How do you follow up a thumping 6-0 victory on the road? By sliding to defeat at The Valley, of course. KEVIN NOLAN watched from the press box.
After the feast…famine. Fresh from filling their boots with six goals at Plymouth in midweek, Charlton fought gamely against automatic promotion certainties Peterborough United but were unable to find to find the one goal they needed to earn a valuable point. A missed penalty by Jayden Stockley was as close as they came with the Posh using all their nous and an occasional stroke of luck to shut them out.
On the positive side, Charlton matched – and during a spirited second half performance often more than matched – their talented visitors but fell just short. While play-off rivals Oxford United were finishing off what was left of Plymouth Argyle and Portsmouth were ponderously squeaking past hapless Bristol Rovers, the Addicks slipped down to 8th place. Tuesday’s game in hand at home to Crewe looks like defining, if not deciding, their incident-packed season. They are overdue to put right the indifferent home form which has stunted their progress.
This hectic, evenly-contested duel hinged on the coolness shown by Johnson Clarke-Harris in converting what was his only clearcut chance and the subsequent failure, by Stockley, to equalise from the penalty spot. The prolific Clarke-Harris capitalised on Charlton’s customary tepid start to fire his side in front after just nine minutes. A needless foul by Liam Millar on Frankie Kent conceded a free kick which keeper Josef Bursik took quickly to Kent; the defender kept the ball moving to Sammie Szmodics, who slipped a promising pass in to Clarke-Harris. One touch of his left foot set up an unstoppable low shot which beat Ben Amos on its way into the bottom corner. It was a fine strike by a player brimming with confidence who expects to convert every chance.
Szmodics has almost kept pace with Clarke-Harris in providing United with a lethal scoring partnership this season. It was his quick-fire double which overhauled Charlton’s one-goal lead back in January and shortly after his partner scored, he should have increased his side’s advantage. Skilfully put through by Kent, he confronted Amos one-on-one near the penalty spot. Shooting hurriedly, he was foiled by the keeper’s instinctive touch which carried the ball wide.
Encouraged by their escape, the Addicks hit back through Millar, whose angled pass sent Alex Gilbey briefly clear of Kent, whose panicky challenge brought down the rapidly improving midfielder inside the penalty area. Referee Keith Stroud pointed to the spot which left Charlton to decide who would take the decisive kick. Hindsight is, of course, never wrong but the choice of Stockley, whose six goals have all been headers, seemed a curious one. An unconvincing effort cleared off the line by Ipswich a week earlier ranks as a rare shot delivered by an honest-to-goodness trier, who spends most games with his back to the opposition goal and thrives on headed chances. Sure enough, Stockley’ s shot was comfortably saved by Bursik and Charlton’s best chance had already come and gone. Jake Forster-Caskey might have been a better bet. That’s hindsight talking, of course. And hindsight’s always got something to say.
Before the interval, Millar’s miscued cross had Bursik scrambling back on his goalline to conjure the ball to safety. In response, Amos alertly narrowed the angle as Szmodics played in Joe Ward and hurried the midfielder into shooting over the bar. The Addicks retired for their break still in with a chance of salvaging something from a nip-and-tuck game. It was certainly not lack of effort which denied them. Instead there were grounds for optimism in their second half performance which, if they can carry it into the huge game against Crewe, might change the mood in SE7.
At the heart of the rally was Gilbey, whose form since Nigel Adkins arrived, has blossomed. A diffident figure under Lee Bowyer, who clearly didn’t rate him, the big midfielder was bristling for the fight. His powerful runs, seen to advantage when winning the penalty, troubled the visitors and inspired anxiety in their ranks. It was clearly no reflection on his contribution that he was replaced by Chuks Aneke with a quarter hour left. With Tuesday the priority, the caution he’d picked up made it a sensible move to withdraw him.
Entering the fray in the 77th minute, meanwhile, Aneke showed enough to suggest a start against Crewe is on the cards, possibly alongside Conor Washington, whose late appearance was a subtle nudge on Adkins’ elbow. Diallang Jaiyesisi’s premature departure probably frees up one place, while the ever willing Stockley might prosper, temporarily at least, as an impact sub. So with a touch of foresight, hindsights’s bitter rival, it’s predicted that an Aneke-Washington forward line could feature against Crewe. Unless, of course, Adkins goes for broke, includes Stockley and plays three up front. That’s probably pushing it but the prospect is appealing.
Adkins has other problems to solve before Tuesday, not least of which is the enigma called Liam Millar. The Liverpool loanee teased and taunted an above average Peterborough rearguard, marshalled superbly by Mark Beevers. On seemingly countless occasions, he twinkle-toed past an ever-growing posse of defenders, had their goal in his sights but just as regularly failed to exploit his advantage by poor decision-making. Crosses were tamely directed into Bursik’s hands, killer passes were constantly cut out by Beevers and his mates. A midfield comprising Millar, Gilbey and Jake Forster-Caskey should be a match for any in the division but only if the talented Canadian adds substance to his undeniable style, something he did brilliantly when setting up Gilbey for the penalty.
So it comes down to Tuesday and a nothing-to-lose, everything-to-gain engagement with the Railwaymen of Crewe. The crabbed, fear-filled progress of Oxford, Portsmouth, not to mention the continuing vulnerability of Blackpool, offers genuine hope of a play-off slot. It’s time to hold your nerve. Though they lost, Charlton held theirs against Posh. Four more times, Nigel, if you please…
Charlton: Amos, Matthews, Pearce, Innis (Famewo 83), Purrington, Forster-Caskey, Watson, Jaiyesimi (Morgan 24, Washington 83), Gilbey (Aneke 77), Millar, Stockley. Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Gunter, Pratley. Booked: Gilbey
Peterborough: Bursik; Thompson (Mason 71), Kent, Beevers, Butler, Hamilton (Reed 68), Taylor, Ward, Szmodics, Dembele (Burrows 87), Clarke-Harris. Not used: Gyollai, Eisa, Ricky-Jade Jones, Kanu. Booked: Thompson
Referee: Keith Stroud.
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