The Addicks returned to winning ways at The Valley on Saturday with a victory over Championship title favourites Leeds – KEVIN NOLAN reports…
After the corporation dustcart…the Lord Mayor’s Show. In turning the old epigram on its head, Charlton followed their passive performance at struggling Wigan with a stirring display of magnificent defiance to send hot favourites Leeds United home pointless. Goals still promise to be rare but one scrambled effort was enough to deliver this vital win.
After dominating possession (72-28%) and corners (13-2), Leeds made their bewildered way home wondering how they finished with nothing to show for their mathematical superiority. Their globally vaunted manager Marcelo Bielsa, secure in his bubble of denial, provided a post-game masterclass in ignoring the facts and missing the point.
“The difference between the sides was big.” explained the Argentinian visionary, “We didn’t impose our superiority and that was the reason for what happened. They had one shot and scored one goal. Our players were better than theirs.” He didn’t add “So there!” so we’ll do it for him. Codswallop, of course, but we have to accept he wasn’t in the best of moods. Otherwise he might have pulled himself together, acknowledged that his side fell short in the only statistic that matters and bent his efforts to figuring out why 72% of possession brought zilch to the scoring column.
In that regard, his opposite number Lee Bowyer was on hand to helpfully mark his card. Paying heartfelt tribute to the character of his players, he declared that sheer hard work made them worthy winners. “We held our own and tactically got it spot on. This is a group that never says die.” He diplomatically declined to point out that it’s goals that count but the fact that the Addicks scored from one of only two corners while the visitors were repelled on thirteen occasions by a posse of red-shirted sentinels might bring the hard-done by Bielsa to that conclusion in the longer term. But probably not.
Set piece improvements
Last week at Wigan, Charlton conceded twice to the same player from corners, a disastrous failing which was obviously addressed at the training ground. A succession of wickedly delivered flagkicks on Saturday from set piece specialist Kalvin Phillips was stoutly resisted, with even Jonathan Leko popping up in the first half to clear a goalbound effort from Ezgjan Aliosko. Whenever a block or interception was necessary, there was always a willing volunteer to put his body on the line. Not that Charlton retreated into siege mentality. They remained cohesive and always dangerous on the break. As they demonstrated shortly after the half hour to claim the only goal.
Chasing down Johnny Williams’ piercing pass to the right byline, Macauley Bonne found himself briefly isolated and sensibly settled for forcing a right wing corner – the Addicks’ first of the game – off Ben White. A low delivery from Josh Cullen was inconclusively met by Tom Lockyer, with ricochets off Kiko Casilla, Stuart Dallas and decisively Bonne pinballing the ball over the goalline. Undeniably lucky, of course, but as golfer Gary Player famously remarked “the more I practice, the luckier I get”. Competing in the six-yard area for the chaotic bits and pieces that derive from a cutely delivered corner is surely coached at Sparrows Lane. And that, despite Bielsa’s blinkered comments to the contrary, “was the reason for what happened.” So there!
— Charlton Athletic FC (@CAFCofficial) September 29, 2019
Picking out the key defensive highlights from such stubborn selflessness is a thankless task. Phillips’ superb low save from White was made at a critical time; a crucial interception from the inspirational Darren Pratley to deny Patrick Bamford access to Stuart Dallas’ menacing cross also deserves mention; as does Naby Sarr for nullifying Bamford’s dangerous turn at close range: and two critical headers beyond the far post by the outstanding Chris Solly, which whisked crosses off waiting heads in the second half, stood out. But each and every Addick, including the mercurial Leko, bought into the principle that defending involves everyone and that the end result justifies whatever means are legitimately employed to secure it. While goals promise to be elusive, the fighting spirit exemplified by the hard-grafting likes of teenager Conor Gallagher and Cullen, with Williams always prepared to suffer a battering for the cause (the adverse caution count of 3-1 tells you all you need to know about John Brooks’ cockeyed refereeing) will keep them going.
Catapulted back into the top six by their latest upsetting of the odds, meanwhile, Bowyer’s braves will pragmatically accept that survival in the Championship remains the priority. On Wednesday evening, they entertain Swansea City, another side with promotion aspirations. It may not be a footballing classic but the understanding Valley crowd will again accept that it’s not all about elbow-crooking style or foot-on-the-ball posturing as too often indulged in by Leeds. They used to call it getting stuck in but whatever the modern parlance, the Addicks will be up for it. They didn’t sweat blood at Wembley five months ago to crash and burn this season.
Charlton: Phillips, Solly, Lockyer, Sarr, Purrington. Pratley, Cullen, Williams (Aneke 56), Gallagher (Pearce 86), Bonne (Field 82), Leko. Not used: Amos, Oshilaja, Forster-Caskey, Oztumer. Booked: Pratley, Lockyer, Solly.
Leeds: Casilla, Dallas, White, Cooper, Alioski (Nketiah 46), Phillips, Costa, Shackleton (Forshaw 46), Klich, Harrison, Bamford (Roberts 69). Not used: Miazek, Douglas, Berardi, Clarke. Booked: Bamford.
Referee: John Brooks. Att: 21,808 (3,179 visiting).
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