That a player hidden away, doing little more than making up the numbers on the bench, for much of his time in SE7 performed the traditional post-win tunnel jump was arguably the perfect reflection of Charlton Athletic’s performance in their victory over Gillingham.
For like Jay Dasilva, this sort of performance has been hidden from supporters. And like Jay Dasilva, regular occupiers of The Valley weren’t totally sure the Addicks could perform like this. Dynamic, full of attacking intent, and ruthless in their 3-0 hammering of the Gills.
Against sterner opposition, particularly the sort that would have offered any sort of composure and quality in the final third, the afternoon may not have been quite such a breeze for Karl Robinson’s inspired side. The visitors at least equalling the number of genuine chances Charlton created, but were wasteful in crucial moments. Cody McDonald in particular having a dreadful afternoon in front of goal.
In fact, McDonald had already wasted his first fantastic opening of the contest by the time Jason Pearce, with his first goal since returning from a lengthy injury absence, had headed the Addicks in front. The centre-back turning in Ricky Holmes’ corner, before celebrating with all the emotion you might expect from a man who has spent much of his season frustrated by injury.
Frustration, if not embarrassment, the emotion being felt by McDonald as he watched Chelsea loanee Dasilva race from inside his own half to the edge of Gillingham’s penalty area while thoughts of a pathetic dive in an excellent position replayed in his mind. Charlton’s left-back ultimately hauled down, allowing Holmes to convert from the resulting free-kick with 31 minutes played. The sort of ruthlessness rarely seen from this group of Addicks.
And with Ady Pennock’s side still getting into attacking positions, albeit finding new ways to embarrass themselves in front of goal, either side of the interval, a third Addicks goal with 54 minutes gone allowed the hosts to breathe. Jordan Botaka sent through, the winger pulling back to Josh Magennis, and the forward scoring his first goal since January.
Still intent displayed from this Charlton side, that had looked so devoid of confidence and creativity just four days previously during the rather fortunate draw with Coventry, as they continued to place pressure on a Gillingham backline that almost emulated their forwards when it came to lacking composure. While the Addicks pushed for a fourth, led largely by the dynamism of Holmes and Dasilva, the Gills were still finding rather hilarious ways to fail to round off forward moves.
A frustration that Dasilva had not been unleashed sooner in the campaign. A frustration that Robinson’s Charlton had not performed with such quality and intent on a consistent basis. A frustration that this was one of a limited number of occasions during this season that a side with attacking potential has provided genuine excitement and entertainment to The Valley crowd.
Maybe even a frustration that the Addicks, almost faultless going forward but displaying the occasional fault at the back, allowed the Gills to create the openings that they did.
But those frustrations take nothing away from the positive emotions felt in celebration on this Easter Monday afternoon, as the fears of relegation could finally be forgotten. Nothing away from a dominant victory, that reflected a superb performance from Robinson’s men.
Not quite a resurrection, but certainly an unexpected revival. A rare opportunity to extract enjoyment from this torrid campaign, in this torrid period for the club.
The expectation, on the back of Friday’s events, was for a much tighter contest. Gillingham arriving in SE7 on the back of a 3-1 victory over Bristol Rovers, while Charlton had returned from the Ricoh Arena have performed poorly against the Sky Blues. The apparent gap between the two sides seemingly shrinking as such.
And the changes made by Robinson to his side weren’t exactly encouraging. Chris Solly absent, meaning Nathan Byrne was required to play in the right-back position he has previously struggled in, while Andrew Crofts and Ezri Konsa kept their places in the centre of midfield despite performing sluggishly on Friday. Botaka taking the place on the right wing vacated by Byrne, while replacing Fredrik Ulvestad with Jake Forster-Caskey was made in attempt to freshen up the midfield.
Though encouragement was to be offered by a relatively pleasing start from the Addicks. Positive moves forward led by Holmes and Dasilva, even if a final ball was lacking, as the Covered End found their voices.
Pleasing, at least, until Gillingham launched their first meaningful attack of the afternoon. Former Charlton loanee Lee Martin able to feed McDonald through on goal, freezing the previously vocal Covered End, who had accepted that they would be witnessing the visitors celebrating the game’s opening goal.
But McDonald, unforgivably, failed to even test Declan Rudd. The forward firing into the side netting, leaving him carrying an expression of despair and those Addicks behind the goal with looks of relief.
And though Charlton’s moves down the left continued to threaten, with Forster-Caskey nodding Dasilva’s delivery wide, the early opening for the opposition had failed to focus the Addicks defensively. Three attempts required to deal with a Gillingham corner, with head tennis ultimately seeing the ball fall to the feet of McDonald, and a sea of red shirts required to throw themselves in front of the forward’s shot.
Concern that this rather unsettled start would soon be capitalised upon by Pennock’s men, but that this wasn’t one way traffic prevented a state of panic. Still genuine threat being offered each time the Addicks moved forward, and a corner awarded after Byrne’s fierce drive deflected wide.
And from the resulting corner, it was Gillingham’s defence who failed to show any sort of defensive resolve. A lack of defensive resolve that, unlike when the roles were reversed, Charlton were able to make the most of. Pearce able to get in between two blue shirts and effectively rise unchallenged as he won Holmes corner, nodding past a flat-footed Tomas Holy in the Gills goal, and into the back of the net.
Given the pressure they had been under, a moment required by the home supporters to make sure they were actually witnessing their side taking the lead, but Pearce’s delight at scoring his first Charlton goal meant he had sprinted half The Valley’s pitch in celebration before most had risen out of their seats. With his injury struggles also to consider, this was a big moment for the centre-back.
But the Addicks, and particularly Pearce with defensive duties to fulfil, could not relax. A decent Gills move down the left led by Harry Cornick ending with Adedeji Oshilaja able to curl an effort towards the far post. Rudd, however, untroubled as he comfortably claimed the ball.
More discomfort, in fact, for Holy in the opposition goal. The unfamiliar figure of Magennis standing over a free-kick, and his swerving, deflected effort had the goalkeeper scrambling across to his right. The ball claimed at the second attempt.
Discomfort, too, for McDonald. Or at least that’s what he should have felt as he flung himself to the floor after being played into the box and struggling to get the better of Patrick Bauer. The big German not impressed, and neither was referee Brett Huxtable, who produced the yellow card despite McDonald’s attempts to claim innocence.
The dive probably a sign that Gillingham were becoming a little rattled, and Charlton growing into the game’s dominant side. That only reaffirmed as Dasilva, rounding several blue shirts as he did, ran from inside his own half to the edge of the Gills’ penalty area. A cynical foul required from Max Ehmer to the halt the Chelsea loanee’s run.
Though maybe Ehmer might have been better suited allowing the young full-back to attempt an effort on goal, for Gillingham’s captain had created the sort of free-kick situation from which Holmes has scored from on three occasions already this season. And it was soon to be four, as the winger lifted the ball over the wall and comfortably beyond the dive of Holy.
A knee slide celebration that Johnnie Jackson would have been proud of following, and a sense that the points might well be Charlton’s with just 31 minutes played.
But were it not for Gillingham’s dreadful composure in front of goal, or at least McDonald’s dreadful composure in front of goal, the Addicks might well have gone in at the break with their lead reduced to one.
First, McDonald was sent through on goal but succeeding only in striking the air as he attempted to finish beyond Rudd. The ball missed, and Charlton’s goalkeeper able to claim.
Then, after Martin had got in behind down the right and delivered an inviting cross to the back post where Joe Quigley stood to nod home, McDonald challenged his own teammate for the ball. The collision resulting in the ball being diverted wide, and the two players in blue offering accusatory glares at one another, much to the amusement of the Covered End.
Amusement to add to the enjoyment that this first-half performance had provided. Having found their feet after taking the lead, the Addicks were excellent, and the rare event of those in red being applauded off the field at half-time following.
But still, despite, this dominant lead against a side who were showing absolutely nothing in front of goal, there remained a sense of caution. It only took one of these chances Charlton were gifting to the Gills to be taken for the pressure to be placed right back on the home side.
And so it was important that the Addicks started the second period with the same attacking intent that they had ended the first with, and not simply attempted to stubbornly defend their lead. A forward move that ended with a Magennis strike being blocked behind suggested they had their sights set on a third goal.
A third goal that you felt was relatively important with the Gills starting the half refreshed. The introduction of Josh Parker, providing pace down the left, very much contributing towards that and providing a new threat. The Addicks slightly uncomfortable, but standing firm in the half’s opening moments.
Standing firm as Martin delivered from a free-kick, which Rudd claimed comfortably, and in turn launched a Charlton counter attack. Holmes driving forward, seemingly getting himself into a bit of dead end, then working his way into a pocket of space and feeding Botaka through. The Leeds loanee with all the time in the world, calmly setting the ball back to Magennis, and the Northern Ireland international finishing with an equal amount of coolness and composure.
Regardless of the fact there remained 36 minutes, the game now most definitely won. Seemingly all that remained to be answered was how many this rampant Charlton side, discovering attacking intent and confidence that had so often been absent, would win by.
An attempt from substitute Rory Donnelly to reduce the deficit, curling well wide of Rudd’s far post, but the Gills now had the look of a beaten side. Who side who might well struggle to have the required fight in a relegation battle. A Holy save from Holmes strike preventing a fourth, before Forster-Caskey’s impressive overhead kick from Botaka’s cross flew wide and a first-time strike from Magennis just flashed beyond the post.
And again, even when Pennock’s side were getting into positions that Charlton’s backline were still offering them, they had not a single percentage of confidence and composure. Another fantastic opening for McDonald, created by the lively Parker, but again the forward succeeded only in executing the perfect fresh air kick, before Martin ballooned over.
Donnelly headed over and Bradley Dack’s free-kick cleared the bar as the Gills continued to search for some sort of consolation, but the point of restoring pride had long been missed.
The point of having the required confidence to score a consolation probably missed, too, with it still the Addicks who looked most likely to score the game’s next goal. The introduction of Karlan Ahearne-Grant’s pace proving difficult for the visitors’ tired backline to deal with, and his presence creating further Charlton pressure. A fingertip from Holy helping a powerful Holmes effort over the bar, before substitute Jackson headed the resulting corner into the goalkeeper’s hands.
Though as full-time approached, with the home supporters now merely waiting to enjoy their moment of celebration, there was one final chance for the Gills to rob Charlton off their first cleansheet in 18 games. But, after Rudd parried Donnelly’s free-kick and carnage ensued with the visitors claiming for a penalty amid their attempts to convert the loose ball and Charlton’s to clear, still they could not find consolation.
And even if they had, it would hardly have tainted the rare feeling of joy around The Valley. Pure delight as the full-time whistle was blown, and applause for each man in red. Excellent individual performances in a superb collective effort.
Though it fitting that it left for Charlton’s smallest man to execute the trademark tunnel jump. The energy and intent of Dasilva, emulated by so many of his teammates, making this performance as enjoyable as it was.
Of course, the cynic will suggest this was far from a perfect performance. And, in truth, they’re probably right. Too many glorious chances gifted to the Gills in quite soft fashion for it to be considered perfect. Replace McDonald with a competent forward and the game might well have been a different one.
But this was as perfect a performance as you’re likely to get from a side that has underperformed throughout the season, has numerous faults, and finds itself in the bottom half of League One. It certainly the best that has been managed under Robinson since the start of February.
Impressive mainly for the speed, intensity and attacking quality on show. It led by the excellent Dasilva and Holmes, supported by Botaka and Forster-Caskey, who had his best performance in a Charlton shirt since his first two games, and kept ticking over by a collective effort that saw the ball moved more quickly and with more forward intent.
That intent aided by ruthlessness. Quite often, we’ve delivered performances like the Gillingham one today, where we’ve been wasteful in key moments, and put in a sluggish and half-hearted display as a consequence. Meanwhile, the opposition have had half a chance and taken it.
But on this occasion, we showed a degree of ruthlessness, which was really pleasing to see. Not until the third was scored did our attacking intent translate into a stacking up of chances created, and it was relatively simple to spot the difference between the two sides at that point. Gillingham were pathetic in front of goal; Charlton were brutal.
Pleasing, of course, that Pearce was able to score after such a long spell out through injury, but I’m particularly delighted that Magennis was finally able to end his scoreless run. There no question that many of his performances have been poor during his time without a goal, but so too has he performed on plenty of occasions with determination and fight for no reward. The forward excellent today, and finally getting his reward.
And a reward, of sorts, for Charlton. Survival all but confirmed. Though that it has to be confirmed with just two games remaining is a reflection of this dire season, and the emphatic failings of Roland Duchatelet’s regime.
But in isolation, this was an excellent and enjoyable performance that was in some contrast to the dour and lifeless efforts that have so regularly been put in throughout this campaign.