Kevin Nolan’s Valley View: Charlton Athletic 0-0 Sunderland

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

After the turmoil of recent weeks, a goalless draw with Sunderland came as a relief for The Charlton Champion‘s KEVIN NOLAN…

No doubt you’ll have noticed that Charlton never lose any of those past games they show on the big screen before kick-off. They win ’em all.

It must rankle among fans in the adjoining Jimmy Seed Stand to be force-fed so much failure. Having said that, it was hard to identify what games they picked when Millwall were the visitors a couple of years ago; those grainy pre-war pictures are tough to make out.

Be fair though, what brings a glow of pleasurable nostalgia to SE7 is still a bitter pill to swallow on Wearside; no wonder Sunderland live and breathe vengeance, with those play-off finals sticking in their craw.

They came south on Saturday, confident that revenge was there for the taking against their nemesis but instead met a side prepared to dig in and redeem themselves after a miserable run of results; a modest side (with much to be modest about recently) but one with their backs to the wall and spoiling for a fight. The point they took from this dour but competitive encounter will be of more satisfaction to Charlton than the one taken home by Sunderland, who slipped from sixth to no-account seventh in the table.

Heartened by the return from injury of Jayden Stockley and by the eagerly anticipated full debut of Scott Fraser, worried manager Johnnie Jackson will draw quiet encouragement from the excellent contribution made by Diallang Jaiyesimi. The mercurial No 7 only rarely crossed the halfway line but tackled, intercepted and read the game like a seasoned defender. His was an unselfish, disciplined, performance which placed his team’s needs above his natural impulse to go forward.

Also worthy of special mention in a generally solid display were Jason Pearce and Craig McGillivray. You know what’s on offer from the redoubtable skipper and he invariably delivers. There’s nothing he relishes more than a no quarter-asked-or given encounter with a physical opponent and, in prolific Scot Ross Stewart, he was evenly matched.

With 22 goals already this season, Stewart was unable to add to his tally but posed a constant threat. Several chances were either directed wide or saved by McGillivray. But Pearce kept him relatively quiet, something few centre backs have achieved this season.

McGillivray’s excellent statistics took a battering in February, during which Charlton shipped 14 goals in six games, the last three of which yielded 8 of those goals. Those statistics, however, don’t register the often stunning saves he made to make the margin of defeat manageable.

Against free-scoring Sunderland, he made a string of defiant stops to keep the Addicks level. The best of them was the athletic tip-over which kept out Bradley Pritchard’s swerving first half free kick, though the full length dive he made to tip Stewart’s corner-bound shot to safety had its admirers.

In between the spectacular was the competence he showed in repelling Patrick Roberts’s one-on-one effort and the sound positioning which made Elliot Embleton’s crisp daisycutter a matter of routine to handle.

The Addicks’ chances were fewer, though they came close to collaring all three points in a hectic finish to an otherwise attritional struggle. Stronger than their visitors during the closing minutes, they forced a series of setpieces which had the Black Cats wilting. Elliot Lee’s much-improved performance culminated in a salvo of late free kicks conceded by the tiring Wearsiders.

Following Roberts’ foul on substitute Jonathan Leko, Lee’s inswinging delivery from the left was headed narrowly wide by an unmarked Sam Lavelle. A mere minute later, Bailey Wright wearily impeded Stockley in the same area and Lee’s free kick picked out the blond centre forward wide of the far post. A venomous volley whistled across the six-yard area, left Anthony Patterson helpless, but eluded the sliding Lavelle by agonising inches. “Would have been harsh on Sunderland,” admitted Jackson. Be honest, John, would you have cared? Or shown a grain of sympathy?

Jackson was easier to believe in his comments about his side’s performance. “It came from hard work and heart”, he remarked, “and they showed that in abundance.” They did indeed, boss, none more so than Pearce, whose defiance inspired Chris Gunter to resourcefully clear off the goalline from Dennis Cirkin during a period of Sunderland pressure early in the second half. Also, George Dobson kept hustling, as did Lee and Ben Purrington.

This was a worthy point, with Mason Burstow’s extreme youth mitigating the tame finish he applied to Stockley’s deftly headed flick. Mason’s not the finished article but he put in the same effort as his more experienced colleagues.

Anyway, I think we can safely say this point – and other results – remove any possibility of relegation. That’s not something we should be celebrating but it’s some sort of relief.

At least we can embark on our owner’s five-year plan from a League One, rather than League Two, starting point, something he hasn’t mentioned lately. Probably in the recording studio. Anyone know if we’re still on?

Charlton: McGillivray, Gunter, Lavelle, Pearce, Purrington, Jaiyesimi, Dobson, Lee, Fraser (Gilbey 66), Stockley, Burstow (Leko 73). Not used: Harness, Famewo, Morgan, John, Matthews. Booked: Purrington, Dobson, Lavelle, Lee.

Sunderland: Patterson, Evans, Broadhead (Clarke 70), Gooch (Roberts 81), Stewart, Winchester, Cirkin, Xhemajli, Pritchard (Embleton 75), Wright, Matete. Not used: Hoffmann, Doyle, Neil, Hume. Booked: Clarke, Cirkin, Wright

Referee: Anthony Backhouse Attendance: 13,716 (2,702 visiting).


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Kevin Nolan’s Valley View: Charlton Athletic 0-2 Milton Keynes

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

The Addicks sank to another defeat last night as their slide down the League One table continued. KEVIN NOLAN reports.

Bang in form and full of themselves, Milton Keynes swept into The Valley on Tuesday evening, intent on proving that whatever Oxford United could do, they could do better.

Four days previously, Oxford had barely broken sweat in cutting Charlton to ribbons; MK confidently expected to mop up the debris left by Saturday’s conquerors and bank three similarly easy points. They didn’t quite emulate their predecessors but their victory was achieved with the same casual swagger.

Liam Manning’s promotion hopefuls were followed down from the Buckinghamshire boondocks by just over 600 fans. They were cocky, entitled and relished the reversal of roles which made them the warmest of favourites, with the bedraggled Addicks prohibitive underdogs.

They huddled together in the Jimmy Seed Stand, and, without any sense of irony, confirmed their club’s reputation as football cuckoos by shamelessly adopting Millwall’s “no-one likes us” anthem as their own. This bunch of empty-headed arrivistes hardly deserve the fluent, gifted side that Manning dexterously manages.

Bereft of three experienced strikers and riddled with weaknesses elsewhere, meanwhile, Johnnie Jackson made several changes from the shambolic side with which Oxford had toyed. A full debut was handed to Juan Castillo – a dubious honour in such discouraging circumstances – and Sam Lavelle made a welcome return from injury.

Chris Gunter resumed at right-back with Sean Clare beginning a three-game suspension after being sent off against Oxford. Adam Matthews operated at right wingback, while Mason Burstow was partnered with Jonathan Leko up front.

Jackson’s frustration was easy to imagine when Burstow limped off in the second half with what looked ominously like hamstring trouble. And there was still little sign of Covid victim Scott Fraser, so briefly impressive at Bolton.

Jackson had every right to be pleased with the first-half performance of his sorely depleted side. They held their own, made one or two chances and apart from an early scare when Troy Parrott’s poor control allowed Craig McGillivray to pounce on Conor Coventry’s pinpoint pass over the top, were comfortable defensively.

At the other end, Matthews’ hard, low cross proceeded untouched through a crowded goal area before being blasted over the bar by George Dobson; then Lavelle’s sprawling header sent Albie Morgan’s right wing corner spinning wide, with Jamie Cumming a concerned spectator When Akin Famewo’s last-ditch tackle foiled Scott Twine’s attempt to exploit a precise through ball from Harry Darling, Charlton seemed to have emerged unscathed from a low-key first half.

Dressing-room sanctuary was but four minutes away when the visitors struck. A quickfire raid through the middle featured another fine ball from Coventry, which left wingback Tennai Watson slipped deftly into the bottom left corner. The first goal is important in any game. Given Charlton’s chronic lack of firepower, it loomed even larger in this context.

Relaxed and expertly organised, Milton Keynes showed little anxiety in seeking a second goal to settle the issue. Twine’s 20-yard free kick beat the wall but missed its target by mere inches; and McGillivray produced a marvellous save to keep out Conor Wickham’s header from Josh McEachran’s corner.

MK’s understandable complacency should have been punished by an unmarked Burstow, who made an awkward hash of driving Morgan’s perfect cross into the ground and harmlessly over Cumming’s bar. It was a bad miss and was promptly punished by an overdue coup-de-grace.

McGillivray’s brilliance seemed to have got his side off the hook when his instinctive save kept out Wickham’s vicious low drive. He was still grounded as Kaine Kesler-Hayden reacted first to convert the rebound. With half an hour still remaining, this result was already guaranteed.

And it leaves Charlton still nervously aware of the relegation battle bubbling beneath them. This isn’t the way it was meant to be. But it is, as they say, what it is. It ain’t over yet.

Charlton: McGillivray, Gunter, Lavelle, Famewo, Dobson (Campbell 88), Morgan, Gilbey, Matthews, Leko (Jaiyesimi 64), Castillo, Burstow (Lee 71). Not used: Harness, Purrington, Pearce, Kanu. Booked: Gilbey.

Milton Keynes: Cumming, Watson, Lewington, O’Hora, Darling, Twine (Corbeanu 80), Coventry, McEachran (Kasumu 80), Wickham (Eisa 64), Parrott, Kesler-Hayden. Not used: Ravizzoli, Smith, Kemp, Boateng.

Referee: Sam Purkiss. Att: 8,807 (605 visiting).


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Kevin Nolan’s Valley View: Charlton Athletic 0-4 Oxford United

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

The Addicks offered little resistance yesterday when Storm Oxford blew into The Valley. KEVIN NOLAN picks up the pieces.

Arriving in the capital just outside the promotion play-off places, Oxford United cruised effortlessly into the top six by becoming the fourth team (Wycombe, Bolton and Wigan are the others) to complete a league double over Charlton.

They barely drew sweat in shrugging aside puny opposition which is rapidly earning a reputation as League One’s softest touches. It will take a dramatic reversal of current form to prevent in-form Milton Keynes from joining the two-timers when they visit on Tuesday evening.

Not that The Valley isn’t a fun place to visit on match days. There’s an abundance of entertainment not only inside but outside the stadium, alongside which the actual game seems almost an afterthought.

On a more clement day than Saturday, you’ve got your trampolining, bouncy castle, disco music and photo ops with a couple of furry mascots. Step inside and Charlton’s starting line-up is announced by a little moppet and a seemingly never-ending list of cuddly birthday dedications is unrolled.

Then just prior to kick-off, you’re treated to the owner’s dreadful heavy metal dirge (self-penned, we assume), which assures fans that it’s “do or die” out there on the pitch. Edge? You want an edge? You’d come across more edge at the Women’s Institute AGM or, as Basil Fawlty famously put it, “the Nell Gwynn Tea Rooms”.

Charlton’s fabled old ground is more playgroup than fortress these days. And don’t get me started on the Crossbar Challenge when you’re two down at half-time!

Well, that’s me done. Rant over. Back to the football, overwhelmingly most of it supplied by Karl Robinson’s smooth, well-organised side.

They calmly weathered a false early storm, during which Alex Gilbey failed crucially to control Jonathan Leko’s dangerous cross and Diallang Jaiyesimi drove an expertly delivered ball from Adam Matthews into the sidenet, before clicking into gear and putting their uppity hosts firmly in their place.

Charlton’s misery began on 21 minutes when prolific marksman Matty Taylor fastened on to Gavin Whyte’s precise pass and from a difficult angle to the right of goal, drove unerringly over Craig McGillivray into the far corner.

The Addicks’ keeper briefly kept the deficit to one by brilliantly saving Sam Baldock’s point-blank diving header after Cameron Brannagan’ s fierce effort rebounded off the bar. Both Baldock and Brannagan set the record straight later on.

Confident and cohesive, the Us and Taylor both doubled their account before the half hour. A bewildering exchange of passes was rounded off by the pass from Ryan Williams which filleted the home defence and set up Taylor to finish precisely across McGillivray and into the far corner. The prowess of Oxford’s number 9 was a chastening reminder for Charlton that all three of the senior strikers were injured and unavailable for selection, an unhappy circumstance out of Johnnie Jackson’s control.

Stepping up to solve at least one of his manager’s headaches, 18 year-old prodigy Mason Burstow replaced the ineffectual Jaiyesimi at the interval and while there was no fairytale ending to this particular story, the kid did OK.

He showed a shell-shocked crowd that spirit and tenacity back up the obvious talent which persuaded Chelsea to add him to their bloated roster. Shortly after the re-start, he supported Elliot Lee as the midfielder brilliantly controlled George Dobson’s ball over the top under severe defensive pressure.

An instinctively toe-poked shot spun off Herbie Kane and inches wide of a post. On an afternoon when visiting goalkeeper Jack Stevens was seriously under-employed, it was as close as Charlton were to come.

As though in direct reprisal, the white-clad visitors proceeded up field and increased their advantage. Another of Whyte’s perceptive passes reached Baldock, who cut inside from the left and curled a beauty inside the right hand post.

It was clear by now that Robinson’s rampant side had an answer for everything, a point they forcibly made by adding a fourth goal near the end. Further rapid-fire passing was finished off by Brannagan, whose 25-yard missile gave McGillivray no chance. By that time, Sean Clare had sheepishly departed the debacle after clashing with Taylor in what is known colloquially as a “coming together” – or what used to be known as a bit of a punch-up.

And that was that, except to be reminded, with relentless cheerfulness, that the Addicks are home again, on Tuesday as already mentioned, then again against Sunderland next Saturday week.

When you’ve been embarrassed 4-0 by Oxford United, it might have been more sensitive to understate forthcoming attractions but then again, that’s a trifle curmudgeonly. So expect me at The Valley on Tuesday. No sense, no feeling, that’s me. Open the cage… play the music.

Charlton: McGillivray, Purrington, Dobson, Jaiyesimi (Burstow 46), Morgan, Gilbey, Matthews, Lee (Campbell 88), Leko (Famewo 65), Inniss, Clare. Not used: Harness, Pearce, John, Lavelle. Booked: Purrington, Morgan, Leko, Inniss. Sent off: Clare.

Oxford: Stevens, Long, Moore, Williams, Brannagan, Taylor (Winnall 77), Sykes, McNally (Brown 56), Baldock (McGuane 72), Whyte, Kane. Not used: Eastwood, Forde, Holland, Seddon. Booked: Moore, Sykes, Taylor.

Referee: Carl Boyeson. Att: 14,029 (1,987 away).


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