BY KEVIN NOLAN AT THE VALLEY
You’ll hear from the purists among us that given Brentford’s overwhelming domination of possession Charlton were lucky to win this keenly-contested local derby. That they didn’t deserve to beat the “better side”, that they “won ugly.”
It’s true that the Addicks were required to defend stoutly – at times desperately – and that they won by converting their solitary chance. But nothing in the laws of football requires apologies for stirring, heroic defiance in the face of superior odds and for hanging on grimly to the advantage gained by a superbly-taken goal. As long as football values guts, commitment and team spirit among its diverse attractions, then epic nose-to-the grindstone victories like this one will have its celebrants. You’ll find many such admirers around SE7 this week.
The harum-scarum, foot-to-the-floor wildness that filled four mad minutes of added time dramatically confirmed for us that Lee Bowyer’s men were willing to sacrifice everything – including their good health – for the cause as the frustrated Bees did everything but equalise. It could well be foolhardy to attempt a description of the frantic bombardment that met a wall of red-shirted gallantry but, brace yourselves, here goes.
In a breathless few seconds, front-leading captain Jason Pearce blocked Emiliano Macondes’ point-blank certainty; cleared the same player’s header off the line following Henrik Dalsgaard’s deflected shot; was an approving witness to Tom Lockyer’s suicidal courage in blocking Sergi Canos’ 10-yard piledriver almost before it started its seemingly inevitable journey past Dillon Phillips.
As the bout of crazy pinball was eventually resolved in Charlton’s favour, a frazzled Valley allowed itself to exhale again. It had seemed impossible to survive such an intense battering but fortune favours drunks, babies and bloodyminded football teams that refuse to accept the inevitable and surrender
Sharp, cohesive and patient, Brentford will wonder how they returned to west London without even a point to show for the exhausting ordeal they inflicted on their often outplayed hosts.
Their passing and movement stretched the Addicks to breaking without actually closing the deal and their second 1-0 defeat within three days will leave them with more questions than answers concerning their disappointing start to a season of such promise.
Scorers only twice, both of them by Ollie Watkins, in five league games, it seems clear that their unquestioned style must be backed by more substance. The manner in which they conceded this game’s only goal should provide them with an object lesson in the kind of commonsense, on which skill and creativity should be based.
Spanish forward Canos had made a poor start to this ill-fated game when he was presented with a simple chance by disastrous misunderstanding between Ben Purrington and Phillips. His snatched toepoke sailed harmlessly over the bar, leaving the Charlton defenders to debate what could – and should- have been an early debacle.
A one-sided first half was approaching an interval which could hardly arrive quickly enough for Bowyer’s beleaguered side when, totally against the run of play, they snatched an unlikely lead.
Canos was moving away from Johnnie Williams but loitered on the ball long enough for the Welsh workaholic to steal possession and slide a delicious through pass into Conor Gallagher’s willing path. The Chelsea loanee smashed a rising drive past David Raya.
It was Gallagher’s third goal of a richly promising season while Williams claimed a fourth assist
In a game which began to display an uncomfortable resemblance to Charlton’s midweek draw with Nottingham Forest, Phillips rose to the occasion with three splendid saves to rescue his careworn colleagues.
The first of them fingertipped Watkins’ ferocious shot over the bar after the busy Bee for once eluded the excellent Darren Pratley; his second stopped Dalsgaard’s close-range header when Canos’ cross was headed back from the far post by Marcondes; a hat-trick of important saves was completed by a full-length dive to turn aside Pontus Jansson’s accurately struck long-distance effort.
But there was to be no way through for Thomas Frank’s decorative powder punchers. Lockyer had earlier demonstrated his uncanny mastery of the recovery tackle by allowing Marcondes to briefly force his way goalside of him, then whisking the ball off his toes from an unpromising position.
Lockyer stood out even among defensive rocks Pearce, Purrington and, as already stated, Pratley.
Charlton’s resistance began, in fact, up front where Lyle Taylor ran himself into exhaustion and where Williams’ ceaseless running frequently eased the pressure. And a strident Valley were not slow to recognise the sterling contribution made by substitute George Lapslie, who took over from desperately unlucky Deji Oshilaja as early as the 32nd minute and fought his heart out.
So about this so-called “ugly” victory. Well, the Addicks gamely dug deep within themselves, and went through hell and no little high water before emerging with enormous credit and most crucially three precious points.
Beauty, they say, lies squarely in the eye of the beholder. Here’s one enraptured beholder who found Charlton as beautiful as the summer afternoon that blessed them. Let the knockers pick the bones out of that. I’m smitten.
Charlton (4-4-2): Phillips 8, Oshilaja (Lapslie 32, 8), Lockyer 8, Pearce 8, Purrington 8, Pratley 8, Cullen 8, Williams 8 (Field 87), Leko 6 (Hemed 46, 7), Taylor 8. Not used: Amos, Bonne, Sarr, Oztumer.
Photos: Keith Gillard