In the midst of the initial celebrations that followed Tuesday night’s dramatic stoppage-time equaliser against Peterborough United, the chaotic scenes of pure and unexpected joy, it mattered not who the foot that had prodded the ball over the line at the far pots belonged to.
But it gained greater significance upon realising that the figure who had completed the two-goal four-minute revival was Karlan Ahearne-Grant. The Academy graduate’s first goal in 20 games this season in all competitions, and his first in 43 since scoring against Cardiff City in September 2015. Additional joy and relief on the face of a young man, wrapped up in a memorable moment, that even his most committed critics would have taken pleasure in seeing.
For there no question that Ahearne-Grant’s efforts, particularly over the course of this campaign, have gained a great deal of negative feedback from Charlton Athletic supporters. It matters not where you sit at The Valley, or what position you occupy at away games, a collective groan will be heard as the 20-year-old prepares to enter the action. Groans that aren’t irrational, or simply the result of a player being unfairly targeted without genuine justification.
Why would they be? Charlton supporters take a great deal of pride and offer the highest possible level of support to their academy graduates, whether they remain at the club or not. It’s just that Ahearne-Grant has done little to prove he has the talents of those that have come before him, those he has shared pitches and training grounds with, and his failures have become tiresome.
Failures that stretch beyond a poor scoring record, which can in part be answered by substitute appearances and often being pushed out wide. There’s a weakness in possession that means he’s so often bullied off the ball, there’s quick feet but rarely is his opponent beaten, and a combination of poor decision-making and a lack of quality means end product, weather crossing or shooting, rarely threatens. On occasions, he gives the impression that if you took his pace away, he would hold nothing at all.
A late miss in a level game against Oxford United, which really should have been finished, and a tame header comfortably saved that could have killed off Rochdale last week haven’t helped his cause. Faith in the youngster, who has been required specifically to impact on games when attacking numbers have been limited, low among supporters. Faith in himself also low, it would seem, with Karl Robinson aware of a lack of confidence and his substandard performances.
But Robinson, speaking after the Rochdale game, was adamant in his faith in Ahearne-Grant. Making it clear he needed to return that faith with productive output, but that the boss could see there was quality being restrained within the youngster. Something a manager is always likely to say to protect a player, particularly a struggling 20-year-old, but there reasons beyond “he’s not good enough” why the apparent potential of Ahearne-Grant hasn’t appeared.
In many ways, Ahearne-Grant has been a victim. Of the academy’s success, of squad situation, and of his own early success. Conditions have been against him.
To say he’s been a victim of the academy’s success, one that churns out quality graduate after quality graduate and has contributed to Ahearne-Grant’s promotion to the first team, may appear a strange suggestion. But there an expectation now in SE7 that allow youngsters thrown into the side will make an immediate impression, without teething problems or struggles. With many exceeding in their teens, that belief in Ahearne-Grant has been lost at the still young age of 20, with time still to develop, is possibly an unfortunate consequence of that.
Maybe, as is the case for Josh Umerah and Brandon Hanlan, spending a period out on loan at the start of this campaign would have been beneficial to him. To build confidence in his own ability with regular starts at a lower level. But a lack of forwards, and the restricted availability of Mark Marshall and Ben Reeves, meant such a thought couldn’t be considered, and unfair pressure has been placed on him to make positive, even match-defining, impacts from the bench.
Finally, there a certain amount of frustration and disappointment knowing that, in his early games for the Addicks as a teen, he showed genuine potential that excited. A performance against Peterborough in the League Cup and generally impressing in the Championship at the start of the 2015/16 created a certain amount of hype, but he faded quickly in that same campaign, and hasn’t replicated those sorts of signs of encouragement since. He doesn’t appear to be that same player; confidence, being transformed into a player who plays more prominently out wide, or simply a struggle to develop possible contributors.
And yet, regardless of these criticisms, questionable performances and questions of confidence, it was Ahearne-Grant that was more alert than any in Peterborough colours to the danger Naby Sarr’s knock down posed in the 94th-minute at The Valley on Tuesday. It this genuinely struggling figure able to pounce, and score a second Charlton goal in four stoppage-time minutes to equalise having been two goals down and heading for certain, and warranted, defeat. It a man without confidence, as much a man without a goal, that was able to complete an extraordinary display of character from this group of Addicks, and create an extraordinary moment.
It may, of course, mean very little in the long-term for Ahearne-Grant. The celebration in front of the Covered End will never lose its meaning, but may not create change. There every chance he continues as the same player that offered few reasons to have faith in previously.
But this a moment that will inject confidence. The confidence that Robinson suggests was required, required for a player who he has reaffirmed he has faith in. The confidence that a player whose poor decision making and hesitation in possession, making him more likely to pick out an opposition player than his own, so desperately needs.
Confidence that will be supported from the stands. The groans that have previously met his introduction will be replaced with a positive response; one that effectively thanks him for such a wonderful moment and encourages more. Whether rational faith in his ability has been gained, and as such confidence in him, support for Ahearne-Grant certainly has as a consequence of that late goal.
And so what follows is a huge period in Ahearne-Grant’s career. With injuries harming Charlton’s squad, The FA Cup tie against AFC Wimbledon and the busy festive schedule to come, the forward will undoubtedly be given game time. Possibly chances to impress from the start.
There only a certain amount of time in which the confidence from scoring that goal will last, and only a certain amount of time in which supporters will place that goal above other performances. A period, the length of which is totally dependant on how Ahearne-Grant performs, in which the forward must show something different in his overall game that what has preceded the equaliser on Tuesday night. It will be challenging for supporters to maintain faith in the youngster if, in a situation where he is supported by his own confidence and that belonging to several other sources, a return to previous infuriating performances follow.
For it will undoubtedly take more than a single goal to settle Ahearne-Grant, and remove the reservations that so many rightly have about his ability. More than a single case of being in the right place, at the right time, to spark a moment of incredible joy. Ahearne-Grant is still the player that has spent much of this season struggling to deliver, but he now holds a different mindset to deliver something different.
The Valley’s silence only broken by groans of frustration from the Covered End, in symmetry with the thud of a Peterborough United defender’s head meeting ball or the crash of the advertising hoardings being hit from another overhit cross. Prolonged periods of silence, as Charlton Athletic passed the ball around harmlessly in midfield with neither intensity or cutting edge, interrupted by increasingly tired expressions of displeasure from the home crowd at their side’s tame efforts. The energy excavated from supporters by this performance to such an extent that even the celebrations that met the awarding of a 90th-minute penalty were forced and timid.
A perfectly understandable response in the context of the contest, and Charlton’s contribution to the contest. The Posh holding a two-goal lead – warranted reward for their organised and counter-attacking efforts and deserved punishment for a group of Addicks without defensive resolve or attacking threat – which had seemingly inflicted defeat on the hosts as early as the 58th minute. Peterborough’s dominance expressed in the scoreline, and in the notion that their advantage might well have been more by the time the game’s final minute arose.
Horrific defending allowing Gwion Edwards’ outstretched leg to convert Marcus Maddison’s free-kick to give Grant McCann’s side an 11th-minute lead, before the influential Edwards crossed for Jack Marriott to finish 13 minutes into the second half. Half-chances attempting to pierce through a dire performance in between goals; lethargic and predictable without delivery at all once the second had come. A positive response to the defeat at Scunthorpe United on Saturday this was most certainly not.
A consolation, and an undeserved one at that, appeared all this penalty was good for. Edwards somewhat denting his evening by brainlessly bundling Jake Forster-Caskey to the floor, and Ricky Holmes emphatically converting the resulting spot-kick. Polite applause and a few high fives expected, but the mood changed the moment the net rippled.
Holmes responding with a raised arm and short fist-pump before racing back to the centre, a battle to get a protected ball out of the Peterborough net infuriating supporters, and as much determination and fight shown in 30 seconds as had been shown for more than 30 minutes. Maybe not belief that a dramatic, stoppage-time, comeback was on, but the tired events that had preceded the goal had been replaced by an energy. Players, for the first time since falling two-behind, showing sure signs of determination, injecting fans with the will to support.
There even energy in the frustration, as Holmes dithered in delivering a ball into the box. But Naby Sarr climbed highest to nod his resulting cross into a dangerous position, with The Valley’s energy briefly replaced by a frozen anticipation. Something that had seemingly inflicted the Peterborough defence, or possibly frozen fear, as none of the visitors responded as quickly as Charlton substitute Karlan Ahearne-Grant; the ball bundled in at the back post, and a point incredibly snatched four minutes into additional time.
The performance dreadful enough that it cannot be covered up by the comeback. The point not the greatest use of Charlton’s game in hand on the top two, not least with Blackburn Rovers winning. But none of that, the gritty context of football, mattered in the incredible moment for the celebrating supporters in the Covered End.
The sort of unbelievable, almost unrealistic, moments that provide an emotional outpouring those without an attachment to a football club would find difficult to make sense of. Distractions from the harsh reality of the everyday, or even healers for the pain that life brings. The unlikeliest, seemingly impossible, of comebacks fulfilled in stoppage-time, lifting The Valley from a funeral of frustration to a scene of celebration, with the equalising goal scored by a struggling youngster without a league strike to his name since September 2015.
Four minutes previously, they expected to walk out the ground in near silence, as if to hide from their side’s dreadful performance. Instead, it was the visitors, bearing the comparative pain for the Charlton joy, who wanted to slither as quickly into isolation. Addicks, if nothing else, given a moment.
Supporters, upon their arrival in SE7, had expected nothing but the Best on this bitterly cold Tuesday night. And that not only because an immediate response to the defeat at Glanford Park at the weekend, ending a nine-game unbeaten run, was both required and confidently believed in. Trialist Leon Best signed on a short-term contract in time to be involved against Posh, and thrown in straight from the start.
The former Ipswich Town forward replacing Chris Solly in the starting XI, as Robinson was again forced to reshuffle his pack. The skipper unavailable, meaning Ezri Konsa shifted to right back, Sarr came into the centre, and Jay Dasilva dropped back to a more natural left-back role. Josh Magennis taking up a wide position, somewhere he has played for Northern Ireland, to accommodate Best in the side.
But regardless of shape or personnel, an encouraging start was needed to calm any concerns that defeat to Scunthorpe would have damaging effects. And a positive start is what the home support got. A quickly taken corner falling to Holmes, his resulting strike beating Jonathan Bond in the Posh goal, but skipper Anthony Grant stood firm on the line to head the ball away.
A tinge of disappointment that Grant had positioned himself perfectly, but the opening enough to get the Covered End into tune. Interrupted briefly as the potentially threatening but often frustrating Posh forward force tested Amos for the first time, with Maddison’s strike saved after combining with Chris Forrester. But greater interruption to the confidence of the home support was to come.
For self-inflicted disaster was about to unfold. The backline static, and caught too far forward, as Leonardo Da Silva Lopes’ ball sent Marriott through on goal in such a simple fashion it resembled a training ground routine. The prolific forward, however, hesitated when met with the sight of Amos, and Charlton’s goalkeeper managed to prevent what seemed a certain goal.
A wake-up call it should have been, but the reprieve from punishment for this unaddressed defensive frailty would only last four minutes. Peterborough a comparatively shorter side than the Addicks so, instead of delivering a traditional ball, Maddison swung his free-kick low across the face of goal. Those in red failing to react in appropriate fashion, and Edwards’ able to convert unchallenged at the back post.
The desperate hope for an immediate response to the Scunthorpe defeat, so as to avoid it spiralling into something worse, punctured. The midfield being bypassed, defensive organisation non-existent, and now a need to find structure with confidence crushed. An inconsistent Peterborough side, with a habit of beating the division’s better sides, looking a real threat on the break.
With only 11 minutes played, the clock told you not to be dramatic, but this felt disastrous. Ahmed Kashi blasting harmlessly over the crossbar didn’t really help cool or compose. Ahmed Kashi, uncharacteristically, wasn’t really helping at all, as he and both centre-backs either found themselves passing tamely between each other or wasting possession.
But the message taught seven days ago during the victory over Rochdale was that, irrespective of whether all knowledge of how to play association football has been forgotten, a scrappy and undeserved goal really can change the pattern of a game. The ball falling to Magennis from a Best knock down, only for Posh goalkeeper Bond to beat the ball away. Forster-Caskey attempting to force the loose ball over the line, and then towards Best in the centre, but both the assistant referee’s flag and, for good measure, Bond had denied him.
Some instability in a Peterborough defence that had previously looked untroubled; a greater willingness from the Addicks to be direct and hit the middle early instead of appearing too cautious to deliver. A cross falling to Marshall at the back post, and the bouncing ball blocked by Bond, before an ambitious overhead kick attempt from Forster-Caskey was claimed by the goalkeeper in more comfortable fashion. Fluency far from existent, and as such one of these chances desperately needed to be forced in, but this was encouraging.
Alas, the encouragement would soon be replaced by frustration. A defence led by the experienced Steven Taylor quickly regrouped from the brief Charlton siege, and put themselves back in control. Taylor and fellow centre-back Ryan Tafazolli consistently winning the predictable balls that the Addicks put into the box as the half went on, with Best struggling, the service poor, and the lack of fluency meaning the only move they had was send the ball out wide and hope for the best.
The greater willingness to get forward had at least pushed the Posh onto the back foot, but their constant reminders of their threat on the break. Maybe not Forrester’s effort from distance, which was collected comfortably by Amos, but more so the way Maddison, Marriott, and Da Silva Lopez linked up. Thankfully for the Addicks, the final ball was absent, but their pace and movement meant they took up promising positions when their backline wasn’t heading away Holmes deliveries.
But, as half-time neared, Da Silva Lopez was able to play Marriott into more than a promising position. The forward coming inside to shoot, Amos possibly seeing the ball a little late, and very uncomfortable-looking parry required to beat the ball away. A reminder, with the whistle signalling the interval soon following, that Posh would not be set up to abandon all attacking duties going into the second period.
And a reminder that there needed to be Charlton improvement. The defence not flirting with disaster every five minutes but still appearing unsettled, the ball being moved too slowly and possession being lost too frequently, and a threat other than a hopeful ball from the left needed to be developed. Something completely different needing to be seen in the second period.
So, of course, the second half started with Posh on the front foot and the Addicks losing a player to injury. Maddison taking a nice touch on the left before cutting inside and forcing a full-stretch save out of Amos, before an already limping Patrick Bauer needed to be replaced by league debutant Anfernee Dijksteel. If Robinson had injected belief into his side during the half-time break, it had probably already left their blood streams.
Nonetheless, in adverse conditions, there was an expectation that the Addicks would show both determination and the true extent of their footballing qualities. A repeat of the ‘get-the-ball-to-Holmes-and-hope-for-the-best’ strategy, which was drawing the occasional foul but not drawing mistakes from Taylor and co. inside Peterborough’s box, not doing much to appease, nor showing any signs of intensity in this Charlton side. A repeat, too, of an off-the-pace Kashi slamming an effort in the general direction of the top tier.
But at least while the deficit remained at one, there was always the hope that a predictable move from Robinson’s side would catch Posh out, and level the game up. A second, with the Addicks playing so poorly, would almost certainly kill the game off. A second seemingly killed the game off with 58 minutes played.
It all very simple for the visitors. Edwards the other cog in Peterborough’s counter-attacking force, and he found himself in space to deliver down the right. The ball low, Marriott peeling away from the red shirts in the centre to meet it, and Amos unmoved as the forward finished.
A deathly silence around the home sections of The Valley; just the noise of the visiting fans celebrating. With justification, it appeared Addicks had all but accepted the result, despite more than 30 minutes remaining. Not enough seen from their side to suggest they stood a chance of getting back into the game.
And, in fact, they might well have been seeing their side concede a third just four minutes later. Edwards surging forward unchallenged, or at least unchallenged until Kashi halted his run in rather physical fashion as Peterborough’s scorer and creator drove inside. McCann’s men demanding a penalty, but nothing given.
Maybe some luck was required to get back into this game, and maybe that was the start of it. Though a lucky side would have seen Tafazolli slice Marshall’s cross into his own net. Instead, Bond reacted well, claimed the ball, and spared his centre-back embarrassment.
Otherwise, his centre-back continued to stand firm against the repetitive crosses and set-plays from the Addicks. It not just the first balls that Posh were first to, but they either claimed the second balls or closed down so quickly that the hosts couldn’t do anything with it. Charlton incredibly tame, sucking the soul of their supporters with the weakness of their attacks, but Peterborough were defending strongly.
And it a combination of those two factors that only increased the mood of acceptance around The Valley. The voiced frustrations were lessening, heavy sighs increasing, as the sound of silence took over. Robinson’s men offering neither the demanded intensity nor quality.
So that Peterborough came close to a third with five minutes to play was of little surprise to those inside the ground. The only surprise being that the opportunity wasn’t scored. A Posh break ending with Maddison teeing up Edwards, his shot beating Amos, but Forster-Caskey positioning himself on the line and able to clear.
It appeared to matter little. Both in the minds of the Peterborough supporters, ready to celebrate victory, and regular occupiers of The Valley, already fully deflated by such a tame performance. Another Charlton ball into the box from wide certainly wasn’t going to change that.
But, though they initial ball was knocked away, Forster-Caskey was able to pounce on the second. With this back to goal, and no need to commit to a challenge, Edwards hauled the midfielder down and left referee Brooks with little choice but to point to the spot. Peterborough had, in the game’s final minute, finally cracked.
It felt, however, as meaningless as Edwards’ cleared effort. Maybe the game would see another goal, but the impressive counter-attacking force would ultimately defeat the side devoid of all fluency and attacking threat. Difficult for a crowd so deflated, so demoralised by the performance witnessed, to become excited by the prospect of a consolation goal.
Or at least that was the case until the scene converting this spot-kick would create began to appear in the minds of Addicks. The announcement made, as Holmes placed the ball on the spot, that four minutes of additional time would be played. Meaningless if this wasn’t converted, but if four minutes were signalled with a one goal deficit in normal circumstances, an attempt would be made to instil belief into players from the stands.
And maybe still a meaningless consolation goal, as Holmes comprehensively finished, but we couldn’t we take a moment away from what the previous 89 to believe? The celebrations short, as efforts were made to get the ball back to centre-circle as quickly as possible, but expressions of determination were made instead. Expressions that went both ways, between players and supporters.
The response from McCann to make two changes, and one of them attempting to kill a game off that had suddenly come alive. Ricky Miller driving wide from the edge of the box, but Peterborough supporters were more interested in counting down seconds and working out when the full-time whistle would be blown. Nervousness and panic out of nowhere.
Nervousness and panic that stretched to the Posh defence, facing the same bodies they were facing before but ones that now seemed to believe. Taylor and Tafazolli weak and crumbling. Sarr and Magennis among giants.
At least now when Holmes delivered, there would be bodies battling for the ball. Holmes trying and trying to find space to send in a cross as Posh tried to protect their lead. The Covered End growing frustrated while glancing at their watches, and the winger finally hanging up in the centre.
Sarr rising, Sarr winning, and Sarr cleverly knocking the ball down instead of going for goal himself. Peterborough defenders and Bond not reacting, but Ahearne-Grant was alive. His outstretched leg bundling the ball over the line.
Utter jubilation, and that just for Ahearne-Grant himself, to be involved in such a moment having struggled to desperately at times this season. The Covered End lost in celebration. A fantastic Valley moment.
And with minutes still to play, the home crowd willed their side forward once more. Bond taking his time to collect a loose ball indicating the danger that Posh felt they were under. Danger that saw Dasilva flash narrowly wide in the sixth minute of stoppage-time.
It the case, therefore, that the game ended with Peterborough somewhat relieved to have not totally imploded to the point that they left SE7 with no points. That coming after it appeared they had comfortably won the game, inflicting defeat on a dire Charlton side that didn’t deserve anything from the contest. “Two-nil, and you fucked it up” sung the Covered End at full-time; a Posh capitulation as much as an Addicks fightback.
Points still dropped, the performance still overall an incredibly poor one, and the table not looking as promising as it did a few weeks ago. But none of that mattered at full-time. This merely time to savour the brief period of hidden determination expressed by this group of Addicks.
A moment for the supporters inside The Valley to savour.
And really, there’s no other way to view this incredible moment. As a moment. As a period of time almost in isolation, away from the complexities of the game and the season itself.
Of course, there’s things within the context of the game and beyond that make the moment more incredible. That the Addicks had for so long appeared devoid of all quality and fight, that the game was seemingly Peterborough’s, and that the equalising goal was scored by Ahearne-Grant. An unbelievable burst of determination, pouncing on a crumbling opposition, to come from two goals behind in stoppage-time with the equaliser scored by a 20-year-old who hasn’t struck in two-and-a-half seasons.
And that is how that moment, and the factors that contribute to its wonder, should remain. In its own space. To continue to savour.
For there little denying that the Addicks were otherwise disappointing at best. A third Peterborough goal, whether through their penalty shout or via the effort that Edwards had cleared off the line, might well have been had before Charlton pulled one back. The hosts’ efforts to get back into the game desperately poor before Holmes’ penalty, and the defence continuously exploited by Posh on the break.
Sarr, though obviously providing a crucial intervention, probably had his worst game since coming back into the side as he struggled to contend with Marriott, Kashi’s inability to get a hold of the ball meant he’s never played so poorly in Charlton colours, while Marshall struggled to deliver anything of any real not in a time when attacking quality and influence was needed. Attacking influence, too, minimal from Magennis and Best. Attacking influence altogether minimal, and the crowd’s frustration with the performance perfectly understandable.
I think that now, as we sit five points off the top two and with both Scunthorpe and Blackburn in stronger positions than us, it’s become more important to pick up on the faults in the performances. To demand that they’re ironed out, in the hope that there will be improvement. We all know that the side’s quality is much better than what was displayed for most of tonight, but you don’t want to keep saying that and find yourself dropping points while hoping for more.
Nonetheless, purely focusing on the players, to claw a point of that game is a marvellous display of character. The response after the penalty was fantastic. It leaves you wondering where that was all night, but doesn’t detract from how strong it was in those stoppage-minutes; the Addicks going from accepting defeat to scarily on top.
And for supporters, it’s those incredible stoppage-time minutes that they’ll take away from this game. A turnaround that didn’t seem possible, and evoked an incredible amount of emotion. An unbelievable moment to witness, to savour, and to remember.
It an unavoidable truth that both the players and supporters of Charlton Athletic will arrive in SE7 on Tuesday night with the taste of disappointment lingering. Frustrated that their nine-game unbeaten run game to an end during the trip to Scunthorpe United’s Glanford Park on Saturday. A game that, with greater potency, could have been so very different.
But the defeat needn’t be crushing. It might well only be a small interruption as the Addicks attempt to make up ground on the division’s top two. Something they can do against Peterborough United, with it being their game in hand on Wigan Athletic and Shrewsbury Town.
And so it the response that is vital. Will all momentum and energy be drained from Robinson’s men, in the middle of a gruelling fixture schedule in addition to having to deal with the disappointment of their first defeat? Or will they express their quality, delivering the response this side is capable of?
If not confidently expecting, not you can certainly have faith in Karl Robinson’s side to deliver some degree of response. That despite the disappointment, and injuries making a number of players available. They have made a habit of winning in testing circumstances this season.
But so too is which Peterborough turn up important to the equation of whether the Addicks bounce back. Posh’s inconsistency summed up by their failure to win consecutive league games since August, and defeat at Rochdale on Saturday left boss Grant McCann fuming with his side’s tame performance. They do, however, remain just outside the play-offs and have shown quality at times this season.
And with no league game next weekend, in order to travel to AFC Wimbledon in The FA Cup, this fixture is an important one for the Addicks. To bounce back from the first disappointment of defeat since September. To remain in a positive position, in a positive mindset, during a brief break from League One fixtures.
LAST MEETING – PETERBOROUGH UNITED 2-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (01/04/2017)
Charlton suffered their sixth defeat in nine games and were left just four points above the relegation zone after a tame performance at London Road saw Peterborough inflict a two-goal defeat in April.
It was not, as was the case with many of the dire defeats for the Addicks in the final half of last season, a game that they simply couldn’t have won. Their performance sluggish and supporters growing increasingly frustrated throughout the afternoon, but Posh, the more fluent side, lacked a final ball to be considered genuinely threatening. The game’s overall quality not to be admired, but Robinson’s men might have taken advantage when Luke McGee saved from Lee Novak’s half-volley.
But the fact that Peterborough were more fluent meant they were never too far away from making Charlton goalkeeper Declan Rudd concerned. The stopper required to push Marcus Maddison’s snap shot away from goal, before needed to save at his near post after Jerome Binnon-Williams was given the space to run and shoot down the left.
And their better use of the ball was always likely to pay dividends. Woeful Charlton defending exposed as an unchallenged Maddison crossed to an unmarked Martin Samuelsen at the back post, and the West Ham loanee headed home. Frustration turning to fury in the away end, with defeat, despite 16 minutes still remaining, effectively confirmed given the weakness of this group of Addicks.
Though the extent of their fury was justified just nine minutes later, as the hosts doubled their advantaged. Maddison allowed to run forward from just inside the Charlton half and into the box, before finishing with an outrageous chip above the reach of Rudd. The goal to be admired; this group of Addicks to be shamed.
The anger made worse among the visiting supporters by Katrien Meire sitting just a few yards away from the away end, showing a general lack of interest in the dire events on the pitch and general discontent for her ‘customers’. She laughed and smiled away as they continued to watch crisis unfold.
It probably a reflection of Peterborough’s performance at Rochdale on Saturday that boss McCann saw it fit to make three substitutions at half-time.
Two goals in the space of three minutes just beyond the half-hour from Calvin Andrew and Callum Camps enough for Rochdale, but their margin of victory made much more comfortable by Posh’s tame efforts. McCann furious post-game, referring to it as one of the worst performances in his time in charge. And that coming after an impressive win against 7th-place Portsmouth last weekend.
It a summary of Peterborough’s season after an impressive start. Their first four games won, but only a further four in the 15 that have followed. Enough to keep them in a reasonable position, six points off the top six in eighth, but not enough to prevent supporters and McCann from growing frustrated.
No back-to-back wins since August, a defeat to Gillingham, but a victory over Shrewsbury. Inconsistency is a huge problem. And with the gap between those outside the top six and those within it already beginning to widen, it vitally important that they begin to find some consistency.
In what might have been their toughest game of the season so far, and possibly their most important, the Addicks were the better side for 45 minutes at Glanford Park on Saturday.
So much better, in fact, that they should have had the lead at the break. Mark Marshall one-on-one with goalkeeper Matt Gilks by firing comfortably for him to save, and Gilks getting a fingertip to tip Josh Magennis’ header onto the post. Chances not taken, and that would prove costly.
For Josh Morris would punish the Addicks in the second half. Two incredible strikes giving Scunthorpe the win, and leaving Charlton to once again rue their inability to finish. Frustration, too, that the Addicks offered very little after Morris’ 63rd-minute second.
But this defeat coming at the end of a nine-game unbeaten run. One that has put Robinson’s side as firm promotion contenders, despite what will hopefully be a temporary slip down to sixth. One that has shown both the quality and the determined stubbornness of this Charlton.
It’s a frustrating defeat, but not one that derails the promotion efforts of the Addicks.
Grant McCann has threatened to make wholesale changes to his side after their disappointing performance in defeat to Rochdale at the weekend.
Having made three changes at half-time on Saturday, the players McCann brought on will be pushing for starts. Midfielder Chris Forrester and forwards Idris Kanu and Ricky Miller couldn’t inspire a two-goal comeback, but McCann noted the improvement from his side. The places of Michael Doughty, Jermaine Anderson and Danny Lloyd under threat after they were withdrawn after just 45 minutes.
Another very likely change for McCann is to reintroduce Gwion Edwards to his starting XI. The utility man was suspended for Saturday’s trip to Rochdale having collected his fifth yellow card of the season during the victory over Portsmouth.
There could also be a start for defender Ryan Tafazolli, who was on the bench at Spotland after being a doubt for the game with a foot injury.
Charlton will remain without the injured Ben Revees despite hoping to have the midfielder back for Tuesday’s clash with Peterborough.
Reeves was withdrawn at half-time having pulled his hamstring during the victory over Rochdale last week, and missed the weekend defeat to Scunthorpe, but will now also sit out the game against Posh with Robinson unwilling to rush his summer signing back in case of aggravating the problem.
The Addicks also remain without Billy Clarke (calf) and Tariqe Fosu (quad), leaving Robinson incredibly short of available attacking options. Full-back Jay Dasilva playing on the left wing at Glanford Park, while Charlton’s boss was forced to call upon teenagers Karlan Ahearne-Grant and Reeco Hackett-Fairchild in hope of changing the game.
Elsewhere, Jason Pearce (knee), Harry Lennon (groin) and Lewis Page (ankle) all remain unavailable, but all have returned to some form of training following their long-term injuries.
KEY BATTLE – CHARLTON AGAINST THEIR DEMONS IN FRONT OF GOAL
Against Plymouth Argyle, two first-half chances were wasted as Luke McCormick in the Argyle goal saved well from Josh Magennis. Plymouth won 2-0.
Against Bury, Magennis had a fantastic opportunity to grab Charlton an undeserved victory in a drab grab. But his later header was saved by Shakers goalkeeper Joe Murphy. The game ended 1-1.
Against Walsall, the Addicks were firmly in control of the game, creating chance after chance. They ultimately allowed the hosts back into the game, and had their momentum halted. The game, in dramatic fashion, ended 2-2.
Against Oxford, Robinson’s side were playing marvellous football, having gone a goal up at the Kassam Stadium. But they couldn’t make their dominance count, and the hosts ultimately equalised. In fact, despite the game ending 1-1, the U’s had numerous chances to win.
Against MK Dons, the officials took much of the blame for awarding the visitors a dubious stoppage-time penalty. But the game should have been out of sight before Milton Keynes equalised for the first time, with Mark Marshall in particularly wasting an opportunity to double Charlton’s lead. The game ending 2-2.
And against Scunthorpe this weekend, golden opportunities were missed to give the Addicks an advantage before the break. Magennis and Marshall really should have converted. Morris instead taking advantage in the second period.
Charlton’s inability to take their chances has now stretched from annoyance, to very serious issue. Not least for a side that can’t afford to be dropping points in order to make up the ground on League One’s top two.
Even when they’ve converted enough chances, and kept the opposition at bay, to win games, and there remains an inability to kill games off. As recently as last Tuesday night, having turned the game on its head, the Addicks couldn’t find the third goal to double their lead as they pushed forward against Rochdale. Karlan Ahearne-Grant in particular wasting a great chance.
Of course, you’re not going to take every single chance you get. Goalkeepers make great saves, and the one that stands between Charlton’s posts has made enough of those this season. But the trend has become an unavoidable, and harmful, one.
There needs to be ruthlessness in front of goal.
Trust in this side to immediately respond. Charlton Athletic 1-0 Peterborough United
There were premature celebrations as an unchallenged Josh Magennis rose at the back post to powerfully meet Ricky Holmes’ delivery. Not premature celebrations of expectation, but of certainty. A goal assured.
But those in the away end were complacent. A combination of Matt Gilks’ fingertips and the inside of the far post denying the Addicks a first-half advantage, and halting those assured celebrations. Potency lacking, and not for the first or last time during the opening 45 minutes.
The moment, however, can be understood as far more than a wasted opportunity celebrated too soon. The moment has the potential to stand as a metaphor for the season unless consistency in quality performance and greater finishing is found. The certain belief of a promotion challenge, the optimism interrupted in intervals by points dropped frustratingly, and the campaign ending with less than most signs suggested was warranted.
For those wasted chances were punished by a promotion-chasing Scunthorpe United side, winning five consecutive games prior to the contest at Glanford Park, always likely to take advantage of any such failing. The Addicks had competed, even been the better side in a first-half battle, but shown themselves to be frail, tame and tepid after the break. Those premature celebrations in the away end, long forgotten, replaced by justified expressions of frustration and disappointment in the game’s final moments.
The Iron, in their control of the ball and disciplined structure, had displayed the reasons why they were on such an impressive run. But their chances were few, lacking something to turn their controlled possession into final-third threat. That something was half-time substitute Josh Morris, who curled home a stunning free-kick on the hour to give the hosts the lead.
After such an impressive, match-turning, strike, the winger would surely be closely watched once entering the Charlton half in possession of the ball. Alas, energy had been excavated from the Addicks, and Morris was allowed to drive into space just three minutes later. His resulting strike outrageous, unstoppable, struck from 30 yards into the far top corner, but this one flattening a group of visitors that were already crushed.
Karl Robinson looked to his bench for his inspiration, but found only teenagers and an untrusted Rangers loanee who would influence the game going forward. Cruel on a struggling Karlan Ahearne-Grant, and then Reeco Hackett-Fairchild, to be expected to contribute both to the raising of confidence levels, and a two-goal comeback that always appeared impossible. Injuries in attacking positions adding to the number of reasons this was a particularly tough afternoon for Robinson and his men.
Disappointment, possibly as great a feeling as hurt, etched on the faces of Charlton players as they came to applaud the visiting supporters. The anger and frustration reserved for the intensity of the 90 minutes; a group of players that had just had a nine-game unbeaten run ended didn’t deserve direct abuse. But frustration was shared by both parties; the frustration doubled by an in-form promotion rival inflicting the defeat.
And they probably share similar feelings beyond those immediate emotions. One defeat is no cause for panic, this side has shown a resolve to win in tough conditions and equally bounce back when required, and Robinson will both demand and draw a response from his men. But premature celebrations, over the course of 90 minutes and in the long-term, cannot continue to end in disappointment if a challenge for automatic promotion is to be made.
There few shying away from the expectation that facing Scunthorpe at Glanford Park would be one of Charlton’s toughest games of the season so far. Not least with injuries to Billy Clarke, Tariqe Fosu and now Ben Reeves forcing Robinson to be creative with his side. Patrick Bauer replacing Reeves, withdrawn with a hamstring injury Tuesday’s victory over Rochdale, Naby Sarr moved to left-back, and Jay Dasilva pushed into an unfamiliar left-midfield role.
Some comfort sought from the fact that it wasn’t just the Addicks with injury problems. Lee Novak, who struggled in Charlton colours but has become an important figure for the Iron, failing a fitness test after twisting his ankle in the midweek victory over Bradford City. Paddy Madden coming into the side to replace the forward.
Irrespective, both these sides were strong ones, and would be willing to enter a battle to preserve their respective runs of form. Something apparent in an opening ten minutes, as midfield passing was controlled – providing a chance for the visiting supporters to give the Kashi/Forster-Caskey song a burst – but defences ruled supreme when attempts to attack were made. A horribly wayward effort from a desperate acrobatic attempt to direct a Holmes’ cross at goal from Mark Marshall about as close as either side got to a chance.
A concern that a pensive battle would ensue, with both sides too afraid to commit men forward in case of leaving themselves exposed to the threat of the opposition. But there was too much attacking quality for complete stalemate to be played out, and Scunthorpe were soon to force a fine piece of defending out of the Addicks. Funso Ojo’s delivery from the left heading for an unmarked Madden at the back post, but the long leg of Sarr, stretched so far that just looking at it gave me a groin strain, managed to deflect the ball away from the Irishman and behind.
But there little rest as the resulting corner proved just as threatening, or at least it did for the Iron’s backline. A training ground routine horribly backfiring as the delivery played to the edge of the box was won by Kashi, and ultimately fed to Holmes. The winger breaking with few back-peddling Scunthorpe defenders ahead of him, Marshall bursting forward with him and fed through, but Gilks making himself big in the Iron goal and saving one-on-one.
Having failed to convert a similar chance against MK Dons seven days ago, it the second time in recent games that Marshall had failed with only the goalkeeper to beat. And this one, given the context of this incredibly competitive game, felt like it had even greater cost. The away end expressing heartbroken frustration, followed by immense encouragement for the Addicks in the belief that this would be the catalyst for their side to take control, but ultimately there was an underlying sense of concern that such an opening had been wasted.
The only way to calm such a sense of concern was to turn that opening into control of the game, and to convert a chance. Holmes volleying in the general direction of the corner flag from the resulting corner was neither the chance nor the quality of the finish required. But the noise from the away end suggested there was belief it would come.
Control, however, didn’t belong to the Addicks’. Scunthorpe still battling, still calm in possession and organised otherwise, still making the overall pattern of play a very even one with neither side claiming any sort of dominance. The ball falling to the impressive Hakeeb Adelakun on the edge of Charlton’s box, but not making clean contact with his half-volley and the ball bouncing safely into the hands of Ben Amos.
If not to be defined by the very competitive pattern of play, control could only be defined while the scores were level by the quality of chances created. The Iron limited to half-chances. The Addicks about to have their second golden opportunity to take the lead.
A real sense of anticipation whenever Holmes, positioned centrally but playing all over the pitch, burst forward, and one such run down the right allowed him to pick out Magennis at the back post. The striker struggling up to this point, cutting a frustrated figure and rarely winning the ball, but he’d peeled away from his man perfectly and headed powerfully towards the bottom corner, causing the away end to begin their celebrations for what was sure to be a certain goal. But the faintest touch off the fingertips of Gilks were enough to guide the ball onto the post, desperate defending from those in claret clearing the ball, and the away end in a state of painful disbelief.
Visions of seven days ago now appearing, where a failure to take chances allowed MK Dons to steal a point at The Valley, alongside the direct pain of the moment. Composure not regained among the visiting supporters as Holmes burst forward once again, getting to the edge of the box, and seeing his resulting shot punched behind by Gilks. A sense now that the Addicks had to control; belief and enthusiasm had to replace the frustration over failing to take these chances.
But an immediate reminder offered by Scunthorpe not only of their quality, but of the damage that can be done when chances aren’t taken. Madden taking up space on the right, his cross an excellent one, and Ezri Konsa directing the ball towards his own goal under pressure from Tom Hopper. As has so often been the case this season, a marvellous save from Amos was required, with the goalkeeper quickly reacting to tip the ball over the bar.
And it seemed with that as if the ‘control’ that Charlton might have gained from their openings had been lost. The battle returning, as Bauer and Konsa showed marvellous defensive composure, only to be matched by Rory McArdle and Cameron Burgess at the other end. Forster-Caskey’s desire to be creative from the centre denied by the pressing of Neil Bishop, Ojo, and the all-action Adelakun, and Scunthorpe’s want to do similar stopped by Ahmed Kashi.
In fact, it not until the final minute of the half when a genuine chance was seen again. Seen in front of the goal Charlton were defending. The ball cut back to Adelakun, the midfielder keeping it under control for an extraordinary amount of time despite pressure from a number of white shirts, but his shot ultimately blocked despite genuine sights of goal appearing for him on more than one occasion.
It was, however, an exchange of chances, as the Addicks threatened once more before the break. Marshall getting a touch of space on the edge of the area, and his resulting shot parried wide by Gilks. The corner that followed eventually falling to Magennis, but his afternoon somewhat summed up by a horribly wayward effort.
Once the groans that followed the Northern Ireland international’s strike had died down, there was considerable applause for the Addicks as they left the pitch at half-time. And applause they deserved, having competed in the battle and created the better openings. But so too was this a frustrating opening period, and the fear that a failure to take those chances would be punished could not be hidden.
A confident start to the second period, and preferably an early goal, required to calm those fears. But it was Graham Alexander’s side who carved out the half’s first opening. Substitutes combining as Morris picked out Duane Holmes, the diminutive midfielder taking touch, and forcing Amos into a strong save.
Another thing required was a better performance from Magennis, whose effort couldn’t be criticised during the first-half but his ability to hold up the ball and his threat in and around the box could be. So the Northern Ireland international creating an opening himself was fairly encouraging. The forward’s robust body with its back to goal, before turning and curling an effort not too far over the bar.
Encouragement, after some critical voices, for Magennis, but this was a frustrating start to the half for the Addicks. Holmes bursting forward in traditional fashion, but overplaying his pass to an excellently placed Dasilva, before trying to do too much on his own and being forced out of the box by McArdle to the tune of very optimistic penalty shouts. The performance getting rather tame, and rather sloppy.
Scunthorpe retaining their patient, if minimally threatening, composure, but a burst of pace from Murray Wallace drew an opportunity. Forster-Caskey forced to haul down the left-back, and give them a free-kick in a handy position. Handy, but probably too great and angle too test Amos from.
But substitute Morris stood over it, and with complete calmness, curled the ball into the top corner well beyond the reach of Charlton’s goalkeeper to give his side a 60th-minute lead. The scenes of celebration among Scunthorpe players and supporters telling you the value of the goal. The silence in the away end adding some extra pounds to it.
The effort wonderful, and there little that could be done about it, but this was punishment for not taking the earlier chances. The Iron hadn’t managed anything like the quality of opening the Addicks had had on several occasions. Charlton only having themselves to blame for falling behind, watching on as a piece of individual brilliance meant the hosts had taken one of the few genuine opportunities they’d been given.
You wanted to believe that, with those previously created chances, there remained hope of the Addicks getting back into the game. They had created those chances, they just needed to score one. But the atmosphere on the pitch had changed dramatically; Scunthorpe’s grip was even greater than the scoreline suggested.
And just three minutes after going ahead, Scunthorpe’s grip on the game was as great as the scoreline suggested. For Morris, ghosting past the space that Charlton’s midfield had left for him, carried the ball forward and unleashed the most incredible of long-range strikes, perfectly placed into the far top corner. The celebrations from the home supporters and players even louder, but silence in the away end had been replaced by anger, if not disbelieving remarks at the quality of the goal.
In three minutes, the game had been lost. The failure to convert golden opportunities providing earlier assists. But the finishing touches applied by Scunthorpe, punishing Charlton’s absent finishing touch.
There still, of course, 27 minutes in which to challenge. Even if not to complete an incredible comeback, then to at least show some fight. But even that was looking unlikely.
The Addicks cutting beaten figures, and their performance lacking any sort of quality or cutting edge. Scunthorpe, with their two-goal lead, now displaying their disciplined structure more than their composed play on the ball. There no way this tame side could break them down.
Not least with what was available to Robinson in reserve. Ahearne-Grant came on, but was simply bullied off the ball but more intelligent and greater quality players. There no one who could inject life into this performance, or this side.
There still some degree of life in Holmes and Marshall, but their end product non-existent. McArdle a wall in the centre, when deliveries weren’t floating over his head and harmlessly behind. These misdirected crosses not enough to appease frustrated supporters.
So timid were the Addicks that, in this desperate situation, that it wasn’t until the 85th minute that anything of note happened inside the box. And even that was a rather hopefully penalty appeal. Sarr making the most of some contact from Burgess as the pair challenged for a head inside the box; not the sort of call a referee will respond to.
Although a better reflection of Charlton’s tame attacking efforts in search of some respectability might have been the fact Gilks had time to ‘interact’ with visiting supporters. A few shrugs and smiles sent the way of the away end as they turned their attentions to his slowness in releasing the ball. The goalkeeper finally having some meaningful work to do either side of the 90th-minute, comfortably collecting drives from the edge of the box from Holmes and Kashi.
The final whistle blowing, and the second half passing, without the Addicks creating a meaningful opening to counter Morris’ spectacular efforts. Flat and deflated in response. Frustration and an expectation of more expressed from the away end.
You sensed, from the despondent players that came to the away end at full-time, they had expected to provide more too. A situation neither players nor supporters would need to be in had those on the pitch taken the chances they created in the first half. But they were rightfully punished for their failure to convert.
For a failure to finish has been a niggle throughout this season. Something that’s been there and not ignored, but not seen as particularly concerning while points have been gained. But the concern over it is increasing.
Marshall and Magennis in particular really should have taken their first half chances, and it becomes a different game if they do. Morris takes two extraordinary chances for Scunthorpe, and it becomes a different game if their favour. Given the gap between ourselves and the top two, dropping points in such a manner is incredibly frustrating.
It is, of course, doubly frustrating because to create those chances there has to be a certain level of performance. We were the better team in the battle that was the first half. But it counts for very little when, on a consistent basis, we can’t finish what we create.
But Scunthorpe warranted their victory. Not only because they punished our failure to finish, and their goals were marvellous, but our response to falling two goals behind was incredibly tame. To fail to threaten in such circumstances, without showing any sort of intensity whatsoever, was incredibly disappointing.
Part of the problem being the injury list that Robinson has to deal with, and there really was nothing on the bench that was going to help. But those that were out there, those of quality, became very flat, very quickly. Given the way in which this side has found ways to win in previous weeks, I did think they would have had a greater go at clawing back the two-goal deficit.
Nonetheless, even to a promotion rival, a single defeat is not too damaging. But a positive responsive is required. After our previous run of form was ended by defeat, to Wigan Athletic, we went on a run of four very poor performances, so getting a result against Peterborough United before a weekend off for The FA Cup is vital.
Vital, too, is taking our chances.
There no doubt supporters of Charlton Athletic walked away from The Valley on Tuesday night both in joy, and with the knowledge that what they had just witnessed meant they couldn’t afford to get complacent.
They had seen their side start poorly against relegation threatened Rochdale. An eight-game unbeaten run threatened as the Dale took a 13th-minute lead, then struck the post eight minutes later. The Addicks requiring copious amounts of good fortune to stay in the game, then somewhat lucky to grab an unwarranted equaliser against the run of play ten minutes before half-time.
But it settled the side. And they responded, responded by finding the winning goal on the hour, and doing enough to win. Just about enough.
How do these lads keep doing it? How do they keep finding wins from situations where victory seems unlikely? Where we’re fearing points to be dropped?
These are impressive displays of character, showing the determination and resolve of Karl Robinson’s side. Fortune is providing the assist, but their own desire and a touch of occasional quality is delivering the all-important finishing touch. Their run of results, and position in the league, is no fluke.
But such a performance, the performance of Tuesday night, is not going to be good enough against League One’s only side to make our current form look a bit pathetic. Five consecutive league wins for Scunthorpe United. Albeit having played two games more, they sit a position above the Addicks in the table.
An impressive win at Valley Parade in midweek making Bradford City their fifth victim of this superb run. They’ve climbed from 12th to third in the space of those five games. A reminder of how tight this division is; how quickly you can rise and, if form implodes, how quickly you can fall.
And so a certain level of performance is required on Saturday. Not a gritty, ugly, and somewhat fortunate victory wouldn’t be celebrated; it would be the most vital victory of the season. But the grittiness and ugliness that led to a somewhat fortunate victory in midweek is unlikely to produce reward at Glanford Park.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 2-1 SCUNTHORPE UNITED (07/03/2017)
Mark Renton’s decision to abandon heroin paid off as his look-a-like, Tony Watt, converted a last-minute penalty to earn Charlton their first win in nine games.
The win particularly unlikely given the state that Karl Robinson’s side were in coming into the game. Just seven days previously the boss had accused 40% of his squad of not caring about the club following a 4-3 loss at Shrewsbury Town, having seen something he’d never seen before in his time as a manager, while four dire performances in succession had been punished with four deserved defeats. Scunthorpe, sitting third in the table, set for certain victory.
But it was the hosts who had the game’s first chance. Jorge Teixeira’s volley, which might well have been an overhit cross, looping onto the top of the crossbar and away. The cliché suggests that such a chance would sneak in for a side in form.
The mood-changing goal, however, was always going to be reserved for one man. Johnnie Jackson adding to his incredible list of goals that have inspired The Valley crowd in desperate situations. The skipper volleying home Ricky Holmes’ corner to give Charlton an unlikely 33-minute lead; perfect knee slide following.
It normally match-winning goals that Jackson scores, but there few confident enough to predict that Jackson’s strike would be enough to seal victory. Not least with the iron starting the second period strongly. Tom Hopper played through down the right, his cross picking out an unmarked Paddy Madden, and only the faintest of touches from the foot of Declan Rudd deflected the forward’s header onto the post.
But Scunthorpe’s equaliser would come, with Rudd failing to cover himself in glory on this occasion. Hopper’s cross horribly fumbled, an attempt to recover merely knocking the ball straight to the feet of Kevin van Veen, and the Dutch forward converting into an empty net with 15 minutes to play. Typically calamitous.
Fear that this confidence stricken side would now implode. A fifth defeat in a row, and a ninth game without victory, surely to follow. Grim.
At least, as the final minute was reached, it appeared total capitulation had been reached. An incautious free-kick pumped into box from Adam Chicksen, few expecting it to mean much. But Andrew Crofts rose, Teixeira met the flick-on, and Murray Wallace saw it fit to drag the centre-back to the floor; penalty.
Incredible, but the celebration was withheld. The recent run had taught Charlton fans to expect the worst. It difficult to know if a man with more self-confidence than often expressed in ability, Watt, claiming the ball helped or hindered the anxiousness.
But the Scot blasted the ball emphatically beyond Luke Daniels’ dive. Watt jumping over two sets of advertising hoardings to celebrate with supporters, enjoying the feeling of victory for the first time in nine games and six weeks. Not exactly a classic moment given the context, but it felt bloody good as it happened.
Victory in seven of their final nine games meant Scunthorpe finished just four points off an automatic promotion place. Graham Alexander’s side competitive throughout, allowing them to always hold top six ambitions and beyond. Ultimately denied promotion by a play-off semi-final defeat to Millwall, but they could still be proud of their achievements.
And yet, in that suggestion that they could be proud, there was a patronising undertone that they would not be able to repeat their efforts in this campaign. The Iron had overachieved on a relative small budget. Now back you go to being mid-table fodder for League One’s big boys to beat twice a season.
So it to the credit of Graham Alexander, the talented individuals within his squad that many would rather overlook, and the structured collective that have all come together to once again allow this club to challenge for promotion from League One.
Five consecutive league wins pushing Scunthorpe up to third. And though they have played more games than several teams around them, the confidence they hold from their performances and their victories means it’s a position they will feel they can hold and build on. Not least after winning at fellow promotion-chasers Bradford City in midweek.
To win at Valley Parade a real statement of intent, and a statement of the character. A dire two-minute period saw former Addick Lee Novak, a central figure to the Iron, replaced through injury and Paul Taylor spectacularly give Bradford the lead just a minute before the break. But Cameron Burgess’ equaliser in first-half stoppage-time proved crucial, as the impressive Hakeeb Adelakun’s second-half free-kick gave the Iron all three points.
Confidence and quality high among this Iron side. A belief this run can continue, and that promotion is possible. It’ll take a strong side to halt them.
It a strange phenomenon that Charlton’s most fluent performance, or at least the one that featured the most attacking energy and intense pressing, in recent weeks is the only one that hasn’t ended in victory.
The performance in Tuesday’s night victory over Rochdale dire, particularly when the first half of both games is compared, in comparison to the excellent display against MK Dons. But the Addicks found a way to overturn the deficit the Dale inflicted upon them in midweek and grind out an ugly victory. While they were unable to take their chances against MK, ultimately allowing both opposition and officials to deny them two deserved points.
The foundation, with nine games passing without defeat and a barrier between Robinson’s men and seventh place, firmly set. The need now for this stubborn determination to win games in all circumstances to combine with the side’s known quality. A requirement for when stronger opposition offer greater tests.
For pressure still remains on the Addicks should they wish to push for an automatic promotion place. Albeit with a game in hand, there still five points to make up on Wigan, and there in form teams looming around them. Dropped points are going to prove incredibly costly.
There should not be complacency. Nor should there be an arrogant confidence. But this side have certainly done enough to allow supporters to feel confidence, and to feel little fear.
Lee Novak should be fit to face his former club after being withdrawn two minutes before half-time in the midweek win over Bradford City.
The forward, who has made himself an important part of Scunthorpe’s side after a torrid time in SE7, twisted his ankle just before the break at Valley Parade, and his availability this weekend is not assured. But Graham Alexander played down the seriousness of the injury post-game, and a quick recovery from such a minor niggle is likely.
Another former Addick could also be available for the Iron, with Simon Church nearing a return from a hamstring injury that has kept him out since the end of October. The Welshman another who struggled in Charlton colours, but whose effort wasn’t questioned and who occasionally provided an important goal, has been limited to two substitute appearances in the league after joining as a free agent at the start of October.
Andrew Crofts, a regular on Scunthorpe’s bench who made an appearance for Wales in the previous international break, completing the trio of former Charlton men in the Iron’s squad.
Elsewhere, Josh Morris is nearing a return from a hamstring injury, but Sam Mantom (groin), Luke Williams (hamstring) and Jonathon Margetts (knee) remain absent.
Charlton’s list of injury absentees threatens to build after Ben Reeves was substituted at half-time of Tuesday’s victory over Rochdale.
The playmaker, seemingly finding fluency in his game having failed to make his league debut until October through fitness issues, complained of a tight hamstring following the first period. Robinson suggested removing Reeves was a precautionary measure, but he remains a doubt for the trip to Glanford Park. A huge blow with little proven quality ready to replace him.
That a consequence of Tariqe Fosu set for four weeks out with a quad injury, and Billy Clarke unavailable through a calf issue. Karlan Ahearne-Grant likely to have to start, with the academy graduate going wide left and Ricky Holmes moving behind the forward. Not ideal, not least with Ahearne-Grant, despite Robinson’s faith, struggling to prove he’s ready for League One football.
Jason Pearce (knee), Harry Lennon (Groin) and Lewis Page (ankle) also absent for the Addicks, as the trio continue to build up their fitness on route to recovery.
KEY BATTLE – RETURN OF THE VAK
There no certainty that Lee Novak will play against the Addicks on Saturday, having twisted his ankle in midweek, but there is certainty that he’ll be desperate to prove a point if he does.
Novak’s career at The Valley was a horrendous one. Arriving having scored 14 goals in 35 games during a loan spell at Chesterfield, he managed just two in the league for the Addicks, with his overall play heavily mocked and chances regularly wasted. Not simply disappointing, but dire.
At times, with the chances wasted and the sense there was nothing he could do to put the ball in the net, luck went against him. But he did himself few favours in Charlton colours. A late winner against Chesterfield, his second and final league goal for the Addicks, celebrated by pointing his ear towards the covered end; frustrating understood, but hardly something that was going to warm supporters towards a struggling player.
At least, in a step most professionals wouldn’t take, he was willing to admit towards the end of the campaign that it was his worst season ever. He had previously proven himself at League One level, even Championship level for a period with Birmingham City, and was as angry with himself as Charlton fans were with him. An amount of respect earned with that.
But dismissal on the opening day of the season for a challenge on Bristol Rovers’ Stuart Sinclair, unfortunate and questionable though it was, symbolically reaffirmed things weren’t going to work for him at Charlton, and change was needed. A move to Scunthorpe forced by himself. Where things are working.
Already scoring double the amount of goals for the Iron than he did for the Addicks, but it his hold up play and presence up top – something Novak has been famed for throughout his career but didn’t display in SE7 – that has proved just as crucial. An important cog in an impressive Scunthorpe side. A side that have won five consecutive league games.
And there no question against a club where he struggled, against a set of supporters who grew tired of his dire performances, he’ll want to prove a point. He’ll want to give Ezri Konsa and Naby Sarr a torrid time, whether that be in general play or getting away from them to score. He’ll be motivated and fired up.
Novak, if fit (and if not he’ll borrow someone else’s ankle), will want to make himself the difference.
Of course, dropping any points means the top two potentially get away, but a draw away at a side in such form, who are above us in the table, has to be appreciated. Scunthorpe United 1-1 Charlton Athletic
The sight of the visiting supporters, their enjoyment always more painful than that of their club’s players, celebrating something that resembled an unassailable lead was surely about to seen. A miscommunication between defence and goalkeeper meaning Ben Amos had come too far, Charlton Athletic’s number one stranded, and the ball falling kindly for Matt Done. A grim hush of expectation from The Valley crowd seemingly guiding the Rochdale midfielder’s strike into the empty net.
But the hush became an angry demand for more. The sight of visiting supporters celebrating was replaced by one of the cluster of Dale fans in the Jimmy Seed Stand with hands on their heads in utter disbelief. The dire Addicks had escaped what would have been punishment for the second time in the game’s 21 minutes, the strike rebounding back off the inside of the post, and a route to overturn both their deficit and disastrous start to the game remained open.
A deficit instilled just 13 minutes into the encounter. Karl Robinson’s men lacking any sort of composure, control or cohesion, and Keith Hill’s out of sorts side wasting no time in taking advantage. Joe Bunny crossing low from the left, Matthew Gillam tucking into the far corner, and all in red delivering accusatory glances as attempts were made to work out how both men had the space they did.
Accusatory glances, and grunts, coming from The Valley crowd as few signs of improvement followed either the shock of conceding to a struggling side, or the huge let-off thereafter. Every right for the home crowd to be frustrated as the Addicks struggled to make meaningful forward passes, showed no threat on the ball, and gave their opponents too much time on the ball. In fact, the visitors remained in ominous control, still spending too much time in and around Charlton’s box.
So it against the run of play, against the side that had done all the running, that the Addicks forced a 35th-minute leveller. Jay Dasilva’s bouncing cross the first of the evening that Rochdale’s imposing centre-back duo of Jimmy McNulty and Harrison McGahey hadn’t dealt with, goalkeeper Josh Lillis unsure whether to come or stay, and Jake Forster-Caskey sliding to poke the ball home before he could make a decision. The midfielder holding his ear up to the away end as he celebrated; Rochdale’s second chance of celebration had been turned to silence.
Warranted or not, this a moment needed to reverse the mood inside The Valley. The Addicks far from fluent, but playing with greater confidence as the end of the first half turned into the beginning of the second. Faith in the side increasing; Rochdale faith decreasing.
Mark Marshall, therefore, guided forward by the encouragement of the Covered End as he drove at the Dale defence with an hour gone. No one in blue able to halt him, Lillis unable to halt his shot effectively, and a horrible fumble fell straight to the feet of Forster-Caskey, who gleefully converted. Fortune heavily involved in the poor start not becoming a calamitous one, some fortune involved in the turnaround, but lots of Forster-Caskey involved in the Addicks restoring composure and control into their performance.
Rochdale rocked, Charlton’s confidence growing, and the game might well have been killed off. Karlan Ahearne-Grant guilty of wasting a fantastic chance to double the advantage, and fears of a repeat of the weekend, in which an advantage was not made the most of, hovered. But the Addicks provided stubborn resistance, stifling a side that, for at least 25 minutes, had caused panic and concern; no fortune in how the game was seen out.
Home supporters could have seen those in the away end celebrating a second in the early stages of the encounter, and subsequently slumped away at full-time attempting to cover their eyes from taking in a glimpse of Rochdale fans and players uniting in a unison of enjoyment. But such a thought mattered not as the full-time whistle brought about joyous relief, the Addicks huddled, and Robinson sent a fist pump of delight towards the covered end. Fortune with an important assist, but the gritty resolve of this side, finding ways to win regardless of how ugly, with the finish once again.
Better overall performances, to both match the quality of the side and address the uncertainty that gritty victories provide, may have been reasonably hoped for, but an ugly win would have surfaced prior to kick-off in SE7.
Not only on the back of what was a frustrating, and potentially moment affecting, dropping of two points at The Valley three days previous against MK Dons, but with the treatment running out of beds. Tariqe Fosu, fit enough to make an important appearance from the bench at the weekend, now absent altogether, and unavailable for five further weeks. The Addicks unchanged from their draw on Saturday, but the bench lacking bodies capable of changing a game.
There still, of course, quality within the XI that Robinson was able to field, and two of those players of quality were able to get forward in the opening ten minutes. Ricky Holmes trying his luck from distance, but a deflection off a Rochdale defender taking all the pace off the ball and making it a comfortable claim for Lillis, and an explosive run from Marshall ending with an off-balance shot sailing comfortable off-target. An excuse for The Valley crowd to find their voices.
But these were not reflective of a dominant Charlton start. Certainly not reflective of a start the resembled the fluent and high intensity one that saw the Addicks play some of their best football of the season against MK Dons at the weekend. Misplaced passes, the ball being too slowly, and not a great deal of cutting edge weren’t exactly signs of horror in the opening ten minutes, but Rochdale were being allowed far too much time on the ball, becoming far too confident in possession inside Charlton’s half, and pressing from those in red was minimal.
In a game that had started relatively slowly, an opening goal hadn’t necessarily been coming, but the lack of intensity from Robinson’s men had certainly invited Rochdale to get forward. The passing and movement up the left from those in blue to be applauded, but the Addicks a pace behind, allowing Bunney to pull back to Gillam without pressure. The 19-year-old starting his first game for the Dale, and marking it with his first senior goal, finishing across goal and beyond the desperate dive of Amos.
A defence so reliable and a team so resolute in the gritty wins of recent times exposed far too easily. It would surely regroup, the performance surely improve, as the disbelieving silence that followed the goal was replaced by murmurs of encouragement around the disappointingly populated Valley. But as Rochdale’s calmness in control of the ball in midfield grew, and their presence in Charlton’s defence became a more menacing one, the encouraging murmurs were increasingly difficult to sustain.
The threat of complete disaster, however, awoke the crowd from tepid acceptance into a state of angry-cum-delusional-encouragement outcry. Complete disaster that would have been self-inflicted, as Dasilva decided to call upon his goalkeeper to claim a ball, allowing Done to steal in and leaving Amos stranded. Rochdale’s winger turning, shooting, and agonisingly seeing the ball bounce away off the inside of the post with the goal at his mercy; his pain as great as the pain that home supporters had prematurely inflicted upon themselves.
This wasted opportunity for the visitors couldn’t be mocked or celebrated, though. We were the only ones that deserved mocking. As if only to be reaffirmed five minutes later as Calvin Andrew, a physical presence who scored in both games against the Addicks last season, was allowed space in the box to connected with Donovan Daniels delivery and head over.
Still the Addicks were standing off Rochdale, still they lacked energy, still they weren’t utilising the attacking quality in the side to push forward. No one brave enough to make a run forward, and not enough movement for the man with the ball to make a quick enough pass to launch a successful attack. The Dale comfortable in their defensive duties.
It taking until beyond the half hour mark for the Addicks to conjure up anything remotely encouraging. Marshall’s pace getting him to the byline, a corner won, and a strong block from Oliver Rathbone preventing Ben Reeves’ volley from the resulting delivery from causing the concern to Lillis that it appeared it might have done. Sarr heading softly into the goalkeeper’s hands from the following set-piece, however, and The Valley’s glimpse of positivity coming to an end.
However, the nature of this Charlton side alone means it provides reassurance. The quality within means that a moment of quality can be provided at any moment, even when quality appears to be completely lacking. Quality, or at least a moment that can change a game, and that something the Addicks were able to produce with 35 minutes played.
Dasilva’s cross from the left teasing, and helped made more difficult to deal with by Naby Sarr’s intervention in the centre, allowing the ball to bounce invitingly for Forster-Caskey. A dive required to make contact, but comfortable beating the slow to react Lillis, the midfielder able to draw the Addicks level in a game where they had been comfortably second best. A release of frustration in his celebration; relief, and hope of a subsequent turnaround, in the joyful reaction of the home crowd.
Marshall increasing that hope, cutting inside and striking a low, fierce effort that Lillis could only claim at the second attempt. But, in reality, there was no one of a Charlton persuasion not feeling fortunate to be going in at the break level. Parity was something they hardly deserved, or something they had looked like getting for 34 minutes of the half.
Nonetheless, fortunate or not, there was a foundation upon which to build going into the second half. A foundation that took a slight crumble as Reeves was unable to return after the break, exposing the weak bench, and Ahearne-Grant replacing him. A concern that losing one of the attacking midfield three would damage the momentum gained by the equaliser somewhat.
And there not a suggestion from Rochdale that they were going to alter their play in response to the goal. To take a more determined and dogged Hill approach, sitting deep and fight for what would be a decent away point in their position. Ian Henderson getting into a crossing position, the ever-threatening Andrew climbing to win the header, but Amos doing well to hold on.
Though the early signs were suggesting that the Dale were not going to be allowed to play with as much comfort as they did during the first period. Their more intensity and energy from the Addicks, and greater composure when they had the ball. Far from perfect but something to invest in.
In fact, such was the increase in composure, Ahmed Kashi felt confident enough to shoot at goal, when so often his strikes fail to match the accuracy of his passing. Composed, and well driven, to the extent that his effort bounced back off the base of the right-hand post with Lillis unmoved. Agonising, but the tide possibly turning, and the Covered End certainly a different to beast to what it was midway through the first half.
Alas, expectations and confidence had to be immediately reduced. Callum Camps swinging in a Rochdale free-kick, Daniels knocking the ball down, and Henderson forcing Amos into a superb save. A crucial intervention, with the first-half mix-up behind him.
An intervention that proved particularly crucial. For while one goalkeeper had prevented his team from falling behind for a second time, another had played a large part in seeing his side implode. The Addicks completing their turnaround with an hour gone, via a little help from the unconvincing hands of Lillis.
Bodies in blue blocking Marshall’s path to goal, but all too scared to commit in case giving the pacey winger space to exploit. Nonetheless, he found a route through to which shoot, and the sea of bodies through which the ball came through possibly meaning that Lillis saw it late, and ultimately spilt it. Forster-Caskey alive to snap up the loose ball, convert his second of the night, and create scenes of celebration around The Valley unexpected as Done’s 21st-minute strike trickled towards goal.
So much confidence, so much joy, so much belief. There a stadium-wide sense of invisibility in the aftermath of the goal, one so often felt after the completion of a comeback. But Saturday’s events, and the faults displayed throughout the first half, slowly injecting some nervousness into the veins of Addicks with time still to play.
The third, and a two-goal lead, craved. There attacking desire and intent in the side, not perfect fluency but they were coming forward, so there no reason why it couldn’t come. Marshall driving forward, but Lillis forcefully palming his shot away this time, just to make sure.
The majority of this attacking intent, and the subsequent attacking threat, coming through Marshall’s pace against a tired side. McGahey blocking another strike from the winger, but the ball falling kindly to Josh Magennis. His curing effort not quite dipping in time, landing on the roof of the net.
But in this trio of efforts, in the final one that really should have been taken. Excellent work from Magennis on the left to force a cross, his delivery finding Ahearne-Grant free in the centre of the box, but the young striker heading straight into Lillis’ hands. A chance that simply had to be taken and, with a little over then minutes to play, fears that the Addicks would be punished for failing to take chances again suddenly appearing with menace.
Appearing more so as Rochdale started, albeit without much attention to detail, to pump balls forward in desperate search of an equaliser. The ball falling kindly to Substitute Brad Inman after a cross was half-cleared, but Ezri Konsa making an important intervention. An ugly, uncomfortable finish on the cads.
Certainly uncomfortable for Amos, who took a kick in the stomach for his troubles. Another ball into the box, another melee of bodies, and this one ending with Andy Cannon swinging for a ball that just happened to be shaped like the stomach of Charlton’s goalkeeper. Amos, thankfully, unharmed.
But little respite for the goalkeeper as, with four minutes played, Rochdale finally found a way through the stubborn resolve of those in red and created a meaningful chance. A corner ultimately falling to Inman, the Peterborough loanee volleying towards goal, and Amos reacting superbly to tip the effort over the bar. It would just be nice if the final ten minutes of a game, just once, were anything other than soul-destroyingly horrible.
As four additional minutes were signalled, you wanted something to be scored on the break while Rochdale committed men forward. But increasingly it appeared the need would be to deny the opposition from equalising. Hard-working, but just lacking a touch of quality in the final third to exploit a defensive unit that had regrouped since its first half showing.
Each header won, interception made, and second spent in possession of the ball a moment closer to victory. No comfort inside The Valley, but those final four minutes seen out with relative comfort by those on the pitch. A truly ugly victory, in which they required fortune to succeed almost as much as their own grit and determination, but an important victory that was celebrated as such.
Important, primarily, because of the nature of the game. The nature of our performance. A game, and a performance, that leave you with so many questions to be answered.
Did we deserve victory? It’s a question that’s difficult to answer. One that doesn’t explain the complexities of the game, and our performance.
A better place to start is by asking, did we deserve to equalise, and go in level at half-time? The answer to that is no. We’ve not played much worse at home this season, were incredibly fortunate not to have been punished further, and were incredibly fortunate to have equalised.
Also, in assessing that first half performance, it needs to be remembered that Rochdale are a side in the bottom four playing against a team attempting to challenge the top two. They were allowed to play with confidence. We couldn’t stop them playing, we weren’t able to get at them, and we looked fragile.
However, after being fortunate enough to find that equaliser, were we the better side? I would suggest we were. Far from perfect, but there was greater attacking threat, possession was kept with greater composure, and Rochdale’s forward threat was weakened significantly.
Marshall, largely through sheer pace and a willingness to shoot, impressed, Kashi and Forster-Caskey, in addition to his goals, won the battle for control in midfield, while Magennis was a menace to the tired Rochdale defence. The growing attacking threat meaning Rochdale were pushed onto the back foot, and their presence around Charlton’s box weakened. But the Addicks’ backline became more composed and resolute.
But was, over the course of 90 minutes and with a somewhat fortunate and certainly ugly win achieved, this a performance that increases confidence?
In one way, yes. This side continues to find ways to win, and they’ve done it enough to suggest it’s more determination and resolve than it is luck or something to be panicking about. In simple terms, these sorts of results show there is always confidence in this side to find victory irrespective of performance.
But the performance was a touch concerning with the games that lie ahead. The next two games are ones where we’re going to require a more fluent display than the one seen tonight. A point at in form Scunthorpe United is to be celebrated, while Peterborough United’s inconsistency means you’re unsure what sort of side you will face but you’re likely to have some sort of challenge regardless.
We’ll need to find the level of performance displayed in the first half of the MK Dons game against those sides. Obviously with just a bit more potency in front of goal. And I think with the fortune that was involved tonight, it’s a little reminder we can’t complacently believe a performance below the highest quality will always go unpunished, because there will come a time where we’ll be caught out.
Nonetheless, we sit here following the conclusion of another hard-fought win, making genuine suggestions about how the side could still improve. The side still winning; faith that those improvements will happen still held. The foundation growing increasingly solid.
Charlton Athletic’s record in evening league games, stretching back into 2016, is quite frankly horrific. One victory in their previous ten midweek games under floodlights, with six of those ending in defeat, and no win in five. You could say the rather odd run of form casts a shadow over the Addicks, but I’ll definitely let you say it, and not myself.
A backlog of games caused by international cancellations meaning the midweek games in the second half of last season were largely traumatic. A 3-0 loss to Wigan Athletic, the only loss at home this season, and two draws that were ultimately dropped points at Walsall and Oxford United making up the trio of midweek games had so far this season. And it’s always cold.
But an end to the hoodoo is required, not least after Saturday’s frustrating draw with MK Dons. The excellent run of Karl Robinson’s side giving them genuine top two ambitions, but every dropped point an opportunity for those above them to move away. Every game a must win.
Not least those against sides who appear vulnerable. A Rochdale side that sit inside League One’s bottom four, arriving in SE7 having conceded two late goals against Oldham at the weekend to suffer a 3-1 defeat. The sort of a side that the promotion-chasing Addicks should be beating under the afternoon sun or the stars of the night.
Of course, such rhetoric brings about the chance of compliancy. Charlton’s performances against sides in the bottom half of the division this season not always fluent. Charlton’s finishing at the weekend as complacent as the officiating as the win their overall performance warranted was denied.
But there is confidence in this side. Confidence not only to respond to the frustrations that Saturday produced. But confidence to be celebrating a rare night time victory.
LAST MEETING – ROCHDALE 3-3 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (18/02/2017)
Jorge Teixeira’s late header rescued a point for Charlton in a bizarre but entertaining game at Spotland in February.
The worst feared as the Addicks fell behind after just four minutes, and in calamitous fashion. Declan Rudd, challenged by his own player in Josh Magennis, failing to hold onto Donal McDermott’s free-kick from wide, and Niall Canavan able to prod the ball into an empty net. Bemused and angry faces populating Charlton’s defence and the Spotland away end.
But the catastrophic implosion many feared did not follow, and Robinson’s men continued to chip away at the Dale. That until their reward came with four minutes of the first half remaining. Magennis nodding onto Jordan Botaka, his initial shot rebounding back off the post, and the Leeds loanee able to convert at the second time of asking.
And it was the Addicks who applied the pressure thereafter, almost going ahead in spectacular style. Arsenal loanee Stephy Mavididi running from inside his own penalty box, beating several men in blue, and finding himself facing up to Rochdale goalkeeper Ben Wilson. Unfortunately, the teenager couldn’t apply the finishing touch, and was denied the most spectacular of individual goals.
The visitors, however, were to find the finishing touch soon after. It coming from Teixeira, helping a Patrick Bauer header through the body of Wilson after the German had been allowed to wander free following a Jake Forster-Caskey corner.
But the advantage would last only three minutes. Ian Henderson’s delivery and the strength of Calvin Andrew too much for Lewis Page and Rudd, and the masked forward was able to head home. Still 20 minutes remaining for either side to find a winner in a game in which defending had seemingly been abandoned.
That winner seemingly belonging to the hosts. Henderson teeing up Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, those in red standing off the winger, and the ball curled into the far corner from the edge of the box. Six minutes surely not enough to find an equaliser for the Addicks.
Though to think so would have been to underestimate the bizarre nature of this encounter. A third leveller of this encounter coming just four minutes later, as Bauer headed a Forster-Caskey corner through carnage in the penalty area, and Teixeira’s dangled leg converted the loose ball.
A long lie down subsequently had.
In achieving three consecutive top ten finishes with a budget considerably smaller than their competitors, and arguably squads containing lesser weight of talent, there little doubt that Keith Hill’s Rochdale had considerably overachieved since promotion to League One in 2014.
But as other squads, whether they be those with certain promotion ambitions or those like Rochdale looking to upset the bigger boys, have improved, Dale’s has weakened. It not simply the case that Matty Lund, Jamie Allen and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing departed in the summer. In that resources allowed for very few replacements, of minimal quality, in a squad that is falling behind.
A glass ceiling hit, and the club seemingly coming down with a bit of a bump. Hill will do all he can do soften the blow, and subsequently push on, with the manager’s efforts during four years in charge respected. But his job a difficult one, and this season has so far proven tough.
A late collapse at Oldham on Saturday, with Eoin Doyle scoring twice in the final ten minutes, seeing Dale drop into the bottom four. No side in the bottom half has lost fewer games than they have, but no side has won less either. Just three wins, and all of them coming inside the comfort of Spotland.
They had, before Saturday’s defeat, gone four league games unbeaten. But this run included allowing ten-man Fleetwood to score a late equaliser, Northampton to take a point having been two goals behind, and a frustrating draw Plymouth, who were bottom at the time. Quality and backbone lacking.
All of which points to the need for Hill’s trademark cohesive resolve and determination to start bearing its mark.
The ‘D’ nearest Charlton’s name should be a ‘W’. It remarkable that the Addicks didn’t claim victory in SE7 on Saturday. On two counts.
The first being that their dominance wasn’t rewarded. The Addicks, during a run of four wins in five, have largely won ugly. But their high energy pressing and cutting edge passing play during the first hour of the game against MK Dons was sublime.
They do, however, only have themselves to blame for that. Numerous chances wasted with the game at 1-0, not least when Mark Marshall was clean through on goal at the start of the second period. Victory should have been sealed long before the opposition stole an equaliser against the run of play, and the contest became a frantic one.
But blame deflected from themselves after referee Andy Woolmer awarded a controversial penalty, in chaotic fashion, three minutes after Scott Golbourne had seemingly turned Tariqe Fosu’s shot into his own net for Charlton’s late winner. Peter Pawlett forcing himself over a loose foot, the referee forcing his assistant to make a decision with seemingly a poorer view, and Kieran Agard converting from the spot. Fury and frustration.
And yet, the run now reads four wins in six, or eight games unbeaten if you prefer. They drop down to fifth, but Wigan Athletic’s defeat to Bradford City means they actually move a point close to second. There unlikely to be an afternoon more frustrating where a point is gained, but the wider contextual situation provides comfort.
Rochdale will remain without long-term absentee Keith Keane, who continues to recover from groin surgery.
The tough-tackling midfielder, a figure much desired in the current flimsy Dale side, has managed just one league appearance this season. In which he received a straight red card during the opening day of the season defeat to Portsmouth. His return greatly anticipated.
Elsewhere, changes to the side that capitulated in the final ten minutes at Boundary Park on Saturday are expected. Something that Hill can make freely, with few other injury doubts. Joe Bunney replaced full-back Kgosi Ntlhe at half-time, and you would expect the former to appear from the start at The Valley.
The only other certain absentee for Dale is the remarkable Joe Thompson, who has beaten off cancer twice. The midfielder is training more frequently, and is aiming for a Christmas return. Something that will no doubt be celebrated by the entire football community.
Charlton will welcome back Patrick Bauer after the defender missed Saturday’s draw with MK Dons with a slight groin injury.
The German centre-back, particularly reliable in recent weeks, is likely to come straight back into the side, not least with both Ezri Konsa and Naby Sarr looking a little uncomfortable in the latter stages of the weekend draw. Konsa fortunate after Chuks Aneke failed to capitalise on his slip, while Sarr went from dominant man-mountain to a somewhat panicked figure in the face of pressure. But both have performed exceptionally well in the previous month, and choosing who to leave out will be a tough call.
But neither Billy Clarke (calf) nor Tariqe Fosu (thigh) will be available for Robinson, at least from the start. Clarke is set for a two-week spell on the sidelines, while Fosu, who thought he’d contributed to the decisive goal on Saturday after his wayward shot was turned into his own goal by Dons defender Scott Golbourne, will only be fit enough to make an appearance from the bench. Ben Reeves and Mark Marshall set to continue in attacking midfield roles.
Elsewhere, defensive trio Jason Pearce, Lewis Page and Harry Lennon remain out, but a return nears, with Robinson suggesting they may feature in the Checkatrade Trophy clash against Swansea U21s at the start of December.
KEY BATTLE – AN IMPROVING BIG JOSH, AGAINST A FRAGILE SIDE
Despite the frustration involved in not collecting three points at the weekend, there were a lot of positives to take out of the performance. Or at least an hour of it.
The way the opposition was pressed to the extent that they simply couldn’t play. The slickness and pace of the passing place, with a sideways pass not the first option but only made when required. The cutting edge in the final third, not created the chances that were unfortunately not taken.
But one of the most pleasing aspects of the performance was an individual one. Having been devoid of all energy, barely making a single positive contribution in games to the point that he’d pass through 90 minutes in anonymity were it not for supporters expressing frustration at his efforts, in the period between two international breaks, this appeared to be the return of Josh Magennis. So much so that a first goal in six was just a nice bonus.
Headers won routinely, the ball held up superbly, appearing out of nowhere to win balls he had no right to win, moving forward with the ball at his feet with threat, linking up well with his teammates, and just generally being an absolute 6’2 monster. In some contrast to standing still, seemingly without functioning legs, and second best to every ball.
It gives the Addicks another option. They have someone with confidence to pick out to conclude fluent moves. They can go move the ball forward quicker with faith in their striker, or they can simply go direct if the game gets ugly.
And that sort of presence should prove a real threat for a defence that conceded two goals in three minutes with seven minutes of a game remaining. Who have routinely dropped points from promising position. Who don’t appear to have much of a backbone, and won’t deal well with the threat that Magennis provides, and allows for.
Of course, more importantly than anything else, the Addicks needed to take their chances on Tuesday night. But an inform Magennis keeps Rochdale on the backfoot. Keeps Charlton pushing.
With Wigan and Shrewsbury both having very ‘winnable’ games, it’s one we need to win to avoid the pair getting away from us again having done so well to reduce the gap. This, however, is equally as ‘winnable’. Charlton Athletic 2-0 Rochdale