Kevin Nolan’s Valley View: Charlton Athletic 0-1 Norwich City

Kevin Nolan's Valley View
The Addicks hosted a Premier League side at home for the first time in 15 years, but couldn’t quite finish off top-tier strugglers Norwich City. KEVIN NOLAN was in the press box.

A single flash of Premier League quality, with only 11 minutes remaining in this FA Cup third round tie, sent Norwich City into Round Four and left Charlton free to concentrate on reaching Wembley via the EFL Trophy.

An away tie at Hartlepool on a Wednesday evening in January lacks obvious appeal but it is, no doubt you agree, better than nothing.

It was Teemo Pukki, summoned from the bench at half-time to replace Greek teenager Christos Tzolis, who supplied that extra something which settled an evenly fought clash which Charlton could – indeed should – have at least drawn.

Sprinting on to a shrewdly weighted through ball from Kenny McLean, he was too quick for a toiling Jason Pearce and, resisting the temptation to shoot, squared unselfishly for fellow substitute Milot Rashica to tap in the winner.

Although a constant menace, Pukki hadn’t exactly terrorised the Addicks but proved to be the difference which separated sides of almost identical merit.

If Jonathan Leko had made more of a similar chance from four yards, created for him just past the half hour by Elliot Lee, an honourable draw would have meant extra-time and potentially penalties.

But Leko snatched at the opportunity, spooned it horribly over the bar and reminded home fans that while Dean Smith could call on the likes of Pukki and Rashica, Johnnie Jackson was cruelly deprived of both Conor Washington and Jayden Stockley. His striker-less selection’s inability to score was hardly difficult to predict.

Not that Jackson’s otherwise strong side were easy marks for their soon-to-be Championship opponents. An early, bone-crunching challenge by Ryan Inniss on marauding Turkish defender Ozan Kabak signalled an intent that was easy to read.

To his credit, Kazan neither crumpled nor complained and battle was joined. Until the interval, Charlton enjoyed an edge and with better finishing and, it must be said, the occasional intervention of luck, might have retired for refreshment in the lead.

Lee was a restless bundle of energy and when set up by the equally hardworking Alex Gilbey, curled narrowly wide. After Leko missed the best chance of all, Gilbey chanced his arm from distance to produce an unorthodox but effective save from Tim Krul, who somehow shovelled his 25-yarder up and over the bar.

The visitors were always in contention but Charlton opened the second period still marginally on top. Receiving from George Dobson, Lee closed in from the flank but was foiled by Krul’s astutely outstretched right foot. The Canaries’ vastly experienced Dutch stopper was proving that it’s not how, but whether, you keep ’em out that matters. He’s been doing it long enough.

The introduction of Pukki was, meanwhile, greeted with mild apprehension among home fans. The simultaneous introduction of 25-year-old Kosovan Rashica caused no similar disquiet but Smith was royally served by both his half-time substitutions.

In response to Krul’s eccentric heroics, meanwhile, Stephen Henderson did his bit to keep the Addicks in the tie. His saves from McLean’s crisp drive and Max Aaron’s low effort, which was sneaking inside his left hand post, were at least expected of him.

At the other end, however, he wrongfooted everyone by charging upfield to take a last chance free kick to the left of City’s penalty area. Waving aside objections, including those voiced by regular setpiece specialist Lee, his delivery was surprisingly delicate and well judged. Leaping high at the far post, Pearce nodded back across goal and Ben Purrington’s six-yard header rebounded off the bar.

(We apologise if readers, at this point, detect any bad language lurking between the lines of this report. It’s entirely uncalled for but, honestly, you had to be there. And, be fair, it was enough to make a saint swear. We are unable to guarantee it won’t happen again.)

Charlton: Henderson; Clare, Pearce, Inniss (Gunter 70); Jaiyesimi (Blackett-Taylor 71), Gilbey (Kirk 87), Dobson, Lee, Purrington; Leko, Burstow (Davison 70). Not used: MacGillivray, Matthews, Souaré, Morgan, Watson. Booked: Inniss, Purrington, Dobson, Gilbey. Booked: Inniss, Purrington, Dobson, Gilbey.

Norwich City: Krul; Byram (Aarons 71), Hanley, Kabak, Giannoulis (Williams 46); Lees-Melou, Sørensen, McLean; Dowell (Rashica 46), Sargent (Idah 85), Tzolis (Pukki 46). Not used: Gunn, Gibson, Gibbs, Płacheta. Booked: Hanley, Pukki, Sørensen.

Referee: Joshua Smith

Attendance: 13,825 (2,260 visiting)


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Kevin Nolan’s Valley View: Charlton Athletic 0-1 Wycombe Wanderers

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

New Year’s Day brought a rude awakening for Charlton fans – but KEVIN NOLAN tried not to let it spoil his birthday…

Back-to-back 1-0 defeats have blown a ruinous hole in Charlton’s lingering hopes of a place in the post-season play-offs. With 22 games still to play, that might be dismissed as a hopelessly defeatist statement by those fans whose glass remains defiantly half-full until the bitter end.

But the truth is that the Addicks’ mid-table position is exactly where they belong. They’re a decent enough League One side – too good to go down but not nearly good enough to go up.

In a word, mediocre.

Three impressive victories in Thomas Sandgaard’s Fill The Valley initiative had inspired genuine belief that Johnnie Jackson’s men had turned a critical corner and were poised to make their move on the top six pacesetters.

All three games were won by solid 2-0 margins, the first of them seeing off Plymouth Argyle, who arrived at The Valley unbeaten in 16 league games. When Ipswich Town and Cambridge United were similarly dispatched, there was a buzz in the air which even deeply disappointing performances at Morecambe and Shrewsbury failed to dispel.

Plymouth’s revenge at Home Park two weeks ago, however, provided damning evidence that Charlton’s inconsistency would be their undoing.

Surprise packets Wycombe Wanderers had already beaten the Addicks back in September and occupied a healthy fifth position before Saturday’s kick-off.

They did their promotion prospects no harm with this comfortable, often fractious victory, set up by an excellent first half goal and consolidated by an exhibition of expertly crafted timewasting which, with inept referee Paul Howard’s connivance, reduced the second half to almost pantomimic farce.

Collapsing without warning, making a meal of every setpiece, kicking the ball away religiously, these Chairboys were anything but Choirboys. The award of five measly added minutes rewarded their cynicism and proved again that in football, crime can be made to pay. Added time – it’s no more than a charter for cheats!

None of which suggests that Charlton were robbed. They were in fact taught a bitter lesson by one-time minnows in the art of game management, a euphemism these days for blatant bending of the rules – or laws, such as they are.

And in 34-year-old Garath McCleary, the visitors had an experienced campaigner capable of blending sublime skills with the game’s darker arts in search of a result. The tricky veteran claimed both of Wycombe’s goals in their 2-1 home win over what was then Nigel Adkins’ side; his outstanding assist which helped settle this ill-tempered clash made it four so far this season and provided top scorer Sam Vokes with his seventh goal.

Neatly controlling Jason McCarthy’s pass to the right of Charlton’s goal, McCleary wriggled clear of George Dobson’s attentions on the byline, closed in to the near post and provided Vokes with a two-yard chance the Welsh striker could hardly miss.

Charlton were already chasing a lost cause, one which the visitors were at pains to make even more remote. Two of the three changes made by Jackson from the team which flopped at Plymouth sensibly restored Akin Famewo and Conor Washington to the starting XI.

But the enforced absence of Jayden Stockley, withdrawn after picking up a “niggle” was a body blow. His replacement, Josh Davison, got off to a nightmare start which clearly drained him of confidence and gave way to Jonathan Leko at half-time.

The large Valley crowd showed sympathy to the unfortunate Davison and an ineffectual Leko but Stockley’s belligerence was sorely missed.

Up front for the Chairboys, meanwhile, was former Addick Brandon Hanlan, to whom fell the visitors’ best chance of doubling the advantage provided by McCleary. Early in the second half, Hanlan outmuscled the otherwise redoubtable Jason Pearce, but shooting far too early, made Craig McGillivray’s save routine. McCleary came much closer with a sharp drive which deflected narrowly wide of the left post.

Charlton’s chances were few and far between. Elliot Lee’s first half effort drew a fine save from David Stockdale but the keeper knew little about the 58th-minute ricochet off Leko, which sent Alex Gilbey’s close range cross cannoning into his right post.

Washington drove narrowly wide but the closest Charlton came to an equaliser was late substitute Ryan Inniss’s last-minute header which was scraped off the line by Wycombe’s captain Joe Jacobson. And that was all she wrote…

Charlton: McGillivray, Clare, Famewo, Pearce, Purrington, Dobson (Inniss 88), Jaiyesimi (Burstow 84), Gilbey, Lee, Davison (Leko 46), Washington. Not used: Henderson, Morgan, Watson, Souare. Booked: Pearce, Clare.

Wycombe: Stockdale, Grimmer, Jacobson, Forino-Joseph, McCarthy, Mehmeti (Wheeler 61), Scowen, Obita, Hanlan, McCleary, Vokes (Stewart 90+2). Not used: Przybek, Wheeler, Thompson, Horgan, Akinfenwa. Booked: McCleary, Wheeler, Obita.

Referee: Paul Howard. Att: 18,895 (873 visiting).


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Kevin Nolan’s Valley View: Charlton Athletic 2-0 Cambridge United

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

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.

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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