So, which Charlton would turn up tonight? The disciplined and determined outfit which took on Rotherham and kept a clean sheet, won the game (and could have scored more than one), or the one which decided defending was a little beneath it at home to Morecambe, coughed up three goals, and lost? We were away, against a team above us in the league, a game which we surely had to win to keep alive hopes of a 12th-place finish, all of which pointed to the former; but it was ‘only’ Cambridge, who apparently made seven changes to look at options at the end of the season, comfortable in their position.
In the event we had something between the two I’d say. It was no classic but the conditions apparently played a part, with a difficult pitch and swirling wind. We did give away chances in the first half but Cambridge didn’t get anything on target – and ended up with their stats saying only one out of ten attempts (although it’s not clear if that total included one in the first half headed for goal but deflected wide and one in the second saved by MacGillivray but inexplicably resulting in a goal-kick, not a corner). We finished the game with nine efforts on target out of 14 attempts – but with it not clear if the nine included our two goals as both of them came courtesy of wicked deflections. It was that sort of night. Perhaps most important we did in the end deserve the points.
Still without Inniss, Lee and Fraser the team saw one straight swap, Washington off the bench and Burstow back on it, while among the subs Purrington missed out, seemingly with a slight knock, and Elerewe was able to return from injury, leaving him as the only defensive replacement (unless you count Jaiyesimi and Leko as possible wing-backs).
The first half was patchy, low on quality, neither side able to really take a grip on the game. Every now and then a chance would come along at either end and not be taken. I’d count it as 3-3 on good openings. First Cambridge broke down our right side, the ball was played on to a guy in space inside our box, suspicions of offside. In any event he curled the effort just wide, should at least have hit the target. Then on 20 minutes a Cambridge shot seemed to have the beating of MacGillivray but a deflection off Clare took it wide of the far post. Just after Gilbey played a ball down the left inside their full-back and Blackett-Taylor seemed to be in on goal. But he didn’t seem able to keep the ball under good control and the shot when it came was weak and saved comfortably.
From the resulting corner Pearce had a free header but put it wide. A Cambridge short corner caught us out, the ball was pulled back but the shot curled over the bar, then just before the break a high ball forward was taken down superbly by Washington and taken on, but his next touch took him rather wide and the eventual shot from a narrow angle was saved. So of our three decent openings two had at least made their keeper work whereas none of theirs had.
At the break it was quite frankly anybody’s game and it’s fair to say that in the second period we did get on top and Cambridge visibly wilted, despite making a number of changes. CBT was at the heart of most good moments, threatening every time he received the ball, although our first real chance came from the other side as Dobson found Washington in the channel on the right. He delivered a good cross and Stockley got to it OK, only to head just wide. Morgan found Washington just inside the box only for their keeper to gather an effort to chip him into the far corner, followed by a cross from the left headed back by Stockley for Gilbey, whose header was well-directed but lacked the pace to beat their keeper.
The goal did finally come with about 20 minutes left. And it was lucky. Morgan played it forward for Blackett-Taylor, who cut inside onto his right foot. On the replays you really can’t tell if it was a shot or a pass across goal. Either way it cannoned off their defender and into the net. We all hope he gets given the goal, but it would be stretching a point.
Almost immediately after Cambridge had probably their most dangerous moment of the second half, as a shot from outside the box was not only fumbled by MacGillivray but palmed back across him into the danger zone. Fortunately for him Pearce got to the loose ball first and managed to hack it clear. Aneke came on for Stockley and within a few minutes had played his part in us extending our lead. Clare did well to win the ball back in their final third and Aneke had a go from distance. This one deflected off Washington and past their stranded keeper. There were appeals for offside, afterwards Washington said he was trying to duck out of the way only for the ball to hit his head, all gossip as the scoreboard said 0-2 and that was the game.
A final 10 minutes and three of stoppage time were played out without serious alarm, although there was one moment of near farce as a ball in from their left side saw their forward shove Jaiyesimi (who had by then come on for CBT) out of the way, then handle it, then get his shot away. This was turned around by MacGillivray. Either our foul or a corner. The ref gave a goal-kick. C’est la vie.
The result leaves us leading the second half of the division. With two games left we can still make it up to 12th; worst case would be 17th. It really is incumbent on the team to give The Valley a decent performance and a victory over Shrewsbury to round things off there, before a final match at Ipswich. Then we can finally draw a line under this one and concentrate on the next.