Kevin Nolan’s Valley View: Charlton Athletic 1-3 Sheffield Wednesday

Kevin Nolan's Valley View

Charlton fans turned up at The Valley on Saturday to celebrate the end of Roland Duchâtelet’s reign as club owner – but Sheffield Wednesday spoiled the party by beating the injury-ravaged Addicks, as KEVIN NOLAN reports…

Already sapped by the rash of injuries that have destroyed their promising season, Charlton were kicked while they were down by a mischievous virus which robbed them on Friday of first team regular Ben Purrington and deputy goalkeeper Ashley Maynard-Brewer. Centre back Tom Lockyer, though also affected, recovered enough to play but will miss next week’s trip to Middlesbrough after irresponsibly picking up a fifth booking for dissent mere minutes before judicial amnesty kicked in. Meanwhile, teenage midfielder Albie Morgan was, according to beleaguered manager Lee Bowyer, sick before kick-off and again at half-time.

Expert by now at making a little go an impressively long way, Bowyer handed lively left wingback Alfie Doughty his full league debut, named 19-year-old Nathan Harness as Maynard-Brewer’s deputy and completed a depleted bench of only five substitutes with further untried youngsters in Josh Davison and James Vennings. Possibly sent out with an inter-denominational prayer rather than a team talk, the walking wounded made a fair but unsuccessful fist of coping with Sheffield Wednesday. A lack of spirit was not their undoing but they were unable to halt a sequence which has earned them just two points from seven games since they demolished Derby County on October 19th.

Charlton’s nemesis on Saturday proved to be Wednesday’s canny Scot Barry Bannan, a midfield dynamo with an unfortunate Crystal Palace pedigree. Hitting the big 3-0 the day after this game, Bannan covered every inch of The Valley’s lawn-like pitch, his will-to-win undimmed by the advancing years. His first contribution was the precise fifth-minute free kick which Atdhe Nuhiu headed emphatically home from a marginally offside position.

Sarr’s costly lapses

Turning up a little later on the opposite flank, Bannan curled a cross which all but begged Steve Fletcher to glance an artful header inside the right hand post. The less said of Naby Sarr’s sluggish reaction to danger the better, except to ruefully note that he was taught a harsh lesson by Fletcher, whose movement and anticipation belied his 33 years. Fully ten years his junior, Sarr continues to undermine frequently sublime passing with costly defensive lapses. But he cares – nobody denies he cares.

Supporting Fletcher and Nuhiu up front for the visitors, feisty Fernando Forestieri announced his presence with a raking low drive narrowly wide of the target. Shortly thereafter, he claimed responsibility for a warm favourite as “miss of the season.” Arriving at the far post after Fletcher’s header, from Kadeem Harris’ right wing centre, was brilliantly saved by Phillips, Forestieri seemed a cinch to score but contrived to blast the loose ball wildly wide from three yards. His interval replacement by Jacob Murphy might have been a direct consequence of Garry Monk’s ill-disguised displeasure: the manager’s irritation was justified because the Addicks’ prompt response to Forestieri’s howler was to equalise.

Picking up Sarr’s pass on the left touchline, Doughty disposed of Moses Odubajo’s marking by the simple expedient of knocking the ball wide of his bemused marker before skinning him on the inside by a searing turn of pace. Doughty’s hard, low cross was controlled by Macauley Bonne, then prodded past Cameron Dawson, with the keeper wrongfooted by a deflection off Tom Lees. Phillips promptly did his bit to preserve interval equality with a brilliant one-on-one block on Bannan, which left the indefatigable Caledonian in a painful heap. Unhappily, as far as Charlton’s chances were concerned, he made a full recovery.

The second half developed into an unremitting slog for Charlton as they battled bravely for the valuable point their unstinting effort arguably deserved. With the visitors in control, Phillips again earned his corn by saving smartly from Bannan, then sparing Deji Oshilaja’s blushes by sprawling to turn aside Harris’ low crosshot after the speedster was gifted the ball by the absentminded Addick.

Progressively weary troops

Bowyer’s progessively weary troops were eyeing the finishing line when the pressure told on them. Pursuing Murphy to the right byline, Erhun Oztumer’s tired, ill-considered lunge from behind on the Newcastle United loanee left referee Tim Robinson with little alternative but to award a penalty which Fletcher efficiently converted.

The hulking Nuhiu’s stoppage time header did justice to Adam Reach’s perfect delivery but merely garnished Wednesday’s victory on a chilly afternoon which featured the Charlton debut of young Vennings. Good luck to the kid but the 19-year-old’s appearance in the first team hardly featured in Bowyer’s plans for a season still considerably short of its halfway mark.

There was little evidence of “new owners’ bounce” but plenty to suggest that the Addicks, as soon as the medical room begins to empty, are a match for any side in the Championship. Remind me of that remark come next May if you like. I’m not usually hard to find.

Charlton: Phillips, Matthews, Lockyer, Sarr, Oshilaja, Pratley, Morgan (Vennings 61), Oztumer (Davison 81), Doughty, Leko, Bonne. Not used: Harness, Pearce, Solly.

Wednesday: Dawson, Odubajo, Lees, Hutchinson (Luongo 77), Iorfa, Fox, Harris (Reach 80), Bannan, Forestieri (Murphy 46), Nuhiu, Fletcher. Not used: Jones, Lee, Pelupessy, Winnall.

Referee: Tim Robinson. Att: 18,338 (2,680 visiting).

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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