A welcome win under the lights had Addicks fans starting, warily, to look up the league table rather than down. KEVIN NOLAN reports from The Valley.
Forget the emphatic scoreline because this was far from a rout of weak, outgunned opposition. On the contrary, Exeter City were a well-drilled, confident side who, had they hung on to their first half lead until half-time, might have been a tougher nut to crack than they proved to be in a progressively lopsided second period.
Trailing to James Scott’s well taken 23rd minute goal, Charlton instead clawed themselves level a minute before the break and re-emerged with the wind well and truly in their sails. The Grecians were duly swept away by a display which had an appreciative Tuesday evening crowd singing their praises.
Under The Valley floodlights, there’s nothing quite like watching an on-song aggregation of Addicks strutting their stuff in mutual understanding and camaraderie. The visitors fought gamely but were demolished by superior opponents who hardly needed the helpful strokes of luck that fell their way.
Charlton’s uncommonly strong bench provided evidence that new gaffer Michael Appleton has at his disposal a squad of unusual depth and variety. And it’s clear that under his firm leadership, the medical staff won’t be quite as overworked as has been the case at Sparrows Lane in recent memory.
It might be coincidence (and it might not) that since Appleton arrived, Chuks Aneke, Miles Leaburn and Scott Fraser are “out on the grass” again, all three contributing significantly to Tuesday’s triumph.
Appleton will have also relished the all-purpose performance of young Louie Watson, whose skill and urgency took the customary pressure off his captain George Dobson. The kid made a dynamic impression until he gave way to Fraser with the points all but guaranteed. The fund of talent at his disposal, with Panutche Camara to return, surely makes midfield the least of the manager’s concerns.
After Aneke, making a rare start, netted Watson’s perfect delivery only to be correctly ruled offside. It almost hurts to report that it was the youngster’s hesitancy which launched the lightning break leading to City’s goal. There was a yawning gap in Charlton’s defence as Scott led a devastating counter attack which bore down unopposed on Ashley Maynard-Brewer. Using Will Aimson’s decoy run to his right, Scott chose to trust himself and slotted calmly past the hopelessly exposed goalkeeper.
To his credit, Watson was at pains to redeem himself and it was his imaginative short corner which set up Michael Hector to turn sharply in the penalty area before shooting narrowly wide of the far post. The tide was turning and one minute into added-on time, Charlton produced a perfectly-timed equaliser.
A feisty bundle of energy, Alfie May had chased and harried selflessly, dropping deep and popping up where he was least expected. Winning possession to the right of the visitors’ goal, he stood up an artfully-dinked cross, to which Aneke climbed high to head against Viljami Sinisalo’s crossbar. Seizing on the loose ball, Corey Blackett-Taylor ruthlessly smashed it past the Finnish keeper and very possibly adjusted Appleton’s half-time address.
During the opening exchanges of the second half, Gary Caldwell’s Westcountrymen were a composed, organised outfit until Yanic Wildschut, an early replacement for the impressive Vincent Harper, let them down with a panicky challenge on Tennai Watson, which made referee David Rock’s award of a spotkick a no-brainer.
Surprisingly supplanted by Aneke as penalty-taker, May was predictably first to the rebound as Sinisalo turned Chuks’ effort on to a post and put Charlton ahead with the first of two poacher’s goals he converted from close range.
Three minutes later, May was again the centre of attention as Aimson took a leaf from Wildschut’s playbook and pointlessly chopped the diminutive striker down in the centre circle. Shown a straight red card by Rock, City’s headstrong captain slunk off and left his side one crucial Grecian light.
With the issue virtually settled, it fell to substitute Leaburn to apply what was effectively the coup-de-grace. The initial running was made by Tennai Watson, whose pass found his namesake Louie to the right of the visitors’ goal. An urgent tackle by Zak Jules robbed the busy midfielder but ricocheted conveniently to Leaburn, who, without ceremony, deposited Charlton’s third, clinching goal where it hurt City most.
Insatiable and predatory, May took prompt advantage of a thoroughly beaten side by finishing what Blackett-Taylor started by rounding Sinisola before losing control. Waspish and predatory, Alfie took the gift horse and dispassionately herded it into a gaping net.
The ideal postscript, you might say, to a nearly flawless performance which was crowned, for once, by the perfect result. There’s something stirring in SE7, the makings of a damned good side. Doesn’t do to get carried away, though. We’ve all been here before…
Charlton: Maynard-Brewer, Jones, Thomas, Dobson (C Campbell 87), Hector, T.Watson (Asiimwe 80), L Watson (Fraser 80), Blackett-Taylor, May, Tedic (T Campbell 80), Aneke (Leaburn 68). Not used: Molyneux, Ness. Booked: Tedic.
Exeter: Sinisalo, Jules, Aimson, Hartridge, Carroll, Mitchell, Scott (Taylor 78), Cole, Kite (Aitchison 66), Fitzwater (Sweeney 72), Harper (Wildschut 58). Not used: Woods, Cox, Richards. Sent off: Aimson.
Referee: David Rock.