Kevin Nolan’s Valley View: Charlton Athletic 2-0 Fleetwood Town

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

It wasn’t the most entertaining of matches, but the Addicks notched up an important win yesterday, as KEVIN NOLAN reports.

Charlton’s vital win over improving Fleetwood Town helped to ease their lingering fears they might be sucked into a late season relegation battle. Second-half goals from Mason Burstow and Albie Morgan were enough to see off the Cod Army, who paid the price for failing to turn their early superiority into an interval lead.

The win, however unevenly it was achieved, was gratefully savoured but a bumper crowd needed no reminding that both scorers were products of the club’s impressive academy system.

Fans enjoy little more than to watch youngsters make it through the various age levels on their way to the first team, and serenaded Burstow, then Morgan, as “one of our own”.

Mason, not 19 until August, tapped into the euphoric mood by turning his 82nd-minute replacement by Conor Washington into an innocently improvised lap of honour; Albie, 22 next week, went quietly berserk after crowning an impressive contribution with an all-too-rare goal in time added on by Billy Bunter-shaped referee Brett Huxtable.

(Billy Bunter? Ask your grandad. Or your grandma, who might get you up to speed about Bessie Bunter, Billy’s sister.)

In the accepted way of things, meanwhile, you’ll find the names of Charlton’s goalscorers at the head of this report. And rightly so. Goals are how games of football are decided.

But there’s more to it than that. There’s the exhausting but ultimately decisive battle to control midfield, the engine room where small battles are won and lost which inexorably influence the outcome.

And at the heart of Charlton’s midfield on Saturday, as he has been since Johnnie Jackson reinstalled him following Nigel Adkins’ departure, was the indefatigable George Dobson.

Hardly a veteran himself at 24, Dobson ploughed through a prodigious workload, which included momentum-changing interceptions, razor-sharp tackles and conscientious tracking.

Most of his unglamorous graft was followed by the appropriate choice of pass to turn defence into attack. Hunch-shouldered, urgent and hardly the most elegant player on the pitch, Dobson had a horse of a game, which won’t have escaped the all-seeing eye of his manager.

Back to the whirlwind start made by Stephen Crainey’s in-form Fishermen’s Friends. As early as the first minute, setpiece expert Danny Andrew sent an ideally placed free kick harmlessly over the bar, Paddy Lane clipped the woodwork with an deceptively drifting cross, then Lane cut inside Aki Famewo but fired tamely into Craig McGillivray’s hands.

The Addicks briefly raised the siege with Diallang Jaiyesimi sending Sean Clare through to sting Alex Cairns’ palms at his near post. Their respite was short-lived as Andrew used a short corner to pick out an onrushing Tom Clarke beyond the far post, but the centre-back headed inches too high.

With the pressure mounting, another free kick conceded just outside the penalty area saw Andrew improve on his earlier effort by shaving the bar. But under the towering influence of Ryan Inniss, the Addicks stayed in the game and significantly came closest to scoring before the break. A subdued Chuks Aneke fashioned a shooting chance for Elliot Lee, which was blocked back to Lee, whose second effort was brilliantly saved by a full-length Cairns.

There was no way of knowing it at the time but the visitors had already blown their best chance of a useful result. Within eight minutes of the restart, they fell behind to Burstow’s second league goal and fifth of a hugely promising career. Jay Matete’s foul on Corey Blackett-Taylor near the left touchline set up Morgan to launch a free kick, which was returned from the far post by Inniss and nodded past Cairns by Burstow.

The kid’s bashful, foot-scuffing departure past the North Stand some 30 minutes later was saluted by his doting fans. The Leaving of Liverpool was only slightly more emotional.

Before Morgan applied the coup-de-grace, Lane came within a whisker of spoiling the party when he failed – by exactly that whisker – to toe-end Shayden Morris’ teasing cross past McGillivray. Morgan responded by quickstepping nimbly through a tiring defence but inexplicably missed a yawning target.

It hardly mattered because less than a minute later, Albie finished clinically from the penalty spot after Zak Jules could only turn Alex Gilbey’s cross from the right into his path.

Great work from Gilbey, by the way. His 20-minute cameo might have earned him a place in the starting line-up at Hartlepool on Tuesday evening, if he’s lucky!

Charlton: McGillivray, Clare, Inniss, Famewo, Dobson, Lee (Gilbey 69), Morgan, Jaiyesimi, Blackett-Taylor (Purrington 86), Burstow (Washington 82), Aneke. Not used: Henderson, Pearce, Leko, Watson. Booked: Dobson, Aneke.

Fleetwood: Cairns, Andrew, Jules, Clarke, Harrison, Camps, Matete, Batty (Pilkington 75), Lane, Johnston (Nsiala 81), Hayes (Morris 62). Not used: Donaghy, Johnson, Biggins, Boyle. Booked: Matete.

Referee: Brett Huxtable. Att: 21,811 (192 visiting).


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

Kevin Nolan's Valley View
The Addicks hosted a Premier League side at home for the first time in 15 years, but couldn’t quite finish off top-tier strugglers Norwich City. KEVIN NOLAN was in the press box.

A single flash of Premier League quality, with only 11 minutes remaining in this FA Cup third round tie, sent Norwich City into Round Four and left Charlton free to concentrate on reaching Wembley via the EFL Trophy.

An away tie at Hartlepool on a Wednesday evening in January lacks obvious appeal but it is, no doubt you agree, better than nothing.

It was Teemo Pukki, summoned from the bench at half-time to replace Greek teenager Christos Tzolis, who supplied that extra something which settled an evenly fought clash which Charlton could – indeed should – have at least drawn.

Sprinting on to a shrewdly weighted through ball from Kenny McLean, he was too quick for a toiling Jason Pearce and, resisting the temptation to shoot, squared unselfishly for fellow substitute Milot Rashica to tap in the winner.

Although a constant menace, Pukki hadn’t exactly terrorised the Addicks but proved to be the difference which separated sides of almost identical merit.

If Jonathan Leko had made more of a similar chance from four yards, created for him just past the half hour by Elliot Lee, an honourable draw would have meant extra-time and potentially penalties.

But Leko snatched at the opportunity, spooned it horribly over the bar and reminded home fans that while Dean Smith could call on the likes of Pukki and Rashica, Johnnie Jackson was cruelly deprived of both Conor Washington and Jayden Stockley. His striker-less selection’s inability to score was hardly difficult to predict.

Not that Jackson’s otherwise strong side were easy marks for their soon-to-be Championship opponents. An early, bone-crunching challenge by Ryan Inniss on marauding Turkish defender Ozan Kabak signalled an intent that was easy to read.

To his credit, Kazan neither crumpled nor complained and battle was joined. Until the interval, Charlton enjoyed an edge and with better finishing and, it must be said, the occasional intervention of luck, might have retired for refreshment in the lead.

Lee was a restless bundle of energy and when set up by the equally hardworking Alex Gilbey, curled narrowly wide. After Leko missed the best chance of all, Gilbey chanced his arm from distance to produce an unorthodox but effective save from Tim Krul, who somehow shovelled his 25-yarder up and over the bar.

The visitors were always in contention but Charlton opened the second period still marginally on top. Receiving from George Dobson, Lee closed in from the flank but was foiled by Krul’s astutely outstretched right foot. The Canaries’ vastly experienced Dutch stopper was proving that it’s not how, but whether, you keep ’em out that matters. He’s been doing it long enough.

The introduction of Pukki was, meanwhile, greeted with mild apprehension among home fans. The simultaneous introduction of 25-year-old Kosovan Rashica caused no similar disquiet but Smith was royally served by both his half-time substitutions.

In response to Krul’s eccentric heroics, meanwhile, Stephen Henderson did his bit to keep the Addicks in the tie. His saves from McLean’s crisp drive and Max Aaron’s low effort, which was sneaking inside his left hand post, were at least expected of him.

At the other end, however, he wrongfooted everyone by charging upfield to take a last chance free kick to the left of City’s penalty area. Waving aside objections, including those voiced by regular setpiece specialist Lee, his delivery was surprisingly delicate and well judged. Leaping high at the far post, Pearce nodded back across goal and Ben Purrington’s six-yard header rebounded off the bar.

(We apologise if readers, at this point, detect any bad language lurking between the lines of this report. It’s entirely uncalled for but, honestly, you had to be there. And, be fair, it was enough to make a saint swear. We are unable to guarantee it won’t happen again.)

Charlton: Henderson; Clare, Pearce, Inniss (Gunter 70); Jaiyesimi (Blackett-Taylor 71), Gilbey (Kirk 87), Dobson, Lee, Purrington; Leko, Burstow (Davison 70). Not used: MacGillivray, Matthews, Souaré, Morgan, Watson. Booked: Inniss, Purrington, Dobson, Gilbey. Booked: Inniss, Purrington, Dobson, Gilbey.

Norwich City: Krul; Byram (Aarons 71), Hanley, Kabak, Giannoulis (Williams 46); Lees-Melou, Sørensen, McLean; Dowell (Rashica 46), Sargent (Idah 85), Tzolis (Pukki 46). Not used: Gunn, Gibson, Gibbs, Płacheta. Booked: Hanley, Pukki, Sørensen.

Referee: Joshua Smith

Attendance: 13,825 (2,260 visiting)


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

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

New Year’s Day brought a rude awakening for Charlton fans – but KEVIN NOLAN tried not to let it spoil his birthday…

Back-to-back 1-0 defeats have blown a ruinous hole in Charlton’s lingering hopes of a place in the post-season play-offs. With 22 games still to play, that might be dismissed as a hopelessly defeatist statement by those fans whose glass remains defiantly half-full until the bitter end.

But the truth is that the Addicks’ mid-table position is exactly where they belong. They’re a decent enough League One side – too good to go down but not nearly good enough to go up.

In a word, mediocre.

Three impressive victories in Thomas Sandgaard’s Fill The Valley initiative had inspired genuine belief that Johnnie Jackson’s men had turned a critical corner and were poised to make their move on the top six pacesetters.

All three games were won by solid 2-0 margins, the first of them seeing off Plymouth Argyle, who arrived at The Valley unbeaten in 16 league games. When Ipswich Town and Cambridge United were similarly dispatched, there was a buzz in the air which even deeply disappointing performances at Morecambe and Shrewsbury failed to dispel.

Plymouth’s revenge at Home Park two weeks ago, however, provided damning evidence that Charlton’s inconsistency would be their undoing.

Surprise packets Wycombe Wanderers had already beaten the Addicks back in September and occupied a healthy fifth position before Saturday’s kick-off.

They did their promotion prospects no harm with this comfortable, often fractious victory, set up by an excellent first half goal and consolidated by an exhibition of expertly crafted timewasting which, with inept referee Paul Howard’s connivance, reduced the second half to almost pantomimic farce.

Collapsing without warning, making a meal of every setpiece, kicking the ball away religiously, these Chairboys were anything but Choirboys. The award of five measly added minutes rewarded their cynicism and proved again that in football, crime can be made to pay. Added time – it’s no more than a charter for cheats!

None of which suggests that Charlton were robbed. They were in fact taught a bitter lesson by one-time minnows in the art of game management, a euphemism these days for blatant bending of the rules – or laws, such as they are.

And in 34-year-old Garath McCleary, the visitors had an experienced campaigner capable of blending sublime skills with the game’s darker arts in search of a result. The tricky veteran claimed both of Wycombe’s goals in their 2-1 home win over what was then Nigel Adkins’ side; his outstanding assist which helped settle this ill-tempered clash made it four so far this season and provided top scorer Sam Vokes with his seventh goal.

Neatly controlling Jason McCarthy’s pass to the right of Charlton’s goal, McCleary wriggled clear of George Dobson’s attentions on the byline, closed in to the near post and provided Vokes with a two-yard chance the Welsh striker could hardly miss.

Charlton were already chasing a lost cause, one which the visitors were at pains to make even more remote. Two of the three changes made by Jackson from the team which flopped at Plymouth sensibly restored Akin Famewo and Conor Washington to the starting XI.

But the enforced absence of Jayden Stockley, withdrawn after picking up a “niggle” was a body blow. His replacement, Josh Davison, got off to a nightmare start which clearly drained him of confidence and gave way to Jonathan Leko at half-time.

The large Valley crowd showed sympathy to the unfortunate Davison and an ineffectual Leko but Stockley’s belligerence was sorely missed.

Up front for the Chairboys, meanwhile, was former Addick Brandon Hanlan, to whom fell the visitors’ best chance of doubling the advantage provided by McCleary. Early in the second half, Hanlan outmuscled the otherwise redoubtable Jason Pearce, but shooting far too early, made Craig McGillivray’s save routine. McCleary came much closer with a sharp drive which deflected narrowly wide of the left post.

Charlton’s chances were few and far between. Elliot Lee’s first half effort drew a fine save from David Stockdale but the keeper knew little about the 58th-minute ricochet off Leko, which sent Alex Gilbey’s close range cross cannoning into his right post.

Washington drove narrowly wide but the closest Charlton came to an equaliser was late substitute Ryan Inniss’s last-minute header which was scraped off the line by Wycombe’s captain Joe Jacobson. And that was all she wrote…

Charlton: McGillivray, Clare, Famewo, Pearce, Purrington, Dobson (Inniss 88), Jaiyesimi (Burstow 84), Gilbey, Lee, Davison (Leko 46), Washington. Not used: Henderson, Morgan, Watson, Souare. Booked: Pearce, Clare.

Wycombe: Stockdale, Grimmer, Jacobson, Forino-Joseph, McCarthy, Mehmeti (Wheeler 61), Scowen, Obita, Hanlan, McCleary, Vokes (Stewart 90+2). Not used: Przybek, Wheeler, Thompson, Horgan, Akinfenwa. Booked: McCleary, Wheeler, Obita.

Referee: Paul Howard. Att: 18,895 (873 visiting).


Read more from Kevin in this month’s Voice of the Valley – to buy or subscribe, go to votvonline.com


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