Showing admirable patience when a breakthrough was beginning to appear unlikely, Charlton were rewarded by two splendid goals within three minutes of each other midway through the second half. Southend’s late reply ensured a nerve-jangling finish during which Josh Magennis, an extra hand called back to help man the defensive pumps, cleared off the line from Ryan Leonard. The Addicks were worthy winners but it was a close run thing.
Languishing in 15th position and victorious only once this season, the visitors contributed enough in this absorbing game to demonstrate how tough it will be to escape the quicksand that is League One. During a evenly fought first period, there were enough narrow squeaks in Charlton’s penalty area to send them in at the break grateful to be on level terms. But in Magennis (nothing false about this honest-to-goodness No. 9) and Ricky Holmes, they had the matchwinners that Southend clearly lacked. And an overall edge in quality saw them through.
Urged on by a raucously optimistic following of Shrimpers, the piersiders made the early running. Pantomime villain Nile Ranger came close to exploiting Ahmed Kashi’s ill-judged backpass but Ben Amos was alert to the danger; much travelled winger Michael Kightly should have made more of Jermaine McGlashan’s cutback from the right byline than the scuffed mess he made of it; Leonard headed Kightly’s inswinging corner wastefully over the bar; Amos’s instinctively deployed right boot kept out Kightly’s wickedly deflected effort, with Ranger prodding the rebound weakly wide. His side’s unease made awkward viewing for Karl Robinson on the sideline but they gradually pulled themselves together.
Kashi’s fierce drive was parried by Mark Oxley before the outstanding Jason Pearce half-volleyed Holmes’ clever set-up narrowly off target. As the Addicks continued to assert themselves, Magennis headed Jay Dasilva’s accurate cross too close to Oxley and Billy Clarke spun sharply on to Tariqe Fosu’s pass but directed his low drive narrowly the wrong side of the right post. At the other end, meanwhile, Pearce’s heroic block was needed to foil Simon Cox’s close range shot as United’s danger man turned, briefly unmarked, on to Michael Timlin’s through pass.
Cox fired another pass from Timlin over the bar to start the second half but the momentum was now firmly behind the Addicks. Holmes’ cross from the left was returned from the far post by Clarke but Jake Forster-Caskey’s enterprising overhead effort landed in Oxley’s hands. Magennis was a toe-end away from meaningful contact with Fosu’s drilled cross but the burly striker’s opening goal was only briefly delayed.
Dasilva’s crossfield ball to Chris Solly began the move which the skipper’s pass to Fosu and overlap for the return continued. From cleverly created space, Solly’s perfectly measured centre was met at the far post by Magennis, who outjumped Elvis Bwomono and bulleted home an unstoppable centre forward’s header.
Three minutes later, the points were apparently made safe by Holmes. Turning his marker Stephen McLaughlin with practised ease on the left, the irrepressible marksman quite deliberately curled a low drive neatly inside the right post. Not for Holmes the easy tapped-in finish. His are uniformly special.
A third goal would, of course, have polished off the visitors but Fosu, on a lightning break, opted for glory and ignoring an imploring Clarke to his right, shot weakly wide. His miss set up the usual frantic finish when centre back John White reduced the Shrimpers’ arrears by powering Timlin’s right wing corner into the top right corner.
In an uncanny re-run of the untidy conclusion at Oldham a week previously, a badly missed chance and slipshod management of a game clearly under their control turned Charlton, not to mention their careworn supporters, into undignified, jelly-legged wrecks. In both cases, generally outclassed opposition were offered a glimmer of hope by an inability to keep them in their place and close out a comfortable victory. It’s one of football’s darker arts and Robinson will no doubt be addressing it as a matter of priority. Call it ruthless, call it merciless but a foot on the necks of beaten opponents is recommended. And starving them of the ball helps.