Kevin Nolan’s Valley View: Charlton Athletic 1-3 Sheffield Wednesday

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

Charlton fans turned up at The Valley on Saturday to celebrate the end of Roland Duchâtelet’s reign as club owner – but Sheffield Wednesday spoiled the party by beating the injury-ravaged Addicks, as KEVIN NOLAN reports…

Already sapped by the rash of injuries that have destroyed their promising season, Charlton were kicked while they were down by a mischievous virus which robbed them on Friday of first team regular Ben Purrington and deputy goalkeeper Ashley Maynard-Brewer. Centre back Tom Lockyer, though also affected, recovered enough to play but will miss next week’s trip to Middlesbrough after irresponsibly picking up a fifth booking for dissent mere minutes before judicial amnesty kicked in. Meanwhile, teenage midfielder Albie Morgan was, according to beleaguered manager Lee Bowyer, sick before kick-off and again at half-time.

Expert by now at making a little go an impressively long way, Bowyer handed lively left wingback Alfie Doughty his full league debut, named 19-year-old Nathan Harness as Maynard-Brewer’s deputy and completed a depleted bench of only five substitutes with further untried youngsters in Josh Davison and James Vennings. Possibly sent out with an inter-denominational prayer rather than a team talk, the walking wounded made a fair but unsuccessful fist of coping with Sheffield Wednesday. A lack of spirit was not their undoing but they were unable to halt a sequence which has earned them just two points from seven games since they demolished Derby County on October 19th.

Charlton’s nemesis on Saturday proved to be Wednesday’s canny Scot Barry Bannan, a midfield dynamo with an unfortunate Crystal Palace pedigree. Hitting the big 3-0 the day after this game, Bannan covered every inch of The Valley’s lawn-like pitch, his will-to-win undimmed by the advancing years. His first contribution was the precise fifth-minute free kick which Atdhe Nuhiu headed emphatically home from a marginally offside position.

Sarr’s costly lapses

Turning up a little later on the opposite flank, Bannan curled a cross which all but begged Steve Fletcher to glance an artful header inside the right hand post. The less said of Naby Sarr’s sluggish reaction to danger the better, except to ruefully note that he was taught a harsh lesson by Fletcher, whose movement and anticipation belied his 33 years. Fully ten years his junior, Sarr continues to undermine frequently sublime passing with costly defensive lapses. But he cares – nobody denies he cares.

Supporting Fletcher and Nuhiu up front for the visitors, feisty Fernando Forestieri announced his presence with a raking low drive narrowly wide of the target. Shortly thereafter, he claimed responsibility for a warm favourite as “miss of the season.” Arriving at the far post after Fletcher’s header, from Kadeem Harris’ right wing centre, was brilliantly saved by Phillips, Forestieri seemed a cinch to score but contrived to blast the loose ball wildly wide from three yards. His interval replacement by Jacob Murphy might have been a direct consequence of Garry Monk’s ill-disguised displeasure: the manager’s irritation was justified because the Addicks’ prompt response to Forestieri’s howler was to equalise.

Picking up Sarr’s pass on the left touchline, Doughty disposed of Moses Odubajo’s marking by the simple expedient of knocking the ball wide of his bemused marker before skinning him on the inside by a searing turn of pace. Doughty’s hard, low cross was controlled by Macauley Bonne, then prodded past Cameron Dawson, with the keeper wrongfooted by a deflection off Tom Lees. Phillips promptly did his bit to preserve interval equality with a brilliant one-on-one block on Bannan, which left the indefatigable Caledonian in a painful heap. Unhappily, as far as Charlton’s chances were concerned, he made a full recovery.

The second half developed into an unremitting slog for Charlton as they battled bravely for the valuable point their unstinting effort arguably deserved. With the visitors in control, Phillips again earned his corn by saving smartly from Bannan, then sparing Deji Oshilaja’s blushes by sprawling to turn aside Harris’ low crosshot after the speedster was gifted the ball by the absentminded Addick.

Progressively weary troops

Bowyer’s progessively weary troops were eyeing the finishing line when the pressure told on them. Pursuing Murphy to the right byline, Erhun Oztumer’s tired, ill-considered lunge from behind on the Newcastle United loanee left referee Tim Robinson with little alternative but to award a penalty which Fletcher efficiently converted.

The hulking Nuhiu’s stoppage time header did justice to Adam Reach’s perfect delivery but merely garnished Wednesday’s victory on a chilly afternoon which featured the Charlton debut of young Vennings. Good luck to the kid but the 19-year-old’s appearance in the first team hardly featured in Bowyer’s plans for a season still considerably short of its halfway mark.

There was little evidence of “new owners’ bounce” but plenty to suggest that the Addicks, as soon as the medical room begins to empty, are a match for any side in the Championship. Remind me of that remark come next May if you like. I’m not usually hard to find.

Charlton: Phillips, Matthews, Lockyer, Sarr, Oshilaja, Pratley, Morgan (Vennings 61), Oztumer (Davison 81), Doughty, Leko, Bonne. Not used: Harness, Pearce, Solly.

Wednesday: Dawson, Odubajo, Lees, Hutchinson (Luongo 77), Iorfa, Fox, Harris (Reach 80), Bannan, Forestieri (Murphy 46), Nuhiu, Fletcher. Not used: Jones, Lee, Pelupessy, Winnall.

Referee: Tim Robinson. Att: 18,338 (2,680 visiting).

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

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

A point gained or two points lost? Saturday’s match against Cardiff City provided lots to ponder, as KEVIN NOLAN reports…

The outcome of this exhilirating lunchtime clash divided opinion among Charlton fans as they filed away from a dank, damp Valley on Saturday.

There were those among them who felt that the surrender of a 2-0 interval lead amounted to rank carelessness and tasted uncomfortably like defeat. They had a point but it was one not shared by this reporter, who would refer them to the names – listed here – of 10 first-team squad members unavailable to Lee Bowyer through injury.

Starting with experienced goalkeeper Ben Amos, they include Jonny Williams, Jake Forster-Caskey. Lyle Taylor, Chuks Aneke, Lewis Page, Beram Kayal, Tomer Hemed, Sam Field and George Lapslie. To their ranks can now be added midfield inspiration Josh Cullen, stretchered off with what looked to be a serious injury after 52 minutes. Charlton are, in fact, performing heroically in plugging seemingly impossible gaps.

Able to name only six substitutes, three of them recent youth academy graduates, Bowyer made do and mended admirably as usual. 19-year-old Albie Morgan capably substituted for Cullen, while comparative veteran Alfie Doughty – aged 20 – stepped up to replace the hit-and-miss Jonathan Leko. That both of the greenhorns repaid the manager’s faith with sterling contributions – Doughty was a dancing delight on the left flank – is beside the point. Which of course is that Bowyer, with the unlucky Cullen joining the wounded, is now looking at a complete starting XI on the sidelines.

The one-game suspension of Darren Pratley further complicated the Addicks’ problems. But as one door closed, another opened for Erhun Oztumer. The tiny midfielder showed once again that his ability to produce devastating passes in congested spaces is the product of an agile footballing brain; he also boasts a lively turn of pace, as he showed in making Charlton’s second goal. Morgan and Doughty proved that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. Oztumer extended the adage to prove if you’re good enough, you’re big enough.

There were other individual successes in a solid team performance against big, physical City. Deji Oshilaja played at the base of the diamond and supplied stout support in front of redoubtable centrebacks Tom Locker and Jason Pearce, his one blemish a clumsy first half challenge on Callum Paterson inside the penalty area, to which erratic referee Charles Breakspeare turned a charitable eye. It looked like a stonewall penalty, as was impartially but discreetly pointed out to the boss-eyed official from the press box.

By that time, the inevitable Conor Gallagher had put the Addicks in front with his sixth goal of the season. The spadework was done on the right by the excellent Macauley Bonne, who ghosted between two mesmerised Bluebirds and crossed low into the area. Leko’s miskick wrongfooted everybody but Gallagher, who used the outside of his right foot to stab the loose ball past Neil Etheridge.

With their tails up, Charlton doubled their lead three minutes before half-time with another fine goal. This time, Oztumer’s devastating burst from his own half spreadeagled the visitors and with Gallagher providing a distraction to his left, the playmaker delivered a perfect defence-splitting pass for Leko to pursue and drive left-footed inside Etheridge’s near post.

Visitors far from finished

Despite being two down, the visitors were far from finished and seemed to have found a way back two minutes after resumption when Ben Purrington pointlessly manhandled Paterson as they disputed a left wing cross. Hoillet’s weak spotkick was easily smothered by Dillon Phillips but, oddly, it was Cardiff who were galvanised by the missed penalty. Within minutes, they had halved their deficit as Nathaniel Mendez-Laing resolved an untidy goalmouth scramble by hammering home from close range.

Shaken by the turn of events, Charlton were rattled further by the loss of Cullen, their reliable midfield metronome. The visitors sensed their discomfort and Phillips’ desperately deployed legs were required to keep out Leandro Bacuna’s treacherously deflected shot. But there was nothing the besieged keeper could do to stop Lee Tomlin from equalising with a crisp drive after the seasoned substitute was set up by Mendez-Laing.

At that pivotal point, with 17 minutes plus added time to negotiate, the resurgent Bluebirds seemed more than likely winners. But that was to reckon without the customary fighting spirit of Bowyer’s stubborn side. It was they, not the cock-a-hoop Welshmen who finished more strongly. Bonne might have won it for them but drove Morgan’s inviting cutback into Etheridge’s stomach, before Morgan tested the keeper with a crisp effort from 20 yards. Local hearts were in mouths, though, as towering centre back Aden Flint blasted over the bar from close range.

The conflicting arguments have been heard and duly considered. It’s disappointing to lose a 2-0 lead at any time but on this occasion it’s forgivable. This was a more than useful point achieved in adversity. Next case…

Charlton: Phillips, Matthews, Lockyer, Pearce, Purrington, Oshilaja, Gallagher, Cullen (Morgan 56), Oztumer, Leko (Doughty 79), Bonne. Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Solly, Sarr, Davison. Booked: Bonne.

Cardiff: Etheridge, Peltier, Nelson, Flint, Bennett, Bacuna, Pack, Mendez-Laing, Paterson (Vaulks 79), Hoilett (Tomlin 67), Madine (Bogle 67). Not used: Smithies, Morrison, Murphy, Coxe. Booked: Peltier, Tomlin, Madine.

Referee: Charles Breakspeare. Att: 16,011 (1,673 visiting).


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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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