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.