Charlton AthleticSport

EFL Trophy exit was the last remaining ‘fun’ in a grind of a season for Charlton Athletic


In nearly any other season, Charlton Athletic’s exit from the EFL Trophy would be met with a shrug of the shoulders and not a flicker of emotion from their supporters.

But this is no ordinary season. It shows just how far the Addicks have fallen behind the League One promotion race that this competition – which only really piques anyone’s interest once you get to the last couple of rounds – represented the last chance for something called ‘fun’ between now and May.

A win in County Durham would have sent Johnnie Jackson’s side into the last four.

But Charlton’s performance at The Suit Direct Stadium meant there was no need to get measured up with glad rags for a Wembley date.

Hartlepool fully deserved to add the South Londoners to their list of scalps in cup competitions this season – along with Wycombe, Sheffield Wednesday, Lincoln, Bolton and Blackpool.

Crystal Palace are next up, in the FA Cup fourth round, at the start of February.

Results and displays have dropped off since Jackson was handed the manager’s job on a permanent basis in the middle of December. The wins over Sunderland, Plymouth and Ipswich Town during his caretaker spell are undoubtedly the standout performances.

But at least some of the intensity and tempo of their pressing play has dissipated. Tuesday night was the kind of uninspired showing that put Nigel Adkins in trouble.

Jackson made seven changes from the side that beat Fleetwood at the weekend but the desire to progress was still apparent just from a glance at his options on the bench.

That Charlton led at the interval was more to do with clinical finishing than any kind of control over the feisty hosts.

Charlton Athletic’s Mason Burstow (right) scores their side’s first goal of the game during the Papa John’s Trophy quarter-final match at Victoria Park, Hartlepool.

Joe Grey scooped over Craig MacGillivray to give Pools a perfect start but the predatory Mason Burstow struck in the 17th minute.

Ben Killip saved the striker’s initial effort with his legs but the teenager, already attracting interest from clubs higher up the food chain, headed the rebound into an unguarded net.

Alex Gilbey put Charlton ahead just after the half-hour mark. Ben Purrington and Conor Washington both went for Jonathan Leko’s far-post cross, doing enough to find Gilbey for a smart swivel and finish.

Charlton’s forward play became even less effective once the action resumed. Hartlepool moved the ball quicker and with more purpose.

Luke Molyneux curled past MacGillivray to make it 2-2. You could not fault the strike, but you certainly could not say the same for the time and space he was afforded to shift it on to his stronger left foot.

When it came to penalties, you had a bad feeling as Elliot Lee walked up to take Charlton’s fourth spot-kick.

The Luton loanee is struggling for form and did not exude confidence as he spotted the ball. Killip had gone the wrong way for the first three efforts – dispatched by Washington, Gilbey and Sean Clare. He dived to his right again and Lee’s penalty lacked both power and placement.

The chance for some glory, and silverware, is gone. The immediate target for Charlton’s players is to climb into a more respectable league position.

Six of their next eight matches are against clubs that are in the top 10 – including three of the top four.

It’s either swim….or sink lower into the murky depths.

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