One advantage of the season coming down to the wire is that now ahead of games – especially this one – all the permutations and options can be put to one side. Today was pretty much must-win, a draw would have kept us hanging on but with another game less to close the gap. While we hoped the performance would indicate a positive impact from the arrival of Adkins, if we fluked one in the last minute to secure an undeserved victory that would be just fine. In the event it didn’t come to that, we scored early and thereafter restricted Doncaster to according to my count just three good opportunities (albeit all the result of poor defending), none of which they took. Overall it was disciplined, hard-working and effective, and we won a game of few clear-cut chances. Just what the doctor ordered.
The team showed six changes from the Wimbledon game, with some surprises, in what proved to be a 4-3-3 (or 4-5-1 when out of possession). There was the welcome return of Inniss, who it seemed only needed a shortened run-out in a friendly to be back in the team, alongside Pearce in the centre, with Famewo apparently injured. Matthews was fit again and came in to start, with Purrington at left-back. The midfield three saw Pratley holding the fort flanked by Forster-Caskey and another returnee, Gilbey, who got the nod over Shinnie. Stockley operated as pretty much a lone striker (with Washington still injured and Schwartz not making the bench), with Jaiyesimi to the left and Maasten to the right. It suggested flexibility, provided the two wider players could both support Stockley and get behind the ball when we lost it.
I missed the first 10 minutes (one of the joys of doing work for a French company is a restricted Easter break) and just as I’d settled in we took the lead, in a fashion which highlighted the potential benefits of the formation. Amos kicked long, Stockley flicked it on, Jaiyesimi then won a header to move it into the box, where Maatsen – who’d already caused problems chasing down a back pass – stole in, showed good strength to hold off the defender, and shot into the net.
We nearly gave away that lead just a few minutes later, with a poor piece of defending. A ball in was covered by three Charlton defenders, who all left it to each other, allowing it to run to an unmarked Bogle. His shot wasn’t bad but Amos stuck out a foot and managed to block it. Doncaster didn’t know it at the time, but that was probably the closest they would come to drawing level.
On the half-hours we had defensive error number two leading to Doncaster chance number two. Matthews did well to break up an attack, but hemmed in by the goalline with no easy escape route he chose to backheel the ball into the box, assuming presumably that the odds favoured it going to a colleague. It didn’t, but their surprised guy was only able to put in a weak shot easily saved by Amos.
If either of those two screw-ups had produced a Doncaster equaliser the game would have been very different. As it was, apart from the errors we were generally comfortable. Doncaster had plenty of possession but found it hard to get to or behind our back line, with Forster-Caskey and Pratley breaking up most attacks and Inniss and Pearce mopping up what came their way. We didn’t have many chances, although shortly before the break Gilbey might have done better when a Jaiyesimi cross from the left found him in the box. Perhaps surprised it reached him he tried to control it and it ran away from him.
At the break we looked as though our system was working well to frustrate them, as long as the errors were kept to a minimum, and you felt that if we could concoct a second goal that would probably be enough to secure the points. But clearly a lot of work still to be done.
Indeed, Doncaster started the second half with a period of sustained pressure, which culminated in Bogle winning a free kick on the edge of the area for a touch by Forster-Caskey, despite him clubbing him in the face. It was in a dangerous position, just the left side of the box, but fortunately the resulting shot was into the wall and cleared.
Back up the other end and for a moment we thought we had that second goal. A corner swung in and Stockley heads it goalwards, seemingly into the net. But you could guess from the rather uncertain celebrations there was a problem and the replays showed that the header had been deflected in by Jaiyesimi from an offside position. Pains me to say it but no question the officials got that one right (and by and large they had a pretty good game). Has to be said that without the deflection the keeper would probably have comfortably saved Stockley’s effort.
Going into the final 30 we were doing an even better job than before of demoralising Doncaster, who seemed at times to be losing heart. The game was getting rather stop-start, with a Doncaster defender sparking a fracas with Stockley (both ended up seeing yellow) followed by a long head injury break after Stockley collided with their guy (who eventually went off). We made our first change, Millar coming on for Jaiyesimi down the left, after which Purrington picked up a yellow for a mistimed challenge.
Doncaster made changes themselves, bringing on fresh legs, and there were moments when they threatened. But the third chance they had came from a corner, when inexplicably three of theirs were left to sort it out among themselves who would put in a header. Thankfully they got in each other’s way and the end result was harmless. Really don’t know what went wrong with that one.
And that, despite seven minutes of stoppage time, proved to be that. Aneke came on for a tiring Stockley, then at the death Gunter and Shinnie for Maatsen and Gilbey. We managed to play out the game and took the points.
There were plenty of positives, even though the performance could not be described as pretty (by and large we were happy to concede control of midfield and focus on getting up in support of Stockley while keeping it tight at the back). Sky make Forster-Caskey man of the match, and he did have a very good game, less so for what he did with the ball than his work without it. But for me it had to be Inniss. I wondered if we could get 90 minutes from a guy out for so long, but he pretty much strolled through it. A fellow Addick commented that he makes decisions and sticks to them, which summed it up. On occasions the right thing to do was send the ball into Row Z and that’s what he did. And having that immovable presence seemed to help others to play around him. The crowning glory was his ability to shove Bogle over outside the box and get away with it.
Now we sit back and watch the other scores (at the time of writing we’d dropped back from fifth to seventh), not just today but now on Monday also given the Lincoln postponement. We’ve done what we needed to today, let the chips fall where they may and we take stock on Tuesday.
Amos – 8/10. Was called on to make one decent save and delivered, as well as dealing decisively with some balls into the box.
Matthews – 6/10. Have to deduct a mark for the daft backheel. Could easily have cost us a goal. Otherwise fine.
Pearce – 8/10. Determined, committed, and put in some vital interceptions. Would have been culpable in the other two Doncaster chances but hard to pin the blame for those.
Inniss – 9/10. Outstanding, lasted the full game and looked assured, unruffled. Also a threat from corners.
Purrington – 7/10. Decent enough game.
Gilbey – 7/10. Not an easy game for our central midfielders as we didn’t have that much possession, probably should have scored, otherwise a promising display on his return.
Pratley – 7/10. Did the hard graft well and didn’t get involved in any unnecessary altercations. Not even a yellow.
Forster-Caskey – 8/10. Worked tirelessly and effectively, excellent game.
Jaiyesimi – 7/10. Thought it was probably his best game for us so far, worked well and produced some dangerous moments; also seemed stronger on the ball than before.
Stockley – 7/10. Put in a real shift, was out on his legs by the time he was substituted. Hard task to compete on his own but did it well.
Maatsen – 7/10. Did seem to fade in the second half but started very brightly, took his goal well.
Millar – 6/10. With us playing on the break he did find himself in good positions and really didn’t make the most of them.
Aneke – 7/10. No real opportunity to deliver a decisive contribution but no complaints.
Shinnie/Gunter – Not on long enough for scores.