KEVIN NOLAN was at The Valley as Charlton continued a run of home victories.
Buoyed by 2-0 victories in the first two of Charlton’s imaginative Fill The Valley offers, Charlton eagerly looked forward to making it an impressive hat-trick when Cambridge provided the opposition at The Valley on Saturday. It’s no co-incidence that the players again responded to a nearly full stadium, even if the crowd was boosted by ersatz fans. Lukewarm support is better than no support at all.
There was no room, of course, for over-confidence. A glance at the clubs’ mutual records shows that United have won seven and drawn five of their eighteen previous league meetings. They did the double over the Addicks during the 1991-92 season, winning 2-1 at Upton Park under the Stone Age management of John Beck. The memory of that dreadful afternoon still triggers uncontrollable facial tics among Charlton supporters still struggling to forget. Samaritans had to take the phone off the hook and leave a voicemail message until the calls subsided that evening.
Needless to say, the chaps who represent Cambridge these days owe nobody an apology for Beck’s dismal excesses. They have made a decent job of building on their promotion from League Two last season and arrived in SE7 after sticking five past Cheltenham on Tuesday evening. They duly contributed to a testy, tetchy encounter, during which the Addicks were themselves hardly likely to be mistaken for Westminster Abbey choristers, as they fought fire with fire and outbooked their visitors 5-4.
Had referee Benjamin Speedie applied the letter of the law, Jayden Stockley’s second half card might have been red rather than yellow. The feisty striker was standing up for Jason Pearce, who had been mowed down by Joe Ironside. He needn’t have bothered because this was exactly the kind of game the skipper relishes; he and Ironside walked off together at the final whistle, happily comparing bruises.
Unlike Tuesday’s visitors Ipswich Town, who played attractively without once troubling Craig McGillivray, the U’s breached the home defence on several occasions but found Craig McGillivray in outstanding form. Two one-on-one saves from Adam May and Sam Smith stood out but the in-form keeper also protected the clean sheet with his clean handling of other strikes. “Doing his job” was Johnnie Jackson’s tongue-in-cheek tribute. McGillivray has been doing it brilliantly in recent weeks.
💬 "I'm really pleased with the win. It wasn't the prettiest, but a win's a win."
Watch what Jacko had to say on CharltonTV following the 2-0 victory over @CambridgeUtdFC…
— Charlton Athletic FC (@CAFCofficial) December 11, 2021
Another Addick who went over and above the call of duty in securing this important victory was Conor Washington, scorer of both goals and indefatigable chaser of lost causes. Alongside Stockley, he gave the Addicks a potent edge up front and answered critics of his finishing ability with two strikes of predatory opportunism.
Mark Bonner’s men had twice threatened to snatch an early lead before the first of Washington’s brace. First, Ironside reacted to James Brophy’s deflected shot by heading wide as the ball, happily for Charlton, arrived slightly behind him. Then Smith shot weakly past the left post when ideally placed.
United’s misses were punished by Washington’s opener on the half hour. Receiving Alex Gilbey’s sharp pass to feet with his back to goal, the Irishman turned on what old-timers would recognise as a sixpence before placing a low drive across Dimitar Mitov and neatly into the far bottom corner. His sixth league goal of the season was to be later followed by his seventh – a more than decent return from fourteen starts.
Charlton’s encouraging commitment to attack was exemplified by the appearance of left wingback Ben Purrington, who moved on to Elliot Lee’s pass before shooting powerfully wide. Ex-Addick Mitov followed with a fine save at his near post from Jonathan Leko, a sporadic threat before he faded and was replaced by Diallang Jaiyesimi in a like-for-like second half exchange.
Lee, meanwhile, was part of a hardworking midfield which, along with McGillivray’s defiance and Washington’s goalscoring heroics, provided the platform for this vital victory. Gilbey’s elegant playmaking was complemented by George Dobson’s shoulders-hunched urgency between both penalty areas. Dobson put his foot in regularly, breaking up the visitors’ rhythm and spreading the play sensibly with unflashy distribution. An unsung hero you could say. But deeply appreciated by Jackson, it’s also safe to say.
Precariously a goal in front, the Addicks lived dangerously as McGillivray saved magnificently from Smith and again when Smith was put through by May, outwitted substitute Pape Souare but sidefooted tamely off target. Having replaced an inconveniently injured Purrington, Souare drew a few sharp intakes of The Valley’s breath with careless inattention in possession but, with one minute of regulation time remaining, redeemed himself by laying on Washington’s clincher.
Showing an encouraging readiness to support the front runners, Souare accelerated down the left touchline, leaving bedraggled defenders in his wake, before crossing low into the visitors’ six-yard area. An obliging deflection off Stockley fell nicely for Washington to drill home a perfect example of an opportunistic goal. The home crowd’s exhalation of relief was heartfelt, then they hung around to enjoy the traditional tunnel jumps. Even Addicks to Victory was excusable in the euphoria. Sometimes you can forgive anything.
Charlton: McGillivray, Clare, Pearce, Famewo, Purrington (Souare 72), Dobson, Gilbey, Lee, Leko (Jaiyesimi 68), Washington, Stockley.
Not used: Henderson, Morgan, Davison, Watson, Elerewe. Booked: Famewo, Pearce, Stockley, Lee, Clare.
Cambridge: Mitov, Williams, Iredale, Digby, Brophy, Ironside, Smith (Worman 90+4), Dunk (Lankester 88), Okedina, Weir (Knibbs 77), May.
Not used: McKenzie-Lyle, Masterson, Yearn, McConnell. Booked: Digby, Ironside, Dunk, May.
Referee: Benjamin Speedie. Att: 24,886 (1698 visiting).
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