Hutchinson 6 Smith 90+1
BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT THE DEN
The cast might have changed over the past 23 years, but the plot has stayed the same. Just because there have been a succession of heartbreaks for Charlton Athletic fans doesn’t make the latest one any less painful.
And Saturday’s victory for Millwall had that extra sting of a stoppage-time winner. Matt Smith took advantage of Naby Sarr’s lack of urgency, awareness or physical strength to meet Jed Wallace’s corner kick.
You can’t give the Lions’ big man that kind of invitation at the back post. Sarr has the size and stature to make life difficult for Smith, who is used to at least attempts to impede him. Instead he was able to climb over the Frenchman and plant his header past Dillon Phillips.
Glee for Millwall, misery for Charlton.
The return at The Valley is not until April 4, meaning the Addicks’ wait for a win in this fixture will be 24 years. They have lost six of the last 11 meetings. It’s another 144 days until Charlton get another crack at Millwall.
The 36th clash of these two clubs was a typically tight derby. A draw would have been a fair reflection.
But football doesn’t do fair. It’s about key moments in matches. Sometimes they go for you, and sometimes they don’t.
The Lions got lucky when Bartosz Bialkowski dealt unconvincingly with Josh Cullen’s shot – the ball coming back down off the bar before being cleared. The goal-line technology showed that nearly all the ball had crossed it.
But, on the flipside, Jonathan Leko’s 51st-minute equaliser looked to be travelling wide before it came off Mahlon Romeo, changing the flight so that the ball nestled in the net.
What really cost Charlton, just as it did in the 2-0 loss at Wigan Athletic, was set-pieces. Sarr was supposed to be marking Shaun Hutchinson but the centre-back found space in the box to direct Shaun Williams’ whipped delivery past Dillon Phillips.
Millwall’s aerial prowess is no secret. Of their 19 goals this season only eight have come from open play – with four penalties.
They are one of six clubs to have scored seven set-pieces, the highest in the Championship.
Charlton have also conceded via that route against Blackburn, Forest and Swansea – their total of seven is the same as Barnsley and only topped by Wigan (nine) and Cardiff (eight).
It’s not a surprise when you consider the Addicks are not the biggest of sides. But, then again, it was one of their tallest players who did not do his job at the weekend.
Millwall’s best spell came early. The hosts came out of the blocks so fast it left smoke trails.
Hutchinson’s goal only seemed to energise them further. Romeo summed up the rampant hosts’ confident start as he drove infield – his arrowed strike parried out by Phillips.
It took almost 20 minutes for Charlton to begin to get their own game going after a torrid start and they finished the first period strongly. Bialkowski just about kept out that Cullen attempt and also pushed Macauley Bonne’s first-time volley over his bar.
When Leko did restore parity, it felt like the contest was there to be won by Lee Bowyer’s side.
Quite why they seemed to lose momentum after that is a puzzle, even a point made by Millwall boss Gary Rowett in his post-match press conference.
Charlton did not create a significant scoring opportunity after that. Was that down to fatigue? Nervousness? Thinking that a draw was a good result? It turned scrappy.
The one thing that we can say for certain is that Bowyer opted not to bring on the only attacking option on his bench – Erhun Oztumer. With six minutes to go he replaced his goalscorer with a energetic midfielder, George Lapslie.
Charlton badly missed their joint-top scorer Lyle Taylor and Jonny Williams, still second in the assists charts despite not featuring since October 19 due to a knee injury.
Millwall had strong attacking options on the bench and Rowett had the bravery to go for broke. Smith did exactly what he was brought in from QPR to do – convert even more of their deliveries into the box.
Rowett is the first Lions boss to win their first two home matches in charge since Dennis Wise. Six points from nine, before he can really implement his ideas fully, is an extremely good return.
Millwall (4-4-1-1): Bialkowski 8, Romeo 6, Hutchinson 7, Cooper 6, M Wallace 6, J Wallace 7, Molumby 5, Williams 6, Thompson 6 (O’Brien 86), Bodvarsson 5 (Mahoney 78), Bradshaw 5 (Smith 86). Not used: Steele, Pearce, Skalak, Ferguson.
Charlton (3-5-2): Phillips 7, Lockyer 6, Sarr 4, Pearce 6, Matthews 6, Cullen 7, Pratley 7 (Kayal 67, 5), Gallagher 5, Purrington 6, Leko 6 (Lapslie 84), Bonne 6. Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Oshilaja, Solly, Oztumer.
Photos by Paul Edwards and Brian Tonks