The Addicks sank back into mediocrity on Saturday with defeat to Lincoln City – but, as KEVIN NOLAN reminds us, at least relegation is off the cards this season…
But at least their doggedness was impressive as they belatedly removed the last, lingering threat of relegation from a desperately dreary season, over which a veil should be mercifully drawn.
Given their parlous plight in September and October, when they languished in 21st position, their recovery was timely, but hardly worthy of kudos. Unremarkable in a division of stodgy mediocrity, the Addicks found their level among the also-rans.
Saturday’s visitors Lincoln City contributed to Charlton’s discomfort last autumn by beating them 2-1 at Sincil Bank. They arrived at The Valley trailing their hosts by seven points but significantly nine points clear of fourth-from-bottom Wimbledon – not exactly safe from relegation but on course to salvation. In completing a valuable double over Johnnie Jackson’s co-operative side, they virtually assured themselves of League One football next season.
An impressively loud corps of 1,110 pilgrims from Lincolnshire’s cathedral city made it clear, with their jubilant chorus of “the Imps are staying up”, that survival ranks as an achievement to be celebrated.
Watching the owner’s foolhardy “five-year plan” to reach the Premier League reduced to a hollow joke, meanwhile, the locals were in no mood to join the Imps’ party. The 2021-22 season has been, for them, disappointing and no amount of trans-Atlantic razzmatazz will convince them otherwise. Nor will that tone-deaf ditty he inflicts on them before kick-off.
But back, meanwhile, to the entertainment provided by two teams with little or nothing to play for. With seven games left, it was easy to suppose that an encounter of grim stalemate was on the cards but nothing was further from the truth.
These sub-mid-table opponents set about each other with gusto and even cared enough to have a player each sent off by letter-of-the-law referee Bobby Madley. Neither Charlton’s Alex Gilbey nor Lincoln’s Morgan Whittaker could deny their fate was richly deserved but the latter, at least, departed with the satisfaction of having put his side into the lead.
Gilbey’s dismissal was both boneheaded and inexcusable. Having been correctly cautioned for tugging back Jamie Robson, he repeated the offence ten minutes later to prevent Conor McGrandles eluding him in the centre circle. The immediate threat posed by McGrandles was negligible but, as Jackson remarked, referees are quick to book offences which prevent the quick break. Both transgressions were committed under the official’s nose and rendered an alibi defence insupportable.
At the point of Gilbey’s shamefaced departure, the visitors were already a goal to the good. Moving laterally from right to left just outside the penalty area, Whittaker benefitted from indecisive tackling and a favourable run of the ball before finding the space he needed to fire a low drive inside Craig McGillivray’s left hand post. His strike was avoidable but clinically executed.
The Addicks could count themselves unlucky to fall behind after controlling the opening half hour. After seven minutes, Conor Washington skilfully chested down Adam Matthews’ hard delivery for his strike partner Jayden Stockley to whip a firm volley narrowly wide. Stockley went closer almost immediately by turning Gilbey’s hard-driven cross against Jordan Wright’s crossbar.
— Louis Mendez (@LouisMend) April 2, 2022
Just nine minutes into the second half, the feeling that this was not to be Charlton’s day hardened into certainty when Stockley rose to meet Ben Purrington’s cleverly flighted cross, momentarily beat Wright but was denied an equaliser as the keeper frantically clawed his header to safety. Your reporter added his partisan two-cent’s worth to the home crowd’s howls for justice but was privately unconvinced that the ball had crossed the goalline. You can’t blame a bloke for trying, of course, but Madley, unassisted by VAR as he was, was justified in cocking a deaf ‘un.
Local frustration continued to grow until Whittaker added his shoulder to the home wheel. His studs-up challenge on Purrington was late and dangerous, which meant his second entry into the official notebook. The most you could say for the young forward is that he wasted no time in arguing the toss. He was bang to rights and knew it.
Heartened by the readjustment in manpower, the Addicks eagerly sought equality and Stockley found space to meet Washington’s cross from the right, directed another header goalward but was again denied by an intelligently positioned Wright. Washington then curled a worthy effort wide and Brooke Norton-Cuffy’s magnificent recovery tackle foiled George Dobson before the Imps apparently quelled the revival with a second goal.
💬 "I don't quite know how we've lost the game with the amount of chances we created. I'm disappointed in that & the nature of the goals we conceded."
Johnnie Jackson speaks to CharltonTV following today's defeat…
— Charlton Athletic FC (@CAFCofficial) April 2, 2022
A constant threat to Jackson’s defence, Irish striker Anthony Scully had been working tirelessly with scant reward but kept going optimistically. With less than a quarter of an hour remaining, he cruised in from the left and bent a splendid right-footed drive into the far corner. That seemed to be that but Charlton were not quite finished.
Quickly finding his feet after his lengthy lay-off, Jake Forster-Caskey had replaced the serially disappointing Scott Fraser ten minutes before Scully scored and settled down quickly, with intelligent movement, a range of pinpoint passes and accurate setpieces. His 88th minute corner, swung outward from the left, was headed home by Stockley and City briefly wavered. Substitute Elliot Lee’s searching pass found Washington deep inside their penalty area but the Northern Irishman drove a last-gasp effort agonisingly wide.
Charlton’s threat duly petered out – rather like their season had several weeks ago.
Charlton: McGillivray, Clare, Matthews (Leko 74), Lavelle, Purrington, Dobson (Lee 86), Gilbey, Fraser (Forster-Caskey 65), Blackett-Taylor, Stockley, Washington. Not used: Harness, Famewo, Pearce, Burstow. Sent off: Gilbey.
Lincoln: Wright, Poole, Jackson, Whittaker, Cullen (Marquis 87), Scully (Hopper 82), McGrandles, Fiorini, Norton-Cuffy, Bridcutt (Maguire 70), Robson.
Not used: Sanders, Bishop, Walsh, House. Booked: Fiorini: Sent off: Whittaker.
Referee: Bobby Madley Att: 10,091 (1,110 visiting).