Charlton 1 (Aribo 83) Gillingham 2 (Parker 11, Eaves 32).
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
Brash, brawny and brave, Gillingham delighted over 1,400 raucous followers by winning at The Valley for the first time in their unremarkable history. Rank outsiders at 7-2 before they arrived, they made nonsense of the odds and proved that, in football, if you want it badly enough, the impossible becomes merely improbable. It's an axiom well known to the generations of Charlton fans who have suffered at Millwall's hands despite, on many occasions, having the better team. For Millwall, recently read upstarts Gillingham, who completed a league double with this bitterly earned victory.
Clearly more motivated than their sleepwalking hosts, the Kent side tore into them during the early going, moved 2-0 in front just past the half hour, then defended as though their very lives depended on it as the opening storm inevitably abated. The Addicks, on the other hand, put in their familiar Jekyll and Hyde performance. Mr. Hyde spread irreponsible chaos during a disastrous first half; Dr. Jekyll emerged after the break and tried desperately but vainly to repair the destruction wreaked by his alter ego.
Those opening 45 minutes rivalled the first half horror show at Southend on Boxing Day in their sheer incompetence. Showing an embarrassing lack of New Year resolution, Charlton resembled a hastily cobbled-together Sunday park side. Centre backs Naby Sarr and Harry Lennon seemed never to have met before, with Sarr, in particular, currently miscast as a central defender. Unreliable in the air despite his impressive physique, Sarr's inability to control Gillingham's find-of-the-season Tom Eaves became painful to watch. At Sarr's side, Lennon lurched from one positional crisis to the next as Eaves and his burly sidekick Josh Parker backed into them and did as they liked.
Still an unknown quantity, Eaves, whose goal beat Charlton at Gillingham in September, was a muscular, surprisingly mobile handful. He began badly by shooting straight at Ben Amos after playmaker Lee Martin's superbly lofted delivery left him with only the goalkeeper to beat but didn't allow the miss to dent his confidence. With just eleven minutes played, he outmuscled Sarr under an innocuous high ball, shook off the floundering defender on the turn and sprinted clear. His hard low ball across the six-yard line left Parker with the simple task of tapping home at the far post.
The first signs of muttered mutiny swelled into a resentful rumpus when the irreverent visitors doubled their advantage. Caught on the break while right back Luke O'Neill turned defence into attack with an aggressive burst into yawning space vacated by Jay Dasilva, the Addicks were ball watching onlookers as Eaves, at full stretch, studded the cross past Amos. Eaves' suspiciously offside position hardly excused either Lennon's fatal hesitation or a corporate failure to close ranks against danger.
An awkward effort, screwed wide by Ben Reeves from Ricky Holmes' right wing cross, was Charlton's only contribution to a nightmare first half. Their build-up was stodgy with three ponderous passes used when only two were necessary; movement was leaden, inspiration an absentee, recovery unlikely. The home side were shapeless putty in Gillingham's hands until the half-time replacements, of disappointing Reeves by eager beaver Joe Aribo and the injured Jake Forster-Caskey by physical threat Leon Best, changed the dynamic. The second half began encouragingly but almost immediately hit a roadblock.
It was ironic and typical of Karl Robinson's luck that Best, after a briefly promising eight-minute cameo, succumbed again to injury and was substituted by Karlan Ahearne-Grant - not that the latter, it should be said, let him down.
Aribo laid claim, meanwhile, to a starting role with an energetic, productive display, which introduced urgency and increased tempo. His clever one-two with Best set up his fellow substitute to test Tomas Holy's reflexes, an effort which launched a blizzard of chances during a non-stop siege of Holy's goal.
Holmes' volleyed cross was met by Josh Magennis, whose header scraped the bar; Ahearne-Grant skinned Bradley Garmston before whipping over a centre on the run, to which Mark Marshall failed by inches to apply a decisive touch; Garmston typified his side's courage by beating Magennis to Holmes' teasing delivery and crashing painfully against a post as he cleared it to safety; Ezri Konsa's close range shot from Marshall's cutback was brilliantly blocked by Holy, who again distinguished himself by charging down Magennis' point blank header, which firmly met Marshall's cross.
The battling visitors were out on their feet by the time Aribo reduced the arrears with seven minutes left. His subtle, glancing header re-directed Holmes' inswinging corner from the left neatly inside the far post. Almost immediately, the scorer came agonisingly close to equalising as he swivelled on a loose ball created by Magennis' goalmouth challenge but could only toe wide. Charlton's bolt was shot and six comfortably negotiated added minutes later, the field -and three priceless points - belonged to Gillingham and their crowing camp followers. It's become a familiar sight, not to mention a recurring theme at The Valley, where quiet resignation and deepening despair have become accepted as normal. And where disappointment goes with the territory.
Charlton: Amos, Konsa, Sarr, Lennon, Dasilva, Kashi, Holmes, Forster-Caskey (Aribo 46), Reeves (Best 46, Ahearne-Grant 53)), Marshall, Magennis. Not used: Phillips, Jackson, Bauer, Dijksteel. Booked: Kashi, Forster-Caskey, Lennon.
Gillingham: Holy, O'Neill, Ehmer, Zakuani, Garmston (Ogilvie 73), Hessenthaler, Clarke, Martin (Oldaker 75), Byrne, Clare, Parker (Wilkinson 73). Not used: Nelson, Lacey, Cundle, Nash. Booked: O'Neill, Parker, Clare.
Referee: Oliver Langford. Att: 11,979 (1,424 visiting).