The Valley welcomed its first fans of the season – just 1,000 of them – yesterday as part of a pilot for getting crowds back into football stadiums again. The Charlton Champion‘s reporter KEVIN NOLAN was also back at The Valley to see the Addicks slump to defeat…
Everything was in place. There was a socially-distanced place for everything. The green, green grass of home never looked greener or glossier. A shimmering September sun bathed The Valley in warmth and light.
It was a special day. Charlton were back where they belong and 1,000 privileged fans relaxed in pleasant anticipation of a triumphant afternoon -one which promised to stir memories of the magical December 5th, 1992. Quite a few of them no doubt were among the 8,000 crowd which saw Portsmouth beaten 1-0 by Colin Walsh’s wand-like left foot.
Making up the numbers this time were Doncaster Rovers, last seen suffering in this parish as plucky losers on penalties of a League One play-off semi-final, their heartbreak compounded by the wild in-yer-face celebrations of the local hearties. Only 18 months after that chaotic clash there were few survivors on either side but revenge is a dish that can be satisfyingly served hot or cold. Managed now by the avuncular, vastly experienced Darren Moore, Rovers arrived with a point to make.
The early exchanges suggested that the visitors would have their hands full in making that point. They were still finding their feet when Macauley Bonne wastefully headed Charlie Barker’s well flighted cross off target and came within a bootlace of falling behind as Ryan Gilbey slid in fruitlessly at the far post in a vain bid to convert Conor Washington’s hard-driven low centre from the right. In response, Jon Taylor’s crisp daisycutter forced a smart save from Ben Amos but it was against the run of play when Madger Gomes shot Donny into the lead.
Picking up a loose ball after an attack foundered outside the home penalty area, the lively young Spaniard took careful aim and found the bottom right corner with a dipping drive. Possibly unsighted, Amos’s dive was too late to make a difference.
Gomes’ goal did more than put his side in front. It also brought with it the almost instant meltdown of Lee Bowyer’s side and effectively decided the outcome of this eagerly-awaited fixture. The Addicks abruptly dissolved into the cobbled-together complement of strangers they actually were until recently.
There was, to be fair, no lack of effort but Bowyer’s task in building yet another competitive side appears thankless. Already lacking Jason Pearce and Chuks Aneke, he will already be steeling himself against Alfie Doughty’s likely departure.
Charlton’s problems were, of course, of little concern to Moore, who saw his team assume total control without adding to their lead before the break. That important detail was taken care of early in the second period with help from an unwitting foe.
Rangy midfielder Ben Whiteman was a starter in the Doncaster side which took Charlton to penalties back in 2019. After netting his spotkick, if memory serves, he tarried long enough to swap insults with the North Stand, evidence of his spirit if not his wisdom. Bursting to the right byline in front of the vacant away end, he drilled over a hard low cross which Charlie Barker inadvertently hammered left-footed into the roof of Amos’s net. During his brief career as an Addick, it’s been impossible to keep young Charlie out of the spotlight. He’s already been on the scoresheet at both ends.
Rivalling Gomes for trickery and deception, meanwhile, Arsenal loanee Tyreece John-Jules finished Charlton off with a stunning solo goal shortly after the hour mark. From a teasing, taunting, standing start on the 18-yard line, he nutmegged Ben Purrington, shimmied into space and dispatched a brutal, rising drive past Amos.
Comprehensively beaten by a clearly better side, the Addicks gamely soldiered on. Some consolation was provided by Washington, who nodded firmly home through a crowded six-yard area after Doughty’s hooked retrieval from the left byline was scuffed on to his head. Rover’s three-goal advantage was always beyond them although Gilbey clipped the bar with a superb long range strike shortly before referee Busby’s final whistle. But their efforts earned them a stirring ovation as they headed for the dressing room where the somewhat unforgiving response of world-weary Bowyer greeted them.
“This group think they have just played bad and it’s okay because there’s another game next week,” he concluded. “You’re going nowhere if you’ve got a squad like that. I’ve just told them that.”
Nothing Churchillian or Henry V in those ominously embittered remarks. Looks like another long, hard slog ahead of us.
Charlton: Amos, Barker (Williams 60), Oshilaja, Pratley, Purrington, Forster-Caskey, Gilbey, Doughty, Morgan (Lapslie 87), Washington, Bonne. Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Oztumer, Levitt, Davison, Vennings.
Doncaster: Bursik, Halliday, James (John 77), Anderson, Wright, Gomes, Tulloch (Lokilo 13), Whiteman, Taylor, Richards (Coppinger 82), John-Jules. Not used: Jones, Okenabirhie, Amos, Williams.
Referee: John Busby. Attendance: 1,000.
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