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Victories without finding fluency were not attractive, but they were doing more than appeasing. They were celebrated. Contributing to the formation of a Charlton Athletic side that was displaying the resolve required to challenge for promotion from League One.
But more was expected of this impressive group of Addicks. Not necessarily demanded in an aggressive manner, certainly not in a way that cynically downplayed four rather ugly victories in five games. For it didn’t need to be; a reasonable degree of comfort that Robinson’s men would find attacking confidence from the gritty foundation they had formed.
And it appeared on this contrasting afternoon at The Valley, a wet, cold and uncomfortable one, that that foundation had finally set. The visiting Milton Keynes Dons side pressed with such intensity that they looked at a loss as to how to retain possession, the ball moved with such rhythm and intensity that opposition backline barely had time to reset before it had been broken through again, and chances churned out with regularity as the Addicks found an attacking panache absent in recent weeks. Deserved appreciation high in SE7.
Just six minutes required for Robinson’s men to claim an advantage, as Josh Magennis nodded home from Jake Forster-Caskey’s corner. The Northern Ireland international, struggling for form prior to beating Dons goalkeeper Lee Nicholls to the delivery, raising his performance in unison with his side. The forward relentless; his teammates deploying a marvellous brand of high energy, high intensity attacking football.
A deflected effort hitting the inside of the post, a free header put over the bar, and Nicholls uncomfortable within a Naby Sarr drive from 25 yards. The visitors had a highlights reel from their first half ventures of panicked clearances having been pressed by red shirts. Charlton in complete control at the break, the fluent football hoped for on show, but no one complacent enough to believe a second wasn’t needed.
The dominance that the Addicks were enjoying meant that a second would probably kill the game, or at least kill the visitors. Mark Marshall killing the premature celebrations of the Covered End as he somehow missing when one-on-one in the opening stages of the second half. The danger that a failure to take chances, and make this pleasing period of football count, looming.
Looming like Scott Golbourne’s delivery towards the far post, where Kieran Agard, introduced just five minutes previously, peeled away from the red shirts inside the box and headed home a 63rd-minute equaliser that came completely against the run of play. A first meaningful chance of the game of Robbie Nielson’s side. Intensity sucked from Robinson’s men in a single moment, and life would have followed had Chuks Aneke taken a glorious opening three minutes later.
The Addicks regrouped, regaining composure after the gut-wrenching moment of conceding, but the side that had the lead had vanished. MK allowed to have much more of the ball, intensity absent from Charlton’s play, and their attacking threat easily containable. This was a side that now needed to win ugly; a set of supporters desperate to see it despite previously pleading for something different.
So with three minutes to play, there was a beauty in the ugliness of what appeared to be their winning goal. Substitute Tariq Fosu played through, but his resulting shot seemingly floating wide, only to be helped over the line by a desperate Golbourne. The importance of the goal, with a winner found in unlikely circumstances to keep on the tails of the top two, not lost on a delirious Valley.
A delirious Valley that, while still soaking in the moment, were left devoid of their moment and delirious with rage. For as the clock struck 90, Peter Pawlett drew a loose leg from Ahmed Kashi inside the box and used the opportunity to hit the deck. Whether a penalty or not questionable, a debate that would have been avoided had Kashi not needlessly stuck out a leg, but it the fact referee Andy Woolmer, who had struggled to maintain control of proceedings throughout, turned to his blind-sighted assistant to make the call for him that really riled.
With most inside the ground raging, Agard stepped up with composure to convert, and send the visiting MK Dons fans into celebration. They would celebrate their draw at full-time, no doubt aware fortune had played its part in their point. A kind refereeing decision, and their opponents’ wastefulness.
Home supporters set sights on the officials. The Addicks felt justified in blaming them for their controversial role in denying them another ugly win. But, at least equally, there is frustration to be had in their side’s own failure to make the most of the chances their attractive fluency created.
Momentum maybe halted by two weeks without League One football, but there hope that at least bodies would be fresh. So unexpected injuries to regular starters in Robinson’s side was not an ideal return to league action. Billy Clarke and the previously ever-present Patrick Bauer both absent, while Fosu was only fit enough for a place on the bench.
It meant Ben Reeves, heavily booed by the supporters of his former club, came into the side, a start at centre-back for Naby Sarr, and a full league debut for Marshall. Just about enough bodies in the squad to make the starting XI a strong one. A weak bench, and Fosu’s tight thigh, hopefully wouldn’t be needed.
And the early signs were promising. Energy, positivity, and slick forward play seeing Forster-Caskey get into an excellent position on the goal line. But his hesitation, with red shirts waiting for a cut back in the centre, allowed Golbourne to put the ball behind and snuff out an excellent opening.
But while some (probably just me) were still expressing their frustration that more hadn’t been made out of such a position, Forster-Caskey had swung a teasing ball into the ball from the resulting corner. It wasn’t Nicholls’ to come for, but the goalkeeper came anyway and saw himself stretching desperately for a ball he was never going to claim. The perfectly placed Magennis taking full advantage of Nicholls’ recklessness, placing a header into a near-empty net.
Six minutes into the contest, it was a goal Charlton needed to settle any sort of nerves created by the long break without league football, suggesting there may have been an interruption to the momentum built prior to it. Six games without one, this was a goal that the out of form Josh Magennis needed, and hopefully a boost to his struggling all-round play. The Valley celebrating with impassioned delight, but in such a manner that displayed confidence, and that any worries or uncertainties were rather silly.
On previous afternoons, such a slender leader would have needed to have been protected. But confidence was increasing on the pitch, and confidence was increasing in the stands. Ahmed Kashi driving wide from the distance the best example of it, but Charlton’s attacking football exactly what had been pleaded for, and the energy in their pressing making MK Dons look feeble.
The atmosphere inside The Valley almost celebratory, not yet claiming victory but taking the opportunity to marvel in the play of Robinson’s side and expecting further goals. Holmes fearlessly running forward and, without a teammate keeping pace, opting to shoot, only for Nicholls to hold on to his low effort well. Sarr striding forward with much less pace, but similar confidence, and giving MK Dons’ goalkeeper some concern as his strike rose towards goal.
Efforts from distance suggests the Addicks were being kept somewhat at bay, but they had earned complete control by the 25th minute, and somehow were prevented from seeing their material dominance doubled by the width of the post. Magennis, seemingly finding his former body, doing superbly to break into the box and tee up Forester-Caskey, but the midfielder’s effort deflected onto the inside of the post had somehow managed to stay out. Premature celebrations both has the initial shot floated towards goal, and after the ball ricocheted off the post and across the face of goal.
Marvellous though this football was, the misfortune in failing to find a second did bring about some frustration. The need to make the most of this advantage required. A notion reaffirmed as Kashi lost possession inside his own half and the powerful Aneke broke through threateningly, but Ezri Konsa did well to snuff out the danger as the forward stuttered.
And as the half hour mark was reached, there was yet another chance for the rampant Addicks. A short corner played back to taker Holmes, whose delivery was nodded across the face of goal by Konsa, where an unmarked Forster-Caskey couldn’t keep his header down from a glorious position. Another chance created; another chance wasted.
At least further reassurance was provided by the fact that MK Dons remained unthreatening. In part because Charlton continued to press with great intensity, and defend resolutely whenever the backline was called upon. In part because their forwards failed to test, as Peter Pawlett’s deflected and wayward shot was probably cause for celebration.
In fact, the only level of competition came when the two sides squared up to each other in rather unnecessary fashion as half-time approached. Not the most physical of encounters, but referee Woolmer nonetheless struggling to keep things calm, and some pushing and shoving between Magennis and Ed Upson was the precursor for a rather large scuffle. Holmes and George Williams wrestling on the ground, the referee withdrawing from an advantage with some drama as both teams got themselves into a melee, and Williams escaped with just a booking.
Nonetheless, the Addicks could in at half-time in a clam state, having performed superbly and with a lead to show for it. But Charlton would be punching in frustration if they didn’t make their dominance count. An early second-half goal required, to put this encounter beyond doubt.
It not taking long before red shirts found their home in the opposition’s half at the start of the second period, but this move didn’t seem like it would have a positive ending. Magennis bustling forward on the left flank, but with only a well offside Reeves to feed, and not much space for the Northern Ireland international to drive into without being dispossessed. The ball played, the offside flag about to be raised.
But Reeves stopped, the Dons defender did with him, and Marshall appeared from the right. The winger onside, and with a clear path to goal. Facing up to Nicholls, and with seemingly a simple finish to double Charlton’s advantage, there was real pain in the anguish that met his failure to finish his one-on-one effort.
With such wastefulness, such an inability to make such positive play count, the sense that the hosts would ultimately be punished was growing. A nervousness now, slightly lowering the energy in the support. Though Ed Upson’s 30 yard free-kick, comfortable for Ben Amos, didn’t increase the sense of nervousness at all.
Increasing the nervousness was the sight, a rare sight, of an opposition player in a forward position. Golbourne picked out in far too much space on the left, and able to deliver an excellent ball to the far post. Agard peeling away, and out of nothing, MK Dons had a 63rd-minute equaliser.
Silence. The only sound inside The Valley the celebrations of the visiting supporters. Silence in shock that they had undeservedly drawn level, that the Addicks had thrown away their lead, and they had not made their advantage count.
Alas, there could be no time for self-pity, for there was an immediate need to motivate and remind those in red of the dominance they previously held. But the slip Konsa made just three minutes after the visitors had drawn level felt metaphoric. Charlton’s defender falling to the floor as Aneke attacked, and the Addicks incredibly, incredibly fortunate that the forward lost all composure and blasted a glorious one-on-one opening horrible off-target.
The predictable ‘wa-hays’, but they heard within a sea of shouts for the hosts to wake up. Nervousness about not making dominance count had become genuine fear of complete implosion. A Ricky Holmes free-kick threatened relief, but Ethan Ebanks-Landell’s solid head protected MK Dons’ goal.
To their credit, Charlton were trying to settle and find composure once more, but were doing so while had found ways to exploit the Addicks. Those ways being simply run at a side in a state of uncertainty. Substitute Aidan Nesbitt bursting through, but pulling his shot wide.
Nonetheless, Robinson’s men had previously displayed their attacking qualities, and they hadn’t just vanished. One chance, one taken chance, and the tide could turn again. Magennis millimetres away from getting his forehead onto the end of a Magennis cross, as the Covered End sighed in agony once more.
But, in truth, the game’s quality had vanished, replaced by a scrappy and error-prone affair contributed to by both sides. It obvious the Addicks with greater mental intent to win the game, but their actions so sloppy that they couldn’t display it. Clear that if there was to be a winning goal, it would probably come in ugly fashion.
And surely, with a little less than ten minutes played, the ugly goal had been forced. A half-cleared Charlton corner sent back into the box by Jay Dasilva, the Dons backline not getting up quick enough, and unmarked Sarr waiting there to poke the ball goalwards. But his shot-cum-prod tame, Nicholls able to easily claim, and there no offside flag to ease further wasted chance agony for the Covered End.
Such an opening instilling belief that maybe, just maybe, the Addicks could steal this. But the Neilson’s men were not sitting ducks. Sarr, who had become unhinged somewhat defensively in the latter period of the game, clattering Aneke, and Ebanks-Landell glancing a header wide from the resulting free-kick. The frantic, somewhat calamitous, nature of the game meaning both teams still had a chance.
A chance. Definitely a chance for Fosu, as the substitute was played through by Forster-Caskey after a midfield tussle had been won. Breaking into the box, and taking up an angle slightly wide of goal, he curled an effort towards goal.
But it appeared to be heading wide, quite comfortably so. Under the pressurised conditions, however, Golbourne felt the need to act, and in attempting to divert an already wide ball wide, the full-back diverted the ball into his own net. With three minutes remaining, The Valley had been sent into pandemonium.
Pure delight from those on the pitch. A release of emotion from those in the stands. The ugliest of ugly goals to win a game that should have been won in convincing fashion, but it mattered nothing to no one.
Three minutes to play. Not a certain victory, but this side had defended for ugly victories superbly in the past. Surely they would so again.
But they went deep, maybe a little deep. And Dons came forward, forward with confidence and without frantic desperation. This wasn’t quite over.
The ball played to Pawlett inside the box, the Scot holding the ball up, then feeling for Kashi’s outstretched leg as he attempted to pull away. Referee Woolmer unsure, his assistant required, and a 90th-minute spot-kick awarded. Fury, frustration and confusion.
As Kashi pleaded innocence, players attempted to get their point to across to officials that had made a, at best, bizarre decision, and supporters displayed a fine knowledge of expletives, it was unfortunate that one man kept his cool. Agard lashing the ball into the left-hand corner. MK Dons fans celebrating their late equaliser with some verve; Charlton fans booing with some anger.
The players still formed a huddle at full-time. They still came over at full-time. They still deserved their applause.
But so used to seeing this side win. So sure a win would come after such an excellent first-half performance. So sure a win would come after such a late goal.
This was simply sickening.
Let’s get the refereeing nonsense sorted out first. Those of you who have followed me for a while will know I’m a referee myself, will know I’m an insufferable nerd, and will know I enjoy studying other referees. I like to view decisions impartially, and from a position where I’d have to make the call.
A great deal of the complaints come from the fact the referee went on the assistant’s decision. Absolutely no problem there, as long as the correct call is made, but it did seem odd in this situation which I’ll explain in a few paragraph’s time. Not to mention the fact that the referee’s weakness throughout the game – he was very lenient and didn’t keep a control of the players – meant that utilising his assistant on such a cool made him look particularly clueless through the eyes of a supporter.
The penalty itself is one that’s made difficult for the referee by Pawlett. Not a dive or simulation, but utilising his surroundings effectively. Kashi’s stuck a foot, which he didn’t really need to do with lots of other Charlton bodies there and the Scot going nowhere, Pawlett’s ran into it, and gone over.
The referee should have had a view to have seen that. The referee should have, as such, not given it. Though it would have been nice if Kashi had kept his foot to himself and avoided this controversy in the first place.
But as equally to significant to loss of points was the failure to make such a prolonged, and impressive, period of dominance count. And in saying that, you can discount Sarr’s miss while the scores were level. This being the misses while the Addicks had an advantage.
The game really should have been out of sight, and our performance warranted a greater leader. The passing play, the pressing, the dynamism in the final third. It was a display of the fluency that has been lacking while wins have been grinding out; a sense that the perfect performance was coming.
But the inability to take chances, big chances, has proven costly. If Marshall converts that chance at the start of the second half, I can’t see MK Dons recovering. Nor can I see us collapsing.
Either way, frustration rules.
Applause in defeat is a rarity in the ultra-competitive, do-or-die, environment of senior football. The pain of a loss almost always completely overwhelming any sense of pride in performance. Distraught supporters, unable to think rationally in moments of such high emotion, issuing cries of anger towards the devastated wearers of their shirt is merely a norm of the game.
Particularly unusual, therefore, that Charlton Athletic supporters were standing in appreciation, and applause, towards a side that had suffered defeat in the first round of The FA Cup. Not least when their side were playing lowly Truro City, occupiers of the National League South. But it was not their own side they were applauding.
For come full-time, having received rapturous appreciation from the relentlessly vocal visiting supporters, Truro’s beaten players were applauded from The Valley’s turf by home fans. Addicks able to acknowledge, and increase, the pride that should be felt among those representing the Cornwall club while embraced by the comfort of victory. They had fought, they had battled, and not made this win as simple for Karl Robinson’s side as the 3-1 scoreline suggests.
In such circumstances, the importance of Ben Reeves’ early goal for the hosts cannot be lost. The ball falling kindly to the attacking midfielder inside the box, and a cool finish applied to give Charlton a tenth minute advantage. Breathing space before battling commenced.
The Addicks pressured the moment they entered a threatening position, resulting in a lack of fluency and horribly erratic play. The Addicks pressured inside their own defensive third, largely by robust forward Tyler Harvey, supported well by a determined collective. The class of Charlton occasionally showing, or at least the three-tier gap between the two sides, but the visitors undoubtedly intent on making this an uncomfortable afternoon.
As such, the nature of the goal that appeared to have put the progression of Robinson’s men beyond doubt, though not tempering the relief among Addicks, was incredibly cruel of Truro. Mark Marshall cutting inside eight minutes into the second period, with his resulting shot taking a horrible deflection off the knee of Ed Palmer, and goalkeeper McHale caught wrongfooted as the ball found the back of the net in rather fortunate fashion. A few dropped heads suggested carnage may follow.
Instead, any shackles that were previously on the visitors merely broke, and their confidence grew. Confidence that became belief as a cross from the right found the always dangerous Harvey, and his impressive header nestled into the far corner. Celebrations among players and fans not suggesting they were simply enjoying their experience; they wanted some sort of result, and with 31 minutes still to play they had every chance.
Just a slight discomfort around The Valley, or at least that’s what the home supporters wanted to feel. The play still lacking fluidity, the roar that serenaded every Truro attack increasing the sense that they had a chance, and that, without being on top, were clipping away at Charlton’s heels. A moment of fluidity with 70 minutes played, as Ricky Holmes sent Reeves into score his second and regain the two-goal advantage, most welcome.
Now was surely the time where the fight, the energy, that Lee Hodges’ side had displayed would run out. But it to their enormous credit, in an end-to-end ending to the encounter, that they continued to battle. The Addicks wasteful as full-time approached, but desperate blocks and the assistance of the crossbar required to prevent the visitors from halving their deficit, and setting up an uncomfortable finish.
Nonetheless, the Addicks had found a route through. Their performance not scintillating but enough to get the job done. Enough to avoid an upset.
Truro, however, had done enough to earn the respect and appreciation of all inside The Valley. Defeat will hurt – there would have been dreams of more – but they should feel no shame. The National League South side can return to Cornwall with pride.
There did, in truth, appear only one possible result prior to kick-off. Not a belief reached purely on the basis of the gap between the two sides, but one also born out of the strength of Charlton’s XI. Robinson only without the suspended Ahmed Kashi, replaced by captain Johnnie Jackson, and Josh Magennis, whose early link-up with Northern Ireland gave an opportunity to Joe Dodoo.
But, of course, in a competition famous for its upsets, few were willing to express total confidence in a positive Charlton result. Few among the boisterous Truro following accepting they were in SE7 just to soak up at a moment. Some early sluggishness, and a horribly wayward effort from Jake Forster-Caskey, upping the atmosphere in the away end and making them believe they could compete.
Though their confidence was tempered somewhat as the crossbar they were defending was hit before the ten minute mark had been reached. Forster-Caskey meeting Holmes’ delivery, his header looping over the slightly out of position, and the ball bouncing off the top of the goal’s frame. Truro almost immediately responding, with Ben Amos getting down well to keep out Harvey’s header, but you were beginning to see the differences in quality despite the Addicks struggling to find the peak of their stride.
And so that Robinson’s men gained the advantage with ten minutes played was not a shock, but it was certainly comforting. Jay Dasilva doing well on the left flank, with Reeves doing equally well to sit back inside the centre of the box and find himself a pocket of space, from which he was able to convert from the resulting cross from his second touch. Minimal celebrations inside The Valley, with supporters confidently believing what was to follow would be comfortable victory, but with their play not quite fluid this appeared a necessary early strike to ease any nerves.
An expectation that, to one degree or another, a fairly comfortable afternoon would follow. Composure on the ball would increase. The tempo, after a very tepid start, would increase.
But the groans of frustration as positive positions ended with a misplaced pass, a wayward delivery or a poor decision were far too numerous. Marshall closer to firing over the Jimmy Seed Stand than he was getting his shot on target, while his teammates’ efforts to feed him down the right were increasingly poor. The home crowd, understandably, wanted to see a bit better from their side.
Not least with Truro, displaying the occasional sign of discomfort in the immediate aftermath of conceding, beginning to appear like a genuinely competitive outfit. Growing stronger at the back, and more determined in attack. Those in red allowing Noah Keats to progress through the centre without challenge, and his ambitious effort from distance requiring a dive from Amos in order to keep it out.
If that not a warning, then the definite sign that the Addicks needed to improve came with 23 minutes played. Charlton a defensive shambles as they attempted to deal with the visitors’ short corner, and the ball ultimately deflecting through to Harvey. His prod towards goal needing to be cleared off the line by Chris Solly.
Holmes, who had made himself the enemy of the Truro fans by being hauled down illegally serval times, attempted to ease the concern with one of his trademark strikes from the edge of the area. But his volley, though controlled, cleared the bar, and the game’s competitiveness remained. Robust centre-back Ben Gerring climbing highest to win a header in Charlton’s box following a free-kick, but Amos claiming.
At least, as half-time approached, Robinson’s men were able to test McHale in the Truro goal on two occasions. First Forster-Caskey found space on the edge of the box, with his resulting effort pushed wide, before the same man won his side a free-kick in a shooting position, from which McHale was required to turn Holmes’ curling strike behind. But it was with a precarious advantage of only one that the Addicks ended the opening 45 with.
Any advantage against a side three tiers below shouldn’t have really been that precarious, but Truro, applauded from the field by their supporters wholeheartedly, were showing real fight and determination, while Charlton’s performance wasn’t convincing enough to leave you feeling completely at ease.
Though you did feel, irrespective of whether it inspired the Addicks to reach the highest level of performance, that a second goal would leave the visitors too deflated and flat to make an impression on the contest. Killing the game off without a scare essential. Holmes latching onto a ball over the top from Reeves, but firing into the side netting, at least provided something that resembled a promising start to the second period.
And just eight minutes into the half, the second goal wished and hoped for had been found. Marshall had been lively enough in the opening period, but without a great deal of luck, so had seemingly been saving it up for this moment. Dancing inside from the right, his resulting effort highly unlikely to have troubled McHale, but the cruellest of deflections from the knee of Palmer doubled Charlton’s lead and seemingly confirmed their passage into the second round of The FA Cup.
A sense that only grew as greater space suddenly appeared for both Holmes and Marshall. The former driving forward, but firing straight at McHale, before the latter was sent through by Dasilva, only for an equally tame strike to follow. You hoped the chances would begin to stack up against a Truro side whose confidence would surely start to drain.
But in the face of adversity, Hodges’ side appeared only to grow stronger. Or at least more threatening. Harvey providing a greater test to Charlton’s centre-backs than many League One forwards, and the hair-banded striker creating space for two strikes that were well-saved by Amos.
And as the hour mark approached, Harvey was given space to halve his side’s deficit. Aaron Lamont’s cross picking out the forward, who had got away from the red shirts in the centre, and heading with total conviction well beyond Amos. A fine header, scenes of celebration and inspiration following, and an uncomfortable nervousness infecting those supporting the home side inside The Valley.
Nervousness seemingly spreading to those on the pitch. Or at least that one reason for some rather odd decision making, as Marshall and substitute Tariqe Fosu chose to shoot from tight angles when they seemed in excellent positions to pull back to red shirts on the edge of the six-yard box. McHale claiming comfortably on both occasions.
Certainly no nervousness among the visitors, however, as they continued in their endeavours to get forward. But for all their determination and effort, a touch of quality was lacking. Gerring headed over from a set-piece, with their physical nature their main asset in the final third, but they couldn’t quite turn promising positions into something more threatening.
And so those supporting the Addicks could finally breathe easy with 20 minutes to play. Holmes and Reeves combining in fluid fashion, and the latter finishing as coolly as he did for his first. A display of the difference in quality that Truro had done so well to effectively nullify for most of the afternoon.
Still the visitors sang in the stand, and still those representing them on the pitch battled, but there little sympathy from Robinson’s men in the final 20 minutes. Forster-Caskey teed up twice in quick succession, first by Reeves and then by Holmes, but dragging both efforts narrowly wide. On both counts, he should have done better.
Though while they continued to fight, so too were Truro able to grind out openings as full-time neared. The ball worked to Keats inside Charlton’s box, and only an excellent block from Konsa prevented the resulting strike from reducing the deficit. The deficit might still have been reduced from the resulting corner, with Gerring heading wide, but with the space to have done better.
And again, Konsa was required to make an important block, as Harvey found space inside the box and delivered what appeared to be a goal-bound effort. The visitors making this uncomfortable as could possibly be. Though Ahearne-Grant, played through twice by Fosu, first shot wide and then forced McHale into a save as the Addicks attempted to add further breathing space.
Breathing space that probably should have come when the resulting short corner fell perfectly to Forster-Caskey, only for his attempt to knock ball towards goal to effectively bounce off McHale, bounce back off him, and role behind. The midfielder not having much luck in front of goal, despite his efforts. But with stoppage-time approaching, it mattered little.
Three minutes into that stoppage-time, however, the longevity and determination of Truro was once again displayed. A cross from the right headed against the bar from Harvey. It might well have been reflective of their efforts if it had snuck in.
Though it was the Addicks who carved out the game’s final opening, in a rather hectic final period, with Holmes getting into space and seeing a curling effort well saved by McHale. The goalkeeper the foundation on which this determined effort by Truro was built. On which the Addicks were forced to work for their passage into the second round.
And work was most certainly required. I don’t think many expected a rampant victory that embarrassed the visitors. But I’m not sure many expected the visitors to fight so hard, perform so commendably, and make the afternoon something of a difficult one.
Without context beyond the 90 minutes, and without taking the entire game into account, it appears a comfortable victory. But to suggest this was a comfortable afternoon prior to the 70th minute would do a huge disservice to Truro. Even in those final 20 minutes, when victory was effectively secured, they still provided a genuine threat to the Addicks.
In part, the uncomfortable afternoon comes from the fact Robinson’s men weren’t quite fluent. For large parts of the first period they rather tepid, and lacked any real cutting edge, which certainly wasn’t helped by how much Dodoo struggled to have any sort of impact on the game. Fluidity came in second period, but even then the decision making and finishing weren’t spectacular.
But largely it came from how determined a performance Truro delivered. There fight in defence, battle in midfield, and a forward in Harvey who, on the basis of that performance, should be playing at a higher level. It not simply a case that they worked hard and rattled some bones with their physicality, they put in a structured defensive effort and were able to threaten on the occasions they saw space to get forward.
The difference, however, was that when Truro got into decent positions they hesitated and were quickly shut down. When Charlton got into decent positions, they were quite often wasted, but eventually their class told. Reeves’ finishes were excellent, and the play for his second goal was very good.
From all this, Truro take pride. Pride that should last, and that they definitely deserve. But Charlton take the pleasure of doing enough to secure progression.
The self-declared resurrection, lingering in League One’s depths, had risen to deal with the challenge that a side threatening the third tier’s top two posed.
A statement that suggests AFC Wimbledon had found an unprecedented level of performance to prevent Charlton Athletic from playing at The Valley. But their rising was largely displayed through impassable centre-backs Darius Charles and Deji Oshilaja climbing to win headers against a forward line of Addicks lacking any sort of threat or potency. Preventing the hosts from playing not the impossibly demanding task it should have been.
For Karl Robinson’s side had forgotten how to play, or at least how to do so with intensity, creativity and cutting edge. The physical bodies, and the structured body, of the Dons defence in control against a unit that became increasingly desperate in their efforts to get forward. The visiting midfield pressing with greater pace than Charlton were moving the ball out of their area, the ball constantly misplaced or overrun further forward, and the longballs turned to with no other option points with the physical battle lost.
In fact, there more meaningful aggression in cries against Robinson, former manager of the Franchise enemy, from the visiting supporters than in the hosts’ attacking efforts. The first half ending without the Addicks forcing a genuine strike on goal. The Valley surrounded by frustration, interspersed by pride and diligent determination from an AFC Wimbledon side here to defend, and enforce such frustration.
The feel that this was another game in which Charlton would fail to break down a struggling side cemented, but there was some hope. The second half would surely see an increased tempo, Neal Ardley’s side sat in the position they did for a reason and would surely tire, Robinson would surely get sick of the Franchise chants and attempt to start another fight to liven things up. If nothing else, maybe it would offer 45 minutes to catch up on sleep.
Tempo came, AFC Wimbledon’s defending became more uncertain, and Robinson displayed more energy on the sideline without punching anyone. A string of corners had the Covered End briefly turning their frustration to hope, while a simply sublime block from Charles denied Tariqe Fosu yet another goal. The sense, however, that this contest would have no breakthrough only growing, also among those at the other end of the ground as Oshilaja wasted the visitors’ only good chance from a poorly defended corner.
A miracle required to make the difference. So up stepped the man who, aside from looking like Jesus once his hair his untied, holds match-winning qualities. With just 12 minutes remaining, Ricky Holmes striking a spectacular free-kick from a narrow angle over George Long and sending the tense and frustrated Valley into a frenzy of celebration.
The reward for Holmes’ heroics a panicked period attempting to maintain the lead, followed by sheer fear as five minutes of additional time were announced. Single-goal victories, achieved in circumstances that take at least five decades off your life, becoming a regular occurrence. But a welcome occurrence once the sweet sound of the referee’s final whistle was heard around The Valley with the advantage still protected.
A truly dire game, a gruesome encounter, and a performance of very little quality. But scenes of post-game celebration not tainted.
Not for the players, embracing each other as a collective in the middle once again, constructed but not forced with the team spirit becoming increasingly obvious. Not for Robinson, exuberantly celebrating a win for his side, and a win against those who detest his past. Not for the Covered End, embracing positive results further alongside the growing suggestion that a takeover nears.
The cliché says these are the sort of games you have to win if you want to get promoted, and Charlton are certainly a step closer to promotion.
The edging towards promotion notion increased by the fact Robinson can rotate his side without weakening it. Jay Dasilva, a more natural and attacking left-back, back into the starting XI for Naby Sarr following last weekend’s dogged victory at Valley Parade, while options in reserve offered some promise if the Dons enforced disaster. Mark Marshall, returning from injury, sitting alongside Ben Reeves.
Buoyed by that win at Bradford City, the home crowd immediately behind their side, doing battle vocally with a healthy following from Kingsmeadow, and immediate hope of reward followed. A free-kick given on the edge of the AFC Wimbledon box, with Holmes and last weekend’s match-winner Jake Forster-Caskey standing over it. But the latter, to the delight of the visiting supporters behind the goal he struck at, comfortably clearing the bar.
Nonetheless, an early half-chance, with optimism the healthy disease infecting the minds of many Charlton supporters, promised to be the catalyst for a positive performance.
But said promise, without necessarily fading, soon became very unpromising. The guarantee fading with each misplaced pass, each sluggish and slow movement of the ball, and each challenge won by an AFC Wimbledon head. It the struggling visitors who were offering greater control, greater composure, on the ball in the game’s opening moments.
Scenes seen previously, a moment of encouragement usually bringing the Addicks alive, and concern not yet replacing optimism. But so too had Robinson’s men found themselves on several occasions delivering below-par performances against League One’s lowly sides, struggling to find a threatening a decisive tempo against those who sit deep and defend. There no question the visitors would do that if they took an early lead, and a brief moment of worry as Charlton’s backline was caught flatfooted to allow Andy Barcham to feed Lyle Taylor through, only for the blonde-haired forward to fire wastefully wide.
Defending with determination, however, was quite clearly the objective of Ardley’s side regardless of whether they had an advantage or not. A scheme played out in two parts, as a trio of experienced midfielders – Liam Trotter, Tom Soares and Millwall loanee Nadjim Abdou – harried the home midfield into wayward forward passes – and a pair of bullying centre-backs – Charles and Oshilaja – appeared to be winning every single ball against an anonymous Josh Magennis. The Addicks still without the intensity, tempo or attacking quality to counterattack a simple defensive gameplan, and with each wasted opportunity to get forward, the frustration in SE7 was growing.
Unthreatening going forward, and unsettled at the back. Barcham breaking, with Francomb overlapping, but opting, and somehow managing to run through several bodies to the edge of the box before feeding through Taylor. A first-time shot would have tested Ben Amos, but his indecisiveness allowed Ezri Konsa the chance to get back and block.
The threat snuffed out, but the threat that might have been obvious, and the reason that threat was there equally obvious. This not good enough from the Addicks. A roar, combining frustration, disappointment and encouragement, emerging from the Covered End.
A response required, but the response that followed summed up the desperation of Charlton’s situation. Fosu driving into the box, but throwing himself to the ground once meeting the imperious body of Oshilaja, and having his rather weak penalty claim immediately waved away. His shot, scuffed tamely wide, that soon followed less desperate and more a cry for help.
Cries of help increasing from around ground as half-time drew closer, desperate for a break from these dour proceedings. Action minimal, and Charlton showing very few signs of improvement. Still not enough intensity, quality and cutting edge to break down AFC Wimbledon, opportunities once in forward positions wasted, and a certain level of discomfort among the back four.
And it that discomfort among the back four that meant frustration grew to concern as the interval approached in SE7. An excellent tackle from Konsa first of all required to prevent Taylor taking a shot on goal, with the striker played in far too easily, but the defending from the resulting corner was dire. The ball bouncing threateningly off Dons heads, with Amos’ claim finally allowing the Covered End to breathe again.
But at least the half, half lacking positives of all kinds, ended on something that resembled a positive note. Fosu getting into some space down the right, and delivering a low ball across the face of goal, but no Charlton body able to get the faint touch required to turn it goalwards. At least, for possibly the first time in the opening 45 minutes, this was direct and threatening attacking play.
It not, however, enough to paper over what had been seen during the open period, and leave home supporters confidently believing the second half would see marked improvement. This a dire first 45, with the Addicks failing to break down the Dons, and somehow managing to find themselves second best in the overall pattern of play. An enthusiastic applause saw the players off the pitch.
Confident belief there was not, but there needed to be hope of better. If only because any worse from a quality and entertainment perspective might actually send the players to sleep. A bright start required, to reinvigorate a frustrated Valley, who expected to see more from their side.
But it almost a disastrous start for the Addicks. Konsa doing all he could do in intercepting a Soares free-kick, but his intervention only narrowly sent the ball wide of the post. A loud “ooo” from the away end, and a rather hushed “ooo” from the home ends; the hosts not too far away from conceding an own goal two minutes after the restart.
Nonetheless, you felt that such a moment of misery and madness was what this game required. Something out of the ordinary to liven it up. In the initial stages of the half, the same pattern remained, and the Addicks continued to frustrate in their efforts to get forward, while the Dons stood firm.
So in such a context, positives were to be extracted in any which way. Holmes had started to run with greater control, greater intent, while a series of corners, though ultimately not threatening, did actually make the visiting defence work to maintain their clean sheet. There a very, very subtle sense of improvement, or at least great pace and energy in Charlton’s performance, and the Covered End responded.
At least the wide men were playing with a directness, and delivering balls that asked questions, not simply poking an aimless ball to the first yellow shirt inside the box. Dasilva crossing to the back post, The Valley rising as it fell to Fosu, ready to celebrate. But Charles, seemingly from nowhere, threw his body in front of the strike to block what would have been a certain goal, and leave collective hands on top of heads.
Almost 70 minutes in and the Addicks had finally created a genuine opening. A reflection of their performance, AFC Wimbledon’s stubbornness, and the dire quality of the game. But it left 20 minutes to build upon.
Or at least it did in theory. A theory immediately quelled as Patrick Bauer blocked Soares path into the box, and conceded a free-kick in a very threatening position. Substitute Callum Kennedy’s effort from the resulting set-piece might well have been heading for the top corner had it not met the head of the big German on its path.
But with the Dons’ attack not yet over, it should have ended with them ahead. A first corner cleared for a second, and the defending of the follow-up absolutely horrific. The ball bouncing around inside the box, falling to Oshilaja, and the centre-back somehow managing to blast over the bar from close range. Sarcastic cheers from the home supporters, but they knew they’d got incredibly lucky.
Concern Ardley’s men could steal this, growing belief Robinson’s men had it in them to win it, but the overriding feeling one that this game was heading for a dour draw. The result this contest deserved. But The Valley was brought to life as Holmes burst forward, and was seemingly hauled down by Barry Fuller just inside the box.
Despite the claims for a penalty, however, a free-kick was awarded; The Valley crowd retreating back to their seats in disappointing, expecting this to be another set-piece comfortably cleared away. But the free-kick, from a crossing position, was fired towards goal by the right foot of Holmes, and somehow finding its way over George Long and into the far top corner. Pandemonium in the stands and on the pitch.
It hadn’t really been coming. It wasn’t really deserved. But, not least when it was a goal of such quality and one scored with only 12 minutes to play, few cared.
Twelve minutes. The realisation soon hit this wasn’t quite a winner. Twelve agonising minutes to see out.
Minutes that might not have needed to have been worried about had Magennis showed a bit more urgency in the box. Fed through by Holmes, the striker was too slow to get his shot away. The effort ultimately blocked, when he initially appeared in a position from which scoring was certain, and the visitors able to clear.
A wasted opportunity that might well have proven particularly costly only a minute later. A Fuller delivery intercepted by the head of Solly, only to dip and meet his own crossbar. The bar playing the role of Amos’ fingertips in this episode of desperately maintaining a slender lead.
But Amos’ fingertips were not required, nor were any more breathing techniques. AFC Wimbledon without the cutting edge to test the Addicks, themselves now defending with determination, even with five additional minutes in which to find an equaliser. Charlton seeing out the game with relative calmness.
Energy retained for the release of joy in the post-match celebrations. Getting through the ugliness, the sloppiness, and discomfort. A celebration shared by players, manager and supporters that knew fortune was involved somewhere, but honoured most the value of such a win.
There is something quite odd about these sorts of wins. Coming out on top in a dour game, despite offering a poor performance. No doubt the emotion is one of joy, but there probably contested views on how intensely you view the importance of the importance beyond today.
For there no question the result so easily could have gone the other way. It very easily could have remained level. And, given the quality of the performance, there could have been no argument that either outcome wasn’t deserved.
The lack of intensity, a real slowness on the ball, going forward incredibly frustrating. Misplaced and overhit passing, combined with misdirected balls to a struggling Magennis, growing increasingly tiresome. The defence somewhat flatfooted.
You worry that a repeat performance gets punished. Again, you worry why we struggle to play with any sort of tempo against a side so lowly. You worry sides so lowly can’t be appropriately punished.
But that a winner is found, when the performance is substandard, has a certain value to it. Not a bundled in, rather fortunate, winner. But a winner of real quality.
Holmes is a matchwinner. Few teams in this division have players of that quality. You drag games out, and the more likely it is someone of his quality will make the decisive blow.
Tiresome, lacklustre and tame. There really few enjoyable moments until Holmes’ strike. Few moments that suggested this was a game Charlton would win.
And that does show there needs to be some improvement if both victories and this sort of position, or better, in the league are to be sustained throughout the campaign. I think there does have to be a concern that ultimately we’ll be caught out with performances like this, and there’s definitely a few faults in a quality side. In addition to excellent performances, and a bloody huge deal of determination, fortune has occasionally been on our side in recent weeks.
And that you’d like to see some improvement, on a day where the Addicks cement their position in fourth and move closer to the top two, can really only be a good thing.
Fierce gusts of wind that were affecting the flight of the ball by the beginning of the second half. Heavy rain leaving those on the pitch completely sodden. A gritty battle between two sides lacking fluency going forward, but certainly not without commitment.
To see this stormy, autumnal scene at Valley Parade as one of beauty would take an acquired taste. It certainly not attractive in the conventional sense. Not attractive to those who conventionally find themselves inside the home of Bradford City.
But for the visiting Charlton Athletic supporters, this traditional display of bleakness only aided the wonder of their result. You could only feel a greater sense of pride as the exhausted Addicks came to applaud at full-time, battered and bruised by opposition and gusts. Drenched in rain water and the sweat produced from their efforts.
For at League One’s most obvious ‘tough place to go’, on a particularly tough day to go there, Karl Robinson’s men had battled away to steal all three points. Neither pretty nor convincing, but those factors taking nothing away from the effort involved in getting through to full-time with a single-goal advantage maintained. One given to them, as it began to look like this scrappy war would have no winner, by Jake Forster-Caskey with 74 minutes played.
Arguments to be had about who had had the better of this tight affair, in a way that lacked all the quality on display at the Kassam Stadium in midweek, prior to the Addicks breaking the deadlock. Both promotion-chasers occasionally getting into good positions, but neither possessing any sort of quality in their final delivery to test two resilient backlines. Billy Clarke, against his former side, with Charlton’s best chance, and a Ben Amos save superbly keeping out Charlie Wyke’s header to prevent Bradford going ahead.
And argument to be had about whether the Addicks should have been able to get themselves into a position from which they converted. Home players, and the typically fiery Stuart McCall, furious with referee and his assistant as Ricky Holmes was questionably adjudged to have kept the ball in play on the right flank. Play continuing, a Charlton throw teeing up Chris Solly to cross to Tariqe Fosu, and the winger’s scuffed volley turned over the line by an alert Forster-Caskey.
Though Forster-Caskey’s contribution to victory was matched, if not bettered, by that of Amos’. As the Bantams instilled panicked upon the watching visiting supporters, the Bolton loanee first saved from Wyke, before pulling off a quite extraordinary stop to deny Matthew Kilgallon from the resulting corner. The goalkeeper’s interventions meaning Robinson’s men could celebrate with all the joy and relief that comes with a win in which fight, battle and just a touch of good fortune has been required.
And in a week where the Addicks have picked up four impressive points previously, and promising takeover rumours have emerged, such an impressive victory holds even greater value. The status Robinson’s side hold in League One growing greater. Their chance of success potentially growing if a stable base were to appear.
It might well be that the gale that blew over Valley Parade, along with Forster-Caskey’s decisive strike and Amos’ vital fingertips, were signalling the winds of change at Charlton Athletic.
Change, surprisingly, in Robinson’s starting XI once again. A man previously unwilling to make alterations to his side unless enforced naming three different line-ups in a week. Ezri Konsa returned to the side at the expense of Jay Dasilva, with Naby Sarr bravely placed at left-back, while Clarke was chosen ahead of Ben Reeves to start at the ground he called his home for three years.
But the main team news was that, having been labelled a doubt, Holmes was fit enough to play, and fit enough to make an immediate impact on the game. Driving forward, with cries of encouragement and expectation from a vocal away end matching every stride, the winger ultimately forced a dipping shot away from the edge of the box while under pressure from Nathaniel Knight-Percival. As the visiting Addicks started to clear their throats in order to celebrate, Bradford goalkeeper Colin Doyle hurried across his goal to superbly tip the effort over his bar.
Enough to get the voices of the visiting support fully into action, and to calm any fears that they would struggle to compete at Valley Parade. But they were under no illusions that the Bantams would make the afternoon a difficult one, and an important block from Patrick Bauer turned Jake Reeves’ strike wide. Omari Patrick doing the job of the Charlton defence for them from the resulting corner, as, under pressure from Ahmed Kashi at the back post, the winger volleyed horribly off-target.
And with a Josh Magennis nod-on sending Holmes free down the left, resulting in the winger volleying into the side-netting, there was an early suggesting that this contest might be somewhat end-to-end and open.
Alas, it would not be long before the referee’s blowing of his whistle was the game’s most fluent aspect. A horribly scrappy midfield battle ensuing, with niggly fouls preventing any real fluidity to the game, while any chance either side had to threaten in the opposition’s final third was abruptly ended by a misplaced pass or a weak final ball. The effort, particularly defensively, of both sides not to be faulted; their attacking execution very much so.
Charlton’s attacking tameness heightened by two factors in particular. Sarr delivering defensively, but reluctant to do the job that Dasilva does so well in getting forward and subsequently overlapping while a winger has the ball, meaning Holmes or Fosu were finding themselves stranded. The wide duo further limited by the fact that Magennis, following on from his tired effort in the final half hour against Oxford United in midweek, was contributing very little, and struggled to win the ball at all until looping a header way over the bar from a Holmes with 25 minutes played.
The game too slow, too sloppy in general, and both teams stuck in a very unappealing stalemate. An inspired moment required to bring the game alive, or at least bring about a brief interruption, and a clever piece of thinking at least provided the latter. The Addicks had been locking themselves in from throws on the right, but Solly’s quickly taken throw-in sent Clarke in on goal, and his drive flashed narrowly wide of the Bradford goal with his former teammate Doyle stranded.
One goalkeeper stranded, but the other required to be very much alert in order to prevent his side falling behind. It would not have come as a surprise if, after not taking a promising opening, the Addicks had conceded, nor if the game’s deadlock was broken by a set-piece, and chaos ensued in Charlton’s box from Nicky Law’s free-kick delivery. The ball eventually popping up to Wyke, just a few yards out and surely about to head McCall’s men into the lead, but the starfish shape of Amos somehow denying Bradford’s forward in outstanding fashion.
As such, for all the gritty and scrappy play seemingly only to worsen as the wind began to noticeably increase across this part of Yorkshire, there remained very strong tests for both defences as each side looked to force their way ahead. Sarr getting forward in natural fashion for possibly the first time, and to great effect, as he exchanged flicks with Fosu before a well-timed tackle from Knight-Percival inside the box prevented the winger getting a shot away. Kashi managing to get a shot away as the resulting corner was cleared but, though struck incredibly well, sending his effort straight into the hands of Doyle.
Holmes sending a free-kick high and wide and Wyke firing over at the other end after a free-kick was knocked down towards him as half-time approached, but the sound of the referee’s whistle to signal the interval came as some relief. A gruelling first period, both to be involved in the battle, and to witness it.
No doubt that both these sides had the quality within their units to push forward with greater intent in the second half in search of victory. But you weren’t getting the impression that that was the plan of either. Not least with their attacking, with passing wayward and crosses weak, so heavily restricted.
Nor was the hunt for a breakthrough helped by both teams defending resolutely, for which particularly credit was warranted in the increasingly difficult conditions. But it did appear at the start of the second period that the Addicks had lost a certain amount of their defensive structure and resolve. The visiting backline standing allowing the Bantams to come forward too easily, standing off Reeves, and ultimately giving him the opportunity to shoot just over the top from the edge of the box.
Settled Robinson’s men were most certainly not in the immediate aftermath of the interval, but some relief was to come. Holmes getting into a crossing position right by the goal line and, possibly assisted by the winds, seeing his resulting delivery bounce back off the bar and just out of the reach of Fosu waiting inside the box. As a man who has previously scored directly from a corner, well, there’s every chance it might have been intentional.
But the relief was only light as the Bantams continued to test a struggling Charlton backline, and waste opportunities to pull ahead. Alex Gilliead getting in behind Sarr, crossing low to Patrick, and only an excellent block from Konsa sending the ball over the bar and denying Bradford’s winger what would have been a certain goal. Cries from the away end for the Addicks to wake up, and those only growing louder following the resulting corner, as a delivery sent to the back post was nodded back into the centre, where an unchallenged Timothee Dieng should have done much better than fire over.
And with Patrick driving forward, bursting through blue shirts as if they weren’t now, before striking comfortably over Amos’ bar, a concern was growing that this would be quite an uncomfortable second half for the Addicks. Defensive weakness, but so too a struggle to retain the ball in midfield, and Magennis’ lacklustre display really hampering the side. Most would have taken a point prior to kick-off, and now many were quite desperate for it.
With 25 minutes remaining, however, Forster-Caskey issued a reminder that the Addicks were far from sitting ducks in this contest, and still had the quality to grind their way to victory. The midfielder, battling as much as anyone in the horrible central battle, finding himself in space 25 yards from goal, and curling an effort in the general direction of the top corner. A brief moment, while the ball was still in flight, where the away began to prematurely celebrate, but Doyle did extremely well to get himself across goal and push the effort behind.
Certainly enough to reinvigorate the visiting supporters, raising voices and making them believe that they could come away from Valley Parade with three points, and seemingly doing the job of settling the Addicks down into a more compact and coherent unit. At the very least, they soon looked less fractured at the back, offered much greater control in midfield, and a second chance would quickly follow. Fosu, winning and subsequently taking a free-kick, seeing a swerving strike from a dead ball punched away by Doyle, with the goalkeeper taking no risks in such windy conditions.
Energy in the Charlton side to match the battle that hadn’t faded, and Holmes attempted to burst up the right flank with a little more than 15 minutes to play despite Bradford men surrounding him. It appeared as if his efforts has been in vain, or at least in the very strong view of those representing the hosts, with the accusation that the winger had ran the ball out of play. However, he continued, and ultimately won his own side a throw, while Valley Parade regulars continued to voice their displeasure.
Maybe that part of the reason that those on the pitch were caught flat-footed as, from the quickly-taken throw, Solly was sent into an excellent crossing position without a Bantam around him. His delivery picking out an unmarked Fosu, but his resulting volley towards goal not a clean one, only for Forster-Caskey to appear at the far post and turn the ball over the line. Cue carnage.
The importance of the goal not lost on Robinson’s men, with groups of wild celebrations ultimately forming one, in front of a set of fans celebrating equally as wildly. A lead with 16 minutes to play in a horribly scrappy affair against a side who are incredibly difficult to beat at home, who had been putting the Addicks under some pressure. Huge.
There was, however, still 16 minutes to play. Bradford had already shown they could test this Charlton back four, and would no doubt find ways to do so in the time that remained. Though they would have to do better than Dieng’s effort, as Amos watched the Frenchman’s strike flash comfortably wide.
And in the face of undoubted pressure, there was a desperate requirement to remain defensively firm. So the sight of Sarr jumping for a header, completely missing the ball, and allowing Patrick in behind was not ideal. The winger squaring for Wyke, and only a sublime save from Amos at his near save retaining Charlton’s lead, sparing Sarr’s blushes, and allowing those in the away end to begin the process of breathing again.
But from the resulting corner, Amos, determined to protect these three points, managed to outdo his previous efforts. Kilgallon picked out at the back post, nodding towards the top corner from point-blank range, and the fingertips of the visiting goalkeeper somehow tipping the ball away. Quite incredible how the Addicks still had their lead, and this a quite incredible display of goalkeeper from the Bolton loanee.
Surely with such resilience, at least from the gloves of Charlton’s number one, a crushing moment in the final minutes would not come, but the signalling of five additional minutes was devastating enough. A panicked period in which the Addicks had to find one last burst of energy to continue this somewhat uncomfortable but totally committed fight. A period that began with Magennis breaking through, and shooting agonisingly wide.
The Bantams, however, failed to threaten. The Addicks solid, and their opponents with nothing left to give. The referee’s final whistle blown without concern preceding it, bringing about wonderful relief-filled joy.
It left this set of heroic, sodden, and exhausted bodies – including Johnnie Jackson who had come on for the final moments – to celebrate their victory in front of the travelling supporters. Their victory. For this was most definitely a victory that belonged to the effort and battle they had shown throughout the 90 minutes.
The fight shown not lost on anyone. Their reward the win, but this shared moment of celebration, and appreciation for Robinson’s men, most certainly earned. A win with huge value.
This a win as big as the gusts that meant the players wanted to escape these celebrations quickly, as meaningful as they were.
They had, to be quite frank, worked their bollocks off. They’d given absolutely everything in very tough conditions, in a very tough game. It a real battle, the wounds of which displayed, but one they had won.
A battle fought collectively. It simply had to be, given the lack of attacking fluency that the nature of the game allowed. This wasn’t a game where Holmes or Fosu could dominate.
It was a game where Bauer and Konsa challenging for every ball, and continuously throwing their bodies on the line, was vital. It was a game where, despite being beaten several times by Gilliead and Patrick, Sarr and Solly had to keep on tracking their men with all the energy they had to give. It was a game where Kashi and Forster-Caskey, up against the impressive Law and Reeves, had to be prepared to fight for every single first and second ball.
Moments, of course, of uncertainty. In fact, maybe some luck involved. It did appear that Bradford’s claim in the build up to the goal was a reasonable one, but equally they could have dealt with the threat better, and defensive frailties at the start of the second half weren’t capitalised on by the hosts.
But for almost the entirety of the game, the Addicks were successful in collectively battling as they needed to.
And when they weren’t in the period after taking the lead, they had a teammate on hand to bail them out. The hands of Amos absolutely vital. A sensational display of goalkeeping to secure the three points.
A sensational display of goalkeeping, a Forster-Caskey goal, and a battling collective effort that cements a position within the play-offs. Still some way off the top two but, having drawn level on points with Bradford, we possibly become the side that will capitalise if one slips up. That is, of course, if a mixture of quality and fight continues to be shown.
And there’s the attractive short-term potential of this club to an interested buyer – Robinson has got a side that, realistically, still needs some strengthening into a very good position in the league. The long-term potential also seen today, seen in the stands. The joy of those supporters, embracing the relief and excitement of victory, and hoping for more positive news to follow.
And it’s probably these wins those supporters, battered and bruised themselves in recent years, enjoy more than any other. Not totally fluent, but totally committed. A side fighting for victory in testing circumstances, and earning a result to be proud of.
In a city with highly respected education institutions, Charlton Athletic showed they’re still struggling to learn from previous experience. Plenty of practice papers surely taken, but finding the answers in the real thing continues to prove tricky. Hard work not being rewarded as it should be.
For a critical fault that has proved frustrating on numerous occasions throughout this campaign was displayed once again at Oxford United’s Kassam Stadium. A fault that taints the overall quality of this collective. A point away at a side sharing a spot inside the top six to be applauded and appreciated, but it might have been so much more had the Addicks shown potency in the opposition’s box.
Excellent chances not taken either side of Karl Robinson’s men gaining a 18th-minute advantage at the Kassam. Tariq Fosu pouncing as Simon Eastwood hesitated on coming towards a loose ball after Curtis Nelson lost possession, the winger rounding the stranded goalkeeper, and scoring his sixth goal in four games. Wasted chances of little interest to any Addick as Fosu’s name was sung by delight away supporters.
In fact, such wasted chances seemed to have little negative value in those moments, only providing further encouragement. For the Addicks were playing with such quality, and held such a control of the game, that those chances, as they did a first, surely foreshadowed a second goal. A confidence aided by Oxford’s rather panicked defending, and misplaced passes that quickly blunted attacks and increased quite vocal frustration within the home sections of the ground.
But the importance of the inability to take those chances would become clear with 35 minutes played. The U’s providing no real test to Ben Amos in the Charlton goal up until that point, and Chris Solly had had few more challenging things to do than superbly head away a James Henry delivery. Unfortunately, that cleared cross fell straight to Christian Ribeiro, whose accurate left-foot volley found the far bottom corner of Amos’ goal.
The game might have been out of sight had Robinson’ side made their dominance count for what it was worth. Instead, Clotet’s men were invited back into the contest, themselves now racking up chances, and made Charlton thankful to hear the half-time whistle. A situation that wasn’t occurring for the first time this season.
And while both teams, with the Addicks taking some deep breaths during the interval and composing themselves once again, contributed to an excellent game of football in the second period, with the pair obviously intent on winning the game, it was the visitors who had more right to be ultimately frustrated. Oxford threatening, and just as likely to gain the advantage each time they attacked, but Charlton’s threat a more persistent one. One they should have made more of.
In fact, with a minute to play, the Addicks failed to take arguably the best chance either side had to win the game. Substitute Karlan Ahearne-Grant found in a glorious position, but his first-time effort curling comfortably wide. Inexcusable not to have at least tested Eastwood in the Oxford goal; arguably inexcusable not to have scored.
The game subsequently concluding with a sour taste of frustration formed from the failure to make the most of the chances created, not least during the first-half period of dominance that meant the U’s were able to get back into the game. But so too was there reason to be pleased with the overall performance and the gaining of a point against a strong side. There also a niggling voice that suggested, given the threat Oxford posed, that there should be some relief felt in coming away from the Kassam without further suffering having been inflicted.
It’s probably easier to understand most Oxford University degrees than it is this Charlton side, at times.
Something usually fairly straight forward is Robinson’s team selection, with changes rarely made unless injury or suspension enforces them. But Charlton’s boss made two alterations to his starting XI for the trip to the Kassam by choice. Ezri Konsa and Billy Clarke dropping to the bench, with Naby Sarr and Ben Reeves, making his first league start for the club, coming in.
And one of those fresh faces came desperately close to opening the scoring for the Addicks with just five minutes played. A sublime set-piece delivery from Ricky Holmes beating all inside the Oxford box, and placed perfectly onto Sarr’s head, but the Frenchman could only head a glorious opening wide. A positive start for the visitors, that raised the volume coming from an already vocal away end, but they really should have been celebrating an early goal.
Attempts made by the hosts to immediately silence the visiting supporters, and the momentum their team was trying to build, but in rather tame fashion. Alex Mowatt, the match-winner in Oxford’s victory over Bristol Rovers at the weekend, striking a free-kick straight into the wall, while to call Ryan Ledson’s scuffed effort unthreatening would be flattering. Defensive resilience, and a sensible composure while in possession of the ball away from the opposition’s final third, increasing the control that the Addicks were steadily building.
Control that wasn’t translating into a lead, but it really should have been. Josh Magennis, in typically powerhouse fashion, bursting down the right, breaking into the box, and cutting back perfectly for a relatively unmarked Holmes in the centre. Premature celebration in the away end as ball neared Charlton’s talismanic winger, but Holmes somehow allowed it to creep away from him, when connection would have surely put the visitors in front.
A danger that this sort of wastefulness could frustrate. Frustrate players, supporters, and Robinson, who was watching from the touchline with an uncharacteristic level of calmness. Frustration certainly as Fosu broke forward to the sound of expectation, only to shoot horribly wide from distance with better options available to him.
But frustration certainly wasn’t the feeling among the visiting supporters, mightily impressed with the way the Addicks were passing the ball around with intent, before driving forward threateningly once an attacking player had been found. Oxford struggling to settle, even to leave their half in any sort of composed manner, and Charlton well on top. Fosu leaving Ribeiro for dead, and not for the first time, before shooting across the face of goal.
The goal coming. Surely coming. And with 18 minutes played, any slight sense of frustration was emphatically swapped for pure joy.
A catastrophe for Oxford, but equally reward for the Addicks and more specifically for the energy, intensity, and pressing of Fosu. Nelson pressured by the Charlton winger, the U’s skipper forced into forcing a ball back to Eastwood, but it one his goalkeeper wouldn’t have any chance of winning if he wasn’t fully committed. He wasn’t, allowing Fosu to steal in and round him, drive into the box as desperate Oxford defenders gave chase, before finding the bottom corner of an empty goal.
Unquestionably deserved. For Charlton and for Fosu. And the away end, having enjoyed the performance thus far, were certainly enjoying having to celebrate.
The U’s tried to respond, but it really only increased the confidence of the visitors. Henry shooting harmlessly wide, to a chorus of mocking cheers almost as loud as the cheers of celebration were for the goal two minutes previously. The hosts rattled.
Rattled to the extent that they might well have quickly found themselves two goals behind, and their backline would have taken much of the blame. All in yellow seemingly assuming that Fosu’s delivery was heading out of play, but Holmes had stretched to reach it at the far post, and his volley only narrowly missed the target with goalkeeper Eastwood equally unprepared. Something of a hostile atmosphere growing inside the Kassam.
An atmosphere that only grew as the Addicks maintained their control. A certain expectation that the hosts would struggle each time Fosu and Holmes broke forward. A certain expectation that the hosts would struggle each time they broke forward.
So there no question that Oxford’s 35th-minute equaliser came against the run of play. So too did it come out of nothing. But it was another reminder that the Addicks needed to make more of these periods they had on top.
Experienced winger Henry getting a bit of space on the right, before delivering a testing ball that Solly did well to head away. Alas, the ball landing straight at the feet of Ribeiro, and his volley finding the bottom corner, with Amos stranded. Suddenly, the emotions the two sets of supporters had been feeling had been swapped.
As had the overall pattern of play. Within a minute of equalising, Josh Ruffels found space on the edge of area to curl a sublime effort narrowly wide of Amos’ far post. Justified confidence among the visiting supporters replaced by a fear of collapse.
A fear that only increased as the U’s continued to create, and continued to look like a completely different side. Sarr largely composed throughout, but had occasionally threatened to get himself into trouble before being rescued, and on this occasion found himself caught out as Jack Payne sent Wes Thomas though on goal. The forward, thankfully, not taking the best of touches, and firing wide of one post, as Sarr kicked the other in frustration.
Some reprieve from the carnage offered with a minute of the half remaining as Magennis did well to tee up the rather quiet Reeves, but the time required to take a touch with his chest meant what appeared a clear opening became one that was easily charged down by a number of yellow shirts.
But half-time was desperately required, to give the Addicks a chance to settle and to half Oxford’s momentum. In fact, the visitors were incredibly fortunate not to have been going in at the break behind. Ricardinho – because every League One club needs a full back called Ricardinho – striking towards the bottom corner, with a superb Amos save preventing what appeared a goal-bound effort from putting the hosts ahead.
In the space of ten minutes, Charlton had gone from being in complete control to rather fortunate not to have fallen behind. It not particularly pretty. The U’s remembering how to play football, and the Addicks stuck in their shells.
The first 35 minutes of that first half, however, had been so impressive that a chance to settle during the interval would surely result in such performance levels returning. But, if only to calm the discomfort the final period of the opening 45 produced, a strong start was required after the break. Patrick Bauer getting himself in a bit of a mess and ultimately allowing Payne to shoot, well wide of Amos’ goal, not quite what was in mind.
More promising, and in fact the catalyst for Charlton finding their feet again, was Ricky Holmes doing something a bit ridiculous and it almost coming off. A cleared cross looping up to Holmes on the edge of the area, and the winger setting himself for the sort of volley that would find the Kassam Stadium’s car park 99 times out of 100. His effort struck superbly, with near-perfect timing and real venom, but not quite dipping enough to sneak underneath the crossbar.
Energy and intensity, with very obvious attacking intent, returning to the visitors’ play. Not quite at first-half levels, but they certainly now looked comfortable, and they’d certainly regained a threat. Magennis breaking forward, cutting back to Holmes, only for a yellow shirt to throw himself in front of his goal-bound strike.
Though Oxford provided a near-immediate reminder that they would not be rattled on this occasion, and would continue to search for victory as they had been doing. Henry delivering to Thomas just inside Charlton’s area, and the forward using all his neck muscles to test Amos. The visiting goalkeeper needing to tip the effort over the bar.
But it a rare opening for either side’s centre forward, with both defences doing an excellent job of keeping things relatively tight in the centre, and aiding this high-quality affair. Plenty of threat out wide, and a great deal of it unstoppable, but an answer waiting in the middle. Charlton’s promising moves so often blunted as a visibly exhausted Magennis became marked out of the game, with no real option in reserve.
To the Northern Ireland international’s credit, however, he kept going. Eastwood with body behind the ball as he shot from the edge of the area, before Magennis nodded just wide from Dasilva’s excellent left-wing cross. Twenty minutes to play, with neither side abandoning hope of victory.
And there a growing sense that Charlton had slowly become the side most likely to win the game, largely because of the effect the pace in their side was having in this period of the contest. Holmes breaking forward, and maybe should have shot, but ultimately teeing up Fosu to curl a good opening wide. Oxford flat-footed in their efforts to deal with the break.
The Addicks also having the advantage of the recently introduced Clarke’s fresh legs, playing out wide with Holmes moved into the centre. The Irishman beating Ricardinho, cutting inside, and unleashing a swerving effort that forced Eastwood into a very uncomfortable save. The volume and confidence increasing again in the away end.
Said volume just brought down a level as former Addick Jon Obika, an infamous scorer of late goals, was introduced from Oxford’s bench. Involved immediately, teeing up Henry to fire harmlessly wide, before testing Amos with a shot of his own.
Robinson, with full-time moments away, responding by making a substitution of his own. Fosu receiving a standing ovation as he was replaced by Ahearne-Grant. Some disappointment Charlton’s goal scorer didn’t have another few minutes in his legs, but at least the academy graduate would provide pace from the bench.
Pace, but not finishing. For barely more than a minute after coming on, Ahearne-Grant wasted a glorious opportunity to win the game for the Addicks.
Holmes, having driven forward, might have shot for himself, but saw the youngster in space inside the box. Then subsequently saw the ball float harmlessly off-target, and several red shirts drop to the floor in disbelief. Ahearne-Grant curling wide from an inviting position; he simply had to score.
Charlton’s final chance to win the game, but not the game’s final chance. For in the final minute of two added on, Ricardinho struck a fierce first-time effort from the edge of Charlton’s area that climbed just over Amos’ bar. The Brazilian with chances to give his side the advantage at the end of each half.
Ultimately, however, the full-time whistle blew with neither side having the advantage. Totally meaningful appreciation for those in red as they approached the away end following their largely excellent efforts, but hardly a mood of celebration among the visiting supporters. A positive point and overall performance, but the sense of frustration hard to shake.
First of all, what a bloody great game of association football. Two strong teams, with attack-minded players who display real quality on the ball, both going for the win for the duration of the contest when either might have justifiably settled for the point at some stage. Two big chances created late on as a result of the same intent that had been shown throughout the game, not just half-hearted hopefulness.
And in a game where both sides will feel they did enough to win, will look back and see moments in which they might have lost, and will believe they both played well in a competitive contest, a point for each probably stands as fair. A fantastic battle once Oxford found their equaliser.
But the frustration for Charlton comes from the fact that Oxford were able to find their equaliser. It another moment in a game where they had complete control, and subsequently allowed the opposition back in. Sometimes, such as on Saturday against Doncaster, it happens without the other team punishing, sometimes, such as tonight, it happens and completely changes the overall pattern and nature of the game.
That inability to make such a level of control count for what it’s worth is becoming incredibly frustrating. The inability to take chances is becoming incredibly frustrating. Excellent overall performances aren’t being rewarded as they should be, and it’s ultimately going to prove costlier if it’s not addressed.
Equally concerning is the way we respond once a team finds their way back into a game after it seemed like we had total control. Oxford could have easily found the lead before half-time, and the pattern of the game had been completely reversed. While a team scoring will, of course, resulting in them gaining confidence, it quite bizarre how quickly we seem to fade.
At least there was a very positive response in the second period, only let down by the inability to convert an opening. A wasted opportunity to gain a greater advantage in the first period, and wasted opportunities to regain an advantage in the second. Perfectly reasonable, I would suggest, to be pleased with the point and overall performance, but frustrated that a familiar story has hindered us somewhat.
For the competitiveness in the second half, combined with Oxford’s position in the league, makes that point a good one. And there no doubt the overall performance, removing the inability to convert, was promising. Excellent individual efforts in a collective display that had both structure and composure, and energy and attacking intent.
This wasn’t the Sarr of Fleetwood, too often flirting with getting himself into trouble, but he and Bauer largely dealt with the considerable threat at hand well, while Solly and Dasilva were excellent. Ahmed Kashi and Jake Forster-Caskey did the simple things well, though it was a shame that Reeves was fairly anonymous, in complete contrast to the always involved and absolutely outstanding duo of Holmes and Fosu. Oh, and as if we didn’t know already, we probably need a striker, as Magennis was hard-working for much of the first half, before looking absolutely shattered for much of the second.
It’s just, with something a bit more in front of goal, that performance might have resulted in greater reward.
To protect themselves from the growing panic that spread around The Valley, the Covered End raised their voices. Their noise drawing Charlton Athletic attackers towards goal, displaying faith in the side’s resilience, and preventing an atmosphere of fear from poisoning those in red. Volume that might well have trickled through to the sore head of referee Robert Lewis, recovering in the bowels of the ground.
Lewis, to the somewhat sinister delight of home supporters after his failure to award what appeared a clear first-half penalty, clattering into Josh Magennis as the second period kicked-off and needing to be replaced. The match official lying face down on The Valley’s turf for some time, and his treatment part of the reason that anxiety among Addicks reached unbearable levels. There already an acceptance that stoppage-time would be extended, that time needed to be made up, but seeing ten minutes signalled with a single-goal lead to defend provided trauma around SE7 as great as the one referee Lewis had suffered.
To be experiencing such trauma was unnecessary, if not somewhat self-inflicted. Doncaster Rovers’ response to an early Charlton goal was a tame one, and Karl Robinson’s side played with both composure and control. A ninth minute strike from the outrageously in-form Tariq Fosu, driven from outside the box and beating goalkeeper Ian Lawlor at his near post, appeared to have provided the platform for a relatively comfortable afternoon.
Comfortable, however, it was not. Neither for the Addicks or for referee Lewis’ head. The control denying a route back into the game for Donny, but it not utilised to make the hosts a persistent threat going forward. Control slowly replaced by sloppiness, as a series of mistakes allowed Alfie May to strike the crossbar, and a more competitive contest ensued.
But by the time those ten additional minutes had been signalled, Robinson’s men had left supporters exasperated at their inability to kill this game off. It might have been before the break had Rovers defender Andy Butler been punished for seeming tripping Fosu, instead of the latter oddly being booked for diving. It should have been on the back of some of the chances created in the second period, not least a goal-mouth scramble that saw a Billy Clarke header nodded off the line, two Magennis strikes superbly blocked, and a subsequent Clarke effort sent soaring over the bar.
And so those additional ten minutes, for all the efforts of those on the pitch and in the stands, were entered with both Doncaster and panic to beat away in order for three points that deserved to be Charlton’s to be protected.
This was, however, panic that existed as a consequence of the slender lead, the lengthy stoppage-time, and past experience. Darren Ferguson’s side had found possession easy to come by, possibly allowed to have it too easily, but genuine chances were limited. A struggle to create, and a struggle to find a way through a home backline that had showed impressive resolve in the closing stages.
Enough resolve to close out the game, and send joyous relief to replace the fear among The Valley’s crowd. A game that was more a grind that it was enjoyable, but a game that displayed certain characteristics not seen in performances when points have been dropped too easily. Robinson uniting his players in a huddle before allowing them to display their appreciation towards supporters felt fitting, given their collective determination to record victory in a less than perfect performance.
For concussed referee Lewis, pain and discomfort will remain for several days. For the panicked Charlton supporters, having worked their way through watching a win that should have been achieved in more comfortable circumstances, victory provides an immediate cure to their trauma.
(Apologies about the lack of photos/use of phone camera – full explanation at the bottom of the piece)
Maybe some trauma inside the mind of Robinson has he considered his starting XI prior to the game, irrespective of the impressive victory at Fleetwood Town prior to the international break. Ultimately, with any potential decisions probably eased with a calf niggle sending Mark Marshall back to the treatment room, just the one change made.
Naby Sarr, unfortunately so given his excellent performance in his first start of the campaign at Highbury, returning to familiar surroundings of The Valley bench, with fit again Chris Solly coming back into the side and Ezri Konsa moving into the centre of defence.
Regardless of who made up Charlton’s side, there a desperate need for the performance against the Cod Army to be repeated. Or, at the very least, built upon with another positive result. The sight of Ricky Holmes running forward with intent straight from kick-off and forcing Lawlor to unconvincingly cut out a cross most certainly encouraging.
To suggest, however, that the tone was set from the opening seconds of the game wouldn’t be correct. Partly because stoppages, one of which resulted in Doncaster skipper James Coppinger being substituted through injury, were contributing to a rather sluggish affair, and partly because the Addicks were losing possession cheaply in midfield. The visitors able to see a reasonable amount of the ball in Charlton’s half as a result, but without really displaying any signs that they knew what to do with it.
And if there was one very obvious difference between the two sides, even if Robinson’s men were struggling to make the most of it in the early stages, it was speed. Both in the sense of the pace of those in red, and the quickness in which they wished to do things. Rovers not alert as Solly took a ninth-minute throw a good few yards away from the touchline, straight to the feet of the unmarked Fosu.
Fosu allowed to run forward, unchallenged as he drove into a shooting position despite the confidence Doncaster would surely be aware he had following his hat-trick two weeks ago. Confidence that meant he had no fear in letting fly from the edge of the box. A shot that flashed past the sea of bodies before him, caught Lawlor off guard, and caused the net to ripple in attractive fashion as the goalkeeper was beaten rather tamely at his near post.
Rovers woeful in their attempt to prevent the goal from being scored, but every ounce of praise being sent the way of Fosu as he, his teammates, and The Valley crowd celebrated completely warranted. The impressive winger taking total advantage. The Addicks with a platform from which to take total control.
A platform they seemed to be growing from, with equal pleasure taken from the roars of expectation as Addicks bombed forward, and Doncaster attacks were cut out with composed and calm defending. Solly faultless at full-back, Jake Forster-Caskey first to every ball in midfield, and the threat of Fosu and Holmes keeping Donny on the back foot. Donny limited to rushed, first-time passes and punts up field in the general direction of John Marquis; a clear second best.
But with the halfway point of the first period passing, cracks in Robinson’s side begin to appear. A yellow card for Jay Dasilva, recklessly hacking away at Rodney Kongolo, the material reflection of the slight, and possibly first, struggle the Chelsea loanee was enduring. The free-kick that followed coming to nothing, but it part of a process where Charlton sluggishness meant their control of the contest was threatened, and their inability to create began to frustrate.
For it appeared all had momentarily switched off when Marquis won himself a bouncing ball in the final third of the Addicks. All in red standing off, and the former Millwall forward able to slide a pass through to May. Again, with May on the edge of the box, there was no Charlton man closing him down, and the striker cut inside before clipping the edge of the bar with a curling effort.
This could be one of two things. A warning about complacency, or the point in the game where the Addicks collapse. The cry of encouragement, which followed the initial low groan, from the Covered End suggested there was hope it would be the former.
And while Rovers were now appearing to have much greater direction and composure in possession, though a move ending with Marquis throwing himself to the ground inside the box hardly did them any favours, it was the Addicks who offered the greater response. A Fosu free-kick, awarded after Holmes had been cynically brought down while breaking forward, with more swing on it than a James Anderson delivery just about parried away by Lawler, before the goalkeeper claimed Magennis’ header as Kashi delivered the loose ball towards the back post. Deep breaths, still in control.
But Ferguson’s men were not to be deterred in their quest to grow into the game, while Charlton’s backline were growing increasingly unsettled. All a bit too easy for the visitors as Kongolo crossed for Tommy Rowe at the back post, with Amos saving a header that was probably going wide anyway, before the goalkeeper did incredibly well to hold onto a low Harry Toffolo free-kick with Marquis waiting to pounce on any rebound. The hosts’ advantage no longer secure.
Although, as half-time beckoned, that advantage might well have been doubled. For not only did Ricky Holmes, shooting inside the box from a slowly improving Dasilva’s cut-back, see a fantastic opening saved, but the aftermath resulted in Fosu seemingly having the back of his legs clipped by Butler as he shaped to shoot. A dive, rather than a penalty, in the mind of referee Lewis, though why an in-form goal-scorer would choose to dive in such a position is as hard to explain as the decision.
Boos for the match officials as they walked off at half-time, and applause that, though offered encouragement, didn’t stretch too far beyond gentle for the Addicks. The lead welcomed, promising signs within the performance, but a first-half that including a few too many moments and periods of frustration. Doncaster invited back into the game, and the objective in the second half was to quickly take them out of it.
Alas, the only quick taking out at the start of the second half was that of referee Lewis. Seven minutes the official spent laying on the ground, before leaving the pitch to chants of “off, off, off”. Even those of us (probably just me) showing concern for a fellow referee struggled to not find that a little bit amusing.
And once the game did finally resume, it was Rovers who created the first opening of the half. Charlton flat-footed, inviting the visitors to come forward, resulting in Toffolo delivering for an unmarked Marquis. The forward, thankfully, firing over the bar from 12 yards, but the Addicks really needed to wake up.
An injection of life required, and one provided by Holmes as burst down the left. His delivery finding Clarke, and the attacking midfielder heading back across the face of goal only to see the ball cleared off the line by Joe Wright. Better.
The ball still in Doncaster’s box, however, and falling straight to the feet of Magennis. A first shot fired into a sea of bodies, only for the rebound to come straight back to him, and his second strike to be superbly denied by Butler’s body. This scramble, at odds with the pace and intensity of the second half, ending with Clarke lashing the loose ball over the bar, and heads around The Valley collectively sinking into hands.
The second should have been scored, no doubt about it, and the little nagging voice suggesting that would be costly had appeared, but so had another believing the second was now coming. There space for the Addicks down the left, which Fosu was now willing to exploit, but Lawlor’s hands, having been wrong-footed, were able to beat away his resulting deflected effort. An effort slightly more testing than one that followed, which probably threatened a steward overseeing the North West Quadrant.
Confidence and energy back in the side, and the noise from the Covered End desperately attempting to claw the ball into Doncaster’s goal. But a reminder was soon offered that this confidence was meaningless unless it was turned into a second goal. Marquis knocking a ball down to Rowe, leaving him in an excellent shooting position, but the strike that followed was a poor one, and Amos was able to comfortable save what for a split-second felt like a clear chance to equalise for the visitors.
The result of such an opening only increasing the panic, and the desperate desire for ninth-minute Lawlor to return. Alas, he flung himself through the air to save from Magennis as his drove inside, before just about managing to turn Ahmed Kashi’s effort behind after Doncaster were too slow to realise the initial Lawlor save had remained in play by virtue of hitting the corner flag. Several years being taken off my life as the panic continued to increase, despite full-time edging ever closer.
For still Doncaster, with only a single-goal deficit to make up, were not accepting defeat. They knocked the ball around in midfield, waiting for the right time to pass to the pacey Kongolo, they pumped long to Marquis, or they simply delivered into the box. Their problem being that their options were limited, but as the game entered its final ten minutes, these were options that caused panic.
A marvellous tackle from Konsa halting Ben Whiteman’s run, the diminutive figure of Solly rising to win everything inside the box, and Amos claiming crosses and corners. The notion of getting a second goal now firmly abandoned, and defending defiantly the focus. Reaffirmed as Sarr replaced Dasilva, a few minutes before an additional ten were signalled.
Ten additional minutes that stood to be hellish. That could have been made a breeze had Forster-Caskey converted a free-kick at the start of the period of stoppage-time, but his effort sailed harmlessly over the bar. But these were ten minutes that the Addicks dealt with very well.
Well because they defended with defiance when they had to, but primarily because the ball was hardly in and around their box. They managed to break with regularity, drawing fouls and slowly the game down. Time appeared to be going backwards, and I’m sure it wasn’t moving each time I checked it, but they saw out ten minutes as if they were asked to see out four.
Doncaster without answer, frustration obvious as Matty Blair lunged in on Chris Solly, and their frustration doubling as the beautiful sound of the replacement referee’s full-time whistle blew.
Gruelling. As gruelling for supporters as it was for the players. But a gruelling afternoon with the reward, a deserved reward, of victory.
That it was deserved, that those in red worked hard for it, I think is reflected in Robinson organising the post-match huddle.
There’s more to it than a cheap gimmick, which it can be easily dismissed as. The strengthening of unity, but it also attracts supporter eyes in the midst of their post-match celebrations to those who have allowed them to celebrate. Robinson effectively saying, “look at my players”, before they breakaway as a collective to applaud.
And there no doubt that, once the panic and faded and a few sighs of relief had been taken, that this side deserved appreciation for their battling efforts. They fought, they defended sternly, and they should resolve. Ultimately, they collected three points.
The boss has admitted himself that his men weren’t at their best. If nothing else, this a performance several tiers below the one seen at Fleetwood. But the victory recorded was a different type of victory, achieved in a different manner.
There no doubt it should have been more comfortable, and really we only have ourselves to blame for how challenging it became. The failure to turn the early control into anything more serious, inviting Doncaster into the game as intensity faded, and a desire to do absolutely everything but score. But victory was successfully ground out, with defensive resolve shown, when so often in recent weeks we’ve capitulated under pressure.
The sort of performance that possibly can’t be repeated against a side with greater attacking threat. There little doubt that Doncaster were tame, having plenty of possession but not really knowing what to do with it. Not taking chances against a better team, and allowing them as much possession and space, is unlikely to end in the same result.
As such, another level needs to be found with the week ahead in mind. Two tough trips on the cards, with Oxford United and Bradford City to play. Robinson’s men can play like they did today, in that style, but with greater intensity and with a touch greater composure in front of goal.
Undoubtedly, however, this was the win that was required after Fleetwood. Anything less, after such an impressive performance in the context of this 90 minutes, would have been crushing. Needed, too, with those tough away trips to follow.
A stressful afternoon. My head hurts after it. Though not as much as Mr Lewis’, or something horrendous like that.
(Unfortunately I can no longer use my camera inside The Valley. It’s obviously a shame, and something I enjoy, so I’m a bit gutted, but the club have been very helpful. I have been offered a pitch-side press pass, whenever I would wish to use one. It’s not something I’ve done before, I want to be watching the games with my dad, and I’m far from a professional photographer. So, to begin with, I think I’ll take advantage of it for cup games and see where that takes me. Certainly something I’m very grateful the club are willing to offer me – would have been very easy to simply palm off a silly bastard like me)
The voice of Karl Robinson, bellowing from Highbury Stadium’s away technical area, was a powerful noise in the opening minutes as Charlton Athletic began their battle with Fleetwood Town.
Charlton’s boss desperate to make a point from the sidelines. His tones dissecting the gaps between chants from both home and away supporters. Most certainly louder than a quiet game of football.
“Quicker, quicker,” Robinson continued to shout. Rotating his arms around one another, signalling that he wanted the ball to be moved at a greater pace. Sharing the frustration of the visiting supporters, as the Addicks held very tame and very unthreatening possession, and sharing their fear, as the signs of another deflating sluggish performance were on show in these early moments.
But come the concluding minutes of this contest, it was those of a Fleetwood persuasion calling for greater pace. Pleading for the ticking clock to move quicker. To escape from a rampant Charlton side, performing with all the pace, power and threat they had been lacking in recent weeks.
For Robinson’s men had not simply listened to their boss’ impassioned pleas, nor had they merely taken them onboard. They had displayed what was requested to great effect, turning tedious and tiresome to dynamic and driven. An almost perfect performance built on crushing direct bursts forward, and tireless pressing of the opposition, ending a run of four winless games and earning the Addicks a warranted 3-1 victory.
A collective effort that was almost perfect, inspired by an individual display that was most certainly perfect. The sluggishness, infecting the game in general and not just Charlton, only broken in the 13th minute when Tariq Fosu scored the first of three goals that would make up a marvellous, match-winning perfect hat-trick. The hosts caught in possession, Billy Clarke feeding Ricky Holmes, and the winger delivering a cross so perfect that even a man of Fosu’s relatively limited height could head the visitors in front.
But the Addicks would soon create a challenge for themselves. Despite threatening in the moments that followed taking the lead, showing much greater energy and intensity, the Cody Army would find a 25th-minute equaliser with their first effort on goal of the game. Jake Forster-Casker dispossessed inside his own half, Jordy Hiwula feeding Bobby Grant as Charlton’s backline were caught flat-footed, and his finish rocking the Addicks.
A repeat of Tuesday night in the Black Country, where allowing Walsall to score a soft goal gave them a route back into the game they probably didn’t deserve. Fleetwood created openings, Charlton off the pace. The response to conceding poor.
Or at least it was for little more than ten minutes. For having started to warm the gloves of home goalkeeper Alex Cairns once more, Robinson’s men would regain the lead with five minutes to play until the break. Fosu toying with Fleetwood defends, dancing inside with all the flair of a showman, before providing a left-footed finish with all the composure of an experienced striker.
Concern, however, a nagging noise that prevented this lead to be properly enjoyed as the second-half progressed. Robinson’s men continuing to play with direct attacking threat, if anything improving as the minutes progressed, while Uwe Rosler’s side became increasingly frustrated as their moves forward were blunted by a resilient opponent, but nerves remained while the lead was only one. An uncomfortable away end taking endless pleasure from the manner in which those in Charlton colours were pressing high up the pitch, preventing Fleetwood attacks, but desperate for the game to be killed off.
And so it was the celebrations behind Fosu’s third with 71 minutes played that had the greatest amount of energy behind them. Pleasure, pride, and pure relief. The winger’s perfect hat-trick, his marvellous performance, and the victory Charlton’s efforts deserved confirmed as he drove into the box and finished with his right through the legs of Cairns.
There needed to be no pleas for anything more. Robinson’s impassioned and vocal cries were certainly not the overpowering noises come the conclusion of the contest. The sounds of the celebratory chants and cheers from the away end, and the clapping reciprocated between players and supporters, all that could be heard.
For the first time in five games, victory could be enjoyed. For the first time in five games, a performance of real quality could be admired. A point that hadn’t been reached quickly, but the injection of pace, tempo, and power into this display, pleaded for so desperately by leader and followers, made it a marvellous one.
It not the style of play that brought about the immediate concern as Addicks began to arrive at Highbury Stadium, but those who would be carrying out.
Half of Robinson’s first choice back four absent, with Chris Solly joining Jason Pearce in the treatment room, and some reshuffling required. Ezri Konsa shifted to right-back, a position he’d looked somewhat uncomfortable in when asked to perform their last season, and Naby Sarr given his first league start of the season, with a point to prove after his long period of exile. A worry, not least with manner in which Charlton’s overall sluggish efforts of late had invited teams to threaten.
Comfort, therefore, to be found in those who occupied the bench. Mark Marshall, having suffered injury prior to the campaign, involved with the matchday squad for the first time, and Ben Reeves, struggling with fitness since arriving in the summer having not had a proper pre-season, returning after brief flirts with it. Pleasing to look towards those in reserve and see players who had the ability to change the game for once.
And if the game’s opening exchanges were anything to go by, the sooner it was seen as appropriate to bring the returning pair on, the better. Fleetwood set up to frustrate, structured and displaying a defensive resoluteness that showed no signs of any cracks, while there no pace or attacking intensity to the possession the Addicks were invited to have. Slow, sideways passing with little purpose, that frustrated both supporters and Robinson.
But just as thoughts of banging my head against the terrace barrier in front of me in Highbury’s away end started to come to mind, a Charlton player dared to venture outside his own half, and found himself rewarded for pressuring an opponent.
A’mari Bell caught out, with Clarke robbing the ball from his feet and bursting forward with such intent, backed by a roar of encouragement from the visiting supporters, that it appeared for a moment he may have continued alone towards goal. But Holmes, as he so often does, had burst into space down the right, and made himself available for the pass that the Irishman played perfectly. A cry of anticipation meeting Holmes’ resulting cross, largely because Josh Magennis’ frame was situated inside the box, but the ball floating over the Northern Ireland international’s body and finding a route to goal via the head of Fosu.
A goal, in truth, completely out of nothing. But one that reflected the reward that would come from being brave enough to push forward with greater pace, energy and intensity. Sloppy Fleetwood a step behind, and the Addicks, with the assistance of some well-executed passing, able to take advantage.
And while the away end sung, sung with all the vigour the game they had witnessed in the first 13 minutes hadn’t inspired them to do, Robinson’s side sought to add more life to the game. They might have chosen to continue to play as they had done, slowing the game down in the immediate aftermath of gaining the advantage, but they suddenly gained the confidence to drive at their stunned opponents. Konsa crossing to deep, and Fosu curling over having brought the ball under his control, before Magennis got himself between goalkeeper and backpass, but couldn’t get the ball out of his feet and Cairns was able to pounce.
Encouraging, and no doubt a monumental improvement on the tedious opening moments that threatening another sluggish performance, but memories of the midweek at Walsall did immediately come to mind. Fosu and Magennis hadn’t missed massive chances, but a failure to take openings when on top at the Bescot had crippled the Addicks. Robinson’s men had to make their advantage count at Highbury, and make their actual advantage unassailable.
So at least those in the away end, thick-skinned and almost accustomed to predictable and repetitive disappointment, were prepared for what was to follow.
Fleetwood had not threatened once 25 minutes into the contest, but Forster-Caskey’s failure to get a bouncing ball under control and subsequently gifting possession Hiwula possession meant an opportunity to break through had suddenly opened up for them. Konsa and Patrick Bauer, wearing the armband in Solly’s absence, hadn’t responded quickly enough, and Hiwula’s ball played Grant through on goal. A driven strike, the first one sent towards Ben Amos’ goal, beating the Charlton goalkeeper and levelling the scores out of nothing.
Perplexed faces on the pitch, and, having seen this all before, expressions that sat somewhere between frustration and anger in the away end. As the hosts began to create some noise, the response to this unexpected disappointment was vital. The pacey Bell being allowed to bomb forward and his subsequent strike on goal being just about tipped over the bar by the wrists of Amos, evidently unsighted, not exactly encouraging.
It the beginning of a passage of play that saw the Cod Army come alive, pushing into Charlton’s half on a consistent basis for the first time and as such preventing the Addicks from getting out of it. Moves down either flank causing concern, as wing-backs Lewie Coyle and Bell got forward. The energy that had been injected into Robinson’s men after they’d gained the advantage seemingly now lost.
But it a period with limited affect, and limited duration. Limited affect because those in centre for the Addicks stood firm, not least Sarr, who had been an unbeatable colossus. Limited duration because it would only take ten minutes before the pace, energy and intensity returned to their own attacking play, and they began to push the hosts onto the back foot again.
It coming as little surprise that the catalyst for Charlton’s move towards regaining control of the contest was the quick feet of Fosu. A drive into space, and a drive towards goal from the edge of the box. Relatively comfortable for Cairns, but it a provider of proof this group of Addicks weren’t willing to make the rest of the afternoon comfortable for the goalkeeper or his teammates.
In fact, Cairns was sweating just a minute later. Giving Holmes a sight of goal within 30 yards of it is an amateur mistake, and the talismanic figure took up the invitation offered by the lack of Fleetwood shirts around him. A stunning, dipping effort that was heading for the top corner requiring an equally excellent save from the man between the sticks for the Cod Army, evidently unimpressed by the lack of support offered by those in front of him.
Unimpressed as his defenders allowed Holmes a shot on goal, but no doubt furious as defenders in red shirts stood bemused and embarrassed by Fosu’s footwork before the winger reinstated Charlton’s advantage five minutes before the break.
A Holmes ball from the wing finding Fosu on the boundaries of the box but in a position too wide and too far out to be threatening, not least with the sea of bodies in front of him. Recycling the ball back into the middle might have been sensible, but fuelled by confidence he waltzed past the Fleetwood defenders in front of him, and then some more, and suddenly found himself in a shooting position. The most eccentric of young wingers often perform a moment of quality and lack a finish to match, but Fosu coolly converted beyond the helpless Cairns and ran off to celebrate with all the joy that such a goal deserved.
Joy echoed in the away end, knowing that the brief passage between Charlton’s goals was not enough to detract from the quality of this performance, but the agenda now a simple one. Just get through to the interval. The Addicks had failed to keep a lead for a little over a minute in midweek with the game in its dying moments, so nothing was certain.
But as the referee’s whistle threatened to signal the end of the game’s first half, the Addicks threatened to signal the end of the game as a contest. Every header his inside his own box, but now Sarr had climbed highest to win one in the opposition’s. A Fleetwood body blocking his goal-bound nod.
Not that that could take anything away from this Charlton effort as the half-time whistle was actually blown. Two marvellous periods of play, of real attacking energy and intensity, that pushed the opposition deep into their own half and made Robinson’s side a genuine threat. The period following Fleetwood’s goal able to be downplayed by just how positive the response had been, when so often this side had faded without resuming previous levels of performances.
Maintaining a level of performance now the challenge. And maintaining, or ideally doubling, this single-goal advantage. Rosler sending his men out about three decades early for the second half, making two substitutions and changing from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2, suggesting there would be a response from the Cod Army.
But disruption to Charlton’s plans came not through the threat Fleetwood could offer. Clarke slipping as he shaped to shoot, and injuring himself in the process. A debut for Marshall seven minutes into the half, giving the Addicks the terrifying attacking midfield three for Holmes, Fosu and Marshall, but possibly being introduced a little earlier than Robinson might have liked.
A terrifying three that meant the chance of a third for the Addicks was, at the very least, as high as an equaliser for the Cod Army. The introduction of Godswill Ekpolo had given the hosts some pace down the right, but they needed to pray for something more threatening. The Addicks pressing high up the pitch, frequently robbing the ball from their opponents in the centre of the pitch, and desperate balls forward were too easy for Bauer and Sarr.
But a rare chance for Fleetwood, coming 15 minutes into the half as if to reaffirm just how quite Charlton’s pressing had kept them, did provide the reminder that a one-goal lead was precarious. Far too easy for the hosts as Bell cut in from the left, supplied Ekpolo down the right, and he drove forward as if no Addicks were in front of him. His cut back perfect for Hiwula, but thankfully for Robinson’s men the forward’s finish – first time from the edge of the box – was a poor one.
For it to have been a wake-up call, the Addicks would have had to have been performing complacently before it. This simply a blip in their intense, structured and resolute efforts. Immediately resuming responsibilities, and almost catching the Cod Army out and the end of one move started having pressed their opponents, but Magennis’ header from Holmes’ cross was a tame one.
Still, however, you wanted that third. For every piece of excellent pressing play, or every time Fleetwood showed their tameness going forward, the fear that an equaliser for the hosts would appear out of nothing did not decrease. Charlton calm, in complete control, but the concern a natural one.
So just the sight of Fosu running through on goal, leading a counter-attacking that those in red had no chance of stopping, brought about premature relief-filled celebration that those in the away end knew wouldn’t be misguided. A man with this confidence, with this opportunity, would not miss. And he most certainly didn’t.
A perfect hat-trick for Fosu celebrated wildly, as if the goal were defining in the game, and not simply one that provided a cushion. Near confirmation that this excellent Charlton performance would be getting what it warranted. Confirmation that Fosu’s performance had got what it warranted.
There still, of course, no room for complacency with 19 minutes to play, and as the game entered its final ten minutes, the Cod Army should have reduced the deficit. Substitute Ashley Hunted delivering for Devante Cole, but the forward somehow managing to skew over from just a few yards. It followed by confusion between Bauer and Amos as red shirts swarmed, but the goalkeeper recovered, and the position Charlton were in meant this was all rather funny.
A position that meant Fosu could receive the ovation he deserved. Replaced by Reeves, giving him some minutes, as full-time drew near, with mighty applause in recognition of his efforts. A stunning performance from the young man.
But even with him off the pitch, the Addicks might have added to their total in additional time. A cross-cum-shot from Magennis stylishly flicked home by Forster-Caskey, only for the assistant referee’s flag to deny him the goal. A margin of three would not have been flattering.
Not that failing to have that goal awarded took anything away from the full-time celebrations, and the appreciation for the efforts of those wearing Charlton colours. A marvellous collective effort, driven by the energy and intensity that individuals put it, on top of the footballing quality that was provided. A performance far greater than anything seen in recent weeks, and one to be enjoyed.
This the closest the Addicks have come to being in complete control of a game this season.
And were it not for the small ten minute period that followed the gifting of a goal to Fleetwood, then the Addicks would have had total control of this contest. Only then did they appear uncomfortable, but even then they managed to resume playing with attacking intensity before the loss of it had proved too costly.
It a performance in contrast to what has been seen in recent weeks. Too often the Addicks have knocked the ball around inside their own half with no genuine attacking intent, no energy, and no purpose. Too often they’ve expected the chance to come, and not gone about and threatened themselves.
Too often, as a consequence of that sluggish possession, have a team with limited attacking threat been invited to attack. Too often have they managed to take advantage of that. Too often have we been making the same mistakes, and had no response when those mistakes have been made.
There a concern when the Addicks started the game slowly, and there a concern when a goal was gifted to Fleetwood and they began to come forward with Charlton suddenly sluggish, but on both occasions Robinson’s men brought themselves alive.
The first goal setting the game up, with Clarke pressing to rob possession, and his teammates getting forward quickly to join him on the counter. It the catalyst for energy and intensity to spread through Charlton’s attacks, and to exist while they didn’t have the ball. Fleetwood managing to play how they would have liked to today for no more than ten minutes.
And all it took after Fleetwood did get into the game was one attack to rekindle the energy that the Addicks had previously been displaying. Energy that didn’t last for a spell, but lasted for the remainder of the game. A threat on the counter always there, and often there as they rushed and dispossessed while on the ball.
While when they did attempt to push the ball forward, they found a backline that, in a 3-1 victory, might not get the praise it deserves, but deserves plenty. Konsa excellent in a position he’s previously found difficult, Bauer solid, and Jay Dasilva continues to improve both going forward and defensively with every game. Though it Naby Sarr, winning everything in the air and looking a class above with his feet, that deserves special mention, given that he looked a different player to the one that earned the reputation he has been looking to shake off.
And then, of course, there’s Fosu. Supported most notably by Holmes, no less superb than you’d expert, the young winger was sensational. The hat-trick no fluke, and a marvellous effort particular given that recent weeks have seen struggles for the summer signing.
Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t mean the performances of recent weeks can be forgotten, but what it does do is reaffirm the quality that’s in this side. Not seen for the previous four games, it needed to be seen again. To reassure, and to calm.
The frustration being that we find a performance like this, but now don’t play for 14 days. As Robinson might say, it’s a shame that period isn’t going to move quicker.