Rochdale 0 Charlton 2 (Aneke 7, Oshilaja 27).
Still hunkered down at home, Kevin Nolan hung on every word uttered by Terry Smith and Greg Stubley at Rochdale. Including Terry's jubilant reaction seconds before Chuks Aneke scored. A bit unsettling, that was. But very welcome.
When Charlton were dispassionately dismissed by Portsmouth at The Valley four days before this tricky fixture, their defeat brought in its wake more than the usual dose of bitter backbiting. An apocalyptic injury list, rotational changes to each successive starting X1 and a stubborn fondness for shoehorning players into unfamiliar positions had finally brought the Addicks to their knees. Factor in fake diamonds, false No.9s and a place in the post-season play-offs seemed unlikely. I hold my hands up and admit my fair share of moaning but then, where Charlton are concerned, I've never been one for mindless optimism. In fact, I'm the sort of cautious bloke who instinctively checks first with the linesman before allowing myself to celebrate whenever we score. Doubting Thomas? He couldn't carry my bag.
In the immediate wake of the Pompey setback, the Addicks were sent to Spotland, or Crown Oil Arena as nobody calls it, for the away stage of their knockabout double act with unpretentious Rochdale. Memories were still fresh of that chilly January evening when Jimmy Barry-Murphy's side were handed leads of 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 before being pegged back to 4-4. When the visitors kicked off after Charlton's final equaliser, the ref absentmindedly announced "next goal wins it!"
Anyone looking forward to similar shenanigans in outer Manchester was doomed to disappointment. Lee Bowyer's men turned up in sober mood, no doubt suitably reminded of their responsibilities and with nothing but business in mind. Forget the modest scoreline - Rochdale were taken to school by a solid line-up which talked the talk on paper and walked the walk on grass. Two down inside the opening half hour, they struggled on haplessly as their visitors, with uncharacteristic efficiency, strolled to a victory which, aided by favourable results elsewhere, breathed new life into their promotion challenge.
It was impossible to identify a weak link in Saturday's triumphant squad. And almost as impossible to name a player who stood out from the pack. Almost but not quite impossible, that is, because wounded warrior Deji Oshilaja was different class. Easy to pick out with a rakish bandage covering an early head cut, Oshilaja, despite his relative lack of inches, won every header, tackled and blocked selflessly, as well as gilding the lily by scoring Charlton's second goal -his first ever for the Addicks. When a basic clearance is called for, Deji is your old-school defender, more than ready to put his laces through the ball. Not for him any of that Russian Roulette they call "playing out from the back". Bosh! Sorted! Have it!
Oshilaja was run close for MOM by Darren Pratley, who was on his best Bill Sikes form - hustling, harassing and hunting down the opposition, but on this occasion remaining scrupulously legal, above board and yellow card-free. Also worthy of recognition were "seven-out-of-ten" Ben Purrington and Chuks Aneke, whose 11th goal of the season highlighted an outstanding contribution, one which was impressively emulated by strike partner Jayden Stockley.
It was Aneke who fired the Addicks into a 7th minute lead they were never likely to relinquish. The approach work was provided by Purrington, whose pass sent Liam Millar burrowing into the home penalty area, where he picked out Aneke, his back to goal and closely monitored by Gabriel Osho. Turning sharply to his left, Aneke casually shrugged off Osho and drilled a low shot into the far bottom corner.
Encouraged by their success, the visitors sought urgently to build on it. A persistent nuisance to 'Dale, Millar cut in from the left and, frustrated by an unwanted deflection off Ollie Rathbone, clipped the bar right-footed. An important second goal was not delayed long, though, and arrived through an unlikely source. Andrew Shinnie's inswinging left wing corner was bulleted goalwards by a horizontal Stockley but saved brilliantly by Gavin Bazunu. Recycling the rebound on the byline, Jake Forster-Caskey returned the ball to Pratley, whose chipped cross was met gymnastically by Jason Pearce's diving header and turned past Bazunu by the outside of Oshilaja's right foot. With over an hour remaining, a rout seemed on the cards but Rochdale improved, with referee Bramall looking tolerantly on a pair of 50-50 penalty appeals and Aneke unlucky to see another sharp drive bounce harmlessly off the woodwork.
Barry-Murphy's men soldiered on, with Charlton's Valley nemesis Baah gliding in from the left but blasting high over the bar and Aaron Morley's deceptive corner posing an awkward problem for an underworked Ben Amos. Bazunu kept his side interested by spectacularly tipping Aneke's fierce drive to safety but long before then this one-sided game had ceased to function as a contest.
Bowyer is regularly on record, meanwhile, as warning against overcooking either the elation of victory or the despair of defeat and he knows what he's talking about. But then again "a fan hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest." So, for the time being, enjoy the moment, at least until next Saturday when Gillingham show up at The Valley to bring us down to earth. Only joking! We'll moider the bums! Or maybe end up grateful to draw...
Rochdale: Bazunu, McLaughlin (Keohane 68), Osho (Vale 80), O'Connell, Roberts (Done 60), Dooley (Newby 60), Morley, Rathbone (Grant 68), Baah, Humphrys, Lund. Not used: Shaughnessy, McNulty. Booked: O'Connell.
Charlton: Amos, Gunter (Matthews 78), Oshilaja, Pearce, Purrington, Shinnie (Jaiysimi 78), Pratley, Forster-Caskey (Morgan 90) Millar, Stockley, Aneke (Schwartz 86). Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Smith, Watson. Booked: Gunter.
Referee: Thomas Bramall.