Kevin Nolan’s Locked-Down Valley View: Charlton Athletic 0-1 Reading

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

A grim afternoon behind closed doors at The Valley. KEVIN NOLAN watched so you don’t have to, and makes a few suggestions…

A tortuous exercise in pure frustration, which featured two unfavourable penalty decisions and a first half goal contentiously ruled out for offside, prolonged Charlton’s relegation agony in Saturday’s lunchtime clash with Reading at The Valley.

Their ordeal began as early as the second minute when Deji Oshilaja needlessly cut across Andy Rinomhota, bundling him over as they disputed John Swift’s sharp pass into the penalty area. His zeal was misplaced and referee Darren Bond dutifully operated within the law to penalise him. George Puscas drilled his spotkick down the middle as Dillon Phillips gambled to his right.

Scorers themselves only three times in five post-lockdown games, the Addicks could ill afford Oshilaja’s rush of blood. They battled on doggedly but powderpuff finishing again proved their undoing. Up front, Macauley Bonne went close with a couple of half-chances but looked out of his depth while Chuks Aneke was fortunate to escape a caution for persistent fouling. It was Aneke, however, who appeared to have equalised shortly before the first drinks break when he turned home the rebound after Rafael saved Aiden McGeady’s crisp snapshot at full length. Referee Bond clearly saw nothing wrong with the “goal” but, reasonably enough, deferred to his linesman’s upraised flag. Charlton can’t catch a break at the minute; Reading’s penalty follows hard on the heels of the dubious decision which helped Brentford to overcome their stout resistance in midweek.

Much later, Bond was required to adjudicate a similar tangle between substitutes Jake Forster-Caskey and Jon Obita inside the area. Obita’s challenge, like Oshilaja’s in almost the same spot, seemed excessively physical but again the full force of the law came down on the home side. Forster-Caskey was not only denied a penalty but was unfairly booked for “simulation” while Obita escaped scot-free.

Later defeats for Middlesbrough and Hull City mitigated the damage done by this demoralising setback but Charlton would be unwise to rely on the continued ineptitude of others as they enter a critical three-game micro-season. Their current inability to score promises to be their downfall. Bonne is the only recognised striker with a goal to his credit, while a popgun-firing midfield, in which Darren Pratley has been the sole scorer, consistently fails to contribute. The four goals grudgingly conceded by the defence in six games (one of them the penalty generously awarded to Brentford), meanwhile, stands comparison with sides at the top of the division. No team has recently rolled over Charlton, as has happened to their relegation rivals and that jealously guarded goal difference may yet enter the equation.

An increasingly careworn Lee Bowyer will weigh the pluses and minuses in selecting his sides for the upcoming clashes with fellow strugglers Birmingham City and Wigan Athletic. He must surely concede that Oshilaja, a right-footed left back, is a square peg looking for a suitably square hole. His advances along the left flank invariably end in him checking infield on to his right foot before passing either square or backwards, a consequent loss of momentum not common to Alfie Doughty or, indeed, to the totally overlooked Ben Purrington.

The manager will also have been quietly pleased with the first half shift contributed by McGeady who, besides producing Charlton’s most effective shot on target, probed and passed intelligently. The Scottish playmaker’s clever cross created a near-post chance which Bonne screwed harmlessly across the face of Rafael’s goal before, as usual, he faded dramatically after the interval. McGeady should have been substituted long before his 79th-minute departure in favour of anonymous Tomer Hemed.

An interval replacement for ineffective Albie Morgan, Jonny Williams made a determined effort to establish a new personal best for free kicks earned. Another non-scoring midfielder, Williams might be encouraged to spend more time inside opponents’ penalty area, where his propensity to attract fouls could pay off. Like McGeady, he’s good for no more than 45 minute stints. Perhaps they should alternate to good effect.

And in a Charlton side beginning to present a jaded, colourless persona, should room be made for Naby Sarr, a charismatic player hard to ignore and even harder to overlook? Maybe he could even make a difference up front, where he’s been known to cause havoc. Bowyer will probably opt for caution at this late stage -and he might well be right -which will mean more bad news for the diminutive Erhun Oztumer, who seems to be surplus to the manager’s requirements. Oztumer and Sarr, the unused Little and Large pistols in Bowyer’s armoury, might well be worth a look, though. After all, when it’s broke, fix it!

Charlton: Phillips, Matthews, Lockyer, Pearce, Oshilaja (Doughty 46), Cullen, Pratley (Forster-Caskey 84), McGeady (Hemed 79), Morgan (Williams 46), Aneke, Bonne. Not used: Amos, Sarr, Purrington, Field, Oztumer. Booked: Doughty, Cullen, Forster-Caskey.

Reading: Rafael, Cabral, Blackett, McIntyre, Morrison, Osho (Gunter 74), Pele (Obita 46), Olise (Richards 61), Rinomhota, Swift (Moore 74), Meite, Puscas (Baldock 56). Not used: Walker, Miazga, McCleary, Boye. Booked: Blackett, Osho, Baldock.

Referee: Darren Bond.

Kevin Nolan’s Locked-Down Valley View: Charlton Athletic 0-1 Millwall

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

A south-east London derby behind closed doors ended in all-too familiar fashion for the Addicks last night. KEVIN NOLAN watched as the neighbours walked away with three points again…

Forget the law of averages. There’s no such thing. Or if there is, it gets broken every time Charlton play Millwall. Whatever the circumstances, whatever rests on the result, Charlton lose to Millwall. That’s just the way it is. The rare draws – and there was a priceless point on offer here – are exceptions which prove the rule.

In all the frustration and pain which followed yet another late defeat, let’s be be fair, the dogged determination and brave resistance, which came close to seeing the Addicks over the line to hard won parity, shouldn’t be overlooked. They swapped punch for punch in coping with a primitive if energy-sapping aerial onslaught, stood their ground gamely and had their own chances to snatch a winner.

What they didn’t have, unfortunately, is a forward capable of converting any of those rare opportunities. Two goals in four post-lockdown games, both of them scored by non-strikers, tells its own misfiring story. The pressure on a superb defence, which conceded for the first time since the season was resumed, eventually brought them to their knees.

At this point I’m tempted to mention Lyle Taylor. But I promised myself I wouldn’t go there.

The line-up which faced Millwall featured seven changes and was faithful to Lee Bowyer’s stated intention to use his entire squad during the nine-game mini-season. Results have vindicated him but Charlton simply ran out of steam against their noisome neighbours. And sad to say it was an error – no howler but an error nonetheless – by Dillon Phillips, their outstanding young goalkeeper – which disastrously ended their string of clean sheets. Covering his near post to deal with Connor Mahoney’s forceful shot, he parried to Jake Cooper, who beat a sliding Tom Lockyer to the loose ball and smashed it into the roof of the net.

A clearly distraught Phillips had previously kept his side in contention with a typically fine first half save from Millwall’s danger man Jed Wallace. Played clear by Ryan Woods’ deft pass, Wallace closed in to confront the advancing keeper but was unable to lift his shot over him. At the other end, Bartosz Bialkowski had already done his bit by narrowing the angle as Macauley Bonne seized on an opening created by Lockyer’s crunching midfield tackle and charging down the forward’s unconvincing effort.

In a game of fleeting half-chances, both saves seemed likely to feature as highlights in a keenly fought scoreless stalemate. Until the Addicks finally buckled with the finishing line in sight.

Gary Rowett’s tactics, meanwhile, were uncomplicated. They entailed getting the ball to Jed Wallace in enough space for the wideman -with 10 goals and 10 assists to his credit this season – to place one of his superbly delivered crosses on the lofty, 6’6″ head of target man Matt Smith. The plan had worked perfectly at the Den in November where Wallace’s added time corner was headed past Phillips to steal the points. This time Lockyer, Jason Pearce and Darren Pratley were equal to the task and physically denied Smith a clear sight of goal. They were doing fine until towering centreback Cooper found another way another way to break their hearts.

With five crucial games left – the first of them a daunting midweek trip to form team Brentford – in the battle for Championship survival, Bowyer will be called upon to make a little go a long way. Charlton will score few many goals and whatever they can muster must count. Bonne hasn’t found the net in 10 games, while Hemed, who hooked a pre-interval chance weakly off target, still seeks his first Charlton goal. Chuks Aneke replaced Bonne just past the hour and bustled the Lions effectively but like Bonne and Hemed, proved shot-shy.

A non-scoring midfield, in which even Josh Cullen struggled to impress, must step up and contribute. Albie Morgan drove one early effort into Cooper’s midriff, Cullen skied his only shot while Aidan McGeady pottered his way through 75 meaningless minutes, during which he scrupulously avoided physical contact and regularly supplied the Lions with possession. Bowyer clearly sees something in the ex-Celtic winger. That something remains a mystery to your reporter, who stands ready to be convinced otherwise. Alfie Doughty or Jonny Williams must surely see out the rest of the campaign.

Silver lining? It’s hard to see one right now, except to remind ourselves that we’re finished with Millwall until, hopefully, next season. That six-point handicap was already factored in pre-season. The same number of points from the eighteen still available might do the business. And let’s not forget Wigan might be in serious trouble. I’m not one for gloating but one dog eats any other dog in this ultra-competitive division.

Better them than us. And you may quote me on that.

Charlton: Phillips, Matthews, Lockyer, Pearce, Oshilaja (Doughty 75), Cullen, Pratley (Sarr 90), Morgan (Field 46), McGeady (Williams 75), Bonne (Aneke 64), Hemed. Not used: Amos, Purrington, Forster-Caskey, Green.

Millwall: Bialkowski, Romeo (Mitchell 75), Hutchinson, Cooper, Pearce, Murray Wallace, Leonard (Mahoney 75), Jed Wallace (Williams 85), Smith (Bradshaw 64), Woods, Molumby (Thompson 46). Not used: Steele, Pearce, Skalak, Ferguson.

Referee: Dean Whitestone.

Kevin Nolan’s Locked-Down Valley View: Cardiff City 0-0 Charlton Athletic

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

Thought a 0-0 draw would be a disappointment? Not when you’re fighting relegation and up against one of the division’s top teams. KEVIN NOLAN, still locked down in Grove Park, watched the Addicks take on the Bluebirds in the Welsh capital.

If one volunteer is worth two conscripts, as they preach in the Army, Charlton’s Championship future rests in willing hands. Showing seven changes to the side which squeezed past QPR just three days previously, they still had enough about them to hold in-form play-off hopefuls Cardiff to an honourable, if forgettable, draw.

Having shuffled his pack astutely, Lee Bowyer was dealt a fresh blow – in a season pockmarked by similar pitfalls – when West Brom loanee Sam Field was forced off in the first half following a head clash with Robert Glatzel. Having already missed most of the season through injury, Field had been anxious to make a belated contribution and his distress was obvious. The knock he received prior to his collision with Glatzel was clearly of more concern to the back room boys than the head wound.

Intending to rest veteran Darren Pratley in readiness for Friday evening’s visit of Millwall, Lee Bowyer’s schemes were again disrupted. But there was little cause for immediate alarm. Up stepped 35 year-old warhorse Pratley to take over in a defensive formation designed to reduce this game to one of little incident and fewer chances. His reassuring presence fitted in seamlessly to the game plan.

Though hugely encouraging, Charlton’s post-lockdown results won’t blind Bowyer to one worrying reality. Though pleased with the third consecutive clean sheet achieved by his bloody-minded defence and, when called upon, by his outstanding goalkeeper Dillon Phillips, he must face the uncomfortable fact that the goals which edged Hull and QPR resulted from setpieces created for Pratley and centreback Jason Pearce.

His forwards, meanwhile, have laboured fitfully without suggesting they might score. At the moment, you could say Charlton are operating with non-striking strikers.

Against Neil Harris’ high-flying Bluebirds, Chuks Aneke and Andre Green met mixed fortunes in their first starts since the campaign resumed. Aneke was a muscular handful for the Welsh defence, backing in, holding the ball up and providing a useful outlet up front for beleaguered colleagues. Green, on the other hand, proved too easy to dispossess and unhappily dithered too long over the early chance fashioned for him by Aneke’s persistence.

Perhaps surprisingly, it was Aneke who gave way to Macauley Bonne around the hour mark, with Green eventually replaced by Ben Purrington as a precious point became the priority. Bonne has shown only flashes of the form which brought him eight goals before intermission but an overdue goal could change that. Then it’ll be c’est si Bonne again.

Elsewhere, Bowyer will have found it difficult to name a stand-out contributor to a character-full performance by this battered but admirable squad. The impressive passing and renewed responsibility of Naby Sarr shone in a rock-hard back three alongside redoubtable warriors Pearce and Tom Lockyer. George Lapslie, another vitual newcomer, grafted tirelessly until replaced by Deji Oshilaja at right wingback while fellow Academy graduate Alfie Doughty, the latest cab off the Sparrows Lane rank, frequently left flustered Bluebirds in his wake as he broke out, with pace and uquenchable optimism, from defence.

In front of Pearce’s defensive line, the Addicks were well served by a stubborn, competitive midfield, in which Josh Cullen was, as can by now be assumed, excellent. The West Ham loanee has bought into Charlton’s all-for-one ethos and is indispensable in their hectic schedule, playing every minute so far. Pratley, as already observed, still has an impressive engine which shows no sign of misfiring.

Throw late substitute Albie Morgan into the equation and the Addicks are well served in a midfield where new starter Jake Forster-Caskey alone struggled to impress.

Cardiff’s chances were rare, the best of them created for Albert Adomah by Joe Ralls’ defence-splitting diagonal pass. Shooting across Dillon Phillips, Adomah’s low drive was brilliantly tipped away by the full length keeper. Apart from one or two bits and pieces, Phillips was capably shielded by Charlton’s blanket-like resistance. Doing sterling work for City, centre back Curtis Nelson was alive to the visitors’ most promising chances.

Responsible for smothering Green’s early effort to convert Aneke’s set-up, much later he alertly read the low ball sent in by Sarr fom the left byline, sliding in to whisk the ball off Forster-Caskey’s toes as a tap-in seemed likely. Like Phillips, Alex Smithies had little to do as a dour stalemate developed.

One or two more of these uneventful “clashes”, to be honest, and Charlton will be home and dry. But then Millwall are due at The Valley on Friday evening. That’s a whole different ballgame. There goes the neighbourhood!

Cardiff: Smithies, Sanderson, Bennett, Nelson, Morrison, Ralls (Vaulks 88), Bacuna (Tomlin 65), Pack, Adomah, Mendez-Laing (Hoilett 65), Glatzel (Paterson 46),. Not used: Etheridge, Bamba, Flint, Smith, Whyte. Booked: Sanderson.

Charlton: Phillips, Lapslie (Oshilaja 63), Lockyer, Pearce, Sarr, Doughty, Field (Pratley 36), Cullen, Forster-Caskey (Morgan 79), Aneke (Bonne 63), Green (Purrington 79). Not used: Amos, Williams, Davison, McGeady. Booked: Purrington.


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