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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Kevin Nolan’s Valley View: Charlton Athletic 2-0 Ipswich Town

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

Johnnie Jackson’s dominant Addicks notched up another convincing win at The Valley last night. KEVIN NOLAN reports.

After tasting the novel experience of cup success twice last week, Charlton returned to the bread and butter of League One competition to host Ipswich Town at a bouncing Valley.

A second Fill The Valley offer meant another bumper crowd was on hand to celebrate a repetition of the imperious performance which saw off Plymouth Argyle nearly three weeks ago.

The right result is always the priority on occasions like this and the Tractor Boys received the same short shrift as the Pilgrims. Only the lateness of Alex Gilbey’s clincher gave cause for concern but without an effort on target, Suffolk’s finest, supported by a subdued, sold-out Jimmy Seed stand, were second best throughout.

On Saturday, for the third of the club’s enterprising Fill The Valley initiatives, Cambridge United, themselves impressive 5-0 winners at Cheltenham last night, will provide the opposition. There’s no such thing as a walkover but they will have their hands full if the Addicks are in this mood again.

In this clash of interim managers, meanwhile, Johnnie Jackson’s men made an uneven start but still created what few chances there were. A restless bundle of fizzing energy, Conor Washington sent an optimistic lob over Christian Walton’s crossbar, Eliot Lee headed tamely wide and Diallang Jaiyesimi nodded Ben Purrington’s cross off target.

As Town’s early resistance crumbled, Jayden Stockley continued his hot streak in front of goal to put the Addicks ahead. The spadework was provided by George Dobson, who neatly evaded a midfield tangle to send Washington haring through the inside-left channel, with Sam Morsy in fruitless pursuit.

Opening his body to shoot right-footed for the opposite corner, Washington was foiled by Walton’s excellent save; following up alertly, Stockley confidently drilled the rebound through the goal area confusion and claimed his 13th goal of a productive season.

Charlton’s perfect evening was off and running and though the coup-de-grace eluded them for a further hour, they remained in effortless control.

The visitors were comprehensively outclassed, with the exception of the outstanding Walton, whose defiance kept his side in with a notional chance. During a one-sided second half, the big keeper made a string of superb saves to introduce an element of doubt.

In the home goal, Craig McGillivray sailed through 90+ minutes of complete unemployment, protected by the old-pro/young gun combination of skipper Jason Pearce and Akin Famewo.

Total midfield control was guaranteed by the tigerish Dobson, Lee and Gilbey, whose first goal of the campaign rewarded a tireless box-to-box contribution.

Supported by Jaiyesimi, versatile Sean Clare put in a faultless shift at right wingback with Purrington providing balance on the opposite flank.

The latter was among Walton’s second half victims, his point blank header somehow conjured clear by Town’s brilliant keeper. Stockley, Lee and Washington were also denied by Walton as the Addicks sought the security of that elusive second goal.

Aware of football’s axiom that you inevitably pay for your failure to seal an issue, The Valley shifted uncomfortably as the second half wore on without resolution of the problem. Not that the visitors looked even remotely likely to produce an equaliser, but you know how it is – you worry. Until, that is, Gilbey stepped up to lower a satisfying boom on the outclassed Tractor Boys.

Never one to hide, Lee’s had been a performance of uneven impact. One of his precise passes put Washington through, to be foiled by George Edmundson’s great recovery tackle. With a minute of normal time left on referee Sarginson’s watch, he produced another peach to send Gilbey accelerating through a square defence and into the penalty area.

A clever feint earned him room to pick an inviting spot and nonchalantly slot right-footed past the desperately advancing Walton. The tall playmaker’s first goal of an injury-hit season was saluted by a relieved crowd, fully aware that Gilbey’s form is vital to the second stage of Charlton’s mediocre campaign.

The injuries are healing, the squad seems strong, the future seems suddenly brighter… what could possibly go wrong?

Charlton: McGillivray, Clare, Pearce, Famewo, Purrington. Jaiyesimi (Leko 69), Gilbey, Dobson, Lee, Stockley, Washington. Not used: Henderson, Elewere, Souare, Watson, Kirk, Davison. Booked: Pearce.

Ipswich: Walton, Vincent-Young, Nsiala, Edmundson, Donacien, Evans, Morsy, Aluko (Chaplin 69), Fraser (Pigott 64), Edwards, Bonne. Not used: Hladky, Penney, El Mizouni, Burgess. Booked: Donacien.

Referee: Christopher Sarginson. Att: 26,272 (3,159 visiting).


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