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.
💬 "I was disappointed that we lost the game. I don't think there was a great deal in it."
Johnnie Jackson speaks to CharltonTV following this afternoon's defeat to Wycombe…
— Charlton Athletic FC (@CAFCofficial) January 1, 2022
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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