Fleetwood Town 1
By Kevin Nolan at Highbury Stadium
It’s been one thing after another for Lee Bowyer this season. A bit like history, as some street philosopher observed. You no sooner recover from one piece of bad news before some other catastrophe knocks you bandy.
Bowyer’s plans have been regularly torn apart by an uncommonly cruel litany of injuries, some of them incurred on the training pitch. When he lost both Josh Cullen and Igor Vetokele to freakish shoulder dislocations during a 2-0 victory at Walsall in November, it seemed Charlton’s luck had reached bottom. Not on your life. The therapists at Sparrows Lane have been busier than one-armed paperhangers ever since.
The manager’s resourcefulness, meanwhile, has kept the team in or around the League One play-off positions and they arrived at Fleetwood, Blackpool’s more serious brother, in a challenging third position.
On a chilly Fylde Coast, Bowyer’s problems proved at last to be insoluble.
Expressed bluntly, Charlton kicked off without a forward line.
The absence of Lyle Taylor was, of course, unavoidable, following a harsh three-game suspension for allowing his head to be recently savaged by Accrington Stanley’s loveable underdogs. Taylor will be back after this weekend’s visit of Southend United to galvanise the side. He will have to go it alone, unfortunately, because strike partner Karlan Grant has moved up north, where he’s been invited to witness hopeless Huddersfield Town’s relegation party from the bench.
Grant’s departure clearly identifies Sparrows Lane as a breeding ground for “bigger and better” clubs, which indeed it was once. There was a time when Premier League stalwarts like Liverpool (Jonjo Shelvey, Joe Gomez) and Everton (Ademola Lookman) preyed upon little Charlton.
Nowadays, erstwhile makeweights like Brentford (Ezri Konsa) and Huddersfield put them in their place. It’s to be earnestly hoped that what goes around comes around. It’s certainly taking its time.
Grant celebrated his departure by missing a vital penalty at Peterborough last week but his 14 league goals will be hard to duplicate. Last-minute signing Josh Parker has also scored 14 goals but it’s taken him 70 games at Gillingham to reach that total. His contribution as a 54th-minute replacement for a blameless George Lapslie at Fleetwood was industrious enough; it even included the Addicks’ best attempt on goal, a low cross-shot which beat Alex Cairns and barely eluded Reeco Hackett-Fairchild as it fizzed inches wide of the far post.
Hackett-Fairchild was a surprising choice to make his starting debut ahead of Tarique Fosu, a hat-trick hero at this ground last season. The tall targetman gave it his best shot, showed one or two neat touches but was out of his depth as a lone striker, particularly without the talkative Taylor at his elbow. Fosu was an altogether livelier proposition when he belatedly relieved Hackett-Fairchild and surely comes into the starting equation when Chris Powell brings the Shrimpers to The Valley.
As experienced up front for the Cod Army as Charlton were callow, Ched Evans and Paddy Madden exuded menace but struggled to penetrate the visitors’ solid rearguard. Until, that is, they combined to create and score Town’s 68th-minute match-winner. After Naby Sarr, not for the first time, carelessly gave the ball away, substitute Ashley Hunter’s precise left-wing cross to the far post picked out Madden, whose header down was perfectly cushioned for a criminally-unmarked Evans to finish clinically from 10 yards. The scorer immediately cupped two prominent ears to chide his unwise critics behind Charlton’s goal. Best left to full-time, that sort of thing, chaps.
The game’s solitary goal was sandwiched by two other chances which fell Evans’ way. Played through by Ashley Nadesan, he confronted Dillon Phillips one-on-one but was foiled by the advancing keeper’s brilliant block.
Phillips played a less convincing part in gifting Evans an opportunity to seal the issue soon after the goal. Leaving his line to deal with a long ball over the top, his misunderstanding with Chris Solly allowed Evans a clear sight of the target but, from a moderate range, he made a hash of hitting it.
Pottering away pointlessly, meanwhile, the Addicks enjoyed enough meaningless possession to fool neutrals into believing they were the better team.
Passes went sideways, backwards, then sideways again. Shots at Cairns’ goal, apart from a first-half blockbuster from Jonny Williams which the keeper alertly turned aside, were rarer than an intelligible word from Danny Dyer.
Unable to even grind out a scoreless draw, Charlton predictably conceded halfway through the second period, then docilely drifted to yet another of those chastening defeats by ordinary opposition. The league double inflicted on them by Coventry City, for instance, should rankle.
Meanwhile, spare a thought for the put-upon rookie manager. After skilfully juggling his depleted resources to maintain a viable promotion challenge, he has lost, through circumstances beyond his control, an electric-heeled scorer of 14 goals, with only the suspiciously token signing of a player clearly considered surplus to requirements at Gillingham as compensation. No disrespect is intended to Parker in suggesting he’s unlikely to fill the Grant-shaped void Karlan left behind.
Bowyer is advised to crib from the make-do-and-mend skills employed by his busy medical team at New Eltham.
It’s bloody obvious that he has been asked to carry on with one arm tied behind his back. And to make matters worse, if that’s remotely possible, Patrick Bauer now joins Taylor on League One’s naughty step after hauling back Evans on his way through to goal. It never rains… but it’s drizzling now.
Charlton (4-3-2-1): Phillips 6, Solly 5, Bauer 5, Sarr 5, Purrington 6, Lapslie 5 (Parker 54, 6), Bielik 6, Cullen 5, Reeves 5 (Vetokele 73, 6), Williams 5, Hackett-Fairchild 5 (Fosu 73, 6). Not used: Maxwell, Dijksteel, Marshall, Pratley.
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