Kevin Nolan’s Valley View: Charlton Athletic 1-2 Cheltenham Town

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

A confused and incoherent performance saw the Addicks slump to an embarrassing defeat at The Valley yesterday. KEVIN NOLAN took his stopwatch.

Cheltenham Town turned up at The Valley on Saturday as rank outsiders in more ways than one and did a neat number on the locals.

Cor, they marvelled, look at that stadium! Get a load of the dressing rooms! Can’t wait to have a go under those shower baths just as soon as we find out how they work! Gosh, it’s a bit different and no mistake from last season at Chippenham and Tiverton. I’m loving this, Jethro.

At 3pm, the Robins – their nickname and they’re welcome to it – emerged into the sunlight, not a bumpkin among them, and proceeded to play Charlton off their carefully barbered pitch. Urged on by precisely 511 yokels who knew all the songs, including the one about being in a library, they were two in front on the half hour and already planning their getaway to the boondocks with all three points.

Slightly rocked by Charlton’s early second half reply, they weathered a brief flurry before, in manager Michael Duff’s words, “seeing it out with a calmness and a clarity of what they wanted to do. Their supporters won’t have known much about us because it’s little old Cheltenham – we have to use that as fuel to show the rest of the country we can compete at this level. We managed the game superbly.”

What we did learn about “little old Cheltenham” was that their “game management” was as cynical as any you’ll find anywhere in the big city. They wasted time while wasting time, if you catch the drift.

Led by a goalkeeper who moved with all the urgency of a garden slug, they condensed the playing time after the interval to what seemed no more than a handful of minutes.

That’s not meant as a complaint, by the way, more as a backhanded compliment to a focused, united side denied a much larger winning margin by the brilliance of Craig McGillivray. And, anyway, the addition of six paltry minutes justified their methods. It took their three substitutes half of those minutes to hitchhike off the field.

Understandably irritated by the supposedly shock outcome, Nigel Adkins pulled no punches. “First half for me the team was unrecognisable [from the side which comfortably disposed of Crewe Alexandra, presumably] – unrecognisable from what we’ve done. It’s more like hoof-ball and I don’t want that.”

Adkins was reacting to an opening period in which the Addicks were jaw-droppingly abysmal and during which the visitors scored their decisive goals. After just six minutes, the home defence was cut to pieces but temporarily rescued by McGillivray, who saved magnificently at close range from Town debutant Taylor Perry. Unhappily for the defiant keeper, Matty Blair slammed the rebound into the bottom left corner.

Disastrous as it was, Charlton’s start would have deteriorated but for McGillivray, who kept out Alfie May’s fierce drive with his feet. But the Westcountrymen were not detained long before doubling their lead. It was Blair’s turn to make the running as he beat Chris Gunter on the right flank and crossed waist-high for Perry to slam home from six yards.

On the end of a torrid seeing-to, and with wide men Diallang Jaiyesimi and Charlie Kirk both grave disappointments, Charlton resorted to the “hoof-ball” deplored by their manager.

Jayden Stockley laboured alone up front, while Albie Morgan showed again that, despite his appetite for work, he lacks the gravitas to quarterback between defence and attack. Some hope was offered by Elliott Lee and Ben Watson who strove to restore some order to the general chaos but these were 45 excruciating minutes only an evening spent with Michael McIntyre could hope to match.

Just two down and technically still in with a chance, the Addicks improved after the break and briefly bothered their country cousins.

Stockley caught Scott Flinders in even more glacial motion than normal near the penalty spot, robbed the complacent keeper and square-passed to Jonathan Leko, an interval substitute for Kirk. Leko skilfully teed up Jaiyesimi, who blasted an inviting chance wildly over the bar. Jaiyesimi was promptly replaced by Conor Washington who, with Leko, made a huge difference. A flying save by McGillivray kept out a point-blank connection by Callum Wright before Stockley’s diving header sent Morgan’s cross over the bar.

But Charlton’s best period produced the goal which inspired brief thoughts of revival. Both substitutes were involved with Washington cleverly controlling Morgan’s perfect delivery and setting up Leko to finish crisply past Flinders.

With a half hour left, there was ample time to find an equaliser, an ambition which reckoned without the crafty connivings of Duff’s time bandits. It’s hard to recall anything of significance apart from May’s incredible two-yard miss and the feeling that, in the words of the Willie Nelson song, “Funny how time slips away…”

Charlton: McGillivray, Gunter, Famewo, Lavelle (Souare 80), Matthews, Watson, Jaiyesimi (Washington 58), Lee, Kirk (Leko 46), Morgan, Stockley. Not used: Harness, Dobson, Pearce, Blackett-Taylor. Booked: Famewo, Stockley.

Cheltenham: Flinders, Long, Hussey, Pollock (Freestone 72), Thomas, May (Joseph 76), Chapman, Boyle, Wright, Blair, Perry (Sercombe 64). Not used: Evans, Williams, Bonds, Horton. Booked: Long.

Referee: Andy Davies. Att: 13,790 (511 visiting).


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