Inspired by an excellent performance from their young star, Charlton Athletic progressed to the second round of football’s oldest cup competition with a 3-1 victory over Scunthorpe United at The Valley.
Teenager Ademola Lookman, dropped after a handful of disappointing performances and only introduced 27 minutes into this FA Cup first round fixture after injury to Ricky Holmes, broke the deadlock and sealed progression for the Addicks in a game that, truthfully, the Iron largely dominated.
In fact, such was the advantage Scunthorpe seemed to have over a Charlton side guilty of defensive errors on numerous occasions, Lookman’s 34th minute opener was surprising on two grounds. The first a result of the sheer quality of his strike, curled well beyond goalkeeper Luke Daniels from range. The second a consequence of the goal coming against the run of play, with Graham Alexander’s side offering the greater threat for much of the first half.
But by half-time, a shell-shocked Scunthorpe were trailing by two to a group of Addicks who were sharing Lookman’s confidence and energy. The 19-year-old involved in the build-up as Scunthorpe failed to effectively deal with his ball into the box, allowing Johnnie Jackson to finish in typical clinical fashion through a sea of both red and black shirts.
Jackson’s 41st minute strike, however, did not confirm Charlton’s place in the second round draw. The Iron bursting back into life after the break, taking advantage of an unorganised backline and peppering Declan Rudd’s goal. Three fantastic chances going to waste before Tom Hopper headed home from Josh Morris’ corner with just seven second-half minutes played.
Kevin van Veen a constant, and almost unstoppable, menace, a deflected Duane Holmes effort rebounding back off the post, and substitute Luke Williams one of several Scunthorpe players to seriously test Rudd. Particularly with Charlton’s relatively regular attempts to break forward so often ended by Nicky Ajose’s frustrating decision making, Russell Slade’s men were unquestionably fortunate to maintain their advantage.
But if that fortune was only to increase, with the vocal Iron supporters behind the goal their side were attacking in the second period adamant that Williams’ effort had been blocked by the hand of Jackson, the argument that Charlton’s advantage was a consequence of being more clinical became credible as Lookman sealed victory with seven minutes to play.
The teenager ending a mature performance in fitting fashion, rounding off an excellent break and finishing coolly having been fed by Fredrick Ulvestad. What was set to be an extremely nervy final few minutes, after a horribly uncomfortable second period, replaced by a sense of relief and the excitement that comes with knowing your side will be in the next round of the draw.
Attention immediately turning among the Iron, with a vocal chant of “the FA Cup, who gives a fuck, we’re Scunthorpe United and we’re going up,” coming from the supporters of League One’s table toppers, but they would have truthfully been extremely frustrated to have lost a game that they enjoyed the better of.
Equally, the celebrations among the home supporters covered the surprise that their side had come away from such a contest with victory. The Addicks not naïve enough to think luck hadn’t played its part in their progression.
But that takes little away from a battling Charlton effort, and certainly nothing away from an excellent display from their teenage gem. Lookman’s performance vital to his side reaching the FA Cup’s second round.
Initially, however, the youngster was forced to be patient. Despite Slade resisting the urge to rotate, Lookman was one of three players absent from the starting XI having started the win over Chesterfield. Skipper Jackson replacing him.
Jason Pearce and Chris Solly, both nursing slight knocks, the other two to miss out, with Ezri Konsa and Kevin Foley replacing them, while Alexander also opted not to rest the key members of his table-topping side with Scunthorpe as strong as they could be.
But the Iron being as close to full strength as possible did not prevent the Addicks making a promising start to proceedings in SE7. An excellent move resulting in Ricky Holmes breaking into the box, with the winger seemingly unfairly hauled down as he shaped to shoot. A blind eye turned to his desperate appeals.
Frustration undoubtedly existing that what seemed a reasonable claim for a penalty had been rejected, but the positive football provided hope that facing the free-scoring and defensively stubborn Scunthorpe would not be as overwhelming an experience as some feared.
Alas, Holmes’ drive and subsequent fall was about as good as it got for the Addicks in the opening exchanges as an indecisive backline soon allowed the Iron to take control. Only a marvellous sliding interception from Morgan Fox prevented Morris’ delivery from picking out an unmarked Paddy Madden at the back post, who would have almost certainly given the visitors the lead.
Van Veen the chief tormentor of Charlton’s backline, and Konsa in particularly. The young centre-back, giving off a sense of uncomfortableness that would last for the duration of the game, struggling to get to grips with the Dutch forward as he stung the palms of Rudd from the edge of the box.
And while in previous questionable defensive efforts the overall system received much of the blame, individual efforts were more concerning on this occasion. Rash clearances, misplaced passes, and panicked back pedalling all constants as van Veen glanced a header wide, and the equally lively Morris fired across goal.
But it was arguably the glorious opening that the Iron created with just over 20 minutes played that summed up both sides in these early exchanges. Charlton static as Wiseman burst into the box with relative ease, before van Veen peeled away from his markers in the centre to latch onto the full-back’s cut back, only to blast over from an excellent position. The Addicks weak; the Iron wasteful.
To their credit, Charlton were not simply sitting deep and hoping good fortune would remain with them. But their efforts to break were tame and frustrating, with Ajose continuously being forced wide, Holmes overrunning the ball, and deliveries from all regularly failing to beat the first man.
So the sight of Holmes falling to the ground, after an attempt to continue having been on the receiving end of a strong Connor Townsend challenge, was hardly ideal. The winger hobbling off, and replaced by Lookman.
If nothing else, it offered an opportunity for the youngster to impress after a disappointing few weeks, and provide the impact that the Addicks required to settle into this encounter. Although not before a fellow academy graduate almost gifted the opposition the lead.
Fox weak and naïve in his attempts to shield the ball out of play, allowing Wiseman to take advantage and drive into the box. The Scunthorpe right-back brought down twice by Charlton’s left-back as he attempted to regain the ball, with many expecting a whistle from the referee and an arm being directed towards the spot on both occasions, but play continued and the Addicks somehow cleared.
Nonetheless, this was an extremely concerning performance, and it seemed only a matter of time before Scunthorpe scored the goal their dominance arguably deserved.
The genius of Lookman, and the good fortune that was evidently on Charlton’s side, appreciated even more, therefore, as the substitute wonderfully gave the Addicks the lead firmly against the run of play.
Scunthorpe might suggest they shouldn’t have allowed the teenager time and space on the ball on the edge of the box, but the reality is this was a goal all about Lookman. The top corner picked out in sublime fashion, with the ball curling beautifully beyond a desperate dive from Daniels. Individual brilliance breaking a deadlock and addressing a poor collective effort rarely seen in SE7, but this was certainly it.
The goal not only giving the Addicks the lead, but injecting confidence in the stands and vibrancy in a previously dire Charlton performance. Scunthorpe responding in lacklustre fashion, with their static allowing Ajose to cross for Magennis, who nodded only narrowly wide.
And if Charlton’s opener was a consequence of individual brilliance, then their second was a consequence of the impact that opener had had on both teams. Lookman bold enough to make an excellent run down the right, Scunthorpe lacking composure in the centre, and Jackson on hand to convert in the sort of manner he has done on many occasions. In the space of seven minutes, the Addicks had gone from feeling fortunate to be level to holding a two-goal advantage.
In fact, it might have been three before the break. The presence of Magennis in the centre asking serious questions of this disillusioned Scunthorpe defence, with Daniels needing to make an excellent save to keep out the Northern Ireland international’s header.
But, as impressive as this final period of the half was, with those in red receiving the applause they deserved as they left the pitch at half-time, a place in the second round didn’t quite feel certain.
Especially not with Foley gifting possession to Morris inside Charlton’s box during first-half stoppage-time. The Addicks, largely as a consequence of Scunthorpe indecisiveness, able to recover, but those defensive frailties, combined with a feeling that the Iron would surely respond after the interval, but victory was far from assured.
A feeling that increased with two second-half minutes played. Morris able to carry the ball forward with ease, feeding substitute Hopper, only for Rudd to make an excellent stop when one-on-one with the attacker. The ball looping just over the bar even after the goalkeeper’s intervention.
The result of that opening a determined roar from the away end, and a determined effort from their side to get back into this game. Van Veen again leading the charge, as his attempt to emulate Lookman resulted in the ball curling just wide, before his effort from a tight angle forced a good save out of the defiant Rudd.
But, in truth, Rudd could not keep out Scunthorpe’s ruthless attacks forever. The goalkeeper’s defence offering little support, and not least when Hopper was allowed to turn in Morris’ corner with relative ease. Muted celebrations from the forward, as the Iron collectively raced back into their own half, desperate to resume the game.
It easy to see why. For, despite Ajose volleying Fox’s cross well over, they had a terrifying amount of momentum. It seeming almost certain that an equaliser would follow, with Charlton’s defence as static and dysfunctional as it was during the opening exchanges of the game.
And just three minutes after halving the deficit, the Iron were agonisingly close to drawing level. The Addicks unable to prevent their opponents from breaking into the box, with the ball ultimately falling to Holmes, and his deflected effort bouncing back off the post in what felt like slow motion. Van Veen doing superbly to win the loose ball and ultimately fire an effort into the hands of Rudd, but somehow Charlton maintained their advantage.
In fact, Scunthorpe’s inability to take that opening seemed to be the catalyst for some normality to return to the game. Though van Veen, rather tamely, fired wide, the Addicks seemed to be regaining some composure, and at least offering something going forward. A Lookman free-kick floating just wide, Ajose firing off-target, and some noise from the sparsely populated home ends for the first time all afternoon.
Noise that might have turned to a third celebration of the afternoon as Townsend, pressured by Lookman, under hit a pass back to Daniels. Magennis stealing in, but the goalkeeper able to spare his defender’s blushes with a fine block. A reminder that a third Charlton goal, something that the Addicks remained capable of, would kill the game despite Scunthorpe’s pressure.
Alexander’s response was to bring on Williams, and the forward made an immediate impact, once again placing the Addicks on the back foot. His pace and movement a concern, as he forced another save out of Rudd, before breaking into the box and stabbing an effort just wide.
Nonetheless, with the Iron pushing so many bodies forward, and devoting so much energy to their attacks, there remained space on the break for Charlton and attempting to find a third, instead of sitting deep and hoping for the best, remained sensible. Foley’s cross to the back post finding an unmarked Jackson, but not quite enough power in his header to properly test Daniels.
But there no doubt that the side most likely to score the game’s next goal was the visitors. Morris, with 13 goals to his name the season, given far too much space, and able to cut inside before firing another effort just wide. Openings and pressure, but still potency lacking as the game entered its final 15 minutes.
Potency, and so too that touch of good fortune that the Addicks had enjoyed plenty of. Impossible to make a proper judgement from the West Stand, but the claims from the away end confident as Jackson blocked a Williams shot, apparently with his arm. Appeals still ongoing as the forward regained the ball and gave Rudd some more work to do.
So maybe it fitting of the afternoon for both sides that just two minutes after a moment where fortune had firmly sided with Charlton, the hosts had made the most of the gaps in Scunthorpe’s side to secure victory against the run of play.
This a goal nowhere near as stunning as his first, but the build up to Lookman’s second made it pleasant viewing. Andrew Crofts doing well to break up play, Ulvestad sent running into space, and his confident drive allowing the Norwegian to get into a position to feed the teenager through on goal. An onrushing Daniels making life difficult, but Lookman finishing coolly and giving the Addicks a hard-fought, if a little fortunate, place in the second round.
The relief around the ground obvious, even with Scunthorpe supporters attempting to drown out all other thoughts and emotions by reminding all that a defeat in the FA Cup did not impact their position as League One leaders, and for the first time all afternoon Charlton’s position felt secure.
This probably a position they didn’t truly warrant on the balance of play, but one they had gained through a touch of determination and some individual quality in key moments in addition to their opponents’ wastefulness.
And if a 3-1 victory was not a reasonable reflection of the overall contest, then a 4-1 one was certainly not, but substitute Lee Novak almost found a way to have the game end with such a scoreline. Iron defender Charlie Goode pulling up in stoppage-time with the ball still in play, allowing Novak to break though, but his attempt to lob Daniels also cleared the bar.
One wasted Charlton opening, however, nowhere near as important to this cup tie as the handful missed by Scunthorpe. Their wastefulness part of the reason the Addicks were allowed to enjoy victory come full-time, and experience FA Cup progression for the first time in three seasons.
But to put this victory entirely down to the Iron failing to make the most of their numerous openings, or have one of their two confident claims for a penalty responded to in positive fashion, would be entirely unjust.
Of course, if Alexander’s side had made the most of their early first or second half dominance, then the game is a completely different. Charlton so dysfunctional that it would have been unlikely for them to recover had the Iron taken an early lead, and such was the momentum the visitors had that an equaliser after the break would have almost certainly led to a third.
As such, that good fortune must be acknowledged. A worrying defensive display would be the focus without it.
But it mustn’t take away from a determined effort from Slade’s side, who found a way to grind out progression, in addition to showing some promising individual quality.
With the Iron largely dictating the game, it wasn’t the most fluent of efforts from the Addicks as a collective. There were some attempts to make it more so, with Charlton not as deep as they might have been in similar circumstances in previous weeks, but the frustrating Ajose killed so many counterattacks.
But Rudd was composed, Ulvestad showed great determination in the middle throughout the game, and Magennis’ tireless attempts to win the ball up the field were again truly commendable. Individual effort the real meat of this victory.
So too was Jackson, hovering on the left-hand side of midfield but not really playing as a winger, really important. A no-thrills display, that was crucial in the context of the encounter.
The thrills provided by Lookman. For the fact he was responding to being dropped after a handful of poor performances, for his excellent goals, and his mature performance that not only included the quality we all know he has but mature decision making both going forward and when helping out at the back, this was one of his best displays in Charlton red. A more important reason for victory that Scunthorpe’s wasted chances.
It a shame, with Lookman among those not available for the league trip to Swindon Town next weekend, that the momentum created will not properly be taken forward. From the youngster as an individual, and the side in general.
But it is incredibly pleasing, whether through quality or the occasional moment or two of good fortune, to have found a way into the hat for the second round draw.