Cheltenham Town 2 (Keena 50, May 88) Charlton 2 (Fraser 34, Payne 83)
Feet up at home, Kevin Nolan experienced an all-too-familiar sinking feeling as Charlton surrendered a late equaliser in the last knockings of a tedious season. Not that he was particularly surprised.
A surprisingly enjoyable conclusion to Charlton’s otherwise miserable season saw them share four goals and some enterprising football with Cheltenham – six places below them in the League One table but thankful they were not dragged into any undignified scramble to avoid relegation. Charlton put all that unpleasantness behind them some time ago – no cause for celebration but a relief at the time.
This entertaining, if ultimately disappointing, draw rounded off the Addicks’ record with perfect symmetry. Sixteen games were won, sixteen lost and fourteen drawn. An impressive 70 goals were scored, a less than impressive 66 conceded. They finished the campaign in tenth position, a model of mid-table anonymity, stuck among the stuffy bourgeoisie and certainly no threat to anyone, least of all the division’s front runners. Eight pointless months of sheer frustration ending in one last frustration, as it turned out.
This valedictory game highlighted Charlton’s few virtues and many failings. After absorbing Town’s bright opening, they assumed control, took the lead but squandered several opportunities to exploit their superiority. Chances were missed and they retired at half-time only one up. They were made to pay for their profligacy, as indeed they have been on innumerable occasions. Their brittleness is by now an article of faith, as is their vulnerability to late sucker punches.
With skipper George Dobson wisely protected from a 14th booking, which would have brought with it a 3-match suspension next season, central midfield was entrusted to Albie Morgan and Scott Fraser and, initially at least, they proved equal to the task. Morgan’s range of passing caught the eye and his work rate was steady. But it was elegant playmaker Fraser who added indispensable touches of poise and imagination, his strength on the ball earning him time and space to dictate the pace of Charlton’s attacks. The tall Scot also has a goal in his repertoire, as he proved after a half hour spent softening up the opposition.
Picking up the rebound from Tyreece Cambell’s blocked shot, Fraser glided round goalkeeper Luke Southwood, before slotting home from a diminishing angle near the left byline. It was his ninth goal of the season, a reasonable, if modest, return from a player clearly capable of more. His casual style, which suggests that football comes easy to him, divides fans who have never completely come to terms with his attitude. There’s no substitute for class, of course, and Fraser’s talents must surely feature in Dean Holden’s plans for next season.
The business of adding to their lead proved beyond Charlton, but not for want of trying. Right back Mandela Egbo was set up by Rak-Sakyi for a near post effort which Southwood parried with both hands. From the resultant corner, livewire Campbell made a clumsy hash of converting Fraser’s perfect cross, heading awkwardly off target when scoring seemed a simpler option. Before the break, Rak-Sakyi dithered uncharacteristically when clean through to face Southwood but was clearly tripped by the keeper as he sought to reach the loose ball. No chance of a penalty, it goes without saying. Rak-Sakyi also spun on to Morgan’s low cross but saw his volley deflected over the bar.
While their visitors were showing a customary lack of killer instinct, little had been seen of Cheltenham as an attacking force. In their line-up, of course, was lower league goal machine Alfie May, which meant their ineffectiveness was hardly likely to continue. Still the right side of 30, May had cleverly improvised Town’s matchwinner in their 1-0 victory at The Valley in December and, five minutes after resumption, he came to life again. His ferocious 25-yard drive was saved, at full length, by Ashley Maynard-Brewer, who was unable to direct the rebound away from goal. From three yards, Aidan Keena made routine work of tapping in an equaliser.
With both sides showing creditable ambition to claim a positive result, the exchanges were cheerfully end-to-end. Veteran Town skipper Liam Sercombe marshalled Town’s closing efforts but it was the visitors who, for a second time, got their noses in front with only seven minutes remaining. Their scorer was Jack Payne, another midfielder with an eye for goal; the diminutive battler had replaced teenager Aaron Henry, Dobson’s young deputy, with a quarter hour left and was alert to uncertainty involving Southwood and Elliot Bonds. Locked in to the “build-from-the back” philosophy, Southwood’s lazy pass was pickpocketed from Bonds by Payne, who wasted no time in evading the floundering keeper and finishing into his vacated net. And that seemed that – to everyone but May.
The shot which led to Keena’s first equaliser had been struck with May’s right foot. With two minutes left on the clock, his flawless control of Caleb Taylor’s left wing cross carried him clear of outwitted young substitute Jacob Roddy before a whiplashed drive, delivered venomously with his left foot, beat Maynard-Brewer comprehensively on its way inside the right-hand post. The result hardly mattered but May’s late strike supplied one more – almost gratuitous – anti-climax to Charlton’s misbegotten season. Meanwhile, thanks for listening. There is someone listening – right?
Cheltenham: Southwood, Long, Freestone (Raglan 81), Taylor, Jackson, Ferry, Sercombe, Broom, Bonds (Watson 89), May (Brown 89), Keena. Not used: MacDonald, Bradbury, Williams, Goodwin.
Charlton: Maynard-Brewer, Sessegnon (Roddy 85), Thomas, Hector, Egbo (Assiimwe 85), Morgan, Fraser, Henry (Payne 74), Leaburn, Campbell (Rylah 85), Rak-Sakyi (Mitchell 87). Not used: Wollacott, Kanu.
Referee T. Nield. Att: 5,336 (936 visiting).