The Addicks slumped to another home defeat last night, this time to bottom-of-the-table Burton Albion. KEVIN NOLAN wonders what happened to their play-off push.
It was on November 24th last year that Charlton’s bright start to the 2020-21 season began to unravel. Their unbeaten run of eight games was brought to a shattering end by bottom-of-the table Burton Albion, who ruthlessly exposed their victims’ defensive posturing and brushed them aside on their way to an emphatic 4-2 victory. The Addicks’ demoralising defeat set in motion the patchy form that has left them hanging on by their badly chewed fingernails in the promotion play-offs race.
Almost precisely three months later, the Brewers arrived at The Valley still statistically the worst side in League One and did it again. Winners only five times in 27 league games, they reduced Charlton to nerve-shredded losers, for whom the final whistle came as a huge relief. As it was to countless disenchanted Valley Pass customers, who found their team’s feckless, spiritless, ultimately pointless surrender hard to stomach. If there’s such a sound as a barrel being scraped, it was heard in SE7 on Tuesday evening. It makes an ugly noise.
For 20 exhilarating minutes, to be fair, this season-defining result seemed highly unlikely. Making a bright, vibrant start, Charlton swarmed all over their visitors. As early as the 3rd minute, Jayden Stockley climbed high to meet Deji Oshilaja’s precise cross from the left to bullet a header which was goalbound until Ben Garratt spectacularly fingertipped it on to the bar before batting the rebound to safety. Stockley’s disbelief was palpable but he hadn’t long to wait for better luck. Timing Andrew Shinnie’s outswinging corner with stylish ease, this time he gave Garratt no chance with a firm, downward header.
Recent setbacks after taking early leads have made cautious nonbelievers of their supporters but, Charlton briefly seemed capable of making easy work of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s struggling side. They came within inches of doubling their lead when Edwards fouled Liam Millar and Shinnie cannoned the resultant free kick off Garratt’s bar. A second goal might have made all the difference but you know what they say about ifs and ands making pots and pans. It can’t be done.
As it turned out, Charlton’s bolt had already been shot. As good as they’d briefly been, they quickly degenerated into a leaderless rabble, incapable of delivering the simplest of passes to its intended destination or winning the most innocuous of tackles. Their early confidence quickly dissolved into hesitancy and uncertainty, with every decision an energy-sapping effort. There’s a word that covers it all but as you probably witnessed this debacle, you might wish to use your own. In the 24th minute, Albion’s equaliser punctured their pretensions and ended their illusions though, ironically, it could have been stopped almost at source.
It was no secret that a routine throw near the tunnel was intended for Jonny Smith but Diallang Jaiyesimi reacted sluggishly and showed little appetite for the ugly but necessary elements of the game. Smith was allowed to escape to the byline and cross dangerously. Too strong for the posse of Addicks’ defenders surrounding him, Mike Fondop rose imperiously to bully a header past an indecisive Ben Amos. The writing was written clearly on the wall for Charlton and it made depressing reading.
It took the Brewers less than ten second-half minutes to complete their comeback and secure the points they desperately needed to climb off the bottom of the division. And if a slice of good fortune attended their winning goal, it also received a helping hand from the possession Adam Matthews carelessly conceded inside the home half. Substitute Danny Rowe took up the running and tried his luck speculatively from the left. His optimistic shot caught a treacherous deflection off Ben Watson’s hand, changed course and beat Amos’ frantic effort to keep it out of the top right corner.
With more than a half hour remaining, you might suppose that the visitors came under intense pressure to hang on to their lead. Well, you would suppose wrong. The Addicks came closest to equalising when Ben Purrington, their best player on a dreary, demoralising evening, turned on Stockley’s back header to shoot right-footed but was foiled by Garratt’s smart save. Millar’s pass then sent Chuks Aneke through but Edwards’ diligent tracking enabled him to whisk the ball off the big substitute’s toe.
Burton expertly dallied and dillied to the final whistle as Charlton lost their way and didn’t know where to go. Chances are they’re going nowhere; neither up nor down but in stodgy mid-table, grateful for the 44 points they already have.
Charlton: Amos, Matthews, Pearce (Schwartz 72), Pratley, Oshilaja, Purrington (Maatsen 72), Shinnie, Watson (Smith 85), Jaiyesimi (Aneke 56), Stockley, Millar. Not used: Harness, Famewo, Washington.
Burton: Garratt, Hamer, Carter, Bostwick, Gallacher (Brayford 68), Smith, Edwards, Wallace (Rowe 38), Clare, Akins, Fondop (Mancienne 75). Not used: O’Hara, Powell, Varney, Broom.
Referee: Chris Pollard.
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