Kevin Nolan’s Valley View: Charlton Athletic 3-0 Derby County

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

Charlton’s 3-0 win over Derby County on Saturday was one to relive over and over again. The Charlton Champion‘s KEVIN NOLAN takes us through a memorable afternoon at The Valley.

The Valley was the place to be on Saturday afternoon, a joyous arena where fans and team came together in the common cause. At least it was for Charlton’s fans whose exuberance contrasted significantly with the sullen, library-like silence at the away end which spoke volumes about a club ill-at-ease with itself.

The steady erosion of Derby supporters well before the final whistle was a harbinger for a winter of discontent. It confirmed that all is not well at Pride Park, where Phillip Cocu faces an uphill task to sweep away an ominously toxic atmosphere. But that’s quite enough about Derby County for the time being.

Just one absentee short of 3,000 visitors had seen their team start with ephemeral style, fall behind after only six minutes to a superb opener, then get played off the park; their buoyant hosts could even afford to lose wretchedly unlucky Jonny Williams, the effervescent creator of that first goal, after just 31 minutes. His replacement, Sam Field, stepped in to ensure a seamless transition in midfield quality, his all-round contribution another measure of the impressive depth at Lee Bowyer’s disposal.

Cool confidence

The Addicks were fired in front by Macauley Bonne, whose third goal in only four starts, was taken with the cool confidence of a player now persuaded he belongs among Bowyer’s talented corps. His guv’nor’s patient handling of an initially diffident Bonne has been a masterclass in man-management.

Stealing a yard on marker Matt Clarke, Bonne was ideally placed to finish off a flowing move begun by Naby Sarr’s imperious pass which sent Williams haring down the left flank. The scurrying Welshman ended his run with a perfect cutback which Bonne’s left foot cracked first-time past Kelle Roos. The ex-Leyton Orient marksman is now very much one of the chaps with his own “Macauley Bonne-Bonne-Bonne” ditty to make him feel at home.

Before Williams hobbled off, he was a straining toecap away from converting Bonne’s crisp low cross before the scorer himself forced a flying save from Roos with a ferociously struck drive. In effortless control, only a second home goal was needed, an oversight the excellent Josh Cullen should have corrected when sent through by Jonathan Leko and Conor Gallagher shortly before the break. Confronted by Roos, tireless Cullen was foiled by the rapidly advancing keeper.

Any anxiety touchline exile Bowyer might have been feeling was alleviated three minutes into the second half. Cullen’s wickedly inswinging corner from the left, cleverly engineered by Leko off Jayden Bogle, reached the towering Sarr beyond the far post. With Roos lured off his line in a hesitant quest for the ball, Sarr followed text-book guidance in directing a looping header back over the stranded keeper and gently into the opposite corner.

Goal of the season

At 2-0, the hapless visitors were effectively done and dusted with the truly outstanding Darren Pratley ruthlessly supervising their disintegration from central defence. With lone striker Chris Martin safely tucked away in his back pocket, Pratley, arguably Bowyer’s shrewdest signing, found room there for the petulant Tom Lawrence and any other wayward Ram he found straying too close to Charlton’s penalty area. He received sturdy support from Chris Solly and Tom Lockyer among a side without a weakness. Even an underworked Dillon Phillips preserved the clean sheet, his smart block denying substitute Mason Bennett near the end.

With his usual football-daft zest, meanwhile, Gallagher was running Pratley close for man-of-the match honours. On 67 minutes, he sealed Charlton’s complete superiority with a marvellous third goal – his fifth of the season – which stands unopposed at this early stage as their goal of the season. Taking a square pass from Field, whose typical tenacity had won possession from Graeme Shinnie, he used a steadying touch before curling a 25-yard drive over the startled keeper and sweetly under the bar. The kid’s been good for Charlton. And Charlton have been good for him.

Simple maths tell us that the Addicks need ten more victories from thirty four remaining league games to reach nominal safety in the Championship. That’s the negative view. But sunny-side up, their prospects reach higher and farther. This whistle-to-whistle, bell-to-bell, tape-to-tape domination of one of the Championship’s hotly-tipped pre-season promotion favourites raises the bar.

Bowyer will keep their feet firmly grounded but it costs nothing to dream. Er, I’ll stop now before I get ahead of myself… there’s Bristol City to worry about on Wednesday. They lost 3-0 at Luton and they’ll be looking to take it out on us. Does it ever end?

Charlton: Phillips, Solly, Lockyer, Pratley, Sarr, Forster-Caskey, Cullen, Gallagher (Kayal 78), Williams (Field 31), Leko, Bonne (Hemed 75). Not used: Amos, Oshilaja, Pearce, Oztumer. Booked: Forster-Caskey.

Derby: Roos, Bogle, Davies, Clarke, Malone, Shinnie, Bielik (Holmes 60), Waghorn (Jozefzoon 60), Lawrence, Paterson (Bennett 76), Martin. Not used: Hamer, Wisdom, Dowell, Lowe.

Referee: Stephen Martin. Att: 19,408 (2,999 visiting).


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

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

KEVIN NOLAN reports from last night’s match at The Valley, where Lee Bowyer’s high-flying Charlton side were given a reality check by Swansea City…

Beginning a testing run of fixtures which pits them against the best sides in the Championship, Charlton made an excellent start by edging Leeds United on Saturday. It was a victory for honest endeavour and unflagging commitment helped when and where it mattered most by a timely stroke of luck.

So it was when the Addicks shocked once-beaten Swansea City with a second-minute goal that they briefly aspired to joining the division’s elite. But their calm visitors kept their heads, reacted phlegmatically to the setback and levelled no more than a quarter hour later. Midway through the second half, they scrambled a winner and won with something to spare.

It was a sobering experience for the Addicks, who fought on valiantly but vainly for an unlikely share of the points. If a healthy-looking penalty appeal had gone their way midway through the second session, they might well have realised that ambition. Referee Peter Bankes was certainly a minority of one in ruling that Joe Rodon’s manhandling of Chuks Aneke was within the law. This clearly wasn’t Charlton’s night.

Dream start

The dream start was provided by Jonathan Leko’s second goal of the season, his firm shot finding the roof of the net after debutant Adam Matthews’ low cross from the right had been weakly cleared to his feet. With lack of goals a nagging problem since Lyle Taylor returned injured from international duty, Leko’s strike briefly inspired hope that Charlton’s scoring logjam had been breached but his rare goal proved to be a false dawn. Adding to his surprise strike brought the usual headache, with two goals in four games now their meagre tally without Taylor.

Unstinting acknowledgement for their defiant stand against a better side was the least Lee Bowyer’s bonny band of battlers deserved and The Valley responded appreciatively when Bankes signalled the end of five added minutes. They had given everything as usual, their gutsy resistance highlighted ironically by their sterling if fruitless efforts to prevent Yan Dhanda’s equaliser.

As the Swans broke swiftly from their own half, a line of predatory shooters formed at the edge of Charlton’s penalty area, each of them denied sight of goal by a resolute defender in red. Patiently, the visitors switched the focus of their attack until Dhanda found just enough space to squeeze off a low shot which had sufficient pace to beat Dillon Phillips on its way into the bottom right corner.

Dhanda’s equaliser, no more than a quarter hour after Leko’s opener, was a depressing development for the Addicks. Their new mission became the preservation of an improbable point against smooth, skilful opponents willing to bide their time until a second opportunity arrived. Just past the hour mark, as the pressure mounted, they duly made their second breakthrough in incongruously scruffy circumstances.

An inswinging left wing corner delivered by setpiece specialist Matty Grimes was touched on by Rodon and forced past Phillips by Andre Ayew at close range. Slick and sharp though they were, the South Welshmen were also prepared to score ugly. Their punchless hosts struggled to create even the sniff of a chance at the other end.

Hard slog ahead

There was, nevertheless, encouragement for Bowyer in defeat. New man Matthews made a steady debut up against tricky left winger Bersant Celina, wisely channelling the elusive Kosovan on to his weaker right foot without quite managing to subdue his threat. Fellow Welshman Tom Lockyer was immense at the back, with Josh Cullen, Conor Gallagher and Sam Field insatiable workers in a midfield where Erhun Oztumer was sadly ineffectual.

Up front, meanwhile, Leko was inspired by his goal to briefly threaten the visitors with his tricky if unpredictable skills. He quickly faded, began to take on too much and frequently put his side in trouble with poor decisions and errant passes. Alongside him, Macauley Bonne, his confidence boosted by his generously awarded matchwinner against Leeds, continued to look out of his depth.

Charlton fans can only pine for the time, just a year ago, when sharpshooters Taylor and Karlan Grant were terrorising League One defences. But you know where ifs and ands get you…

A hard slog through what promises to be a gruelling season now stretches before these gritty Addicks. With one of the lowest Championship budgets available to him, Bowyer is under no illusion that a settled side is a rare luxury. He made four changes against Swansea and will do the same for Saturday’s daunting trip to Fulham, where they will start as solid (4-1) outsiders and where, sadly, they are expected to bring capguns to a gunfight. It might be time for a plaintive prayer to St. Jude. He’s gonna be busy on Saturday, but it’s worth a shot.

Charlton: Phillips, Matthews, Lockyer, Pearce. Purrington (Forster-Caskey 71), Field, Cullen, Oztumer (Williams 66), Gallagher, Bonne, Leko (Aneke 66). Not used: Amos, Oshilaja, Prateley, Sarr. Booked: Purrington, Gallagher.

Swansea: Woodman, Rodon, Van Der Hoorn, Fulton, Grimes, Baston, Celina (Wilmott 90), Dhanda (Carroll 78), Ayew, Roberts, Naughton. Not used: Mulder, John, Routledge, Surridge, Garricks.

Referee: Peter Bankes. Attendance: 15,741 (1,122 visiting).


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

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

The Addicks returned to winning ways at The Valley on Saturday with a victory over Championship title favourites Leeds – KEVIN NOLAN reports…

After the corporation dustcart…the Lord Mayor’s Show. In turning the old epigram on its head, Charlton followed their passive performance at struggling Wigan with a stirring display of magnificent defiance to send hot favourites Leeds United home pointless. Goals still promise to be rare but one scrambled effort was enough to deliver this vital win.

After dominating possession (72-28%) and corners (13-2), Leeds made their bewildered way home wondering how they finished with nothing to show for their mathematical superiority. Their globally vaunted manager Marcelo Bielsa, secure in his bubble of denial, provided a post-game masterclass in ignoring the facts and missing the point.

Charlton 1 Leeds 0 Final Score“The difference between the sides was big.” explained the Argentinian visionary, “We didn’t impose our superiority and that was the reason for what happened. They had one shot and scored one goal. Our players were better than theirs.” He didn’t add “So there!” so we’ll do it for him. Codswallop, of course, but we have to accept he wasn’t in the best of moods. Otherwise he might have pulled himself together, acknowledged that his side fell short in the only statistic that matters and bent his efforts to figuring out why 72% of possession brought zilch to the scoring column.

In that regard, his opposite number Lee Bowyer was on hand to helpfully mark his card. Paying heartfelt tribute to the character of his players, he declared that sheer hard work made them worthy winners. “We held our own and tactically got it spot on. This is a group that never says die.” He diplomatically declined to point out that it’s goals that count but the fact that the Addicks scored from one of only two corners while the visitors were repelled on thirteen occasions by a posse of red-shirted sentinels might bring the hard-done by Bielsa to that conclusion in the longer term. But probably not.

Set piece improvements

Last week at Wigan, Charlton conceded twice to the same player from corners, a disastrous failing which was obviously addressed at the training ground. A succession of wickedly delivered flagkicks on Saturday from set piece specialist Kalvin Phillips was stoutly resisted, with even Jonathan Leko popping up in the first half to clear a goalbound effort from Ezgjan Aliosko. Whenever a block or interception was necessary, there was always a willing volunteer to put his body on the line. Not that Charlton retreated into siege mentality. They remained cohesive and always dangerous on the break. As they demonstrated shortly after the half hour to claim the only goal.

Chasing down Johnny Williams’ piercing pass to the right byline, Macauley Bonne found himself briefly isolated and sensibly settled for forcing a right wing corner – the Addicks’ first of the game – off Ben White. A low delivery from Josh Cullen was inconclusively met by Tom Lockyer, with ricochets off Kiko Casilla, Stuart Dallas and decisively Bonne pinballing the ball over the goalline. Undeniably lucky, of course, but as golfer Gary Player famously remarked “the more I practice, the luckier I get”. Competing in the six-yard area for the chaotic bits and pieces that derive from a cutely delivered corner is surely coached at Sparrows Lane. And that, despite Bielsa’s blinkered comments to the contrary, “was the reason for what happened.” So there!

Picking out the key defensive highlights from such stubborn selflessness is a thankless task. Phillips’ superb low save from White was made at a critical time; a crucial interception from the inspirational Darren Pratley to deny Patrick Bamford access to Stuart Dallas’ menacing cross also deserves mention; as does Naby Sarr for nullifying Bamford’s dangerous turn at close range: and two critical headers beyond the far post by the outstanding Chris Solly, which whisked crosses off waiting heads in the second half, stood out. But each and every Addick, including the mercurial Leko, bought into the principle that defending involves everyone and that the end result justifies whatever means are legitimately employed to secure it. While goals promise to be elusive, the fighting spirit exemplified by the hard-grafting likes of teenager Conor Gallagher and Cullen, with Williams always prepared to suffer a battering for the cause (the adverse caution count of 3-1 tells you all you need to know about John Brooks’ cockeyed refereeing) will keep them going.

Catapulted back into the top six by their latest upsetting of the odds, meanwhile, Bowyer’s braves will pragmatically accept that survival in the Championship remains the priority. On Wednesday evening, they entertain Swansea City, another side with promotion aspirations. It may not be a footballing classic but the understanding Valley crowd will again accept that it’s not all about elbow-crooking style or foot-on-the-ball posturing as too often indulged in by Leeds. They used to call it getting stuck in but whatever the modern parlance, the Addicks will be up for it. They didn’t sweat blood at Wembley five months ago to crash and burn this season.

Charlton: Phillips, Solly, Lockyer, Sarr, Purrington. Pratley, Cullen, Williams (Aneke 56), Gallagher (Pearce 86), Bonne (Field 82), Leko. Not used: Amos, Oshilaja, Forster-Caskey, Oztumer. Booked: Pratley, Lockyer, Solly.

Leeds: Casilla, Dallas, White, Cooper, Alioski (Nketiah 46), Phillips, Costa, Shackleton (Forshaw 46), Klich, Harrison, Bamford (Roberts 69). Not used: Miazek, Douglas, Berardi, Clarke. Booked: Bamford.

Referee: John Brooks.  Att: 21,808 (3,179 visiting).


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