Kevin Nolan’s Locked-Down Valley View: Charlton Athletic 4-4 Rochdale

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

Last night’s match wasn’t short on goals – although four of them went in the wrong direction. KEVIN NOLAN, fresh from a Covid jab, despaired then was thrilled by a rollercoaster ride at The Valley.

Three days after their neighbours Accrington Stanley reduced Charlton to a demoralised rabble, Rochdale arrived at the scene of the debacle expecting to mop up the debris. Their own stock had been boosted by their stirring comeback in clawing back a three-goal deficit to draw 3-3 with upwardly-mobile Crewe.

Brian Barry-Murphy (apologies, by the way, for handing his job to Keith Hill in my Accrington report) and his relegation-threatened men knew a good thing when they saw one. Their Tuesday evening hosts have recently built a reputation as go-to opponents for needy sides or, come to that, any side. And following 20 chaotic minutes at The Valley, their obvious confidence seemed justified.

Without the suspended Darren Pratley and, it warrants repeating, irreplaceable central defenders Ryan Inniss and Akin Famewo, Lee Bowyer deployed Jason Pearce with Deji Oshilaja in what appeared to be a quasi-left back role. Ian Maatsen was deployed further upfield as Charlton tottered towards disaster in the early going. By the time order was restored, with Oshilaja and Maatsen re-positioned, the Addicks were already in deep trouble. Just as well The Valley was deserted -a people’s revolution was all Bowyer needed.

Unbalanced and seriously undermanned at the back, Charlton were close to total collapse as Rochdale got in behind them at will, tore holes in their flimsy rearguard and almost effortlessly cruised into a two-goal lead. Wide man Kwadu Baah was briefly irresistible, his astute pass playing Jimmy Keohane clear on the left to cut back accurately to Matty Lund at the edge of the home penalty area. Lund’s first time strike beat Ben Amos’s dive and clipped the right-hand post on its way into the net.

Baah had the bit firmly between his teeth and elegantly doubled ‘Dale’s lead ten minutes later. The spadework was done by Stephen Humphrys, who powered through Charlton’s tattered resistance and picked out his young colleague to his left. Without hesitation, Baah placed a powerful shot into the left corner with Amos again left unguarded by a bewildered defence.

Facing annihilation, Bowyer’s boys gamely but almost perversely made a stand. Inspired by Chuks Aneke, frequently unplayable and a consistent pain in Rochdale’s posterior, they halved their tormentors’ lead thanks to the big line leader’s brilliant solo goal. Nodding on a high clearance, Aneke won back his own header from a startled Jimmy McNulty, shook off a posse of pursuing Dalesmen and finished brutally past Gavin Bazunu.

Back in contention, or so it seemed, the Addicks were yet again sucker-punched a minute past an already-crowded half hour. And again the damage was done by Baah, who danced inside Paul Smyth’s weak challenge and, finding no cover behind his outwitted adversary, fired his second unstoppable drive beyond a shellshocked Amos.

By now it had become clear that this was a duel between two sides, neither of which was blessed with a sturdy defence. Rochdale’s own vulnerability was cruelly exposed as they failed to handle a scruffy scramble inside their penalty area, with Jake Beesley shanking a feeble clearance to Jake Forster-Caskey’s feet. The midfielder crowned an impressive contribution with a hasty snapshot which was diverted past Bazunu by Jimmy McNulty’s helpful head.

Only a goal down despite their calamitous defending, Charlton seemed almost at pains to take a two-goal deficit into half-time sanctuary. Ryan Gilbey’s rash foul on Lund conceded the free kick, by means of which Humphrys restored the visitors’ two-goal lead. His superb delivery from 20 yards gave Amos no chance. Before the break, Aneke headed a good chance over the bar and Jonny Williams made a hash of converting Gilbey’s perfect pass from close range. If nothing else, the misses served notice that this game was surprisingly far from over.

Bowyer’s interval replacements of a limping Paul Smyth and Gilbey by Ronnie Schwartz and Albie Morgan were astute moves which shifted momentum Charlton’s way. So did a new mood of urgency which saw the Addicks first to the ball, more assured in possession and newly determined in the tackle. Rochdale were driven back by the intensity shown by their first half victims.

They had shot their bolt and saw their lead vanish along with the initiative they had torn from them. It was their turn to struggle. And unsurprisingly, Aneke was at the heart of their downfall. The skilful big man started the move which flowed through him to Schwartz and out to Chris Gunter, overlapping rapidly on the right flank. The veteran’s precise cross was headed home by Aneke, who had alertly continued his run and the Lancastrians felt the heat being turned up under them. Just two minutes later, it became intense.

Aneke was inevitably involved in Schwartz’s first goal for Charlton. But it was Gunter and Williams who laid down the groundwork, which he carried on by nudging a short, square pass into the Danish predator’s stride. From inside the penalty area, Schwartz’s fierce, rising drive finished the job. It was obvious he expected to score.

Bazunu’s fine save denied Aneke a match-winner but the psychologically important point was imperilled by the late dismissal of Jason Pearce, correctly awarded a second yellow card by Valley favourite Trevor Kettle for following in recklessly on the brave keeper.

The closing stages were anxiously negotiated, with Amos producing two fine saves to preserve equality. And if an untidy but thrilling draw against lowly opposition such as Rochdale seems an odd result to celebrate, it should be viewed in the context of Charlton’s recent dismal form.

Had they lost this game, as it seemed certain more than once they would, the consequences might have been terminal to their promotion prospects. As it is, it might have bought them the time they need to re-group. But make no mistake, the return of Inniss and Famewo to a sorely tried back four holds the key to their chances.

Charlton: Amos, Gunter, Pearce, Oshilaja, Maatsen, Forster-Caskey, Gilbey (Morgan 46), Williams (Washington 80), Smyth (Schwartz 46), Millar (Matthews 90), Aneke. Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Purrington, Bogle. Booked: Gilbey, Morgan. Sent off: Pearce.

Rochdale: Bazunu, McLaughlin, McNulty, Roberts, Keohane, Beesley, Morley, Rathbone, Baah (Dooley 65), Lund, Humphrys. Not used: Lynch, Brierley, Done, Dunne, McShane, Newby. Booked: Humphrys, Bazunu.

Referee: Trevor Kettle.


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Kevin Nolan’s Locked-Down Valley View: Charlton Athletic 0-2 Accrington Stanley

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

A Friday night match on the telly brings little but dread to Addicks fans – and so it proved. KEVIN NOLAN wisely stayed on the sofa for a sharp reminder of Charlton’s current status…

Nothing more acutely reminds a club like Charlton where they stand in English football’s league pyramid than a visit from Accrington Stanley. No disrespect should be inferred in remarking that the lower division stalwart has toiled away without ever suggesting they had it in them to break into the upper echelons of the system.

If Stanley are part of your fixture list, then you’ve probably fallen from grace. As Charlton did recently from the Championship, a division in which they seem incapable of securing a foothold.

No strangers to trouble themselves, Charlton have tasted success more obviously than Friday evening’s TV visitors. They are, however, currently rivals in the same division and no amount of smug “back where we belong” rhetoric cuts any ice. The Addicks are exactly where they belong and will stay there they until they prove otherwise.

Already beaten this season by erstwhile minnows Lincoln City and Burton Albion, this sound defeat by yet another of League One’s perennial underdogs hardly inspires confidence that they will be leaving it by way of promotion. Lincoln top the table, Burton are bottom which at least implies that Charlton are equal opportunity patsies.

Crisp, confident and sure of themselves, John Coleman’s boys won this televised encounter with consummate ease. A goal in each half by young striker Colby Bishop proved enough to see off their outclassed hosts and despite goalkeeper Nathan Baxter being called upon to make several competent saves, the result was never in doubt.

The Accies called the shots from whistle to whistle and Charlton were second best throughout to a sharp, hungry side. “Accrington Stanley?!” “Exactly!” Those mickey-taking Scouse kids couldn’t justify it these days.

Showing four changes from the side which lost in similarly depressing fashion to Hull City a week previously, the Addicks began brightly enough with Baxter saving smartly from new boy Liam Millar and Jake Forster-Caskey. The early promise quickly dwindled as the visitors settled into their work and the signs became ominous. Another decent strike from Forster-Caskey, to which Baxter again reacted smartly, signalled an end to Charlton’s opening edge.

As the Addicks began to fade, Stanley took over and it was no surprise when they moved ahead ten minutes before the break. The goal was a personal purgatory for skipper Jason Pearce, who forgot the coaching dictum that long, high clearances should not be allowed to bounce. Caught too far under the dropping ball, he attempted to head Baxter’s huge punt back to Ben Amos but succeeded only in setting up Bishop to flick it over the flailing keeper before nodding the gift into an empty net.

It was an honest mistake by an honest player but it served to emphasise Charlton’s wretched luck in losing both Ryan Inniss and Akin Famewo so early after an initially promising start to a rapidly crumbling season. Like Pearce, Deji Oshilaja gives his all but, frankly, lacks the commanding presence offered by Inniss and Famewo. As expected, Chuks Aneke appeared off the bench after the break and made a big difference. Apparently unable to complete 90 minutes, however, it seems Charlton have signed a part-time performer.

Omar Bogle, meanwhile, was conspicuous by his absence and is probably on his way out of The Valley. Aneke’s hold-up play improved Charlton’s chances which were effectively quashed by Bishop’s second goal. Neat ball play and a calm, composed finish inside the penalty area did the job and allowed the impressive Lancastrians to stroll through what remained of a comfortable assignment.

A disgruntled Lee Bowyer reserved his post-match ire for 62nd-minute substitute Marcus Maddison, who clearly lacked the stomach for what was hardly a full-blooded fight. Maddison’s embarrassing concession in a 50-50 tackle was followed promptly by an injury sustained in no-man’s land which led to his immediate withdrawal.

Asked whether Maddison was seriously injured, the quietly fuming gaffer responded with ill-concealed anger. “I don’t know. I don’t care. You’ve got a player who is jumping out of tackles and then he says he got a knock before that. If you do that again, you’re done. They had more fight, more determination. It summed it up when Maddison jumped out of a tackle.”

Bowyer’s displeasure was palpable; it could mean Bogle holding the exit door open for Maddison.

As Accrington departed with all three points, they leapfrogged Charlton into sixth place and lead the Addicks by a point with no less than three games in hand. Arriving hot on their heels on Tuesday evening will be Rochdale, another of those humble Lancashire clubs overshadowed by the giants surrounding them.

Managed by Coleman’s alter ego Keith Hill Brian Barry-Murphy, ‘Dale will be looking to mop up what Stanley left behind them. Let’s hope that’s an end for a while to these pugnacious iconoclasts who punch above their weight but land painfully on the nose.

Charlton: Amos, Gunter, Pearce, Oshilaja, Maatsen, Forster-Caskey, Morgan (Williams 63), Gilbey, Millar (Maddison 63, Purrington 90), Smyth (Schwartz 77), Washington (Aneke 46). Booked: Morgan, Maatsen

Accrington: Baxter, Nottingham, Hughes, Burgess, Pritchard, McConville (Roberts 83), Conneely, Butcher, Rodgers (Cassidy 66), Bishop, Charles. Booked: Pritchard.


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Kevin Nolan’s Valley View: Charlton Athletic 2-2 Plymouth Argyle

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

Charlton’s last match of 2021 was a frustrating affair – another reminder that League One is not a walk in the park. KEVIN NOLAN was at The Valley to watch the Addicks take on Plymouth.

While appraising Charlton’s progress so far through this eerie, tier-stained campaign, it’s wise to remember the mantra that a football season – especially one spent outside the Premier League – is a marathon, not a sprint. With 18 games completed, the Addicks appear to have hit a metaphorical but negotiable wall.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that only four of those games have been lost. And that this fifth stand-off had the virtue of moving Charlton into the last promotion play-off position. That’s not bad going when weighed against the crippling list of injuries which have undermined them.

For the visit of mid-table aspirants Plymouth Argyle, Lee Bowyer performed his usual juggling trick, involving square pegs and round holes. It was a surprise to find right-back Adam Matthews starting at left-back, where his instinctive move on to his favoured foot had an awkward ripple effect on a defence already struggling to cope without the rock-like solidity of Ryan Inniss and Akin Famewo.

Matthews’ redeployment pushed Ian Maatsen into midfield, where his tireless contribution included a ferocious drive against Argyle’s crossbar in first-half added time. Meanwhile, Darren Pratley continued his yeoman service alongside Jason Pearce in central defence. But a lopsided line-up was still finding its feet when the visitors went in front.

Charlton had already survived a warning shot across their bows fired by Danny Mayor’s perceptive pass and Conor Grant’s dangerous but unrewarded cross, but the Pilgrims proved briefly irresistible. Scottish winger Ryan Hardie picked his way through a ponderous defence to reach the left byline, from which a crisp cutback left Luke Jephcott the easy task of tapping Argyle’s opener past Ben Amos. The Welshman claimed the goal which knocked the Addicks out of the FA Cup in November and was celebrating his 20th birthday on Saturday.

Clearly in relaxed mood, he scored again before the interval, but not before the home side sandwiched a party-pooper between his goals.

The equaliser just past the half hour was scruffy but not entirely unexpected. Charlton were improving but Michael Cooper kept them at bay with a smart save from Conor Washington. From the resultant right-wing corner, Jake Forster-Caskey’s inswinger was nudged on by Chuks Aneke and gleefully biffed home by Chris Gunter from all of two yards. The relief was heartfelt but lasted just four minutes.

A free kick conceded unnecessarily by Ben Watson was the beginning of Charlton’s second downfall. From a promising position on the right, Grant’s delivery was headed down by rangy defender Kelland Watts to Jephcott, who beat Amos to the loose ball and stabbed home a predator’s goal. Before the break, Maatsen’s piledriver unluckily crashed back off the crossbar. Bowyer’s post-game comment that “we played well, the better of the two teams in the first half” was, however, a subjective version of events and hard to credit. Charlton had actually come close to being outclassed and were fortunate to make it to the break just one goal behind.

Bowyer’s remark might have been justified had they been applied to the second period, because his 64th-minute introduction of Marcus Maddison for the tiring Jonny Williams tipped the balance Charlton’s way.

Maddison divides opinion with his infuriating blend of studied nonchalance and effortless class. If you seek indefatigable energy and total commitment from your midfielders, then the tattooed enigma is unlikely to win your favour. Should you, on the other hand, be willing to overlook chronic laziness in the hope of occasional flashes of genius, you’re more likely to overlook the flaws and savour the delicious moments of giddiness. Maddison’s fantastic equaliser, only three minutes after joining the fray, briefly united both schools of thought. His was a goal of unique quality and he was the only Addick capable of scoring it.

Receiving a routine pass from Maatsen. he disposed of his marker Lewis Macleod with an insouciant nutmeg to set up a shooting opportunity from fully 30 yards. The left-footed rocket he uncorked left a vapour trail as it scorched past Cooper on its way into the right corner. How to solve the dilemma that is Marcus Maddison?

In a side not exactly brimming with creative flair, start him -and work openings for his gun of a left foot to exploit. That’s one answer but there are undoubtedly others.

And there you have it at the end of the 21st century’s second decade. Charlton are still driving us nuts but you have to love ’em. We’re in it for the long haul; no sense diving overboard this late in the relationship.

See you in 2021 when the struggle resumes. Because, as they say in football, there’s always next year…

Charlton: Amos, Gunter, Pratley, Pearce, Matthews; Watson (Morgan 64), Forster-Caskey, Maatsen, Williams (Maddison 64); Aneke (Bogle 79), Washington (Smyth 88). Subs not used: Maynard-Brewer, Oshilaja, Gilbey.

Plymouth: Cooper, Aimson, Canavan, Watts, Edwards, Pereira Camara, Macleod (Fornah 70), Mayor, Grant, Jephcott (Moore 88), Hardie (Nouble 79) Subs not used: McCormick, Wootton, Telford, Reeves. Booked: Aimson, Edwards, Macleod.

Referee:
Andy Woolmer.


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