Another last-minute goal went the wrong way at The Valley on Friday night. KEVIN NOLAN picks through what went wrong…
Now hovering perilously above the Championship’s relegation basement, Charlton again – yet again! – conceded a vital added time goal which cost them an opportunity to distance themselves from the maelstrom beneath them. And inevitably, they yielded in front of the Jimmy Seed Stand housing the away supporters. The familiar tableau of stricken Addicks falling to their knees while jubilant opponents celebrate wildly with delirious travelling fans is wearing thin. It’s time to change the dynamic.
It might help to consider a few pertinent statistics derived from 12 home games. Charlton have had 14 goals scored against them, of which no fewer than 11 have been registered in the second half at the away end. They’re impressively solid when defending the home goal. Only Stoke, Swansea and Sheffield Wednesday have succeeded in scoring before the home supporters, which means nine other teams have failed to turn the trick in front of the Covered End.
So what can we conclude from these figures? Well, they call into question Charlton’s rigid practice for attacking the visitors’ goal in the first half. Are we meant to assume they win every toss and have their choice of ends? Or is there an unspoken understanding among teams that the hosts get to choose on a turnabout basis?
On too many occasions this season, the Addicks have been called upon to defend a lead with their backs to the away end. And too often they have failed miserably to see the job through to the bitter end. Seven times now they have been caught – on the last two occasions in added time. The squandered points would already have all but secured their place in next season’s Championship. Perhaps they would offer stiffer resistance if the defence – and Dillon Phillips in particular – had a raucous Covered End ranged behind them. There’s a psychological edge to be among friends.
Friday’s hammer-blow was inflicted with the last touch of a see-saw game. Hull were throwing the kitchen sink at their fast unravelling hosts as five minutes of added time extended into a sixth minute. Unwisely, Ben Purrington, who had been drafted into the starting line-up only because Alfie Doughty reported sick, capped an indifferent contribution by committing a needless foul near the halfway line. With every available Tiger crowding the penalty area, goalkeeper George Long hurried forward to send a free kick soaring into the penalty area; Jason Pearce headed clear to playmaker Kamil Grosicki, who controlled neatly, stepped on to his right foot and crossed precisely from the left flank. Leaving Purrington earthbound at the far post, Keane Lewis-Potter directed a clever header inside the right post which Phillips, despite his frantic efforts to save, could only help over the line. The sickening setback was tougher to absorb with Tuesday’s heartbreak still fresh in Valley minds.
Defend the Covered End
There’s no point in speculating, of course, whether the Addicks – and Phillips – would have fared better at the home end but maybe there’s no harm in finding out. The Potters, the Swans and the Owls would confirm it’s harder to score down there.
Setting out in an improvised 3-5-2 formation, meanwhile, Charlton shaded an uneventful first half, from which they emerged a goal to the good. Chances had been few for both sides when Conor Gallagher, having assumed setpiece responsibility, delivered a wind-assisted right wing corner which cleared a congested goal area before being powerfully headed past Long by Darren Pratley. Skipper Eric Lichaj’s ill-starred complaint that he’d been fouled rather than overpowered by Pratley fell on referee Andy Davies’ resolutely deaf ears.
Required to protect their lead in front of the notorious away end, Charlton survived for only two minutes before it was cancelled out. Very much his side’s creative heartbeat, Grosicki found space to send over a dipping ball which Pearce and his defensive colleagues, in fear of an own goal, left untouched as it made its way to the far post. November’s Championship player of the month Jarrod Bowen gleefully bashed the Tigers’ first equaliser into a gaping net.
City’s equality lasted only a couple of minutes before Charlton forged in front again with an outstanding ensemble goal. Starting a flowing move in his own half, Naby Sarr offloaded neatly to Albie Morgan, whose measured pass sent Jonathan Leko running directly at the left side of Hull’s defence. Making mugs of both Reece Burke and Callum Elder, the mercurial WBA loanee ghosted past them and hammered over a low cross which left Sarr, who had alertly followed his initial pass forward, the simple task of finishing from a yard out.
With the second half approaching an apparently happy conclusion, Bowyer’s embattled side seemed to done enough to draw a line under their two-month slump. Phillips played his part with two shap saves from Bowen and Lichaj but otherwise there was little cause for concern which ignored, of course, Charlton’s quite extraordinary inability to see things through to the final whistle. They might possibly find it an easier proposition if they were defending the Covered End. Just saying like…
Charlton: Phillips, Matthews, Lockyer, Pearce, Sarr, Purrington, Pratley, Gallagher, Morgan (Oshilaja 67), Bonne (Taylor 80), Leko. Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Ledley, Solly, Vennings. Booked: Matthews, Leko.
Hull: Long, Lichaj, De Wis, Burke, Batty (Bowler 46), Eaves (Honeyman 76), Irvine, Da Silva Lopez, Bowen, Grosicki, Elder (Lewis-Potter 64). Not used: Ingram, Tafazolli, Kingsley, Pennington. Booked: Irvine, Da Silva Lopez.
Referee: Andy Davies. Attendance: 14,447 (624 visiting).