Oxford United 2 (Goodrham10, 85) Charlton 1 (May 63)
From the cop-out of an easy chair, Kevin Nolan squirmed uncomfortably as Charlton plumbed new depths of incompetence in making it four losses in a row.
To the sound of the bottom of a barrel being scraped, chaotic Charlton almost – but not quite – emerged from a truly dreadful, description-challenging performance with the unlikeliest of points on an afternoon it won’t be easy to forget. The first half deserves mention as among the very worst ever endured by their usual, doggedly loyal away support (979 on this inauspicious occasion), each of whom is owed a personal apology, as well as a refund of their outgoing expenditure. They shouldn’t hold their breath while they wait.
Having reached the interval incredibly only a single goal behind, Charlton could hardly do anything but improve and just past the hour mark, a flash of clinical finishing by Alfie May promised they might actually pluck a precious point from this debacle. Whether or not they deserved anything of the sort might have been the subject of lively debate but proved academic anyway because their storied vulnerability to late goals struck them down yet again. Oxford’s late winner caught them on the break at a time when they had grown cocky enough to suppose they were themselves poised to end up with all three points.
“Unfortunately we’ve been hit with a sucker punch again”, mourned relentlessly optimistic manager Dean Holden, without suggesting he has a solution to what has become a chronic problem. “It’s about re-grouping quickly – we’ll keep looking to find the answers.” Four consecutive league defeats haven’t daunted him, as evidenced by his assurance that “we’re very close to getting the next result and I’ve got absolutely no doubt our season will take off.” His breezy self confidence isn’t exactly shared by a jaundiced army of fans beginning to fear the worst. They are looking no further than Fleetwood Town’s visit to The Valley next Saturday as the crucial deadline on which the rot must be stopped.
It was all too easy to sense the self-belief draining from Holden’s starters as they blundered through a first period of painful ineptitude, during which they resembled nothing more than a random group of blokes pressed into a public park kickabout. The error count rose alarmingly and their relative survival owed more to United’s lack of urgency than to their own efforts.
It had all started promisingly enough as the city slickers briefly herded their country cousins into their penalty area and twice threatened to snatch an early lead, first through Nathan Asiimwe, who stung James Beadle’s palms with a fierce, angled drive, then again when May’s heavy touch allowed Beadle to snaffle the ball off his toe. In the 10th minute, the Addicks were punished for their temerity as Liam Manning’s side put them harshly in their place.
Picking up Elliott Moore’s forward header, bright young spark Tyler Goodrham’s clever control earned him the space he needed to crash an unstoppable drive in off the underside of Harry Isted’s crossbar. His outstanding goal promised to be the first of many as Holden’s desperately young defence struggled to keep their heads above water. But oddly, United’s overwhelming superiority failed to yield them clearcut chances and Isted was untroubled until Goodrham broke through again, dithered disastrously when an easy cutback was called for and allowed Asiimwe to clear the obvious danger. Oxford’s threat was ever present but so was their lack of a cutting edge.
Charlton resumed after the break still in touch with a game which should have been already out of reach. There were already signs of new life before May fired them level with his first goal from open play for his new club. Showing the instincts of a born predator, he hung back as Tyreece Campbell staggered through Cameron Brannagan’s challenge and picked him out. A first-time drive flicked off Stephen Negru on its way into the bottom left corner. When Miles Leaburn returns to support him, May’s statistics will surely improve.
Stung by the sheer injustice of Charlton’s equaliser, United applied themselves to the task of restoring order. Brannagan’s fierce free kick burst through a porous wall and was awkwardly parried by Isted, then Negru beat the Addicks’ offside trap but could do no better than toe-end a dropping ball into the keeper’s grateful hands. The pressure was hardly intense but, with five minutes remaining, finally told.
Charlton had actually weathered the worst and were giving as good as they got when the inevitable boom was lowered. A flurry of setpieces, among which were the unlikely long throws of May ( a daft tactical ploy which removed their best finisher from the penalty area) encouraged them forward and left them exposed to the quick counter. They were critically outnumbered as Ruben Rodrigues led the charge, with Goodrham and Stanley Mills in close support. In desperate pursuit, George Dobson’s tackle checked Rodrigues but the visitors were ill-served by the ricochet, which favoured Goodrham
and set him up to score unconvincingly past the last-ditch advance of Isted.
Their late concession was the logical conclusion to a mind-numbing exercise in futility in a season which has already offered plenty of competition. It places Charlton just two points above the basement in League One, a division where they seem bogged down, not to mention part of the furniture. Holden’s brief is clearcut; turn them round and win occasionally. Meanwhile, stop talking them up as a good side when clearly, at least temporarily, that’s not what they are. And more immediately… beat Fleetwood. Just about everyone else does!
Oxford: Beadle, Stevens, Moore, Negru, Brown (Leigh78), McGuane, Brannagan, Goodrham, Rodrigues, Bodin (Mills 65), Harris (O’Donkor 89). Not used:
McEachran, Eastwood, Smyth, Murphy. Booked: McGuane, Brannagan, Mills.
Charlton: Isted, Elerewe (Chem Campbell 42), Ness (Hector 46), Jones, Dobson, Asiimwe, Anderson, Edun (Thomas 83), Blackett-Taylor, Kanu (Tyreece Campbell 46), May. Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Payne. Booked: Hector, Jones, Dobson, Asiimwe, Anderson, Kanu.
Referee: Adam Herczeg. Att: 8.898 (979 visiting).