The Addicks sank to another defeat last night as their slide down the League One table continued. KEVIN NOLAN reports.
Bang in form and full of themselves, Milton Keynes swept into The Valley on Tuesday evening, intent on proving that whatever Oxford United could do, they could do better.
Four days previously, Oxford had barely broken sweat in cutting Charlton to ribbons; MK confidently expected to mop up the debris left by Saturday’s conquerors and bank three similarly easy points. They didn’t quite emulate their predecessors but their victory was achieved with the same casual swagger.
Liam Manning’s promotion hopefuls were followed down from the Buckinghamshire boondocks by just over 600 fans. They were cocky, entitled and relished the reversal of roles which made them the warmest of favourites, with the bedraggled Addicks prohibitive underdogs.
They huddled together in the Jimmy Seed Stand, and, without any sense of irony, confirmed their club’s reputation as football cuckoos by shamelessly adopting Millwall’s “no-one likes us” anthem as their own. This bunch of empty-headed arrivistes hardly deserve the fluent, gifted side that Manning dexterously manages.
Bereft of three experienced strikers and riddled with weaknesses elsewhere, meanwhile, Johnnie Jackson made several changes from the shambolic side with which Oxford had toyed. A full debut was handed to Juan Castillo – a dubious honour in such discouraging circumstances – and Sam Lavelle made a welcome return from injury.
Chris Gunter resumed at right-back with Sean Clare beginning a three-game suspension after being sent off against Oxford. Adam Matthews operated at right wingback, while Mason Burstow was partnered with Jonathan Leko up front.
Jackson’s frustration was easy to imagine when Burstow limped off in the second half with what looked ominously like hamstring trouble. And there was still little sign of Covid victim Scott Fraser, so briefly impressive at Bolton.
Jackson had every right to be pleased with the first-half performance of his sorely depleted side. They held their own, made one or two chances and apart from an early scare when Troy Parrott’s poor control allowed Craig McGillivray to pounce on Conor Coventry’s pinpoint pass over the top, were comfortable defensively.
At the other end, Matthews’ hard, low cross proceeded untouched through a crowded goal area before being blasted over the bar by George Dobson; then Lavelle’s sprawling header sent Albie Morgan’s right wing corner spinning wide, with Jamie Cumming a concerned spectator When Akin Famewo’s last-ditch tackle foiled Scott Twine’s attempt to exploit a precise through ball from Harry Darling, Charlton seemed to have emerged unscathed from a low-key first half.
Dressing-room sanctuary was but four minutes away when the visitors struck. A quickfire raid through the middle featured another fine ball from Coventry, which left wingback Tennai Watson slipped deftly into the bottom left corner. The first goal is important in any game. Given Charlton’s chronic lack of firepower, it loomed even larger in this context.
💬 "We need toughness and resilience now. The only way you get through these periods is by biting down, working hard and grafting your way through it…"
Johnnie Jackson speaks to CharltonTV following tonight's defeat.
— Charlton Athletic FC (@CAFCofficial) February 22, 2022
Relaxed and expertly organised, Milton Keynes showed little anxiety in seeking a second goal to settle the issue. Twine’s 20-yard free kick beat the wall but missed its target by mere inches; and McGillivray produced a marvellous save to keep out Conor Wickham’s header from Josh McEachran’s corner.
MK’s understandable complacency should have been punished by an unmarked Burstow, who made an awkward hash of driving Morgan’s perfect cross into the ground and harmlessly over Cumming’s bar. It was a bad miss and was promptly punished by an overdue coup-de-grace.
McGillivray’s brilliance seemed to have got his side off the hook when his instinctive save kept out Wickham’s vicious low drive. He was still grounded as Kaine Kesler-Hayden reacted first to convert the rebound. With half an hour still remaining, this result was already guaranteed.
And it leaves Charlton still nervously aware of the relegation battle bubbling beneath them. This isn’t the way it was meant to be. But it is, as they say, what it is. It ain’t over yet.
Charlton: McGillivray, Gunter, Lavelle, Famewo, Dobson (Campbell 88), Morgan, Gilbey, Matthews, Leko (Jaiyesimi 64), Castillo, Burstow (Lee 71). Not used: Harness, Purrington, Pearce, Kanu. Booked: Gilbey.
Milton Keynes: Cumming, Watson, Lewington, O’Hora, Darling, Twine (Corbeanu 80), Coventry, McEachran (Kasumu 80), Wickham (Eisa 64), Parrott, Kesler-Hayden. Not used: Ravizzoli, Smith, Kemp, Boateng.
Referee: Sam Purkiss. Att: 8,807 (605 visiting).
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