It was a hesitant and nervous performance at times, but Charlton secured an important three points in a 2-1 victory over Exeter City at The Valley this afternoon. With Bristol Rovers drawing and MK Dons losing at home to Leeds, the gap with the nearest challengers was widened. Alan Green on 606 forecast that Leeds and Charlton would win automatic promotion at the end of the season.
The Addicks made a storming start to the match but were not immediately rewarded with the goal their play deserved. They then started to fade a little until Nicky Bailey scored the club's 3000th goal to put them 1-0 ahead at half time. The first goal was also scored against Exeter.
We seemed to want to mount all our attacks down the right in the first half, missing opportunities to feed the ball to Bailey or Youga on the left. There was also a lot of carelessness and casualness in our play.
We failed to impose ourselves on the match in the second half and the visiting Grecians went wild when they scored a goal that was offside. Substitute Izale McLeod seemed to put the game beyond doubt with a second, but Exeter scored a consolation, leading to a nervous last few minutes.
Some of the omens for the day were not good. I rang up Steve Watt who was hosting Radio Scilly's breakfast show, told him I was going to the match and he assumed that I was supporting the Grecians and regaled me with tales of his time watching them when he was at uni in Exeter.
Then we were badly delayed on the Bakerloo Line by a signal failure, the journey from Marylebone to Charing Cross taking 50 minutes instead of the usual 15. If London Transport had told us how severe the delays were we would have got on the 453 bus. Then I noticed that the tide on Deptford Creek was very low.
The Addicks made a storming start from the kick off with Lloyd Sam putting in a good cross. Kelly Youga evaded two Exeter defenders but was brought down by a third, winning a free kick in a good position. Shelvey's free kick was on target was saved by Sweden's Under 21 goalkeeper Oscar Jansson in the Grecians' goal.
Bailey turned provider for Burton, but he headed over. Lloyd Sam put in a good cross, but the ball went over the crossbar, Burton having got in the way of Shelvey.
An Exeter corner led to a moment of danger and the ball had to be cleared off the line by Bailey. Spring made an important interception. Stansfield forged down the wing for Exeter, leading to a corner for the visitors. Burton showed a propensity to fall over: perhaps it is not such a good idea to water the pitch before the match.
Just when it looked as if the match might be goalless at half time, Bailey and Youga combined well to win Charlton a corner. This was taken short and Lloyd Sam put in a short pass which was converted by Bailey to make it 1-0.
Bailey conceded a free kick to the visitors, but they were not able to make use of it.
Half time: Addicks 1, Grecians 0
Racon put in a speculative effort that was worth a try and was not that far over the crossbar. Lloyd Sam won Charlton a corner. Llera put in a strong header that was only just wide of the post. Richardson defended well to avert potential danger.
Exeter took off Stansfield, who I thought had been one of their livelier players, and brought on Corr. Elliot saved well from an Exeter corner. Exeter won another corner, but their effort went over. They then burst through, but their goal was ruled offside.
Exeter took off Craig Noone and brought on Richard Logan from their incredibly large squad. Shelvey burst through, but his effort went wide of the target. On 70 minutes Parky brought on McLeod in place of the off form Burton while Racon was replaced by Wagstaff. Exeter took off Marcus Stewart and brought on Bertie Cozc.
Jansson pushed the ball out from a Charlton attack and McLeod was well positioned to pounce and put the ball into the corner of the net. His enthusaistic celebrations earned him a yellow card.
Elliot saved from a dangerous situation, but at the expense of a corner. From a crowded goalmouth, Cozic was able to make it 2-1. A fracas broke out in the goal as the Grecians tried to wrestle the ball from Elliot and charm merchant Troy Archibald-Henville (who surely has one of the most ridiculous names in football) received a yellow card.
In the three minutes of time added on, Charlton managed to keep possession and avoid conceding another last minute goal, while Sam Sodje was brought on to a warm welcome in place of Jonjo Shelvey.
I thought that the officials had a good game. Referee Grant Hegley was willing to play the advantage, while the linos seemed to have a good grasp of the offside rule.
Thanks to Sacha Zarb (and congratulations on your engagement) for revealing that the fully kitted Exeter keeper was seen collecting a Domnino's pizza order at The Valley after the match. They certainly know how to live at Exeter!
Charlton now face two tough away tests, first at Colchester and the goal machine that is Super Kevin Lisbie and then at Leeds. Their unbeaten record is clearly at risk, but the grumbles that have started about Parky have little justification.
Match analyst Ivy the Terrible has awarded the Silver Bone to Kelly Youga. He ran rings round the Exeter defence, setting up a number of important attacks and also got back to cover well in defence. Elliot had a good game and was not to blame for the Exeter goal. He was not put under a lot of pressure by Exeter's wayward shooting, but still had to make some important saves. Dailly was not that noticeable, but mainly because he was doing his job competently and I noted one important interception. Llera remains suspect. He is too inclined to hoof the ball out of defence without thinking about it, often losing possession as a result. His long balls forward often fed no one in particular. Richardson was solid and made some good runs down the right, although he spoilt one of his best ones by giving the ball away easily at the end.
Spring replaced the injured Semedo and looked rather rusty, giving the ball away rather too often. Bailey scored the opening goal and positioned himself well, but some of his challenges could land him in trouble. Racon played his part but was not at his most sparking and was eventually substituted. Sam was a real danger, particularly in the first half and put in some great crosses which were not always well used. Shelvey had his moments, but whether he has reached the standards of the end of last season is a matter for debate. Whether Burton was still affected by having his broken nose clicked back into place was uncertain, but I thought that he was well below par, although he often lacked adequate support.
McLeod at last managed to score and his delight was evident to see.
Wagstaff was relatively anonymous when he came. Sodje had a cameo in time added on.
Hiss of the Match This goes to the bare chested Exeter City fan who ran on to the pitch when they scored a goal that was ruled offside.
Crowd rating Quite subdued at times, 6/10.