Charlton 0 Shrewsbury Town 1 (Nolan 80).
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
If Charlton make it to the League One play-off final at Wembley on Sunday May 27th, they will have gone about it the hard way. They made a disastrous start by conceding this first leg semi-final to streetwise Shrewsbury, falling victims to a stunning late strike from Scouse-Irishman Jon Nolan which placed into brutal context their own lack of cutting edge.
A goalless draw -far from the worst result to take with them to Shropshire on Sunday- seemed fair reward for their earnest endeavours until Nolan astutely judged a dropping ball, nodded to him by Stefan Payne on the edge of the penalty area, adjusted his body shape, then detonated a superb, dipping volley which brushed the underside of the bar before nestling sweetly behind the blameless Ben Amos. It was a fine goal worthy of deciding a game at any level and was scored by the best player on view.
After surviving an early battering by their on-fire hosts, Shrews settled into their task. They were compact, disciplined and when the occasion demanded, capable of cold-eyed ruthlessness. The first half assaults by brick outhouse Carlton Morris on Patrick Bauer, from which he escaped without censure, then later on Jason Pearce, which earned him a yellow, rather than the red card he deserved, were clear messages of intent. Cynical trips on Konsa and Tariqe Fosu after the interval, the second of them earning Alex Rodman a caution, further displayed Shrews' grasp of the darker arts.
The visitors also made an art form of timewasting, more kindly referred to these days as game management, with goalkeeper Dean Henderson already artfully slowing the pace in the torrid early going as he mulled over the correct positioning of his goalkicks. It pays off too as a paltry total of five added minutes over both halves proved. The visitors accounted for most of that derisory allowance while wildly celebrating Nolan's matchwinner.
The Addicks' sickening defeat, however, had its roots in more painfully familiar ground, namely their chronic inability to finish what they so often attractively start. During a blistering opening, Stephy Mavididi's hard, low cross eluded Josh Magennis, was returned by Konsa from the opposite flank but headed lamely wide by Magennis. Jake Forster-Caskey was more accurate with the low drive which forced Henderson into a full length save and Nicky Ajose came close with a volley that sent Magennis' lay-off whistling over the bar. An instinctive finisher might have converted at least one of the blur of early chances. But an instinctive finisher is conspicuous by his absence. As it is, the Addicks regularly bring cap pistols to a gunfight.
Until Nolan broke local hearts, Charlton had coped comfortably against a useful side which clearly regarded a draw as a positive result. Pearce, Bauer and sitting tenant Ahmed Kashi were their usual, solid selves while behind them Amos was impeccable. Jay Dasilva was a more progressive full back than a newly responsible Konsa and stayed alive to the problems caused by Mavididi's blind alley running and irritating losses of possession. The unfairly maligned Ben Reeves, whose last second intervention prevented Nolan from scoring earlier than he did, worked fruitlessly, as did Forster-Caskey. Up front, Magennis battled gamely alongside Ajose and with Fosu expected to replace Mavididi at Shrewsbury, might thrive on better service. Lee Bowyer's men did their best but were narrowly beatenby a better side.
With nothing to lose, Charlton might be a different proposition in the second leg against hosts who finished 16 points ahead of them during the regular season. Hardbitten interim boss Bowyer, no doubt aware that Thursday's crowd included an interested Australian prospector, was measured in his reaction to this disappointing defeat, claiming that his side deserved at least a share of the first-leg spoils but warning that the tie remains far from settled. Winners at Montgomery Waters Meadow less than a month ago by precisely the 2-0 scoreline required on Sunday, the Addicks are not yet a spent force.
The last words will be left to the incomparable Elkie Brooks, a soulful thrush from an age when singers kept their clothes on while singing. "Fool if you think it's over," crooned Elkie ..."it's just begun". Er, not entirely accurate, Elkie, actually it's half over. But nice one, girl, we catch your drift. Hope we can live up to it.
Charlton: Amos, Konsa, Bauer, Pearce, Dasilva, Kashi, Reeves (Aribo 76), Forster-Caskey, Mavididi (Fosu 62), Ajose (Zyro 90), Magennis. Not used: Phillips, Marshall, Sarr, Dijksteel.
Shrewsbury: Henderson, Godfrey, Sadler, Beckles, Whalley (Riley 88), Carlton Morris (Payne 74), Bolton, Bryn Morris, Nolan (John-Lewis 90), Nsiala, Rodman. Not used: MacGillivray, Lowe, Jones, Eisa. Booked: Carlton Morris, Rodman.
Referee: Simon Hooper.
Att: 14,367 (777 visiting).