The Addicks’ push for the play-offs took another stumble last night thanks to a last-minute equaliser for Crewe Alexandra. An increasingly anxious KEVIN NOLAN was at The Valley.
With the five allotted stoppage minutes already played, Charlton were hanging on by a badly-chewed fingernail to the 2-1 lead given them by Alex Gilbey’s apparently decisive late goal.
To say they were doing it comfortably would be abusing the truth. They were, in fact, a panic-stricken rabble incapable of making clean contact with a ball which caromed, ricocheted and otherwise awkwardly skittered around their penalty area. The confusion was awe-inspiring but the Addicks appeared to have staggered to the line unscathed.
Referee Trevor Kettle – Whistling T Kettle to his chums around the league – begged to differ. He had nowhere to be, nothing to do, no promises to keep. “The man that made time made plenty of it,” was his attitude, so “take as much of it as you need” became his message to never-say-die Crewe.
Midfielder Owen Dale needed no such encouragement and sorted out an ugly scramble in Charlton’s six-yard box by hammering an unstoppable volley past a helpless Ben Amos.
Dale’s overtime equaliser was the second sickening body-blow suffered by Charlton in the dying embers. News had filtered through that up in Accrington, John Marquis had completed Portsmouth’s recovery from 2-0 down by firing Pompey ahead 3-2 in the 90th minute. Abruptly, the situation flip-flopped in favour of the South Coasters but wait… Marquis wasn’t through for the night. In the 7th minute of added time, he’d slipped down the other end and put through his own goal. You just gotta love this guy!
With the dust nicely settled, the equation is now starkly simple. Charlton are trailing Portsmouth and Oxford by two points and one points respectively. But they have a game in hand over both of their rivals. Win all three of their remaining games and they’re in the play-offs, it’s as easy as that. And the three games? They line up as follows – Accrington (a), play-off certs Lincoln (h) and finally, champions-elect Hull City (h).
A difficult task becomes more daunting when their home record (25 points) is weighed against their away record (42 points). In other words, they’re nearly twice as effective on the road. Making it into the play-offs ranks among the longest of longshots but, c’mon, that’s better than no shot at all.
Of urgent concern to Nigel Adkins must be the manner in which his side was comfortably handled by modest achievers Crewe, eight of whose starters were academy graduates. The sinister story of abuse which temporarily destroyed the club’s splendid record is history now and needs no repetition here. The kids and management who ran Charlton ragged on Tuesday evening are untainted by the scandal and did Alex proud. They could even afford to spot their hopeful hosts an early lead.
Making their first inroads into the visitors’ territory, the Addicks turned their defence on the left flank. Liam Millar’s measured pass played Alex Gilbey in behind Harry Pickering to cross head-high on the run. Stealing a critical half-yard on marker Donervon Daniels, Jayden Stockley’s brave diving header beat Will Jaaskalainen and Charlton were off to an important, tension-easing start. Or so it seemed.
The truth was somewhat different. Far from calming local nerves, the first half was spent in jittery defence of the lead. Crewe lived up to their reputation for neat, constructive football and threatened occasionally to haul themselves level. Centre forward Mikael Madron wasted a couple of chances, while the persistent Dale curled narrowly wide after fine wing play by Callum Ainley.
All style in their approach but little substance in the final third where it matters – that was the dismissive opinion along the press ranks as Crewe dominated possession without end product. Until, of course, 22-year old Dale, from nearby Warrington, put that notion to the sword.
Charlton were growing steadily more anxious as the second half wore on and it was no surprise when Alex equalised midway through the session. Exchanging passes with diminutive Tom Lowery in the inside right channel, Dale shifted the ball on to his left foot before bending a cunning shot into the far corner. It was a goal that Charlton’s passive attitude had been inviting since Stockley opened the scoring.
Conor Washington had already replaced Ian Maatsen soon after the break to protect the youngster from a second yellow card. When he was joined by Chuks Aneke on for the ineffectual Millar, the Addicks at last took the fight to their well-drilled opponents. Aneke’s powerful running produced a ball in from the left which barely eluded Washington as the pendulum briefly swung. And with seven minutes left, Gilbey was on hand to head through Jaaskalainen’s legs after Aneke nodded down Jake Forster’s outswinging corner.
Both Aneke and Washington brought new menace and fresh legs with them. The latter’s forceful run down the middle looked likely to produce a clinching third goal until he was overwhelmed by force of numbers; Aneke also went close but his powerful low cross was claimed by Jaaskalainen, with Washington in predatory attendance.Still, Crewe persisted with admirable patience which brought its reward as the Addicks degenerated into blind panic.
“I enjoyed watching my side tonight,” remarked visiting gaffer David Artell. Under different circumstances, Dave, we couldn’t agree more. But don’t hurry back. You can get too much of a good thing…
Charlton: Amos; Matthews, Famewo, Pearce, Purrington, Gilbey, Watson (Pratley 75), Forster-Caskey, Maatsen (Washington 54), Millar (Aneke 68), Stockley (Innis 75). Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Gunter, Morgan. Booked: Maatsen, Gilbey, Pearce
Crewe: Jaaskelainen; Adebisi, Wood, Danels, Pickering, Lowery Wintle, Ainley (Porter 86), Dale, Mandron, Kirk. Not used: Richards, Lancashire, Johson, Beckles, Walker, Evans. Booked: Dale, Wood 45
Referee: Trevor Kettle
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