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 Maybe not belief that a dramatic, stoppage-time, comeback was on, but the tired events that had preceded the goal had been replaced by an energy.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.