Richard Cawley’s big-match verdict: Charlton Athletic look a different animal going into these League One play-offs

CHARLTON 4
Aribo 19 Andrew og 32 Taylor 40 Bielik 75
ROCHDALE 0
BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT THE VALLEY

This feels like Charlton Athletic’s time, much more so than last season. It’s going to take something significant to derail a team who have gone into the League One play-offs with huge momentum.

Don’t just take my word for it, look at the facts.

The Addicks have taken 25 points from their last 10 matches – the best in the division.

Since the start of 2019 they have lost just twice. And both of those were on the road – with Charlton not tasting defeat in the league at The Valley in more than seven months.

The Addicks have won seven of their last eight fixtures. They have kept seven clean sheets in the last nine matches.

Yeah, Charlton are confident. And they have absolutely every reason to be in that all-conquering frame of mind. When you drink in those statistics, it rams home just what good shape they are in as their season goes into a make-or-break period.

Charlton Athletic’s Joe Aribo is tackled

Saturday worked out better than anyone could truly have expected.

Sunderland’s loss at Southend United opened the door for either Portsmouth or the South Londoners to finish third. While Pompey could only draw at home to Accrington Stanley, Lee Bowyer’s side had no such issues putting Rochdale to the sword. And the margin of victory was crucial.

The Addicks had moved up to third in the table early in the second half on Saturday, only for Portsmouth’s equaliser to drop them down to fourth.

Charlton Athletic’s Joe Aribo scores his side’s first goal of the game

But then Krystian Bielik played a neat one-two with Albie Morgan, strode into the box with single-minded purpose and drove past Josh Lillis to make it 4-0 to Charlton.

That put them back above Kenny Jackett’s side on goal difference. The contribution from the on-loan Arsenal midfielder was huge.

That fourth goal could, and undeniably should, have come so much sooner for the hosts.

With a little more poise then it’s not fanciful to say that they would have walked off the pitch at the break even 5-0 or 6-0 up.

Joe Aribo celebrates scoring Charlton’s first goal with Josh Parker

I can’t even remember all of the near-misses from Charlton over the course of the 94 minutes. This had the potential to be an absolute demolition of Rochdale.

Bowyer claimed post-match that having the home leg second this time around – a reversal on last season’s play-offs as they had to go to Shrewsbury for the decisive fixture – made no difference.

But his Charlton side played like they desperately wanted to finish third and take on the lowest-ranked opposition next.

Rochdale’s Calvin Andrew scores an own goal to make the score Charlton Athletic 2 Rochdale 0 under pressure from Charlton Athletic’s Ben Purrington

I’m not saying Doncaster are a soft touch. And we all know that sometimes the team who just creeps into the play-offs can upset the odds.

But they did finish 15 points behind the SE7 outfit.

Football managers and players don’t talk in these terms publicly, but Rovers are the club you would have picked – given the choice.

Charlton’s midfield is too strong for all but the best that this league has to offer. And Rochdale were outgunned in that department.

The Addicks regained possession so quickly and are adept at seizing on any slight lapses. They did it time and again at the weekend – Bielik, Joe Aribo and Josh Cullen aggressively go after the ball as well as being totally comfortable on it.

Rochdale’s Calvin Andrew and Charlton Athletic’s Krystian Bielik battle for the ball

Less than two minutes were on the clock when Ryan Delaney had to make a sliding tackle on Aribo inside the visitors’ penalty area.

But the impressive young midfielder was not to be denied long. He curled a shot wide of the left post in the sixth minute but then started and finished the opening Charlton goal.

Aribo seized upon Aaron Morley’s weak crossfield pass and although Lillis was able to initially foil Lyle Taylor, Josh Parker’s backheel was bent into the top left corner by Aribo.

It was just the start that Charlton needed, not that they showed any signs of final day nerves.

Taylor, superb throughout, created the second on 32 minutes. His turn took him away from Daniel Adshead and former Crystal Palace striker Calvin Andrew – under pressure at the back post from Ben Purrington – turned the driven ball to the back post into his own net.

Charlton Athletic’s Lyle Taylor scores his side’s third goal of the game

The third was painfully easy from a Rochdale perspective.

Morgan’s pass split through an understaffed Dale backline and Taylor was in on goal. He doesn’t miss those type of chances and the fans’ favourite moved his season’s haul to 24 in all competitions – 21 of those in League One.

Quite how Taylor did not make the PFA League One Team of the Year is a puzzle.

Some of the defenders he has terrorised must hold long-term grudges.

Going through all of the other chances would take up too much room.

Josh Parker – starting due to Igor Vetokele being ruled out with a tight thigh – had more than one opportunity to get off the mark.

The January arrival should have been peeling away celebrating in the 58th minute.

Lillis could only push Taylor’s shot out to the Charlton number 10, but he failed to hit the target. He was unlucky to see his inventive flick from a whipped in cross by Taylor clear the far upright after that.

Now comes a reset.  What has gone before supposedly counts for nothing. Although knocking over Scunthorpe, Gillingham and Rochdale – scoring 10 goals and conceding none in the process – has got to keep confidence sky high.

And we all know that belief is vital in football. Charlton should have it in spades.

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Phillips 7, Dijksteel 8, Bauer 7, Sarr 8, Purrington 7, Bielik 8 (Pratley 84) Morgan 8, Cullen 8, Aribo 8 (Reeves 89), Taylor 9 (Marshall 83), Parker 7. Not used: Maxwell, Page, Pearce, Lapslie.

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