Applause in defeat is a rarity in the ultra-competitive, do-or-die, environment of senior football. The pain of a loss almost always completely overwhelming any sense of pride in performance. Distraught supporters, unable to think rationally in moments of such high emotion, issuing cries of anger towards the devastated wearers of their shirt is merely a norm of the game.
Particularly unusual, therefore, that Charlton Athletic supporters were standing in appreciation, and applause, towards a side that had suffered defeat in the first round of The FA Cup. Not least when their side were playing lowly Truro City, occupiers of the National League South. But it was not their own side they were applauding.
For come full-time, having received rapturous appreciation from the relentlessly vocal visiting supporters, Truro’s beaten players were applauded from The Valley’s turf by home fans. Addicks able to acknowledge, and increase, the pride that should be felt among those representing the Cornwall club while embraced by the comfort of victory. They had fought, they had battled, and not made this win as simple for Karl Robinson’s side as the 3-1 scoreline suggests.
In such circumstances, the importance of Ben Reeves’ early goal for the hosts cannot be lost. The ball falling kindly to the attacking midfielder inside the box, and a cool finish applied to give Charlton a tenth minute advantage. Breathing space before battling commenced.
The Addicks pressured the moment they entered a threatening position, resulting in a lack of fluency and horribly erratic play. The Addicks pressured inside their own defensive third, largely by robust forward Tyler Harvey, supported well by a determined collective. The class of Charlton occasionally showing, or at least the three-tier gap between the two sides, but the visitors undoubtedly intent on making this an uncomfortable afternoon.
As such, the nature of the goal that appeared to have put the progression of Robinson’s men beyond doubt, though not tempering the relief among Addicks, was incredibly cruel of Truro. Mark Marshall cutting inside eight minutes into the second period, with his resulting shot taking a horrible deflection off the knee of Ed Palmer, and goalkeeper McHale caught wrongfooted as the ball found the back of the net in rather fortunate fashion. A few dropped heads suggested carnage may follow.
Instead, any shackles that were previously on the visitors merely broke, and their confidence grew. Confidence that became belief as a cross from the right found the always dangerous Harvey, and his impressive header nestled into the far corner. Celebrations among players and fans not suggesting they were simply enjoying their experience; they wanted some sort of result, and with 31 minutes still to play they had every chance.
Just a slight discomfort around The Valley, or at least that’s what the home supporters wanted to feel. The play still lacking fluidity, the roar that serenaded every Truro attack increasing the sense that they had a chance, and that, without being on top, were clipping away at Charlton’s heels. A moment of fluidity with 70 minutes played, as Ricky Holmes sent Reeves into score his second and regain the two-goal advantage, most welcome.
Now was surely the time where the fight, the energy, that Lee Hodges’ side had displayed would run out. But it to their enormous credit, in an end-to-end ending to the encounter, that they continued to battle. The Addicks wasteful as full-time approached, but desperate blocks and the assistance of the crossbar required to prevent the visitors from halving their deficit, and setting up an uncomfortable finish.
Nonetheless, the Addicks had found a route through. Their performance not scintillating but enough to get the job done. Enough to avoid an upset.
Truro, however, had done enough to earn the respect and appreciation of all inside The Valley. Defeat will hurt – there would have been dreams of more – but they should feel no shame. The National League South side can return to Cornwall with pride.
There did, in truth, appear only one possible result prior to kick-off. Not a belief reached purely on the basis of the gap between the two sides, but one also born out of the strength of Charlton’s XI. Robinson only without the suspended Ahmed Kashi, replaced by captain Johnnie Jackson, and Josh Magennis, whose early link-up with Northern Ireland gave an opportunity to Joe Dodoo.
But, of course, in a competition famous for its upsets, few were willing to express total confidence in a positive Charlton result. Few among the boisterous Truro following accepting they were in SE7 just to soak up at a moment. Some early sluggishness, and a horribly wayward effort from Jake Forster-Caskey, upping the atmosphere in the away end and making them believe they could compete.
Though their confidence was tempered somewhat as the crossbar they were defending was hit before the ten minute mark had been reached. Forster-Caskey meeting Holmes’ delivery, his header looping over the slightly out of position, and the ball bouncing off the top of the goal’s frame. Truro almost immediately responding, with Ben Amos getting down well to keep out Harvey’s header, but you were beginning to see the differences in quality despite the Addicks struggling to find the peak of their stride.
And so that Robinson’s men gained the advantage with ten minutes played was not a shock, but it was certainly comforting. Jay Dasilva doing well on the left flank, with Reeves doing equally well to sit back inside the centre of the box and find himself a pocket of space, from which he was able to convert from the resulting cross from his second touch. Minimal celebrations inside The Valley, with supporters confidently believing what was to follow would be comfortable victory, but with their play not quite fluid this appeared a necessary early strike to ease any nerves.
An expectation that, to one degree or another, a fairly comfortable afternoon would follow. Composure on the ball would increase. The tempo, after a very tepid start, would increase.
But the groans of frustration as positive positions ended with a misplaced pass, a wayward delivery or a poor decision were far too numerous. Marshall closer to firing over the Jimmy Seed Stand than he was getting his shot on target, while his teammates’ efforts to feed him down the right were increasingly poor. The home crowd, understandably, wanted to see a bit better from their side.
Not least with Truro, displaying the occasional sign of discomfort in the immediate aftermath of conceding, beginning to appear like a genuinely competitive outfit. Growing stronger at the back, and more determined in attack. Those in red allowing Noah Keats to progress through the centre without challenge, and his ambitious effort from distance requiring a dive from Amos in order to keep it out.
If that not a warning, then the definite sign that the Addicks needed to improve came with 23 minutes played. Charlton a defensive shambles as they attempted to deal with the visitors’ short corner, and the ball ultimately deflecting through to Harvey. His prod towards goal needing to be cleared off the line by Chris Solly.
Holmes, who had made himself the enemy of the Truro fans by being hauled down illegally serval times, attempted to ease the concern with one of his trademark strikes from the edge of the area. But his volley, though controlled, cleared the bar, and the game’s competitiveness remained. Robust centre-back Ben Gerring climbing highest to win a header in Charlton’s box following a free-kick, but Amos claiming.
At least, as half-time approached, Robinson’s men were able to test McHale in the Truro goal on two occasions. First Forster-Caskey found space on the edge of the box, with his resulting effort pushed wide, before the same man won his side a free-kick in a shooting position, from which McHale was required to turn Holmes’ curling strike behind. But it was with a precarious advantage of only one that the Addicks ended the opening 45 with.
Any advantage against a side three tiers below shouldn’t have really been that precarious, but Truro, applauded from the field by their supporters wholeheartedly, were showing real fight and determination, while Charlton’s performance wasn’t convincing enough to leave you feeling completely at ease.
Though you did feel, irrespective of whether it inspired the Addicks to reach the highest level of performance, that a second goal would leave the visitors too deflated and flat to make an impression on the contest. Killing the game off without a scare essential. Holmes latching onto a ball over the top from Reeves, but firing into the side netting, at least provided something that resembled a promising start to the second period.
And just eight minutes into the half, the second goal wished and hoped for had been found. Marshall had been lively enough in the opening period, but without a great deal of luck, so had seemingly been saving it up for this moment. Dancing inside from the right, his resulting effort highly unlikely to have troubled McHale, but the cruellest of deflections from the knee of Palmer doubled Charlton’s lead and seemingly confirmed their passage into the second round of The FA Cup.
A sense that only grew as greater space suddenly appeared for both Holmes and Marshall. The former driving forward, but firing straight at McHale, before the latter was sent through by Dasilva, only for an equally tame strike to follow. You hoped the chances would begin to stack up against a Truro side whose confidence would surely start to drain.
But in the face of adversity, Hodges’ side appeared only to grow stronger. Or at least more threatening. Harvey providing a greater test to Charlton’s centre-backs than many League One forwards, and the hair-banded striker creating space for two strikes that were well-saved by Amos.
And as the hour mark approached, Harvey was given space to halve his side’s deficit. Aaron Lamont’s cross picking out the forward, who had got away from the red shirts in the centre, and heading with total conviction well beyond Amos. A fine header, scenes of celebration and inspiration following, and an uncomfortable nervousness infecting those supporting the home side inside The Valley.
Nervousness seemingly spreading to those on the pitch. Or at least that one reason for some rather odd decision making, as Marshall and substitute Tariqe Fosu chose to shoot from tight angles when they seemed in excellent positions to pull back to red shirts on the edge of the six-yard box. McHale claiming comfortably on both occasions.
Certainly no nervousness among the visitors, however, as they continued in their endeavours to get forward. But for all their determination and effort, a touch of quality was lacking. Gerring headed over from a set-piece, with their physical nature their main asset in the final third, but they couldn’t quite turn promising positions into something more threatening.
And so those supporting the Addicks could finally breathe easy with 20 minutes to play. Holmes and Reeves combining in fluid fashion, and the latter finishing as coolly as he did for his first. A display of the difference in quality that Truro had done so well to effectively nullify for most of the afternoon.
Still the visitors sang in the stand, and still those representing them on the pitch battled, but there little sympathy from Robinson’s men in the final 20 minutes. Forster-Caskey teed up twice in quick succession, first by Reeves and then by Holmes, but dragging both efforts narrowly wide. On both counts, he should have done better.
Though while they continued to fight, so too were Truro able to grind out openings as full-time neared. The ball worked to Keats inside Charlton’s box, and only an excellent block from Konsa prevented the resulting strike from reducing the deficit. The deficit might still have been reduced from the resulting corner, with Gerring heading wide, but with the space to have done better.
And again, Konsa was required to make an important block, as Harvey found space inside the box and delivered what appeared to be a goal-bound effort. The visitors making this uncomfortable as could possibly be. Though Ahearne-Grant, played through twice by Fosu, first shot wide and then forced McHale into a save as the Addicks attempted to add further breathing space.
Breathing space that probably should have come when the resulting short corner fell perfectly to Forster-Caskey, only for his attempt to knock ball towards goal to effectively bounce off McHale, bounce back off him, and role behind. The midfielder not having much luck in front of goal, despite his efforts. But with stoppage-time approaching, it mattered little.
Three minutes into that stoppage-time, however, the longevity and determination of Truro was once again displayed. A cross from the right headed against the bar from Harvey. It might well have been reflective of their efforts if it had snuck in.
Though it was the Addicks who carved out the game’s final opening, in a rather hectic final period, with Holmes getting into space and seeing a curling effort well saved by McHale. The goalkeeper the foundation on which this determined effort by Truro was built. On which the Addicks were forced to work for their passage into the second round.
And work was most certainly required. I don’t think many expected a rampant victory that embarrassed the visitors. But I’m not sure many expected the visitors to fight so hard, perform so commendably, and make the afternoon something of a difficult one.
Without context beyond the 90 minutes, and without taking the entire game into account, it appears a comfortable victory. But to suggest this was a comfortable afternoon prior to the 70th minute would do a huge disservice to Truro. Even in those final 20 minutes, when victory was effectively secured, they still provided a genuine threat to the Addicks.
In part, the uncomfortable afternoon comes from the fact Robinson’s men weren’t quite fluent. For large parts of the first period they rather tepid, and lacked any real cutting edge, which certainly wasn’t helped by how much Dodoo struggled to have any sort of impact on the game. Fluidity came in second period, but even then the decision making and finishing weren’t spectacular.
But largely it came from how determined a performance Truro delivered. There fight in defence, battle in midfield, and a forward in Harvey who, on the basis of that performance, should be playing at a higher level. It not simply a case that they worked hard and rattled some bones with their physicality, they put in a structured defensive effort and were able to threaten on the occasions they saw space to get forward.
The difference, however, was that when Truro got into decent positions they hesitated and were quickly shut down. When Charlton got into decent positions, they were quite often wasted, but eventually their class told. Reeves’ finishes were excellent, and the play for his second goal was very good.
From all this, Truro take pride. Pride that should last, and that they definitely deserve. But Charlton take the pleasure of doing enough to secure progression.