In the context of our situation and the season to date, that was just what the doctor ordered. A professional and disciplined display that left Rochdale increasingly frustrated, with good performances throughout the team. Most important, given not least their tendency at The Valley to score with every shot on goal, we were past the half-hour mark before Rochdale had a shot of any description and according to the stats we limited them to six in the whole game and just two on target. We bossed the game pretty much from start to finish.
The team showed four changes from Portsmouth, including a rejigging of the defence. In front of Amos Pearce and Purrington came in, with Gunter moved to right-back and Oshilaja continuing, Maatsen presumably given a rest (he wasn’t on the bench). It looked like a flat midfield four, with Pratley and Forster-Caskey in the central spots and Millar and Shinnie wider, while Aneke started alongside Stockley, Schwartz dropping to the bench, where there was also new signing Jaiysesimi (as well as Watson, Smith, Matthews and Morgan).
The opening minutes were uneventful but in the first attack of note we took the lead. Millar put the ball into Aneke inside the area and he was able to hold it up, turn, then shoot low into the far corner. It was a simple goal, one that you are furious if you concede, but one that owed everything to Chucks’ strength and ability to hold off the challenge. Ultimately there was nothing they could do to stop him.
That sparked a period of dominance which effectively lasted to half-time. Not long after his goal Aneke almost gave a repeat performance, after a Stockley knock-down, only for the shot this time to be blocked, then in a lively spell Millar cut in from the left and saw his shot deflected up to hit the bar and behind for a corner, followed by Forster-Caskey having a fair shout for a penalty as he was bundled over by a defender challenging for the ball over from a corner. From another corner Stockley put in a good header, similar to his recent goal, only for their keeper to pull off an excellent save, but the ball stayed in play and sent back in, Pearce managed to head it goalwards, and Oshilaja turned it in from close range.
We might have got a third before the break. Aneke was again fed by Millar and cut in from the edge of the box, but his shot came back off the post. Then Millar, played in by Pratley, skipped past one and seemed to be taken down inside the box, but again nothing was given. Rochdale did finally manage an attempt on goal, the dangerous Baah shooting over, but also Shinnie drew a good save from their keeper.
At the break it had been not a perfect performance but a very effective one. Our front two had caused them problems through the half, Millar was a constant threat, Pratley and Forster-Caskey were tying up midfield, and the defence had coughed up nothing. The only concern was whether we could keep it going, whether Rochdale would put up a stiffer challenge in the second half, and related to that the lingering concern that we knew this was a team capable of scoring frequently and reversing deficits.
No changes at half-time and in general we remained in control, if perhaps playing a little more conservatively, enabling Rochdale to come a little more into the game. Inevitably it was Baah causing the problems, but whereas at The Valley we had put Smyth up against him, today we ensured that two or three (or more) got to him. He’d skip past the first but the cover was there, albeit with Gunter picking up a yellow for fouling him one time, which led to a fracas, evidence of Rochdale’s frustration (also apparent in two double-substitutions before long).
There was a scare as a Rochdale corner seemed to either hit the near post or bring a save out of Amos (or both), but that was very much the exception, we were doing a decent job of running down the clock while continuing to look capable of adding to the lead, albeit not from an Aneke free-kick. He won one in a decent position and seemed to usher everyone else away from it, only to curl the shot well over the bar.
With around 15 minutes left we made our first changes, with Matthews replacing Gunter (perhaps in part due to fear of a second yellow) and Jaiyesimi making his debut to replace Shinnie down the right side. And he made an immediate impression, putting in a couple of dangerous balls. Then we had the chance to really put the game to bed. Aneke found Millar in the box with only the keeper to beat. For once his touch let him down and their keeper was able to smother it.
Schwartz came on for Aneke with around five minutes of normal time left and as we moved into four minutes of stoppage time there was one moment of poor discipline on our part. We had a free-kick in a decent position but not surprisingly chose the corner-flag option. Only managed to hold it there briefly and were almost caught on the break, resulting in a free-kick for Rochdale on the edge of our own box. Where was Tony Watt when we needed him? It didn’t cost us. Morgan came on (for Forster-Caskey) for one of the shortest Charlton substitute appearances on record, less than a minute on the pitch. And that was it.
We badly needed a result, a stabilising one, and a performance to provide grounds for optimism. We got what we needed and nothing more could be asked. Rochdale were strangely flat compared with their display at The Valley, but that’s their problem – and reflected not least the fact that we gave them nothing.
Amos – 7/10. Very little to do, just don’t know if he made a crucial save from their corner or whether it came back off the post.
Gunter – 7/10. Sure he will have appreciated the break from playing centre-back. For the most part kept Baah quiet.
Pearce – 7/10. Good game, efficient and not caught out.
Oshilaja – 8/10. Excellent really, bandaged from the start, no poor free kicks given away.
Purrington – 7/10. Also a good game, helped ensure that Rochdale offered nothing down his flank.
Millar – 7/10. The guy really has given us a great deal more, not just from his goal threat but also his ability to judge when to go for it, when to play the percentage pass, and his reading of the game. Would have been a point higher if he hadn’t blotted his copybook by missing the excellent chance.
Pratley – 7/10. This was a performance that would have had Pratley-lovers purring. Annoyed them all through the game.
Forster-Caskey – 8/10. So much more effective when in control of midfield from a central position. Basically ran the show.
Shinnie – 7/10. Good performance, effective, might have had a goal, no reflection on him he was withdrawn.
Stockley – 7/10. Impressive all-round display, from knock-downs, lay-offs to a near repeat of his goal from a corner.
Aneke – 8/10. Showed that he can be impossible for defenders to deal with, took his goal very well, might have had more.
Matthews – 7/10. Played his part is a solid defensive display.
Jaiyesimi – 7/10. Good start, looked dangerous on the ball.
Schwartz – Not on the pitch long enough for a mark.
Morgan – What mark for a performance of less than a minute? Didn’t put a foot wrong I suppose.