Reading 1 (Savage 82) Charlton 1 (May 42): Reading won 4-2 on penalties
Safely removed from frigid Berkshire, Kevin Nolan followed Charlton’s latest Cup exit on Livestream.
Beaten 4-2 on penalties by Reading, Charlton achieved the singular feat of departing all three of 2023-24’s domestic cup competitions before actually reaching ’04. They have made almost an art form of “concentrating on the league”, the wisdom of which will be tested on Saturday at The Valley by Cambridge United.
If Michael Appleton was treating this Bristol Street business lightly, his strong-looking selection indicated otherwise. Only the presence of debutant right winger Henry Rylah stood out among the usual first teamers, which meant a switch to the left for Tyreece Campbell, a square peg in a round hole and, if his body language was any guide, none too pleased with his re-deployment. Rylah did OK before giving way to 17-year-old Micah M’Bick, while Campbell, apart from expertly setting up Alfie May’s goal, achieved little else. It seems, at times, that young blood is introduced by Charlton as no more than a PR exercise. Mind you, a growing injury list currently leaves Appleton little choice.
The manager – and supporters – will be fervently hoping that the Sparrows Lane treatment room will not now be coping with impressive centre back Lloyd Jones and the ever-dependable George Dobson, both victims of what are euphemistically referred to as “knocks.” Jones was replaced by Terell Thomas at half-time, while Dobson was relieved by Karoy Anderson on 70 minutes, their prudent withdrawals a caution against playing one game, with an eye on another.
There was nothing half-hearted in Charlton’s approach to this frankly meaningless knockout encounter. They gave it a serious shot and were in front with less than ten minutes remaining. But their familiar inability to go the distance came back to haunt them and Reading’s equaliser came as more an inevitability than a surprise. A corporate lapse in concentration allowed substitute Kelvin Ehibhatiomsha to pick out Charlie Savage in complete isolation but still 25 yards from the Addicks’ goal. Switching the ball from right foot to left, son-of-Savage curled an absolute beauty into the top left corner, with Ashley Maynard-Brewer comprehensively beaten.
The penalty shoot-out held out hope but that hope proved to be illusory. When May’s first spotkick was saved by Joel Pereira, Charlton’s fate was sealed. One of their penalties was emphatically converted by Michael Hector, which completed an outstanding contribution by the big centre back, but Louie Watson’s miss brought down the curtain.
May’s first half opener was typical of the sawn-off marksman’s ability to sniff out a chance. He delayed his run into the Royals’ six-yard box as Hector’s long, raking pass found Campbell on the left and was perfectly placed to turn the hard, low cross past Pereira. Later on, May’s ball-juggling control bamboozled Reading lynchpin Nelson Abbey as they competed for another long ball but Pereira saved alertly at his near post. As the visitors persisted in overplaying and yielding possession in dangerous areas, the virtues of the long ball spoke for themselves but “clearing your lines” continues to be frowned on. And “getting rid of it” belongs in another century.
Ploughing on in Berkshire, meanwhile, the Addicks rode their luck, never more clearly than when Caylon Vickers shot inexplicably wide from eight yards after Maynard-Brewer had brilliantly saved from Lewis Wing at point-blank range. The Aussie keeper also plunged to his left to turn aside long shot specialist Wing’s deceptive effort. Dobson’s full-blooded block of Vickers’ penalty spot drive also keynoted Charlton’s defiance and suggested the possibility that if Charlton’s wholehearted skipper had still been around, Savage’s chance might not have been so clearcut. But there you go, if ifs and ands were pots and pans, there’d be no work for tinkers.
Within three decisive days of Cup failure (apologies for bringing up the Gillingham surrender), Charlton’s league deck has been cleared for action. No more distractions complicate their task, no further excuses will be entertained. The Addicks are now a fixture in League One and have failed to mount a serious bid for promotion since they were relegated in 2020. When your home record is spotted by losses to the likes of Port Vale and Bristol Rovers, while your away tariff boasts one win in eight games, mid-table mediocrity is no more than to be expected. And the visit of Cambridge United on Saturday, with old foe Neil Harris newly in charge, is suddenly complicated. No sense, no feeling, though, see you at The Valley. What’s the alternative?
Reading: Pereira, Mola, Elliott, Smith (Ebihatiomsha 72), Mukaria (Azeez 65), Hutchinson (Savage 65), Bindon, M’bengue (Carlson 46), Wing (Knibbs 65), Abbey, Vickers. Not used: Button, Dean. Booked: Carson.
Charlton: Maynard-Brewer, Tennai Watson, Jones (Thomas 46), Hector, Edun (Asiimwe 70), Dobson (Anderson 70), Fraser, Louie Watson, May, Tyreece Campbell (Kanu 85), Rylah (M’bick 70). Not used: Walker, Casey.
Referee: Peter Wright.