The prospect of progressing to the Third Round of The FA Cup one that should inspire a determined performance. For even being involved in the draw, at the stage where Premier League clubs enter, is something to value. So that Charlton Athletic made considered attempts to gift a passage beyond the Second Round to AFC Wimbledon proved particularly disappointing.
Maybe best summed up by the fact that the home fans took an opportunity to sing the name of an Addick in sarcastic celebration of his efforts midway through the first half. Naby Sarr’s name emerging from the mouths of Dons supporters after various occasions in which opposition players were able to surpass him with ease, and a number of horribly sliced clearances. Supportive chanting from the away end doing little to change Sarr’s, or his defensive colleagues’, fortunes.
The Addicks, though rarely reaching a level of performance above tepid at Kingsmeadow, were punctured at key moments by their own individual and collective errors. Ones at the back that allowed the hosts to score three cheap goals, and at least one further forward that meant a decisive goal couldn’t be struck while the scores were level at one-a-piece. Karl Robinson’s men only having themselves to blame for their FA Cup exit.
A tone for the afternoon seemingly set with just ten minutes played in West London. Deji Oshilaja collecting the ball after a tame Charlton clearance, forcing his way into the box while avoiding Sarr’s wild challenge, and driving towards goal. Ezri Konsa briefly getting in front of Wimbledon defender and expecting Ben Amos to come and claim, but indecision left the ball bouncing free, and the experienced Cody McDonald was able to convert into a near-empty net.
But the visitors, without ever finding defensive stability, did find both an equaliser and some attacking momentum with 22 minutes gone. An excellent counter-attacking move with Karlan Ahearne-Grant involved in its production, collecting Josh Magennis’ knock down to feed Mark Marshall down the right, and its conclusion, as the young forward finished from Marshall’s delivery. A second goal in two games for Ahearne-Grant, having gone 42 games without one prior to his late equaliser against Peterborough United on Tuesday.
Momentum that made the contest a more competitive one, but momentum that wasn’t properly realised until the opening moments of the second half, as Charlton’s best chance to turn the game on its head was created. Jay Dasilva’s deflected effort spectacularly saved onto the woodwork by Wimbledon goalkeeper George Long, the rebound falling kindly to Josh Magennis, but the forward somehow blasting over from six yards with the goal at his mercy. Those in the away end, despite witnessing a miss as torrid as their side’s defending, wanting to believe that creating such an opening was a sign this game was the Addicks’ to win.
It was, however, a miss that would prove costly. For Neal Ardley’s side would soon capitalise upon the uncertainty in Charlton’s backline. McDonald beating Sarr, referee Linington playing an excellent advantage as the defender attempted to haul him down, and his ball across the face off goal turned in at the far post by Lyle Taylor to regain the hosts’ advantage with 70 minutes played.
And as Robinson’s men searched for an equaliser, the Dons were able to get in behind far too easily once more. Andy Barcham breaking into the box, Anfernee Dijksteel lunging in and not winning the ball, and a penalty awarded. Taylor converting emphatically to secure victory for the hosts with nine minutes to play.
Although, it more accurate to suggest that Taylor’s spot-kick secured warranted defeat for a collective delivering a substandard performance, and a group of individuals too often committing criminal errors. Frustration among those in the away end, who expected better. Disappointment etched in the faces of the players as they came to applaud.
Hopes of a Premier League giant in the draw for AFC Wimbledon. Hopes such a performance isn’t replicated during the following weeks of League One football for the Addicks. Deflating.
The test for the Addicks always likely to be a tougher than it should have been, wiith injuries hampering the strength of Robinson’s starting XI. Youngster Djiksteel required to start at full-back with Chris Solly absent, and Konsa needed to play in the centre after Patrick Bauer’s injury in midweek. It meant a welcome return to the bench, which only featured 6 bodies, for Harry Lennon; involved for the first time in 13 months after injury. A rare recovery, with the long list of injuries in attacking midfield positions, and new signing Leon Best’s questionable fitness, meant Karlan Ahearne-Grant, following his goal in midweek, came into the side.
There also a start for Joe Aribo, with Ahmed Kashi rested. But this still a good side enough to beat fellow League One opposition. A performance expected among the away fans, tightly packed into the Kingsmeadow terrace, and progression to the Third Round demanded.
AFC Wimbledon, however, sensed an opportunity to capitalise on the perceived gaps and weaknesses in Charlton’s side. Positivity and high pressing from the start, not fearing an opponent 14 places above them in the League One table. The Addicks asleep as a quickly taken free-kick put Harry Forrester through, but from an unfavourable angle the midfielder could only shoot across goal and wide.
But the suggestion that there was still more than enough quality in this Charlton side to record victory was soon amplified. Positive play down the left resulting in Ricky Holmes playing in Dasilva, the ball cleverly cut back to Ahearne-Grant, but Long in the Dons goal was able to react and block the effort with his legs. As Charlton supporters came to life, born out of the sighs of exasperation that followed Long’s save, and AFC Wimbledon fans provided their own noise, only a percentage of which was directed towards the former manager of MK Dons, it quickly became evident neither side were approaching this game cautiously.
It’s just that, in Charlton’s case, they appeared to be approaching the game without caution. Or at least without sensible defensive decision making and composure. For with ten minutes played, a complete capitulation in defence had handed the advantage to the hosts on a plate.
A scrappy attempt to clear one-time Addick Barry Fuller’s cross resulting in the ball falling to the robust Oshilaja, who danced around a misdirected Sarr tackle to power towards goal. Amos came to challenge, and looked as if stood a decent chance of claiming the ball with Konsa holding off Oshilaja, but weakness and indecision meant the AFC Wimbledon defender was able to win the scrappy battle. The result of three bodies competing for the same ball was it popping loose via Amos, falling kindly for McDonald, and the forward taking a touch before finishing coolly amid the wreckage around him.
You wanted to believe this was just a one off. A brief implosion, that would be followed by defensive resolve for the remainder of the game, and a subsequent turnaround. But this, with just ten minutes played, wasn’t the first time Sarr and Konsa had appeared uncomfortable, and concern somewhat outweighed blind optimism.
You wanted to believe, but Taylor shaking off Sarr with the ease an average man shakes off a fly didn’t really help. The Montserrat international breaking into the box and choosing to shoot with two free men waiting for the cut back. The side netting rippling, and Charlton fortunate.
And there little inspiration for the Addicks going forward, with a Holmes volley, struck after a free-kick had hit the wall and bounced back to him, comfortably saved by Long not what was required. The away end already growing frustrated with a combination of tame sideways passing, and misdirected forward passes. The home supporters taking brief ironic enjoyment out of any time Sarr made an accurate pass, such was his afternoon.
But their enjoyment was soon to be heavily tainted, as a marvellous attacking move gave a solid base for the Charlton defence to rebuild upon, and an opportunity for the Addicks to get back into the game.
A marvellous attacking move that, both in terms of its build up and the overall state of play, came out of nowhere, as Magennis chested down Amos’ ball forward into Ahearne-Grant’s feet, and the young forward fed a speeding Marshall down the right. The winger bursting forward, but by the time he was ready to cross Ahearne-Grant was waiting in the centre, and able to convert his pinpoint delivery from close range. In the display of attacking fluency, in its providing of confidence to all throughout the team, and simply in the fact it brought the scores level, the goal felt game-changing.
The truth not as dramatic as hoped, but there certainly a change in how the game was played thereafter. The Addicks, though struggling to create, looking much calmer and efficient on the ball, while the Dons took a step back. The pace of the game slowing, which though meant Robinson’s side couldn’t build on their equaliser in the way they would have liked, it was ideal for his back four.
Though has half-time drew near, both sides reaffirmed their threat going forward. The pace and strength of Taylor getting him into a positive shooting position on the edge of the box, but Amos able to make a strong save, before a good block by the ever-defiant Oshilaja sent a Magennis strike wide after Marshall had beaten his man on the right and cut back to the Northern Ireland international. The Dons wouldn’t have been happy to have let the Addicks back into the game, and Charlton would have been largely disappointed with their first-half performance, not least at the back, but both sides would have gone in at the break feeling that they could make a positive impression at the start of the second period and go onto win the game.
A positive impression that, after their horrendous start to the game, belonged to the Addicks, and it not simply because they went ten minutes without a costly defensive error. Ahearne-Grant driving down the right and delivering for Holmes, but Long did extremely well to cover his angles and block the effort at the near post, before the goalkeeper was again called into action to keep out Marshall’s strike at the conclusion of the resulting corner. The atmosphere in the away end a positive one; a sense this was now Charlton’s to win.
And with just four second-half minutes played, the Addicks really should have found themselves front. You could only admire Long’s marvellous save from Dasilva’s deflected shot, somehow reacting to tip it onto the bar, but the follow up from Magennis was sickening. A touch taken with his chest to get the ball under his control, needing only to place it into a near-empty net, and yet somehow managing to volley comfortably over the bar.
The positivity that was building tainted by that fear that said, “not again”. A fear that the Addicks would enjoy a period of dominance, and not make their chances count, for the umpteenth time this season. An interruption to those worries was most welcome, as you could do little but laugh at Harry Forrester attempting to chip Amos from 40 yards, and the ball landing safely in his hands.
At least, to Charlton’s credit, the momentum that had developed since the start of the half had not been crushed by Magennis’ miss. In fact, the forward was involved as he combined with Holmes to create another positive opening for the Addicks. Magennis delivering, but his teammate failing to connect properly, and Long able to collect.
But, much like that Magennis and Holmes break forward, the momentum the Addicks had quickly faded without reward. They began to look short of fluency on the ball, lacking a real testing threat in the final, and frustration would soon increase among the visiting supporters. That Magennis miss always replaying.
And so when McDonald burst forward with 20 minutes to play, what was to follow was as much an attacking mistake as it was a defensive one. The diminutive but determined forward holding off Sarr, who was trying to drag him to the floor by any means having been comfortably beaten, and keeping his own balance as he surged towards the box. Advantage played by the referee, and blue shirts lining up in the centre.
McDonald picking out Taylor at the far post, and the forward tucking away to restore his side’s advantage. A defensive disaster to the extent that had the unchallenged Taylor not converted, the Dons might well have been given a second chance from the spot, with Konsa hacking down McDonald as he played the ball across goal. McDonald would claim the assist, but really the provider of the goal was Charlton’s own faults.
Some hope provided by the fact that a comeback from two goals behind was made in four minutes in midweek. The Addicks having 20 to at least take this game to a replay. And Wimbledon needing to do well to protect their lead, as Magennis headed dangerously back across goal from a Jake Forster-Caskey free-kick, but those in blue were able to prevent Konsa turning and prodding the ball home.
Overall, though, the conditions felt unfavourable. The performance had long been sluggish, with openings interrupting tired play without any quality in the final third. The Dons determined, and disciplined.
And unfavourable would soon become non-existent as Barcham found his way through the fragile red shirts and into the Charlton box. Djiksteel with him for company, the youngster opted to dive in after the winger had gone a pace ahead of him. The ball not won, an act of inexperience from the youngster, and a penalty awarded.
A penalty that Taylor, for his second goal of the game, would finish without trouble with nine minutes to play. Amos sent the wrong way, and Charlton well on their way to being sent out of the cup. Disappointed bodies on the pitch, and angry expressions in the away end, as Wimbledon celebrated, all aware that this situation was one that had been self-inflicted.
Substitutes Reeco Hackett-Fairchild, heading wide, and Leon Best, striking powerfully off-target, at least threatened in game’s final moments, but that hardly enough to account for a display of fight and energy. The Addicks, crushed by their own errors, without anything to give. AFC Wimbledon comfortable in possession, comfortable in dealing with any attempts by Charlton to get forward, and comfortably seeing out the game.
It allowing the hosts to celebrate reaching the Third Round of The FA Cup come the final whistle. You start to realise you’ve been denied an opportunity to take part in one of the football calendar’s great days, potentially an opportunity to play against Premier League opposition or go on a cup run, when it’s been taken away. A real disappointment shared between players and supporters at full-time, with the former not needing to be told why they couldn’t begin to imagine what the Third Round might bring.
Charlton denying themselves that privilege.
For there little complexity to this contest’s outcome. The Addicks weren’t good enough, and made horrific individual errors. AFC Wimbledon took advantage.
A different game, possibly, if Magennis takes his chance. Charlton have a 2-1 lead, the game has bee turned on its head, and Wimbledon are crushed. But, for once, a wasted opportunity isn’t the main issue.
A lack of composure in front of goal topped by a lack of composure in front of our own goal. The backline horrific, and all of Wimbledon’s goals avoidable. The individual mistakes grim.
I feel incredibly sorry for Sarr, because he’s largely been excellent since returning to the side, but this was as bad as anything seen during 2015/16, and possibly worse. Assisting to the carnage that Konsa confirmed for the Dons’ first goal, though at least the academy graduate somewhat settled thereafter. While another academy graduate, in the shape of Djiksteel, competed for much of the afternoon without ever being totally comfortable, and that probably reflected in his conceding of the penalty.
“Concentrate on the league,” will shout some. But I would have at least enjoyed reached the Third Round. It certainly not a shout that should justify, or pass off, the performance.
For now we do concentrate on the league. And a repeat of that sort of performance, and those sorts of defensive errors, in the league aren’t going to end well.
The imminent return of several injured players will unquestionably make a huge difference, while there is knowledge that the Addicks can defend in much greater fashion than they did at Kingsmeadow. But to hold a small amount of concern over recent performances and how that affects us going ahead, not least with some challenging opposition to play in the next month, is fair. You’d like to see a defensively sound, fluent, and potent performance in the coming weeks, just to calm any building worries.
But for now, something you definitely won’t be seeing is Charlton’s name in The FA Cup Third Round draw.