A fresh year, yet to be tainted by Charlton Athletic farce or failing, but a familiar sense of frustration was descending on The Valley as the umpteenth misplaced pass trickled out of play midway through the first half.
There no fluency to the play of Karl Robinson’s side, with each individual appearing confused and without any knowledge of how to create whenever a sideways pass came their way. Movement minimal, intensity lacking, and threat in the final third non-existent.
As such, the response to conceding in comical fashion to Bristol Rovers with 12 minutes played was gutless. Too much time spent with heads bowed after Patrick Bauer’s slip allowed Jermaine Easter, a regular scorer of important opposition goals in SE7, through to round Dillon Phillips and convert.
Those Addicks in the poorly occupied home ends of The Valley, still wearing the scares of 2016, breaking a silence only to bemoan horrid mistakes, or sigh in resignation that 2017. There little else to react to in the first 40 minutes of this New Year encounter.
So there a degree of shock when, with four minutes remaining until half-time, an excellent Joe Aribo free-kick found an unmarked Josh Magennis. A well-taken header and, despite being considerably below the required standard, the Addicks were able to go in at half-time on level terms.
The mist of frustration, however, still lingering. Those opening 40 minutes concerning, and a doubt as to whether Robinson’s side would respond after the break or merely return to how they performed prior to equalising.
But 45 minutes later, and that mist had been emphatically broken through by knee slides, fist-pumps, and sheer enjoyment. Emphatically broken through by a collective performance better than The Valley had seen for some time, and an individual effort from Magennis to rival any Addick.
Just five second-half minutes required for the hosts to claim an advantage, in terms of the scoreline and the overall pattern of play, that they would only build upon. No longer a need for celebrations to be restrained as Magennis and Aribo combined once again for the former to head his side into a lead that looked incredibly unlikely just ten minutes of play previously.
And, as it became clear that the Addicks had taken complete control of this contest, victory was effectively sealed a mere 11 minutes later. Rovers’ defence capitulating as Aribo was left unmarked from a free-kick, able to pass the ball across the face of goal, and Jorge Teixeira converting from close range.
From justifiably bemoaning their side’s efforts, and lacking enthusiasm, The Valley crowd were now calling for a fourth goal. A fourth goal that they, not so secretly, were hoping would be scored by the marvellous Magennis.
And the Northern Ireland international would secure a deserved hat-trick in stunning style with 73 minutes played. Crofts’ knock up field well taken by Magennis, before the forward curled beautifully beyond a hapless Will Puddy. Scenes of celebration that were not even imaginable midway through the first half.
Scenes of celebration that would be repeated with the sound of the full-time whistle. Applause for the best 45 minutes of football seen in SE7 for an age, as Robinson celebrated with real emotion and Magennis revived the tunnel jump.
It hard to believe, with The Valley flooded by joy, that this was a ground covered by a misty layer of frustration and disappointment little more than an hour earlier. An emphatic turnaround.
That mist of frustration and uncertainty hovering around The Valley from the moment the side selected by Robinson was announced. Sympathy for a manager restricted by absentees and an incredibly small squad, but the square pegs appearing in round holes not providing much encouragement.
The return of Chris Solly, making his first appearance under Robinson after recovering from a knee injury, unquestionably welcomed, but the decision to move the man he replaced at right-back, Ezri Konsa, appeared odd and, to an extent, unfair.
A teenage centre-back by trade, playing Konsa in such an unfamiliar position seemingly placed undue pressure on the talented youngster. Starting alongside Aribo, having impressed in the draw with Southend United, and supported by the experience of Andrew Crofts, fresh from scoring the equaliser at Roots Hall. Fredrik Ulvestad dropping to the bench.
Adam Chicksen also required to play on the left wing once again, with Ademola Lookman’s absence continuing and new signing Jay Dasilva only earning a place on the bench. Jordan Botaka, in for Nicky Ajose, the only other change to the XI that started on Saturday.
A convincing, or at least a composed and competent, start was therefore required to settle the nerves that fielding such a starting XI had created. Early sluggishness and sloppiness, with the Addicks very poor in possession, and Phillips just about snatching the ball off the feet of Easter as he bared down on goal after collecting a long ball not ideal.
Nor was Bauer, intending to knock the ball back to Phillips, slipping while in possession and gifting an opportunity for Easter to race through on goal. A horrible contrast between the sound of expectancy in the away end and the sound of fear emerging from the Covered End filling The Valley.
No chance of anyone in red catching the former Millwall forward, Phillips possibly overcommitting himself, and Easter gleefully rounding the goalkeeper before placing the ball into an empty net. A third Valley goal of significance for the Welshman, having scored an infamous League Cup winner for Wycombe and a goal for the Lions, and none any simpler than this one. Embarrassing.
Phillips fuming, Bauer glum, and the overall body language of the side not inspiring. An immediate response, both for the sake of those on the pitch and the disillusioned collective in the stands, desperately required.
And maybe, with a bit more luck, there might have been one. Three minutes passing before clever footwork from Aribo won the Addicks a free-kick on the edge of Rovers’ box. Magennis stood over the set-piece, comfortably beat wall and goalkeeper with a delicately curled strike in the general direction of the top corner, but agonisingly saw his effort connect with the crossbar. At least, if nothing else, a brief chorus or two from the Covered End Choir followed.
But it soon became apparent that their support was not likely to be rewarded, for Charlton were playing without any degree of composure, intensity or fluency. Directionless punts forward, a mountain of misplaced passes, and Rovers, though not threatening, allowed to knock the ball around in triangles at their own pace. Uninspiring.
Collectively poor, and seemingly no hope in individual excellence making a difference. Botaka running into dead ends, Konsa and Aribo being bypassed, and Magennis isolated. Chicksen sending a Morgan Fox cross skyward for Puddy to claim with ease about as good as it got.
Throw in the sense of concern created by Bauer and Teixeira still not appearing totally comfortable, best summed up by the latter misplacing a two-yard pass to Solly and sending the ball out for a throw, and it no wonder frustration was growing. The occasional boo breaking through the apathy.
Not even the second hitting of the crossbar, particularly as it came in quite fluky and relatively unthreatening circumstances, in the half could inspire a struggling side and an incredibly downbeat set of supporters. The acceptance that Charlton would go in at the break behind still existing as Chicksen’s over hit cross, seemingly being watched out by the Gas defence, bounced back off the frame of the goal.
However, the awarding of a free-kick, won by Konsa’s tenacity, in a reasonable crossing position with four first-half minutes remaining provided the opportunity to overwrite the many wrongs of this opening 45. The fact Rovers had not been able to properly capitalise on Charlton’s struggles meaning one decent delivery into the box was all that was required for the Addicks to equalise.
And, after a half in which no one in red provided any real creativity, that one decent delivery into the box was produced. Aribo’s ability to cross proven at Roots Hall, and his ball into the centre to pick out Magennis on this occasion superb. The forward peeling off his marker, and placing his header beyond Puddy.
Joy in the celebrations, of course, but so too a sense of shock. Not a goal that appeared to be coming, and not one that had quite done enough to quell the frustration and concern that justifiably existed around The Valley after an unconvincing opening period.
Chicksen firing comfortably wide on the stroke of half-time, but this far from a sign that the Addicks were set to turn this game on its head. More, much more, needed to be seen after the restart.
Promising, therefore, to see an early spark in Charlton’s second-half play. Not five minutes passing before Botaka, having struggled to provide any sort of threat in the opening 45, showed a good turn of pace to draw a free-kick out of Peter Hartley.
A free-kick which Aribo stood over, while Magennis lurked at the back post. Again, the youngster’s delivery was superb, but there much more work for the forward to do on this occasion. His header sublime, knocking the ball back across the face of goal and into the far corner, and the lead was, quite incredibly, now Charlton’s.
Energy, enthusiasm and excitement in the celebrations as Magennis’ knee slide rivalled anything Johnnie Jackson has thrown up in the past, and the Covered End found a collective roar to overwhelm the previous worry and concern. The Valley swarmed by joy.
So too were Bristol Rovers now being swarmed; swarmed by those in red. A dreary effort replaced by one possessing as much intensity, quality and threat as this side is capable of.
The energy of Konsa and Aribo, with amble support from the considered passing of Crofts, dominating in midfield, the wide areas being exploited to much greater effect, and Magennis unplayable. Having been fed by a rampaging Bauer, the Northern Ireland international desperately close to adding a third, but a curling effort glided just over the bar.
However, with The Valley now in fine voice, it was probably a useful note of caution for Rovers to threaten, offering the reminder that this game was far from being won. A marvellous interception from Crofts prevent Dean Gaffney’s delivery from being turned home by a yellow shirt.
But any sense of caution would soon be lost, for another set-piece situation would result in the Addicks finding a third goal and doubling their advantage. Aribo the architect again, receiving the ball from Crofts and driving towards the box from a wide position, before picking out Teixeira in the centre. It all far too easy for the hosts, with Rovers’ defending shameful, but that took nothing away from the excitement in the Covered End as Teixeira celebrated his first goal since returning to the side.
The collective performance, the individual efforts, and the atmosphere around The Valley all in some contrast to the opening 40 minutes. A certain defeat had become a certain victory in little more than 20 minutes of game time, and there no sign that Robinson’s resurgent men were to simply protect their advantage.
For though a series of Rovers corners forced Phillips into action, doing well to claim several crosses while making a comfortable stop from a Liam Lawrence effort, there was still the same intensity and desire to get forward.
To the extent that Charlton’s fourth goal, Charlton’s marvellous fourth goal, would come with the Addicks breaking from a Bristol corner. Magennis on the shoulders of a tried and defeated backline as Crofts, from well within his own half, spotted his run. The forward taking the ball down superbly, and almost immediately curling the ball into far top corner from the edge of the box.
An incredible way to bring up an outstanding hat-trick, and put the seal on an unplayable individual performance. “Super Josh Magennis” ringing around SE7.
The level of appreciation at a similar level as Aribo was withdrawn with 13 minutes to play. The Valley crowd on their feet to applaud the 19-year-old off after three assists on his first Valley start. Three assists of real quality, with a composed display in the centre after a tricky opening period.
Now, as the game drew to its conclusion, maybe you could suggest Charlton had taken their foot off the peddle a little bit. Substitute Matty Taylor striking wide and Hartley seeing a strike comfortable claimed by Phillips, but it could not taint this performance. Those in the home ends simply desperate for full-time, so that the scenes of celebration could be enjoyed.
Magennis’ over-hit cross deflecting off the crossbar, and Ellis Harrison and Taylor both failing to make the most of two excellent headed opportunities to restore some degree of Rovers pride, barely footnotes as full-time approached. The roar as the referee’s final whistle blew was what really mattered.
A jubilant Magennis, attempting to prevent Jackson from stealing his matchball, the furious fist-pumps of Robinson, and the appreciation from the Covered End all part of this scene of joy. Topped off by the hat-trick hero’s tunnel jump.
A tunnel that you feared Charlton players would be running down in an attempt to hide from the heckles of the home crowd 40 minutes into the game, but a tunnel that was now being jumped out of by a talismanic figure in the best 45 minutes of football The Valley has seen for some time.
It that turn around, that transformation from offering no quality and increasing The Valley’s frustration to creating wonderful scenes of celebration, that makes this victory all the more impressive.
There simply no way that the Addicks would win this game while they were sluggishly loitering around the pitch midway through the first half, and confidence wasn’t particularly high even after the equaliser, so to find a level of performance so dramatically increased after the break is worthy of enormous credit. Enormous credit to Robinson, and to this threadbare side that has performed for him in such an impressive manner.
A certain attitude required to improve so impressive in such a short space of time, and maybe it’s that, when reflecting on the game, that is most pleasing.
But during the game itself, in those second 45 minutes, it was unquestionably the sheer quality of this Charlton performance that grabbed your attention. The maturity and class of Konsa and Aribo, the composure that an impressive Crofts offered, and the improvement of those in wide areas all outstanding.
Though, of course, the unplayable Magennis will take as much attention away from anyone else in this side as is possible. And so he deserves to. The forward simply outstanding, not just in how well he took his goals but in also in his overall play.
In fact, in recent years, it’s difficult to think of many Valley performances as impressive as that. One that will be spoken about for some time.
The only disappointment is that the result moves us just one place and one point closer to the top six. It illogical to say, but such a performance feels like it warrants more. A reminder of how difficult a task we have created for ourselves.
And a reminder, above everything else, of how much that victory was desperately needed.
But, for now, the league table can be ignored, and an emphatic Valley win can be savoured and enjoyed as much as it deserves to be.