The noise being made by the opposition in celebration ignored. The sound of stunned silence in The Den’s away end only interrupted by occasional outbursts of uncontrolled anger. Plenty of competition, but Steve Morison scoring Millwall’s second goal in Bermondsey sits among one of the worst moments of this campaign.
The sort of moment that make you disregard rational thought, and follow the feelings the uncontrolled anger has created. That makes you ignore the fact the player who made the mistake that allowed Morison to volley home unchallenged was a 19-year-old unfairly flung into an unfamiliar position. A mistake that, with it being an incredibly unfortunate slip as the ball floated towards Millwall’s potent forward, was not a reflection of footballing ability.
Ezri Konsa would have wanted the turf to swallow him whole, and many of the furious occupiers of the away end would have been pleased to witness it. Trust lost in a teenager, whose first genuine error in senior football had come at the worst possible time. The worst possible moment.
But in the moment that came before the announcement of Charlton Athletic’s starting XI on Saturday, a collective prayer was held in the hope Konsa would maintain his place in the side at centre-back. A place gained by the youngster after Jorge Teixeira, a consistent performer since his return from exile, sat out the marvellous victory over Bolton Wanderers through suspension. Trust in Konsa most certainly regained.
Particularly among those who had travelled to the Macron Stadium, and seen the centre-back win every aerial duel, every challenge, against one of the division’s more acclaimed forward pairings. Gary Madine collected the League One Player of the Month award before kick-off, but Konsa’s dominance meant he might as well have not been playing. Bolton consistently pressured Charlton’s ten men, hoping to find a gap or exploit a mistake, but the defender led a defensive line that offered nothing.
The victory, of course, a collective effort, but few worthy of praise as great as Konsa. While Declan Rudd constantly provided calm in nervy situations and Jake Forster-Caskey assisted both goals, the influence of the 19-year-old was as great as any of his teammates in this most memorable of wins.
A performance that meant, in spite of Teixeira’s return, he simply had to start against Fleetwood Town. A relief that his name appeared alongside Patrick Bauer’s in the defensive line chosen to play against the Cod Army. A certain advantage for the Addicks to have him in the side, having advantaged the most hated opposition just over a month previously.
This not some miraculous recovery by a wonderkid failing to live up to his apparent potential. It not a back from the brink fairy-tale. Konsa a performer whose discipline, maturity and defensive composure before that night at The Den drew attention, and whose excellence thereafter in a number of positions has been admired.
It more so the case that a night which may have crippled a weaker soul has had little to no impact on the academy graduate. To have made such a mistake, in such circumstances, against such opposition could have crushed confidence and left Konsa effectively needing to work his way back up again. He has simply resumed his position as an exciting young defender.
The slip not even leaving the smallest of dents on his profile. In fact, at a time when Joe Aribo has broken into the first-team and Ademola Lookman has already worked his way into Everton’s starting line-up, Konsa is doing a bloody good job of grabbing the headlines reserved for Charlton academy graduates.
At the very least, having kept his place in Karl Robinson’s side for the encounter with Fleetwood, he had a bloody good go at being the focal point of the team. Konsa demanding the ball during each of Charlton’s passages of passing play, taking a composed moment in possession before playing a pass that more often than not had forward intentions. This maturity with the ball at his feet at no detriment at all to his disciplined defensive efforts.
And when the Addicks became overwhelmed by panic, losing structure and discipline as the visitors searched for an equaliser, the teenager was one of the few who appeared unruffled. The occasional rash clearance made out of desperation, and the calmness in possession abandoned as a consequence of the circumstances, but Konsa’s efforts provided a degree of reassurance in a collective capitulation. A collective capitulation that would ultimately be punished.
The defender appearing as low, as distraught, as member of Robinson’s side come full-time. But this incomparable with events at The Den. Another mature performance from the teenager meant he deserved to hold his head high, regardless of the result.
Of course, Konsa is not alone in being a defender who has made an immediate impression in Charlton’s first team having been promoted from the academy. There’s Chris Solly and Morgan Fox to consider but, given the similarities, Joe Gomez is a better benchmark.
Rarely, however, does a player so young make such an impression in the centre-back position. A position that requires intelligence, maturity and discipline that can often only be gained through experience. A position where, unlike in attack, the smallest error will almost always be heavily punished.
But Konsa, like Gomez before him, appears to have all the mental attributes that a centre-back of 19 rarely possesses. That in addition to being a strong tackler, having excellent ability in the air, and frequently displaying talent with the ball at his feet.
And while stints at right-back haven’t quite worked for him, Konsa looking uncomfortable in the position and too often beaten too easily, his handful appearances as part of a midfield three have further highlighted his quite remarkable footballing intelligence.
Particularly after his struggles at right-back, it initially appeared quite cruel for Robinson to push the teenager into another unnatural positon, but his efforts as a deep-sitting centre-mid have been superb. That composure on the ball in full display, aiding Robinson’s attempts to control play, in addition to an excellent reading of the game, as he constantly broke up opposition attacks.
Premier League links have already been made, and you can understand why. Everything is there – Konsa is a readymade package.
As such, it quite apparent that he won’t remain an Addick for an extended period. We have come to, unfortunately, accept that young players are assets as much as they are talents in the Roland Duchatelet era. But in the immediate future, Konsa has an important role to play.
His resolve in defence, and his composed efforts in possession, make him vital to Robinson’s system. A system that, given the manager’s attraction to it, is unlikely to change. Konsa influence in recent weeks clear, and he might well be influential if an unlikely push for the play-offs is to be made.