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.