Charlton 4 (Kirk 4, Leaburn 30, 45+2, Louie Watson 49) Aston Villa U21 2 (Moore 73, Alcock 81).
A tiny but appreciative gathering at The Valley on Tuesday evening watched a hastily assembled Charlton side spike Aston Villa’s young guns during a first half of effortless superiority. Buoyant, bouncy and above all as free as the river-tinged air, the Addicks – mostly kids themselves – toyed with the Midlanders before packing them off at the break four goals down and effectively out of this EFL Trophy tie.
It couldn’t last, of course, and the second period told a different story. Villa’s pride was stung and they hauled themselves back into contention with two fortune-favoured goals. And had Tommi O’Reilly not messed up a 50th minute penalty, they might have come close to pulling off an unlikely recovery. Instead they finished a well beaten team.
Those opening 45+7 minutes were a joy to watch as an assortment of accurate passes zipped around the well-watered turf. Villa were run ragged as their hosts played with the handbrake off and clearly expected to score from every attack. Their youthful exuberance was paternally supervised by the presence, in central midfield, of Scott Fraser, the fulcrum through which Charlton’s approach play was regulated. Hardly a veteran himself, Fraser’s foot-on-the-ball calmness provided balance between uncontrolled and measured aggression. He must surely be the first name on Michael Appleton’s teamsheet, a regular choice whatever system is employed. It makes sense to pick your best players, then adapt your system to suit them. Class, after all, is permanent. Systems are merely ephemeral.
It was Fraser who, inevitably, set Charlton on their way with a gorgeous 4th minute assist. Picked out by Tennai Watson in one of those “pockets of space” you hear about, he delivered a precisely judged cross to the far post which Charlie Kirk sidefooted on the volley past Fil Marschall. A ballwatching Kyrie Pierre, caught on the back foot, had almost the entire first half to concoct an explanation for his boss Inigo Idiakez at the interval. Good luck with that, Kyrie.
The bewildered Villans lasted until the half hour mark before capitulating again. They were finding Miles Leaburn’s combination of muscularity and ball-shielding difficult to handle and Kerr Smith struggled as the big centre forward backed in and rolled him as they disputed Tennai Watson’s ball in to feet. Smith’s awkward challenge, made with his wrong foot close to goal, brought down Leaburn Jr, who picked himself up to dispassionately convert the clearcut penalty.
Alongside Fraser in midfield, meanwhile, Louie Watson’s stop-go bursts of acceleration were posing problems for the visitors. An elusive bundle of creative energy, the Luton Town loanee was impossible to pin down. It was reasonable to question, however, whether an occasional goal was part oh his impressive pass-and move repertoire. The fresh-faced kid duly delivered in the 39th minute with his first in Charlton’s colours by smoothly controlling Fraser’s low pass with his back to goal, then turning away from Josh Feeney and drilling a crisp drive inside the right post.
In first half added time, young Louie masterminded Charlton’s fourth goal, which seemed to have placed his side well out of reach of the outclassed Brummies. His pass enabled Leaburn to again roll the persecuted Smith and find Marschall’s net with a left-footed daisycutter. The apparent coup-de-grace ended a painful session of boys against fellow boys (with the odd man or two tipping the scale for the home boys).
An early warning that the second half might not be similarly plain sailing was served when Louie Watson blotted an otherwise spotless copybook by crudely hauling Smith to the ground as he moved on to Rico Richards’ right wing cross. Villa’s general haplessness was neatly summed up by O’Reilly’s spotkick which clipped the bar on its way into a virtually empty Jimmy Seed Stand. The visitors seemed intent on making life as simple as possible for the Addicks but possibly fearing Idiakez’s irritation, persevered until they finally broke through with 20 minutes remaining.
The goal, through which they reduced the arrears was as lucky as it was scruffy. O’Reilly’s close range miskick might have been comical if it hadn’t set up Kobei Moore to finish unconvincingly past a wrongfooted Ashley Maynard-Brewer. With Charlton effectively finished for the evening, substitute Todd Alcock’s inswinging left wing corner found the far top corner, with Charlton’s Aussie keeper straining vainly to keep it out. Technically a goalkeeping error, of course, which conveniently overlooks the treacherous flight of Alcock’s delivery.
Charlton’s low key second half failed to erase the pleasure of their earlier performance. When they are on song and in this mood, they rank alongside the best teams in League One. Anyone who endured the limitations of Burton Albion and Cheltenham Town on telly 24 hours previously, must surely have concluded as much. This hardly guarantees them 12 points when they meet Burton and Cheltenham but a stewards’ enquiry might be due if they wind up with any less. With the skill and resolve at his disposal, Appleton is entitled to demand at least a top six finish. Not to mention, further progress in the EFL Trophy, in which they face Sutton Utd at The Valley on Tuesday November 14th. Here’s hoping their league commitments don’t get in their way!
Charlton: Maynard-Brewer, Laqeretabua (Tennai Watson 24), Elerewe, Ness, Fraser (Kedwell 74), Tyreece Campbell (May 65), Louie Watson (Tedic 65),
Chem Campbell, Asiimwe, Leaburn (Aneke 65), Kirk. Not used: Molyneux, Jones. Booked: Louie Watson, Tedic.
Aston Villa u-21: Marschall, Chrisene (Munroe 54), Richards (Pavey 83), Iroegbunam (Alcock 58), Rowe (Borland 74), Tommi O’Reilly, Feeney (Aaron O’Reilly 83), Ealing, Smith, Moore Pierre (Broggio 58). Not used: Wright. Booked: Iroegbunam.
Referee: Neil Hair. Att: 1,223 (129 visiting)