Bristol Rovers 2 (Martin 68, 90+4) Charlton 1 (Tedic 85).
Kevin Nolan sees Charlton knock off criminally early and pay the usual price.
When substitutes Tyreece Campbell and Slobodan Tedic combined to produce an 85th minute equaliser for Charlton, it appeared briefly that the late goal boot had, for once, been placed on another team’s foot. Bristol Rovers were far from intimidating and a share of the spoils for both these mediocre sides was a logical outcome to a humdrum game.
The Addicks sailed through the remaining regulation time but the fourth official’s added-on board brought with it
daunting news. There would be no less than seven minutes added, information which reduced to nervous wrecks the fans in an SRO away section of the Memorial Stadium. Their heroes had proved incapable of protecting a 1-0 lead through only three added minutes at home to Burton Albion recently. An inability to manage the late stages of a game has become almost legendary and, sure enough, it returned to demoralise them once more.
In the fourth of the seven fateful minutes, a free kick was needlessly conceded, close enough to the visitor’s penalty area to bring on the brain fade so familiar to followers of Michael Appleton’s hapless charges. To a man, they switched off and did nothing to prevent Antony Evans from stepping up to exploit their complacency. “As a manager, it’s hard to defend the way we didn’t stand on the ball”, lamented the manager, “how five or six players turned their backs to the free kick.”
While the Addicks slumbered, Evans’ quick thinking setpiece freed Aaron Collins to make unencumbered ground on the right before crossing hard and low for Chris Martin to sidefoot into a yawning net. With their customary lack of urgency and fighting spirit, Charlton had succumbed yet again to their morbid fear of the fourth official and his added time board. It’s surely Appleton’s job to make them more hardnosed and unpleasant to be around. Hating to lose should be bred into footballers.
Losing, to be fair, looked unlikely as Charlton made a confident start at the Gasworks. There were only two minutes on the clock when Chem Campbell’s short free kick was transferred by George Dobson to Alfie May, who curled a left-footed effort against the bar with keeper Matthew Cox a standing spectator. The bright opening was continued by Corey Blackett-Taylor, whose crisp cross presented Lloyd Jones with a six-yard chance which the off-balance centre back screwed wide of the left post.
As the Addicks’ early edge faded, their hosts, while no great shakes themselves, took over. Evans seized on Jones’ headed clearance of his corner to unleash a superb half volley which flashed inches wide when the merest touch was needed. Before the break, another of Evans’ corners was headed goalwards by Tristan Crama, whose effort would have counted had Collins not applied an unnecessary touch from a palpably offside position. Collins’ celebrations were exuberant if shortlived.
Somewhat fortunate to begin the second half on level terms, Charlton improved, though hardly enough to justify Appleton’s claim that “we were great.” Blackett-Taylor was high, wide and far from handsome with the left-footed drive he ballooned over the bar and Daniel Kanu’s touch deserted him after he turned aggressively in the Gas’ penalty area. It was no surprise when they fell behind.
Crama was having a decent game for the West Countrymen and it was the midfielder’s searching ball which sent Harvey Vale speeding clear down the left flank. Vale’s cross was miskicked by Collins but swept home by Martin. The goal came as little surprise to a side which hasn’t managed a clean sheet since Reading were demolished 4-0 at The Valley on October 21st.
A draw seemed a likely outcome, however, when Tedic unexpectedly shocked the coasting home side with a sharply taken leveller with regulation time running out. The Serbian sub got across his marker after Tyreece Campbell shunted Vale off Karoy Anderson’s throw on the right byline and turned the winger’s low centre inside the near post.
The mechanics of Martin’s matchwinner will doubtless be bitterly debated at Sparrows Lane before Charlton prepare for the visit of Oxford United on New Years Day. Painful questions should be posed to players who don’t appear to care as deeply as the fans who faithfully follow them around the country. They might be asked why there was no reflex effort to disrupt Evans’ quickly taken free kick or why they assumed there would be a mutually agreed pause before the action continued. They were loafing while their opponents got on with it. And they need to explain themselves because it’s become par for the course!
Rovers: Cox, Wilson (Hoole 72), Taylor, Cranie, Thomas, Ward (Grant 90+6), Evans, Finley, Vale, Marquis (Martin 56), Collins. Not used: Woods, Brown, McCormick.
Charlton: Maynard-Brewer, Tennai Watson, Hector, Jones, Edun, Dobson, Anderson, Chem Campbell (Louie Watson 77), Kanu (Tedic 62), Blackett-Taylor, May (Tyreece Campbell 77). Not used: Walker, Asiimwe, Thomas, Casey. Booked: Chem Campbell, Jones, Hector.
Referee: Neil Hair.