Taylor 57 Bielik 87
BY KEVIN NOLAN AT ROOTS HALL
The first official day of autumn – a day whose glorious sunshine lent summer a lease on life – brought with it an overdue change in Charlton’s fortunes.
Their first win on the road was secured by Arsenal loanee Krystian Bielik’s late header, his 87th-minute matchwinner later sparking an unseemly brawl as the Addicks attempted to negotiate five minutes of added time with the Shrimpers taking illegal, if understandable, exception to their methods.
A blow-by-blow analysis of the epic bust-up is risky business but the bare bones seem indisputable.
Frustrated by Tariqe Fosu’s efforts to retain possession near the left corner flag, Michael Kightly’s violent tackle floored his tormentor and was followed by a sneaky kick on his prone body. Leaping indignantly to his feet, Fosu unwisely headbutted Kightly.
Both offenders deserved red cards.
Meanwhile, the usual heaving mass of would-be combatants were urgently joined by Southend goalkeeper Mark Oxley, who promptly got stuck in and punched George Lapslie.
Oxley was rightly dismissed, while Lapslie was booked, presumably for inciting his assailant’s extreme reaction. Faced with an imperfect storm of anarchy, referee Brett Huxtable handled it well. Not that Southend boss Chris Powell agreed.
“He said Michael Kightly kicked their player on the ground,” commented Powell.
“I’ve seen it, I think it’s a bit of both but it was a strong tackle from Michael and their player got up and headbutted him. And then he’s saying that Mark Oxley grabbed a player around the throat. He does push him, there must have been 10-15 players pushing each other. To be honest, I’m quite surprised he sent Mark off.”
Powell’s six-of-one, half-a-dozen-of-the-other argument is disingenuous. The extreme violence directly resulted from his players’ anger at their inability to reclaim the ball from opponents intent on denying them possession. There was no reason, while in front, in the Addicks kicking off the trouble.
For taking the law into their own hands, Kightly and Oxley were appropriately punished. So too was Fosu for retaliation. Open and shut cases, all of them.
The overtime temper tantrums overshadowed a profitable day at the seaside for Lee Bowyer’s men. A model of restraint during the unscheduled fisticuffs, the rail-slim caretaker boss could be pleased with their commitment, no doubt deriving particular satisfaction from the impressive debut made by on-loan West Ham midfield organiser Josh Cullen.
A busy box-to-box bundle of energy, Cullen slotted in seamlessly to compensate for the absence of Joe Aribo, the latest name on a diminishing injury list. It was Cullen’s outswinging right-wing corner, which was met by Bielik and powered irresistibly inside Oxley’s left-hand post.
After scoring, the Arsenal loanee’s uninhibited touchline rapport with his new manager was heartwarming and rounded off a personal contribution of poise and power.
A minor criticism could be levelled at his occasional lapse in possession while trying too much but Charlton have clearly recruited a versatile player of considerable merit. When pressed into centre-back service following Patrick Bauer’s worrying departure, Bielik responded to the emergency with a maturity belying his 20 years. It was an education to see him carrying the ball away from Charlton’s penalty area before turning defence into menacing counter-attack with accurate passing. His pedigree speaks for itself.
A sedate, sundazed first-half which provided no hint of the lawlessness in store, passed with few incidents and fewer chances. For the visitors, Karlan Grant and Lyle Taylor were lively and would combine to greater effect after the interval.
Bauer should have done better with a fine delivery provided by Grant than head lamely at Oxley, while Nicky Ajose’s volley met Lewis Page’s deflected cross but sliced harmlessly off target. Shrimpers’ mettlesome playmaker Jason Demetriou punctuated a litany of fouls with a venomous drive inches wide of the left post. Apart from remarking that Darren Pratley was lucky to escape with a yellow rather than red card for cold-bloodedly scything down Kightly on the halfway line, there’s your opening 45 minutes duly nutshelled.
Ten minutes into the second period, the visitors broke their scoring drought by taking a welcome lead. Willingly chasing Chris Solly’s pass to the right byeline, Grant outmuscled Michael Turner, left the ex-Addick on his back hoping for a non-existent foul, then lashed a hard, low centre into the six-yard box. Taylor made easy work of converting the close-range chance and, in front of the travelling fans, the celebrations began. Three minutes later, the euphoria subsided into sudden sullenness as United equalised.
For the first time in a defensively comfortable afternoon, Charlton’s well-drilled discipline was shattered as Kightly cleverly played overlapping left-back Ben Coker into space behind Solly. Coker’s low crosshot was unconvincing but squirmed through Dillon Phillips’ diving attempt to save. Arriving at the far post, Theo Robinson tapped in the sitter on the goalline.
And so a disappointing, if worthy, draw loomed as likely until Cullen supplied the perfect delivery which Bielik powered past Oxley. It was all over bar the fighting and while he couldn’t possibly comment, Bowyer was probably gratified that his young side held their own in that department too.
Charlton (3-5-2): Phillips 6, Solly 7, Bauer 6 (Fosu 56, 6), Pearce 7, Page 7, Pratley 6 (Lapslie 72), Bielik 8, Grant 7, Cullen 7, Ajose 5 (Vetokele 85), Taylor 7. Not used: Steer, Dijksteel, Sarr, Hackett-Fairchild.