Marquis 72 og
BY KEVIN NOLAN AT THE KEEPMOAT STADIUM
In a frantic finale to this nip-and-tuck game, Charlton Athletic came perilously close to losing the precious League One point they deserved for an otherwise enterprising performance.
Still visibly sagging following Mallik Wilks’ fine equaliser just five minutes after they had luckily taken the lead, they spent the closing stages in a state of delayed shock.
As Rovers pressed relentlessly for a winner, beleaguered Charlton turned twice to Dillon Phillips for salvation. And their 23-year-old goalkeeper came through for them.
The sprawling save he made to somehow keep out John Marquis’ fierce shot as it headed for the bottom right corner was top class. So too was the almost identical stop he produced a minute later to claw Aaron Lewis’ effort to safety. Phillips had done his bit and earned the luck he enjoyed during Charlton’s heartstopping escape in added time.
Second best during the majority of an entertaining afternoon, Donny had been galvanised by Wilks’ goal and threw everything at the Addicks in a desperate bid to filch the result they needed to close the five-point gap between themselves and their reeling visitors.
Even Phillips could do nothing about Ben Whiteman’s dipping drive which cannoned off his crossbar.
He was also no more than a helpless onlooker as Marquis chased down the rebound, moved infield from the left and whipped in a cleverly curled effort which seemed bound for the top-right corner, with assistance from Tommy Rowe’s faint but ultimately significant touch.
In that explosion of primitive joy which only football’s last-gasp winner has the power to generate, the home aficionados went wild; manager Grant McCann and his triumphant players threw a delirious, impromptu knees-up; the craic was mighty inside the Keepmoat. Until, that is, party-pooping linesman Graeme Fyvie (or perhaps it was his colleague Alan Clayton) was spotted with flag held resolutely aloft amid the turmoil. His input, as conveyed to his boss Ben Toner, was unequivocal.
Rowe was offside and the “goal” should be disallowed.
The wild celebrations died instantly in local throats, to be replaced by howls of frustrated rage. When the news filtered through to the large posse of visiting supporters, on the other hand, joy and relief were unconfined.
Booked for his strident objections to the decision, McCann was terse and to the point.
“Tommy Rowe was onside,” he declared. There seemed little more to be said but, needless to say, Lee Bowyer was at pains to say it.
“It looks like one of their fellas, who is in and around the six-yard box, gambles on the actual shot and runs away celebrating and he’s in an offside position.”
It’s worth noting that Bowyer, banished to a spot close to the press box for his indiscretions at AFC Wimbledon last week, was in a far better position than McCann to judge Rowe’s critical position. Neither of them, it’s also fair to say, would claim to be an impartial witness. Best left to the officials, you might infer.
If fortune favoured the Addicks in the added-time drama, it positively beamed on them when they grabbed a 72nd-minute lead. Josh Cullen’s hard low cross, following a short corner routine on the left, was probably heading into Marko Marosi’s hands when Marquis unhelpfully intervened with a diving header which wrong-footed the keeper and found the net behind him.
No sooner had Bowyer’s men seized the initiative than they handed it over to their hosts. The puzzling replacement of Igor Vetokele by Mark Marshall smacked of a “what we have we hold” change of tack and five minutes later they were level again.
A sharp foil to Marquis’ selfless broadsword, Wilks showed determination in shielding Whiteman’s pass into his feet, rolled his marker Ben Purrington close to the 18-yard line, then placed a precise low, left-footed drive beyond Phillips’s right hand and inside the right post. It was a goal as decorous as Charlton’s was scruffy and turned the game on its head.
Had the Addicks taken a spate of first-half chances, the late battering they were subjected to should have been academic. Bowyer will be concerned about the lack of ruthless finishing which let Rovers off the hook.
During their first half domination, Vetokele’s scuffed attempt was blocked by Paul Downing, Lyle Taylor was sent clear by Jonny Williams’ headed pass but shot too close to Marosi, who later distinguished himself by spectacularly finger-tipping Krystian Bielik’s venomous volley over the bar.
There were other chances squandered.
In the second half, Taylor was admittedly unfortunate to hit a post but with only five chances converted in seven league games since Shrewsbury were demolished 3-0 on January 12 (a game in which Taylor last featured on the scoresheet) goals have dried up alarmingly.
The defence remains solid, as evidenced by the miserly four conceded in eight games. Phillips is in fine form, Naby Sarr has made himself indispensable and Chris Solly highlighted Charlton’s impressive stubbornness by popping up behind his keeper to clear Downing’s header off the line.
Midfield is well served by Cullen, Williams (who succumbed to one kick too many and was substituted just past the hour mark), Bielik and the blossoming talent of Joe Aribo – but goals from this department are conspicuously absent.
The January transfer window departure of Karlan Grant, off to spin his wheels with doomed Huddersfield, may come back to haunt Bowyer. Not owner Roland Duchatelet, of course, who couldn’t care less.
Those are concerns for the long run. In the short term, this “six-pointer” shared out an inconclusive point apiece between these play-offs hopefuls, a result more to the liking of Bowyer than the frustrated McCann. It’s been a marathon. Now it’s a sprint.
Charlton (4-2-3-1): Phillips 9, Solly 7, Bauer 7, Sarr 8, Purrington 6, Bielik 8 (Dijksteel 90), Cullen7, Aribo 8, Williams 7 (Fosu 62,7), Vetokele 6 (Marshall 76), Taylor 6. Not used: Maxwell, Reeves, Pratley, Lapslie.