The regular frustration expressed by The Valley crowd did not belong to a set of supporters whose side held the game’s advantage. Such expressions, however, did belong to a set of supporters witnessing their side effectively grinding out the game in uncomfortable fashion from the moment they took the lead with 27 minutes played. Charlton Athletic’s victory over Oldham Athletic was far from convincing, far from attractive.
But when victory has eluded the Addicks in the previous eight games, the manner of the win comes second to finally claiming a positive result. When Karl Robinson gave warning in the week that incomings to a squad in need of strengthening are unlikely unless a change of ownership is ratified before the end of January, the bodies he owns need to find any which way to win. In a troubled few weeks, and the positive of Roland Duchatelet selling the club creating further difficulties in the short-term, some sort of encouragement so desperately required.
Encouragement coming midway through the first half, as what might well be January’s only addition made the greatest of impacts on his second Charlton debut. Stephy Mavididi driving inside from wide, creating space for himself with a crowded box ahead, and poking beyond Johny Placide in the Oldham goal. The Arsenal loanee, re-joining the club for a second temporary spell, scoring his first senior goal with one of the game’s very few moments of quality and spark.
Encouragement scarce in the remaining 63 minutes of the contest. The Latics, themselves in dire form and having to deal with a depleted squad after loanees left the club in the week, lacking any sort of quality, but allowed to come at the Addicks more and more as the game went on. The hosts sitting deep, and their attempts to hurt the visitors on the counter blunted by a slowness in possession, wayward passes, and a poor final delivery.
It really a relief that Oldham’s possession in and around Charlton’s box, possession they were invited to have, was used to very little threatening effect. Ben Amos called upon to block Aaron Amandi-Holloway at each end of the half, good saves to deny the forward, but otherwise the Latics possessed a tameness to match their league position. A side with greater quality would have surely punished this sluggish effort from the Addicks.
Ultimately, however, such analysis of a performance Robinson himself was unwilling to get excited by mattered little at the relief of the full-time whistle. A win lacking the quality to make you believe the remainder of the season will see consistent runs of form, but a win needed to escape the eight-game run without a win. One to inject confidence into a group of players who have often looked completely devoid of it in recent weeks.
One that, in a week where a relegation-threatened side won at The Valley and the normally effervescent Robinson displayed a lack of belief, was a source of short-term relief.
There no guarantee of victory prior to kick-off, even against a side who hadn’t won in five and slipped to just a point above League One’s bottom four, but belief to be had with Robinson able to name a starting XI not sucked off all its quality by injuries. Chris Solly, Jason Pearce, Jake Forster-Caskey and Tariqe Fosu, but the side competitive enough. Patrick Bauer returning in defence, Joe Aribo a handy replacement for Forster-Caskey, and Mavididi’s return meant a relatively out of form Ricky Holmes could attempt to return to his beset in the central attacking midfield role.
And it Holmes that injected some early energy into a Valley crowd lacking as much confidence in the side were lacking in themselves. Having scored a stunning 30-yard goal in the reverse fixture, a man who favours the stunning again drove forward and tried his luck from distance. Oldham stopper Placide making only a half-hearted attempt to execute a save, presumably thinking the ball was heading over, but it instead agonisingly bounced back off the bar.
It not, however, the catalyst for a dominant and fluent Charlton effort. Mavididi, in his first run forward, receiving a yellow card for diving more reflective of what followed. Ineffective, ugly and frustrating.
That true at both ends, with neither side able to deliver anything remotely threatening. The Latics struggling to make any sort of impression, punting forward to little effect. The Addicks better on the ball, and occasionally driving forward with it in a manner that gave the impression of being promising, but possessing little to no end product.
But just as the uninspired hum of frustration was becoming a permanent fixture around The Valley once again, a moment of genuine quality, with end product, was found.
Mavididi had made limited impact in the game’s opening 27 minutes, tacked well by blue shirts whenever the ball fell his way, but the offering of space and he was ready to punish. Coming inside from wide with little challenge, the youngster punished Oldham’s lapse in concentration, and found the space to fire through the spaces in front of him and into the bottom corner. The sort of glimpse of quality seen during his brief first in Charlton colours, this time able to round it off with a goal in senior football for the first time in his tender career.
A chance, against an Oldham side failing to offer much in the way of concern to the red bodies at the back, to punish the opposition for the first time in many a week. A chance, however, that as appose to being wasted wasn’t available. Mavididi’s strike an exception to the rule, rather than setting the tone, as the Covered End called for greater speed in energy in Charlton’s attempts to get forward without the desired effect.
In fact, despite their tameness, it might well have been the visitors who scored the game’s next goal. Full-back Rob Hunt not too far off-target having been given the space to shoot from the left, the hard-working Amandi-Holloway warming Ben Amos’ gloves with a low drive from distance, and the experienced Paul Green firing comfortably wide. Relatively tame openings, but still more than the frustratingly lacklustre Addicks had offered since gaining the game’s advantage.
It taking until first-half stoppage-time for Charlton to strike goalwards again, and even that disappointingly poor. The ball popping up nicely to Mark Marshall on the edge of the box, but his volley mistimed, and rolling straight into the hands of Placide. The Addicks going in at the interval ahead, but knowing they’d needed to improve if they wanted to kill this game off, or even prevent a Latics fightback.
And further reminder of the need to improve was offered five minutes into the second period. Amandi-Holloway bustling his way in behind Charlton’s defence, squeezing a shot away while under pressure, and Amos doing well to make himself big and beat the ball away. The goalkeeper furious with those in red ahead of him, and so he might have been; weak and sloppy from the Addicks.
In fact, it not the most pleasing start to the period at both ends. Any position within the same postcode is a decent position for Holmes, but particularly true when the often match-winning influence found himself on the edge of the Oldham area with decent space to line up an effort on goal. It’s just that, as appose to a blue shirt desperately denying Holmes, his potentially goal-bound strike bounced off an off-side Josh Magennis; quite possibly his most meaningful contribution to the contest.
And, not 15 minutes after the interval, the Addicks had already frustratingly dropped deeper. They at least carried the ball forward with intent during the opening 45, but that not the case as the second half developed. Oldham with space to come forward down the flanks, regularly offered the opportunity to deliver from wide though with little threat, but disappointment existing from the fact the Latics were invited forward, and that an already sluggish Charlton had retreated.
With such sluggishness, there always to be chances for the visitors. Tope Obadeyi nodding into Amos’ hands from a Gevaro Nepomuceno delivery and Paul Gerrard meeting a corner at the near post only to turn the ball wide. The quality of them, for now, tame.
And amid the rather tame, self-invited storm, there was to be a chance for the Addicks on the counter. Holmes cutting inside from the left, curling towards goal, and Placide throwing himself to his right to push the ball away. A decent save from the short-sleeved goalkeeper, but a level of power on the ball that meant it was a relatively comfortable one.
As Mavididi’s goal was a break from a game without quality, Holmes’ strike was a break from Oldham being allowed to control possession in Charlton’s half. In parts, the Addicks defended well enough to earn credit. But, largely, the reason the Latics couldn’t make more of the possession and positions they were given was because of their own attacking frailties; the game a lacklustre one of tame effort from Karl Robinson’s men to get forward, and tame attempts to threaten from Richie Wellens’ side.
Maybe the greatest reflection of the game’s tedium coming with a little over ten minutes to play, as Oldham goalkeeper Placide received a yellow card for time wasting having taken a bit of time over a free-kick. The losing goalkeeper booked for time wasting; making about as much sense as Charlton’s second-half retreat. Placide was far from placid in response to the decision, or something dreadful like that.
But for all their own attempts to delay time and sabotage their chances of levelling, the Latics might well have found themselves level with seven to play. First, Holloway collected a Cameron Dummigan cross deep inside Charlton’s box with only Amos in front of him, but the goalkeeper made an excellent save to deny the forward. Then, from the resulting corner, carnage in front of goal ensued, and vital blocks to prevent the goal-bound efforts of Holloway and Obadeyi reach their intended target preserved the hosts’ lead.
Frustration around The Valley had developed into nervousness. Visions of the Blackpool draw prior to Christmas, in a game where the Addicks retreat against a side possessing roughly the same level of threat and were subsequently punished, appearing in the minds of home supporters. As the Latics pushed more and more men forward, a chance to kill the game would surely appear, and it needed to be taken.
And, with five minutes to play, it did appear. Aribo playing Karlan Ahearne-Grant through from the edge of the box, a first-time shot on, but the young forward’s extra touch but Placide could come off his line and deny the substitute. A wasted chance; we’d been here before.
As extra-time was entered, and the visitors continued to lurk on the outskirts of Charlton’s box, the experience of Johnnie Jackson was called upon. But the skipper, about 50 yards further forward than he should be, came agonisingly close to grabbing a second. A header at the far post in front of the Covered End, seen many times before, beating Placide, but not Dummigan on the line.
A Jackson goal probably would have made up for the tedious game and ugly performance, and a second from anyone would have been pleasing. Ahearne-Grant in behind again, but his shot tame, and easy for Placide to snuffle. Not that it mattered, however, as the final whistle followed with Charlton’s slender advantage preserved.
A first win in nine probably should have felt better than this. Relief the game was over with three points gained, more than joyous celebration. But, nonetheless, it was a win so desperately required to end a dire run of results.
But a dire run of performances arguably continues. Oldham reflecting the side they were; one without a win in five and in serious danger of falling back into the bottom four. And yet, they were never out of the game.
Incredibly frustrating that the Addicks dropped deeper and deeper throughout the second half, and invited the Latics to flirt with the idea of finding a goal. An equaliser for the visitors would have been entirely self-inflicted. The effort going forward lethargic, and even in keeping a clean sheet there was discomfort and sluggishness in defence.
But to underestimate the importance of grinding out a victory for the first time since a Tuesday night in the middle of November would be stupid. It not the foundation of something great, but after the Gillingham result confidence had hit rock bottom. The failure to follow up the hearty display at Wigan Athletic in positive fashion, and in fact deliver a dire effort that was deservedly punished by a side flirting with relegation, sucking all belief out of supporters.
The damage that might have been done if points were dropped today severe. But at least this offers a reminder that the Addicks can win games of football. And hopefully, if not the foundation for something great, then the foundation from which an underperforming side find a degree of confidence and grow towards the levels expected from them again.
In truth, those in red did work hard. Probably best summed up by Holmes, who abandoned attacking duties to consistently get stuck in in midfield, and win the ball more times than you might expect from a player who spends most of his time lurking around the opposition’s box. But it not really enough to paper over the level of overall performance.
It is undoubtedly a sense of relief felt among Addicks after these 90 minutes, rather than anything more jubilant.