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

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

 The Charlton Champion‘s reporter KEVIN NOLAN was at The Valley to witness the Addicks’ first league home game since Thomas Sandgaard bought the club

Completely outplayed in the first half by Phil Parkinson’s rampant Black Cats, who racked up eight fruitless efforts on target, Charlton got away with one on Saturday. A point, that is, which is one more than looked likely at half-time.

Profligate Sunderland, it should be said, deserved no more than their struggling hosts. Their overwhelming domination of the opening 45 minutes should have seen them two or perhaps three goals in front at the break. A corresponding failure to score owed much to their poor finishing but even more to an outstanding display of goalkeeping by Ben Amos.

During the Wearsiders’ early onslaught, Amos made several fine stops, which paled almost into insignificance alongside the truly unbelievable save he produced to frustrate visiting skipper Bailey Wright at the height of Sunderland’s pressure.

Having barrelled through the Addicks’ puny resistance to meet Luke O’Nien’s outswinging left wing corner, Wright powered an unstoppable header which seemed certain to find the left corner of Charlton’s goal. Diving instinctively to his right, Amos incredibly contrived at full length to turn the ball to safety much to Wright’s astonishment. His magnificent save in a one-sided game during which his shot-shy colleagues managed two off-target attempts on goal single-handedly earned his misfiring side this useful point.

Amos’ defiance of Parkinson’s marauders included several other saves, the best of which saw him defy Danny Graham at close range after Aiden O’Brien’s far post header returned O’Nien’s accurate cross to the veteran’s feet. Later on, Graham laid off Tom Flanagan’s creative pass to O’Brien but Amos brilliantly parried the ex-Millwall winger’s point blank shot; in a hectic scramble for the rebound, Ben Watson bravely blocked Graham’s follow-up effort. Before the interval came to Charlton’s rescue, even Amos was a helpless bystander as Graham slid in to finish off Scawen’s pinpointed low cross but from four yards skied into the empty North Stand. A North Stand which in happier circumstances would have risen to their heroic keeper as he headed for the tunnel.

Though they continued on top, Sunderland’s best chances had come and gone. An improving home side began to share the run of play without suggesting they had it in them to break the deadlock. The 72nd minute introduction of Chuks Aneke added physicality and the newcomer’s lightning-quick combination with Dylan Levitt set up the burly forward to shoot narrowly over the bar. In the context of Charlton’s feeble attacking contribution, his near miss constituted a triumph of sorts. So did the headed flick which sent Conor Washington sprinting goalside of Flanagan and persuaded the outmanoeuvred defender to chop the Northern Irishman down from behind. Last seen deflecting Patrick Bauer’s late winner into his own net at Wembley, it’s safe to assume that the next time Flanagan bumps into Charlton will also, he hopes, be the last time. Enough already so soon. He’s suffered too much at their hands.

Manchester United loanee Levitt, meanwhile, promised more than he delivered. His vaunted distributive ability completely deserted him, with pass after pass delivered off target. The late free kick he sent spiralling into an empty North Stand capped a less than productive performance. Stylish and composed, the young Welshman can do better – much better. Lee Bowyer will undoubtedly persevere with him.

Fellow newcomer Akin Famewo (the ‘e’ is apparently silent) is already on his way to becoming a fans’ favourite, assuming of course, he’s still around when The Valley asserts itself again. A cool, confident operator, the former Norwich centre back makes time and space for himself, passes crisply and appears panic-proof. Squarely by his side as the North Easterners asked all the questions, Darren Pratley was his usual competitive self, the industrial language he used when late sub Marcus Maddison’s overhit set-piece soared over his head providing verbal proof of his commitment. No need to apologise for swearing, Darren, we found it colourful and, in some strange way, reassuring. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, footballers gotta eff and blind. They’re immutable laws of nature.

Having shown belated signs of finding their collective feet, the cancellation of next weekend’s trip to Ipswich is timely, if only to work out in training a shape which fits all. On Saturday, this admittedly tactical dunce gave up trying to figure how the Addicks were deployed. From the perspective of your comfortable armchairs, possibly you can shed light where there are shadows.  Answers on a postcard as per usual.

Charlton: Amos, Oshilaja, Famewo, Purrington, Doughty, Pratley, Levitt (Maddison 83), Watson, Vennings (Aneke 72), Oztumer (Williams 46), Washington. Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Barker, Lapslie, Morgan. Booked: Watson, Levitt.

Sunderland: Burge, Flanagan, Willis, Wright,O’Brien, Goody (Grigg 65), O’Nien, Scawen, Graham (Wyke 65), Leadbitter, Hume. Not used: Matthews,McLaughlin, Power, Xhemajli, Diamond. Booked: Scawen, Willis, O’Nien.

Referee: Andy Davies.


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Kevin Nolan’s Valley View: Charlton Athletic 2-1 Barnsley

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

KEVIN NOLAN was at The Valley on Saturday to report on a vital win for Charlton.

Whether you’re in a title race or a relegation dogfight, concentrate on your own game and don’t be worrying about other results you can’t control. That’s a piece of advice old-timers used to hand out (they would also quaintly advise never to pass across your own penalty area – a practice more or less coached into players in these enlightened times).

Time – and football – moves on and in this digital age, it’s become impossible to be unaware within your own bubble of events elsewhere in the country. You can bet that Lee Bowyer’s immediate priority, once this nerve-shredding victory over fellow-strugglers Barnsley was in the bag, was to find out how the others had got on. He wouldn’t be human if he didn’t.

The good news was that Stoke, Huddersfield and Luton had lost. The only fly in a soothing ointment was the news that serial-chokers Leeds had dismally failed to oblige at home to Wigan. But the Addicks had moved up to 19th position and had Middlesbrough and Birmingham in their sights above them. The more the merrier in a survival battle, there’s another sage bit of advice for you.

Squad improvements

With his squad stiffened by a few canny loan signings and by the return from injury of several key players, Bowyer has every reason to expect an improvement in results in the near future. This faltering, often chaotic, win over surprisingly resilient Barnsley provided an important first step. It also emphasised how vital the continued good health of Lyle Taylor will be to Charlton’s immediate prospects.

There’s no such thing, of course, as a one-man team but Taylor is almost indispensable. During the Addicks’ dreary winless run, his personality, charisma, not to mention his regular goals, were sorely missed. It’s hardly a coincidence that after he was withdrawn in the 68th minute of this crucial clash, Barnsley flooded forward and took over. Glad to see an end to Charlton’s Taylor-led restless chivvying, they reduced their two-goal arrears three minutes after his departure and went looking for parity. Only desperate defending and two enormous strokes of luck saw Bowyer’s beleaguered braves over the line.

It was inevitably Taylor who shot Charlton into an early lead. A cynical foul on Josh Cullen gave its victim the opportunity to dink a clever free kick into the danger area, where Jason Pearce contributed a key header, to which Taylor reacted sharply in stabbing his eighth goal of an injury-blighted season past Samuel Sahin-Radlinger. The goal was initiated by a marvellously indefatigable midfielder, carried forward by an uncomplicated battler and finished by a cold-eyed predator.

Pearce had already cleared up a mess of Charlton’s own making when defensive indecision allowed Jacob Brown to set up Luke Thomas inside the home penalty area. Making ground quickly, Pearce legally smothered the busy midfielder as he prepared to shoot. Bleeding profusely, Thomas must have wondered what hit him.

Essential save

Midway through the first half, Dillon Phillips made what is now recognised as a Banksesque save to maintain the lead. Meeting Clarke Odour’s left-sided free kick, Danish defender Mads Andersen directed a downward header destined for the bottom left corner until Phillips scrambled across his goalline to athletically conjure the ball to temporary safety. He deserved the good fortune he enjoyed as Aapo Halme blasted the rebound against the outside of the post. A rare standing ovation from the Covered End saluted Phillips’ outstanding save.

Comfortably on top otherwise, Charlton doubled their lead in added time. A right wing corner swung in by Alfie Doughty was returned to its young taker, whose second delivery from an improved angle picked out Pearce at the far post. The captain’s deliberate header eluded Naby Sarr but was emphatically drilled inside the left post by Andre Green. His second goal for the club capped an impressive shift put in by the Aston Villa loanee, who showed class and tenacity.

The 57th minute departure of a predictably battered Jonny Williams was followed eleven minutes later by the withdrawal of Taylor, himself the recipient of some illegally heavy treatment. The momentum promptly changed as the Addicks retreated deep into their own half. While they wavered, Andersen’s ferocious drive almost knocked Phillips off his feet, with Cauley Woodrow sending the rebound crashing against the bar.

Often Charlton’s nemesis in previous encounters, Woodrow refused to be discouraged. Played into space following Thomas’ fine run and through pass, the Tykes’ leading scorer halved the lead with a crisp rising drive beyond Phillips’ reach.

The spectacle of rampant visitors besieging the Jimmy Seed end, where the vast majority of 20 goals conceded at home this season have been scored, was now familiar.  Blind panic and sheer desperation to hang on unnerved The Valley with luck playing another priceless part as Brown rattled the bar for a second time and Halme’s late shot was hacked off the line by an unidentified but heroic red shirt. Six added minutes were actually negotiated with uncharacteristic efficiency.

So much for the five-year plan (funny how it’s always five years) to secure Charlton’s place in the Premier League. More to the point, this precious victory might prove to be the first step in a five-week plan to keep the Addicks in the Championship. Bring on the long-term dream by all means but spare us a short-term nightmare in League One. But it’s so far so good, Tahnoon, welcome aboard. Make yourself at home…spit on the floor… call the cat names.

Charlton: Phillips, Matthews, Lockyer, Pearce. Sarr, Doughty (Purrington 90), Cullen, Williams (Forster-Caskey 57), Pratley, Green, Taylor (Hemed 68). Not used: Amos, McGeady, Field, Oztumer.

Barnsley: Sahin-Radlinger, Jordan Williams (Simoes 68), Sollbauer, Andersen, Odour (Ludewig 68), Thomas, Halme, Mowatt, Brown, Woodrow, Chaplin. Not used: Walton, Ben Williams, Dougal, Schmidt, Styles.

Referee: John Brooks.  Att: 19,870 (1,083 visiting).


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Kevin Nolan’s Valley View: Charlton Athletic 1-0 Leeds United

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

The Addicks returned to winning ways at The Valley on Saturday with a victory over Championship title favourites Leeds – KEVIN NOLAN reports…

After the corporation dustcart…the Lord Mayor’s Show. In turning the old epigram on its head, Charlton followed their passive performance at struggling Wigan with a stirring display of magnificent defiance to send hot favourites Leeds United home pointless. Goals still promise to be rare but one scrambled effort was enough to deliver this vital win.

After dominating possession (72-28%) and corners (13-2), Leeds made their bewildered way home wondering how they finished with nothing to show for their mathematical superiority. Their globally vaunted manager Marcelo Bielsa, secure in his bubble of denial, provided a post-game masterclass in ignoring the facts and missing the point.

Charlton 1 Leeds 0 Final Score“The difference between the sides was big.” explained the Argentinian visionary, “We didn’t impose our superiority and that was the reason for what happened. They had one shot and scored one goal. Our players were better than theirs.” He didn’t add “So there!” so we’ll do it for him. Codswallop, of course, but we have to accept he wasn’t in the best of moods. Otherwise he might have pulled himself together, acknowledged that his side fell short in the only statistic that matters and bent his efforts to figuring out why 72% of possession brought zilch to the scoring column.

In that regard, his opposite number Lee Bowyer was on hand to helpfully mark his card. Paying heartfelt tribute to the character of his players, he declared that sheer hard work made them worthy winners. “We held our own and tactically got it spot on. This is a group that never says die.” He diplomatically declined to point out that it’s goals that count but the fact that the Addicks scored from one of only two corners while the visitors were repelled on thirteen occasions by a posse of red-shirted sentinels might bring the hard-done by Bielsa to that conclusion in the longer term. But probably not.

Set piece improvements

Last week at Wigan, Charlton conceded twice to the same player from corners, a disastrous failing which was obviously addressed at the training ground. A succession of wickedly delivered flagkicks on Saturday from set piece specialist Kalvin Phillips was stoutly resisted, with even Jonathan Leko popping up in the first half to clear a goalbound effort from Ezgjan Aliosko. Whenever a block or interception was necessary, there was always a willing volunteer to put his body on the line. Not that Charlton retreated into siege mentality. They remained cohesive and always dangerous on the break. As they demonstrated shortly after the half hour to claim the only goal.

Chasing down Johnny Williams’ piercing pass to the right byline, Macauley Bonne found himself briefly isolated and sensibly settled for forcing a right wing corner – the Addicks’ first of the game – off Ben White. A low delivery from Josh Cullen was inconclusively met by Tom Lockyer, with ricochets off Kiko Casilla, Stuart Dallas and decisively Bonne pinballing the ball over the goalline. Undeniably lucky, of course, but as golfer Gary Player famously remarked “the more I practice, the luckier I get”. Competing in the six-yard area for the chaotic bits and pieces that derive from a cutely delivered corner is surely coached at Sparrows Lane. And that, despite Bielsa’s blinkered comments to the contrary, “was the reason for what happened.” So there!

Picking out the key defensive highlights from such stubborn selflessness is a thankless task. Phillips’ superb low save from White was made at a critical time; a crucial interception from the inspirational Darren Pratley to deny Patrick Bamford access to Stuart Dallas’ menacing cross also deserves mention; as does Naby Sarr for nullifying Bamford’s dangerous turn at close range: and two critical headers beyond the far post by the outstanding Chris Solly, which whisked crosses off waiting heads in the second half, stood out. But each and every Addick, including the mercurial Leko, bought into the principle that defending involves everyone and that the end result justifies whatever means are legitimately employed to secure it. While goals promise to be elusive, the fighting spirit exemplified by the hard-grafting likes of teenager Conor Gallagher and Cullen, with Williams always prepared to suffer a battering for the cause (the adverse caution count of 3-1 tells you all you need to know about John Brooks’ cockeyed refereeing) will keep them going.

Catapulted back into the top six by their latest upsetting of the odds, meanwhile, Bowyer’s braves will pragmatically accept that survival in the Championship remains the priority. On Wednesday evening, they entertain Swansea City, another side with promotion aspirations. It may not be a footballing classic but the understanding Valley crowd will again accept that it’s not all about elbow-crooking style or foot-on-the-ball posturing as too often indulged in by Leeds. They used to call it getting stuck in but whatever the modern parlance, the Addicks will be up for it. They didn’t sweat blood at Wembley five months ago to crash and burn this season.

Charlton: Phillips, Solly, Lockyer, Sarr, Purrington. Pratley, Cullen, Williams (Aneke 56), Gallagher (Pearce 86), Bonne (Field 82), Leko. Not used: Amos, Oshilaja, Forster-Caskey, Oztumer. Booked: Pratley, Lockyer, Solly.

Leeds: Casilla, Dallas, White, Cooper, Alioski (Nketiah 46), Phillips, Costa, Shackleton (Forshaw 46), Klich, Harrison, Bamford (Roberts 69). Not used: Miazek, Douglas, Berardi, Clarke. Booked: Bamford.

Referee: John Brooks.  Att: 21,808 (3,179 visiting).


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