Millwall 2 (Hutchinson 6, Smith 90) Charlton (Leko 51)
Kevin Nolan reports from The Den.
The more things change, the more they stay the bloody same. There's a more stylish French saying which covers the subject without my sanguinary embellishment but let's stick with English to make the bleedin' point. It's reassuringly Anglo-Saxon.
Fact is there's things upon which you can depend as stone-cold certainties. You can rely, for example, on night following day; the seasons changing; the tides ebbing and flowing; the sun rising; the sun also setting; and Millwall beating Charlton. Or at least Millwall nearly always beating Charlton. There have, after all, been 27 draws among their 75 league meetings and - say it neither proud nor loud - 12 wins for the Addicks. The last of those victories was by 2-0 at The Valley on March 9th 1996, with current manager Lee Bowyer opening the scoring. Since that distant afternoon in a mothballed century, eleven more league games have been played; needless to say, Charlton have won none of them. To be fair, though, they drew five times.
A sixth draw looked likely when, with the score 1-1, three added minutes were announced at the Den on Saturday. On second thoughts, make that not so bloody likely! For among 2,211 Charlton fans in attendance and countless others following events through the media, you'd find hardly one of them who was genuinely surprised by what followed. Let's drag the French into it again and put it down to deja-vu. Yet again.
Having forced a left wing corner, the Lions loaded the goal area with hulking attackers. Among them was Matt Smith, called from the bench by Gary Rowett five minutes previously with this situation in mind. At 6'7", Smith is a rare handful at setpieces but in 6'5" man mountain Naby Sarr, Charlton had his physical match. Jed Wallace's expertly delivered inswinger duly targeted Smith at the far post, where the towering substitute swatted aside Sarr's powderpuff challenge and headed firmly past Dillon Phillips. There was scarcely any sense of shock in the upper tier of the stand behind the goal. Some colourful language, of course, but bitter experience soon reduced it to a sullen silence. It's happened too often to be dismissed as an unhappy accident.
An understandably seething Bowyer was scathing in his criticism of his players. As a museum piece member of a Charlton side which actually beat Millwall, he had history on his side when insisting that in defending setpieces, you "do your job and make sure your man doesn't score... coming to a tough place like this, you have to be a man. Stand up and do your job properly. The players know the importance of this game. I've been telling them all week... Smith was more hungry to win the ball."
Bowyer no doubt had also warned them about the careless concession of setpieces in the first place. Their clinical execution is clearly prioritised at Calmont Road and practice made perfect as early as the sixth minute after Jason Pearce's pointless foul on Jon Dadi Bodvarsson dangerously close to Charlton's penalty area. Shaun Williams' wicked delivery was headed home forcefully by Shaun Hutchinson at the far post. Sarr was again flatfooted but was probably no more culpable than a cadre of ball-watching colleagues.
Hutchinson's opening goal punished a disastrous start by Bowyer's men. Sarr had already hacked Wallace's shot off the line, with Phillips saving smartly from Mahlon Romeo's follow-up effort. But the visitors, encouraged by Josh Cullen's fearless example, recovered to control most of the action until the interval. Cullen was desperately unlucky when his shot beat Bartosz Bialkowski, cannoned off the underside of the bar but was scraped off the line by the startled keeper. Bialkowski performed heroically before the break when spectacularly tipping Macauley Bonne's thunderous volley over the bar, then getting down to turn away an effort from Darren Pratley, following fine approach play by Adam Matthews.
By now the better side, Charlton resumed their onslaught in the second half and drew level six minutes into the session. The Lions displayed similar vulnerability to setpieces when Cullen's inswinging left wing corner was scuffed clear only as far as Jonathan Leko, who found the top right corner from a difficult angle. His third goal of the season hardly compensated for a passive contribution from the WBA loanee.
Cullen continued to courageously carry the fight to the wilting Lions. He received sturdy support from Pratley and Conor Gallagher who, despite being singled out for early attention, with two fouls committed on him within the first minute, refused to be cowed. Up front, Bonne grafted gamely and Phillips seemed to have secured his side at least a point with a fine save from the excellent Ben Thompson's point-blank volley. But the late initiative and the points belonged with Millwall - as they have on 36 occasions since this one-sided fixture began at The Den on New Years Eve 1921. Plus ca change...
Millwall: Bialkowski, Romeo, Hutchinson, Cooper, M.Wallace, J.Wallace, Molumby, Williams, Thompson (O'Brien 86), Bradshaw (Smith 86), Bodvarsson (Mahoney 76). Not used: Steele,Ferguson, Pearce,Skalak.
Charlton: Phillips, Matthews, Lockyer, Pearce, Sarr, Cullen, Pratley (Kayal 67), Gallagher, Purrington, Leko (Lapslie 84), Bonne. Not used: Maynard-Brewer,Oshilaja, Solly, Oztumer, Davison.
Referee: Robert Jones. Att: 17,109 (2,211).