It was deeply unconvincing and at times downright ugly, but this win over struggling Oldham might have breathed new life into Charlton’s sagging promotion ambitions.
While FA Cup commitments elsewhere made this their game in hand on several League One play-off rivals, they precariously clung to the first-half lead given them by bright spark Stephy Mavididi, owed a huge second-half debt to Ben Amos’ excellence and emerged with three crucial points.
Their bitterly-earned victory thrust them, at least temporarily, back into the desperate free-for-all involving sixth place.
Before he tired and was dragged down into the general scruffiness surrounding him, the first half-hour of 19-year-old Arsenal loanee Mavadidi’s second debut as an Addick veered between the ridiculous and the sublime. It certainly supplied this miserable encounter with two outstanding talking points.
Just four minutes had elapsed when Mavididi took on Cameron Dummigan on the left flank, seemed to have outpaced the labouring right-back but inexplicably tumbled spectacularly to the turf. A fatherly talking-to might have sufficed but stern referee Lee Swaby was in no mood to tolerate what he judged to be diving. Mavididi’s beardless innocence cut no ice and his name went into the book. A little harshly, but probably also correctly.
With all the optimism of youth, the kid took his punishment like a man, continued to carry the fight to Oldham’s bewildered rearguard and hit paydirt by firing his loan employers in front. Picking up a loose ball, Mavididi shimmied past Dummigan and Dan Gardner, feinted two more defenders into helpless irrelevance, then buried a crisp low drive into the bottom left corner. It was some way to notch his first senior goal in a career, which promises to feature many more of the same at a higher level.
With Ricky Holmes having already rattled the bar from 30 yards in the first minute, Charlton seemed poised to enjoy the luxury of a comfortable win over modest opposition.
Nothing comes easy to them at the moment, of course, and the early promise, not for the first time in this sputtering season, disappeared into a fog of self-doubt and growing paralysis. Confidence evaporated, communication broke down, The Valley became a pain-racked crucible in which faltering players and careworn fans suffered in unison.
First-time skipper Ahmed Kashi typified the abrupt disintegration when he was caught in possession by Rob Hunt, who curled a right-footed drive inches wide of an upright. Largely due to the Latics’ own ineptness, Karl Robinson’s men limped undamaged into half-time sanctuary, where it can be assumed they were treated to the rough side of their garrulous manager’s tongue.
Whatever Robinson imparted was apparently lost in translation because the Addicks resumed after the break in even shakier shape. Their fragile lead wavered as Aaron Holloway got the better of still-rusty Patrick Bauer but was foiled at close range by the superb anticipation of Amos, who narrowed Holloway’s angle and charged down his angled shot.
With the Northerners sensing a shift in the wind, lively substitute Tope Obadeyi directed a free header into Amos’ hands, then experienced captain Anthony Gerrard turned Gevaro Nepomuceno’s right-wing corner wide at the near post. Charlton were positively creaking by the time Amos again brilliantly foiled Holloway, who firmly met Dummigan’s cross but again proved unable to beat the inspired keeper in one-on-one confrontation.
The curious sight of visiting goalkeeper Johny Placide being booked for time-wasting with his side trailing 1-0 merely added to the dysfunctional nature of this sub-standard game, in which Charlton, to their faint credit, finished on top.
After Placide’s full-length save from Holmes prolonged their agony, Karlan Ahearne-Grant replaced the fading Mavididi and injected fresh energy. Set up following Joe Aribo’s driving run into the penalty area, he shot too close to Placide with, fatally, too much time to dwell on his various options.
Ahearne-Grant was briefly irrepressible, finding space for a precise cross which fellow substitute Johnnie Jackson, as usual adding his reassuring presence to the chaos, headed down for the bottom right corner but was frustrated by an inadvertent defensive heel. Ahearne-Grant closed the untidy proceedings by directing another chance into Placide’s clutches but had done his bit by turning grim defence into almost carefree offence.
So in the end it wasn’t another Groundhog Day, wherein Charlton are caught in a repetitive loop of late concession in front of some cockahoop contingent crowing in the Jimmy Seed stand, but it came uncomfortably close. This had 1-1 written all over it but Oldham’s 399 hardy travellers drew the short straw.
For once, the usually brittle Londoners went the distance and sent them home to think again.
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