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As the referee signals for full-time, the high-pitched tones of his whistle are often accompanied by distinctive sounds expressed by those who occupy the stands.
The displaying of emotion, more through noise than poetic word, that would give a clear indication of the game’s events and subsequent outcome even to someone who had not witnessed a single moment of it. Faint cries of celebration from barely populated away ends hardly heard as the boos of home supporters take control. Or the existence of visiting supporters forgotten as they are submerged by a delirious moment of home joy.
But it was a glum and miserable near-silence, draining to the extent that it required energy to create, that helped express the overriding emotion as Charlton’s encounter with Bury reached its drawn conclusion.
A third sub-standard performance in succession from Karl Robinson’s side did not warrant the courtesy of applause. A second-half resurgence of sorts, which moved the Addicks from absolutely pathetic to a side showing intent without the end product to match, meaning the creation of a hostile and emotionally disappointed atmosphere would have been somewhat misplaced. The overall quality of the game, in which two sides so clearly short on fluency, cohesion and confidence so often blunted their own attacking moves, had claimed decibels from each Covered End chant throughout the game, and even greater reluctance to place effort into producing volume came with the forced acceptance that a sluggish display and unenthralling game had produced an uninspiring result.
The Valley simply left flat. Hugely disappointed that their side had once again failed to deliver a performance that emulated the impressive early-season efforts. Energy drained by the sometimes infuriating, sometimes tiresome, sometimes promising, sometimes frustrating, but almost always disappointing 90 minutes, and this deflated silence provided the perfect tune.
Though for the game’s first 35 minutes, it appeared unavoidable that the end emotion would be much more severe. There no response to Jermaine Beckford’s emphatic ninth-minute opener for the visitors, curled spectacularly into Ben Amos’ far top corner from the edge of the box, as Charlton’s sluggish play and inability to retain possession invited further opposition pressure. With Lee Clark’s Bury, a side that hadn’t won since the opening day of the season, dominating against a group of Addicks who could take no control of the contest, there was both embarrassment and concern.
Josh Magennis’ 39th-minute leveller, therefore, was more relief than cause for celebration. The Northern Ireland international’s header, converting from Jake Forster-Caskey’s cross, had come while Robinson’s men remained without any sort of composure, and would count for very little unless there was overall improvement. An opportunity to get out of jail.
An opportunity, however, that Charlton never truthfully did enough to make the most of. The complexation of the game changing in the second period, with Robinson’s side finding energy and having the better of the scrappy affair – leaving Clark’s men resorting to running the clock down where possible – but still their play frustrated. Invited to come forward, but decisions, executions and movement all poor.
But there was, whether warranted or not, to be a chance for the hosts to turn the succession of groans into a concluding delirious celebration deep inside stoppage-time. Chris Solly’s delivery finding Magennis’ head and the ball directed towards the top corner, only for Bury goalkeeper Joe Murphy to pull off a stunning reaction save. A bump of fists between forward and gloveman affirming the quality of the stop.
Alas, such an opportunity was not enough to prevent The Valley descending into near-silence. Not enough to divert from the reality of this display from Robinson’s men, and the disappointment shared. Not enough to suggest their performance, against a Bury side that grafted and scrapped considerably once their initial dominance faded, warranted victory.
If nothing else, it not a performance of a side with promotion ambitions. It a performance that left a group of supporters, so encouraged just a few weeks ago, deflated and with a growing sense of concern that needs to be quickly quelled. A need to start making more positives noises.
That need, in truth, already existing prior to kick-off at The Valley. The Addicks coming into the encounter on the back of disappointing defeats to Wigan Athletic and Gillingham, and a result against a Bury side without a win in seven required to reignite early-season optimism.
Though it certainly not the case that victory felt anything like a forgone conclusion. Charlton’s task to bounce back from consecutive defeats made all the more difficult by the absence of Ricky Holmes, forced to sit out the game through suspension. Karlan Ahearne-Grant called up to the starting XI in his place.
And anyone who had considered victory to be a forgone conclusion were reconsidering their stances within the game’s opening minutes. Those in red static, struggling to find the next pass, and making no impression on the game whatsoever. The difficult in moving the ball on meaning that Ahmed Kashi was caught in possession by Beckford, the forward racing through, but a well-timed recovery challenged from Jason Pearce prevented a shot on goal.
It often the case that such a moment is the catalyst for a side bursting into life, but still those in red were near motionless on The Valley’s surface, unable to offer anything in possession and inviting a Bury side without confidence to discover their long-lost stride. All far too easy for Greg Leigh down the left flank, his ball across the face of goal finding former Addick Michael Smith, and only an excellent block from Jay Dasilva preventing his resulting strike from causing more harm.
The Covered End understandably critical, but so too attempting to instil some kind of life into a side that hadn’t yet arrived. Expression of frustration followed by vocal support for Robinson’s men, and they did at least find a way in which to get forward. A bit of space for Fosu, a flighted delivery to the back post, and Forster-Caskey’s header deflected only just wide.
But if any among the home supporters were hoping this was the moment where Charlton discovered how to play Association Football, they couldn’t have been more wrong. For just a minute later, Reilly was allowed space in the centre, and able to feed an equally open Beckford with a defence-splitting pass. The experienced forward cutting inside as red shirts stood off, and unleashing a stunning curling effort that whistled into the top corner and even earnt a scattering of applause from the Covered End.
No denying it was a moment of individual quality from a striker who, when fit and functioning, still possesses great talent. But it was a moment of individual quality that took advantage of Charlton’s sluggishness and their dire start to the match. This, with nine minutes played, simply had to be what brought Robinson’s men alive.
Still, however, they appeared lost and frightened with the ball at their feet, and equally so without it. Confused and helpless looks as short passes were made inside the Charlton half, followed by quickly blunted bursts into the opposition’s territory. The fluency of the early weeks of the season not only dead, but replaced by something so poor it must have existed in an illusion.
At least there was a certain tameness, not reflective of Beckford’s strike, to Bury’s attacking play. Smith knocking down a Leigh cross into Beckford’s path, only for him to volley the ball in the general direction of the corner flag, before a brainless foul from Kashi on Chris Maguire saw the same Bury man deliver a free-kick from a glorious position that deflected off a Charlton body and over Amos’ bar. A more potent side would have been pinning the Addicks to the wall.
And so, with the deficit remaining as one, there always chance Charlton could find a way back into the contest despite appearing completely out of it on the basis of the overall play. Unlikely that a flowing move would get them back into it, but a lob up field was perfect for Ahearne-Grant to run onto. The youngster attempting to force the ball over the onrushing Murphy, but succeeding also in forcing the ball over the bar.
A tired and frustrated crowd, needing immediate salvation, groaned with displeasure, but so too was there appreciation for the effort. Appreciation too as Magennis spun on the edge of the box and struck powerfully into the hands of Murphy. The overall play still largely horrifying, but at least now the Addicks were finding ways to get into the opposition half and conclude their attacks.
But very, very slight signs of encouragement were going to count very little if Charlton were to remain inviting defensively. In not too dissimilar fashion to Beckford’s goal, Maguire cut inside from the right as red shirts stood off him, and only a strong palm from Amos kept out the former Oxford winger’s effort. Applause for the goalkeeper’s save masked further frustration.
For as equally as the deficit gave the Addicks every chance of getting back into the game despite their efforts, a second goal would surely crush them. So to draw level, somewhat unreflective of their performance, with six minutes to play before half-time appeared huge. Magennis meeting Forster-Caskey’s delivery in typically emphatic fashion, and the ball nodded back across the face of goal to draw the sides level.
Now this, this, had to be the moment that inspired the Addicks to perform. Ahearne-Grant, seeing an effort deflect narrowly wide, and Ahmed Kashi, striking over the top from a half-cleared corner, attempting to instil further confidence that that would be the case as the half-time whistle approached. Most, however, just feeling extremely fortunate that this first-half performance, dire for the most part, had concluded with the Addicks level.
Nonetheless, there immense pressure on Robinson’s men to remerge after the break having utilised the effects of their leveller and begin to take control of the affair. No longer could they be chasing the game. They had to rediscover their qualities.
Skewed long-range efforts from Fosu and Forster-Caskey weren’t really what was meant to be on the agenda, but there were some signs to be encouraged by. Energy, intensity, a greater desire to move the ball forward instead of pausing with confusion inside one’s own half. There was, if nothing else, greater attacking intent.
But it soon became apparent that that intent didn’t have the end product to match. Charlton’s decision making, delivering and quality in the final third was doing Bury’s defending for them, with Fosu and Ahearne-Grant struggling. The relative short period of encourage signs replaced by further frustration.
Telling, as such, that it was a Bury side who were now sitting deep, taking time out of the game, and seemingly uncomfortable with the pace and energy at which the Addicks were getting forward with that created the first opening of the half that tested either goalkeeper. Substitute Neil Danns’ strike from the edge of the box needing Amos’ fingertips to prevent it from creeping underneath his crossbar.
But Bury were uncomfortable, were on the backfoot, and would need to remain defensively sound to avoid gifting Charlton openings. Something they didn’t do as Murphy’s pass out from the back found Magennis, but the Northern Ireland international’s attempt to find a man of his own was equally poor, as the ball ran away from Fosu. Another moment of frustration, but underneath the realisation that this was side to be exploited.
And exploited they almost were. Forster-Caskey’s free-kick picking out the formidable head of Patrick Bauer, but the German knocking an excellent off-target, before a deflected Billy Clarke effort wrong-footed Murphy and the goalkeeper was required to tip the ball over his bar. Charlton still struggling to show any sort of composure, control or reliable threat in the attacking third, but at least there were now chances to be had against a nervy Shakers side.
Though it apparent that, in a game where the Addicks still had little fluency, any chance that was created had to be taken. So it understandable that frustration continued to override any other emotion when the hosts faltered in front of goal. Dasilva delivering, an open Forster-Caskey heading towards goal, but his effort from a glorious position comfortable for Murphy.
Ultimately comfortable, too, was Fosu’s free-kick that the goalkeeper took into his chest on the bounce. But it a clever idea from the younger winger. The ball swerving and bouncing just before him, and might well have needed to have been parried into a body of players by a less confident goalkeeper.
But time was fading for near-misses, half-chances and clever ideas to be taken with appreciation. As stoppage-time approached, at no point had the Addicks shown the sort of control, composure or attacking quality that would have made them dominant and given them a clear gripe should they not have found the winner in the game’s closing stages. They found small improvements, they found ways to take advantage as Bury sat deep and kept more than half an eye on the block, but did not look fluent or threatening.
Which isn’t to suggest, however, that mass celebration would not have spread around The Valley had the Addicks found a winner inside the three minutes of stoppage-time awarded. A winner they so nearly did. Murphy’s reaction save to prevent Magennis’ header, turning Dasilva’s cross towards goal, from giving the hosts a late winner was as stunning as Beckford’s goal.
A softener, knowing that a chance had been created good enough to win the game in the dying minutes? The Valley’s misery, portrayed in the crowd’s near-silence and deflated moods among supporters and players suggested not.
A performance that was not good enough to avoid criticism, not good enough for a side wanting to be promoted, most definitely suggesting not.
In fact, displeasure and concern as a consequence of the overall performance would not have been displaced by a winning goal. A winning goal that would have provided a victory so desperately required, but would have papered over the cracks somewhat.
The cracks that have appeared over the course of the previous three games. Three games being quite a short span of playing time, but these cracks rather large. The performances of the season’s opening weeks appear to have fallen down them, and getting them back is proving tricky.
For it really is difficult to understand where the defensive determination and attacking fluidity shown at least in periods during five of the seasons’ opening six games has vanished to. It’s not just a case of a slight step backwards after an excellent start. It’s a quite concerning series of performances.
The near confusion when in possession during the first half allowed Bury, a side with little confidence at all, to take control of the contest. I thought that Robinson had done enough over the summer to make his style of football work among this squad, and it was imbedded in them. But they all just looked lost.
And while the equaliser, with Magennis’ threat proving as vital as ever, a catalyst for second-half improvement, it was more in mentality than quality. Energy and intent discovered, but wasted attacking moves became incredibly tiresome to watch.
Of course, there is the argument to be had that the absence of Ricky Holmes made a huge difference in Charlton’s capabilities going forward. And with Ahearne-Grant struggling to make any sort of impression, there’s no doubt that that was the case. But to suggest a side with promotion ambitions is reliant on a single player to perform with any sort of fluency against opposition without a win in seven is concerning.
So too can you point towards the lack of options in reserve available to Robinson, not least with Mark Marshall and Ben Reeves still injured/unfit. Probably best summed up by young striker Ahearne-Grant being replaced by young striker Joe Dodoo, with both playing out wide and both not providing any real threat. Huge sympathy for the manager in such a situation, less so towards those above him.
Ultimately, the previous three games have provided genuine concern. Concern as great as the encouragement before it. The point today not a great deal better than the previous two defeats, on the basis of performance.
No doubt, as seen within those opening six games of the season, there’s quality within this side, but it desperately needs to be displayed again soon. A revitalising performance and result required. For that was deflating.
(Apologies once again for the lack of photos. I’ve used a camera during games at The Valley for three seasons now, have simply been left to myself, and never had a single comment from steward or fellow supporter. But I was abruptly told today by a steward that I couldn’t use it during the game. It appears the steward was a new one, and hadn’t been specifically informed to get me to stop using my camera. Probably just wanted to do something that felt right. I’ve got the impression it’s something that will be resolved. Two games where my camera required fixing, and now this with it perfectly functioning. Going well.)
It appeared these had been made a thing of the past. The sluggish away defeats to teams that loitered around League One’s relegation zone. Painful losses that made the previous season particularly grim.
For the early suggestions at the start of this campaign were that Charlton Athletic had developed a ruthless, clinical nature. The side possessing enough attacking quality to dominate weaker opponents, and playing in a more fluent way under Karl Robinson’s stewardship. Once they have taken control of games, and they have done on several occasions this season, they have looked a force.
Gillingham surely the next victim of Charlton’s new-found ruthlessness and control over perceived weaker opposition. The Gills lingering at the bottom of the division, and without a league victory to their name all season. Bouncing back from a crushing midweek defeat to Wigan Athletic with a trip to Priestfield, supported by more than 2,000 Addicks in the away end, seemed ideal.
And yet, that couldn’t have been further from the truth. The criticism of the Addicks against Wigan is that they were outclassed, and had no ‘Plan B’ in response to the Latics’ pressing play. The criticism of the Addicks against Gillingham was that they never found a level of quality above ‘B’.
This a replay of those tired, tedious and sluggish affairs that took place at the homes of relegation threatened sides last season. Throw last season’s kit on and a few masks on the faces of new signings and you wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. Never did Robinson’s men have any fluency in their attacking play, there so little energy and movement on show, and at no point did they have control of the game.
They kept control of possession, but in a manner that meant it was unthreatening, and as exhausting to watch as the sighs of disappointment and frustration shared among the away end were to repeat. When they did attempt to drive forward, their decision making and execution so often infuriated, and so often invited an opposition break. When they did farm out a rare opening, their finishing was astonishingly poor, with Josh Magennis particularly guilty, poking straight at Gills goalkeeper Tomas Holy from just a few yards out with the scores still level.
It only a matter of moments after that Magennis, in opening stages of the second period, that Gillingham took the lead. The hosts’ lack of quality apparent, but a lack of determination, drive and effort most certainly wasn’t. Their reward coming with 54 minutes played as Max Ehmer got in behind down the left, cut back for Tom Eaves, and the forward finished with all the ruthlessness Charlton had been missing.
A side playing at level ‘B’, and now required to display a ‘Plan B’, needing to push the Gills and take control of the game. But the Addicks remained lacklustre in their attacking play, appearing panicked and uncertain in possession, and what Robinson had to turn to on the bench failed to inject life into a stale side. The unlikely figure of substitute Ezri Konsa coming as close as any to equalising, but he too guilty of being wasteful and twice prodding at a defiant Holy from close range.
The justification for such a defeat might be misfortune, only heightened by the fact Holy was announced as Gillingham’s man of the match late in the game. But that the goalkeeper was required to make a handful of strong saves is not a reflection of a dominant Charlton performance that went unrewarded. More an infuriating Charlton performance, made even more so by the fact the chances that did come their way were wasted.
The Addicks, on this occasion, had reminded supporters of the suffering experienced in previous campaigns of misery.
Hope, yet to be eroded by the deflating scenes to follow, of an inspired response to Tuesday night’s emphatic defeat at home to Wigan was the feeling shared by most who entered the open, scaffolding-sustained structure that Gillingham house visiting supporters in.
Hope was something that Robinson had instilled in a group that has become Charlton’s regular starting XI. Despite the three-goal defeat, and the suggestion after the game that several of his players were nursing knocks, the boss opted for an unchanged side. The belief probably being that this one would rediscover the attacking spark it has previously shown, against League One’s basement club.
Although the Addicks were given an early notice that their task at Priestfield was a bit more complicated than turn up and win. Possession lost in midfield, former Charlton academy graduate Scott Wagstaff breaking alongside Sheffield Wednesday loanee Sean Clare, and the latter opting to strike a relatively tame effort into Ben Amos’ hands. A pass into Wagstaff’s run might well have been more threatening.
However, it also became immediately apparent that Robinson’s men were going to have more opportunities to run at their opponents than they did in midweek. While Wigan pressed, Gillingham sat deep without the ball, and invited the likes of Ricky Holmes and Tariq Fosu to drive forward. The former delivering for Magennis, only for Holy to react well to keep out the Northern Ireland international’s strike, and the latter having a go at goal himself, but the home goalkeeper getting down low to hold a relatively tame effort.
Enough in the opening five minutes to provide encouragement to a boisterous away end, but truthfully the game had not yet found a pattern and the Addicks not their rhythm. Further signs were probably required to indicate what sort of control Robinson’s men would have of this match, not least with Ady Pennock’s side seemingly working hard for an under-pressure boss. The hosts competing in a manner that suggested, despite their league position, they weren’t fatally short of confidence.
And even if they were, there was a rallying cry for the Gills with 12 minutes played in spite of the assistant referee’s flag denying them the confidence boost they actually wanted. Clare’s free-kick rather bizarrely saved by Amos, seemingly a comfortable one to deal with but instead pushed onto the bar, and the follow-up headed home by Gabriel Zakuani. To the delight of the Charlton fans behind the goal, Gillingham’s captain had strayed offside, but the hosts, reaffirmed by the roar from the stand opposite, seemed to have a touch of belief in themselves.
Still, against a side who were yet to win this season, all it probably took was a goal to cripple any sense of optimism. It’s just that Robinson’s men hadn’t seemingly got that message. Their play so tentative, the ball moved around so slowly, and the quality of delivery in the final third desperately poor.
Holmes and Clarke tested Holy, but their efforts were tame, and the relative lack of power in the shots reflected the lack of energy and drive in their attacking moves. Sluggish, sloppy, and really rather draining to watch. The discontent in the away end, as the passes without attacking purpose mounted, growing.
At least as half-time approached there was a new victim for the discontent, coming after the Addicks had shown the sort of forward play that the visiting supporters had been desperately crying out for. Holmes and Fosu combining, with the latter bursting into the box, only to be sandwiched between two Gillingham players. Referee Salisbury deciding, rather dubiously, that Mark Byrne had won the ball cleanly, and awarded the Addicks a corner rather than the spot-kick they were pleading for.
The resulting corner meeting the rather hard to miss figure of Patrick Bauer, but his header was comfortably held by Holy and the two sides were ultimately forced to go in at the break level. A scenario the hosts would have been much happier than the visitors with. Charlton, as had been the case throughout the first-half, still struggling to find fluency and threat in their attacking play deep into what became seven minutes of additional time after an injury to Wagstaff that unfortunately saw him withdrawn.
Of course, at least the Addicks, in their sluggishness, had not been punished defensively. A clean slate to start the second half with, and a chance over the course of the interval for Robinson to inject some life into his inside. It bloody well needed it.
It would have, in truth, been naïve to have expected to have seen a totally fluent Charlton playing at an extremely high tempo emerge immediately after the break, but minimum expectations demanded some kind of improvement. So when Holmes’ snap shot from a cleverly worked corner fell to the feet of Magennis a matter of yards from goal, those in the away end were anticipating said improvement. That of a goal.
Holmes was looking to score himself, but his effort could not have hit the boot of Charlton’s Northern Ireland international in any more perfect fashion. It seemed all he needed to do was poke the ball over the line, and subsequently run off and celebrate. But instead, Magennis’ prod was tame, Holy managed to get enough functioning body part behind it to keep it out, and Clarke’s follow-up was blocked away.
There was a roar of anticipation as the ball landed at Magennis’ feet, followed by a painful silence of disbelief that spread throughout the away end as his effort was kept out. Though the silence, just two minutes later, was to worsen. And be partnered by a roar from the three other stands that made up Priestfields.
For 54 minutes Charlton had been attempting to drive down the flanks, but had found themselves running into a dead end or delivering a dreadful final ball. Gillingham, as Clare sent Ehmer through, got it right while a statuesque visiting defence watched on as if they were admiring. The ball across the face of goal finding Eaves, and the forward giving Amos no chance.
Had the Gills created enough to deserve a lead? Probably not. Had our play been so sluggish, so lethargic, that an opposition goal on the break was hardly a surprise? Undoubtedly? No sense of injustice in the away end, merely anger, which those in red were charged with calming.
Though if the Addicks were to get back into the game, the chances of Fosu providing the decisive moment were becoming increasingly slim. The young winger enduring a particularly torrid afternoon, becoming more so as a Magennis cross picked him out, only to bounce awkwardly off him and out of play. A reasonable touch, or even just a first-time prod towards goal, and Holy would have had a sweat on again.
The man who occupied the other flank, however, still carried Charlton’s greatest threat. It probably the only time a roar of anticipation wasn’t forced when Holmes was carrying the ball forward, and Holy was required after another run from the winger ended with a curling shot sent in the general direction of the top corner. Though a free-kick that followed, floating comfortably wide, carried less of Holmes’ usual threat.
And, to their credit, threat was something that Gillingham still had. With Robinson’s men totally committed to levelling, there were gaps for the hosts on the break, and a curling effort from Eaves wasn’t too far over Amos’ bar. With Charlton still lacking fluency, despite pushing men forward, there no question a second Gills goal would kill them off.
At least now they were creating, opting to push forward with intent, rather than play tentatively and lost. The predictable target of Bauer found from a corner, the ball nodded towards goal, but Byrne alive to clear. More than these half chances had to be created; something still missing.
Robinson had turned to Joe Dodoo in place of Fosu, dropping him behind Magennis and Clarke out wide, but the Rangers loanee had been largely anonymous. A tame shot from distance straight into Holy’s hands hardly what was required as the clock continued to tick. And nor, really, was anything left on the bench going to provide the desired impact in this sort of situation.
Karlan Ahearne-Grant and Ezri Konsa thrown on, but the system repeating, and those in red looking increasingly lacklustre as the game entered its final ten minutes. Not so much accepting defeat, but looks of frustration spreading. Energy very quickly draining.
With one minute remaining, however, an away end as drained by these events as those on the pitch were suddenly brought back to life. A bouncing ball falling at the feet of Konsa, in an even more inviting position to score than Magennis was before him. It would have been fortunate, and it would have been fairly undeserved, but it mattered not to those visiting supporters surely about to celebrate an equaliser.
Alas, Charlton’s substitute could only mimic Magennis. A prod straight in the general direction of Holy, parried away by the goalkeeper, with Konsa getting another go that was also saved the inspired stopper. A quite incredibly stop but, particularly with regards the first attempt, Konsa had to score.
That probably the confirmation that the Addicks would not be scoring this afternoon, even with nine minutes of additional time to be played. Nine minutes in which Jason Pearce found the side netting with a header, but so too did Mark Byrne and Tom Eaves force Amos into saves on the break. Nine minutes which ended, probably quite reasonably, with Holy adopting a starfish shape on the floor in celebration as the Gills claimed their first victory of the season.
A first victory that had come at the expense of a Charlton side that had, for much of the contest, performed in lacklustre fashion.
A lacklustre performance, but one that Robinson has justified because a handful of chances were created within in. I find that an incredibly frustrating perception.
First of all, wastefulness is something that has cost us points for several seasons now, and that in itself is part of a below par display. Magennis and Konsa really should have taken their chances – there wasn’t really anything that was so clear cut so as to ignore the overall sluggish performance.
A sluggish performance against, before today, the division’s bottom side. It would have made sense to get at them, to play with adventurous attacking football we have done at times this season, and not play rather cautious passing football in midfield that seemed to have little ultimate purpose. Doing so, by having no end goal and so often a poor end product, invited them to break and gave them the opportunities they did to get a foot into the game.
Within the system that Robinson used is that adventurous, fluent and threatening attacking football that has been seen on occasions this season. Hidden somewhere. It made perfect sense to utilise it today, with those bodies within, in the hope that one of the early season performances would be repeated.
But it evidently wasn’t working. The passing too slow, a complete lack of movement, and too often the ball ending up in dead ends. The lack of reaction and response is incredibly frustrating.
I have sympathy with Robinson in that there’s not a lot you can turn to on the bench that will alter a game after we’d fallen behind. But at the same time, the sluggish passing play became almost robotic, despite the fact it evidently wasn’t driving the side forward. Flexibility, ‘Plan B’, depth – sure we’ve been here before.
It is ultimately two defeats. No response to a very good side, and subsequently horrendous against bottom of the league. We still, as reward for our start to the campaign, sit inside the division’s top six in this early league table.
But my confidence in the side has taken a dent in the past few days. I’m still sure it can perform incredibly well. But I’m concerned about how it reacts in certain, testing, situations.
The loud and collective cry of encouragement, drowning out an initial smattering of groans and boos, that met the half-time whistle was telling.
Karl Robinson’s Charlton Athletic had been second best by a considerable enough margin in those opening 45 minutes. A margin considerable enough to mean the single-goal deficit they now faced, inflicted by Wigan Athletic’s Gavin Massey with a minute of regular time remaining in the half, was warranted punishment. But punishment that the Addicks would surely respond positively to, and not simply return for the second period to have their first home defeat of the campaign confirmed.
Or at least that was the thinking among The Valley crowd, silencing their own frustrations to issue a rallying cry to those in red as they departed down the tunnel come the interval. Too much in the bank for this Charlton side to earn immediate crucifixion; too much in the bank for this Charlton side to return after the break without greater defensive resolve, composure in possession, and fluidity going forward. It no so much a rallying cry made out of desperation, in the hope the Addicks would prevent their promotion rivals getting away from them in the second half, but on the basis of an expectation born out of what has already been seen.
Alas, the unrelenting faith placed in the strength of this Charlton unit would show signs of bruising come full-time. Where a valiant response was expected, and as such demanded, the Addicks instead capitulated in the face of a strong rival. Defeat confirmed not by Massey’s 70th-minute second, converting having been teed up by former Charlton loanee Nathan Byrne, but by the manner in which Robinson’s men performed after the break.
In attempting to play their natural game – a patient, passing one that exploits the attacking threat of a creative attacking midfield trio – too many individuals were too slow on the ball or too wayward in possession. In simply attempting to exploit Tariq Fosu, Ricky Holmes and Billy Clarke, Wigan’s midfield and defensive line offered no room, and the trio continuously blunted their own attacks by making poor decisions. In attempting to get a foot back into the game, they found a strong and intelligent Latics side that prevented them from playing.
Becoming more direct not before all composure had been lost while in possession, there was little to be achieved in playing the ball long to an isolated, exhausted and silenced Josh Magennis. Robinson’s men unable to recover from their disappointing start to the game, and unable to offer a functional ‘Plan B’ once Paul Cook’s side had gained total control. A third Latics goal, as skipper Sam Morsy finished coolly from close range with three minutes to play, merely making sure the scoreline reflected the actual difference between the two sides.
The earlier rallying cry replaced by glum acceptance, with home supporters aware their side had been second best some distance. Robinson apologetic to the fans that have offered unrelenting support this season. His players flat.
A setting that might have depicted all the previously created positivity, the consequence of five wins from six League One games, being sucked away. But in losing The Valley’s 100% record, the inspired beliefs that existed and were expressed during the half-time rallying cry were not lost. Merely hidden in the temporary sorrow.
But a repeat of that rallying cry might not have been so blindly expectant, for those making it have now been further educated on the faults of this side. Faults that are in the mind of manager and players as much as they are supporters.
An awareness that such weak performances against sides also looking to achieve promotion will be punished. That sides of such quality will demand more from you, and repeating what has worked previously might not always be possible. That, for all the quality this side has, if Charlton are to achieve promotion come May, they need to develop an alternative way of playing.
In truth, there was a degree of trepidation in the pre-game expectation. Just a touch of concern forming around how Robinson’s men would respond to a test of this nature, having come out positively from a very tough slog with Southend United at the weekend. The Addicks, unchanged from their victory over the Shrimpers, facing a Wigan side of obvious quality, and desperate to bounce back having suffered defeat at Shrewsbury Town on Saturday.
But it trepidation that had grown into genuine fear before five minutes had passed at The Valley. With Charlton struggling to get going, and particularly sluggish in possession, the high-intensity that the Latics were playing at meant they were looking to punish. It through good fortune that the hosts escaped through those opening moments without conceding.
Less than 20 seconds had been played when Michael Jacobs’ strode unchallenged down the left, subsequently delivering for Massey at the back stick, only to see his cross skewed wide by the head of the forward. And it a similar scenario of frustration for crosser and man in the centre three minutes later as Byrne’s centre picked out Nick Powell, but the former Manchester United man glanced a glorious opening just off-target. Powell’s head straight into his hands; the heads of Charlton fans retreating into hands, wondering when it would be safe to come up.
It was therefore seen by the man whose composure is untested in any scenario as his role to calm the fret inside The Valley. A corner for the hosts worked to Ahmed Kashi on the edge of the Wigan box, his initial shot blocked, and his almost effortless attempt on the rebound flashing narrowly wide of the post. Time for the Addicks to get their foot into this contest.
But it became quite obvious that this, on two counts, was an exception to the rules of this encounter. In the first instance, Wigan immediately regained the confident stride they had previously, dominating the ball in the centre and earning themselves a free-kick as a result that Jacobs curled comfortably into Amos’ clutches. In the second, Kashi was appearing frantic and rushed in possession, as the Latics pressed the Algerian and made sure he couldn’t settle on the ball.
A frantic, panicked nature in possession that spread throughout the side. The Addicks not building from the back, but knocking the ball around like a hot potato, all too uncomfortable to hold it but equally unwilling to go long. Merely placing pressure on themselves as Wigan’s relentless pressing continued, with Amos required to save well from Jacobs after the lively winger had danced into the box.
It certainly a truth, however, that there is enough individual quality in this Charlton side for them to steal an advantage at any point while the scores remain level regardless of the context of the game. A marvellous delivery from Fosu inches away from the tirelessly working Magennis in the centre, before the young winger saw a fierce drive just about palmed away by visiting stopper Jamie Jones. Hardly displays of fluidity, or even signs that the Addicks were getting back into the game as they should be, but more than enough to keep the Latics on their toes.
And by the time half-an-hour had been played, despite still having control of the game’s overall pattern of play, it was Wigan’s turn to feel a touch fortunate to not find themselves behind. Jake Forster-Caskey getting a clear sight of goal on the edge of the area, his shot hit sweetly, and the ball rebounding back off the underside of the crossbar in such a way that most of The Valley were preparing to celebrate. Premature celebrations cut short for a second time in seconds as Magennis latched onto the rebound, but managed only to nod wide and leave home supporters perplexed as to how the ball hadn’t found its way over the line.
If nothing else, such an opening meant an already relatively healthy Valley atmosphere in the context increased. At least, while the performance remained a poor one, there was no doubting the application and effort on show from those in red. There had to be the belief that Forster-Caskey connecting with the bar would the catalyst for things clicking.
But still, as half-time approached, the fear that had been instilled in the game’s opening moments had not yet died. Not only were the Addicks still struggling to form fluent attacking moves, but there remained an uncomfortable, frantic and nervy nature to their defensive efforts. Powell dragging an effort off-target, before an important block from Forster-Caskey was required to prevent the attacking midfielder’s strike from testing Amos.
And so, in the circumstances, getting through to half-time with parity still intact seemed a relative success. A relative success that would not be celebrated. For, with one minute remaining until the break, the Latics took the lead that their first-half pressure had threatened.
A fairly simple one at that. Reece James gliding inside from the left, his ball across goal perfect for Massey, and the forward gleefully accepting the gift. The Addicks inviting Wigan forward, and subsequently defending in statuesque manner when they threatened.
The frustration of the late goal, the performance, and a referee who seemed keen to stop play as frequently as possible all contributing to the initial collective groan and boo that met the half-time whistle. The noise of disappointment perfectly reasonable, but it one that was replaced rather emphatically by the noise of hope. A rallying cry from the Covered End to those in red as they left field, that shared the message “we know you can offer more, and we believe you can show it”.
Nonetheless, there was pressuring in that encouragement. It of vital importance that Robinson’s men emerged for the second period and immediately displayed their qualities, repaying the support shown and preventing this game from getting away from them. Immediately display those qualities, however, they did not.
For it Wigan, as was the case at the start of the first half, who played with all the intensity and drive, along with the fluidity and quality in possession to make it worthwhile. Lost souls in red covering The Valley turf as Powell drove forward within the half’s first minute, and saw his shot from distance pushed wide by Amos, before the goalkeeper was required to block a Massey strike after the forward worked his way into the box. The Latics allowed to pick up from where they left off.
The struggle to blunt opposition attacks continuing, and the struggle to create meaningful ones of their own also showing few signs of being overcome. Still no answer to Wigan’s pressing game, with the Addicks having no time to settle in possession inside their own half, and the threat of Holmes, Clarke and Fosu was being almost entirely nullified whenever the ball did find its way to the attacking midfield three by the visitors’ defensive strength. Robinson’s men continued to repeat the same processes, processes at a level much lower than they normally are, and get the same rewards.
As such, even with the second-half in its infancy, the signs were suggesting that a second Wigan goal would kill the game. A second goal they were continuing to strive for. Powell firing off-target, before a breaking Jacobs saw an effort flash agonisingly wide and the ever-influential Powell forced another strong save out of Amos.
The nature of the advantage the visitors held made greater by the way in which the game continued to be officiated. Constant stoppages and minimal contact earning free-kicks, though the same for both sides, considerably more beneficial for a Wigan side who could frustrate the Addicks further, and simultaneously nullify the threat of Magennis by drawing fouls out of him. The game becoming incredibly scrappy and stop-start, and that ideal for Cook’s men.
So it rather ironic that, as The Valley crowd grew increasingly frustrated with both referee and opposition, Charlton’s best opportunity to equalise came following a stoppage of play. Alex Bruce horrendously scything down Holmes in a wide left position, and his subsequent free-kick delivery flicked on at the near post by Clarke. The ball bouncing across the face of goal and narrowly wide.
A flicker of life in this Charlton beast, and some belief and purpose back into the cries of encouragement, but just a flicker. For it would take just five further minutes for defeat to be all but confirmed. The simplicity Wigan had been striving to achieve for much of the contest achieved for a second time, as Byrne set the ball back to Massey and the forward, with space and time to consider his options, finished clinically.
It no less than a dominant group of Latics deserved, who now had the dominance in the scoreline to match their overall efforts. A margin that the Addicks, so tame in their attacking efforts, would be unlikely to halve let alone eradicate in the remaining 20 minutes. As if to prove the point, Holmes responded by running forward and firing horribly off-target from 25 yards.
It here, as an overworked and incredibly isolated Magennis challenged for another ball he could do nothing with, that it appeared the fight to fend off the frustration had been lost. The Valley’s mood not one of anger, but certainly low and disappointed. Expressions on player faces told that they too were feeling the frustration, and weren’t simply disconnecting themselves from the defeat and performance.
They didn’t need a third Wigan goal to be told they had been completely outplayed, but a three-goal defeat was probably more befitting of the performance. The Latics continuing to flirt with Charlton’s box even after doubling their advantage, able to do so with the Addicks offering nothing at the other end, and further reward coming as Morsy controlled the ball by the penalty spot and converted via the post’s paint. Deflated Addicks leaving The Valley as the 87th-minute strike found the back of the net, while elated Wigan supporters and players made the most of their moment.
One moment of many during 90 minutes that had shown the Latics were far and above the better side. The full-time whistle that was to follow bringing with it the sad confirmation and realisation of a first home defeat of the season, but so too the relief that this defeat would not become any more crushing.
Charlton quite emphatically outplayed, and left inflicted with wounds by a promotion rival who looked far greater equipped for a promotion challenge.
Wounds that, in the isolation of a heavy defeat to a promotion rival, sting. The Latics arriving in SE7, playing a high intensity brand of football that completely nullified Charlton’s threat, and subsequently taking control of the game. There periods during the contest where the Addicks looked like the lost group of individuals they had done for much of the second half of last season, and not the determined and fluent group they have performed like during this term.
The performance raising serval concerns, but most notably with regards to a lack of ‘Plan B’. Or, in other words, a way of getting the ball from back to front in a fluid manner when the opposition midfield presses high and prevents us from having plenty of time in possession inside our own half. Aside from pump up to Magennis and hope he can perform a minor miracle, we seemed rather lost as to just how we should go about forming attacks once Wigan had unsettled us.
And so too did we appear lost for ideas as to how to prevent the Latics from causing attacking problems of their own. The defensive efforts have been so resolute this season, but the visitors continuously broke forward at will and created enough genuine openings to have scored many more than the three they did. Far too open, far too weak, and in general far too lost once the initial game plan had seemingly gone out the window.
But, at this stage of the campaign, you would hope that events like this one act as a learning process. That the defeat and performance aren’t simply forgotten and seen as one offs, but looked at in great detail as the base from which a Charlton side that has made an impressive start to the season can improve. Undoubtedly, this has to be the point where we find a way to respond when a team plays in the intense manner that Wigan did.
There is certainly much more for Robinson’s men, even after five wins in seven games, to learn.
(Apologies for the lack of/quality of photos. Camera needs to spend some time at the camera hospital, and captured images only in periods)
The laughter that Karl Robinson displayed come full-time, sent in the direction of the Oldham Athletic supporters who took exception to him and his joy, had previously been expressed by the followers of Charlton Athletic who were in the Boundary Park away end, bemused by the comedically poor level of opposition that faced them in the game’s opening half hour.
Mocking celebrations from the home crowd as one of their own was embarrassingly substituted 27 minutes into the game. A lack of confidence, and a lack of composure, among individuals that meant a lack of collective quality was being made even more obvious. A two-goal deficit that might as well have been twenty, and seemingly meant the game was over as a contest already.
For Ricky Holmes’ extraordinary 18th-minute opener for the visitors was not only a moment of magic, but a reflection of what appeared to be the gulf between the two sides. The winger breaking forward, pulling the trigger while slightly off balance, and lashing a swerving and dipping effort into the top left corner of Oldham stopper Ben Wilson’s goal from the best part of 30 yards. As they had done in response to much of Charlton’s passing play in the opening stages, the hosts looked on without answer.
There certainly no suggestion, especially after Tariq Fosu had doubled the Addicks’ lead three minutes later, that the laughter and confidence in a positive result was misplaced. That the remainder of the afternoon would feature an uncomfortable level of concern and nervousness. That relief would be one of the main emotions, before Robinson resumed the laughter, upon the full-time.
But having been on the verge of total capitulation, a Latics side who have lost all four of their league games this season were revitalised with 34 minutes played. Patrick Bauer guilty of handling inside the area as Charlton attempted to defend a ball into the box, and experienced forward Craig Davies stepping up to finish emphatically from the spot. The Boundary Park crowd firmly behind John Sheridan’s side, the Addicks suddenly performing sluggishly, and only a vital goal-line clearance from Billy Clarke – denying Ousmane Fane on the stroke of half-time – prevented Oldham from going in at the break level.
Half-time, however, offered no reprieve for Robinson’s men. The Addicks now being placed under immense pressure by a rejuvenated opposition that were showing themselves to be much more than just a comedic pushover. In fact, it those in red that were being pushed over too easily, as Charlton’s backline failed to deal with a long ball played towards Davies with 51 minutes played, and Oldham debutant Eoin Doyle was on hand to convert from his tee-up.
From certain, and substantial, victory, to the threat of total collapse. With Robinson’s side still yet to find their feet again, and the Latics continuing to perform with a drive and determination that didn’t seem possible as their heads dropped once Fosu’s strike found the back of the net, Oldham had suddenly become favourites. Or at least that was the case for three minutes.
For three minutes after the hosts had drawn level, they were given a deficit in terms of numbers on the pitch. Fane, the man to be introduced on 27 minutes when Olli Banks was removed, had already been booked when he clattered into Chris Solly. A second yellow subsequently shown, leaving Solly to face abuse from the home supporters for the remainder of the afternoon, but the decision appeared justified.
But a decision that, with two yellow cards for dissent in the moments that followed, rattled the Latics. The previously seen lack of composure returning, and Charlton taking advantage. Surely no way back, and no fight left, for Oldham as Clarke finished coolly from Fosu’s ball across the face of goal with 62 minutes played.
And the earlier nerves seemingly replaced by a comfortable final 18 minutes as Joe Dodoo, making his debut from the bench, eased through on goal and converted beyond Wilson. The lead two and Sheridan’s side completely crushed; as you were.
Alas, it was probably naïve to believe this bizarre fixture would have a soothing finish. Jack Byrne given the space to curl beyond Ben Amos from the edge of the box with eight to play, and set up a horribly nervy finish. A horribly nervy finish full of desperate attempts by the Addicks to retain their advantage, and equally desperate attempts from the Latics to steal a dramatic point.
Charlton, however, survived. A victory of sauntering confidence rather than a struggle to survive the early indication, but a victory achieved nonetheless. A victory enjoyed by Robinson and his side, celebrated in front of the visiting supporters.
An extraordinary game of football. But one that caused such intense nervous breakdowns that the relief come full-time was more pleasing than the excitement that would have followed a convincing win would have been. Laughter so often a sarcastic tonic in response to a combination of disbelief and disappointment following this club, but here, for all the worry in between, it a response to a barely believable fixture that ended in relief, joy, and a win.
Predicting what was to follow impossible, but there was certainly some intrigue prior to kick-off at Boundary Park.
Despite the deadline day arrival of Dodoo, joining on loan from Rangers, it was Karlan Ahearne-Grant who took Josh Magennis’ place up top in Robinson’s starting XI. The youngster largely used as a winger this season, but trusted to fill in while Magennis represents Northern Ireland. A man of slightly greater experience, in the shape of Johnnie Jackson, replacing the other international absentee, as the skipper started in the uncomfortable position of left-back with Jay Dasilva unavailable.
Facing an inexperienced forward, and a left-back lacking legs, would have come as pleasing news for the Latics. Though their supporters were probably more pleased to see the numbers on their bench, owing to three league debutants in their starting XI, increase from three to six. Injuries and international absentees meaning Sheridan’s side was still short on numbers, having had just 14 available players for the trip to Blackpool last weekend.
And it was one of Oldham’s debutants that, with the game just three minutes old, gave the Addicks a small scare. Jason Pearce’s studs getting caught in the turf as he and Doyle competed for a ball inside Charlton’s box, the Irishman briefly looking like he was about to stride through on goal as the centre-back slipped, but Pearce ultimately recovering well to get the ball clear.
Without assistance from Charlton defenders slipping, however, the Latics immediately looked like a side that had lost their opening four league games of the season. No fluency whatsoever to their attacking play, as most in blue simply appeared lost in possession before pumping towards Davies, and a lack of pace and defensive resilience to deal with the counter-attacking play of the Addicks. The visitors quickly into their stride and, without creating a clear-cut opening, taking control of the contest.
But when that clear-cut opening did arrive, with 13 minutes played, bemusement spread around Boundary Park’s away end as to just how the visitors hadn’t pulled in front. Fosu, from a narrow angry, firing across the face of goal, with the ball running just past the reach of Ahearne-Grant’s outstretched foot and subsequently the far post. Agonisingly close in both circumstances.
And while a bit of misfortune could be blamed for the Addicks not taking the lead on that occasion, Ahearne-Grant was cursing himself only a few minutes later as Charlton’s dominance continued but the young forward failed to take an excellent opening. Lovely movement from the teenager to get in behind and race onto Fosu’s through ball, but his finish when one-on-one with Wilson was incredibly tame, and easy for the goalkeeper to keep out. The obvious question – would Magennis have finished that? – asked.
A question, however, that Addicks didn’t need to worry about for long. For they were given an emphatic response on 18 minutes that answered all questions. They were given a moment of sheer brilliance from Ricky Holmes.
Driving into the opposition’s half, but with the ball a little bit away from him than you’d normally like and his body slightly unsteady as a result, it certainly didn’t seem like that the platform from which the strike that ends the Goal of the Season competition in September would be scored. But this is, after all, Ricky Holmes. The winger unleashing a fierce drive from 30 yards, swerving and dipping as it passed the desperate full-stretch dive of Wilson and rocketed into the top corner of Oldham’s goal, and sending the away end into barely believing celebration.
There little doubt, even if the nature of it made it difficult to see as any other, that it a goal the Addicks had done enough to deserve. And a combination of Oldham’s efforts and Charlton’s continued attacking drive meant that a two-goal gap between these two sides could hardly be considered an unfair reflection of the apparent gulf between them. Three further minutes all that was required for the belief of certain victory to spread around Boundary Park’s away end, and boos to be voiced by its regular attendees.
Fosu left free on the left of the box, blue shirts standing off him as he forced himself inside, and the winger taking the invite to emphatically finish from close range. His first goal for the Addicks seemingly killing off the game, despite only 21 minutes being played. Robinson’s men rampant, and the heads of Sheridan’s side completely gone.
An attempt to inject life into his unresponsive side made by Oldham’s boss, as the underperforming Banks was withdrawn, to the delight of the home crowd, and replaced by Fane. Though that Fane was cautioned three minutes after coming on, having hauled down Jake Forster-Caskey, suggested the head loss had spread to the bench. In between which, the vastly experience Peter Clarke had rather hilarious been booked for re-entering the pitch and touching the ball without the referee’s approval following injury, as if to confirm Oldham were about to implode.
But having flashed his yellow card at two players in blue, referee Joyce would soon be pointing his hand at the penalty spot in the area Charlton were defending. A dangerous Oldham delivery, which might well have been converted at the back post, was half-stopped by Bauer’s hand, and a penalty subsequently awarded to the hosts having produced next to nothing for the previous 34 minutes. Davies, after a brief contest over the ball with Dan Gardner, placed the ball on the spot, and emphatically thumped it into the bottom right corner to half his side’s deficit.
It seemed impossible to believe there could be a turning point in a game where one side were so confident and the other in such a state of crisis, but the hands of Joyce and Bauer would produce it.
For immediately there was life in the Boundary Park home crowd, and life in their side. Determination and drive reappearing, and the ball spending much more of its time in Charlton’s half under Oldham possession. Robinson’s men seemingly stunned, performing sluggishly, and really struggling to get back into any sort of fluency.
In fact, there was suddenly a hope the Addicks would simply be able to get through to half-time, and go again thereafter. A hope that was almost dashed in stoppage-time as the ball fell kindly to Davies on the edge of the area, and the fingertips of Amos were required to tip the forward’s curling effort around the post. Not that those behind the goal Charlton were defending could breathe comfortable yet, however, as pinball followed the resulting corner, and only the most vital of goal-line clearances from the head of Clarke prevented Fane from converting what appeared a certain equaliser.
In a parallel universe, the Addicks had completely crushed a hopeless Oldham side, and were going in at the break at least four goals up. In this one, they walked off thankful to still be ahead. A quite bizarre final 11 minutes of the half, that seemed totally impossible.
Nonetheless, irrespective of whether the Latics continued to play with determination and drive or not, Charlton returning to their quality passing play of the opening half hour would put them back in control. It vanishing completely after the penalty, and half-time an opportunity for Robinson to force it back into his players. A fresh start after the break, having fallen away.
The early signs, however, were hardly promising. There still little energy and fluency to the forward play of the Addicks, and after one stuttering move had broken down they were very fortunate not to have been undone on the counter. Kean Bryan just overhitting a pass to Doyle, that would have sent the Irishman clean through on goal.
A let off, and possibly a chance to get going thereafter, but punishment was only a matter of moments away. Peace and Bauer often an unmovable object this season, but both challenging for a ball with Davies, and leaving Doyle free. The striker volleying across the face of goal and into Amos’ far corner.
From total control with 33 minutes played, to having thrown away a two-goal advantage and seemingly on the backfoot with 51 minutes gone. Boundary Park’s boos replaced by belief. The away end stunned, and their side stunned into retreat.
But maybe that belief, and very driven efforts, worked against the Latics with 54 minutes gone. Without the atmosphere and energy, the already booked Fane might not have gone in so recklessly on Solly, and earned himself a second yellow card. The hosts furious, protesting with as much passion as they were now playing, but what seemed a justifiable dismissal had turned this incredible game back in the favour of Charlton.
Or, at least, back in the favour of Charlton if they could find their attacking quality again. Even with ten me to face, their previous sluggish efforts were not going to break them down. A blocked Holmes free-kick, though never threatening the opposition, about as close as the Addicks had come to creating an opening for some time.
So when Fosu found some life and burst down the left with 62 minutes played, his ball across the face of goal produced the first genuine opening the Addicks had created since doubling their advantage. It picked out Clarke, who could have closed his eyes and thumped an effort in the general direction of the goal with bodies around him, but the forward showed a great deal of composure. A touch taken, the ball placed into the far bottom corner, and the madness reserved for the subsequent celebrations as the Addicks, to relief of all in the away end, regained their advantage.
On this occasion, however, no one was going to make the mistake of suggesting it was game done, even with Sheridan’s side lacking a body. An immediate response from the hosts, as Byrne got some space on the edge of the area and curled wide.
But a fourth goal, and surely those of a Charlton persuasion could breathe easy. Oldham continued to fight, and the Addicks still struggled for fluency going forward, but out of nowhere Dodoo, introduced off the bench at the start of the half, had found himself clear on goal. An opportunity the Rangers loanee couldn’t turn down, a debut goal coolly taken, and the Addicks, without being anywhere near their best, had at least shown some character to get through a difficult situation.
It mattered not, therefore, when Dodoo was sent clean through again with 81 minutes played, but able only to prod straight at Wilson. A really tame effort, but it could be forgotten. Victory already sealed.
A really tame effort that instantly came to mind just a minute later as, for a second time, the barely breathing corpse of Oldham Athletic Football Club gave itself some life. The ball cut back to Byrne on the edge of the box, the midfielder allowed far too much time to pick his spot, and the bottom corner of Amos’ goal found. A self-inflicted nervous breakdown, and game on again.
Utterly, utterly painful viewing as Oldham’s ten men attempted to push for an equaliser that, just a few moments ago, had seemed impossible. The Addicks uncomfortable, but the Latics not doing enough to threaten. Five minutes of stoppage-time to survive, and steal a win in a quite odd encounter.
The opposition won free-kicks, they flung balls forwards, and to say Charlton stood totally and convincingly firm might be a little generous. But time passed without the Latics able to produce a meaningful opening. The sound of the referee’s final whistle and wonderful injection of relief to those in the away end, still not quite sure what they’d just witnessed, but able to finally celebrate with certainty.
Celebrate, for the fourth time in the league this season, with a manager and his squad in front of them. A manager taking some pleasure in the stick he was getting from the home supporters. A group of players seemingly as relieved as the supporters they were showing appreciation to.
Relief. That is probably the main emotion that supporters left Boundary Park with. Relief that a very embarrassing, a very possible, capitulation was avoided.
The state that Oldham found themselves in after the first half hour really can’t be exaggerated. They looked set for a heavy loss, and that not least given that the Addicks were performing to a high standard. Full credit to Sheridan for managing to lift his side, when it appeared all their heads had been firmly lost.
But they got back into the game because Charlton stuttered as emphatically as they recovered. The attacking play vanishing, defensive composure lost, and individual errors in abundance. The period between Oldham’s penalty and sending off arguably as poorly as we’ve played all season.
As such, Fane’s dismissal was undoubtedly vital. As vital as Bauer’s handball was to Oldham. There a real sense when the hosts equalised that they were in a position to go on and win the game, and so the midfielder’s recklessness came at a very useful time. I’m not sure we’d have the game if Oldham’s momentum went unchallenged.
Nonetheless, despite the fact we were undoubtedly struggling somewhat, that we were able to grind something out after finding ourselves in a difficult situation deserves credit. Very few chances after the initial first-half burst, but two important ones taken by Clarke and Dodoo once created. The subsequent Byrne goal probably another reminder that the Addicks wouldn’t have won with 22 men on the pitch, but all the same, they managed to stand firm in the period that followed.
An unconvincing display, something that Robinson and his players have happily admitted to, in a very odd game. But one that produced victory. Somehow.
And ultimately, I’m just bloody thankful to come away from there with three points.
What a bizarre afternoon.
The noise made by those occupying the New York Stadium’s away end loud for the duration of the afternoon. Little motivation required for the visiting Charlton Athletic supporters to break into song. Every positive moment embraced and appreciated.
But the universally shared ironic cheers as it was announced that Rotherham United’s Kieffer Moore had been named sponsors’ man of the match was probably the most telling sound made by those who had travelled from the south.
Not only highlighting the position of strength the Addicks were able to boast, mocking the notion that the Millers could name a man of the match despite having not long conceded a second goal, but also the contribution Moore had made in the two-goal gulf between the two sides. The Ipswich loanne probably given his personal accolade for his aerial presence and boisterous physical play, but he part of a Rotherham attack that failed to punish Charlton when opportunities were offered. Part of a Rotherham side that were undone by a clinical group of Addicks, who took advantage of their opposition’s frailties.
For what was ultimately a relatively comfortable victory for Karl Robinson’s men might not have been the case had the hosts shown any sort of composure in front of goal. Moore guilty of being wasteful on several occasions as the game progressed, but it his striker partner who wasted Rotherham’s best opening with eight minutes played and the scores still level. Jamie Proctor, having been teed up by Moore, needing only to tap the ball into a near-empty net, but somehow managing to skew the ball wide.
So it came somewhat against the run of play when Patrick Bauer rose above Rotherham’s red shirts to power home Jake Forster-Caskey’s corner with 16 minutes gone. The Millers leaving the German in far too much space, and Bauer offering emphatic punishment. Something Rotherham weren’t able to do when Charlton’s defensive sluggishness offered them a gift.
And with that, the visitors began to find their feet. The fluent attacking play, seen during the impressive victory over Northampton Town seven days ago, returned and confidence spread. The course of the contest completely altered on two moments in front of goal.
The Addicks, however, far from being in control. While the Cobblers had created chances last weekend, the nature of Charlton’s dominance meant you always felt confident their football would be rewarded. That wasn’t the case here, as Robinson’s men got forward well without creating, and the Millers continued to create without converting as the second half progressed.
In fact, had a breaking Moore looked up and seen that Proctor was unmarked inside the box, the Millers might well have drawn level. The forward instead opting to shoot, his effort comfortably saved by Ben Amos, and his strike-partner quite visibly frustrated. His frustration replaced by pain of various varieties just five minutes later.
For Proctor was involved in a collision with Chris Solly in the centre of the pitch as the Addicks broke forward, Rotherham appealed desperately for a foul as their forward lay in a heap on the ground, but their appeals fell on deaf ears as Ricky Holmes beat Joe Mattock and found himself in a crossing position. His delivery flighted perfectly to the back post, and Josh Magennis able to convert to the delight of the visiting supports and the fury of the home fans and players. Proctor ultimately carried away on a stretcher, but again the Addicks had taken advantage of a situation where the Millers had seemingly switched off, after the hosts had wasted many.
Victory sealed from the moment Magennis’ header crossed the line despite 24 minutes still to play, and the signalling of nine additional minutes bringing about slight worries of a Charlton capitulation. In part because Rotherham were crushed, and in part because they looked even less confident in front of goal than they had previously. But largely because those who defended the Addicks’ goal had discovered a determination and defiance, benefiting from the Millers’ earlier wastefulness as much as anyone else.
The pleasing attacking play and fight at the back when placed under pressure lauded, even if an element of good fortune was involved in setting up the result. Regardless, when the chances came Charlton’s way, they were taken, and a clinical and warranted victory was claimed.
And it mattered little to those who celebrated the first away points of the season come full-time. The away end as loud as it had been throughout the game, drained players just about finding enough energy to applaud the support, and Robinson enjoying the moment as much as each Addick in the New York Stadium. The positive signs are growing.
Already existing positive signs that meant confidence of victory was felt pre-game, and was only reaffirmed with Robinson able to name an unchanged XI from the comprehensive win over Northampton Town seven days ago. Knowledge that this Rotherham side, who started with Charlton academy graduate Semi Ajay, had beaten Southend United 5-0 in their previous home outing, but nothing to fear.
In fact, before the game had entered its second minute, the Millers were shown it was they who should be spending their afternoon on the backfoot and in fear, struggling to contend with the pace of the Addicks on the break. Tariqe Fosu bursting forward, and always a yard ahead of Ajayi, leaving the robust centre-back with little choice but to drag Charlton’s wide man down before he drove into a shooting position. Rotherham’s wall deflecting Forster-Caskey’s resulting free-kick over the bar.
But, despite getting the away end into full voice, Fosu’s run was not the catalyst for a positive Addicks start. It probably a Holmes shot, slipping as he poked tamely into the hands of Millers stopper Richard O’Donnell via a deflection, that foreshadowed the opening 15 minutes with greater accuracy. The visitors beginning uncomfortably, and without the composure and energetic movement that made their efforts against the Cobblers so impressive.
A warning sign for the Addicks as Joe Newell’s free-kick was met by far too easily by Moore, but the forward not able to generate enough power behind his header. Amos with enough time to get down and claim the nod towards goal. It, however, a warning that wasn’t acted upon.
For a minute later, Moore had taken advantage of Kashi’s misplaced pass to get in behind Charlton’s backline down the right. Time and space to pick out Proctor in the middle, beating Solly and Amos with his driven pass as he did, but the forward somehow managing to scuff an effort wide from a matter of yards. A horror miss for the Millers, a real let off for the Addicks, and confirmation that vast improvement was very quickly needed.
But still there was no intensity to Charlton’s overall play, and the defence continued to look incredibly fragile. Those in blue stationary as Moore turned with a touch of class on the edge of the box, and thankful that they saw his resulting effort struck comfortably for Amos to save. All too simple for Paul Warne’s side, and the Addicks a touch fortunate they weren’t showing greater quality in front of goal.
More than anything else, therefore, it came as a relief to just have the ball in the Rotherham half of the pitch when a Charlton corner was won with 16 minutes played. To test their defensive line would merely have been a bonus. But the Addicks certainly offered a test; a test the Millers had no answer to.
For Bauer cleverly peeled away from his marker, meeting Forster-Caskey’s delivery perfectly. A fair distance away from goal, the big German still needed to get a degree of power behind the ball, and he managed to superbly power his header into the far bottom corner, well beyond the reach of O’Donnell. Coming against the run of play, and as quite a shock given the pressure Charlton’s uncomfortable start had meant they’d been placed under, but there a confidence this goal would give the Addicks the boost they required, in addition to the lead.
And that appeared to be the case. The Addicks looking a lot more comfortable on the ball, the pace in the side being exploited, and deliveries asking more questions of Rotherham’s backline. The hosts, as they now found themselves thwarted by a more disciplined defence, beginning to get a little frustrated.
But despite Charlton looking more comfortable, and edging towards the quality they had shown in their performance seven days ago, genuine chances were still few. Billy Clarke lashing the ball goalwards via the crossbar, but long after he’d been adjudged offside, was about as close as the Addicks got to creating something meaningful despite looking threatening in their bursts forward.
Rotherham, on the other hand, were struggling to retain possession in the final third and becoming more and more reliant on aimless long balls in the general direction of Moore, but created an opportunity that should have been draw level with just over half an hour played. Ajayi coming in unmarked at the back post from a corner, but diverting his header wide. Not quite as simple a chance as Proctor’s, but still one that really should have been taken.
The opportunity, coming out of nothing, the beginning of a spell for the Millers that saw them create a number of decent chances to equalise. Amos’ fingertips preventing Moore’s delivery from finding Proctor in the centre, Moore mis-hitting horribly after doing superbly to bring down Frecklington’s delivery, and the robust forward heading straight at Charlton’s goalkeeper from Ryan Williams’ delivery when he should have done better. Just a slight concern that maybe the Addicks should be doing more with their promising attacking play.
So, of course, Holmes attempted to provide the answers. Having not since fired comfortably over the bar from distance, the winger again tried his luck from range but this time drawing a superb save out of Rotherham stopper O’Donnell. The curling effort heading for the far corner without the goalkeeper’s intervention.
But that the half-time whistle blew with the Addicks still holding their single-goal advantage was almost as sweet as it being doubled before the end of the first period. This far from a fluent Charlton display, and their lead constantly threatened, so to head in at the interval a goal up was huge in the context of this affair. A more potent Rotherham would no doubt emerge after the break, and so a more structured and solid group of Addicks needed to line-up for the second period.
So while Rotherham beginning the half on the front foot hardly settled nerves, the response of Robinson’s side was pleasing. Testing balls into the box dealt with, and the Millers denied the opportunity to create genuine chances having got themselves in good positions. The Addicks standing firm, or at least firmer than they had during periods of the first half.
Greater defensive resilience offering hope that a second goal, despite more than half an hour remaining, would kill the game off. A second the Addicks were inches away from when Holmes driven ball across the face of goal evaded the feet of all, not least Magennis, in the centre. Agonisingly close to settling the worry, but instead only increasing it.
For there certainly an end-to-end nature to the contest, and a sense the next goal would be vital. Moore desperately close to turning in a rare Rotherham delivery that Charlton’s defence simply couldn’t deal with, before Michael Ihiekwe’s deflection took all the pace off Holmes’ effort at the other end and made for a comfortable O’Donnell save.
But just beyond the hour, in this game of relative half-chances that sat on a knife edge, Rotherham found themselves with an opportunity to punish the Addicks. Moore busting through on goal, with the shot on but the angle tight, and Proctor unmarked in the centre. The forward opting to shooting, an effort that Amos was able to claim at the second attempt, when a square ball to Proctor would have surely been converted even with his earlier horror miss in mind.
While Proctor was still throwing his hands about in frustration, and probably quite rightfully, Magennis had thrown everything behind an effort towards goal form the best part of 30 yards. His strike flashing only narrowly wide. The margins in this contest remaining narrow with 61 minutes played.
Or at least they would remain narrow for five more minutes, as the game’s decisive goal was struck, and Charlton’s advantage was doubled.
Fury around the New York Stadium as the visitors’ attack continued while Proctor lay injured, the consequence of what appeared a fairly legitimate coming together with Solly, but Rotherham seemingly half-expected the whistle to blow while Charlton drove forward in ruthless manner. Mattock weak, allowing Holmes to burst through him, and the delivery from the talismanic winger was pinpoint. Beyond O’Donnell and his defenders, though perfectly placed for Magennis to nod over the line and give the Addicks what seemed an unassailable lead.
But complacency would allow Rotherham the opportunity to halve their deficit, and a halved deficit would set up a conclusion to this contest that had seemingly been avoided by the scoring for the second goal. Halved it would have been if not for Amos, who saved superbly from Ajayi, latching onto a loose ball following a Rotherham set-piece.
In fact, Ajayi’s presence meant the Addicks couldn’t quite celebrate victory just yet. The academy graduate heading wide from a Newell free-kick, before Newell himself came close to scoring in bizarre fashion, as his overhit cross needed a diving header from Kashi to prevent it from going straight in. The Algerian throwing himself into the net in the process, but you’d expect nothing less.
And while Rotherham flung balls into Charlton’s box with regularity in the game’s remaining moments, including the additional nine minutes, the Addicks showed great determination and character to stand firm. Bauer and Jason Pearce equalling Kashi’s resolve, and Amos continuing to claim anything his centre-backs didn’t. A very weak effort from substitute Jonson Clarke-Harris, comfortably held by Amos, and an effort dragged wide by Newell both deep into stoppage time about as close as a demoralised Rotherham got to getting back into the game.
But this a game that, though for some time was quite evidently in the balance, now belonged to the Addicks. The Addicks that rode their luck, that showed the clinical nature their opponents didn’t, and had shown fight and determination when it mattered. And the Addicks who celebrated, both on the pitch and in the away end, with real pride and enjoyment come full-time.
For there’s no question that good fortune was involved in Charlton’s victory, and there’s no doubt that there will be Rotherham fans cursing their side’s misfortune (and horrendous finishing).
The complexity of the game is totally different if Rotherham score one of the many good chances they created when the game was goalless, or when the Addicks had only a single-goal lead. There was a defensive sluggishness at times today, or at least faults within Charlton’s shape that the Millers were able to expose, but no able to punish.
But that takes nothing away from an excellent performance. An excellent performance in response to being placed under pressure. Clinical, determined and hearty.
Robinson’s men taking the chances that the opposition weren’t able to. There was the attacking quality, those lightning fast counters, on display once again if only in patches. The defence, is shaky in periods, grew stronger as the game progressed, showing great fight in the second period and Amos excelling in his command of the box.
But maybe the most pleasing thing is that we’re winning games this when in previous campaigns previous Charlton sides would have undoubtedly wilted under pressure. Whether with assistance from good fortune or not, we’re battling. We’re showing superb fight.
So too is it promising that there’s obviously still room for improvement. The side is winning games while showing a few faults, and performing a little inconsistently. That can only be a good thing.
The side is slowly moving from one with potential to one that will certainly challenge. Wining in different ways, under different circumstances.
A certain amount of fear filled all four of The Valley’s stands prior to kick-off, with supporters of both Charlton Athletic and the visiting Northampton Town sharing a similar concern.
With the Addicks tame in attack during their defeat to Plymouth Argyle, and the Cobblers arriving in SE7 without a goal to their name in the opening weeks of this campaign, confidence in the ability of both sides to create and convert openings was low. The pressure placed on both sides, with greater offerings in the final expected, equally high. A need for Karl Robinson’s men to offer something more dynamic and potent, not least after the boss offered no promises a new forward would arrive, and those who had travelled from the Midlands simply desperate to celebrate for the first time this season.
But as Jake Forster-Caskey curled a strike delightfully beyond Northampton stopper David Cornell, scoring his second goal of second-half stoppage-time, an emotion of fear, complemented by fury and frustration, existed only in the Jimmy Seed Stand. Addicks marvelling at the beauty of the midfielder’s effort, Charlton’s fourth goal of the afternoon, and enjoying celebrations that were fuelled further by relief, the resting of worry, and confirmation of victory. Cobblers not only contending with a crushing defeat, but a growing concern their robust and battling side lack the potency to compete.
In truth, four for the Addicks was a touch flattering despite showing threatening attacking qualities throughout the afternoon, if only because Justin Edinburgh’s men had performed in such a way that made for a reasonable contest. So much so that, even after Robinson’s men had seemingly put the game beyond doubt with 61 minutes played, there remained a battle for the Addicks to engage in. Clear openings for both sides bisecting Josh Magennis’ clinical second-minute header and Ricky Holmes, against his former club, lashing in from close range having been teed up by Billy Clarke just beyond the hour.
For Cobblers captain Marc Richards, meeting Daniel Powell’s delivery at the near post to nod beyond Ben Amos, halved the deficit with eleven minutes to play. Atmospheres among home and away supporters that suggested victory and defeat was certain suddenly replaced by immense panic and inspired hope. The Valley faithful immediately replaying the chances they failed to take, or even create, in a period of repetitive counter-attacking threat as the visitors abandoned defensive structure in their search for a way back into the game.
But though the visitors had battled, the collective quality in possession, energy and forward threat meant victory was one that always belonged to this much-improved group of Addicks. Forward threat shown in the fourth minute of stoppage-time, as substitute Ezri Konsa broke forward and successfully provided for Forster-Caskey, who confirmed capitulation would not be on the cards. Not the cleanest of strikes, but an accurate finish to calm concerns over both result and attacking potency.
Forster-Caskey’s second strike, however, was most certainly a clean one. Occurring three minutes after his first, the ball whipped deliciously from the corner of the box into the far top corner, and offered the perfect treatment for the frustration a tame and tactically tedious attacking display at Home Park seven days previously had caused. As much as it sealed victory in perfect fashion.
And an impressive victory that answered the concerns, and the need for an immediate response, in perfect style. If the fear grew for one set of supporters inside The Valley, it was replaced by the confidence, expectation and belief that scoring on four occasions offers for the other.
There no reassurance that the pre-game concern, created in part by what appeared a lack of plan b and alternative options during the Plymouth defeat, over goalscoring and attacking play would be cooled as the Addicks took to The Valley’s pitch, with no changes to the 18 named by Robinson.
Teenagers, in the shape of Karlan Ahearne-Grant and Reeco Hackett-Fairchild, who had failed to make the difference last weekend again the only attacking options available in reserve to Charlton’s boss. A reminder not only the further depth is required, but also that promising forward play, and any chances created, needed to result in reward. A need to dictate and control, for chasing the contest appeared to not suit the hosts.
So dictate and control the Addicks immediately did. There was an obvious intensity and energy even two minutes into the game, and that displayed before the ball found its way to Holmes in a crossing position on the left flank. Deliveries wayward and Magennis wasteful seven days ago, but the Northern Ireland international climbed highest to power a delightful cross beyond Northampton’s Cornell.
The forward, who extended his contract in SE7 during the week, not only giving the hosts the lead, but spreading the intensity and energy on the pitch into the stands. Caution and concern replaced by delight and belief, as Robinson’s men showed no sign of retreating and simply protecting this early advantage. Holmes shooting tamely into Cornell’s hands, and Clarke firing horribly off-target, but there a tempo and cutting edge to the build-up play.
Alas, the Cobblers were not simply going to sit and accept their fate as sitting ducks, and the Addicks were issued with reminders of realism twice before the ten-minute mark had been reached. A charged down clearance falling to Richards, and his volleying flashing wide from the edge of the area, before the Northampton captain was too easily allowed in behind and the palms of Amos were required to push away his strike across the face of goal. Unquestionable energy going forward, but maybe just a little flat-footed at the back.
And while Charlton’s control of possession, in addition to attractive and testing forward play, continued, it was Edinburgh’s physically strong side who were grafting their way to creating the better openings as the half progressed. A free-kick dealt with poorly, and the Addicks fortunate that Ash Taylor could only prod straight at Amos from a central position, with the former Aberdeen centre-back then left unmarked at the far post from another set-piece, but able only to nod harmlessly across goal. Still the hosts appeared uncertain and uncomfortable in defence.
But while Robinson’s side continued to display such intensity, energy and threat going forward, striking a second goal seemed the most obvious solution to the touch of concern created by the openings the visitors were being allowed to have. A second goal that seemed to have been found, as Holmes showed incredible quality against his former employers to burst forward, and a perfectly timed pass sent Tariqe Fosu through. But premature celebrations failed to grow, as the summer signing saw his effort slide across the face of goal and agonisingly wide of the far post.
The worry, of course, was that failing to take such an opportunity would be punished, and Charlton’s lack of potency would be exposed again. Something that might well have happened had it not been for Amos. The Addicks again unconvincing in dealing with a Northampton delivery, Richards knocking the ball on for Billy Waters, and what seemed a certain equaliser prevented by the frame of the Cardiff loanee as he blocked the close-range effort.
And while the half ended with Holmes twice shooting from the edge of the area at the conclusion of lively Charlton attacks, giving Cornell a scare on both occasions, enough had been seen from the Cobblers when not being run ragged by the Addicks’ impressive forward play to know the single-goal advantage maintained into the break was not enough to decide the contest. Irrespective, the ovation received as those in red left the field at half-time was more than warranted. Sideways passing and sluggish attempts to break down an opposition backline replaced by dynamic movement of the ball, relentless movement, and a touch of quality in the final third that offered hope this somewhat precarious lead could soon be doubled.
But just two minutes after the restart, the visiting supporters really should have been celebrating an equaliser. Walters delivering to the back post, Brendon Moloney getting away from Jason Pearce, and the defender somehow heading wide from a glorious position. A concerning start to the second period, but equally a showing of why Northampton remained goalless three-and-a-half games into the season.
Though a showing of why the home supporters had concerns over their side’s own ability to finish was soon to follow. The Addicks immediately regaining their positive forward edge, as Magennis failed to get enough on a Holmes delivery in order to convert and the unlikely figure of Ahmed Kashi broke forward only to see his effort well saved, but Charlton’s second goal would surely come after Cornell had been forced to parry Fosu’s curling effort straight towards Magennis. Alas, without challenge and a near-open goal in front of him, the Northern Ireland international somehow managed to side-foot his first-time effort over the bar, and with it raise a slowly growing level of uncertainty around SE7.
For it these situations, where a clear advantage is there to be had and not taken, that the Addicks have often crumbled in previous years. A worry they may ultimately end up sitting back and inviting pressure, which appeared not the way to go against this robust Cobblers side, a concern wasted openings would crush the energy and confidence in the attacking efforts, and ultimately a worry that punishment was on its way. For all the good Robinson’s side had done, they now desperately needed to settle the nerves.
And settle them Holmes most certainly did just beyond the hour mark. A goal that owed more to Clarke’s efforts in the build-up, carrying the ball forward superbly before teeing up his teammate, than it did to the former Northampton winger’s finish, but an emphatic blast into the back of the net from deep inside the area appeared to provide the signal that this game was won. Charlton’s attacking play finally receiving the reward it warranted.
The sense of confirmed victory not only provided by the nature of Holmes’ finish, but by the sudden drop in intensity and fight from the opposition. The Cobblers looking lost, and the Addicks almost left free to knock the ball around The Valley’s turf in whatever which way they liked. Magennis, still cutting a frustrated figure after his earlier miss and struggling somewhat overall during the second period, going close to adding further shine to the performance as he fired wide from the edge of the box.
Going close, too, was Jay Dasilva, with the Chelsea loanee firing off-target from inside the box. But how he came to be inside the box meant that, had he finished the opening, the left-back would have scored a sublime goal. Running from just inside his own half, and powering past several men in Northampton colours, before working his way into a shooting position.
The sort of run, even without the finish at the end of it, in such a situation that only increased the positive feel and energy among supporters. There even a sense that the remainder of the game would simply be nothing but Charlton attacks, as they continued to control possession and the Cobblers continued to look lost. That sense, however, was not correct.
For with eleven minutes to play, Powell’s cross picked out Richards in the centre, and Northampton’s skipper was able to halve his side’s deficit. A leap towards the travelling supporters, letting them know this game was far from over. A goal that hadn’t been coming, but a goal that was now here.
Maybe Robinson’s men had been a little bit complacent during their period of comfortable control, taking their foot slightly off the peddle and preferring to knock the ball around instead of driving forward with intent. Maybe, having created numerous chances before conceding a second, this was what Northampton warranted. Certainly, there a need to avoid losing points that were seemingly theirs, and almost definitely warranted.
Robinson’s response was to withdrawn Holmes, who received applause from his current and former supporters as he left the field, and replace him with Konsa. A suggestion the Addicks were to see this game out by sitting deep and battling to maintain their advantage. Undoubtedly deeper, but Konsa himself, breaking forward and drawing a foul out of Matt Crooks, showing that there remained a desire to get forward on the counter.
In fact, as the 90th minute drew closer, Konsa found himself inside the opposition’s box. A battle between himself Cornell to reach a ball sent through first, which resulted in the teenager going over the outstretched arms of Northampton’s goalkeeper. The cries for a penalty vocal, but a touch on the ball before making contact with Konsa may have saved Cornell.
Penalty or not, that the Addicks were getting into those sorts of areas showed it was they who remained in control despite Northampton’s desperate need for an equaliser. The signalling of five minutes of additional time not exactly keeping heads cool inside The Valley, but the Cobblers offering next to nothing. They certainly didn’t have the intensity of a side searching for a goal.
A lack of intensity that was soon to become a complete loss of all energy and hope. For the Addicks, again breaking forward following a desperate attempt from the opposition to pose some sort of threat, were able to seal victory. Konsa teeing up Forster-Caskey, and the midfielder’s somewhat mishit volley bouncing goalwards.
The reward they warranted overall, but also a reward for not abandoning what had previously worked for them since conceding. The energy and intent going forward remaining, and not dying even with victory now assured. Substitute Karlan Ahearne-Grant cutting inside and curling towards goal, but his effort just bouncing wide of the far post.
Curling towards goal, however, was no issue for Forster-Caskey. His sublime effort from the edge of the box rounding off this marvellous display of attacking football seven minutes into stoppage time. A picturesque finish to an afternoon that had largely been filled with creative and colourful forward play.
So it left the Addicks to celebrate a warranted victory, and receive the appreciation their performance deserved. And there certainly plenty of appreciation among a joyous home support, injected with a strong dosage of belief on the back of such a display. A superb effort.
For undoubtedly, this was a performance of attacking quality that brought about much promise, in addition to three points.
If not the groans being replaced by celebration, then the main contrast between this afternoon and the one at Home Park seven days ago was the manner in which the Addicks moved the ball, and themselves. Too often last weekend they were sideways and static; almost every move at The Valley containing passes with forward intent, while movement with and without the ball was excellent.
So often starting in the centre with Kashi, having either received the ball or broken up play himself, or Forster-Caskey beginning, before one of the pair fed those stationed slightly ahead of them. Holmes, Clarke and Fosu all excellent in carrying the ball forward and working openings, with the first two in particular outstanding. Glimpses of such play, even at Home Park, had been seen in previous game, but today it was rewarded.
Though whether or not a 4-1 scoreline reflected the overall nature of the game is questionable, for Northampton did threaten. Amos made some crucial saves with Charlton’s advantage only a single goal, and it positive see him make an important contribution after a shaky start. But the scoreline certainly a reflection of how good the Addicks were going forward.
It doesn’t, of course, deter from the fact a forward is required, though I’m sure most are sensible enough to see that an afternoon of quality attacking play and a desperate shortage of attacking alternatives are two different elements. There has always been strong optimism in the starting XI, but the bench was again light on attacking options, with those in reserve inexperienced, and there still a concern about responding when chasing a game. You would hate to see a lack of depth, so harmful in previous season under Roland Duchatelet’s ownership, prevent this Charlton side from performing consistently.
For there no doubt that this group can hurt, terrorise and decimate opponents once they have taken control of a game and are in their stride. As was seen today, the quality possessed on the counter means that sides searching for a goal to get back into the game are always likely to have defensive gaps exploited. Controlling games is, of course, something that needs to become a regular thing.
If nothing else, this an exciting performance, in which each player offered moments of quality, the energy levels were relentless, and the forward play was often sublime. A performance of promise.
The ground on which Charlton Athletic played their game against Plymouth Argyle provided an image to almost perfectly represent the position Karl Robinson’s side finds itself in, with supporters previously driven by a seemingly unstoppable sense of optimism enlightened by a sense of realism following this display in the West Country.
For surrounding three quarters of Argyle’s Home Park pitch stands a modern structure to house supporters. Imposing and incredible it is not, but comfortable and with few faults it is. From a certain angle, Plymouth’s home appears an arena to match, if not better, many in League One.
Behind the dugouts, however, is a stand belonging in the 1970s, seemingly left without a great deal of attention since then. Some might suggest it has character, which in some ways it does, but the deteriorating areas on either side, loose electric cables, and the area of unused terracing make it something of an eyesore. If Home Park wants to be a modern arena, it is far from the finished product.
And if Charlton want to be a promotion contender, which this summer and the first week of the campaign has suggested might be possible, then they too are far from the finished product. A turgid second-half performance, combined with a clear indicator that the depth in Robinson’s squad is not yet at the level required, meant Argyle were able to capitalise on the Addicks’ sluggishness and leave them licking the wounds of defeat for the first time this season. Jake Jervis striking twice without reply to give the hosts a two-goal victory.
A victory that, given that nature of Charlton’s efforts after the interval, was ultimately made far too comfortable for the Pilgrims. But it a victory, given that Robinson’s men displayed the qualities that have convinced many they are promotion contenders, that didn’t appear entirely likely at one point. The Addicks could have, and probably should have, been ahead at half-time.
Plymouth goalkeeper Luke McCormick making a sensational save to push Josh Magennis’ strike onto the crossbar, Ryan Edwards heading off the line to prevent Jake Forster-Caskey from scoring, and Magennis, a surprise inclusion following injury, nodding agonisingly wide from a Tariqe Fosu delivery. Chances created as a consequence of the Addicks enjoying most of the play, moving the ball around swiftly, and coming forward with intent. But chances that were being wasted criminally.
But it was not total domination, with the pace and strength of Argyle’s forward line causing a constant threat on the break throughout the opening period. So it would be unreasonable to suggest it was against the run of play when, with eight second-half minutes played, static defending from a corner allowed the hosts to take the lead. Edwards nodding back into the centre, allowing Jarvis to force the ball over the line as those in Charlton colours stood bemused.
And while possession largely belonged to the visitors thereafter, it would be a statistic that doesn’t reflect their drop in intensity, lack of movement, and regular repetitive sideways passing that infuriated the visiting supporters behind the goal they attacked. Creativity lacking, chances non-existent, and Robinson able only to turn to teenagers Karlan Ahearne-Grant and Reeco Hackett-Fairchild as his side rather tamely chased a game that increasingly got further away for them.
A game that was out of sight with two minutes to play, as Jarvis drove forward on the break, and his resulting strike was parried into the net by Amos. A goalkeeper who had looked as uncomfortable for 90 minutes as his teammates had looked frustrated. Those emotions now overridden by sorrow, as Argyle celebrated their first victory of the season.
Ultimately, Plymouth’s second goal was a statistic. The Addicks never showing enough purpose to recover having fallen behind, and unable to properly test their opponents. But more about this side was learnt in these 90 minutes than the previous 180.
Every sideways pass, horribly misplaced cross, and look of anguish told something new. The potential of the side has been show, but now have the faults, and the factors that requiring fixing. An impressive side this can be, but the finished article this is not.
Being forcibly drowned in realism wasn’t the anticipated consequence of this afternoon in Devon, not least with an unexpected piece of positive team news that increased hope the performance and result would provide a further dosage of optimism.
Despite scheduled to be sidelined for another week at least, forward Magennis was named in Charlton’s starting XI. Not only a vital figure in Robinson’s system, with the Norther Ireland international ideal for the lone striker role, but a particularly timely return to fitness with the Addicks desperately short on strikers. Lee Novak suspended, Tony Watt pushing a move away from the club, and Billy Clarke unable to push forward with Ben Reeves nursing a calf injury.
It meant that, at the very least, the Addicks boasted a strong starting XI. One that needed to take control against a Plymouth side still finding their feet following promotion from League Two, and not allow them to settle in their first home game of the campaign. The early signs promising, as the visitors moved the ball around at a tempo, and strikes from Fosu and Ahmed Kashi required an already retreating Argyle backline to stick bodies in the way of the ball.
But the threat the hosts would cause soon became apparent, with balls delivered over the top to utilise the pace and strength of Jervis and Joel Grant on either flank. In strong enough positions in the opening few minutes to raise the voices of the home supporters in expectation, but unable to deliver anything particularly dangerous.
In fact, the biggest danger to the Addicks in the opening ten minutes was a self-inflicted one. An uncharacteristic error from Kashi, as he under-hit a back pass, required a desperate intervention from Amos to prevent Antonio Sarcevic from stealing in, before the goalkeeper was thankfully first to react after parrying a low but relatively tame Grant cross straight into the heart of the box. A Magennis nod towards goal, connecting with Ricky Holmes’ cross but seeing his attempt bounce across the face of goal and wide, splitting those two moments of panic suggesting an open game might well be on the cards.
But as Charlton’s composure grew, and with it a greater attacking threat, it became more apparent that the advantage in the game was theirs. The Addicks going from back to front not only with pace, but with control and threat. A stunning counter ending with Magennis being sent through on goal, though from a slightly tight angle the returning striker saw his drive blocked away by McCormick in the Argyle goal.
And while chances were exchanged with Holmes, never afraid to attempt an effort from distance, curling into the hands of McCormick having cut inside, and Plymouth’s Nathan Blissett doing well to get away from the Charlton shirts in the middle to nod a Graham Carey delivery just off target, it appeared with 22 minutes played that the overall control the Addicks had had would see some reward.
Another swift move forward from Robinson’s side resulting in Clarke having a poke towards goal, which McCormick could only deal with by palming the ball straight into the path of Magennis a matter of yards away. Somehow, however, the goalkeeper displayed incredible reactions to push the Northern Ireland international’s strike onto the underside of the crossbar, and his defence were able to hack it away. Heads in hands among players and supporters as those of a Charlton persuasion tried to make sense of just how McCormick had pulled that off, and they weren’t celebrating an opening goal.
But at least heads weren’t in hands, mourning the conceding of an opening goal. For as so often seems to be the case in these situations, a chance that seemed impossible not to take was followed by openings for the visitors. Gary Sawyer getting space on the edge of the box, and Amos just doing enough to tip his curling effort wide, while the goalkeeper not getting much help from his defence at the resulting corner, as they left Jervis free to fire towards goal and the Bolton loanee required to block the effort.
Such openings for the visitors felt like reminders that this Charlton defence was fragile, and there remained reason for caution. But certainly not catalysts to change the pattern of play, or halt the Addicks in their efforts going forward. At least while they remained at just openings.
And with half an hour played, Charlton’s pressure might well have told again. McCormick out of position having come off his line to punch clear a delivery into the box, the ball falling straight to Forster-Caskey, but Edwards positioning himself perfectly to nod the goalbound strike away. That sense of frustration, and the sense that these might well be costly, that comes with wasted chances beginning to build.
But those Plymouth openings, easy to turn a blind eye to while the Addicks continued to show threat in their attacking play, only increased the sense that there was very immediate pressure on the visitors to convert an opportunity. Carey curling over the bar from a free-kick, and a driven cross from the same man flashing across the face of goal with Jarvis and Blissett both stretching a leg but unable to make contact. Charlton still in control, but certainly not dominant, and they needed something to show for it.
Further frustration, therefore the consequence when Fosu’s cross found Magennis in a fantastic position, but the forward was able only to head wide. Holmes curling a free-kick over the wall but failing to beat McCormick ending a very positive half for the Addicks, but failing to ease the tension that was growing as a consequence of not taking these opportunities. A bright start, and a clinical edge, required after the interval to control such nerves.
That wish, however, was not granted. Robinson’s side struggling to find their feet in the opening moments of the second period, or at least not playing to the same tempo with which they did for much of the first. That Magennis, the man meant to be leading a surge towards goal, was required to firmly block a David Fox volley following an Argyle corner possibly summed up Charlton’s sluggish start to the half.
But, following the next corner swung into the box by the hosts, it was a sluggish start for the Addicks that became a suicidal one. Robinson’s side switching off at the back, and gifting the game’s opening goal to Plymouth with 53 minutes played. The simplest of routines, as Edwards peeled away from his man to head back into the heart of the box, but Charlton’s defence stood motionless as Jervis converted.
A mix of confused glances and bowed heads among those in Robinson’s side. Maybe replays of wasted chances were flashing through minds. But as much as this was a situation that could have been avoided, by taking one of those first-half chances, this was a goal that should have been avoided.
Nonetheless, with time still to play, suffering could be avoided if the response from the Addicks was a positive one. The tempo and attacking promise from the first period returning, combined with greater potency. Without energy, passing sideways on a consistent basis, and ending lacklustre moves with over-hit crosses, Robinson’s men were far from finding the rhythm required to get themselves back into the game in the immediate aftermath of going behind.
In fact, despite the requirement to up the drive in search of an equaliser, the sluggishness only increased as Fox, skewing horribly off-target, and Sarcevic, flashing just wide, showed Argyle weren’t simply going to sit on their single-goal advantage. But they sat in banks when they were without possession, and the Addicks lacked the creativity, energy or quality to break them down. Grumbles growing.
Robinson calling upon the pace of Ahearne-Grant to make a difference for the Addicks, but that the teen was the first player turned to from the bench highlighting the limited options available. Particularly harmful in a situation where a side has lost all intensity and become deflated. Self-belief hardly helped as Fosu drove into the box, then fell over the ball as he attempted to cut inside.
But possibly the greatest sign of desperation was that Kashi, fine-tuned to break-up play and recycle possession, opted to take matters into his own hands. His shot a reminder that he probably shouldn’t, firing horribly wide from distance. In some contrast to the effort from Plymouth’s Carey, criminally left in acres of space by the Addicks and allowed to flash agonisingly wide from the best part of 35 yards.
At least while Argyle were flashing wide and failing to add to their single-goal advantage, their remained a chance Charlton could draw level despite appearing more and more lost once entering the opposition’s half. Even the pace of their wide men had almost vanished, and their ability to deliver a testing final ball most certainly had. The situation, with 15 minutes remaining, seemed grim.
Again, all Robinson could do was turned to a teenager with minimal first-team experience. Hackett-Fairchild on to make his Football League debut. If nothing else, it hardly fair on someone so young to be expected to deliver in such a situation.
But as the final five minutes approached and those occupying the away end, pained by the tedium this second-half effort had caused, were on the verge of giving up, the first genuine chance since falling behind appeared for the Addicks. The first genuinely testing cross, too, and Forster-Caskey delivered from the right for Magennis, who got in front of his man but couldn’t quite make a strong enough connection to turn the ball beyond McCormick. The reaction of the Northern Ireland international, evidently not fit enough to be playing a full 90 but doing so anyway, said it all; he should have done better.
Probably a thought, too, for the chances he should have done better with in the opening 45. A strike from Ahearne-Grant always comfortable for McCormick, as he dived to tip the youngster’s long-range effort wide, but the goalkeeper should have been beaten during the first period. Before this dire response to falling behind appeared.
Regret that could be wallowed in further as, after the Addicks lost possession high up field, Plymouth were able to break with intent with two minutes to play. Jervis’ strike from the edge of the box probably an optimistic drive, but helped goalwards by the weak palms of Amos. Victory confirmed for the Pilgrims and, on the back of a poor second-half effort, a warranted defeat inflicted upon Robinson’s side.
And it probably important, when assessing the overall performance in the context of how this side can fare in the season ahead, that that regret comes as a consequence of Charlton failing to make the most of a period of impressive play.
Foster-Caskey and Kashi controlled the centre, Jay Dasilva and Chris Solly got forward well, Holmes, Fosu and Clarke led the counters, and Magennis evidently not 100% but his figure still important. Pace, intensity and creativity in the forward moves, and Argyle constantly pushed back. It no wonder a threat to Plymouth’s backline was caused, and it no wonder chances were created.
But such encouraging play completely vanished once Argyle had taken the lead. Forster-Caskey, Kashi and the backline became infuriating, passing largely sideways and at such a slow tempo, but they had so little to pass to. There very little movement, energy or creativity in attack, and when those in forward positions did receive the ball the chances of them delivering a testing final ball were minimal.
To a large extent, it comes back to the inability to take those first-half openings. The second-half collapse would probably not have been an issue had we entered the break with an advantage. And, to be honest, maybe our attacking efforts in the first half should have resulted in another clear-cut opening or too.
Nonetheless, it cannot excuse the rather pathetic response to going behind. It so incredibly flat, and in real contrast to the determination and fight seen when defending a lead against Bristol Rovers last weekend. It seemed those in Charlton colours became frustrated very quickly with the system, and the sluggishness that the second half started with just increased with as a result.
Maybe Robinson, in these situations, lacks a definitive ‘plan b’. But it more the case that he lacks options to introduce from the bench to freshen up his side. To ask inexperienced teenagers to perform such a role can, of course, work, but it’s not nearly enough, and that lack of depth needs to be resolved.
There’s obviously a strong starting XI with potential, but today’s a key example of why we can’t simply rely on it, and why just one or two absentees leave us struggling.
Nonetheless, this defeat is no disaster. It’s interesting to see one determined victory, and one rather flat defeat. Interesting to see the promising characteristics of this side, and the concerning ones.
There no question that Robinson’s side is not the finished article. Their response to this defeat at The Valley against Northampton Town next weekend will give a greater indication as to just how far away they are.