BY LOUIS MENDEZ AT THE ARTIC STADIUM
Sometimes you just have to revel in the splendour of what football can conjure up. An occasion that this corner of South London hadn’t seen before. The eyes of what felt like the entire sporting world focused on Eltham and a match-up that only the FA Cup can make happen.
Charlton Athletic never wanted this replay. Eighth-tier Cray Valley Paper Mills would have thought it was almost unachievable before the two sides met at The Valley nearly two weeks prior.
But the Millers had earned a famous night on home turf after a 1-1 draw in SE7. A local derby to savour.
Crowds ambled down Middle Park Avenue in numbers never seen. A normal Saturday in the Isthmian League South East Division would see the Millers attract a crowd of 150. Ten times that amount crammed into The Artic Stadium until it was fit to burst.
Every vantage point was highly sought-after – some fans were balanced precariously on picnic tables just to lever a better view.
It ended in a comfortable victory for the League One professionals. Cray Valley boss Steve McKimm admitted it was a game too far for his part-timers. But it’s been a memorable FA Cup journey that started way back in bright summer sunshine and ended with the twinkling of Christmas lights soon to adorn the lampposts in Eltham High Street.
Charlton head coach Michael Appleton made wholesale changes for the fixture at The Valley but didn’t make the same mistake twice. The Addicks named the strongest side available to them once allowances for players away on international duty were made.
The balance of play dictated that it was only a matter of time before Charlton broke the deadlock.
May had already forced Millers stopper Sam Freeman into a couple of important blocks while Lucas Ness was an aerial threat from set-pieces in the early stages. So perhaps the only surprise was that it took 35 minutes for that duo to link up and carve out the opening goal for the visitors.
Ness’ measured long ball enabled May to spring Cray Valley’s offside trap to dink his finish beyond Freeman.
Cray’s home may well have been an unfamiliar setting for most of Charlton’s side but not for May, who had previously had run outs there for Erith & Belvedere. The club’s top-scorer settled quicker than most of Appleton’s side into what were familiar surroundings for him.
Surely that would be that?
But the FA Cup always has something up its sleeve. The Addicks, as they often are, were beaten by a simple punt upfield.
A breakdown in communication saw Lloyd Jones duck underneath the dropping ball and Charlton goalkeeper Sam Walker ventured out of his area to launch Kyrell Lisbie back in the opposite direction. Referee Charles Breakspear and his assistants misjudged the point of contact and awarded a penalty despite the challenge occurring outside the 18-yard box.
Lisbie classily converted from the spot on the stroke of half-time.
Son of former Charlton striker Kevin, Kyrell was the man whose cross was forced in for the own-goal by Ness at The Valley during the original iteration of this tie.
That his surname was now to appear on the scoresheet against the Addicks summed up exactly the sort of storyline that the FA Cup continually delivers in its early rounds. That moment is why the TV cameras were in town.
If Walker’s foul had been deemed to be outside the box then Charlton would likely have been down to 10 men for the second period. Arguably the referee’s call made their task significantly easier.
The Addicks did not buckle, like they did in the original tie. Another descendant of a famous Addicks name made it 2-1 as Miles Leaburn – the sibling of Carl, nodded Nathan Asiimwe’s cross home shortly after the restart. May displayed impressive composure to round Freeman and make it 3-1 two minutes later.
Skipper George Dobson rounded off his 26th birthday by scoring a belter from range with the new left foot he must have unwrapped that morning just before the hour mark.
Substitute Tyreece Campbell swept home for five before debutant Micah Mbick, 17, added his own dream moment to proceedings with a close-range finish late on.
There was to be no fairytale ending for the Millers but they have shown what they’re all about to a whole new audience. Increased crowds and using the financial benefit gained from this cup run to take the club to the next level is the aim now.
Alfie May. Two goals and for large spells of the first half he was the only Addicks forward who didn’t seem awed by the occasion.
Kyrell Lisbie’s penalty. It was everything the FA Cup is about – narrative.
MAIN PICTURE: KYLE ANDREWS
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