A south-east London derby behind closed doors ended in all-too familiar fashion for the Addicks last night. KEVIN NOLAN watched as the neighbours walked away with three points again…
Forget the law of averages. There’s no such thing. Or if there is, it gets broken every time Charlton play Millwall. Whatever the circumstances, whatever rests on the result, Charlton lose to Millwall. That’s just the way it is. The rare draws – and there was a priceless point on offer here – are exceptions which prove the rule.
In all the frustration and pain which followed yet another late defeat, let’s be be fair, the dogged determination and brave resistance, which came close to seeing the Addicks over the line to hard won parity, shouldn’t be overlooked. They swapped punch for punch in coping with a primitive if energy-sapping aerial onslaught, stood their ground gamely and had their own chances to snatch a winner.
What they didn’t have, unfortunately, is a forward capable of converting any of those rare opportunities. Two goals in four post-lockdown games, both of them scored by non-strikers, tells its own misfiring story. The pressure on a superb defence, which conceded for the first time since the season was resumed, eventually brought them to their knees.
At this point I’m tempted to mention Lyle Taylor. But I promised myself I wouldn’t go there.
The line-up which faced Millwall featured seven changes and was faithful to Lee Bowyer’s stated intention to use his entire squad during the nine-game mini-season. Results have vindicated him but Charlton simply ran out of steam against their noisome neighbours. And sad to say it was an error – no howler but an error nonetheless – by Dillon Phillips, their outstanding young goalkeeper – which disastrously ended their string of clean sheets. Covering his near post to deal with Connor Mahoney’s forceful shot, he parried to Jake Cooper, who beat a sliding Tom Lockyer to the loose ball and smashed it into the roof of the net.
A clearly distraught Phillips had previously kept his side in contention with a typically fine first half save from Millwall’s danger man Jed Wallace. Played clear by Ryan Woods’ deft pass, Wallace closed in to confront the advancing keeper but was unable to lift his shot over him. At the other end, Bartosz Bialkowski had already done his bit by narrowing the angle as Macauley Bonne seized on an opening created by Lockyer’s crunching midfield tackle and charging down the forward’s unconvincing effort.
In a game of fleeting half-chances, both saves seemed likely to feature as highlights in a keenly fought scoreless stalemate. Until the Addicks finally buckled with the finishing line in sight.
Gary Rowett’s tactics, meanwhile, were uncomplicated. They entailed getting the ball to Jed Wallace in enough space for the wideman -with 10 goals and 10 assists to his credit this season – to place one of his superbly delivered crosses on the lofty, 6’6″ head of target man Matt Smith. The plan had worked perfectly at the Den in November where Wallace’s added time corner was headed past Phillips to steal the points. This time Lockyer, Jason Pearce and Darren Pratley were equal to the task and physically denied Smith a clear sight of goal. They were doing fine until towering centreback Cooper found another way another way to break their hearts.
With five crucial games left – the first of them a daunting midweek trip to form team Brentford – in the battle for Championship survival, Bowyer will be called upon to make a little go a long way. Charlton will score few many goals and whatever they can muster must count. Bonne hasn’t found the net in 10 games, while Hemed, who hooked a pre-interval chance weakly off target, still seeks his first Charlton goal. Chuks Aneke replaced Bonne just past the hour and bustled the Lions effectively but like Bonne and Hemed, proved shot-shy.
A non-scoring midfield, in which even Josh Cullen struggled to impress, must step up and contribute. Albie Morgan drove one early effort into Cooper’s midriff, Cullen skied his only shot while Aidan McGeady pottered his way through 75 meaningless minutes, during which he scrupulously avoided physical contact and regularly supplied the Lions with possession. Bowyer clearly sees something in the ex-Celtic winger. That something remains a mystery to your reporter, who stands ready to be convinced otherwise. Alfie Doughty or Jonny Williams must surely see out the rest of the campaign.
Silver lining? It’s hard to see one right now, except to remind ourselves that we’re finished with Millwall until, hopefully, next season. That six-point handicap was already factored in pre-season. The same number of points from the eighteen still available might do the business. And let’s not forget Wigan might be in serious trouble. I’m not one for gloating but one dog eats any other dog in this ultra-competitive division.
Better them than us. And you may quote me on that.
Charlton: Phillips, Matthews, Lockyer, Pearce, Oshilaja (Doughty 75), Cullen, Pratley (Sarr 90), Morgan (Field 46), McGeady (Williams 75), Bonne (Aneke 64), Hemed. Not used: Amos, Purrington, Forster-Caskey, Green.
Millwall: Bialkowski, Romeo (Mitchell 75), Hutchinson, Cooper, Pearce, Murray Wallace, Leonard (Mahoney 75), Jed Wallace (Williams 85), Smith (Bradshaw 64), Woods, Molumby (Thompson 46). Not used: Steele, Pearce, Skalak, Ferguson.
Referee: Dean Whitestone.