Stop the presses, tell your friends – Charlton won a match at The Valley. The Charlton Champion‘s KEVIN NOLAN watched a morale-boosting victory.
Midway through the second half of this monotonous game, Charlton were showing little evidence that they had either the wit or the guile to break through the spoiling tactics being shrewdly employed by relegation-haunted Northampton Town. The visitors were, in fact, comfortably making their way to the goalless draw which was clearly the extent of their ambition.
Then the defensive discipline which was standing the visitors in good stead deserted them. One momentary lapse by Jack Sowerby conceded a completely avoidable penalty and all their good work was undone. Sowerby, who conceded an own goal during Charlton’s 2-0 victory at Sixfields back in October, recklessly barrelled into Jake Forster-Caskey as they came together under a high-headed clearance inside Town’s penalty area.
It was hardly the most obvious foul you’re likely to see but referee Paul Howard was in doubt that Sowerby was its perpetrator and Forster-Caskey his victim. For the second consecutive game, the Addicks were handed a gift voucher to be redeemed from the penalty spot. Fortunately on this occasion, regular taker Conor Washington was available to efficiently drill the spotkick into the bottom right corner.
The relief inside The Valley was no doubt mirrored in more than one living room around southeast London and northwest Kent. Until Sowerby suffered his rush of blood, Charlton were struggling to find an answer to the Cobblers’ time-absorbent tactics.
There was nothing illegal in their bid to reduce a 90-minute game to one of little over an hour and in their present plight they could hardly be blamed for being in no hurry to get on with things. After Washington put them in arrears, they received a diluted dose of their own medicine as the home side subtly slowed the game down and began to coast.
With six minutes left, Lee Bowyer’s newly relaxed men stepped on the gas again and found the second goal they needed to seal the deal. A sharp exchange of passes between substitutes Andrew Shinnie and Chuks Aneke cut through the visitors’ wilting rearguard, with the latter reaching the left byline where he found himself hemmed in by a phalanx of defenders. Keeping his composure, the big striker picked out an onrushing Shinnie, whose first-time shot was parried out to Washington. From seven yards, the Northern Irishman rifled the rebound through the legs of both Fraser Horsfall and goalkeeper Jonathan Mitchell. His seventh and eighth goals of the season were ideally timed to end his scoring drought.
Their significance doubled when Town, with nothing to lose, halved Charlton’s lead with officially their solitary effort on target. Former Addick Mark Marshall hustled across to take a right-wing corner, which he swung outwards on to substitute Alex Jones’ head. Ben Amos lost his third consecutive clean sheet as Jones, making his Northampton debut, looped the ball neatly over a crowded goal area and into the far top corner.
Too late to make a difference to the outcome, Jones’ consolation goal in the third of four added minutes was a reminder of what might have been had the visitors adopted a more positive approach to their task. Their hopes of avoiding the dreaded drop had received a massive boost 72 hours previously with their impressive 4-1 demolition of play-off contenders Portsmouth, but they clearly lacked the confidence to use its momentum on Tuesday evening.
Their only offensive threat, apart from Jones’ late contribution, was a fierce drive which right back Peter Kioso whistled narrowly wide in the first half. The Addicks were far from lethal themselves, with Forster-Caskey’s narrowly wide free kick and Aneke’s header nimbly tipped over the bar by Mitchell, rare threats. But Washington came through for them and their pursuit of a coveted play-off spot is back on again.
“I’m so pleased for Conor,” Bowyer practically purred in his post-match summation. “He does a lot of unselfish work and got his reward tonight. Conor does a lot of the dirty work for Jayden and Chuks. It’s disappointing we didn’t have the clean sheet but the back four looked solid. Darren Pratley stepped up [in Akin Famewo’s absence] and did well.”
The second in Charlton’s critical three-game home stand sees Shrewsbury Town, on the back of an excellent 2-0 victory at Rochdale, visit The Valley on Saturday. They are followed next Tuesday by Bristol Rovers, under the cerebral leadership of new boss Joey Barton. The Gas demolished promotion outsiders Accrington Stanley 4-1 last night and Barton will arrive looking for revenge over Charlton – and Bowyer – after presiding over Fleetwood Town’s narrow 3-2 defeat in early November. You just know Joey’s the type to hold a grudge.
Charlton: Amos, Gunter, Pearce, Pratley, Maatsen, Watson, Forster-Caskey (Shinnie 76), Morgan (Smith 82), Stockley (Aneke 70), Washington (Schwartz 87), Millar. Not used: Harness, Oshilaja, Jaiyesimi. Booked: Morgan, Watson, Aneke.
Northampton: Mitchell, Kioso, Lloyd Jones, Horsfall, Harriman, McWilliams (Rose 73), Sowerby, Watson, Miller, Hoskins (Marshall 73), Edmondson (Alex Jones 88). Not used: Arnold, Korboa, Morris, Bolger. Booked: Kioso, Edmondson, Horsfall.
Referee: Paul Howard.
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