A point gained or two points lost? Saturday’s match against Cardiff City provided lots to ponder, as KEVIN NOLAN reports…
The outcome of this exhilirating lunchtime clash divided opinion among Charlton fans as they filed away from a dank, damp Valley on Saturday.
There were those among them who felt that the surrender of a 2-0 interval lead amounted to rank carelessness and tasted uncomfortably like defeat. They had a point but it was one not shared by this reporter, who would refer them to the names – listed here – of 10 first-team squad members unavailable to Lee Bowyer through injury.
Starting with experienced goalkeeper Ben Amos, they include Jonny Williams, Jake Forster-Caskey. Lyle Taylor, Chuks Aneke, Lewis Page, Beram Kayal, Tomer Hemed, Sam Field and George Lapslie. To their ranks can now be added midfield inspiration Josh Cullen, stretchered off with what looked to be a serious injury after 52 minutes. Charlton are, in fact, performing heroically in plugging seemingly impossible gaps.
Able to name only six substitutes, three of them recent youth academy graduates, Bowyer made do and mended admirably as usual. 19-year-old Albie Morgan capably substituted for Cullen, while comparative veteran Alfie Doughty – aged 20 – stepped up to replace the hit-and-miss Jonathan Leko. That both of the greenhorns repaid the manager’s faith with sterling contributions – Doughty was a dancing delight on the left flank – is beside the point. Which of course is that Bowyer, with the unlucky Cullen joining the wounded, is now looking at a complete starting XI on the sidelines.
The one-game suspension of Darren Pratley further complicated the Addicks’ problems. But as one door closed, another opened for Erhun Oztumer. The tiny midfielder showed once again that his ability to produce devastating passes in congested spaces is the product of an agile footballing brain; he also boasts a lively turn of pace, as he showed in making Charlton’s second goal. Morgan and Doughty proved that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. Oztumer extended the adage to prove if you’re good enough, you’re big enough.
There were other individual successes in a solid team performance against big, physical City. Deji Oshilaja played at the base of the diamond and supplied stout support in front of redoubtable centrebacks Tom Locker and Jason Pearce, his one blemish a clumsy first half challenge on Callum Paterson inside the penalty area, to which erratic referee Charles Breakspeare turned a charitable eye. It looked like a stonewall penalty, as was impartially but discreetly pointed out to the boss-eyed official from the press box.
By that time, the inevitable Conor Gallagher had put the Addicks in front with his sixth goal of the season. The spadework was done on the right by the excellent Macauley Bonne, who ghosted between two mesmerised Bluebirds and crossed low into the area. Leko’s miskick wrongfooted everybody but Gallagher, who used the outside of his right foot to stab the loose ball past Neil Etheridge.
With their tails up, Charlton doubled their lead three minutes before half-time with another fine goal. This time, Oztumer’s devastating burst from his own half spreadeagled the visitors and with Gallagher providing a distraction to his left, the playmaker delivered a perfect defence-splitting pass for Leko to pursue and drive left-footed inside Etheridge’s near post.
Visitors far from finished
Despite being two down, the visitors were far from finished and seemed to have found a way back two minutes after resumption when Ben Purrington pointlessly manhandled Paterson as they disputed a left wing cross. Hoillet’s weak spotkick was easily smothered by Dillon Phillips but, oddly, it was Cardiff who were galvanised by the missed penalty. Within minutes, they had halved their deficit as Nathaniel Mendez-Laing resolved an untidy goalmouth scramble by hammering home from close range.
Shaken by the turn of events, Charlton were rattled further by the loss of Cullen, their reliable midfield metronome. The visitors sensed their discomfort and Phillips’ desperately deployed legs were required to keep out Leandro Bacuna’s treacherously deflected shot. But there was nothing the besieged keeper could do to stop Lee Tomlin from equalising with a crisp drive after the seasoned substitute was set up by Mendez-Laing.
At that pivotal point, with 17 minutes plus added time to negotiate, the resurgent Bluebirds seemed more than likely winners. But that was to reckon without the customary fighting spirit of Bowyer’s stubborn side. It was they, not the cock-a-hoop Welshmen who finished more strongly. Bonne might have won it for them but drove Morgan’s inviting cutback into Etheridge’s stomach, before Morgan tested the keeper with a crisp effort from 20 yards. Local hearts were in mouths, though, as towering centre back Aden Flint blasted over the bar from close range.
The conflicting arguments have been heard and duly considered. It’s disappointing to lose a 2-0 lead at any time but on this occasion it’s forgivable. This was a more than useful point achieved in adversity. Next case…
Charlton: Phillips, Matthews, Lockyer, Pearce, Purrington, Oshilaja, Gallagher, Cullen (Morgan 56), Oztumer, Leko (Doughty 79), Bonne. Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Solly, Sarr, Davison. Booked: Bonne.
Cardiff: Etheridge, Peltier, Nelson, Flint, Bennett, Bacuna, Pack, Mendez-Laing, Paterson (Vaulks 79), Hoilett (Tomlin 67), Madine (Bogle 67). Not used: Smithies, Morrison, Murphy, Coxe. Booked: Peltier, Tomlin, Madine.
Referee: Charles Breakspeare. Att: 16,011 (1,673 visiting).
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