KEVIN NOLAN reports from last night’s match at The Valley, where Lee Bowyer’s high-flying Charlton side were given a reality check by Swansea City…
Beginning a testing run of fixtures which pits them against the best sides in the Championship, Charlton made an excellent start by edging Leeds United on Saturday. It was a victory for honest endeavour and unflagging commitment helped when and where it mattered most by a timely stroke of luck.
So it was when the Addicks shocked once-beaten Swansea City with a second-minute goal that they briefly aspired to joining the division’s elite. But their calm visitors kept their heads, reacted phlegmatically to the setback and levelled no more than a quarter hour later. Midway through the second half, they scrambled a winner and won with something to spare.
It was a sobering experience for the Addicks, who fought on valiantly but vainly for an unlikely share of the points. If a healthy-looking penalty appeal had gone their way midway through the second session, they might well have realised that ambition. Referee Peter Bankes was certainly a minority of one in ruling that Joe Rodon’s manhandling of Chuks Aneke was within the law. This clearly wasn’t Charlton’s night.
The dream start was provided by Jonathan Leko’s second goal of the season, his firm shot finding the roof of the net after debutant Adam Matthews’ low cross from the right had been weakly cleared to his feet. With lack of goals a nagging problem since Lyle Taylor returned injured from international duty, Leko’s strike briefly inspired hope that Charlton’s scoring logjam had been breached but his rare goal proved to be a false dawn. Adding to his surprise strike brought the usual headache, with two goals in four games now their meagre tally without Taylor.
Unstinting acknowledgement for their defiant stand against a better side was the least Lee Bowyer’s bonny band of battlers deserved and The Valley responded appreciatively when Bankes signalled the end of five added minutes. They had given everything as usual, their gutsy resistance highlighted ironically by their sterling if fruitless efforts to prevent Yan Dhanda’s equaliser.
As the Swans broke swiftly from their own half, a line of predatory shooters formed at the edge of Charlton’s penalty area, each of them denied sight of goal by a resolute defender in red. Patiently, the visitors switched the focus of their attack until Dhanda found just enough space to squeeze off a low shot which had sufficient pace to beat Dillon Phillips on its way into the bottom right corner.
Dhanda’s equaliser, no more than a quarter hour after Leko’s opener, was a depressing development for the Addicks. Their new mission became the preservation of an improbable point against smooth, skilful opponents willing to bide their time until a second opportunity arrived. Just past the hour mark, as the pressure mounted, they duly made their second breakthrough in incongruously scruffy circumstances.
An inswinging left wing corner delivered by setpiece specialist Matty Grimes was touched on by Rodon and forced past Phillips by Andre Ayew at close range. Slick and sharp though they were, the South Welshmen were also prepared to score ugly. Their punchless hosts struggled to create even the sniff of a chance at the other end.
Hard slog ahead
There was, nevertheless, encouragement for Bowyer in defeat. New man Matthews made a steady debut up against tricky left winger Bersant Celina, wisely channelling the elusive Kosovan on to his weaker right foot without quite managing to subdue his threat. Fellow Welshman Tom Lockyer was immense at the back, with Josh Cullen, Conor Gallagher and Sam Field insatiable workers in a midfield where Erhun Oztumer was sadly ineffectual.
Up front, meanwhile, Leko was inspired by his goal to briefly threaten the visitors with his tricky if unpredictable skills. He quickly faded, began to take on too much and frequently put his side in trouble with poor decisions and errant passes. Alongside him, Macauley Bonne, his confidence boosted by his generously awarded matchwinner against Leeds, continued to look out of his depth.
Charlton fans can only pine for the time, just a year ago, when sharpshooters Taylor and Karlan Grant were terrorising League One defences. But you know where ifs and ands get you…
A hard slog through what promises to be a gruelling season now stretches before these gritty Addicks. With one of the lowest Championship budgets available to him, Bowyer is under no illusion that a settled side is a rare luxury. He made four changes against Swansea and will do the same for Saturday’s daunting trip to Fulham, where they will start as solid (4-1) outsiders and where, sadly, they are expected to bring capguns to a gunfight. It might be time for a plaintive prayer to St. Jude. He’s gonna be busy on Saturday, but it’s worth a shot.
Charlton: Phillips, Matthews, Lockyer, Pearce. Purrington (Forster-Caskey 71), Field, Cullen, Oztumer (Williams 66), Gallagher, Bonne, Leko (Aneke 66). Not used: Amos, Oshilaja, Prateley, Sarr. Booked: Purrington, Gallagher.
Swansea: Woodman, Rodon, Van Der Hoorn, Fulton, Grimes, Baston, Celina (Wilmott 90), Dhanda (Carroll 78), Ayew, Roberts, Naughton. Not used: Mulder, John, Routledge, Surridge, Garricks.
Referee: Peter Bankes. Attendance: 15,741 (1,122 visiting).
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