Charlton fans turned up at The Valley on Saturday to celebrate the end of Roland Duchâtelet’s reign as club owner – but Sheffield Wednesday spoiled the party by beating the injury-ravaged Addicks, as KEVIN NOLAN reports…
Already sapped by the rash of injuries that have destroyed their promising season, Charlton were kicked while they were down by a mischievous virus which robbed them on Friday of first team regular Ben Purrington and deputy goalkeeper Ashley Maynard-Brewer. Centre back Tom Lockyer, though also affected, recovered enough to play but will miss next week’s trip to Middlesbrough after irresponsibly picking up a fifth booking for dissent mere minutes before judicial amnesty kicked in. Meanwhile, teenage midfielder Albie Morgan was, according to beleaguered manager Lee Bowyer, sick before kick-off and again at half-time.
Expert by now at making a little go an impressively long way, Bowyer handed lively left wingback Alfie Doughty his full league debut, named 19-year-old Nathan Harness as Maynard-Brewer’s deputy and completed a depleted bench of only five substitutes with further untried youngsters in Josh Davison and James Vennings. Possibly sent out with an inter-denominational prayer rather than a team talk, the walking wounded made a fair but unsuccessful fist of coping with Sheffield Wednesday. A lack of spirit was not their undoing but they were unable to halt a sequence which has earned them just two points from seven games since they demolished Derby County on October 19th.
Charlton’s nemesis on Saturday proved to be Wednesday’s canny Scot Barry Bannan, a midfield dynamo with an unfortunate Crystal Palace pedigree. Hitting the big 3-0 the day after this game, Bannan covered every inch of The Valley’s lawn-like pitch, his will-to-win undimmed by the advancing years. His first contribution was the precise fifth-minute free kick which Atdhe Nuhiu headed emphatically home from a marginally offside position.
Sarr’s costly lapses
Turning up a little later on the opposite flank, Bannan curled a cross which all but begged Steve Fletcher to glance an artful header inside the right hand post. The less said of Naby Sarr’s sluggish reaction to danger the better, except to ruefully note that he was taught a harsh lesson by Fletcher, whose movement and anticipation belied his 33 years. Fully ten years his junior, Sarr continues to undermine frequently sublime passing with costly defensive lapses. But he cares – nobody denies he cares.
Supporting Fletcher and Nuhiu up front for the visitors, feisty Fernando Forestieri announced his presence with a raking low drive narrowly wide of the target. Shortly thereafter, he claimed responsibility for a warm favourite as “miss of the season.” Arriving at the far post after Fletcher’s header, from Kadeem Harris’ right wing centre, was brilliantly saved by Phillips, Forestieri seemed a cinch to score but contrived to blast the loose ball wildly wide from three yards. His interval replacement by Jacob Murphy might have been a direct consequence of Garry Monk’s ill-disguised displeasure: the manager’s irritation was justified because the Addicks’ prompt response to Forestieri’s howler was to equalise.
Picking up Sarr’s pass on the left touchline, Doughty disposed of Moses Odubajo’s marking by the simple expedient of knocking the ball wide of his bemused marker before skinning him on the inside by a searing turn of pace. Doughty’s hard, low cross was controlled by Macauley Bonne, then prodded past Cameron Dawson, with the keeper wrongfooted by a deflection off Tom Lees. Phillips promptly did his bit to preserve interval equality with a brilliant one-on-one block on Bannan, which left the indefatigable Caledonian in a painful heap. Unhappily, as far as Charlton’s chances were concerned, he made a full recovery.
The second half developed into an unremitting slog for Charlton as they battled bravely for the valuable point their unstinting effort arguably deserved. With the visitors in control, Phillips again earned his corn by saving smartly from Bannan, then sparing Deji Oshilaja’s blushes by sprawling to turn aside Harris’ low crosshot after the speedster was gifted the ball by the absentminded Addick.
Progressively weary troops
Bowyer’s progessively weary troops were eyeing the finishing line when the pressure told on them. Pursuing Murphy to the right byline, Erhun Oztumer’s tired, ill-considered lunge from behind on the Newcastle United loanee left referee Tim Robinson with little alternative but to award a penalty which Fletcher efficiently converted.
The hulking Nuhiu’s stoppage time header did justice to Adam Reach’s perfect delivery but merely garnished Wednesday’s victory on a chilly afternoon which featured the Charlton debut of young Vennings. Good luck to the kid but the 19-year-old’s appearance in the first team hardly featured in Bowyer’s plans for a season still considerably short of its halfway mark.
There was little evidence of “new owners’ bounce” but plenty to suggest that the Addicks, as soon as the medical room begins to empty, are a match for any side in the Championship. Remind me of that remark come next May if you like. I’m not usually hard to find.
Charlton: Phillips, Matthews, Lockyer, Sarr, Oshilaja, Pratley, Morgan (Vennings 61), Oztumer (Davison 81), Doughty, Leko, Bonne. Not used: Harness, Pearce, Solly.
Wednesday: Dawson, Odubajo, Lees, Hutchinson (Luongo 77), Iorfa, Fox, Harris (Reach 80), Bannan, Forestieri (Murphy 46), Nuhiu, Fletcher. Not used: Jones, Lee, Pelupessy, Winnall.
Referee: Tim Robinson. Att: 18,338 (2,680 visiting).