The Addicks sent their visitors from down the North Kent Line packing on a nervous night at The Valley. KEVIN NOLAN was there.
On a chilly evening when the result was all that mattered, an opportunistic strike by Alex Gilbey – his second goal of a stop-start season – was enough to settle this scruffy game and all but dismiss Charlton’s lingering fears of relegation to the unspeakable horrors of League Two.
Unable to exploit the Addicks’ alarming second-half disintegration, Gillingham were at least favoured by other results, leaving them a precarious fourth from bottom and still under severe pressure to survive the drop.
To be brutally frank, this downmarket clash between substandard teams went largely unnoticed elsewhere. But at The Valley, the nerves were palpable, mistakes rife and the mood tetchy.
A disappointing home crowd, bolstered by a lively contingent from the Orchard of England, saw Charlton start brightly, control much of the first half and take a deserved lead into their dressing room at half-time. The second half told a different story as the Addicks, increasingly aware of the stakes on offer, appeared to freeze. The visitors sensed their vulnerability, grew in confidence but lacked the quality to press home their growing advantage.
As the tension affected Johnnie Jackson’s men, their ability to hold on to the ball disappeared. Clearances were inconclusive and their pre-interval grip on the game loosened. An equaliser seemed, if not inevitable, then more than likely.
As they battled to hang on to their lead, Charlton rediscovered the spirit so frequently lacking during a seven-game winless streak. They ran, pressed and covered for each other with almost manic enthusiasm.
Up front, Conor Washington and Jayden Stockley set an example of unstinting effort, while Corey Blackett-Taylor’s frequent bursts of pace pinned the Gills back and provided respite for his nerve-shredded side. Behind them, George Dobson supplied his usual energy, the often unfairly maligned Gilbey did his bit and Scott Fraser showed enough to suggest there’s more to come from this talented playmaker. His 66th minute substitute, Elliot Lee, shook off a shaky start before providing a masterclass in how to run down the clock with several cameos, of which the storied Tony Watt would have approved.
It was Gilbey, restored to the starting line-up after being dropped for the last two games, who provided the 40th minute breakthrough. He had already gone close by capping a blistering run with a shot which whistled narrowly wide and was clearly in the mood to try his luck. In support as Blackett-Taylor’s drive was spilled by Pontus Dahlberg, he pounced on the rebound when the keeper bravely parried Stockley’s follow-up, and netted on the turn from 14 yards. His goal ended Charlton’s failure to score from open play since Lee headed the Addicks in front at Wigan on February 12th – a barren run of five games.
Though they beavered away industriously, Neil Harris’ men created little of note to bother Craig McGillivray. Top scorer Vadaine Oliver headed Ben Thompson’s first half cross tamely into McGillivray’s hands and Conor Masterson sent a 25-yard snapshot whistling wide after the break.
His keeper’s relative inactivity didn’t dissuade Jackson from singling out McGillivray for special mention. “I thought Craig was excellent. I’m pleased because obviously we’ve conceded a few goals and I know he took that pretty hard so he deserved that clean sheet. And the win came from hard work and heart and they showed that in abundance today.”
💬 "I knew I would get a response from the lads. They stood up, to a man – it was a real team effort and I'm really pleased for them."
Jacko speaks to CharltonTV following this evening's victory over @TheGillsFC…
— Charlton Athletic FC (@CAFCofficial) March 15, 2022
It’s been a rough ride recently for Charlton’s popular boss – ringing the changes as his depleted team hit the skids. Seven games without winning sent them into dangerous freefall and Jackson spoke for everyone in stressing the overriding importance of this result.
It hadn’t been about the elegance of the performance – which was just as well – but winning, however ugly it was. “We’ve had important players missing and that’s impacted on results,” he remarked. “We’ve had to try another way and it’s been difficult but I think you saw tonight when we get those guys on the pitch, we’re going to win football matches.” Amen to that, boss.
And a word to the owner. You don’t buy a dog and bark yourself. Johnnie Jackson is the right man for the job. Give him the right tools and he’ll do that job.
Just make sure those tools can play 90 minutes and can turn out regularly. We have more than enough part-time players as it is. We’re lucky to have this bloke in charge. So don’t screw it up.
Charlton: McGillivray, Clare, Lavelle, Purrington, Matthews, Dobson, Gilbey, Fraser (Lee 66), Blackett-Taylor (Pearce 88), Washington, Stockley. Booked: Gilbey, Stockley. Not used: Harness, Gunter, Jaiyesimi, Leko, Burstow.
Gillingham: Dahlberg, Tutonda (Dickson-Peters 81), O’Keefe, Ehmer, Tucker, Thompson, Lee, McKenzie (Lintott 59), Masterson, Oliver, Kelman. Booked: O’Keefe. Not used: Chapman, Maghoma, Akehurst, Chambers.
Referee: Will Finnie. Attendance: 9,728 (1,559 visiting).
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