Kevin Nolan’s Valley View: Charlton Athletic 0-1 Milton Keynes

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

Some 2,000 fans were allowed back into The Valley last night after the easing of lockdown rules – but once again, the team failed to live up to the big occasion. KEVIN NOLAN was there to see a disappointing defeat.

Charlton’s prospects could hardly have looked rosier than they did at The Valley on Tuesday evening. The stadium was spick, span and ready to welcome 2,000 fortunate aficionados through its doors; its grass was as green as you’ll find anywhere in the Emerald Isle.

The team had redeemed itself for that 4-2 humiliation by lowly Burton Albion by producing a superb performance to dismiss Ipswich Town at the weekend. Results had gone their way 24 hours previously and there was an even more recent boost with the news that 2nd placed rivals Peterborough United were on their way to defeat at Wimbledon. There was a place for everything and everything was in its place. Milton Keynes‘ role was simply to slot in and make up the numbers.

It was, of course, too good to be true. Because as any savvy Addick knows, Charlton don’t do “occasions”. Make a fuss of them and they freeze. It’s a tried-and-true article of faith, proven frequently down the years. They do better while flying under the radar, not splashed all over the media as they were before this latest fall from grace. Charlton all too briefly but unwisely held the stage. Shame nobody marked the visitors’ card and reminded them of their role as mere stooges in a pre-ordained scheme of things.

For it soon became clear that MK were having none of it. They swaggered out as if they owned the place and for a couple of dominant hours proved yet again that, as that philosophical French bloke Albert Camus pointed out, “the only thing that spoils a football match is the presence on the field of another team”. On to Charlton’s immaculate field on Tuesday strutted the best team the Addicks have met so far this season. Crisp and confident, their reputation for attractive, possession-based football was well-founded. It’s a so far unsolved mystery why Russell Martin’s side are languishing in the lower reaches of League One. They won as they pleased at The Valley and if it took them 75 minutes to turn their superiority over their hosts into a tangible advantage, that delinquency was entirely due to the brilliance of Ben Amos.

With his disastrous role in the Burton debacle firmly behind him, Amos came close to stealing an unlikely point from this 1-0 trouncing. As early as the second minute, he was in action to parry Cameron Jerome’s subtle flick, then followed with a smart save from Ben Gladwin. Scott Fraser’s bruising, angled shot was repelled with a prudently outstretched foot before a perfectly timed swoop whisked the ball off Jerome’s toes as the experienced striker broke through on his own. Before the interval, Amos kept the scores level by awkwardly dealing with Gladwin’s drifting corner, then defied Fraser again as his parting shot.

After the break, the overworked Amos again stood firm with a fine save from Andrew Surman and an outstanding fingertipped effort to waft Carlton Morris’ drive to safety until with a quarter hour left, his resistance was finally broken. Breaking swiftly after substitute Chuks Aneke missed a chance to give the Addicks a surprise lead, MK turned defence into attack with swift, ground passing, the last of which was Matthew Sorinola’s perceptive delivery which put Fraser clear to the left of goal. Picking his spot, the busy Scottish midfielder cracked an accurate drive across the diving Amos and found the far bottom corner. It was hard on Charlton’s blameless keeper but the goal been overdue for a long while.

Shortly before Fraser’s breakthrough, Conor Washington had stung Andrew Fisher’s hands after running on to a superb ball from Marcus Maddison. Having fallen behind, the locals rallied briefly, with Darren Pratley curling a decent effort over the bar then, in added time, scuffing a last chance against the bar. But they never genuinely threatened to equalise, with Fraser’s goal always to deliver the points to the roundabouts of Milton Keynes.

Though far from a season-defining setback, this defeat was a chastening reminder that deliverance from League One is gained through blood, sweat and on this occasion, tears. It’s a tooth and nail job, not some softshoe shuffle through a carpet of roses. Charlton clawed their way out of this unpleasant division less than two years ago, then subsided in heartbreaking fashion at the first time of asking. They might find it easier to yo-yo back again if they keep a lower profile.

Boasting of storming back into the Premier League ain’t too bright, nor is making a fuss about being the first London club to re-admit fans. The Addick is a modest creature, uneasy in the limelight, self-deferential and watchful. Fiascos like, for instance, Operation Riverside (sorry to bring it up) are still fresh in the memory. Next time the spotlight picks us out, might be wise to take the phones off the hook and give the staff a half-holiday. Merely a suggestion…

Charlton: Amos, Matthews, Gunter, Pratley, Purrington, Watson (Famewo 66), Shinnie (Maddison 46), Morgan (Williams 60), Gilbey, Bogle (Aneke 60), Washington. Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Pearce, Henry. Booked: Pratley, Gilbey, Maddison.

Milton Keynes: Fisher, Kasumu, Keogh, Gladwin (Poole 76), Morris, Lewington, Surman (Sorensen 68), Fraser, O’Hora, Sorinola, Jerome (Walker 81). Not used: Nicholls, Williams, Cargill, Harvie. Booked: Sorinola, Lewington.

Referee: Andy Davies.

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

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

The Addicks kept up their unbeaten run after a trip down the A2 to Gillingham yesterday. KEVIN NOLAN joined those spared the Priestfield’s ‘away end’ by the lockdown and watched from home…

The rivalry between Gillingham and Charlton may be a matter of supreme indifference to the rest of English football but an extra edge definitely attends their infrequent encounters, especially those at Priestfield Road.

The Gills slip comfortably into their portrayal of gritty blue-collar outsiders standing up gallantly to snooty, privileged city slickers. For their part, the Addicks quite enjoy the rare experience of being posh, entitled day trippers to the boondocks. Until the game starts, that is, which is when the roles are often reversed.

As expected, Steve Evans’ Men of Kent gave a stubborn account of themselves in halting Charlton’s run of six consecutive league victories. In fact, they came within eight minutes of throwing an inconvenient spanner into the visiting works.

Lee Bowyer’s boys were staring defeat in its most frustrating face when Ben Amos launched an attack down the left flank, which Andrew Shinnie continued by threading through to Paul Smyth inside the home penalty area. The lively substitute shaped to shoot but instead set up Chuks Aneke in a more promising position. Picking his spot coolly, the deceptively skilful striker fired unstoppably past Jack Bonham and Charlton had themselves a point. That they should have departed with all three will be a subject for animated discussion but one which will presumably be postponed until the midweek trip to Burton is out of the way.

After dominating their hosts in most departments before the interval, the Addicks retired for their half-time cuppa surprisingly still on level terms. At times they had toyed with Gillingham, with Shinnie and Albie Morgan pulling the midfield strings, but clearly lacked the cutting edge belatedly supplied by substitutes Smyth and Aneke. Had they converted the penalty awarded them seven minutes before the break, of course, their shortcomings might have passed unnoticed. But that particular gift horse was looked disastrously in the mouth.

Drifting to the far post to meet Adam Matthews’ searching cross, Omar Bogle was unceremoniously bundled to the ground by his over-aggressive marker. Conor Washington’s match winning spotkick which beat Fleetwood recently made him the obvious candidate to take the clearcut penalty but Bogle, anxious to add his name to the scorers’ list, was having none of it. An unseemly disagreement was eventually resolved in Washington’s favour but, possibly distracted by Bogle’s intervention, the Northern Irishman struck a weak shot too close to Bonham, who saved easily. It’s unlikely that Charlton took the field with the identity of their penalty-taker unspecified. Explanations will be demanded.

Earlier in the first half, a pair of enterprising efforts illuminated this otherwise routine game. First, the quick-thinking Shinnie returned Bonham’s wayward clearance first-time from fully 40 yards but with the goalkeeper retreating desperately, the ball shaved his crossbar on its way to safety. Three minutes later, Marcus Maddison again reduced Bonham to panic with a brilliant 35-yard free kick which the scrambling keeper fingertipped over the bar. Bonham reacted with similar alertness to keep out an accurate drive from Ben Watson. At the other end, meanwhile, Amos
responded to Bonham’s defiance by incredibly blocking Vadaine Oliver’s point-blank volley at the far post.

The Addicks continued their assault after the break but Bonham adjusted superbly to save Ian Maatsen’s wickedly deflected low drive. He had less trouble in dealing with a poor effort from Ryan Gilbey, who shot straight at him after moving on to Aneke’s pass. As the Addicks gathered themselves for a final push, they were suddenly shocked to find themselves behind in contentious circumstances. Briefly goalside of Chris Gunter, who was deputising for thigh injury victim Ryan Inniss, substitute John Akinde tumbled dramatically as his heels were (or were not) clipped by the veteran defender.Unsure initially of Gunter’s guilt, referee Lewis took advice from a far distant fourth official and pointed without conviction to the spot. Jordon Graham put Gillingham ahead despite Amos’ valiant attempt to reach his penalty.

Stunned by the setback, Charlton had Amos to thank for keeping them in the hunt. His superb save in one-on-one confrontation with Oliver swelled in importance when Aneke equalised.

One point gained? Definitely. Two points lost? Just as definitely. But You can’t win’ em all. Not at this discouraging venue, that’s for sure. And at least, Charlton’s travelling fans, all toasty-warm in their living rooms, were spared the ordeal of possibly the most inhospitable away end in League One. There’s always a silver lining if you know where to look for it.

Gillingham: Bonham, Jackson, Ogilvie, Tucker, Medley, Dempsey, Samuel, Graham, McKenzie, Oliver (Coyle 86), Robertson (Akinde 63). Not used: Walsh, Willock, Eccles, Woods, Meghoma. Booked: Oliver, Dempsey, Samuel, McKenzie.

Charlton: Amos, Matthews, Gunter, Pratley, Maatsen (Purrington 88), Watson, Shinnie, Morgan, Maddison (Gilbey 66), Bogle (Aneke 66), Washington (Smyth 66). Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Pearce, Levitt. Booked: Maddison, Gilbey, Maatsen.

Referee: R. Lewis.


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Kevin Nolan’s Valley View on the road: Portsmouth 0-2 Charlton Athletic

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

Times may be tough, but the Addicks showed their resilience on the south coast yesterday. KEVIN NOLAN made the trip for The Charlton Champion to see Charlton overcome Portsmouth.

Weakened by injuries and suspensions, Charlton didn’t so much arrive at Fratton Park as hobble into the famous arena. Every game brings further depletion of their resources, on this otherwise auspicious occasion by the suspected hamstring damage sustained by Akin Famewo. The outstanding centre-back’s 74th minute departure removed at a stroke the second of the twin towers (Ryan Inniss was serving a one-game ban) so vital to the Addicks’ amazing run of clean sheets.

The problem caused by Inniss’s worrying absence was an easy one for Lee Bowyer to solve. He was able to call on his timely new signing Adam Matthews to cover fellow Welshman Chris Gunter at right back, with the latter moving inside to partner Famewo. Elsewhere, Jonny Williams and Jake Forster-Caskey replaced the suspended Ben Watson and rotated Paul Smyth as the manager’s marvellously resilient squad demonstrated their readiness to step up for the cause. This recently-assembled mixture of newcomers and loanees shows a unique team spirit, which must be down to their no-nonsense manager.

Typical of their refusal to be cowed by adversity was the superb contribution made by Gunter, by trade a right-back of impeccable credentials. The multi-capped Welsh international performed to the manner born alongside Famewo before being capably partnered by Darren Pratley for the last, tense quarter-hour.

Williams, meanwhile, chose the ideal time to score his first Charlton goal, while Foster-Caskey capped a hardworking shift with the raking crossfield pass to Ian Maatsen, which played a significant part in Williams’ opportunistic opener. Having replaced the scorer with 19 anxious minutes remaining, Smyth stepped off the bench to supply the precise cross which Chuks Aneke headed in to provide the visitors with a decisive two-goal cushion.

Not one wearer of Charlton’s grey away shirt let his manager down. Tuesday’s hero Andrew Shinnie turned in another influential shift, while Omar Bogle, though battered throughout, defiantly soldiered on and was denied a penalty when brought down by Rasmus Nicolaisen in the first half.

Left-back Maatsen has been a pleasure to watch since Chelsea sent him along to gain experience. Say one thing for Frank Lampard’s big-time Charlies; when they loan Charlton a player, he arrives with guaranteed quality. Conor Gallagher was different class, as is the diminutive but tough Maatsen. The cross he delivered for Williams to ram home the Addicks’ first goal at the far post was surgically precise. And he was another to show versatility by moving seamlessly into midfield after Ben Purrington relieved the unlucky Famewo.

The post-game statistics revealed that Pompey enjoyed a 57-43 advantage in possession and earned eight corners to their visitors’ none. That tells only part of Saturday’s story because the mess made by Ronan Curtis in converting Marcus Harness’ early cutback from 10 yards was the closest Kenny Jackett’s side came to scoring. They were taught a lesson in clinical finishing by their confident opponents.

Midway through the first half, the Addicks emerged from a period of modest pressure to stun Portsmouth with a goal of simple efficiency. Forster-Caskey’s diagonal crossfield pass from right to left was caught at the byline by Maatsen, whose only option was to cross on the volley as he ran out of space. Attacking the ball inside the six-yard box, Williams rammed his first goal for the club into the roof of the net. A grin as wide as the Severn Bridge marked the important occasion.

Eight minutes from the end of an increasingly anxious game, Charlton finished off their victims with second strike, which handsomely rewarded Bowyer for his bold introduction of two attacking substitutes to finish the job. The move was started by the tireless Conor Washington, who emulated Forster-Caskey’s accuracy in picking out Smyth, unmarked on the right flank, with a raking delivery. The gritty Northern Irishman took a touch before his soaring centre arrived at the far post, where Aneke leapt prodigiously to head the all-important clincher.

Aneke’s goal brought huge relief but was probably a flourish added to an already done-and-dusted result. There was nothing backs-to-the wall or lucky about it except perhaps, for the break handed out by referee Craig Boyeson to Pratley, whose sliding, studs-up challenge on Callum Johnson incredibly escaped a card of any colour. That made an enormous difference. Stand on me about that!

Portsmouth: MacGillivray, Johnson, Brown, Naylor, Whatmough (Nicolaisen 46), Williams, Marquis, Curtis, Cannon, Harness (Harrison 63), Raggett. Not used: Bass, Chase, Morris, Pring, Hiwula. Booked: Nicolaisen.

Charlton: Amos, Matthews, Famewo (Purrington 74), Maatsen, Pratley, Gunter, Williams (Smyth 71), Forster-Caskey, Shinnie, Bogle (Aneke 71), Washington. Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Morgan, Levitt, Vennings. Booked: Amos, Maatse, Aneke.

Referee: Craig Boyeson.


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