The noise made by those occupying the New York Stadium’s away end loud for the duration of the afternoon. Little motivation required for the visiting Charlton Athletic supporters to break into song. Every positive moment embraced and appreciated.
But the universally shared ironic cheers as it was announced that Rotherham United’s Kieffer Moore had been named sponsors’ man of the match was probably the most telling sound made by those who had travelled from the south.
Not only highlighting the position of strength the Addicks were able to boast, mocking the notion that the Millers could name a man of the match despite having not long conceded a second goal, but also the contribution Moore had made in the two-goal gulf between the two sides. The Ipswich loanne probably given his personal accolade for his aerial presence and boisterous physical play, but he part of a Rotherham attack that failed to punish Charlton when opportunities were offered. Part of a Rotherham side that were undone by a clinical group of Addicks, who took advantage of their opposition’s frailties.
For what was ultimately a relatively comfortable victory for Karl Robinson’s men might not have been the case had the hosts shown any sort of composure in front of goal. Moore guilty of being wasteful on several occasions as the game progressed, but it his striker partner who wasted Rotherham’s best opening with eight minutes played and the scores still level. Jamie Proctor, having been teed up by Moore, needing only to tap the ball into a near-empty net, but somehow managing to skew the ball wide.
So it came somewhat against the run of play when Patrick Bauer rose above Rotherham’s red shirts to power home Jake Forster-Caskey’s corner with 16 minutes gone. The Millers leaving the German in far too much space, and Bauer offering emphatic punishment. Something Rotherham weren’t able to do when Charlton’s defensive sluggishness offered them a gift.
And with that, the visitors began to find their feet. The fluent attacking play, seen during the impressive victory over Northampton Town seven days ago, returned and confidence spread. The course of the contest completely altered on two moments in front of goal.
The Addicks, however, far from being in control. While the Cobblers had created chances last weekend, the nature of Charlton’s dominance meant you always felt confident their football would be rewarded. That wasn’t the case here, as Robinson’s men got forward well without creating, and the Millers continued to create without converting as the second half progressed.
In fact, had a breaking Moore looked up and seen that Proctor was unmarked inside the box, the Millers might well have drawn level. The forward instead opting to shoot, his effort comfortably saved by Ben Amos, and his strike-partner quite visibly frustrated. His frustration replaced by pain of various varieties just five minutes later.
For Proctor was involved in a collision with Chris Solly in the centre of the pitch as the Addicks broke forward, Rotherham appealed desperately for a foul as their forward lay in a heap on the ground, but their appeals fell on deaf ears as Ricky Holmes beat Joe Mattock and found himself in a crossing position. His delivery flighted perfectly to the back post, and Josh Magennis able to convert to the delight of the visiting supports and the fury of the home fans and players. Proctor ultimately carried away on a stretcher, but again the Addicks had taken advantage of a situation where the Millers had seemingly switched off, after the hosts had wasted many.
Victory sealed from the moment Magennis’ header crossed the line despite 24 minutes still to play, and the signalling of nine additional minutes bringing about slight worries of a Charlton capitulation. In part because Rotherham were crushed, and in part because they looked even less confident in front of goal than they had previously. But largely because those who defended the Addicks’ goal had discovered a determination and defiance, benefiting from the Millers’ earlier wastefulness as much as anyone else.
The pleasing attacking play and fight at the back when placed under pressure lauded, even if an element of good fortune was involved in setting up the result. Regardless, when the chances came Charlton’s way, they were taken, and a clinical and warranted victory was claimed.
And it mattered little to those who celebrated the first away points of the season come full-time. The away end as loud as it had been throughout the game, drained players just about finding enough energy to applaud the support, and Robinson enjoying the moment as much as each Addick in the New York Stadium. The positive signs are growing.
Already existing positive signs that meant confidence of victory was felt pre-game, and was only reaffirmed with Robinson able to name an unchanged XI from the comprehensive win over Northampton Town seven days ago. Knowledge that this Rotherham side, who started with Charlton academy graduate Semi Ajay, had beaten Southend United 5-0 in their previous home outing, but nothing to fear.
In fact, before the game had entered its second minute, the Millers were shown it was they who should be spending their afternoon on the backfoot and in fear, struggling to contend with the pace of the Addicks on the break. Tariqe Fosu bursting forward, and always a yard ahead of Ajayi, leaving the robust centre-back with little choice but to drag Charlton’s wide man down before he drove into a shooting position. Rotherham’s wall deflecting Forster-Caskey’s resulting free-kick over the bar.
But, despite getting the away end into full voice, Fosu’s run was not the catalyst for a positive Addicks start. It probably a Holmes shot, slipping as he poked tamely into the hands of Millers stopper Richard O’Donnell via a deflection, that foreshadowed the opening 15 minutes with greater accuracy. The visitors beginning uncomfortably, and without the composure and energetic movement that made their efforts against the Cobblers so impressive.
A warning sign for the Addicks as Joe Newell’s free-kick was met by far too easily by Moore, but the forward not able to generate enough power behind his header. Amos with enough time to get down and claim the nod towards goal. It, however, a warning that wasn’t acted upon.
For a minute later, Moore had taken advantage of Kashi’s misplaced pass to get in behind Charlton’s backline down the right. Time and space to pick out Proctor in the middle, beating Solly and Amos with his driven pass as he did, but the forward somehow managing to scuff an effort wide from a matter of yards. A horror miss for the Millers, a real let off for the Addicks, and confirmation that vast improvement was very quickly needed.
But still there was no intensity to Charlton’s overall play, and the defence continued to look incredibly fragile. Those in blue stationary as Moore turned with a touch of class on the edge of the box, and thankful that they saw his resulting effort struck comfortably for Amos to save. All too simple for Paul Warne’s side, and the Addicks a touch fortunate they weren’t showing greater quality in front of goal.
More than anything else, therefore, it came as a relief to just have the ball in the Rotherham half of the pitch when a Charlton corner was won with 16 minutes played. To test their defensive line would merely have been a bonus. But the Addicks certainly offered a test; a test the Millers had no answer to.
For Bauer cleverly peeled away from his marker, meeting Forster-Caskey’s delivery perfectly. A fair distance away from goal, the big German still needed to get a degree of power behind the ball, and he managed to superbly power his header into the far bottom corner, well beyond the reach of O’Donnell. Coming against the run of play, and as quite a shock given the pressure Charlton’s uncomfortable start had meant they’d been placed under, but there a confidence this goal would give the Addicks the boost they required, in addition to the lead.
And that appeared to be the case. The Addicks looking a lot more comfortable on the ball, the pace in the side being exploited, and deliveries asking more questions of Rotherham’s backline. The hosts, as they now found themselves thwarted by a more disciplined defence, beginning to get a little frustrated.
But despite Charlton looking more comfortable, and edging towards the quality they had shown in their performance seven days ago, genuine chances were still few. Billy Clarke lashing the ball goalwards via the crossbar, but long after he’d been adjudged offside, was about as close as the Addicks got to creating something meaningful despite looking threatening in their bursts forward.
Rotherham, on the other hand, were struggling to retain possession in the final third and becoming more and more reliant on aimless long balls in the general direction of Moore, but created an opportunity that should have been draw level with just over half an hour played. Ajayi coming in unmarked at the back post from a corner, but diverting his header wide. Not quite as simple a chance as Proctor’s, but still one that really should have been taken.
The opportunity, coming out of nothing, the beginning of a spell for the Millers that saw them create a number of decent chances to equalise. Amos’ fingertips preventing Moore’s delivery from finding Proctor in the centre, Moore mis-hitting horribly after doing superbly to bring down Frecklington’s delivery, and the robust forward heading straight at Charlton’s goalkeeper from Ryan Williams’ delivery when he should have done better. Just a slight concern that maybe the Addicks should be doing more with their promising attacking play.
So, of course, Holmes attempted to provide the answers. Having not since fired comfortably over the bar from distance, the winger again tried his luck from range but this time drawing a superb save out of Rotherham stopper O’Donnell. The curling effort heading for the far corner without the goalkeeper’s intervention.
But that the half-time whistle blew with the Addicks still holding their single-goal advantage was almost as sweet as it being doubled before the end of the first period. This far from a fluent Charlton display, and their lead constantly threatened, so to head in at the interval a goal up was huge in the context of this affair. A more potent Rotherham would no doubt emerge after the break, and so a more structured and solid group of Addicks needed to line-up for the second period.
So while Rotherham beginning the half on the front foot hardly settled nerves, the response of Robinson’s side was pleasing. Testing balls into the box dealt with, and the Millers denied the opportunity to create genuine chances having got themselves in good positions. The Addicks standing firm, or at least firmer than they had during periods of the first half.
Greater defensive resilience offering hope that a second goal, despite more than half an hour remaining, would kill the game off. A second the Addicks were inches away from when Holmes driven ball across the face of goal evaded the feet of all, not least Magennis, in the centre. Agonisingly close to settling the worry, but instead only increasing it.
For there certainly an end-to-end nature to the contest, and a sense the next goal would be vital. Moore desperately close to turning in a rare Rotherham delivery that Charlton’s defence simply couldn’t deal with, before Michael Ihiekwe’s deflection took all the pace off Holmes’ effort at the other end and made for a comfortable O’Donnell save.
But just beyond the hour, in this game of relative half-chances that sat on a knife edge, Rotherham found themselves with an opportunity to punish the Addicks. Moore busting through on goal, with the shot on but the angle tight, and Proctor unmarked in the centre. The forward opting to shooting, an effort that Amos was able to claim at the second attempt, when a square ball to Proctor would have surely been converted even with his earlier horror miss in mind.
While Proctor was still throwing his hands about in frustration, and probably quite rightfully, Magennis had thrown everything behind an effort towards goal form the best part of 30 yards. His strike flashing only narrowly wide. The margins in this contest remaining narrow with 61 minutes played.
Or at least they would remain narrow for five more minutes, as the game’s decisive goal was struck, and Charlton’s advantage was doubled.
Fury around the New York Stadium as the visitors’ attack continued while Proctor lay injured, the consequence of what appeared a fairly legitimate coming together with Solly, but Rotherham seemingly half-expected the whistle to blow while Charlton drove forward in ruthless manner. Mattock weak, allowing Holmes to burst through him, and the delivery from the talismanic winger was pinpoint. Beyond O’Donnell and his defenders, though perfectly placed for Magennis to nod over the line and give the Addicks what seemed an unassailable lead.
But complacency would allow Rotherham the opportunity to halve their deficit, and a halved deficit would set up a conclusion to this contest that had seemingly been avoided by the scoring for the second goal. Halved it would have been if not for Amos, who saved superbly from Ajayi, latching onto a loose ball following a Rotherham set-piece.
In fact, Ajayi’s presence meant the Addicks couldn’t quite celebrate victory just yet. The academy graduate heading wide from a Newell free-kick, before Newell himself came close to scoring in bizarre fashion, as his overhit cross needed a diving header from Kashi to prevent it from going straight in. The Algerian throwing himself into the net in the process, but you’d expect nothing less.
And while Rotherham flung balls into Charlton’s box with regularity in the game’s remaining moments, including the additional nine minutes, the Addicks showed great determination and character to stand firm. Bauer and Jason Pearce equalling Kashi’s resolve, and Amos continuing to claim anything his centre-backs didn’t. A very weak effort from substitute Jonson Clarke-Harris, comfortably held by Amos, and an effort dragged wide by Newell both deep into stoppage time about as close as a demoralised Rotherham got to getting back into the game.
But this a game that, though for some time was quite evidently in the balance, now belonged to the Addicks. The Addicks that rode their luck, that showed the clinical nature their opponents didn’t, and had shown fight and determination when it mattered. And the Addicks who celebrated, both on the pitch and in the away end, with real pride and enjoyment come full-time.
For there’s no question that good fortune was involved in Charlton’s victory, and there’s no doubt that there will be Rotherham fans cursing their side’s misfortune (and horrendous finishing).
The complexity of the game is totally different if Rotherham score one of the many good chances they created when the game was goalless, or when the Addicks had only a single-goal lead. There was a defensive sluggishness at times today, or at least faults within Charlton’s shape that the Millers were able to expose, but no able to punish.
But that takes nothing away from an excellent performance. An excellent performance in response to being placed under pressure. Clinical, determined and hearty.
Robinson’s men taking the chances that the opposition weren’t able to. There was the attacking quality, those lightning fast counters, on display once again if only in patches. The defence, is shaky in periods, grew stronger as the game progressed, showing great fight in the second period and Amos excelling in his command of the box.
But maybe the most pleasing thing is that we’re winning games this when in previous campaigns previous Charlton sides would have undoubtedly wilted under pressure. Whether with assistance from good fortune or not, we’re battling. We’re showing superb fight.
So too is it promising that there’s obviously still room for improvement. The side is winning games while showing a few faults, and performing a little inconsistently. That can only be a good thing.
The side is slowly moving from one with potential to one that will certainly challenge. Wining in different ways, under different circumstances.