Charlton’s last match of 2021 was a frustrating affair – another reminder that League One is not a walk in the park. KEVIN NOLAN was at The Valley to watch the Addicks take on Plymouth.
While appraising Charlton’s progress so far through this eerie, tier-stained campaign, it’s wise to remember the mantra that a football season – especially one spent outside the Premier League – is a marathon, not a sprint. With 18 games completed, the Addicks appear to have hit a metaphorical but negotiable wall.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that only four of those games have been lost. And that this fifth stand-off had the virtue of moving Charlton into the last promotion play-off position. That’s not bad going when weighed against the crippling list of injuries which have undermined them.
For the visit of mid-table aspirants Plymouth Argyle, Lee Bowyer performed his usual juggling trick, involving square pegs and round holes. It was a surprise to find right-back Adam Matthews starting at left-back, where his instinctive move on to his favoured foot had an awkward ripple effect on a defence already struggling to cope without the rock-like solidity of Ryan Inniss and Akin Famewo.
Matthews’ redeployment pushed Ian Maatsen into midfield, where his tireless contribution included a ferocious drive against Argyle’s crossbar in first-half added time. Meanwhile, Darren Pratley continued his yeoman service alongside Jason Pearce in central defence. But a lopsided line-up was still finding its feet when the visitors went in front.
Charlton had already survived a warning shot across their bows fired by Danny Mayor’s perceptive pass and Conor Grant’s dangerous but unrewarded cross, but the Pilgrims proved briefly irresistible. Scottish winger Ryan Hardie picked his way through a ponderous defence to reach the left byline, from which a crisp cutback left Luke Jephcott the easy task of tapping Argyle’s opener past Ben Amos. The Welshman claimed the goal which knocked the Addicks out of the FA Cup in November and was celebrating his 20th birthday on Saturday.
Clearly in relaxed mood, he scored again before the interval, but not before the home side sandwiched a party-pooper between his goals.
The equaliser just past the half hour was scruffy but not entirely unexpected. Charlton were improving but Michael Cooper kept them at bay with a smart save from Conor Washington. From the resultant right-wing corner, Jake Forster-Caskey’s inswinger was nudged on by Chuks Aneke and gleefully biffed home by Chris Gunter from all of two yards. The relief was heartfelt but lasted just four minutes.
A free kick conceded unnecessarily by Ben Watson was the beginning of Charlton’s second downfall. From a promising position on the right, Grant’s delivery was headed down by rangy defender Kelland Watts to Jephcott, who beat Amos to the loose ball and stabbed home a predator’s goal. Before the break, Maatsen’s piledriver unluckily crashed back off the crossbar. Bowyer’s post-game comment that “we played well, the better of the two teams in the first half” was, however, a subjective version of events and hard to credit. Charlton had actually come close to being outclassed and were fortunate to make it to the break just one goal behind.
Bowyer’s remark might have been justified had they been applied to the second period, because his 64th-minute introduction of Marcus Maddison for the tiring Jonny Williams tipped the balance Charlton’s way.
Maddison divides opinion with his infuriating blend of studied nonchalance and effortless class. If you seek indefatigable energy and total commitment from your midfielders, then the tattooed enigma is unlikely to win your favour. Should you, on the other hand, be willing to overlook chronic laziness in the hope of occasional flashes of genius, you’re more likely to overlook the flaws and savour the delicious moments of giddiness. Maddison’s fantastic equaliser, only three minutes after joining the fray, briefly united both schools of thought. His was a goal of unique quality and he was the only Addick capable of scoring it.
Receiving a routine pass from Maatsen. he disposed of his marker Lewis Macleod with an insouciant nutmeg to set up a shooting opportunity from fully 30 yards. The left-footed rocket he uncorked left a vapour trail as it scorched past Cooper on its way into the right corner. How to solve the dilemma that is Marcus Maddison?
In a side not exactly brimming with creative flair, start him -and work openings for his gun of a left foot to exploit. That’s one answer but there are undoubtedly others.
And there you have it at the end of the 21st century’s second decade. Charlton are still driving us nuts but you have to love ’em. We’re in it for the long haul; no sense diving overboard this late in the relationship.
See you in 2021 when the struggle resumes. Because, as they say in football, there’s always next year…
Charlton: Amos, Gunter, Pratley, Pearce, Matthews; Watson (Morgan 64), Forster-Caskey, Maatsen, Williams (Maddison 64); Aneke (Bogle 79), Washington (Smyth 88). Subs not used: Maynard-Brewer, Oshilaja, Gilbey.
Plymouth: Cooper, Aimson, Canavan, Watts, Edwards, Pereira Camara, Macleod (Fornah 70), Mayor, Grant, Jephcott (Moore 88), Hardie (Nouble 79) Subs not used: McCormick, Wootton, Telford, Reeves. Booked: Aimson, Edwards, Macleod.
Referee: Andy Woolmer.
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