Charlton’s poor run of form behind closed doors at The Valley continued with defeat to Gillingham. KEVIN NOLAN suffered on the sofa.
Three magnificent strikes, any of which would have graced the Premier League, proved one hurdle too many for Charlton, who replied twice but finished on the short end of another Valley thriller.
Needless to say, falling behind to frankly moderate opposition invites disaster but recently the Addicks have made it their business to lend a hand to any side with a hard luck story. Still in a parlous plight near League One’s relegation zone, Gillingham performed with the edge they customarily bring to the so-called “A2 derby”, a fixture they tackle with added bite, before heading back into Kent with three priceless points.
Their victory was secured by an 86th minute winner, scored against 10-men hosts who proved yet again vulnerable to the curse of the late goal, having already invented a new wrinkle by conceding an opener while the game’s time clock was still ticking off seconds rather than minutes.
There were, in fact, 45 officially elapsed seconds when Ollie Lee made space for a wonderfully-struck drive from outside Charlton’s penalty area which bent away from Ben Amos’ full length dive and found the right corner of the keeper’s net. The record shows that Lee, son of, er, Rob Lee, aka Robert Lee of this parish, was set up by John Akinde. But it was work born of his own sublime inspiration.
Some 85 minutes later, with the scores level at 2-2, Lee made a significant contribution to Gills’skipper Kyle Dempsey’s brutally struck match-winner. Charlton had been driven back into their own half by mounting pressure, made more intense by the 70th minute dismissal of Chuks Aneke, whose rat-a-tat yellow cards were deserved for careless rather than malicious transgressions. The depleted Addicks appeared to have clung on to a useful point when Lee shuddered the crossbar with a resounding drive but the rebound was recycled through a rattled defence for Dempsey to smash past Amos from a difficult angle. Impressive though Dempsey’s strike was, it qualified in the bronze medal position alongside the visitors’ first and second goals.
To their credit – and Charlton did emerge with some credit from this sickening setback – they fought back with spirit and not a little imagination.
They came agonisingly close to equalising on two occasions; first Aneke flicked Liam Millar through to round Jack Bonham but the winger’s effort from the left byline was cleared off the goalline by Jack Tucker. Then Aneke ghosted past Tucker and Robbie Cundy but crashed an acutely angled shot off the crossbar; he was unlucky to hit the woodwork again following Millar’s clever set-up. His persistence was rewarded three minutes later when Millar’s short cross reached him near the far post. A quick change of feet enabled him to finish with his less favoured left foot. Charlton were level and were good value for equality.
With Gillingham faltering, only Bonham’s splendid, sprawling save from Darren Pratley’s vicious volley kept the startled visitors on terms. Their brief wobble was summarily ended by a wonderfully volleyed goal from left back Ogilvie. His contender for Goal of the Season exploded past a comprehensively beaten Amos from 25 yards and punished several half hearted attempts to clear either Dempsey’s hopeful cross or Lee’s nudged assist.
Panic seems the default setting among a defence capable of caving in under the most modest pressure. Clearances are hurried, possession is surrendered, mistakes have become routine. It’s all a far cry from the tightly-organised rearguard which kept six consecutive clean sheets back in October. The spirit remains intact but a punishing injury list has apparently sapped confidence and resolve. Gillingham were the latest opponents who seemed capable of scoring every time they crossed the halfway line.
It’s only fair to point out that the Addicks are tasty enough going forward. In Aneke and Stockley, they have a lively pair of front runners, who were well served by Andrew Shinnie, Millar and, until his untimely departure on 26 minutes, by the constantly improving Jake Forster-Caskey. Both forwards scored, with Stockley’s fine equaliser shortly after the break inspiring hope that the initiative had been seized by Lee Bowyer’s resurgent side; hope that was extinguished by Aneke’s needless dismissal, at which point the pendulum swung decisively back to Steve Evans’ Medway men. It couldn’t have settled in less popular hands but Evans knew what to do with it.
The Addicks’ second leveller was less spectacular than any of Gills’ goals but it was thoughtfully designed and coolly executed. The creativity was supplied by Shinnie, whose tailored cross from the right practically demanded it be treated accordingly. Timing his jump expertly, Stockley headed deliberately back across Bonham into the right corner.
The Gills were now sitting ducks, with Evans a particularly plump target, oven-ready to be picked off. But thanks to Aneke and Dempsey, it all went wrong again. We should have known better…
Charlton: Amos, Gunter, Oshilaja, Pearce, Purrington (Schwartz 82), Millar, Forster-Caskey (Jaiysimi 25), Pratley (Morgan 90), Shinnie, Stockley, Aneke. Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Harness, Matthews, Smith, Watson. Booked: Purrington, Aneke (2).
Gillingham: Bonham, Jackson, Cundy, Tucker, Ogilvie, Dempsey, O’Keefe, (McKenzie 59), Lee, O’Connor, Oliver (McDonald 90), Akinde. Not used: Bastien, Morton, Willock, Johnson, Maghoma. Booked: Jackson, McKenzie.
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