Potts 6, Thiam 14
BY KEVIN NOLAN AT OAKWELL
Following hard on the heels of disappointing defeat at Coventry on Boxing Day, a visit to Barnsley, whose blue collar credentials are light years removed from the flashy commercial outlet that calls itself the Ricoh Arena, was hardly what Charlton’s doctor would have prescribed as an immediate pick-me-up.
Unbeaten at home this season, the Tykes are a tough proposition at the best of times. With his squad stretched to breaking point by a cruel string of long-term injuries, long-suffering Lee Bowyer was entitled to conclude that the last week of December 2018 was from his standpoint, if perhaps not the worst, then unarguably far from the best of times
As his resources have steadily dwindled, Bowyer has coped admirably but this unpromising fixture seemed like a step too far, even for his manipulative skills. And during a torrid opening half hour, he had every right to fear the worst.
Mobile and menacing, Barnsley were irresistible, the two-goal lead they fashioned no more than their buccaneering enterprise warranted. The Addicks were swept aside in an attacking torrent and seemed destined for a demoralising drubbing.
But as the Tykes’s initial onslaught subsided, the visitors steadied themselves, found their feet and began to trade blows. Terminal damage had already been done but Bowyer’s dogged warriors earned respect for their spirit and resilience. Before they ran out worthy winners, the Yorkshiremen were reduced to hanging on for a final whistle which was delayed by seven uncomfortable added minutes.
It took buoyant Barnsley just six minutes to move in front. After good work by Cameron McGeehan on the right had turned the visiting defence, his cross rebounded to Brad Potts, whose first-time strike gave Jed Steer no chance as it flew beyond the beaten keeper’s reach.
Still traumatised by the early setback, the Addicks were easy prey for a second blow shortly afterwards. Again the spadework was done by McGeehan, whose lateral run from right to left was rounded off by the square pass he slipped out to Mamadou Thiam, lurking innocuously near the touchline. Allowed too much space by Anfernee Dijksteel, the powerfully-built wideman accepted the invitation to step inside on to his right foot before launching an unstoppable drive which fairly sizzled its way past Steer into the far top corner.
At that early stage in the one-sided proceedings, Barnsley seemed en route to avenging Charlton’s record 6-0 rout which stunned Oakwell some seven years ago.
Their intentions were plain but their ambitions were thwarted before the interval by Steer’s defiant goalkeeping. In rapid succession, the Aston Villa loanee reacted alertly to accurate shots from McGeehan and Thiam before Mike Bahre’s volley was athletically turned aside for a fruitless corner. After the break, Steer again distinguished himself by successfully blocking Bahre’s point-blank effort in one-on-one confrontation.
For the slowly recovering Addicks, Karlan Grant’s pace posed occasional problems for the dominant hosts. As he threatened to escape before the break, Ethan Pinnock’s deliberate foul to halt his progress walked a tenuous disciplinary line but went improperly punished. The process was repeated in the second half by Daniel Pinillos who brought the flying Grant down with equally cold-blooded intent. This time punishment more aptly fitted crime as Tariqe Fosu’s free-kick cannoned off the wall to Ben Reeves, whose expert volley whistled past Adam Davies. Reeves must be encouraged to shoot more often with his cannon of a left foot.
Losing to close promotion rivals Barnsley was a body blow though seriously depleted Charlton absorbed it with their pride intact.
Even more troubling was the premature departure of skipper Jason Pearce, who failed to shake off a first-half ankle injury but struggled painfully on until he was replaced on 65 minutes by Toby Stevenson.
In ripple effect, Stevenson took over at left-back from Chris Solly, who resumed at right-back to allow Dijksteel to move in and partner Patrick Bauer at centre-half. Any thoughts Bowyer might have entertained to employ this makeshift back four in this week’s crucial home games against Walsall and Sunderland promptly vanished when Solly received a controversial second yellow card in added time and was sent off.
There’s no call for panic, of course, because no doubt the manager’s already on the case. Sealing cracks, repairing rifts, blocking holes, they’re all in a day’s work for him. It’s what they call tinkering with your line-up.
Charlton (4-4-2): Steer 7, Dijksteel 5, Bauer 6, Pearce 6 (Stevenson 65, 6), Solly 7, Bielik 7, Pratley 5 (Fosu 66, 5), Reeves 6, Marshall 6 (Hackett-Fairchild 87), Grant 6, Taylor 6. Not used: Phillips, Morgan, Ajose, Sarpong-Wiredu.