Charlton 0 Blackburn Rovers 2 (Buckley 29, Adarabioyo 37).
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
Like Storm Dennis which offered bluff and bluster but thankfully little carnage locally (so far), Charlton followed their firecracker win over Nottingham Forest with the damp squib of this tame, tepid defeat by cool Blackburn Rovers. Tony Mowbray's promotion outsiders handed the Addicks a lesson in calm, unemotional game management.
Never reluctant to tinker with a winning team, Lee Bowyer made just one, somewhat controversial change to the side which illuminated the City Ground. Despite playing his part manfully in midweek, diminutive Erhun Oztumer was possibly considered unsuited to Saturday's filthy conditions and unlikely to make a similar impression against Mowbray's physical Rovers. Fair enough but in his replacement Aiden McGeady, Bowyer hardly turned to a workaholic midfield hard man. McGeady's vague, jittery contribution failed to justify his decision to drop Oztumer.
Bowyer's dogged faith in Tomer Hemed is similarly difficult to understand. The strongly built Israeli tries hard but rarely looks likely to score. A goal would undoubtedly galvanise him - not to mention a patient crowd - but in five starts plus seven substitute appearances, a breakthrough has looked unlikely. Either Andre Green (two goals) or the returning Macauley Bonne (eight goals) must surely start alongside Lyle Taylor in the crunch clash with Luton Town on Saturday. Both Green and Bonne featured on Saturday, significantly as replacements for Hemed and McGeady. Oztumer watched impassively from the bench.
Darren Pratley, if fit, should surely be considered ahead of David Davis, an apparent like-for-like but in fact a pale imitation of Charlton's inspirational on-field leader. Sadly, Pratley seems to have been disappeared to join Chris Solly, last seen in the Cup defeat by West Brom on January 5th, in a mythical Room 101 where discards are never seen again nor even discussed.
There was, to be fair, no lack of effort from Bowyer's choices but they were always second best to Mowbray's marauders. Following a bright start, during which both Taylor and Hemed drew competent saves from Christian Walton, Rovers asserted themselves. They were denied a fairly obvious penalty when Jason Pearce manhandled Dominic Samuel inside the area but moved into the lead within the opening half hour.Setting off on a solo dribble from left to right, with intelligent decoy running by Amari'i Bell in support beside him, winger John Buckley worked himself into a position from which to unleash a crisp drive which caught a useful deflection and left Dillon Phillips helpless on its way inside the keeper's right post.
Eight minutes later, the visitors doubled their lead with assistance from another of referee Andy Davies' eccentric decisions. It's taken for granted, of course, that players second guess referees even when caught holding a smoking gun but Davis' protest that his tackle on Buckley was legitimate had an earnest ring of truth about it. Davies was unmoved, however, leaving Stewart Downing to deliver a wickedly inswinging free kick which Tosin Adarbioyo turned in from six yards.
Before the interval, Taylor's athletically improvised header from Josh Cullen's cross was spectacularly tipped over the bar by Walton but Charlton's impact was minimal. Blackburn retired in good order with three points already securely in their grasp. Their sedate progress through an uneventful second half was uninterrupted by undue inconvenience, though it might have been interesting to discover where Hemed's close range header finished up had it not bounced harmlessly off an unaware defensive head into Walton's grateful hands. The keeper also parried Taylor's accurately struck free kick and repeated his earlier gymnastics to divert Cullen's powerful drive to safety, following Darragh Lenihan's crude foul on McGeady. But the two-goal deficit was otherwise comfortably protected.
Easily beaten by a better side, the Addicks will no doubt be encouraged to chalk this setback down to experience and move on. Next Saturday's visit from Luton Town now shapes up as this season's most crucial game, for which Bowyer's team selection will be critical. The Hatters have breathed life into their seemingly lost cause and will be no pushover. Is there such a thing in this crazy division?
Charlton: Phillips, Matthews, Lockyer, Pearce (Smith 46), Sarr, Doughty, Davis, Cullen, McGeady (Bonne 69), Taylor, Hemed (Green 60). Not used: Amos, Purrington, Oshilaja, Oztumer.
Blackburn: Walton, Nyambe, Lenihan, Adarabioyo, Bell, Travis, Johnson, Downing, Buckley (Bennett 84), Armstrong (Chapman, Samuel (Brereton 81). Not used: Leutwiler, Graham, Davenport, Carter. Booked: Nyambe, Bell, Lenihan, Buckley.
Referee: Andy Davies. Att: 25,363 (2083 visiting).