There late, decisive, goals in the games that involved Charlton Athletic and Oxford United this weekend. Decisive goals, but not ones that changed the overall mood upon reflection for supporters of either club.
Joyous scenes of celebration among supporters of the Addicks as Jorge Teixeira scored an 88th-minute equaliser in a bizarre game at Spotland. Six goals shared with Rochdale, with both sides deciding defending wasn’t fashionable.
But those scenes of celebration were ultimately masking a reality of frustration. Frustration not only born out of the Addicks conceding three totally avoidable goals, but also as a result of the fact any failure to record victory at present makes the play-offs appear even further away than they already are.
Karl Robinson’s side, performing sluggishly in recent weeks and dropping points through no fault but their own, sitting eight points off the top six and eight points above the bottom four. This after victory over a hard-fought victory over Bolton Wanderers at the end of January brought about genuine belief that the play-offs were possible.
By contrast, Oxford supporters were left crushed as Middlesbrough’s Cristhian Stuani scored an 86th-minute winner at the Riverside, ending the U’s courageous FA Cup run. The defeat even more heartbreaking given that Michael Appleton’s side had scored two goals in two second-half minutes to restore parity against their Premier League opponents, who led 2-0 at half-time.
But the gut-wrenching despair that Stuani’s winner inflicted upon the Oxford fans takes very little away from the feeling of pride their side has created. Championship sides in Rotherham United and Newcastle United beaten before competing commendably against top flight opposition.
And so too, with four wins from six League One games since the turn of the year, Oxford supporters can feel pride in their team’s league efforts. Confidence high.
Enough effort shown at the Riverside, and overall in recent weeks, to mean they can beat away any disappointment that comes from the defeat. Believing they’ll be deflated going into Tuesday night is naïve.
But could Charlton have had confidence restored from their late leveller? It truth, it’s probably naïve to think so, or at least naïve to think Teixeira’s goal will spark the wholesale improvement required. But it’s certainly needed if the stuttering side are to compete with their relatively in from opponents.
It up to the Addicks, despite not doing so on many occasions this season, to respond.
LAST MEETING – OXFORD UNITED 1-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (24/09/2016)
Charlton supporters were left frustrated with Russell Slade after his side failed to show a reasonable level of intent during the draw with Oxford at the Kassam Stadium in September.
In fact, the then Addicks boss was heavily booed as he approached the away end come full-time. A response born not only out of frustration at Charlton’s tentative approach, but also a performance that lacked any sort of structure and quality.
It did, however, appear for a period that their sluggish performance was to go unpunished as the Addicks, second best for much of the first-half and not exactly starting the second with any renewed vigour, took the lead with 54 minutes played.
Oxford defender Phil Edwards, who had moments before missed a glorious chance to put the U’s ahead, handling Ademola Lookman’s free-kick and leaving Keith Stroud no choice but to point to the spot. Charlton’s first penalty since the 2014/15 season.
Johnnie Jackson stepping up, coolly converting, and celebrating with a signature knee-slide in front of the jubilant visiting supporters.
The lead, however, lasted just 13 minutes, as the hosts restored parity. A sign that they themselves felt they warranted more than just a point as Chris Maguire, having latched onto Kane Hemmings’ through ball and finished emphatically, abandoned celebration to return the ball to the centre-spot and resume the game as quickly as possible.
Both goalkeepers called into action as full-time neared, with Declan Rudd saving well from Chey Dunkley’s header before Josh Magennis’ nod towards goal was turned over by Simon Eastwood, but Oxford’s intensity had dropped and the Addicks remained fragile. Neither side doing enough to steal all three points.
And there was to be further frustration for the Addicks as a reckless and unnecessary tackle on Oxford’s Liam Sercombe earned Harry Lennon a second yellow card deep into stoppage-time.
Frustration that would be voiced once the full-time whistle had been blown.
With all eyes on Lincoln City and, unfortunately, Millwall, Oxford’s FA Cup exploits haven’t quite received the attention that they warrant. Two sides from the tier above, including an impressive four-goal victory over Newcastle, beaten before the fifth-round trip to the Riverside at the weekend.
But the U’s would have found themselves in similar conversations were it not for Stuani’s 86th-minute Middlesbrough winner. Two incredible minutes, in which Chris Maguire’s free-kick and Toni Martinez’s poacher’s finish both found the back of the net, setting Oxford up for a replay earned in incredible fashion. The visitors coming from two goals down to draw level, before Boro stole victory.
And with attention diverted towards their FA Cup run, Oxford’s recent League One form has gone relatively unnoticed. Four victories from six league games this calendar year, including a 4-0 thrashing of Rochdale at Spotland, taking the U’s above Charlton in the table.
Alas, their most recent league fixture saw Michael Appleton’s men suffer a 2-0 defeat to Southend United at the Kassam Stadium. The play-offs now seven points away, and their chances of making the top six incredibly slim.
But the competitive showing at the Riverside suggests their 2017 form is not coming to an end, and the U’s can be proud of their efforts this season regardless. A strong league showing and a run in two cup competitions, with Oxford still in the Checkatrade Trophy, most certainly commendable having achieved promotion to the third-tier last season.
The Addicks left The Valley a little over two weeks ago disappointed, but far from being in a complete state of despair. Conceding a stoppage-time equaliser against Fleetwood Town crushing, particularly after the victory over Bolton seven days previously had inspired new hope of a play-off push, but not ruling out Charlton’s chances of a top six finish.
Alas, Karl Robinson’s men return to SE7 after three successive away games with those hopes of a challenge for a play-off spot all but over. AFC Wimbledon allowed a stoppage-time equaliser, a failure to take chances at Oldham costly as the Latics claimed a narrow victory, and Teixeira’s stoppage-time goal salvaging something from their trip to Spotland.
When you include the Fleetwood game, that’s four without victory, and three points from a possible 12. Performances poor in addition to points being dropped. Play-off form this is most certainly not.
As Robinson has said himself, that the Addicks are 13th in League One, eight points away from the minimum target of the top six, is simply not good enough.
Injured full-backs Christian Ribeiro and Sam Long are nearing a return to fitness having both missed the majority of the season through injury. The pair have both played 90 minutes twice in recent weeks, in a training ground and an Oxfordshire Senior Cup tie, and should both be available to Appleton soon.
Also available to the Oxford boss is former Charlton loanee Conor McAleny. The winger, who arrived at the Kassam on loan from Everton towards the end of the January transfer window, failed to score in six league games for the Addicks in 2005, but seems a shrewd acquisition at League One level. McAleny coming off the bench at the Riverside, and may come into the starting XI should Appleton wish to rotate.
But Wes Thomas is one that will definitely miss out. The forward out for the remainder of the season after rupturing an Achilles tendon.
Elsewhere second-choice goalkeeper Jack Stevens will return to the squad having been cup-tied for the trip to the Riverside. The young stopper, who spent the first half of the season on loan at Oxford City, will replace Manny Agboola in the matchday squad, who was recalled from a work experience deal at North Leigh especially for the FA Cup tie.
Charlton are likely to be without Ezri Konsa after the centre-back was forced off through injury midway through the first-half of Saturday’s draw with Rochdale.
Konsa was replaced at Spotland by Teixeira, who helped himself to two goals and looks set to replace the young centre-back on Tuesday night. The main focus for the Portuguese, however, is to assist in the improvement of a defensive line that is lacking composure and resolve.
Changes further forward are also possible, with Robinson’s willingness to rotate his forward options increasingly the likelihood of Nathan Byrne, having served his three-match suspension, making an immediate return to the starting XI.
Byrne in competition for a starting spot alongside Stephy Mavididi, who made a huge impact after coming off the bench at the weekend. A scenario where Tony Watt and Jordan Botaka come out of the side to accommodate the pair of them, with Ricky Holmes taking the central role between midfield and attack, not inconceivable.
Elsewhere, Jason Pearce remains absent with a long-term groin problem, but Fredrik Ulvestad is nearing a return.
KEY BATTLE – DEFENSIVE RESOLVE AGAINST A SIDE WITH PACE AND STRENGTH
While scoring three against Rochdale on Saturday offered a degree of relief, Charlton’s struggles in front of the opposition’s goal have been a cause of frustration in recent weeks. More points would have undoubtedly been picked up had greater potency been shown.
But the trip to Spotland ended with greater scrutiny being placed on the defensive efforts of Robinson’s side. Three goals conceded that could have easily been avoided, to go with further unconvincing defensive displays that have allowed opponents to steal late goals.
The absence of a genuine structure, opponents being allowed too much time on the ball, and individual uncertainty leading to some rather unpleasant moments at the back.
And it would appear the Addicks are most threatened by the qualities of strength and pace. Tom Elliott, Michael Ngoo and Calvin Andrew all bullying Charlton’s backline in recent weeks, while a plethora of opposition wingers have got in behind far too easily. Much greater resolve required.
It not ideal, therefore, that Oxford have both strength and pace in attack in abundance. Kane Hemmings and Maguire, though not the towering target men faced in recent weeks, physical opponents, while pace can be found in that duo, and West Ham loanee Martinez. Additional speed provided by wingers Marvin Johnson and Rob Ball, while McAleny is available if all else fails.
And so it vital that the Addicks, against a side with the sort of attributes that have made them look uncomfortable in recent weeks, discover a degree of defensive resolve and quality. As Saturday showed, taking advantage of poor opposition defending and scoring goals means very little if you’re a shambles at the back yourselves.
A relatively flat and sluggish affair in comparison to the exciting games both teams were involved in at the weekend. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Oxford United