Kevin Nolan’s Valley View: Charlton Athletic 1-2 Lincoln City

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

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…

Charlton’s recent three-game winning streak, during which they disposed of feeble opposition in Gillingham, Burton Albion and Doncaster Rovers, was nothing much to shout about.

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.

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.

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).

Kevin Nolan’s Valley View: Charlton Athletic 2-0 Burton Albion

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

KEVIN NOLAN was at the Valley to witness a second Addicks victory in a week.

Bathed in early spring sunshine, The Valley was a pleasant, relaxed place to be on Saturday. There was an agreeable atmosphere inside the fabled old ground, a bit like that carefree feeling you enjoyed at school during those dog days between exams and breaking up for the summer holidays.

There was always a price to pay, of course, namely the report you had to explain away to your parents. It came with hurtful comments such as “needs to concentrate”, “must decide whether or not he is the class clown” or that old cliched chestnut “could do better with more effort.” The latter was a time-honoured classic that could apply to just about every kid who went through the educational system. It was once the bane of my life – still is, come to think of it.

Charlton could – and should – certainly have done better during this irritating 2021-22 campaign. They got off to a miserable start, with only a 2-0 win over Crewe interrupting an otherwise dismal string of nine opening games, until they managed a 2-1 victory at Fleetwood on October 2nd. Defeat at Lincoln two weeks later plunged them into 22nd place and prospects were grim.

Form has been in-and-out since that abject surrender at Sincil Bank, with consecutive 2-0 home wins over Ipswich and Cambridge rare highlights. Promotion disappeared as a realistic ambition weeks ago but, until Gillingham were vanquished last Tuesday, relegation hovered over the Addicks like that sword dangled over some bloke’s head by another bloke called Damocles. Be fair, there’s not been much to e-mail home about this season.

Burton Albion arrived in SE7 four points better off than their hosts but departed with that advantage cut to one after becoming Charlton’s second “double” victims. They lost 1-0 to Johnnie Jackson’s men on a bitterly cold afternoon in November and never looked likely to gain revenge in this reverse fixture. Falling behind to a 12th minute sucker punch was no way to start but they weren’t the first victims of a well-rehearsed routine. Morecambe were knocked temporarily bandy by it back on a bleak evening in November.

It wasn’t too smart of Saturday’s visitors to leave Ciaran Gilligan on his own, policing Conor Washington near the halfway line as they poured forward to exploit one of Tom Hamer’s huge throw-ins. They were caught horribly under-manned as Craig McGillivray fielded Sam Hughes’ tame header, sprinted to his 18-yard line and released a long, flat clearance, which pitted Washington against Gilligan in a one-on-one footrace along the striker’s preferred left channel. There was only one winner in their All-Ireland duel and it was the Northern Irishman who forged ahead, spotted Ben Garratt’s rash advance off his line and lifted a shrewdly judged lob over the keeper’s head on its way into his vacated net. Washington’s 10th goal in his 21st start (six substitute appearances) somewhat explodes the theory that his finishing lacks the clinical touch. He’s dynamite playing “off the shoulder”.

Shaken by their early setback, the Brewers had little to offer in return except Hamer’s crudely effective throws, under which they gathered in search of rebounds and ricochets. The burly defender was fortunate to be around to deliver them after a vicious foul on George Dobson as early as the 9th minute was deemed by referee Rebecca Welch to deserve a yellow rather than the red card it merited. Hamer’s was the first of six cautions meted out to the visitors, who were clearly operating a “no prisoners” policy. Former Addick Deji Oshilaja’s second half caution for chopping down Jayden Stockley might have earned him a second booking; his 2nd minute foul on Stockley was brutal enough to have been similarly punished. Oshilaja and Stockley were both sent off at Burton in November. It’s fair to say they don’t get along.

It was Deji who came closest to equalising for the Brewers during a brief pre-interval purple patch. His ferocious drive from outside the penalty area beat McGillivray but rebounded harmlessly from the crossbar. Oshilaja’s near miss was quickly followed by Omar Niasse’s skilful turn to elude Sam Lavelle in dispute of John Brayford’s long ball but, with the hard part done, the Senegalese fired his self-made chance narrowly over the bar.

Having failed to draw level, the Trentsiders fell further behind before the break. They seemed in no great danger as Corey Blackett-Taylor meandered infield from the left touchline before unleashing a low, speculative drive which squeezed inside Garratt’s right-hand post despite the keeper’s full length effort to reach it. Blackett-Taylor’s first league goal rewarded his have-a-go attitude. Unhappily, after going close with a second half bid to double his tally, the bright young winger limped off with a worrying injury.

Blackett-Taylor departed after having left the Addicks in a dominant position. They spent the second half in complete control, if troubled occasionally by Hamer’s dangerous throws. Stockley headed Scott Fraser’s fine cross straight at Garratt as they pottered through what remained. At the other end, Conor Shaughnessy blasted proverbial miles over the bar, his waywardness typifying the visitors’ feeble contribution.

Burton were pretty lightweight…in fact they were awful. Brewers boss Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink could only envy Jackson the inexhaustible energy of the consistent Dobson, Blackett-Taylor’s explosive pace and the impressive sang froid shown by Washington. There’s also the promise of more to come from classy Scott Fraser and his midfield ally Alex Gilbey as Charlton seek to finish this disappointing season strongly. It’s a work in progress which begins all over again in late July.

Charlton: McGillivray, Clare, Matthews, Lavelle, Purrington, Dobson, Gilbey, Fraser (Lee 81), Blackett-Taylor (Jaiyesimi 54), Stockley, Washington. Not used: Harness, Gunter, Famewo, Leko, Burstow.
Burton: Garratt, Brayford, Borthwick-Jackson, Oshilaja, Powell (Saydee 64), Smith (Chapman 64), Hughes, Shaughnessy, Niasse, Gilligan (Guedioura 70). Not used: Ahadme, Moult, Mancienne, Lakin.
Referee: Rebecca Welch. Att: 11,348 (320 visiting).


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Kevin Nolan’s Valley View: Charlton Athletic 1-0 Gillingham

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

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.”

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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