A new-look Charlton side took to the field on Saturday as life at The Valley settles down following the Thomas Sandgaard takeover. KEVIN NOLAN was there for another behind-closed-doors match.
With an uprecedented five players making their club debuts, this important win over fellow relegation victims Wigan laid the first building block in Lee Bowyer’s new work in progress. Awkward trips to Blackpool and Northampton will immediately test his ability to juggle his fledgling squad and his hopes of making up ground on the League One pacesetters. But this was a good start.
These evenly matched sides met at The Valley in July in the penultimate game of the nine-game post-lockdown mini-season. Their 2-2 draw briefly kept alive mutual hopes of avoiding the drop but each of them was doomed to disappointment, with gutsy Wigan unable to overcome a disastrous 12-point penalty.
Since that epic but ultimately meaningless fixture, the exodus from both clubs has been staggering if entirely predictable. Only five of the 18 Addicks on duty in July were available to Bowyer on Saturday; four survived to represent the visitors. Footballers and badgers – they’re both subject to periodic culls. Wigan went one better and divested themselves of their manager Paul Cook, a popular, capable veteran who had come within one point of saving them. Charlton showed more commonsense in keeping faith with their boss.
One of the quartet of Addicks who started the July fixture was Jake Forster-Caskey, a relative old-timer among the wave of newcomers who flooded into The Valley during a hectic transfer window. The attacking midfielder has divided opinion during his Charlton career, with an inability to score since November 2017 cited against him. He ended his drought with the goal which sank the visitors, sending them back to Lancashire grumbling about their luck and nursing a sense of injustice.
A series of free kicks which suited Forster-Caskey’s left-footed skill had seen him balloon the first into a non-existent crowd before he adjusted his sights and clipped the bar with a second effort. On 65 minutes, he was crudely chopped down from behind by Lee Evans, who was booked for his villainy and punished further as his victim converted the resultant set-piece. From 30 yards, Forster-Caskey’s low delivery beat the poorly-positioned Jamie Jones and found the net off the right post. It had been a long time coming but when it finally arrived, the scorer made it count.
Charlton hadn’t been entirely convincing but there was further encouragement for Bowyer in the contributions made by the new blood. After negotiating a hesitant start, huge centreback Ryan Inniss settled down and showed enough to suggest that one of Charlton’s centreback problems might be solved; to his right, the vastly-experienced Chris Gunter was an error-free replacement for Adam Matthews. Midfielder Andrew Shinnie was quietly effective and indefatigable forward Paul Smyth worked tirelessly alongside the outstanding Chuks Aneke.
Until he tired and was replaced on the hour by Omar Bogle, Aneke ran the Latics ragged. His deft turn on to Alfie Doughty’s pass bewildered a posse of defenders and it took Jones’s excellent block to keep him off the scoresheet; the second half solo run and subtle pass slid in to Darren Pratley was equally sublime, with Jones again rescuing his side at close range. A fully fit Aneke could be the scourge of League One.
While the recently-assembled Addicks were getting to know each other, Wigan created but wasted several chances to exploit their unfamiliarity. The first of them fell to Darnell Johnson, whose meaty header met Evans’ left wing corner but was instinctively parried by Ben Amos. The best of them was squandered by Joe Garner who cleverly chested down Viv Solomon-Atabor’s cross but hammered an unhindered 10-yard volley hopelessly off target. Before Forster-Caskey scored, Amos fumbled Solomon-Atabor’s low drive but recovered to save follow-up efforts from Kai Naismith and Will Keane. Charlton’s defiant keeper was eventually beaten by Evans’ vicious drive which crashed down off the underside of his bar and was heroically scraped off the line by Ben Purrington. There were loud but optimistic appeals for a penalty as Inniss slid in to dispossess Keane, but referee Ollie Yates was unmoved.
Had the fifth debutant Bogle not scuffed wide the late chance created by a heavily bandaged Doughty, the scoreline would have looked more healthy. As it was, seven added minutes were negotiated without undue drama, a triumph in itself for Charlton. This was all about winning – not exactly ugly but not entirely attractive. Just winning.
Charlton: Amos, Gunter, Famewo, Inniss, Doughty, Pratley, Forster-Caskey, Shinnie (Purrington 73), Doughty, Smyth (Washington 87), Aneke (Bogle 63). Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Williams, Morgan, Levitt. Booked: Gunter, Watson, Smyth.
Wigan: Jones, Massey, Johnson, Tilt, James, Naismith, Gardner, Lee Evans, Solomon-Atabor, Garner, Keane. Not used: Owen Evans, Crankshaw, Joseph, Merrie, Jolley, Aasgard, Long. Booked: Massey, James, Lee Evans, Keane.
Referee: Ollie Yates.
LIKE KEVIN’S REPORTS? SUPPORT THE CHARLTON CHAMPION
– We publish home match reports from Addicks games. You can help us by becoming a supporter at presspatron.com/charltonchampion
– You can also support us via Patreon
– Can your company sponsor these match reports? Get in touch