Last night’s match wasn’t short on goals – although four of them went in the wrong direction. KEVIN NOLAN, fresh from a Covid jab, despaired then was thrilled by a rollercoaster ride at The Valley.
Three days after their neighbours Accrington Stanley reduced Charlton to a demoralised rabble, Rochdale arrived at the scene of the debacle expecting to mop up the debris. Their own stock had been boosted by their stirring comeback in clawing back a three-goal deficit to draw 3-3 with upwardly-mobile Crewe.
Brian Barry-Murphy (apologies, by the way, for handing his job to Keith Hill in my Accrington report) and his relegation-threatened men knew a good thing when they saw one. Their Tuesday evening hosts have recently built a reputation as go-to opponents for needy sides or, come to that, any side. And following 20 chaotic minutes at The Valley, their obvious confidence seemed justified.
Without the suspended Darren Pratley and, it warrants repeating, irreplaceable central defenders Ryan Inniss and Akin Famewo, Lee Bowyer deployed Jason Pearce with Deji Oshilaja in what appeared to be a quasi-left back role. Ian Maatsen was deployed further upfield as Charlton tottered towards disaster in the early going. By the time order was restored, with Oshilaja and Maatsen re-positioned, the Addicks were already in deep trouble. Just as well The Valley was deserted -a people’s revolution was all Bowyer needed.
Unbalanced and seriously undermanned at the back, Charlton were close to total collapse as Rochdale got in behind them at will, tore holes in their flimsy rearguard and almost effortlessly cruised into a two-goal lead. Wide man Kwadu Baah was briefly irresistible, his astute pass playing Jimmy Keohane clear on the left to cut back accurately to Matty Lund at the edge of the home penalty area. Lund’s first time strike beat Ben Amos’s dive and clipped the right-hand post on its way into the net.
Baah had the bit firmly between his teeth and elegantly doubled ‘Dale’s lead ten minutes later. The spadework was done by Stephen Humphrys, who powered through Charlton’s tattered resistance and picked out his young colleague to his left. Without hesitation, Baah placed a powerful shot into the left corner with Amos again left unguarded by a bewildered defence.
Facing annihilation, Bowyer’s boys gamely but almost perversely made a stand. Inspired by Chuks Aneke, frequently unplayable and a consistent pain in Rochdale’s posterior, they halved their tormentors’ lead thanks to the big line leader’s brilliant solo goal. Nodding on a high clearance, Aneke won back his own header from a startled Jimmy McNulty, shook off a posse of pursuing Dalesmen and finished brutally past Gavin Bazunu.
Back in contention, or so it seemed, the Addicks were yet again sucker-punched a minute past an already-crowded half hour. And again the damage was done by Baah, who danced inside Paul Smyth’s weak challenge and, finding no cover behind his outwitted adversary, fired his second unstoppable drive beyond a shellshocked Amos.
By now it had become clear that this was a duel between two sides, neither of which was blessed with a sturdy defence. Rochdale’s own vulnerability was cruelly exposed as they failed to handle a scruffy scramble inside their penalty area, with Jake Beesley shanking a feeble clearance to Jake Forster-Caskey’s feet. The midfielder crowned an impressive contribution with a hasty snapshot which was diverted past Bazunu by Jimmy McNulty’s helpful head.
Only a goal down despite their calamitous defending, Charlton seemed almost at pains to take a two-goal deficit into half-time sanctuary. Ryan Gilbey’s rash foul on Lund conceded the free kick, by means of which Humphrys restored the visitors’ two-goal lead. His superb delivery from 20 yards gave Amos no chance. Before the break, Aneke headed a good chance over the bar and Jonny Williams made a hash of converting Gilbey’s perfect pass from close range. If nothing else, the misses served notice that this game was surprisingly far from over.
Bowyer’s interval replacements of a limping Paul Smyth and Gilbey by Ronnie Schwartz and Albie Morgan were astute moves which shifted momentum Charlton’s way. So did a new mood of urgency which saw the Addicks first to the ball, more assured in possession and newly determined in the tackle. Rochdale were driven back by the intensity shown by their first half victims.
They had shot their bolt and saw their lead vanish along with the initiative they had torn from them. It was their turn to struggle. And unsurprisingly, Aneke was at the heart of their downfall. The skilful big man started the move which flowed through him to Schwartz and out to Chris Gunter, overlapping rapidly on the right flank. The veteran’s precise cross was headed home by Aneke, who had alertly continued his run and the Lancastrians felt the heat being turned up under them. Just two minutes later, it became intense.
Aneke was inevitably involved in Schwartz’s first goal for Charlton. But it was Gunter and Williams who laid down the groundwork, which he carried on by nudging a short, square pass into the Danish predator’s stride. From inside the penalty area, Schwartz’s fierce, rising drive finished the job. It was obvious he expected to score.
Bazunu’s fine save denied Aneke a match-winner but the psychologically important point was imperilled by the late dismissal of Jason Pearce, correctly awarded a second yellow card by Valley favourite Trevor Kettle for following in recklessly on the brave keeper.
The closing stages were anxiously negotiated, with Amos producing two fine saves to preserve equality. And if an untidy but thrilling draw against lowly opposition such as Rochdale seems an odd result to celebrate, it should be viewed in the context of Charlton’s recent dismal form.
Had they lost this game, as it seemed certain more than once they would, the consequences might have been terminal to their promotion prospects. As it is, it might have bought them the time they need to re-group. But make no mistake, the return of Inniss and Famewo to a sorely tried back four holds the key to their chances.
Charlton: Amos, Gunter, Pearce, Oshilaja, Maatsen, Forster-Caskey, Gilbey (Morgan 46), Williams (Washington 80), Smyth (Schwartz 46), Millar (Matthews 90), Aneke. Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Purrington, Bogle. Booked: Gilbey, Morgan. Sent off: Pearce.
Rochdale: Bazunu, McLaughlin, McNulty, Roberts, Keohane, Beesley, Morley, Rathbone, Baah (Dooley 65), Lund, Humphrys. Not used: Lynch, Brierley, Done, Dunne, McShane, Newby. Booked: Humphrys, Bazunu.
Referee: Trevor Kettle.
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