Sunderland took on one of our nemeses/bogey teams (take your pick, and I know that they’re one of many, but that repeated play-off nonsense…..) and returned from South East London with a solitary point from a game in which we were by far the better side in the first hour, but understandably withered a bit after a straight red for Flanagan left us a man down for the last 15 minutes. Lee Burge will have few easier afternoons meaning that our defence, red card apart, was again solid. Up front, we again missed a player who can put away a half chance. Having said all that, we should be reasonably happy with eight points from four games, and no goals conceded from open play.
To add a bit of spice, The Addicks had managed something that we haven’t and acquired a new owner in Thomas Sandgaard, a Danish American who outdoes Bill Storey in that he actually plays guitar rather than just looking like he should. Any progress on our ownership/sale has either not taken place or remains shrouded in secrecy despite any “period of exclusivity” having expired weeks ago. Is no news good news? Probably not. Are we interested? Of course, we are. Are we simply sick of waiting? Too bloody right we are.
Our last visit to The Valley saw Luke O’Nien give us the lead before most had taken their seats, only for Reece James to equalise early in the second half. Yes, Reece James, who’d only got a game because Oviedo had been deemed unfit to travel, meaning that we also named only six subs – presumably because we’d nobody able to step in at short notice. How very Sunderland…and yes, it was an OG, which had followed a rather pleasant lunchtime in Woolwich with what seemed like most of Wearside. This time around we can’t even meet up with mates for a pre-match pint unless we turn up at the same place by accident and don’t acknowledge each other’s presence, as any eye contact counts as mingling, apparently. Still, there’s always the telly and the hope that there’s a commentary this time. Memories of Alex Rae’s screamer in November 2000 are still ridiculously clear, possibly because it was our Ian’s first London away game after the 1998 play-off, and it exorcised a few ghosts for him – and me.
Anyway, I was up at the crack of dawn and on the bus to Durham for the 07:08 to King’s Cross, off at 10:39, a slow walk to the Lamb for opening time, a couple of pints of Young’s, then a slow walk to Euston for the ride to London Bridge and an hour in the Market Porter at Borough market before the short ride out to Charlton and into the ground with five minutes to spare. Cracking dream, that. I also dreamt that Chris Maguire had recovered from last week’s injury…. but he hadn’t and didn’t even make the bench.
The usual formation saw us line up:
Willis Wright© Flanagan
O’Nien Leadbitter Scowen Hume
O’Brien Graham Gooch
In our natty blue and red away kit... and with Grigg, Power, and Wyke on the bench, we had a few options.
Proceedings were started with us defending the Jimmy Seed stand where we usually sit/stand, on the left of the telly as we watched, and with sound this time, and with the home side kicking off. Gooch won a tackle just in their half and gave it to Graham, who whacked a thirty-yarder way over the top with exactly a minute on the clock – and the stream decided to freeze. It needn’t bother with that sort of nonsense, otherwise I’ll be watching until six o’clock. Our next foray into their half ended on the right when O’Brien was either offside or deemed to have fouled his marker as our forward play gravitated to the right. When we tried our luck on the left, Gooch was robbed but we defended the break comfortably with Burge doing the right thing. Possession changed hands regularly for a while, with both sides happy to let their defence play the ball out, until O’Brien was played down the right on 11 minutes, but his cross from just inside the box was just too far ahead of Graham and curled away for a throw. O’Nien was next forward after a nice interception, but his cross was….well. awful. Way too long, and he was on defensive duties immediately afterwards, conceding the first corner of the day – which Leadbitter cleared. Wright was next to defend, his tackle making the ball fly seventy yards to the home keeper. (Visiting fans roar in appreciation). Scowen switched play to the right, and Willis saw his low cross miss-kicked to the edge of the box – but we had nobody in attention and it was cleared. Gooch crossed to the back post, where Willis headed in back and down, but Graham couldn’t get there cleanly, and went even closed seconds later, drawing a good save from Amos with a close-range effort as the ball bounced around in the box.
The first twenty minutes had seen us grow into the game and create a few chances from both wings, with Burge being restricted to fielded back-passes and our midfield doing well in switching play from side to side. It was nice to see us pressing our opponents further away from our goal than in the past, and Charlton struggled to find a way forward other than hopeful “over the top and chase” down the inside forward channels. Hume went down under a challenge as he went for the bye-line, but the ref wasn’t interested in giving a free. Leadbitter’s long ball found O’Brien, but his flick to Willis – well, Willis didn’t anticipate it, which is a shame as it was perfectly set on the edge of the box for a clear shot on goal.
Leadbitter was sitting deeper and dictating play as we started to take command, and with a window in that tower block that overlooks the ground containing some Seaham faces (ho wonearth do you find an Albanian Lorik Cana fan with a flat overlooking a football ground who is willing to let some Sunderland fans in for the afternoon?), we won a corner on the right. In it came, an outswinger from Scowen, and was met firmly by Wright’s forehead, bringing a fine save as Amos tipped it round the far post. Flanagan got to the next corner first, but could only blaze over the top. Charlton quickly went down our end and won a corner of their own, from which Burge eventually collected a looping cross. Flan then carried it forward in typical style (never quite looking in control) before being fouled as he came inside. Graham headed the free down in the box, but a defender got there first. Surely we’d make something of continually looking dangerous in the box - and we nearly did on 35, as O’Brien couldn’t quite pick out Graham despite a couple of attempts in the same move, and when Danny did get the ball, his first shot was blocked and the follow-up saved. Getting closer, Lads.
Leadbitter went into a clattering 50-50 near the centre circle, only to come off worst and concede a free. He was up after a touch of the magic sponge and looked to be moving freely as he made the compulsory walk to the touchline. O’Nien’s clearance hit Graham’s chest and went for a corner, which Wright headed clear from the front post as we entered the last five minutes of the half. Burge’s goalkick set us away and our cross form the right whizzed past O’Brien and found graham flying in at the back post – but he somehow put it over the top with the goal at his mercy. I know it was moving fast, but I’d have expected Altidore to put that one away. Should have scored.
Scowen’s curling ball into the box was headed on by O’Brien towards Graham, but a defender was in the way again as we went in to the added time, then O’Brien won a tussle to get forward and play it back to O’Nien only for the cross to be put safe by a defender, and that was the half over. By far the more comfortable of the two teams, we’d created bother almost every time we’d put the ball into the box, while Burge will have had tougher times in training. Our defence looked organised and solid, with Willis providing an alternative to O’Nien in breaking forward, and our set pieces were causing problems. Having said that, Hume hadn’t been nearly as much of a pest as in previous games, but all in all, a good half, although one that should have seen us in the lead.
No Sunderland changes, but Old Boy Jonny Williams of for the Addicks for the second half, as we set way towards the away end with the home side having gone from three at the back to a flat back four in an attempt to improve their fortunes. Willis set Scowen down the right and we won a throw, which went back to Willis who tried to set Hume away. Yet another shot ended up high in the north stand, Charlton’s first real shot, and Burge was happy to watch it sail over. A couple more throws up on the right eventually allowed an O’Nien cross, which he overhit, and when it came back across Scowen curled his effort wide from distance. Neat play on the right, again, saw it played across to Hume, but that’s as far as it got when Flan’s attempt to slot it back to Denver was too strong. Hume found O’Brein with a neat pass to the edge of the box, and took the return to set up Gooch, but his effort was a couple of inches over the top. Still going close but not close enough.
Gooch was on the receiving end of a couple of fouls, the first being rightly played on but the second, in virtually the same spot in the centre circle, bringing a free which Leadbitter launched into the box only to see it won by a defender. O’Nien nicked it and played it to O’Brien, who found Gooch and eventually Hume, whose low cross was poked away on the hour. Flan was pushed in the back as he played it forward, and then got his hand trodden on inadvertently. I bet that stung a bit, but a few yards of sticky tape around the wrist sorted him out. Hume found O’Brien again, but when Gooch played it into the box nobody was near it. On 69, Charlton actually got the ball down in our box for the first time, but we stayed calm and got it away, but the home side were managing to push forward with a bit more organisation. They made another change as then won a free about thirty yards out, and the stream froze again – and there was no Flan when it came back. Is there any point in swearing at the telly, even if the free was planted high up in the north stand yet again? A truly awful effort, and their next wasn’t much better as they broke and slashed a shot wide of Burge’s right-hand post.
Obviously, losing a defender meant that we change our shape, with O’Nien forsaking his forward runs, but only for a while as Charlton offered very little in our box.
Gooch played a clever ball to Hume, who sprinted to the line and cut it back to Wyke, who’d snuck on while the stream was frozen, but he was challenged as he got a touch at the near post and the ball flew across goal to safety. Ha’way Lads, we should be winning this – with ten men. With seven to go, they brought on that Maddison lad who we’d been after, just before Willis was booked for a foul out the corner of the box. Maddison whipped in it, it was headed back across and Willis got the vital header away. Grigg, who’d also snuck on during an earlier freeze, got in a low cross from the right, then had to do defensive work, hoofing it away after O’Nien had got in a vital header. Luke was there again, hoofing a loose ball over our own bar when their man took it away from goal rather than towards it, and five added minutes were announced. Things come in threes and Luke’s third was a yellow for wasting time. Dafty.
Understandably, the home side piled forward, but the quality of their forward play was poor as they failed to control the ball in dangerous positions meaning that Burge had little difficult work to do. And so it ended level, a result we’d have taken at three o’clock, but after playing nearly twenty minutes with ten men, perhaps a point is still a decent return – on second thoughts, no it isn’t. We had better chances (which didn’t take much, to be honest), and, even after changing O’Brien and Graham for Grigg and O’Brien, we couldn’t fashion one that we could convert. Add a red card for Flan and yellows for Scowen, O’Nien, and Willis, and it’s a very expensive point. …and I’m going to have to practice spelling Xhemajli.
Man of the Match? Another steady afternoon from Leadbitter, which allowed Scowen to pick the most forward passes, so it goes to Josh.
Apologies for any gaps in the description of the action, but that’s down to a dreadful quality stream from Charlton, which had more frozen moments than Olaf the snowman. Ain’t technology a pain in the bum?