A dismal performance at The Valley saw the Addicks slip to defeat against a poor Port Vale side . KEVIN NOLAN picks through a sobering afternoon.
Port Vale turned up at The Valley a point better off than their hosts but otherwise considered ideal opponents against which Charlton’s stuttering start to the new season could be measured.
They would provide sturdy resistance to a home side anxious to improve a situation which is already struggling through familiar ploughed ground. The Valiants were also expected to lose. But they ignored the script, went one better and beat the Addicks.
It was still too early to draw conclusions from the three league games which preceded this seismic setback, but you would hardly call them encouraging,
The buoyancy derived from the opening day victory over Leyton Orient quickly disappeared in narrow defeats at Peterborough and at home to Bristol Rovers, after both of which Dean Holden declared himself “pleased with the performance” but disappointed with the result”.
Fair enough, but they left the ominous feeling that Charlton were quickly settling into a lower mid-table position, where they belong in League One.
In the laboured win over Orient and in both losing games, we discovered that Holden’s selection bristles with impressive young talent – untried kids still learning their trade but eager to strut their stuff. Their promise is obvious but their enforced introductions, while still in their professional infancy, meant that the side lacked battle-hardened savvy.
A surfeit of greenhorns have stepped up at the same time and clearly needed the balance and experience they had every right to expect from the club’s older pros.
An early rash of injuries have forced Holden’s hand, with Miles Leaburn and Scott Fraser the most significant absentees. A damaged foot robbed him of Panutche Camara’s midfield influence against Port Vale. It seems the normal strains and sprains that dog most teams are, in Charlton’s case, contagious.
The Addicks have earned a reputation, whether justified or not, as soft-centred patsies ready to buckle under pressure. They need to toughen up and learn to give as good as they get. And waste no more time in climbing out of this God-awful division!
Port Vale, meanwhile, arrived with a so-so return from their opening few games, which began with an out-of-character 7-0 thrashing by Barnsley. They promptly put that right by beating Reading 1-0, then travelled to Blackpool, where they dug deep for a workmanlike goalless draw against another of the division’s fancied sides.
After falling behind at The Valley and being outplayed for the opening half hour, they showed admirable spirit to mount a second-half recovery and claim all three points as the home defence typically fell apart. They were aided in their efforts by yet more of the chaotic defending that regularly undoes these vulnerable Addicks – defending which yet again yielded another desperately late match-winner.
It all began so promisingly for Holden’s men with Alfie May claiming his first goal for the club from the penalty spot in the 10th minute. Stepping up to take responsibility for the kick after panic-stricken goalkeeper Conor Ripley brought down Daniel Kanu, May put two pre-season misses behind him and brutally smashed Charlton in front.
Had Corey Blackett-Taylor found the net after he outstripped Nathan Smith and beat Ripley but was denied by Alex Iacovitti’s resourceful goalline clearance, the visitors might have wilted. As it was, they finished the first half on top and appeared to have laid the foundations for a change in momentum after the break.
A two-goal salvo ten minutes into the second period duly turned this see-saw game on its head and confirmed Charlton’s reputation as hapless, mistake-prone victims.
The first exposed the defensive frailties of Nathan Asiimwe, which led to the free kick that Ethan Chislett swung on to James Wilson’s head and which was dispatched conclusively past Ashley Maynard-Brewer. While the Addicks were reeling from the blow, Michael Hector made an ugly mess of dealing with Conor Grant’s routine long ball, was out-manouevred by Chislett and watched helplessly as the hard-running South African finished expertly into the top right corner.
Given his chance by Miles Leaburn’s misfortune early on in the first pre-season fixture at Welling, Daniel Kanu has been a welcome breath of fresh air during Charlton’s faltering start to the campaign. His equaliser came close to earning them a point in midweek against Bristol Rovers but was frustrated by the Gas’s winner in the last of seven added minutes.
On Saturday, he delivered the goods again by cleverly nodding Blackett-Taylor’s right-wing cross into the far top corner. Once again, however, his leveller was in vain as two minutes from the end, Maynard-Brewer defiantly saved a fierce drive from Josh Thomas, who alertly salvaged the rebound and set up Funso Ojo to settle the issue from close range.
There was still time as nine added minutes were about to expire for George Dobson – not at his superlative best but always game as a bible – to meet Lloyd Jones’s deep cross and head inexplicably wide when apparently nailed-on to score. His miss was a logical conclusion to another of those frustrating exercises suffered by followers of Charlton Athletic Football Club.
And there’s still 42 league games to go. Plus the cups, but they shouldn’t detain us for long.
Charlton: Maynard-Brewer, Jones, Hector, Edun (Thomas 80), Dobson, Taylor (Jaiyesimi 72), Asiimwe (Payne 90+2), Blackett-Taylor, Kanu, Anderson, May. Not used: Isted, Ness, Kirk, McGrandles. Booked: May, Maynard-Brewer, Anderson.
Port Vale: Ripley, Jones, Sang (Clark 68), Smith, Garrity, Chislett (Massey 61), Ojo, Grant (Plant 78), Iacovitti, Arblaster (Lowe 78), Wilson (Thomas 68). Not used: Leutwiler, Cass.
Referee: Sunny Singh Gil. Official attendance: 11,912 (554 visiting).