As the umpteenth Charlton Athletic pass, this one a cross from the returning Ricky Holmes evading all inside the box and disappearing for throw on the opposite touchline, missed its target with the game in its dying embers, a familiar chant emerged from the visiting supporters.
“You’ll never beat Millwall,” sang the Lions. A goalless draw edging ever closer, and the Addicks still searching for their first win against their rivals since 1996. With four points from their two games against Charlton, the boisterous nature of those in the Jimmy Seed Stand was certainly understandable.
But there was neither embarrassment or overwhelming disappointing among those occupying The Valley’s home stands. Certainly not the embarrassment felt at The Den less than a month.
Not only grateful that another depressing defeat was avoided, but relieved to come away with a point in a game where little went for the Addicks and the Lions created the better chances.
The energy and intensity among those in red, though there was no better chance in the opening 45 than Lewis Gregory’s ninth minute lob of fit again Declan Rudd that bounced just wide, during the game’s opening exchanges promised much.
That positivity, however, curtailed by what appeared a serious injury to Josh Magennis. A warm reception for the returning Tony Watt, but not a forward suitable to playing up top on his own. The Northern Ireland international sorely missed for the remainder of the game.
Magennis joined in suffering an injury so serious that a substitution was required by debutant Lewis Page. Less than half an hour played, and two of Karl Robinson’s starting XI needing to be withdrawn.
Page’s fellow debutant Nathan Byrne, lively for much of the half, gave lion Millwall goalkeeper a bit of work to do, while Gregory should have done better for the Lions after meeting a Steve Morison cross but heading softly at Rudd, but first-half chances limited. The regularity of misplaced Charlton passes, however, increasing, and would not be corrected before full-time.
Disallowed goals at the start of the second period, both ‘scored’ by Patrick Bauer with the second one seeming to not infringe the laws of the game, adding to the feeling that luck wasn’t quite with the Addicks. Nor referee Keith Stroud, who earned himself heavy criticism following both some bizarre decisions and managing to get in the way of a Charlton counter attack towards the end of the game.
Towards the end of the game, too, did Millwall seriously threaten. The often-uncomfortable Jorge Teixeira clearing a Morison effort off the line, Shaun Hutchinson heading an excellent opening wide, and Gregory also guilty of wasting an excellent headed opportunity. The Addicks being punished for the failure to retain possession outside of their own half, and fortunate not to concede.
As such, there was a degree of relief come full-time, but so too was there anger at Teixeira for stupidly throwing the ball at Morison after the full-time whistle and earning himself a red card.
The danger that three players will be absent next weekend as a result of this fixture meaning that it was Charlton who probably had the worst of it. Certainly not helped by the fact Millwall supporters can continue to claim that we’ll never beat them.
Hope that the Lions would finally stop singing the chant that reminds Charlton of their struggles in this fixture increased both by the 4-1 victory over Bristol Rover in the previous game in SE7, and what appeared a strong Addicks line-up, aided by a bench as strong as it has been this season.
Rudd replacing Dillon Phillips, maybe quite harshly, in goal having recovered from a hip injury, a debut for Page in place of the departed Morgan Fox, and a first appearance also for loanee Byrne, who came in for the absent Jordan Botaka.
The bench boasting new signings Jay Dasilva and Jake Forster-Caskey, the fit against Holmes, and the returning Watt. Some disappointment, however, that skipper Johnnie Jackson (injured) was not involved in the squad at all, while Nicky Ajose, rather mysteriously, didn’t feature in the 18.
The obvious worry that Morison, so regularly a goalscorer against the Addicks, and his Millwall side would inflict misery once again, but the intensity of Charlton’s start offered a contrasting view. Not least down the right-hand side, where Chris Solly and Byrne were linking up superbly. The final ball lacking, but this promising nonetheless.
Positivity, however, that was curtailed by the sight of Charlton’s defence being beaten by a long ball and Gregory breaking through on goal. His lobbed effort, clearing Rudd by some distance, leaving hearts in mouth before its bounce took it comfortably wide.
And positivity that was further curtailed by the sight of Charlton’s most important forward figure laying in a heap on the floor. Magennis, ironically having been penalised for clattering into Hutchinson, seemingly doing quite serious damage to his ankle, and needing to be replaced by Watt, making his first appearance in red since having his loan at Hearts cancelled. A very warm reception for the Scot, but there no doubt that Robinson would have wanted to save him until the game’s end.
Though Watt immediately provided the sort of run forward that had been seen previously in SE7. The Lions defence beaten, and a block from Hutchinson required to deflect his cross-cum-shot off-target. The resulting corner ending with a Joe Aribo shot saved relatively comfortably by Archer.
Any remaining dust on Archer’s gloves cleared with a Byrne effort from distance. The strike straight at the goalkeeper but the ball only claimed at the second attempt.
Nonetheless, the energy and intensity that was on show in the game’s opening period was beginning to disappear. In fairness to the Lions, they were sitting deep and very structured, preventing Charlton from making bold runs forward, but so too were the Addicks struggling to do little more on the ball than retain possession in their own half. Moves forward either ending with a misplaced pass, or a run into a dead end.
It no surprise, therefore, that Millwall were able to create some sort of opening of two. Gregory meeting Morison’s delivery, but Aiden O’Brien not able to convert the knock down, before Webster’s nod was held by Rudd. Composure lacking in the first opening, a certain tameness about the second.
Greater threats, it would seem, on the body parts of those in red. A horrendous slip from Page almost allowed Millwall in, though thankfully their counter was dealt with, but the signing from West Ham lay flat on the floor as the game continued. The left-back ultimately replaced by Dasliva, with the Chelsea loanee heading to the left of midfield and Adam Chicksen dropping to full-back.
Dasilva’s introduction doing little to prevent the persistent wayward passes and the lack of threat in the final third, with plenty of pace displayed but Millwall right-back Shaun Cummings frequently denying his opponent and the loanee’s deliveries held by Archer.
It was, however, the hosts who created the final opening before the break. A good one, too, with Archer required to dive at full strength to keep out a second Byrne effort from the edge of the box.
Charlton’s performance detreating as the half progressed, but they were certainly not being overawed by the Lions. Neither side providing a definitive clue that suggested they would end this game victorious.
A very similar start to the second half, with neither side looking impressive, but both did exchange chances seven minutes into it.
Charlton supporters rising in celebration as Bauer headed into the net, only for his effort to rightfully be disallowed for a push, before Gregory got through at the other end almost immediately, but Rudd was able to deny him at the near post.
That disallowed Bauer goal, however, would soon be forgotten. Not because Charlton managed to find the net in a way deemed fair by referee Stroud, but because Charlton found the net in a fair way only for it to be disallowed by Stroud.
Archer, having claimed the ball following a corner, appeared to drop it on the edge of the box, with Bauer again turning the ball into the back of the net. No infringement, it would seem, but Stroud had other ideas. As if to compound the sense that things weren’t quite going for the Addicks, a reasonable Charlton goal disallowed.
The sense that this game would be ending scoreless also increasing, as Morison, normally potent against the Addicks, sliced a volley well wide, before frustration grew towards Dasilva as he outdid Morison in the horribly-wayward-sliced-volley stakes. The game slow, and genuine chances lacking.
Or at least that was the case until Millwall boss Neil Harris introduced David Worrall and Shane Ferguson, with the latter making a very positive impact. The left-winger getting the better of Solly in his early runs forward, before volleying narrowly wide after connecting with a long ball that somehow wasn’t dealt with by Teixeira. Charlton uncomfortable.
Ferguson’s chance a relatively difficult one, but there was little excuse for Hutchinson, receiving the ball after Teixeira had cleared away a Morison effort that might well have been goalbound, heading wide at the far post. The Addicks, both with the Morison opening and Hutchinson’s wasted header, very fortunate.
By contrast, it quite difficult to label Teixeira’s knock towards goal, trickling behind for a goal-kick following an Aribo free-kick on the edge of Millwall’s area, a shot. This not the Portuguese’s finest display nor, particularly since Ferguson had been introduced, Charlton’s. Ten minutes remaining as Gregory fired well off-target for the Lions, and a growing desire for full-time to come quickly.
Though that was halted somewhat by the introduction of the fit again Holmes, with Dasilva subbed off having been subbed on. Unfortunately, that quite reflective of his first appearance in a Charlton shirt.
Alas, it was the visitors who continued to threaten, helped by Stroud awarding them free-kicks and corners they didn’t seem to warrant. One such corner, met by Byron Webster, headed just wide as Charlton continued to struggle with defending Millwall deliveries into the box.
The struggled repeated as, barely a minute later, Gregory headed a glorious opportunity wide at the back post. Mocking cheers in the Covered End, but that merely masking a sense of relief. The forward simply had to score.
Those mocking cheers, however, were soon followed by the loudest cheer of expectation for quite some time, with the Addicks launching a positive counter attack. A positive counter attack interrupted by Stroud who, as appose to awarding some sort of free-kick, got in the way of the ball and allowed Millwall to regain possession. Fury around the ground as the indication that things weren’t going the way of the Addicks summed up.
Five minutes of stoppage-time soon to be awarded, which was probably more pleasing for the visiting supporters, but it was Charlton who created the only opening of the additional time. A Bauer header forcing Archer into a diving save, but the nod, as so many of Millwall’s, was rather tame.
Tame, too, was the way in which Teixeira decided to get himself sent off after the final whistle had blown. The defender pathetically throwing the ball at Morison, and earning himself a second yellow card. One of the few decisions against Charlton that there could be no complaints with.
Teixeira’s petulance, however, steering an afternoon in SE7 that lay somewhere between relieving and frustration towards the latter. That, and the “you’ll never beat Millwall” chant emerging from the away end.
Though, to ignore the injuries, the disallowed goal, and Teixeira being a bit of an idiot for just a moment, this is certainly a result I’ll take. I won’t go as far to say I’m happy with it, nor the performances, but in an afternoon where little went for us, and in a fixture where we so often embarrass ourselves, a goalless draw will do.
A goalless draw that, though lacked any real intensity after the opening few moments, both teams will argue they could have won. Robinson rightfully furious with Bauer’s second disallowed goal, and Millwall’s wastefulness denying them the chance to steal victory thereafter.
But, though certainly not disappointed with a point, I can’t help but feel it’s the Addicks who came off worse in this encounter.
First of all, in terms of performance. It frustrating that, after the Bristol Rovers victory and the energetic start to this game, the attacking efforts were largely erratic. Countless misplaced passes, countless wayward crosses, and frequently occasions where what appeared promising counter attacks were curtailed by what seemed an unnecessary backwards pass. Just a sense that the performance could have been better.
In fairness, Charlton’s frustrations in attack were not entirely self-inflicted. Milwall not only battling well in midfield, but playing a structured high line, that prevented the Addicks from getting players into the box. Their defensive effort more organised than the Addicks’, who would only have had themselves to blame if one of Millwall’s headed chances had been taken.
But part of the reason the Lions were able to be solid at the back was the injury to Magennis. Watt, for all his ability, is neither a striker strong enough nor powerful enough in the air to play a lone forward role. Would Magennis have made an almighty difference to both the pattern of the game, and the outcome? Maybe not, but it certainly would have made the Addicks more threatening.
Predominately, however, the sense that Charlton have come off worse is created by more of a long-term perspective. Magennis, Page and Teixeira, who might well be replaced by Roger Johnson, all likely to be absent in a very tough game against Scunthorpe United next weekend, and the absence of the first two possibly extending beyond that. Hardly ideal with a very tough run coming up, the gap between the Addicks and the play-offs now seven points, and Robinson suggesting that most of the money from Ademola Lookman’s sale is going into the training ground.
Nonetheless, to withdraw myself from the disappointment that only Stroud denied us from taking the lead, the frustration with the overall performance, and the concern for the weeks ahead, I have no problem whatsoever in taking a draw from that, even if the Lions can continue to taunt us.
If nothing else, the embarrassment felt after the fixture at The Den is nowhere to be seen. A smidgen of pride restored.