Kevin Nolan’s Valley View: Charlton Athletic 0-1 Birmingham City

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

The Addicks marked 100 years at The Valley on Saturday – but their fine start came skidding to an end with a talismanic striker absent, as KEVIN NOLAN reports…

There’s no such thing as a one-man football team. Any fool knows that. But any fool also appreciates the positive impact that one charismatic player – if he’s the right player – can exert on his teammates, not to mention his besotted supporters. Such a player is Lyle Taylor, whose profound influence at The Valley radiates from the pitch into the stands. Even when he’s not on duty.

Injured while on international assignment with Montserrat, Taylor missed this awkward game and will apparently be sidelined for several more weeks. Despite his absence, his aura was still palpable as Charlton duly lost for the first time this season and, significantly, failed to score – also for the first time this season. It could be a coincidence – we’ll know more after their visit to Wigan next Saturday – because their performance was as committed and competitive as ever. The spark normally provided by Taylor was, however, painfully missing.

The nature of his injury remains unclear, with manager Lee Bowyer remarking during the build-up to Birmingham’s visit that he was hopeful his star striker would be fit to play. Reading between some fairly obvious lines, though, it seems that the once-warm relationship between player and club is now somewhat strained, a hangover from Brentford’s abortive attempt to recruit him during the summer. Taylor’s blistering start to the season, which brought him five goals in six games, might yet turn out to preface a last hurrah in a Charlton shirt. Streetwise Addicks fans won’t be too surprised if he leaves. They are grimly aware that it doesn’t pay to get too close to your heroes. That way only ends in heartache.

Competent but colourless

The blond bombshell’s absence on Saturday meant a first start for Tomer Hemed alongside West Brom loanee Jonathan Leko. The experienced Israeli worked hard but is clearly not yet up to Championship speed; Leko began brightly but gradually found himself trapped in those one-way streets and cul-de-sacs where his solo meanderings lead him. Passing is apparently considered only as his last option.

Elsewhere, Charlton were competent but, without Taylor, colourless. Their spirit remains intact as Sam Field’s early, hell-for-leather block to deny Marc Roberts’ blockbuster made clear. Central defenders Jason Pearce and Tom Lockyer were superb while, behind them, Dillon Phillips contributed two fine saves to keep the Addicks in a fruitless hunt. They were Birmingham’s match in everything but finishing. And in that vital department, they were taught an expensive lesson shortly after the interval.

Dark art of timewasting

In an evenly-fought game, there was little to choose between similar teams, with Championship respectability their mutual priority. Chances were few but, significantly, Lee Camp’s two genuine saves were made from defender Chris Solly and midfielder Conor Gallagher. Between them, strikers Hemed and Leko mustered only the late chance which the former shovelled over the bar from close range. Seven minutes into the second half, the Addicks were themselves destroyed by a goal of excellent quality scored by a kid who spent last June 29th celebrating his 16th birthday. Presumably with his mum and dad at Nando’s and the pictures.

Picking up possession near the halfway line, French defender Maxime Colin accelerated into Charlton’s penalty area before slipping Kerim Mrbati into space on the right. The Swedish wide man judged his square pass perfectly for young Jude Bellingham to sidefoot firmly past the helplesss Phillips despite Solly’s last-ditch effort to block his shot. Cheeky little sod deserved a clip round the ear.

To their credit, the Addicks refused to accept defeat as inevitable. They beavered away gamely as the Blues used means both fair and and foul to hang on to their advantage. In front of lamentably lenient referee Matthew Donohue, the visitors brought to the dark art of timewasting interesting but irritating innovations. Stricken Brums – and their ill-health was alarming – were painstakingly attended by a deeply caring physio and his youthful, eager-to-learn apprentice, who might well have been a classmate of Bellingham’s.

It all became too much for Bowyer, who was banished to the stands when the Brummie bench mischievously threw an unrequested ball on to the pitch. To be fair to Donohue, it was unlikely that Charlton’s incensed guv’nor stuck exclusively to the Oxford Dictionary in voicing his objections.

Bowyer was more measured in evaluating the consequences following his side’s first experience of defeat this season. “It’s how you react,” he observed. “We go again next week and we have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” It is what it is, as the annoying cliche goes, and what it is appears to be a solid, hard-grafting team of many virtues, one sound in defence, imaginative in midfield but woefully lightweight up front.

There was, meanwhile, an elephant in the stadium on Saturday, oddly low-key but with a definite say in the proceedings. It’s fervently hoped the he’ll be rejoining Bowyer’s herd sooner rather than later. Unless he goes rogue.

Charlton (4-4-2): Phillips, Solly, Lockyer, Pearce, Purrington, Field (Aneke 71), Gallagher, Cullen, Oztumer (Williams 59), Hemed, Leko (Kayal 78). Not used: Amos, Pratley, Bonne, Sarr. Booked: Pearce.

Birmingham: Camp, Pedersen, Roberts, Colin, Crowley (Gardner 87), Jutkiewicz, Dean, Mrbati (Maghoma 61), Bellingham (Gimenez 90), Davis, Sunjic. Not used: Stockdale, Harding, Clarke-Salter, Bailey. Booked: Dean, Davis.


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