Charlton Athletic produced 21 shots as they fought back to draw 4-4 against Rochdale – a contest which could only have been made more pulsating if there had been a Valley crowd.
There were no fans in SE7, but there was a whole load of drama.
The Addicks twice trailed by a two-goal margin. But a first Charlton goal for January signing Ronnie Schwarz – superbly-taken too – levelled proceedings with 23 minutes of normal time remaining.
It looked as if Charlton would go on to secure a first victory in 2021 as they had the impetus in a spirited second-half display. A grand finale was made more difficult by Jason Pearce’s 88th-minute dismissal for two bookable offences.
The red card for the Addicks captain further depletes their centre-back options for Saturday’s trip to Bristol Rovers – with Darren Pratley already banned while Ryan Inniss and Akin Famewo are still rehabbing from injuries.
Charlton’s defensive fragility was underlined in a fairly torrid opening 31 minutes.
Rochdale’s goals were all excellently taken, but the Addicks looked shapeless and offered little resistance to their raids.
Matt Lund struck from the edge of the box and then Stephen Humphrys broke past Pearce too easily to cue up Kwadwo Baah for a superb strike into the roof of the net.
Excellent persistence and power from Chuks Aneke saw him force his way through on the right of the box to slam in a response from Charlton with just 23 minutes on the clock.
But soon after came another sickener for the hosts. Lee Bowyer’s experiment to play Paul Smyth at right wing-back was abandoned after Baah powered past the clearly uncomfortable QPR loanee and beat Ben Amos at his near post.
It looked like a crisis, but Jake Forster-Caskey again cut the deficit on 37 minutes. The midfielder will claim the goal but it needed Dale defender Jimmy McNulty to flick it over keeper Gavin Bazanu.
None of the visitors’ goals were shabby. Humphrys made sure of that with a piledriver of a free-kick, which perhaps benefitted from a split in the defensive wall.
Charlton had two excellent chances before a frantic opening 45 minutes was up. Alex Gilbey was unlucky to see a goalbound shot blocked while Jonny Williams put a big opportunity over from close range.
It felt like anything but a lost cause and Bowyer made a double switch with Albie Morgan and Schwartz replacing Gilbey and Smyth at the break.
Schwartz’s perceptive pass invited Gunter to cross and the Wales international did exactly that – Aneke heading in from five yards out for his ninth goal of the campaign.
The Stephen Dooley’s dawdling on the ball saw Gunter dispossess him, with Schwartz produced a deft first-time strike into the roof of the net with Aneke this time claiming the assist.
Charlton could, and probably should, have gone ahead.
Aneke headed a Morgan cross over, Forster-Caskey went close with a free-kick that whistled narrowly past the right upright and a rousing dribble by Liam Millar was almost capped off by Aneke, only for Bazunu to just about deny him a deserved hat-trick.
Pearce had already been booked for a first-half foul on Humphrys. Aneke’s chestdown saw the skipper arrive a second too late with his challenge on Bazunu. Referee Trevor Kettle punished him to deepen the club’s defensive woes.
PHOTOS: PAUL EDWARDS AND KEITH GILLARD
Please support your local paper by making a donation
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.