inviting delivery was sent into the box to be met by the head of Clarke-Salter once again. A powerful nod, that seemed goalbound, or at least it would have been had Phillips not pulled off an excellent reaction save to tip the effort over the bar. The goalkeeper immediately congratulated by his teammates.
And, with Rovers now knocking the ball around nicely and Charlton struggling to regain composure, the inexperienced goalkeeper was called upon to be saviour once again. Taylor played through, sighs from around the away that suggested supporters were resigning themselves to a Rovers equaliser, but Phillips denying the forward from point-blank range.
“Dillon, Dillon, Dillon,” was unfortunately all the travelling supporters could come up with to honour their stopper. But his importance in the Addicks going in at the break with a two-goal advantage was lost on no one.
There no doubt the complexion of the game would have changed completely had the hosts made their pressure count, so it was really Phillips who provided the assist for Magennis’ goal on the stroke of half-time. The forward turning in Chicksen’s low cross at the front post, and doubling Charlton’s advantage just moments after it seemed like they were going to lose it altogether.
A reminder not to get too carried away issued before the break, as an unchallenged Taylor nodded a Moore delivery over the bar, but the brilliance of Phillips and some attacking ruthlessness had seemingly put the Addicks on course for victory.
It would, however, have been naïve to think that there wouldn’t have been a response from Rovers at the start of the second period. Clarke immediately shuffling his pack, with Peter Hartley and Charlie Colkett introduced.
So Bauer’s powerful downward header five minutes into the half was arguably as important as the first and second goals. The German rising highest to convert Lookman’s corner, and all but confirming victory. The celebrations on the pitch and in the away ends suggesting that the “all but” wasn’t necessary.
As did Rovers’ desperation, and subsequent tameness. A third substitution made immediately, with Ellis Harrison thrown on, and the forward finding himself in a scoring position less than a minute later. The ball played across the box by Leadbitter, but the Wales U21 international horribly blasting off-target.
In fact, despite having been guilty of becoming cautious and negative after taking the lead on numerous occasions this season, it was Charlton who looked the side most likely to score the game’s next goal. As anti-regime chants were heard, offering a reminder that no success can distract from the damage Duchatelet and Katrien Meire have caused, Chicksen broke into the box but Roos, having looked uncomfortable for the duration of the evening, finally managed to make a save.
This as joyous as the three-goal lead; the fact the Addicks were continuing to attack and possessing a sense of ruthlessness. Desperate defending required to halt another forward move, as Lockyer turned behind a cross-cum-shot from Ajose after the forward had broken into the box.
So desperate, in fact, that a Rovers body was lost in the melee required to turn the ball behind. Clarke-Salter dislocating a shoulder, the stretcher required, and Rovers reduced to ten men for the remaining 25 minutes.
The break in play actually working in the favour of the hosts, halting Charlton’s momentum and giving them an opportunity to recompose themselves. Taylor getting into a shooting position on the edge of the box, and firing narrowly wide with Phillips well beaten.
But this was simply not the Gas’ night, and everything was going the way of the Addicks. Not that it wasn’t deserved, as Chicksen drove forward and saw a deflected effort beat Roos. A slight look of embarrassment on the full-back-cum-winger’s face, but his goal a reward for being ambitious and adventurous despite already having such a dominant lead.
There no doubt that Rovers had completely capitulated but, to their credit, there was no sense that they, or their supporters, had given up. Still noise being created by the home fans as Taylor’s free-kick deflected just wide, and Leadbitter’s effort from distance climbed over the bar.
As such, they probably didn’t deserve any further suffering, but the Addicks continued to attack, and continued to be rewarded. A good finish from Ajose, cutting into space and driving powerfully towards goal, but Roos all over the place again as Charlton found a fifth. Quite remarkable.
Given the manner in which everything was going the way of Nugent’s side, the awarding of a penalty to Rovers in stoppage-time didn’t seem that alarming. The pattern of the game suggested that Taylor wouldn’t convert from the spot after Phillips had floored Gaffney.
The prolific forward making no mistake, however. Finishing coolly from the spot, and giving Rovers a consolation goal that made their defeat no less painful.
In fact, the Addicks were up the other before the referee could blow the final whistle attempting to inflict more misery on the opposition and provide more barely believable joy for their supporters. Ajose rounding Roos, but a combination of the goalkeeper and a handful of defenders just about manager to prevent the forward from forcing the ball over the line.
Pushing for more, but Charlton were ultimately forced to settle for five. Enough to bring delight the travelling supporters, who were appreciative of the efforts of those representing their side, and Nugent. Joyous scenes come full-time.
Joyous scenes that again offered a distraction from the chaos and crisis. The chaos and crisis that Nugent will soon escape from, despite overseeing such a wonderful performance, and that Robinson will soon discover, despite being given a different sort of impression this evening.
It to the immense credit of both Nugent and the players he has temporarily led that they have performed with such professionalism and quality in the previous two games, despite the circumstances suggesting doing so would be incredibly challenging.
But to perform in such a ruthless manner, earning a 5-1 win that will be retold like many other unbelievable away victories, is simply outstanding.
From front to back, the Addicks were excellent. The importance of Phillips, in making saves at crucial moments, obvious, but Bauer’s determined resistance when Rovers were applying pressure at 0-0 and 1-0 was just as vital. Foley and Fox close to faultless.
Lookman a constant threat, Chicksen grew into the game after an indifferent start, while Andrew Crofts and Fredrik Ulvestad sat relatively deep and did the simple stuff well in order to keep Charlton ticking over.
Ajose had been frustrating, but his goal made up for that, and Magennis was absolutely superb from the moment he provided the assist for Lookman’s goal. The Northern Ireland international unplayable thereafter.
Individually excellent, and collectively showing the attacking potential that this side has shown in glimpses throughout the season. With the confidence to attack, and a ruthless mentality, they can score goals. Not five every week, of course, but they can provide a serious test for opposition defences.
That something that Robinson will have to harness. He’ll also have to work out how to deal with those above him, and I fear that his rather arrogant character means he’s naïve to what he’s actually walking into.
But the base set before Russell Slade’s strange sacking, and the confidence that Nugent has managed to instil in this side in a difficult moment, will at least make getting the best out of this group a little lest testing for the latest boss willing to live under Duchatelet and Meire’s reign.
A period of five weeks without a midweek league fixture for Charlton Athletic will come to an end this Tuesday, but it would have been useful if that period had continued for a little while longer.
For the Addicks, trapped firmly in a state of Roland Duchatelet-shaped crisis, will travel to the Memorial Stadium on Tuesday with the position of manager still vacant. Kevin Nugent will again act as caretaker, with the side that temporary belongs to him facing a difficult challenge away at overachieving Bristol Rovers.
There no getting away from the fact that those of a Charlton persuasion will travel to the West Country with uncertainty on their minds. Fans fearing the present and future while Duchatelet’s regime remains in control, and all concerned at the quality and competence of the manager this flawed ownership will be able to attract to replace Slade.
Long has a time passed when the game itself was the most important aspect of following the Addicks, but it has become even more of a secondary factor as a result of the events of the previous week.
As such, having a second game in four days is a little bit of a frustrating distraction. It might have been better suited for the Addicks if they were allowed time to focus on finding a new manager, and could head into their next game with at least a certain amount of structure.
However, Charlton do travel to the West Country with a victory to their name since Russell Slade’s bizarre sacking. The 2-0 win over Port Vale on Saturday not the most fluent of performances, but the result desperately needed.
Not only providing confidence, the sort required after a traumatic week, but so too showing those representing the club on the pitch have the capability to perform professionally irrespective of the circumstances.
Certainly a need to perform with confidence and professionalism at the Memorial Stadium, against a team who are likely to provide more testing opposition than the tame Vale did.
LAST MEETING – BRISTOL ROVERS 2-2 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (23/04/2011)
The nine men of Charlton failed to hold onto a two-goal advantage at the Memorial Stadium in April 2011, as a late Gavin Williams goal rescued a point for relegation-threatened Bristol Rovers.
A spectacular Kyel Reid goal, struck beyond Rovers goalkeeper Conrad Logan from distance, just after half-time had seemingly put the Addicks on course for three points. The winger’s goal doubling Charlton’s lead, after Paul Benson’s header had put the visitors in front with eight minutes played.
But the hosts would have a two-man advantage before the hour mark. Reid, for two rash challenges in quick succession, shown a second yellow card, with Jose Semedo receiving similar punishment six minutes later.
Rovers’ advantage in numbers allowed them to half the deficit in the scoreline six minutes later, with Wayne Brown converting from close range.
And with six minutes to play, the pressure the hosts were applying finally told, as Williams finished emphatically from inside the box.
Bristol Rovers: DWLDWL
Consolidation in League One would have been the aim for Bristol Rovers this season following promotion from the fourth tier in the previous campaign, but Darrell Clarke’s side have shown themselves to be far more competitive than that.
Three league defeats, only one of which has come at home, since the start of September contributing towards the Gas sitting outside the play-offs on goal difference alone. A four point advantage over the Addicks.
In fact, such is their impressive start to the campaign, expectations may have changed somewhat. A capitulation at the New Den, with Rovers losing 4-0, and a frustrating goalless draw with MK Dons in the previous two weeks not simply being brushed under the carpet.
A belief among a confident, but grounded, Clarke and his club’s supporters that Rovers can compete for a top six place for the duration of the season, and that the somewhat disappointing results of the previous two weeks were merely blips.
In most circumstances, winning a game after the sacking of a manager justifies the decision to depart with him, but Saturday’s win over Port Vale made Charlton’s dismissal of Slade seem even more odd.
For that was a fourth game won at The Valley in succession, the performance, instigated by Slade’s assistant Nugent, was a very familiar one, and a reliance on the impact of those who were unavailable for the horrendous defeat to Swindon was highlighted.
To base a sacking on one performance, an inexcusable one but still only one, and not consider the greater context reaffirming that Duchatelet’s decision making is entirely flawed. The work that Slade was putting in on and off the pitch, that the Duchatelet would be aware while he spends his Saturdays in restaurants, commended by many.
Nonetheless, that isn’t to suggest that Slade and his side weren’t flawed, and that there isn’t still plenty of room for improvement. The play-offs only one point closer than the bottom four, and performances far from fluent.
Matty Taylor could return to Rovers’ starting XI after the prolific scorer was benched for Saturday’s goalless draw with MK Dons.
The forward, who has 14 goals to his name in all competitions this season, wasn’t introduced until the second half at the weekend after boss Clarke said he wanted “fresh players” to start against the Dons. Rovers having been taken to extra time by Crawley in the FA Cup last Tuesday.
As a result of Clarke fielding that freshened up side, there could be further changes for the game against the Addicks. Chris Lines and Rory Gaffney, replacing Hiram Boateng and Ellis Harrison introduced at the same time as Taylor against the Dons, and they’ll be pushing for starts.
Elsewhere, the wonderfully bearded Stuart Sinclair is likely to start, and he’ll earn the honour of being the first player I’ve seen play for non-league Bedford Town and against Charlton in a competitive match. How exciting.
Charlton are likely to remain without Chris Solly after the full-back missed Saturday’s win over Port Vale with a knee complaint.
Given Solly’s injury history, and his notoriously troublesome knees, it would be unwise to rush the academy graduate back. Kevin Foley, the most agile or natural right-back but capable enough, set to deputise once again.
In fact, with Ricky Holmes a long-term absentee and the lack of alternatives available to caretaker boss Nugent, changes to the XI that started at the weekend are unlikely.
KEY BATTLE – THE RESPONSE TO GAINING AN ADVANTAGE OR FALLING BEHIND
Despite the dismissal of Slade, one of the most frustrating factors of Charlton’s play this season was once again visible on Saturday.
There a reluctance to truly dominate and control a game. Having taken that two-goal lead against Vale, the Addicks could have dictated the pattern of play. Instead, they sat back, and allowed the visitors as much of the ball as they wanted.
It not simply nervously grinding out results, but inviting unnecessary pressure and allowing opponents back into games they were seemingly out of. Points lost as a consequence of such caution on various occasions this season.
Thankfully, Vale were incredibly tame on Saturday. Unable to take advantage of the possession they were allowed to have.
But Bristol Rovers, on their own ground, might not be so lenient. Especially not with the prolific Taylor likely to be leading their attack.
Not only in terms of being able to respond to falling behind, especially if they are allowed to see plenty of the ball and create openings, but should it be they who take the lead. Rovers with the potency to exploit the still fragile confidence of the Addicks.
The first goal, and the response to that goal, very important.
Showing a touch of quality, and subsequently grinding out a victory, means I’m not dreading this as much as I was. But a tough test, and victory not to be demanded. Bristol Rovers 1-1 Charlton Athletic