Kevin Nolan’s Valley View: Charlton Athletic 3-1 Luton Town

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

The Addicks notched up a crucial win against relegation contenders Luton Town yesterday. KEVIN NOLAN was there for The Charlton Champion.

The plaudits and headlines saluting Charlton’s crucial victory over gritty Luton Town will, in time-honoured fashion, be claimed by goal machine Lyle Taylor and battery-powered George Lapslie. Quite right too, of course, given Taylor’s prodigious return of 11 goals from just 14 starts plus five substitute appearances. And not to mention the lift to the whole stadium provided by Lapslie, who marked his return from a lengthy injury absence by easing the tension with the rare luxury of a game-clinching goal.

Newly named as captain, Taylor justified his promotion with yet another inspirational performance, which he crowned with a superbly-taken opening goal and the latest of his patented “walking football” spotkicks. He illuminates an otherwise honest-to-goodness side with his insatiable will-to-win and in-opponents’-face chutzpah.

Lapslie took over from a struggling Deji Oshilaja ten minutes into the second half to make his first appearance since November 9th. Knuckling down immediately, he supplied energy and wholehearted commitment to the cause.

As “one of their own” there could no more popular a goalscorer at a nervous Valley than blond-haired George. This was his first goal in a serious Charlton game. His recall to the colours provides Lee Bowyer with a perfectly timed boost ahead of a tricky 12-game run-in.

Improbably sharp

Another Addick with a case to be regarded as home grown is pocket-sized Erhun Oztumer, who was released at 16 from the academy set-up and has spent several somewhat aimless seasons in virtual exile. Given a second chance with Charlton, he is making the most of it. Until he was replaced by the excellent Macauley Bonne with 12 minutes left, Oztumer was a ballplaying delight, his subtle passing, long or short where the situation dictated, driving more than one Hatter mad. It was his cross, following a short corner routine worked with Josh Cullen, which Naby Sarr drove powerfully against the underside of Simon Sluga’s crossbar. The keeper temporarily preserved equality by alertly tipping Alfie Doughty’s ripsnorter to safety but ran out of luck just past the half-hour mark.

Another short corner, delivered by Cullen and half-=cleared from the visiting penalty area was picked up by David Davis and slipped forward to Taylor, lurking among a posse of white-shirted defenders. The striker’s turn was improbably sharp, the low drive he whiplashed into the bottom left corner an unstoppable force of nature. Ironic that such a marvellously-taken goal was cancelled out within two minutes.

Town had acquitted themselves well and had been unlucky when Luke Berry’s fierce shot deflected harmlessly over the bar off Tom Lockyer. They hit back gamely and were gifted their equaliser by David Davis, whose disastrously scuffed clearance of Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu’s low centre was crisply driven past Dillon Phillips by an impressively cool Harry Cornick. The interval provided timely relief for Bowyer’s rattled Addicks but they re-grouped admirably and went in search of the coup-de-grace.

Oztumer’s understated influence was quickly in evidence, his craftily weighted pass sending Taylor rampaging through to deliver hard and low from the left. Sliding in, Andre Green seemed certain to score but prodded wide from six yards. “Harder to miss” was Bowyer’s unkind but hastily mitigated reaction to the squandered chance.

Premature Luton celebrations

Ten minutes after resumption, Cornick crossed from the right, James Collins tapped in at the far post and the packed Jimmy Seed Stand celebrated wildly. Prematurely, as it turned out. A linesman’s flag ruled Collins offside, much to the chagrin and bitterly-expressed displeasure of Hatters boss Graeme Jones. He might have had a point but that’s how it so often goes when you’re looking up from the bottom of the league.

Insult was added to Jones’s perceived injury when Charlton regained the lead on the hour. Lapslie was proving a persistent thorn in their side and after picking up the pieces left by the latest of Cullen’s short corners he let fly uninhibitedly, his shot blocked by Collins’ carelessly outflung hand inside the area. Taylor walked the walk to convert the inevitable penalty, then talked the talk to remind Luton’s ill-advised fans of the foulmouthed abuse they had heaped on him before he scored in the first half. Lyle isn’t one to forgive or forget.

Hardly overworked while his colleagues coped with the visitors’ rare attacks, Phillips did his bit by spectacularly tipping George Moncur’s potent drive over his bar. Lapslie promptly stepped up to settle the nerves. Urged by Bowyer to “get into the box”, he was in the right place at the right time to convert Bonne’s low ball in from the right byline. Made by Bonne, finished by Lapslie, two players fresh from Sparrows Lane Infirmary; it’s been Bowyer’s frequently stated belief that as the injuries began to clear up, Charlton would thrive. This goal bears him out.

Charlton: Phillips, Matthews, Lockyer, Oshilaja (Lapslie 55), Sarr, Doughty, Davis, Cullen, Oztumer (Bonne 78), Green (Pearce 88), Taylor. Not used: Amos, McGeady, Smith, Hemed. Booked: Oshilaja, Taylor.

Luton: Sluga, Potts, Pearson, Tunnicliffe, Bree (Bolton 82), Carter-Vickers, Cornick (Moncur 70), Rea (McManaman 70), Berry, Mpanzu, Collins. Not used: Stech, Cranie, Hylton, Shinnie. Booked: Tunnicliffe.

Referee: Andre Marriner. Attendance: 18,969 (2,785 visiting).

This one’s for Les Turner, who is seriously ill in hospital. Fight on, Les. We can’t do it without you.

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

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

The Addicks marked 100 years at The Valley on Saturday – but their fine start came skidding to an end with a talismanic striker absent, as KEVIN NOLAN reports…

There’s no such thing as a one-man football team. Any fool knows that. But any fool also appreciates the positive impact that one charismatic player – if he’s the right player – can exert on his teammates, not to mention his besotted supporters. Such a player is Lyle Taylor, whose profound influence at The Valley radiates from the pitch into the stands. Even when he’s not on duty.

Injured while on international assignment with Montserrat, Taylor missed this awkward game and will apparently be sidelined for several more weeks. Despite his absence, his aura was still palpable as Charlton duly lost for the first time this season and, significantly, failed to score – also for the first time this season. It could be a coincidence – we’ll know more after their visit to Wigan next Saturday – because their performance was as committed and competitive as ever. The spark normally provided by Taylor was, however, painfully missing.

The nature of his injury remains unclear, with manager Lee Bowyer remarking during the build-up to Birmingham’s visit that he was hopeful his star striker would be fit to play. Reading between some fairly obvious lines, though, it seems that the once-warm relationship between player and club is now somewhat strained, a hangover from Brentford’s abortive attempt to recruit him during the summer. Taylor’s blistering start to the season, which brought him five goals in six games, might yet turn out to preface a last hurrah in a Charlton shirt. Streetwise Addicks fans won’t be too surprised if he leaves. They are grimly aware that it doesn’t pay to get too close to your heroes. That way only ends in heartache.

Competent but colourless

The blond bombshell’s absence on Saturday meant a first start for Tomer Hemed alongside West Brom loanee Jonathan Leko. The experienced Israeli worked hard but is clearly not yet up to Championship speed; Leko began brightly but gradually found himself trapped in those one-way streets and cul-de-sacs where his solo meanderings lead him. Passing is apparently considered only as his last option.

Elsewhere, Charlton were competent but, without Taylor, colourless. Their spirit remains intact as Sam Field’s early, hell-for-leather block to deny Marc Roberts’ blockbuster made clear. Central defenders Jason Pearce and Tom Lockyer were superb while, behind them, Dillon Phillips contributed two fine saves to keep the Addicks in a fruitless hunt. They were Birmingham’s match in everything but finishing. And in that vital department, they were taught an expensive lesson shortly after the interval.

Dark art of timewasting

In an evenly-fought game, there was little to choose between similar teams, with Championship respectability their mutual priority. Chances were few but, significantly, Lee Camp’s two genuine saves were made from defender Chris Solly and midfielder Conor Gallagher. Between them, strikers Hemed and Leko mustered only the late chance which the former shovelled over the bar from close range. Seven minutes into the second half, the Addicks were themselves destroyed by a goal of excellent quality scored by a kid who spent last June 29th celebrating his 16th birthday. Presumably with his mum and dad at Nando’s and the pictures.

Picking up possession near the halfway line, French defender Maxime Colin accelerated into Charlton’s penalty area before slipping Kerim Mrbati into space on the right. The Swedish wide man judged his square pass perfectly for young Jude Bellingham to sidefoot firmly past the helplesss Phillips despite Solly’s last-ditch effort to block his shot. Cheeky little sod deserved a clip round the ear.

To their credit, the Addicks refused to accept defeat as inevitable. They beavered away gamely as the Blues used means both fair and and foul to hang on to their advantage. In front of lamentably lenient referee Matthew Donohue, the visitors brought to the dark art of timewasting interesting but irritating innovations. Stricken Brums – and their ill-health was alarming – were painstakingly attended by a deeply caring physio and his youthful, eager-to-learn apprentice, who might well have been a classmate of Bellingham’s.

It all became too much for Bowyer, who was banished to the stands when the Brummie bench mischievously threw an unrequested ball on to the pitch. To be fair to Donohue, it was unlikely that Charlton’s incensed guv’nor stuck exclusively to the Oxford Dictionary in voicing his objections.

Bowyer was more measured in evaluating the consequences following his side’s first experience of defeat this season. “It’s how you react,” he observed. “We go again next week and we have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” It is what it is, as the annoying cliche goes, and what it is appears to be a solid, hard-grafting team of many virtues, one sound in defence, imaginative in midfield but woefully lightweight up front.

There was, meanwhile, an elephant in the stadium on Saturday, oddly low-key but with a definite say in the proceedings. It’s fervently hoped the he’ll be rejoining Bowyer’s herd sooner rather than later. Unless he goes rogue.

Charlton (4-4-2): Phillips, Solly, Lockyer, Pearce, Purrington, Field (Aneke 71), Gallagher, Cullen, Oztumer (Williams 59), Hemed, Leko (Kayal 78). Not used: Amos, Pratley, Bonne, Sarr. Booked: Pearce.

Birmingham: Camp, Pedersen, Roberts, Colin, Crowley (Gardner 87), Jutkiewicz, Dean, Mrbati (Maghoma 61), Bellingham (Gimenez 90), Davis, Sunjic. Not used: Stockdale, Harding, Clarke-Salter, Bailey. Booked: Dean, Davis.


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