Still processing Saturday’s demolition by Ipswich, Kevin Nolan watched on Livestream as Charlton picked on hapless MK Dons and found them more co-operative than the irresistible Tractor Boys.
A 1-0 victory over a side which, on this evidence at least, is among the weakest in League One, is hardly cause for wild celebration. But after Saturday’s thumping by Ipswich, arguably the best team in the division, Charlton were in no mood to quibble about the quality of their opposition. Winning was their pressing priority and Milton Keynes’ dozy Dons fitted the bill perfectly.
Reacting positively to the humiliation in East Anglia, Dean Holden made four changes to the side which started at Portman Road. Macauley Bonne and Tyreece Campbell were omitted from the squad, Mandela Egbo dropped to the bench, while Ryan Inniss began his latest spell on probation after his fourth expulsion of another stormy season. In came Miles Leaburn, Sean Clare, Steven Sessegnon and, most significantly, Jack Payne.
Payne was sent off near the end of the home win over Burton Albion and was probably not sorry to miss the mauling by Ipswich, during which he served a one-match suspension. Recruited originally by Ben Garner, this current campaign has featured an in-and-out sequence of appearances, only ten of them as a starter. He brings enthusiasm and energy with him but it’s probably fair to conclude that Holden is ambivalent about his qualities. On this occasion, however, he was handsomely rewarded for turning to the sturdy little midfield battler.
In a scruffy encounter between poor sides, one of them far poorer than the other, Payne made a case as its best player. He put himself about, stayed on the right side of an erratic referee and was responsible for the fine goal which decided the issue just past the hour mark. Not a bad way to stake a claim to his manager’s favour.
Charlton were the better of two unremarkable sides without suggesting they were capable of breaking the deadlock until Payne made the difference. Ex-Don Scott Fraser’s short corner was played diagonally to Clare, who switched infield to George Dobson; the skipper picked out Jesurun Rak-Sakyi inside the penalty area and the elusive winger provided the telling pass to play Payne into space to the right of goal. One steadying touch set up the brutal left-footed shot which whistled past Jamie Cumming on its way into the far top corner. There’s not much of him but Payne packs power in his left foot. It’s tempting to call it a “wand” but it’s more of a bludgeon. Wands, according to the weary cliche, are wafted by more cerebral left-footers.
The excellence of Payne’s goal stood out in this untidy context. The obsession with statistics in modern football doesn’t stretch to recording misplaced passes but if it did this sloppy game could stake its claim to new lows in fecklessness. Possession was surrendered with cavalier disregard for consequences and, in this regard, the Addicks were only marginally superior to their hosts. Even after they took the lead, their carelessness on the ball invited disaster and made the closing quarter hour particularly uncomfortable. The normally reliable retention skills of Fraser and Rak-Sakyi were notably below par, while Albie Morgan marred an otherwise sound contribution with occasional lapses. Dobson stepped in to paper over cracks and the defence, under Michael Hector’s leadership, remained solid enough until a series of anywhere-will-do clearances invited late pressure from the previously inferior Dons.
There were chances, of course, which were evenly distributed, most of them during a livelier second half. Former Addick Jonathan Leko drew a sharp save from Ashley Maynard-Brewer, while Payne’s fierce drive shaved the bar after he met Morgan’s half cleared corner. Early in the second session, Zak Jules’ cross was met on the volley by MKD’s top scorer, Mo Eisa, but again Maynard-Brewer responded superbly. At the other end, Cumming was in similarly sharp form in keeping out Sessegnon’s accurate drive from outside the penalty area. The keeper was then relieved that Payne was unable to convert a close range chance after Rak-Sakyi turned brilliantly on the byline to set him up.
Reportedly being watched by bigger shots, hot prospect Leaburn had been working hard without reward until his crisp effort on the turn forced another smart save from Cumming. The resultant corner led directly to Payne’s breakthrough, a lead which Rak-Sakyi should have doubled when he made only feathery contact with Morgan’s precise cutback from the right. The Crystal Palace hotshot then chose to shoot from an awkward angle despite an indignant Morgan being poised for an easy tap-in at the far post.
Three more games from the conclusion of a desperately anti-climatic season, Charlton’s middle of the road mediocrity is rubber-stamped by unconvincing performances and results like this one in MK’s cavernous, soul-free stadium. Their inability to put inferior sides in their place, not to mention their vulnerability to dispiriting defeat by such opposition, has stutter-stepped their progress. Holden will be looking forward to ironing out the wrinkles during the summer. Then it’s Addicks11Victory next season – unless someone steps on that irritating record!
MK Dons: Cumming, Stewart (Holland 88) Tucker, Lewington, Watson, Maghoma (Robson 77), McEachran (Devoy 75), Johnson, Jones, Grant (Kaikai 61), Jules. Not used: Ravizzoli, Lawrence.
Charlton: Maynard-Brewer, Clare (Egbo 76), Hector, Thomas, Sessegnon (Mitchell 90), Morgan Dobson, Fraser (Kilkenny 88), Rak-Sakyi (Kane 88), Leaburn, Payne. Not used: Wollacott, Henry, Kanu.
Referee: S. Allison. Att: 6,600 (755 visiting).