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The red rosettes of The Valley Party occupying chests around walkways leading up to the ground. A constant reminder of the incredible efforts of supporters in fighting for this football club. Memories of the famous day on 5 December 1992, when Charlton Athletic returned home.
It impossible not to enter The Valley, a ground once left to rot, without pride on this afternoon. As those that were involved on the pitch celebrated alongside supporters, these were anniversary celebrations that acknowledged the efforts of all in making the achievement of returning to The Valley a special one. From candidates, to Colin Walsh.
Many had used these celebrations, the anniversary, to remember their favourite moments of success and joy over the previous 25 years back in SE7. Particularly those who weren’t around in 1992, who could only thank those that battled to return this club back home. Who have been taught about those events, with the special nature of Charlton Athletic fed through generations.
But with those successes have come many moments of suffering and failure. Moments that, in the midst of a day of celebration, most supporters would have forgotten. Their mind overwhelmed with positive moments, and not the negatives that have consumed at least as many hours at The Valley in previous 25 years.
So maybe it a perfect reflection of those previous 25 years that following the high of celebrating the anniversary of the return, a low followed. The game against Portsmouth, the same opponents as when the Addicks returned home, effectively a side note until it actually began. It certainly not a side note by full-time, as Karl Robinson’s side left supporters leaving the ground not with the pride they entered, but with disappointment and frustration.
For the hosts were hideous in a single-goal defeat. The reverse score-line of the one that occurred 25 years ago, and a performance that certainly didn’t reflect the events being celebrated. Quality, cohesion and intensity among the many attributes absent from this group of Addicks.
The opposition, backed by an away following not seen in SE7 for some time, began to exploit the faults in the home side in the latter stages of the opening 45, and took only two minutes of the second to go in front. Gareth Evans’ dangerous dead ball from the right swung in towards the far post, Josh Magennis responding under pressure from Stuart O’Keefe, but succeeding only in turning the ball into his own goal. An action summing up the struggling Magennis’ afternoon.
And Pompey should have doubled their advantage with 25 minutes to play. Chris Solly pushing Brett Pitman as a ball from the right was delivered, and referee Andy Madley pointing to the spot. But Pitman, prolific in front of goal this campaign, signposted his penalty, and Ben Amos was able to push the ball away.
An opportunity for the Addicks to get back into the game, one that should have inspired, but one not taken. The home crowd growing increasingly frustrated as possession was increasingly lost far too easily, and each meaningful attack was blunted by a poor final delivery. In fact, a genuine chance didn’t arrive until the 89th minute, but Luke McGee was able to save well from Leon Best’s header.
But had the Addicks equalised, it would have been undeserved. Their performance not good enough, leaving them slipping behind those above them in the promotion race, and seeing Pompey gain ground on Charlton’s play-off place, which seemed so safe just a few weeks ago. The fight of the supporters in getting the club back to The Valley not on display on the pitch.
As those that had participated in the game 25 years ago lead the current teams out, there hope their efforts would be repeated. A single goal after seven minutes would be ideal. But a victory that meant a day of proud anniversary celebrations could be remembered without being tainted was the minimum required.
And the chance of a second celebration, with the original one being upheld, was improved by the return to fitness of several of Robinson’s men. Solly back into the starting XI, replacing the inexperienced Anfernee Djiksteel at right-back, Billy Clarke, so important in the opening weeks of the campaign, returning with Karlan Ahearne-Grant dropping to the bench despite his recent goal-scoring form, and genuinely threatening options on the bench. Ben Reeves, Ahearne-Grant, and Best there to make a difference if required.
Reassuring that they were there, in fact, before the half hour mark had been reached. The atmosphere at both ends of the ground, hosting a greater home support than regular afternoons and rivalled by more than 3,000 visiting fans, creating a real energy around the ground. Energy that was not seen on the pitch, as both sides struggled to turn tame possession into anything threatening, let along genuine goal-scoring opportunities.
Ricky Holmes thought he might have threatened in the game’s opening moments, but an offside flag was already up before he struck over the bar from a decent position. Charlton’s future attempts to get forward blunted by an inconsistency in midfield from Joe Aribo and Jake Forster-Caskey, tame final ball from both Holmes and Mark Marshall, and a poor Magennis struggling to make any impact on the game. Portsmouth more efficient – organised at the back, applying pressure in midfield, and looking more composed on the ball – but their attacks, led by the pace of Jamal Lowe, did little to puncture Ezri Konsa and Naby Sarr.
It not until the 29th minute, in fact, that either side managed a shot on goal. Amos called into action to deny Evans, tipping the midfielder’s effort from the edge of the box over the bar. And after such a long wait, a second shot followed from the resulting corner, as the Addicks cleared their lines in uncomfortable fashion, and O’Keefe lifted the loose ball onto the roof of the goal.
It the inspiration for the visitors to get at Charlton, and test the frailties both in midfield and at the back that had seemingly been there throughout the game. Not necessarily efforts that made Amos sweat, as Pitman headed tamely into the goalkeeper’s hands after latching onto a free-kick at the back post before Evans fired off-target from distance, but enough to show in this previously sluggish affair that they had claimed dominance. The Valley crowd, previously happy enough to create atmosphere rather than bemoan their side’s performance in numbers, now beginning to get frustrated, and demanding more.
Better coming, however, just moments later. Marvellous work from Dasilva, skipping past Portsmouth defenders with a display of quick feet, concluding with him teeing up Holmes in the centre, but the winger saw his effort tipped over the bar by McGee. Having taken a touch, and with the whole goal to aim at, it not unkind to suggest more should have been made of the opening.
A feeling that only increased as Portsmouth broke rapidly after the resulting corner came to nothing. Red shirts back peddling, and blue shirts surging forward with real intent as Lowe fed Evans, before squaring for Conor Chaplin, who would surely convert at the far post. But a fantastic block from Solly prevented the visitors from taking the lead, before Konsa’s block just about sent O’Keefe’s follow-up wide of goal; the Addicks sitting ducks as the opposition broke, but bodies put on the line in a desperate situation to make up for it.
It a display of determination, previously lacking from Charlton’s performance as Portsmouth continued to win the midfield battle, and determination that would be rewarded. For it the Addicks who ended the half the strongest. Beginning with Dasilva’s curling strike from the edge of the box, causing brief premature celebrations around The Valley, saved by McGee.
And from the resulting corner, there further brief expectation that the net would ripple. Konsa nodding on, but the ball narrowly glanced wide of the far post, with the ball skimming the frame of the goal on its way behind. A Marshall strike, deflected over the bar, ending the Addicks’ positive end to the first period.
But no one inside The Valley was under any illusions. This was a performance too sloppy, too sluggish to be totally encouraged by a few minutes at the end of the first half; further improvement desperately required. A half lacking in attacking quality, but Portsmouth’s organisation and pressing, preventing Charlton attacks and forcing them into losing possession, making them marginally the better side.
So despite arriving in SE7 under the expectation that they would be celebrating on this special afternoon, it didn’t come as a complete shock to the home crowd when Pompey took the lead just two minutes into the second period. Another break from the visitors, exposing the sluggishness and gaps in Robinson’s defence, forcing Dasilva to illegally halt Evans’ run. The same man picking himself up, delivering to the far post from the free-kick, and with both Magennis and O’Keefe fighting to win the ball, the former made the vital intervention only to find his own net.
A moment made particularly gruelling by the 3,800 Portsmouth fans in celebration. Their players celebrating in front of the wild away crowd, while the home fans sat in disappointed silence. This was not how the afternoon was meant to go, but with such a poor display, and a poor attempt to defend a delivery, there could be little sense of injustice.
This the fifth game in succession that the Addicks had conceded the first goal, and in two of those previous four serious fight was shown. Fight, and dramatic improvement, was desperately needed here. There character in this side, the ability to recover from these dire situations, and on this afternoon, it needed to be displayed.
But the signs were not encouraging, as the Addicks expressed deflation rather than determination. There no increase in intensity, in quality, as Portsmouth’s organisation, pressing game and threat on the counter kept them on top. Evans had further space to drive forward, as Charlton’s backline looked uncomfortable once again, but opted to shoot and powerfully fire off-target.
A sign of some threat from the Addicks, as Holmes found himself in behind on the right, but it only a cause of further frustration as his delivery was horribly wayward, evading the awaiting Magennis in the centre. Portsmouth showing how it showed be done, as the excellent Lowe delivered low for Pitman, only for the forward to clip a fantastic chance at the near post over the bar. It followed by substitute Kyle Bennett forcing Amos into a tame save, but the pressure on the dire Addicks was anything but tame.
Respite for the Addicks as a half-cleared Holmes delivery fell kindly to Solly, in an unnatural shooting position. But Charlton’s woes were summed up with his strike being blocked by Joe Aribo, and the ball flashing tamely behind. Portsmouth hardly needed any assistance with their defensive efforts, but apparently we were willing to provide some anyway.
And equally it seemed assistance for their attacking efforts was also available. A delivery from the right seemingly sailing over the head of Pitman, but Solly choosing to put the forward under pressure by putting his hands into his back. The action resulting in a soft penalty call, but an action that was totally unnecessary.
Little chance of the remarkable comeback that saw the Addicks score two goals in stoppage-time to earn a point against Peterborough United 11 days ago if Portsmouth were to score a second, such was the nature of this performance. Pitman stepping up, the home crowd expecting to see their side fall further behind, but you could see from the Covered End via the way he shaped his body that he was going to the right. Amos reading it, and saving superbly; this game not yet dead.
Or at least it not yet dead if the Addicks showed some fight in the remaining 25 minutes. But what followed was hardly the display of fight, or quality, that the home support expected to see after what should have been a game-changing moment. Portsmouth sitting deep, and wasting time at every opportunity as they looked to cling onto their lead, but all Charlton could deliver were tame deliveries, with Holmes and Marshall’s balls met not by the horrendous Magennis, but by the imposing Christian Burgess and Matthew Clarke in the centre.
In fact, it took until 13 minutes from time for Robinson’s men to threaten McGee. Threaten being a generous word. Marshall driving inside, several players calling for the ball, but the winger opting to shoot tamely with his weaker foot, and the goalkeeper comfortably claiming.
Though greater pressure applied on McGee with a minute to play. Substitute Ahearne-Grant delivery, Best rising, but not quite enough power behind his header. The goalkeeper pushing away, and with that victory effectively signalled for the visitors.
It Charlton’s first genuine chance of the half, and the reason it was reaffirmed in stoppage-time. The Addicks not only without the quality to break Portsmouth’s tight line, but also without the intent. The ball still being passed around tamely, with few options on, and no one brave enough to make a bold move forward.
The referee’s final whistle only confirming what had been known since the aftermath of Amos’ penalty save. That this afternoon was to end in self-inflicted disappointment. A lacklustre performance lacking all the desired attributes, a defeat for which there could be no cries of misfortune, and a special of day for the supporters of Charlton Athletic having no further reward for those in the stands.
Reward, or at least a moment to savour, for the mighty army of visiting Pompey supporters, as they and their players shared celebration come full-time. A moment that you couldn’t deny them. Their side displaying everything the hosts hadn’t; organisation, determination, and occasional moments of quality in attack that ultimately resulted in a winner being forced.
Vocal scenes of enjoyment, in contrast to the disappointed silence among the Covered End. Given the level of performance, the Addicks doing well to prevent mass expressions of anger and frustration. This arguably the worst home display, on an afternoon where a very strong home display was required, in some time.
Collectively, there was an absent of everything desired. There no organisation, to deal with Portsmouth’s threat on the break, no structure on the ball to make possession count when Portsmouth’s pressed, and no attacking intensity, or quality, to make any moves forward county. Disorganised, and a dispirited attempt to get back into the game.
Individually, there few in Charlton colours who come away with much credit. Even Holmes was ineffective, consistently losing possession and failing to threaten, with a similar story for Marshall, Clarke and Magennis in the more attacking positions. Forster-Caskey and Aribo lost the midfield battle to O’Keefe and Rose, Naby Sarr and Konsa became increasingly unsettled as the afternoon went on, while Solly’s decision to push Pitman, however soft, a stupid one.
Really it only Dasilva, decent enough defensively and providing as many threatening moments as anyone else, and Amos, whose penalty save kept the Addicks in the match, who come away with meaningful credit.
And there a frustration that Robinson was unable to inject any life into his side after Amos’ penalty save. The perfect opportunity to get back into the game, and to deliver a worthy performance, but instead those in red looked even more lacklustre. Potential threat on the bench, but both Robinson and those individuals providing nothing.
It a concerning performance, that creates wider concerns in the context of Charlton’s promotion push. One league win in five, a run of games that has seen several poor efforts, with Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic to follow. Two sides that are getting away from the Addicks, while Portsmouth encroach on what appeared a safe play-off place.
And so there is a desperate need for improvement to prevent this month derailing the campaign. Performances of this nature won’t beat Blackpool and Southend United, let alone Blackburn and Wigan. A concern that if there isn’t improvement, we may end the month outside the top six.
You do trust this side to respond. But a response has been called for, for several weeks during while unconvincing performances have been shown. Something better needed, and quickly.
Nonetheless, the immediate shouldn’t totally taint the past, nor the celebration of it. It impossible not to walk away from the ground in anger and frustration. But the pride upon entry, and while celebrating what was done to achieve a return to The Valley, can’t be forgotten.
A return to this place we call home. Where we’ve celebrated incredible moments. And endured these turgid ones, too.
The prospect of progressing to the Third Round of The FA Cup one that should inspire a determined performance. For even being involved in the draw, at the stage where Premier League clubs enter, is something to value. So that Charlton Athletic made considered attempts to gift a passage beyond the Second Round to AFC Wimbledon proved particularly disappointing.
Maybe best summed up by the fact that the home fans took an opportunity to sing the name of an Addick in sarcastic celebration of his efforts midway through the first half. Naby Sarr’s name emerging from the mouths of Dons supporters after various occasions in which opposition players were able to surpass him with ease, and a number of horribly sliced clearances. Supportive chanting from the away end doing little to change Sarr’s, or his defensive colleagues’, fortunes.
The Addicks, though rarely reaching a level of performance above tepid at Kingsmeadow, were punctured at key moments by their own individual and collective errors. Ones at the back that allowed the hosts to score three cheap goals, and at least one further forward that meant a decisive goal couldn’t be struck while the scores were level at one-a-piece. Karl Robinson’s men only having themselves to blame for their FA Cup exit.
A tone for the afternoon seemingly set with just ten minutes played in West London. Deji Oshilaja collecting the ball after a tame Charlton clearance, forcing his way into the box while avoiding Sarr’s wild challenge, and driving towards goal. Ezri Konsa briefly getting in front of Wimbledon defender and expecting Ben Amos to come and claim, but indecision left the ball bouncing free, and the experienced Cody McDonald was able to convert into a near-empty net.
But the visitors, without ever finding defensive stability, did find both an equaliser and some attacking momentum with 22 minutes gone. An excellent counter-attacking move with Karlan Ahearne-Grant involved in its production, collecting Josh Magennis’ knock down to feed Mark Marshall down the right, and its conclusion, as the young forward finished from Marshall’s delivery. A second goal in two games for Ahearne-Grant, having gone 42 games without one prior to his late equaliser against Peterborough United on Tuesday.
Momentum that made the contest a more competitive one, but momentum that wasn’t properly realised until the opening moments of the second half, as Charlton’s best chance to turn the game on its head was created. Jay Dasilva’s deflected effort spectacularly saved onto the woodwork by Wimbledon goalkeeper George Long, the rebound falling kindly to Josh Magennis, but the forward somehow blasting over from six yards with the goal at his mercy. Those in the away end, despite witnessing a miss as torrid as their side’s defending, wanting to believe that creating such an opening was a sign this game was the Addicks’ to win.
It was, however, a miss that would prove costly. For Neal Ardley’s side would soon capitalise upon the uncertainty in Charlton’s backline. McDonald beating Sarr, referee Linington playing an excellent advantage as the defender attempted to haul him down, and his ball across the face off goal turned in at the far post by Lyle Taylor to regain the hosts’ advantage with 70 minutes played.
And as Robinson’s men searched for an equaliser, the Dons were able to get in behind far too easily once more. Andy Barcham breaking into the box, Anfernee Dijksteel lunging in and not winning the ball, and a penalty awarded. Taylor converting emphatically to secure victory for the hosts with nine minutes to play.
Although, it more accurate to suggest that Taylor’s spot-kick secured warranted defeat for a collective delivering a substandard performance, and a group of individuals too often committing criminal errors. Frustration among those in the away end, who expected better. Disappointment etched in the faces of the players as they came to applaud.
Hopes of a Premier League giant in the draw for AFC Wimbledon. Hopes such a performance isn’t replicated during the following weeks of League One football for the Addicks. Deflating.
The test for the Addicks always likely to be a tougher than it should have been, wiith injuries hampering the strength of Robinson’s starting XI. Youngster Djiksteel required to start at full-back with Chris Solly absent, and Konsa needed to play in the centre after Patrick Bauer’s injury in midweek. It meant a welcome return to the bench, which only featured 6 bodies, for Harry Lennon; involved for the first time in 13 months after injury. A rare recovery, with the long list of injuries in attacking midfield positions, and new signing Leon Best’s questionable fitness, meant Karlan Ahearne-Grant, following his goal in midweek, came into the side.
There also a start for Joe Aribo, with Ahmed Kashi rested. But this still a good side enough to beat fellow League One opposition. A performance expected among the away fans, tightly packed into the Kingsmeadow terrace, and progression to the Third Round demanded.
AFC Wimbledon, however, sensed an opportunity to capitalise on the perceived gaps and weaknesses in Charlton’s side. Positivity and high pressing from the start, not fearing an opponent 14 places above them in the League One table. The Addicks asleep as a quickly taken free-kick put Harry Forrester through, but from an unfavourable angle the midfielder could only shoot across goal and wide.
But the suggestion that there was still more than enough quality in this Charlton side to record victory was soon amplified. Positive play down the left resulting in Ricky Holmes playing in Dasilva, the ball cleverly cut back to Ahearne-Grant, but Long in the Dons goal was able to react and block the effort with his legs. As Charlton supporters came to life, born out of the sighs of exasperation that followed Long’s save, and AFC Wimbledon fans provided their own noise, only a percentage of which was directed towards the former manager of MK Dons, it quickly became evident neither side were approaching this game cautiously.
It’s just that, in Charlton’s case, they appeared to be approaching the game without caution. Or at least without sensible defensive decision making and composure. For with ten minutes played, a complete capitulation in defence had handed the advantage to the hosts on a plate.
A scrappy attempt to clear one-time Addick Barry Fuller’s cross resulting in the ball falling to the robust Oshilaja, who danced around a misdirected Sarr tackle to power towards goal. Amos came to challenge, and looked as if stood a decent chance of claiming the ball with Konsa holding off Oshilaja, but weakness and indecision meant the AFC Wimbledon defender was able to win the scrappy battle. The result of three bodies competing for the same ball was it popping loose via Amos, falling kindly for McDonald, and the forward taking a touch before finishing coolly amid the wreckage around him.
You wanted to believe this was just a one off. A brief implosion, that would be followed by defensive resolve for the remainder of the game, and a subsequent turnaround. But this, with just ten minutes played, wasn’t the first time Sarr and Konsa had appeared uncomfortable, and concern somewhat outweighed blind optimism.
You wanted to believe, but Taylor shaking off Sarr with the ease an average man shakes off a fly didn’t really help. The Montserrat international breaking into the box and choosing to shoot with two free men waiting for the cut back. The side netting rippling, and Charlton fortunate.
And there little inspiration for the Addicks going forward, with a Holmes volley, struck after a free-kick had hit the wall and bounced back to him, comfortably saved by Long not what was required. The away end already growing frustrated with a combination of tame sideways passing, and misdirected forward passes. The home supporters taking brief ironic enjoyment out of any time Sarr made an accurate pass, such was his afternoon.
But their enjoyment was soon to be heavily tainted, as a marvellous attacking move gave a solid base for the Charlton defence to rebuild upon, and an opportunity for the Addicks to get back into the game.
A marvellous attacking move that, both in terms of its build up and the overall state of play, came out of nowhere, as Magennis chested down Amos’ ball forward into Ahearne-Grant’s feet, and the young forward fed a speeding Marshall down the right. The winger bursting forward, but by the time he was ready to cross Ahearne-Grant was waiting in the centre, and able to convert his pinpoint delivery from close range. In the display of attacking fluency, in its providing of confidence to all throughout the team, and simply in the fact it brought the scores level, the goal felt game-changing.
The truth not as dramatic as hoped, but there certainly a change in how the game was played thereafter. The Addicks, though struggling to create, looking much calmer and efficient on the ball, while the Dons took a step back. The pace of the game slowing, which though meant Robinson’s side couldn’t build on their equaliser in the way they would have liked, it was ideal for his back four.
Though has half-time drew near, both sides reaffirmed their threat going forward. The pace and strength of Taylor getting him into a positive shooting position on the edge of the box, but Amos able to make a strong save, before a good block by the ever-defiant Oshilaja sent a Magennis strike wide after Marshall had beaten his man on the right and cut back to the Northern Ireland international. The Dons wouldn’t have been happy to have let the Addicks back into the game, and Charlton would have been largely disappointed with their first-half performance, not least at the back, but both sides would have gone in at the break feeling that they could make a positive impression at the start of the second period and go onto win the game.
A positive impression that, after their horrendous start to the game, belonged to the Addicks, and it not simply because they went ten minutes without a costly defensive error. Ahearne-Grant driving down the right and delivering for Holmes, but Long did extremely well to cover his angles and block the effort at the near post, before the goalkeeper was again called into action to keep out Marshall’s strike at the conclusion of the resulting corner. The atmosphere in the away end a positive one; a sense this was now Charlton’s to win.
And with just four second-half minutes played, the Addicks really should have found themselves front. You could only admire Long’s marvellous save from Dasilva’s deflected shot, somehow reacting to tip it onto the bar, but the follow up from Magennis was sickening. A touch taken with his chest to get the ball under his control, needing only to place it into a near-empty net, and yet somehow managing to volley comfortably over the bar.
The positivity that was building tainted by that fear that said, “not again”. A fear that the Addicks would enjoy a period of dominance, and not make their chances count, for the umpteenth time this season. An interruption to those worries was most welcome, as you could do little but laugh at Harry Forrester attempting to chip Amos from 40 yards, and the ball landing safely in his hands.
At least, to Charlton’s credit, the momentum that had developed since the start of the half had not been crushed by Magennis’ miss. In fact, the forward was involved as he combined with Holmes to create another positive opening for the Addicks. Magennis delivering, but his teammate failing to connect properly, and Long able to collect.
But, much like that Magennis and Holmes break forward, the momentum the Addicks had quickly faded without reward. They began to look short of fluency on the ball, lacking a real testing threat in the final, and frustration would soon increase among the visiting supporters. That Magennis miss always replaying.
And so when McDonald burst forward with 20 minutes to play, what was to follow was as much an attacking mistake as it was a defensive one. The diminutive but determined forward holding off Sarr, who was trying to drag him to the floor by any means having been comfortably beaten, and keeping his own balance as he surged towards the box. Advantage played by the referee, and blue shirts lining up in the centre.
McDonald picking out Taylor at the far post, and the forward tucking away to restore his side’s advantage. A defensive disaster to the extent that had the unchallenged Taylor not converted, the Dons might well have been given a second chance from the spot, with Konsa hacking down McDonald as he played the ball across goal. McDonald would claim the assist, but really the provider of the goal was Charlton’s own faults.
Some hope provided by the fact that a comeback from two goals behind was made in four minutes in midweek. The Addicks having 20 to at least take this game to a replay. And Wimbledon needing to do well to protect their lead, as Magennis headed dangerously back across goal from a Jake Forster-Caskey free-kick, but those in blue were able to prevent Konsa turning and prodding the ball home.
Overall, though, the conditions felt unfavourable. The performance had long been sluggish, with openings interrupting tired play without any quality in the final third. The Dons determined, and disciplined.
And unfavourable would soon become non-existent as Barcham found his way through the fragile red shirts and into the Charlton box. Djiksteel with him for company, the youngster opted to dive in after the winger had gone a pace ahead of him. The ball not won, an act of inexperience from the youngster, and a penalty awarded.
A penalty that Taylor, for his second goal of the game, would finish without trouble with nine minutes to play. Amos sent the wrong way, and Charlton well on their way to being sent out of the cup. Disappointed bodies on the pitch, and angry expressions in the away end, as Wimbledon celebrated, all aware that this situation was one that had been self-inflicted.
Substitutes Reeco Hackett-Fairchild, heading wide, and Leon Best, striking powerfully off-target, at least threatened in game’s final moments, but that hardly enough to account for a display of fight and energy. The Addicks, crushed by their own errors, without anything to give. AFC Wimbledon comfortable in possession, comfortable in dealing with any attempts by Charlton to get forward, and comfortably seeing out the game.
It allowing the hosts to celebrate reaching the Third Round of The FA Cup come the final whistle. You start to realise you’ve been denied an opportunity to take part in one of the football calendar’s great days, potentially an opportunity to play against Premier League opposition or go on a cup run, when it’s been taken away. A real disappointment shared between players and supporters at full-time, with the former not needing to be told why they couldn’t begin to imagine what the Third Round might bring.
Charlton denying themselves that privilege.
For there little complexity to this contest’s outcome. The Addicks weren’t good enough, and made horrific individual errors. AFC Wimbledon took advantage.
A different game, possibly, if Magennis takes his chance. Charlton have a 2-1 lead, the game has bee turned on its head, and Wimbledon are crushed. But, for once, a wasted opportunity isn’t the main issue.
A lack of composure in front of goal topped by a lack of composure in front of our own goal. The backline horrific, and all of Wimbledon’s goals avoidable. The individual mistakes grim.
I feel incredibly sorry for Sarr, because he’s largely been excellent since returning to the side, but this was as bad as anything seen during 2015/16, and possibly worse. Assisting to the carnage that Konsa confirmed for the Dons’ first goal, though at least the academy graduate somewhat settled thereafter. While another academy graduate, in the shape of Djiksteel, competed for much of the afternoon without ever being totally comfortable, and that probably reflected in his conceding of the penalty.
“Concentrate on the league,” will shout some. But I would have at least enjoyed reached the Third Round. It certainly not a shout that should justify, or pass off, the performance.
For now we do concentrate on the league. And a repeat of that sort of performance, and those sorts of defensive errors, in the league aren’t going to end well.
The imminent return of several injured players will unquestionably make a huge difference, while there is knowledge that the Addicks can defend in much greater fashion than they did at Kingsmeadow. But to hold a small amount of concern over recent performances and how that affects us going ahead, not least with some challenging opposition to play in the next month, is fair. You’d like to see a defensively sound, fluent, and potent performance in the coming weeks, just to calm any building worries.
But for now, something you definitely won’t be seeing is Charlton’s name in The FA Cup Third Round draw.
The Valley’s silence only broken by groans of frustration from the Covered End, in symmetry with the thud of a Peterborough United defender’s head meeting ball or the crash of the advertising hoardings being hit from another overhit cross. Prolonged periods of silence, as Charlton Athletic passed the ball around harmlessly in midfield with neither intensity or cutting edge, interrupted by increasingly tired expressions of displeasure from the home crowd at their side’s tame efforts. The energy excavated from supporters by this performance to such an extent that even the celebrations that met the awarding of a 90th-minute penalty were forced and timid.
A perfectly understandable response in the context of the contest, and Charlton’s contribution to the contest. The Posh holding a two-goal lead – warranted reward for their organised and counter-attacking efforts and deserved punishment for a group of Addicks without defensive resolve or attacking threat – which had seemingly inflicted defeat on the hosts as early as the 58th minute. Peterborough’s dominance expressed in the scoreline, and in the notion that their advantage might well have been more by the time the game’s final minute arose.
Horrific defending allowing Gwion Edwards’ outstretched leg to convert Marcus Maddison’s free-kick to give Grant McCann’s side an 11th-minute lead, before the influential Edwards crossed for Jack Marriott to finish 13 minutes into the second half. Half-chances attempting to pierce through a dire performance in between goals; lethargic and predictable without delivery at all once the second had come. A positive response to the defeat at Scunthorpe United on Saturday this was most certainly not.
A consolation, and an undeserved one at that, appeared all this penalty was good for. Edwards somewhat denting his evening by brainlessly bundling Jake Forster-Caskey to the floor, and Ricky Holmes emphatically converting the resulting spot-kick. Polite applause and a few high fives expected, but the mood changed the moment the net rippled.
Holmes responding with a raised arm and short fist-pump before racing back to the centre, a battle to get a protected ball out of the Peterborough net infuriating supporters, and as much determination and fight shown in 30 seconds as had been shown for more than 30 minutes. Maybe not belief that a dramatic, stoppage-time, comeback was on, but the tired events that had preceded the goal had been replaced by an energy. Players, for the first time since falling two-behind, showing sure signs of determination, injecting fans with the will to support.
There even energy in the frustration, as Holmes dithered in delivering a ball into the box. But Naby Sarr climbed highest to nod his resulting cross into a dangerous position, with The Valley’s energy briefly replaced by a frozen anticipation. Something that had seemingly inflicted the Peterborough defence, or possibly frozen fear, as none of the visitors responded as quickly as Charlton substitute Karlan Ahearne-Grant; the ball bundled in at the back post, and a point incredibly snatched four minutes into additional time.
The performance dreadful enough that it cannot be covered up by the comeback. The point not the greatest use of Charlton’s game in hand on the top two, not least with Blackburn Rovers winning. But none of that, the gritty context of football, mattered in the incredible moment for the celebrating supporters in the Covered End.
The sort of unbelievable, almost unrealistic, moments that provide an emotional outpouring those without an attachment to a football club would find difficult to make sense of. Distractions from the harsh reality of the everyday, or even healers for the pain that life brings. The unlikeliest, seemingly impossible, of comebacks fulfilled in stoppage-time, lifting The Valley from a funeral of frustration to a scene of celebration, with the equalising goal scored by a struggling youngster without a league strike to his name since September 2015.
Four minutes previously, they expected to walk out the ground in near silence, as if to hide from their side’s dreadful performance. Instead, it was the visitors, bearing the comparative pain for the Charlton joy, who wanted to slither as quickly into isolation. Addicks, if nothing else, given a moment.
Supporters, upon their arrival in SE7, had expected nothing but the Best on this bitterly cold Tuesday night. And that not only because an immediate response to the defeat at Glanford Park at the weekend, ending a nine-game unbeaten run, was both required and confidently believed in. Trialist Leon Best signed on a short-term contract in time to be involved against Posh, and thrown in straight from the start.
The former Ipswich Town forward replacing Chris Solly in the starting XI, as Robinson was again forced to reshuffle his pack. The skipper unavailable, meaning Ezri Konsa shifted to right back, Sarr came into the centre, and Jay Dasilva dropped back to a more natural left-back role. Josh Magennis taking up a wide position, somewhere he has played for Northern Ireland, to accommodate Best in the side.
But regardless of shape or personnel, an encouraging start was needed to calm any concerns that defeat to Scunthorpe would have damaging effects. And a positive start is what the home support got. A quickly taken corner falling to Holmes, his resulting strike beating Jonathan Bond in the Posh goal, but skipper Anthony Grant stood firm on the line to head the ball away.
A tinge of disappointment that Grant had positioned himself perfectly, but the opening enough to get the Covered End into tune. Interrupted briefly as the potentially threatening but often frustrating Posh forward force tested Amos for the first time, with Maddison’s strike saved after combining with Chris Forrester. But greater interruption to the confidence of the home support was to come.
For self-inflicted disaster was about to unfold. The backline static, and caught too far forward, as Leonardo Da Silva Lopes’ ball sent Marriott through on goal in such a simple fashion it resembled a training ground routine. The prolific forward, however, hesitated when met with the sight of Amos, and Charlton’s goalkeeper managed to prevent what seemed a certain goal.
A wake-up call it should have been, but the reprieve from punishment for this unaddressed defensive frailty would only last four minutes. Peterborough a comparatively shorter side than the Addicks so, instead of delivering a traditional ball, Maddison swung his free-kick low across the face of goal. Those in red failing to react in appropriate fashion, and Edwards’ able to convert unchallenged at the back post.
The desperate hope for an immediate response to the Scunthorpe defeat, so as to avoid it spiralling into something worse, punctured. The midfield being bypassed, defensive organisation non-existent, and now a need to find structure with confidence crushed. An inconsistent Peterborough side, with a habit of beating the division’s better sides, looking a real threat on the break.
With only 11 minutes played, the clock told you not to be dramatic, but this felt disastrous. Ahmed Kashi blasting harmlessly over the crossbar didn’t really help cool or compose. Ahmed Kashi, uncharacteristically, wasn’t really helping at all, as he and both centre-backs either found themselves passing tamely between each other or wasting possession.
But the message taught seven days ago during the victory over Rochdale was that, irrespective of whether all knowledge of how to play association football has been forgotten, a scrappy and undeserved goal really can change the pattern of a game. The ball falling to Magennis from a Best knock down, only for Posh goalkeeper Bond to beat the ball away. Forster-Caskey attempting to force the loose ball over the line, and then towards Best in the centre, but both the assistant referee’s flag and, for good measure, Bond had denied him.
Some instability in a Peterborough defence that had previously looked untroubled; a greater willingness from the Addicks to be direct and hit the middle early instead of appearing too cautious to deliver. A cross falling to Marshall at the back post, and the bouncing ball blocked by Bond, before an ambitious overhead kick attempt from Forster-Caskey was claimed by the goalkeeper in more comfortable fashion. Fluency far from existent, and as such one of these chances desperately needed to be forced in, but this was encouraging.
Alas, the encouragement would soon be replaced by frustration. A defence led by the experienced Steven Taylor quickly regrouped from the brief Charlton siege, and put themselves back in control. Taylor and fellow centre-back Ryan Tafazolli consistently winning the predictable balls that the Addicks put into the box as the half went on, with Best struggling, the service poor, and the lack of fluency meaning the only move they had was send the ball out wide and hope for the best.
The greater willingness to get forward had at least pushed the Posh onto the back foot, but their constant reminders of their threat on the break. Maybe not Forrester’s effort from distance, which was collected comfortably by Amos, but more so the way Maddison, Marriott, and Da Silva Lopez linked up. Thankfully for the Addicks, the final ball was absent, but their pace and movement meant they took up promising positions when their backline wasn’t heading away Holmes deliveries.
But, as half-time neared, Da Silva Lopez was able to play Marriott into more than a promising position. The forward coming inside to shoot, Amos possibly seeing the ball a little late, and very uncomfortable-looking parry required to beat the ball away. A reminder, with the whistle signalling the interval soon following, that Posh would not be set up to abandon all attacking duties going into the second period.
And a reminder that there needed to be Charlton improvement. The defence not flirting with disaster every five minutes but still appearing unsettled, the ball being moved too slowly and possession being lost too frequently, and a threat other than a hopeful ball from the left needed to be developed. Something completely different needing to be seen in the second period.
So, of course, the second half started with Posh on the front foot and the Addicks losing a player to injury. Maddison taking a nice touch on the left before cutting inside and forcing a full-stretch save out of Amos, before an already limping Patrick Bauer needed to be replaced by league debutant Anfernee Dijksteel. If Robinson had injected belief into his side during the half-time break, it had probably already left their blood streams.
Nonetheless, in adverse conditions, there was an expectation that the Addicks would show both determination and the true extent of their footballing qualities. A repeat of the ‘get-the-ball-to-Holmes-and-hope-for-the-best’ strategy, which was drawing the occasional foul but not drawing mistakes from Taylor and co. inside Peterborough’s box, not doing much to appease, nor showing any signs of intensity in this Charlton side. A repeat, too, of an off-the-pace Kashi slamming an effort in the general direction of the top tier.
But at least while the deficit remained at one, there was always the hope that a predictable move from Robinson’s side would catch Posh out, and level the game up. A second, with the Addicks playing so poorly, would almost certainly kill the game off. A second seemingly killed the game off with 58 minutes played.
It all very simple for the visitors. Edwards the other cog in Peterborough’s counter-attacking force, and he found himself in space to deliver down the right. The ball low, Marriott peeling away from the red shirts in the centre to meet it, and Amos unmoved as the forward finished.
A deathly silence around the home sections of The Valley; just the noise of the visiting fans celebrating. With justification, it appeared Addicks had all but accepted the result, despite more than 30 minutes remaining. Not enough seen from their side to suggest they stood a chance of getting back into the game.
And, in fact, they might well have been seeing their side concede a third just four minutes later. Edwards surging forward unchallenged, or at least unchallenged until Kashi halted his run in rather physical fashion as Peterborough’s scorer and creator drove inside. McCann’s men demanding a penalty, but nothing given.
Maybe some luck was required to get back into this game, and maybe that was the start of it. Though a lucky side would have seen Tafazolli slice Marshall’s cross into his own net. Instead, Bond reacted well, claimed the ball, and spared his centre-back embarrassment.
Otherwise, his centre-back continued to stand firm against the repetitive crosses and set-plays from the Addicks. It not just the first balls that Posh were first to, but they either claimed the second balls or closed down so quickly that the hosts couldn’t do anything with it. Charlton incredibly tame, sucking the soul of their supporters with the weakness of their attacks, but Peterborough were defending strongly.
And it a combination of those two factors that only increased the mood of acceptance around The Valley. The voiced frustrations were lessening, heavy sighs increasing, as the sound of silence took over. Robinson’s men offering neither the demanded intensity nor quality.
So that Peterborough came close to a third with five minutes to play was of little surprise to those inside the ground. The only surprise being that the opportunity wasn’t scored. A Posh break ending with Maddison teeing up Edwards, his shot beating Amos, but Forster-Caskey positioning himself on the line and able to clear.
It appeared to matter little. Both in the minds of the Peterborough supporters, ready to celebrate victory, and regular occupiers of The Valley, already fully deflated by such a tame performance. Another Charlton ball into the box from wide certainly wasn’t going to change that.
But, though they initial ball was knocked away, Forster-Caskey was able to pounce on the second. With this back to goal, and no need to commit to a challenge, Edwards hauled the midfielder down and left referee Brooks with little choice but to point to the spot. Peterborough had, in the game’s final minute, finally cracked.
It felt, however, as meaningless as Edwards’ cleared effort. Maybe the game would see another goal, but the impressive counter-attacking force would ultimately defeat the side devoid of all fluency and attacking threat. Difficult for a crowd so deflated, so demoralised by the performance witnessed, to become excited by the prospect of a consolation goal.
Or at least that was the case until the scene converting this spot-kick would create began to appear in the minds of Addicks. The announcement made, as Holmes placed the ball on the spot, that four minutes of additional time would be played. Meaningless if this wasn’t converted, but if four minutes were signalled with a one goal deficit in normal circumstances, an attempt would be made to instil belief into players from the stands.
And maybe still a meaningless consolation goal, as Holmes comprehensively finished, but we couldn’t we take a moment away from what the previous 89 to believe? The celebrations short, as efforts were made to get the ball back to centre-circle as quickly as possible, but expressions of determination were made instead. Expressions that went both ways, between players and supporters.
The response from McCann to make two changes, and one of them attempting to kill a game off that had suddenly come alive. Ricky Miller driving wide from the edge of the box, but Peterborough supporters were more interested in counting down seconds and working out when the full-time whistle would be blown. Nervousness and panic out of nowhere.
Nervousness and panic that stretched to the Posh defence, facing the same bodies they were facing before but ones that now seemed to believe. Taylor and Tafazolli weak and crumbling. Sarr and Magennis among giants.
At least now when Holmes delivered, there would be bodies battling for the ball. Holmes trying and trying to find space to send in a cross as Posh tried to protect their lead. The Covered End growing frustrated while glancing at their watches, and the winger finally hanging up in the centre.
Sarr rising, Sarr winning, and Sarr cleverly knocking the ball down instead of going for goal himself. Peterborough defenders and Bond not reacting, but Ahearne-Grant was alive. His outstretched leg bundling the ball over the line.
Utter jubilation, and that just for Ahearne-Grant himself, to be involved in such a moment having struggled to desperately at times this season. The Covered End lost in celebration. A fantastic Valley moment.
And with minutes still to play, the home crowd willed their side forward once more. Bond taking his time to collect a loose ball indicating the danger that Posh felt they were under. Danger that saw Dasilva flash narrowly wide in the sixth minute of stoppage-time.
It the case, therefore, that the game ended with Peterborough somewhat relieved to have not totally imploded to the point that they left SE7 with no points. That coming after it appeared they had comfortably won the game, inflicting defeat on a dire Charlton side that didn’t deserve anything from the contest. “Two-nil, and you fucked it up” sung the Covered End at full-time; a Posh capitulation as much as an Addicks fightback.
Points still dropped, the performance still overall an incredibly poor one, and the table not looking as promising as it did a few weeks ago. But none of that mattered at full-time. This merely time to savour the brief period of hidden determination expressed by this group of Addicks.
A moment for the supporters inside The Valley to savour.
And really, there’s no other way to view this incredible moment. As a moment. As a period of time almost in isolation, away from the complexities of the game and the season itself.
Of course, there’s things within the context of the game and beyond that make the moment more incredible. That the Addicks had for so long appeared devoid of all quality and fight, that the game was seemingly Peterborough’s, and that the equalising goal was scored by Ahearne-Grant. An unbelievable burst of determination, pouncing on a crumbling opposition, to come from two goals behind in stoppage-time with the equaliser scored by a 20-year-old who hasn’t struck in two-and-a-half seasons.
And that is how that moment, and the factors that contribute to its wonder, should remain. In its own space. To continue to savour.
For there little denying that the Addicks were otherwise disappointing at best. A third Peterborough goal, whether through their penalty shout or via the effort that Edwards had cleared off the line, might well have been had before Charlton pulled one back. The hosts’ efforts to get back into the game desperately poor before Holmes’ penalty, and the defence continuously exploited by Posh on the break.
Sarr, though obviously providing a crucial intervention, probably had his worst game since coming back into the side as he struggled to contend with Marriott, Kashi’s inability to get a hold of the ball meant he’s never played so poorly in Charlton colours, while Marshall struggled to deliver anything of any real not in a time when attacking quality and influence was needed. Attacking influence, too, minimal from Magennis and Best. Attacking influence altogether minimal, and the crowd’s frustration with the performance perfectly understandable.
I think that now, as we sit five points off the top two and with both Scunthorpe and Blackburn in stronger positions than us, it’s become more important to pick up on the faults in the performances. To demand that they’re ironed out, in the hope that there will be improvement. We all know that the side’s quality is much better than what was displayed for most of tonight, but you don’t want to keep saying that and find yourself dropping points while hoping for more.
Nonetheless, purely focusing on the players, to claw a point of that game is a marvellous display of character. The response after the penalty was fantastic. It leaves you wondering where that was all night, but doesn’t detract from how strong it was in those stoppage-minutes; the Addicks going from accepting defeat to scarily on top.
And for supporters, it’s those incredible stoppage-time minutes that they’ll take away from this game. A turnaround that didn’t seem possible, and evoked an incredible amount of emotion. An unbelievable moment to witness, to savour, and to remember.
There were premature celebrations as an unchallenged Josh Magennis rose at the back post to powerfully meet Ricky Holmes’ delivery. Not premature celebrations of expectation, but of certainty. A goal assured.
But those in the away end were complacent. A combination of Matt Gilks’ fingertips and the inside of the far post denying the Addicks a first-half advantage, and halting those assured celebrations. Potency lacking, and not for the first or last time during the opening 45 minutes.
The moment, however, can be understood as far more than a wasted opportunity celebrated too soon. The moment has the potential to stand as a metaphor for the season unless consistency in quality performance and greater finishing is found. The certain belief of a promotion challenge, the optimism interrupted in intervals by points dropped frustratingly, and the campaign ending with less than most signs suggested was warranted.
For those wasted chances were punished by a promotion-chasing Scunthorpe United side, winning five consecutive games prior to the contest at Glanford Park, always likely to take advantage of any such failing. The Addicks had competed, even been the better side in a first-half battle, but shown themselves to be frail, tame and tepid after the break. Those premature celebrations in the away end, long forgotten, replaced by justified expressions of frustration and disappointment in the game’s final moments.
The Iron, in their control of the ball and disciplined structure, had displayed the reasons why they were on such an impressive run. But their chances were few, lacking something to turn their controlled possession into final-third threat. That something was half-time substitute Josh Morris, who curled home a stunning free-kick on the hour to give the hosts the lead.
After such an impressive, match-turning, strike, the winger would surely be closely watched once entering the Charlton half in possession of the ball. Alas, energy had been excavated from the Addicks, and Morris was allowed to drive into space just three minutes later. His resulting strike outrageous, unstoppable, struck from 30 yards into the far top corner, but this one flattening a group of visitors that were already crushed.
Karl Robinson looked to his bench for his inspiration, but found only teenagers and an untrusted Rangers loanee who would influence the game going forward. Cruel on a struggling Karlan Ahearne-Grant, and then Reeco Hackett-Fairchild, to be expected to contribute both to the raising of confidence levels, and a two-goal comeback that always appeared impossible. Injuries in attacking positions adding to the number of reasons this was a particularly tough afternoon for Robinson and his men.
Disappointment, possibly as great a feeling as hurt, etched on the faces of Charlton players as they came to applaud the visiting supporters. The anger and frustration reserved for the intensity of the 90 minutes; a group of players that had just had a nine-game unbeaten run ended didn’t deserve direct abuse. But frustration was shared by both parties; the frustration doubled by an in-form promotion rival inflicting the defeat.
And they probably share similar feelings beyond those immediate emotions. One defeat is no cause for panic, this side has shown a resolve to win in tough conditions and equally bounce back when required, and Robinson will both demand and draw a response from his men. But premature celebrations, over the course of 90 minutes and in the long-term, cannot continue to end in disappointment if a challenge for automatic promotion is to be made.
There few shying away from the expectation that facing Scunthorpe at Glanford Park would be one of Charlton’s toughest games of the season so far. Not least with injuries to Billy Clarke, Tariqe Fosu and now Ben Reeves forcing Robinson to be creative with his side. Patrick Bauer replacing Reeves, withdrawn with a hamstring injury Tuesday’s victory over Rochdale, Naby Sarr moved to left-back, and Jay Dasilva pushed into an unfamiliar left-midfield role.
Some comfort sought from the fact that it wasn’t just the Addicks with injury problems. Lee Novak, who struggled in Charlton colours but has become an important figure for the Iron, failing a fitness test after twisting his ankle in the midweek victory over Bradford City. Paddy Madden coming into the side to replace the forward.
Irrespective, both these sides were strong ones, and would be willing to enter a battle to preserve their respective runs of form. Something apparent in an opening ten minutes, as midfield passing was controlled – providing a chance for the visiting supporters to give the Kashi/Forster-Caskey song a burst – but defences ruled supreme when attempts to attack were made. A horribly wayward effort from a desperate acrobatic attempt to direct a Holmes’ cross at goal from Mark Marshall about as close as either side got to a chance.
A concern that a pensive battle would ensue, with both sides too afraid to commit men forward in case of leaving themselves exposed to the threat of the opposition. But there was too much attacking quality for complete stalemate to be played out, and Scunthorpe were soon to force a fine piece of defending out of the Addicks. Funso Ojo’s delivery from the left heading for an unmarked Madden at the back post, but the long leg of Sarr, stretched so far that just looking at it gave me a groin strain, managed to deflect the ball away from the Irishman and behind.
But there little rest as the resulting corner proved just as threatening, or at least it did for the Iron’s backline. A training ground routine horribly backfiring as the delivery played to the edge of the box was won by Kashi, and ultimately fed to Holmes. The winger breaking with few back-peddling Scunthorpe defenders ahead of him, Marshall bursting forward with him and fed through, but Gilks making himself big in the Iron goal and saving one-on-one.
Having failed to convert a similar chance against MK Dons seven days ago, it the second time in recent games that Marshall had failed with only the goalkeeper to beat. And this one, given the context of this incredibly competitive game, felt like it had even greater cost. The away end expressing heartbroken frustration, followed by immense encouragement for the Addicks in the belief that this would be the catalyst for their side to take control, but ultimately there was an underlying sense of concern that such an opening had been wasted.
The only way to calm such a sense of concern was to turn that opening into control of the game, and to convert a chance. Holmes volleying in the general direction of the corner flag from the resulting corner was neither the chance nor the quality of the finish required. But the noise from the away end suggested there was belief it would come.
Control, however, didn’t belong to the Addicks’. Scunthorpe still battling, still calm in possession and organised otherwise, still making the overall pattern of play a very even one with neither side claiming any sort of dominance. The ball falling to the impressive Hakeeb Adelakun on the edge of Charlton’s box, but not making clean contact with his half-volley and the ball bouncing safely into the hands of Ben Amos.
If not to be defined by the very competitive pattern of play, control could only be defined while the scores were level by the quality of chances created. The Iron limited to half-chances. The Addicks about to have their second golden opportunity to take the lead.
A real sense of anticipation whenever Holmes, positioned centrally but playing all over the pitch, burst forward, and one such run down the right allowed him to pick out Magennis at the back post. The striker struggling up to this point, cutting a frustrated figure and rarely winning the ball, but he’d peeled away from his man perfectly and headed powerfully towards the bottom corner, causing the away end to begin their celebrations for what was sure to be a certain goal. But the faintest touch off the fingertips of Gilks were enough to guide the ball onto the post, desperate defending from those in claret clearing the ball, and the away end in a state of painful disbelief.
Visions of seven days ago now appearing, where a failure to take chances allowed MK Dons to steal a point at The Valley, alongside the direct pain of the moment. Composure not regained among the visiting supporters as Holmes burst forward once again, getting to the edge of the box, and seeing his resulting shot punched behind by Gilks. A sense now that the Addicks had to control; belief and enthusiasm had to replace the frustration over failing to take these chances.
But an immediate reminder offered by Scunthorpe not only of their quality, but of the damage that can be done when chances aren’t taken. Madden taking up space on the right, his cross an excellent one, and Ezri Konsa directing the ball towards his own goal under pressure from Tom Hopper. As has so often been the case this season, a marvellous save from Amos was required, with the goalkeeper quickly reacting to tip the ball over the bar.
And it seemed with that as if the ‘control’ that Charlton might have gained from their openings had been lost. The battle returning, as Bauer and Konsa showed marvellous defensive composure, only to be matched by Rory McArdle and Cameron Burgess at the other end. Forster-Caskey’s desire to be creative from the centre denied by the pressing of Neil Bishop, Ojo, and the all-action Adelakun, and Scunthorpe’s want to do similar stopped by Ahmed Kashi.
In fact, it not until the final minute of the half when a genuine chance was seen again. Seen in front of the goal Charlton were defending. The ball cut back to Adelakun, the midfielder keeping it under control for an extraordinary amount of time despite pressure from a number of white shirts, but his shot ultimately blocked despite genuine sights of goal appearing for him on more than one occasion.
It was, however, an exchange of chances, as the Addicks threatened once more before the break. Marshall getting a touch of space on the edge of the area, and his resulting shot parried wide by Gilks. The corner that followed eventually falling to Magennis, but his afternoon somewhat summed up by a horribly wayward effort.
Once the groans that followed the Northern Ireland international’s strike had died down, there was considerable applause for the Addicks as they left the pitch at half-time. And applause they deserved, having competed in the battle and created the better openings. But so too was this a frustrating opening period, and the fear that a failure to take those chances would be punished could not be hidden.
A confident start to the second period, and preferably an early goal, required to calm those fears. But it was Graham Alexander’s side who carved out the half’s first opening. Substitutes combining as Morris picked out Duane Holmes, the diminutive midfielder taking touch, and forcing Amos into a strong save.
Another thing required was a better performance from Magennis, whose effort couldn’t be criticised during the first-half but his ability to hold up the ball and his threat in and around the box could be. So the Northern Ireland international creating an opening himself was fairly encouraging. The forward’s robust body with its back to goal, before turning and curling an effort not too far over the bar.
Encouragement, after some critical voices, for Magennis, but this was a frustrating start to the half for the Addicks. Holmes bursting forward in traditional fashion, but overplaying his pass to an excellently placed Dasilva, before trying to do too much on his own and being forced out of the box by McArdle to the tune of very optimistic penalty shouts. The performance getting rather tame, and rather sloppy.
Scunthorpe retaining their patient, if minimally threatening, composure, but a burst of pace from Murray Wallace drew an opportunity. Forster-Caskey forced to haul down the left-back, and give them a free-kick in a handy position. Handy, but probably too great and angle too test Amos from.
But substitute Morris stood over it, and with complete calmness, curled the ball into the top corner well beyond the reach of Charlton’s goalkeeper to give his side a 60th-minute lead. The scenes of celebration among Scunthorpe players and supporters telling you the value of the goal. The silence in the away end adding some extra pounds to it.
The effort wonderful, and there little that could be done about it, but this was punishment for not taking the earlier chances. The Iron hadn’t managed anything like the quality of opening the Addicks had had on several occasions. Charlton only having themselves to blame for falling behind, watching on as a piece of individual brilliance meant the hosts had taken one of the few genuine opportunities they’d been given.
You wanted to believe that, with those previously created chances, there remained hope of the Addicks getting back into the game. They had created those chances, they just needed to score one. But the atmosphere on the pitch had changed dramatically; Scunthorpe’s grip was even greater than the scoreline suggested.
And just three minutes after going ahead, Scunthorpe’s grip on the game was as great as the scoreline suggested. For Morris, ghosting past the space that Charlton’s midfield had left for him, carried the ball forward and unleashed the most incredible of long-range strikes, perfectly placed into the far top corner. The celebrations from the home supporters and players even louder, but silence in the away end had been replaced by anger, if not disbelieving remarks at the quality of the goal.
In three minutes, the game had been lost. The failure to convert golden opportunities providing earlier assists. But the finishing touches applied by Scunthorpe, punishing Charlton’s absent finishing touch.
There still, of course, 27 minutes in which to challenge. Even if not to complete an incredible comeback, then to at least show some fight. But even that was looking unlikely.
The Addicks cutting beaten figures, and their performance lacking any sort of quality or cutting edge. Scunthorpe, with their two-goal lead, now displaying their disciplined structure more than their composed play on the ball. There no way this tame side could break them down.
Not least with what was available to Robinson in reserve. Ahearne-Grant came on, but was simply bullied off the ball but more intelligent and greater quality players. There no one who could inject life into this performance, or this side.
There still some degree of life in Holmes and Marshall, but their end product non-existent. McArdle a wall in the centre, when deliveries weren’t floating over his head and harmlessly behind. These misdirected crosses not enough to appease frustrated supporters.
So timid were the Addicks that, in this desperate situation, that it wasn’t until the 85th minute that anything of note happened inside the box. And even that was a rather hopefully penalty appeal. Sarr making the most of some contact from Burgess as the pair challenged for a head inside the box; not the sort of call a referee will respond to.
Although a better reflection of Charlton’s tame attacking efforts in search of some respectability might have been the fact Gilks had time to ‘interact’ with visiting supporters. A few shrugs and smiles sent the way of the away end as they turned their attentions to his slowness in releasing the ball. The goalkeeper finally having some meaningful work to do either side of the 90th-minute, comfortably collecting drives from the edge of the box from Holmes and Kashi.
The final whistle blowing, and the second half passing, without the Addicks creating a meaningful opening to counter Morris’ spectacular efforts. Flat and deflated in response. Frustration and an expectation of more expressed from the away end.
You sensed, from the despondent players that came to the away end at full-time, they had expected to provide more too. A situation neither players nor supporters would need to be in had those on the pitch taken the chances they created in the first half. But they were rightfully punished for their failure to convert.
For a failure to finish has been a niggle throughout this season. Something that’s been there and not ignored, but not seen as particularly concerning while points have been gained. But the concern over it is increasing.
Marshall and Magennis in particular really should have taken their first half chances, and it becomes a different game if they do. Morris takes two extraordinary chances for Scunthorpe, and it becomes a different game if their favour. Given the gap between ourselves and the top two, dropping points in such a manner is incredibly frustrating.
It is, of course, doubly frustrating because to create those chances there has to be a certain level of performance. We were the better team in the battle that was the first half. But it counts for very little when, on a consistent basis, we can’t finish what we create.
But Scunthorpe warranted their victory. Not only because they punished our failure to finish, and their goals were marvellous, but our response to falling two goals behind was incredibly tame. To fail to threaten in such circumstances, without showing any sort of intensity whatsoever, was incredibly disappointing.
Part of the problem being the injury list that Robinson has to deal with, and there really was nothing on the bench that was going to help. But those that were out there, those of quality, became very flat, very quickly. Given the way in which this side has found ways to win in previous weeks, I did think they would have had a greater go at clawing back the two-goal deficit.
Nonetheless, even to a promotion rival, a single defeat is not too damaging. But a positive responsive is required. After our previous run of form was ended by defeat, to Wigan Athletic, we went on a run of four very poor performances, so getting a result against Peterborough United before a weekend off for The FA Cup is vital.
Vital, too, is taking our chances.
The sight of the visiting supporters, their enjoyment always more painful than that of their club’s players, celebrating something that resembled an unassailable lead was surely about to seen. A miscommunication between defence and goalkeeper meaning Ben Amos had come too far, Charlton Athletic’s number one stranded, and the ball falling kindly for Matt Done. A grim hush of expectation from The Valley crowd seemingly guiding the Rochdale midfielder’s strike into the empty net.
But the hush became an angry demand for more. The sight of visiting supporters celebrating was replaced by one of the cluster of Dale fans in the Jimmy Seed Stand with hands on their heads in utter disbelief. The dire Addicks had escaped what would have been punishment for the second time in the game’s 21 minutes, the strike rebounding back off the inside of the post, and a route to overturn both their deficit and disastrous start to the game remained open.
A deficit instilled just 13 minutes into the encounter. Karl Robinson’s men lacking any sort of composure, control or cohesion, and Keith Hill’s out of sorts side wasting no time in taking advantage. Joe Bunny crossing low from the left, Matthew Gillam tucking into the far corner, and all in red delivering accusatory glances as attempts were made to work out how both men had the space they did.
Accusatory glances, and grunts, coming from The Valley crowd as few signs of improvement followed either the shock of conceding to a struggling side, or the huge let-off thereafter. Every right for the home crowd to be frustrated as the Addicks struggled to make meaningful forward passes, showed no threat on the ball, and gave their opponents too much time on the ball. In fact, the visitors remained in ominous control, still spending too much time in and around Charlton’s box.
So it against the run of play, against the side that had done all the running, that the Addicks forced a 35th-minute leveller. Jay Dasilva’s bouncing cross the first of the evening that Rochdale’s imposing centre-back duo of Jimmy McNulty and Harrison McGahey hadn’t dealt with, goalkeeper Josh Lillis unsure whether to come or stay, and Jake Forster-Caskey sliding to poke the ball home before he could make a decision. The midfielder holding his ear up to the away end as he celebrated; Rochdale’s second chance of celebration had been turned to silence.
Warranted or not, this a moment needed to reverse the mood inside The Valley. The Addicks far from fluent, but playing with greater confidence as the end of the first half turned into the beginning of the second. Faith in the side increasing; Rochdale faith decreasing.
Mark Marshall, therefore, guided forward by the encouragement of the Covered End as he drove at the Dale defence with an hour gone. No one in blue able to halt him, Lillis unable to halt his shot effectively, and a horrible fumble fell straight to the feet of Forster-Caskey, who gleefully converted. Fortune heavily involved in the poor start not becoming a calamitous one, some fortune involved in the turnaround, but lots of Forster-Caskey involved in the Addicks restoring composure and control into their performance.
Rochdale rocked, Charlton’s confidence growing, and the game might well have been killed off. Karlan Ahearne-Grant guilty of wasting a fantastic chance to double the advantage, and fears of a repeat of the weekend, in which an advantage was not made the most of, hovered. But the Addicks provided stubborn resistance, stifling a side that, for at least 25 minutes, had caused panic and concern; no fortune in how the game was seen out.
Home supporters could have seen those in the away end celebrating a second in the early stages of the encounter, and subsequently slumped away at full-time attempting to cover their eyes from taking in a glimpse of Rochdale fans and players uniting in a unison of enjoyment. But such a thought mattered not as the full-time whistle brought about joyous relief, the Addicks huddled, and Robinson sent a fist pump of delight towards the covered end. Fortune with an important assist, but the gritty resolve of this side, finding ways to win regardless of how ugly, with the finish once again.
Better overall performances, to both match the quality of the side and address the uncertainty that gritty victories provide, may have been reasonably hoped for, but an ugly win would have surfaced prior to kick-off in SE7.
Not only on the back of what was a frustrating, and potentially moment affecting, dropping of two points at The Valley three days previous against MK Dons, but with the treatment running out of beds. Tariqe Fosu, fit enough to make an important appearance from the bench at the weekend, now absent altogether, and unavailable for five further weeks. The Addicks unchanged from their draw on Saturday, but the bench lacking bodies capable of changing a game.
There still, of course, quality within the XI that Robinson was able to field, and two of those players of quality were able to get forward in the opening ten minutes. Ricky Holmes trying his luck from distance, but a deflection off a Rochdale defender taking all the pace off the ball and making it a comfortable claim for Lillis, and an explosive run from Marshall ending with an off-balance shot sailing comfortable off-target. An excuse for The Valley crowd to find their voices.
But these were not reflective of a dominant Charlton start. Certainly not reflective of a start the resembled the fluent and high intensity one that saw the Addicks play some of their best football of the season against MK Dons at the weekend. Misplaced passes, the ball being too slowly, and not a great deal of cutting edge weren’t exactly signs of horror in the opening ten minutes, but Rochdale were being allowed far too much time on the ball, becoming far too confident in possession inside Charlton’s half, and pressing from those in red was minimal.
In a game that had started relatively slowly, an opening goal hadn’t necessarily been coming, but the lack of intensity from Robinson’s men had certainly invited Rochdale to get forward. The passing and movement up the left from those in blue to be applauded, but the Addicks a pace behind, allowing Bunney to pull back to Gillam without pressure. The 19-year-old starting his first game for the Dale, and marking it with his first senior goal, finishing across goal and beyond the desperate dive of Amos.
A defence so reliable and a team so resolute in the gritty wins of recent times exposed far too easily. It would surely regroup, the performance surely improve, as the disbelieving silence that followed the goal was replaced by murmurs of encouragement around the disappointingly populated Valley. But as Rochdale’s calmness in control of the ball in midfield grew, and their presence in Charlton’s defence became a more menacing one, the encouraging murmurs were increasingly difficult to sustain.
The threat of complete disaster, however, awoke the crowd from tepid acceptance into a state of angry-cum-delusional-encouragement outcry. Complete disaster that would have been self-inflicted, as Dasilva decided to call upon his goalkeeper to claim a ball, allowing Done to steal in and leaving Amos stranded. Rochdale’s winger turning, shooting, and agonisingly seeing the ball bounce away off the inside of the post with the goal at his mercy; his pain as great as the pain that home supporters had prematurely inflicted upon themselves.
This wasted opportunity for the visitors couldn’t be mocked or celebrated, though. We were the only ones that deserved mocking. As if only to be reaffirmed five minutes later as Calvin Andrew, a physical presence who scored in both games against the Addicks last season, was allowed space in the box to connected with Donovan Daniels delivery and head over.
Still the Addicks were standing off Rochdale, still they lacked energy, still they weren’t utilising the attacking quality in the side to push forward. No one brave enough to make a run forward, and not enough movement for the man with the ball to make a quick enough pass to launch a successful attack. The Dale comfortable in their defensive duties.
It taking until beyond the half hour mark for the Addicks to conjure up anything remotely encouraging. Marshall’s pace getting him to the byline, a corner won, and a strong block from Oliver Rathbone preventing Ben Reeves’ volley from the resulting delivery from causing the concern to Lillis that it appeared it might have done. Sarr heading softly into the goalkeeper’s hands from the following set-piece, however, and The Valley’s glimpse of positivity coming to an end.
However, the nature of this Charlton side alone means it provides reassurance. The quality within means that a moment of quality can be provided at any moment, even when quality appears to be completely lacking. Quality, or at least a moment that can change a game, and that something the Addicks were able to produce with 35 minutes played.
Dasilva’s cross from the left teasing, and helped made more difficult to deal with by Naby Sarr’s intervention in the centre, allowing the ball to bounce invitingly for Forster-Caskey. A dive required to make contact, but comfortable beating the slow to react Lillis, the midfielder able to draw the Addicks level in a game where they had been comfortably second best. A release of frustration in his celebration; relief, and hope of a subsequent turnaround, in the joyful reaction of the home crowd.
Marshall increasing that hope, cutting inside and striking a low, fierce effort that Lillis could only claim at the second attempt. But, in reality, there was no one of a Charlton persuasion not feeling fortunate to be going in at the break level. Parity was something they hardly deserved, or something they had looked like getting for 34 minutes of the half.
Nonetheless, fortunate or not, there was a foundation upon which to build going into the second half. A foundation that took a slight crumble as Reeves was unable to return after the break, exposing the weak bench, and Ahearne-Grant replacing him. A concern that losing one of the attacking midfield three would damage the momentum gained by the equaliser somewhat.
And there not a suggestion from Rochdale that they were going to alter their play in response to the goal. To take a more determined and dogged Hill approach, sitting deep and fight for what would be a decent away point in their position. Ian Henderson getting into a crossing position, the ever-threatening Andrew climbing to win the header, but Amos doing well to hold on.
Though the early signs were suggesting that the Dale were not going to be allowed to play with as much comfort as they did during the first period. Their more intensity and energy from the Addicks, and greater composure when they had the ball. Far from perfect but something to invest in.
In fact, such was the increase in composure, Ahmed Kashi felt confident enough to shoot at goal, when so often his strikes fail to match the accuracy of his passing. Composed, and well driven, to the extent that his effort bounced back off the base of the right-hand post with Lillis unmoved. Agonising, but the tide possibly turning, and the Covered End certainly a different to beast to what it was midway through the first half.
Alas, expectations and confidence had to be immediately reduced. Callum Camps swinging in a Rochdale free-kick, Daniels knocking the ball down, and Henderson forcing Amos into a superb save. A crucial intervention, with the first-half mix-up behind him.
An intervention that proved particularly crucial. For while one goalkeeper had prevented his team from falling behind for a second time, another had played a large part in seeing his side implode. The Addicks completing their turnaround with an hour gone, via a little help from the unconvincing hands of Lillis.
Bodies in blue blocking Marshall’s path to goal, but all too scared to commit in case giving the pacey winger space to exploit. Nonetheless, he found a route through to which shoot, and the sea of bodies through which the ball came through possibly meaning that Lillis saw it late, and ultimately spilt it. Forster-Caskey alive to snap up the loose ball, convert his second of the night, and create scenes of celebration around The Valley unexpected as Done’s 21st-minute strike trickled towards goal.
So much confidence, so much joy, so much belief. There a stadium-wide sense of invisibility in the aftermath of the goal, one so often felt after the completion of a comeback. But Saturday’s events, and the faults displayed throughout the first half, slowly injecting some nervousness into the veins of Addicks with time still to play.
The third, and a two-goal lead, craved. There attacking desire and intent in the side, not perfect fluency but they were coming forward, so there no reason why it couldn’t come. Marshall driving forward, but Lillis forcefully palming his shot away this time, just to make sure.
The majority of this attacking intent, and the subsequent attacking threat, coming through Marshall’s pace against a tired side. McGahey blocking another strike from the winger, but the ball falling kindly to Josh Magennis. His curing effort not quite dipping in time, landing on the roof of the net.
But in this trio of efforts, in the final one that really should have been taken. Excellent work from Magennis on the left to force a cross, his delivery finding Ahearne-Grant free in the centre of the box, but the young striker heading straight into Lillis’ hands. A chance that simply had to be taken and, with a little over then minutes to play, fears that the Addicks would be punished for failing to take chances again suddenly appearing with menace.
Appearing more so as Rochdale started, albeit without much attention to detail, to pump balls forward in desperate search of an equaliser. The ball falling kindly to Substitute Brad Inman after a cross was half-cleared, but Ezri Konsa making an important intervention. An ugly, uncomfortable finish on the cads.
Certainly uncomfortable for Amos, who took a kick in the stomach for his troubles. Another ball into the box, another melee of bodies, and this one ending with Andy Cannon swinging for a ball that just happened to be shaped like the stomach of Charlton’s goalkeeper. Amos, thankfully, unharmed.
But little respite for the goalkeeper as, with four minutes played, Rochdale finally found a way through the stubborn resolve of those in red and created a meaningful chance. A corner ultimately falling to Inman, the Peterborough loanee volleying towards goal, and Amos reacting superbly to tip the effort over the bar. It would just be nice if the final ten minutes of a game, just once, were anything other than soul-destroyingly horrible.
As four additional minutes were signalled, you wanted something to be scored on the break while Rochdale committed men forward. But increasingly it appeared the need would be to deny the opposition from equalising. Hard-working, but just lacking a touch of quality in the final third to exploit a defensive unit that had regrouped since its first half showing.
Each header won, interception made, and second spent in possession of the ball a moment closer to victory. No comfort inside The Valley, but those final four minutes seen out with relative comfort by those on the pitch. A truly ugly victory, in which they required fortune to succeed almost as much as their own grit and determination, but an important victory that was celebrated as such.
Important, primarily, because of the nature of the game. The nature of our performance. A game, and a performance, that leave you with so many questions to be answered.
Did we deserve victory? It’s a question that’s difficult to answer. One that doesn’t explain the complexities of the game, and our performance.
A better place to start is by asking, did we deserve to equalise, and go in level at half-time? The answer to that is no. We’ve not played much worse at home this season, were incredibly fortunate not to have been punished further, and were incredibly fortunate to have equalised.
Also, in assessing that first half performance, it needs to be remembered that Rochdale are a side in the bottom four playing against a team attempting to challenge the top two. They were allowed to play with confidence. We couldn’t stop them playing, we weren’t able to get at them, and we looked fragile.
However, after being fortunate enough to find that equaliser, were we the better side? I would suggest we were. Far from perfect, but there was greater attacking threat, possession was kept with greater composure, and Rochdale’s forward threat was weakened significantly.
Marshall, largely through sheer pace and a willingness to shoot, impressed, Kashi and Forster-Caskey, in addition to his goals, won the battle for control in midfield, while Magennis was a menace to the tired Rochdale defence. The growing attacking threat meaning Rochdale were pushed onto the back foot, and their presence around Charlton’s box weakened. But the Addicks’ backline became more composed and resolute.
But was, over the course of 90 minutes and with a somewhat fortunate and certainly ugly win achieved, this a performance that increases confidence?
In one way, yes. This side continues to find ways to win, and they’ve done it enough to suggest it’s more determination and resolve than it is luck or something to be panicking about. In simple terms, these sorts of results show there is always confidence in this side to find victory irrespective of performance.
But the performance was a touch concerning with the games that lie ahead. The next two games are ones where we’re going to require a more fluent display than the one seen tonight. A point at in form Scunthorpe United is to be celebrated, while Peterborough United’s inconsistency means you’re unsure what sort of side you will face but you’re likely to have some sort of challenge regardless.
We’ll need to find the level of performance displayed in the first half of the MK Dons game against those sides. Obviously with just a bit more potency in front of goal. And I think with the fortune that was involved tonight, it’s a little reminder we can’t complacently believe a performance below the highest quality will always go unpunished, because there will come a time where we’ll be caught out.
Nonetheless, we sit here following the conclusion of another hard-fought win, making genuine suggestions about how the side could still improve. The side still winning; faith that those improvements will happen still held. The foundation growing increasingly solid.
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.