Kevin Nolan’s Locked-Down Valley View: Leeds United 4-0 Charlton Athletic

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

And that’s that – the Addicks were relegated last night after one tumultuous season back on the Championship. KEVIN NOLAN reports on a devastating evening for Charlton Athletic.

As their own demolition by champions Leeds United became irrelevant on Wednesday evening, Charlton were left clinging to hope that favourable results elsewhere would spare them the drop to League One. And with the minutes ticking away at Elland Road, where their hosts effortlessly outclassed them, the yearned-for news arrived that Fulham had equalised at Wigan and Brentford had done likewise at home to Barnsley.

All too briefly -and cruelly as it turned out – it seemed the Addicks were safe, at least until Wigan’s appeal against a 12-point deduction comes up before the beaks on July 31st. But there was, needless to say, one last convulsion left in this exhausting slog of a season and it meant that Charlton had finally run out of wriggle room. Barnsley had leapfrogged them by grabbing an added-time winner at Griffin Park, and it’s the Tykes, not the Addicks, who will be anxiously monitoring the EFL’s handling of Wigan’s apparently frivolous appeal next week.

Charlton had, technically if not realistically, kicked off in Yorkshire with their fate in their own hands. Even a draw with hosts, who they hoped might be more interested in partying, would probably suffice. As soon became clear, there was little chance of any such slip in standards under the meticulous stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa. After clinching the title, United had already shown steely resolve by brushing aside Derby County; dismissing puny Charlton was a mere afterthought.

The fateful evening hadn’t started too badly. With nothing tangible at stake for themselves, Blackburn Rovers took an early lead at Luton but promptly remembered their place. Two own goals and a penalty duly restored order and extricated the Hatters from the unpleasant unseemliness beneath them. It was now briefly reduced to a three-cornered fight to survive between Charlton, Wigan and Barnsley, though only two of the trio could summon up any real appetite for the fight.

At Elland Road, the Addicks stood no chance. A stunning volley from Ben White began their slide and Stuart Dallas’ cute finish from Pablo Hernandez’s inspired set-up ended their interest in the contest before the half-hour mark. Alfie Doughty should have reduced the arrears when sent clear by Aiden McGeady’s solitary contribution to the proceedings but shot weakly wide. United completed the rout with two more second half goals from Tyler Roberts and Jamie Shackleton leaving Charlton’s fate in the hands of others… the unreliable hands of Brentford as it turned out.

Bitterly disappointed boss Lee Bowyer confesssed: “I’m not in a good place at the moment. We should have enough points to easily keep us in the division, that’s what hurts me.” A brief recap of the nine-game shoot-out which condemned his side bears out the truth of his claim.

Resuming post-lockdown two points from safety, the Addicks knocked off the deficit with 1-0 victories over Hull and QPR; when they followed those encouraging results with a well-organised goalless draw at promotion hopefuls Cardiff City, they seemed on course to steer clear of the relegation rocks. Then up stepped Millwall.

For nearly 80 minutes, another useful point seemed on offer until Charlton’s baleful nemesis did what they have done regularly over many painful years. Yet again they scrambled a late winner, a sickener to which Brentford added three days laterby coming from behind to overcome heroic resistance and win 2-1 in the closing stages.

If those reverses weren’t damaging enough, the 1-0 defeat by “nothing to play for” Reading piled on the misery. In that benighted game, Charlton reversed the trend and conceded the winner by conceding a completely unnecessary penalty as early as the second minute.

But it was the added time equaliser grabbed by Birmingham City which can be identified as the goal which sent the Addicks down. It was made by 17-year-old substitute Jude Bellingham who, despite being on the brink of a multi-million pound move to Germany, had the old-fashioned character to risk injury and help his club in their fight against relegation. Way to go, kid, you could teach our bloke, who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing, a thing or two about being a responsible adult.

A stirring 2-2 draw with beleaguered Wigan, which featured a belated leveller of their own by Macauley Bonne, set up the heartbreak of Elland Road. But although Charlton gave it their best shot, they simply weren’t good enough – or lucky enough – either on the night or through much of a switchback season.

A crippling injury list eroded the bright start before backroom villainy brought the club to its knees. The pusillanimous defection of their star striker applied the coup-de-grace to a turbulent, troubled campaign and Charlton are once again a League One team. And ain’t that a dog of a league to climb out of? See you next season anyway.

Leeds: Meslier, Cooper, Ayling, White, Struijk, Hernandez (Shackleton 61), Dallas, Harrison (Stevens 72), Alioski (Poveda 61), Klich (Bogusz 72), Bamford (Roberts 46). Not used: Miszek, Douglas, Davis, Casey.

Charlton: Phillips, Matthews, Lockyer, Pearce (Morgan 46), Sarr, Doughty, Cullen, Field, McGeady (Williams 46), Davison (Aneke 46), Bonne (Green 78). Not used: Amos, Purrington, Oshilaja, Lapslie, Hemed.


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Kevin Nolan’s Locked-Down Valley View: Charlton Athletic 2-2 Wigan Athletic

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

A big point for the Addicks behind closed doors at The Valley. KEVIN NOLAN watched from the sofa.

Stick the black crepe back in the cupboard. Re-start the clocks. Cancel the wake. Charlton are very much alive. At least they are until Wednesday when the last cards will be dealt. That final game at Elland Road has been an ominous dot on the cards since this tortuous campaign started with a 2-1 victory at Blackburn a year ago.

Whatever their fate, respect the never-say-die courage of Lee Bowyer’s defiant players, who took it to the wire by quarrying a priceless point from this vital game, thanks to a second equaliser deep into six minutes of added time. And give fervent thanks to scorer Macauley Bonne, who stayed admirably calm in the penalty area as rampaging substitute Chuks Aneke rose higher than Cedric Kipre to touch on Adam Matthews’ searching cross. Steadying himself sensibly, the big league rookie potshotted a deliberate low shot beyond David Marshall and neatly inside the keeper’s left hand post.

Bonne’s 11th goal of an injury-interrupted first season makes him joint top scorer alongside a more accomplished striker, whose name need not bother us here. He had missed a golden first half chance with the score 1-1 when sent clear by Naby Sarr’s gloriously flighted long pass. His point blank effort was brilliantly blocked by Marshall and public criticism of his faulty finishing was no doubt due another post-game airing by an exasperated Bowyer But he kept his head in a growing crisis and redeemed himself with a crucial equaliser.

A share of the points was no more than the Addicks deserved for a stirring performance against a super-confident side riding a wave generated by an excellent string of results, culminating in an eight-goal demolition of Hull City in midweek. Still buoyant after that devastating accomplishment, rampant Wigan required only eight minutes to take the lead.

The early goal was an avoidable disaster. Forced inside on to his weaker left foot, Matthews struggled to retain possession under pressure from Antonee Robinson. His weakly dribbled clearance fell conveniently for Kai Naismith to cross for Kieffer Moore, whose header was instinctively parried on to a post by Dillon Phillips. Beating Tom Lockyer to the rebound as it flicked upward off the unlucky keeper, Jamal Lowe nodded in the afternoon’s opening goal.

Wigan’s lead lasted three minutes, all the time it took Alfie Doughty to conjure a candidate for Charlton’s goal of the season. The visitors were sliced open by another of Sarr’s adventuresome diagonal balls to Matthews in space on the opposite flank. The right wingback’s deep cross was met by Doughty beyond the far post and exquisitely cushion-volleyed across Marshall into the far corner. No carefully choreographed celebration from this outstanding prospect -just quiet satisfaction.

Seven minutes before the break, the Addicks fell behind again to their free-scoring visitors. Overpowered by Robinson in a 50-50 duel inside the home half, Josh Cullen was left appealing for a non-existent foul as Robinson outpaced Tom Lockyer and squared hard and low across Charlton’s six-yard area. Sliding in desperately, Sarr was unable to cut out the cross, which was efficiently converted at the far post by Kieran Dowell.

Beginning the second half behind to the Championship’s in-form team was, for a side which had scored only four post-lockdown goals, a discouraging scenario.

Not since their 3-1 victory over Luton Town on February 22nd – ten games ago – had the Addicks managed more than one goal in any game. They plugged away optimistically, though, with the 55th minute introduction of Aneke for the blameless Josh Davison, making a significant difference. Muscular and belligerent, Aneke was, from Wigan’s increasingly weary defenders point of view, the substitute from hell. His superiority in the air eventually laid on Bonne’s late leveller, following which he cheerfully offered out their entire back four after they took exception to him.

And so … on to champions Leeds at Elland Road, with an eye and half an ear on developments elsewhere. Bowyer’s team selection will be of critical importance
in a fixture by no means given up as impossible. Hopefully Sarr will be retained to supply his towering personality; Davison did enough to warrant another start, with Aneke an ideal impact sub. Doughty picks himself, as does Sam Field if fit. Then pray that Charlton’s warrior captain Jason Pearce declares himself fit.

The Charlton Champion, meanwhile, has just one tactical, admittedly crude, suggestion to make to management. When the situation demands our defensive lines be cleared, personnel should be encouraged to do just that … clear your lines, chaps, without fear of criticism. Horsing around at the back is a recipe for disaster. Give it up. And, by the way, good luck and thanks.

Charlton: Phillips, Matthews, Lockyer, Pearce (McGeady 82), Sarr, Cullen, Field (Williams 46), Forster-Caskey (Morgan 46), Doughty, Bonne, Davison (Aneke 55). Not used: Amos, Purrington, Oshilaja, Green, Hemed, Booked: Morgan.

Wigan: Marshall, Robinson, Balogun, Kipre, Byrne, Williams, Morsy, Lowe (Roberts 86), Dowell (Evans 68), Naismith, Moore. Not used: Jones, Massey, Pearce, Garner, Dobre, Mlakan, Gelhardt. Booked: Williams, Morsy.

Referee: Gavin Ward.


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Kevin Nolan’s Locked-Down Valley View: Charlton Athletic 0-1 Millwall

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

A south-east London derby behind closed doors ended in all-too familiar fashion for the Addicks last night. KEVIN NOLAN watched as the neighbours walked away with three points again…

Forget the law of averages. There’s no such thing. Or if there is, it gets broken every time Charlton play Millwall. Whatever the circumstances, whatever rests on the result, Charlton lose to Millwall. That’s just the way it is. The rare draws – and there was a priceless point on offer here – are exceptions which prove the rule.

In all the frustration and pain which followed yet another late defeat, let’s be be fair, the dogged determination and brave resistance, which came close to seeing the Addicks over the line to hard won parity, shouldn’t be overlooked. They swapped punch for punch in coping with a primitive if energy-sapping aerial onslaught, stood their ground gamely and had their own chances to snatch a winner.

What they didn’t have, unfortunately, is a forward capable of converting any of those rare opportunities. Two goals in four post-lockdown games, both of them scored by non-strikers, tells its own misfiring story. The pressure on a superb defence, which conceded for the first time since the season was resumed, eventually brought them to their knees.

At this point I’m tempted to mention Lyle Taylor. But I promised myself I wouldn’t go there.

The line-up which faced Millwall featured seven changes and was faithful to Lee Bowyer’s stated intention to use his entire squad during the nine-game mini-season. Results have vindicated him but Charlton simply ran out of steam against their noisome neighbours. And sad to say it was an error – no howler but an error nonetheless – by Dillon Phillips, their outstanding young goalkeeper – which disastrously ended their string of clean sheets. Covering his near post to deal with Connor Mahoney’s forceful shot, he parried to Jake Cooper, who beat a sliding Tom Lockyer to the loose ball and smashed it into the roof of the net.

A clearly distraught Phillips had previously kept his side in contention with a typically fine first half save from Millwall’s danger man Jed Wallace. Played clear by Ryan Woods’ deft pass, Wallace closed in to confront the advancing keeper but was unable to lift his shot over him. At the other end, Bartosz Bialkowski had already done his bit by narrowing the angle as Macauley Bonne seized on an opening created by Lockyer’s crunching midfield tackle and charging down the forward’s unconvincing effort.

In a game of fleeting half-chances, both saves seemed likely to feature as highlights in a keenly fought scoreless stalemate. Until the Addicks finally buckled with the finishing line in sight.

Gary Rowett’s tactics, meanwhile, were uncomplicated. They entailed getting the ball to Jed Wallace in enough space for the wideman -with 10 goals and 10 assists to his credit this season – to place one of his superbly delivered crosses on the lofty, 6’6″ head of target man Matt Smith. The plan had worked perfectly at the Den in November where Wallace’s added time corner was headed past Phillips to steal the points. This time Lockyer, Jason Pearce and Darren Pratley were equal to the task and physically denied Smith a clear sight of goal. They were doing fine until towering centreback Cooper found another way another way to break their hearts.

With five crucial games left – the first of them a daunting midweek trip to form team Brentford – in the battle for Championship survival, Bowyer will be called upon to make a little go a long way. Charlton will score few many goals and whatever they can muster must count. Bonne hasn’t found the net in 10 games, while Hemed, who hooked a pre-interval chance weakly off target, still seeks his first Charlton goal. Chuks Aneke replaced Bonne just past the hour and bustled the Lions effectively but like Bonne and Hemed, proved shot-shy.

A non-scoring midfield, in which even Josh Cullen struggled to impress, must step up and contribute. Albie Morgan drove one early effort into Cooper’s midriff, Cullen skied his only shot while Aidan McGeady pottered his way through 75 meaningless minutes, during which he scrupulously avoided physical contact and regularly supplied the Lions with possession. Bowyer clearly sees something in the ex-Celtic winger. That something remains a mystery to your reporter, who stands ready to be convinced otherwise. Alfie Doughty or Jonny Williams must surely see out the rest of the campaign.

Silver lining? It’s hard to see one right now, except to remind ourselves that we’re finished with Millwall until, hopefully, next season. That six-point handicap was already factored in pre-season. The same number of points from the eighteen still available might do the business. And let’s not forget Wigan might be in serious trouble. I’m not one for gloating but one dog eats any other dog in this ultra-competitive division.

Better them than us. And you may quote me on that.

Charlton: Phillips, Matthews, Lockyer, Pearce, Oshilaja (Doughty 75), Cullen, Pratley (Sarr 90), Morgan (Field 46), McGeady (Williams 75), Bonne (Aneke 64), Hemed. Not used: Amos, Purrington, Forster-Caskey, Green.

Millwall: Bialkowski, Romeo (Mitchell 75), Hutchinson, Cooper, Pearce, Murray Wallace, Leonard (Mahoney 75), Jed Wallace (Williams 85), Smith (Bradshaw 64), Woods, Molumby (Thompson 46). Not used: Steele, Pearce, Skalak, Ferguson.

Referee: Dean Whitestone.


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