It is done and finally tenth place it is to be. As end-of-season affairs go the game itself was passably diverting, with four goals, a stream of other chances (of which we had the majority), a referee reluctant to view fouls in the box as penalties, and the chance to blood some more youngsters. We probably should have won, but through the game Cheltenham looked capable of scoring and had marginally the better of the second half. So nobody’s really begrudging them a point in front of their own fans; and it matters very, very little. It is a game which few will remember to conclude a season we want to forget – other than for it marking the arrival of Holden.
The team saw Dobson given the day off to avoid the risk of a ban at the start of next season, Clare not risked, the available again Inniss overlooked, and the absence of Bonne, Kane, Penney and Kilkenny reflecting their chances of being seen again. Egbo and Sessegnon started as the full-backs either side of Hector and Thomas; Henry took the midfield holding role, with Morgan and Fraser to accompany him, Campbell and Rak-Sakyi either side of Leaburn. To say the bench had a youthful feel to it would be an understatement, with Kanu and Mitchell joined by Rylah, Asiimwe and Roddy; Payne sitting with them on the bench must have felt like he’d turned up at an U21 game by mistake.
In the first half we had enough good chances to have led by more than one, perhaps to have put the game to bed. Inside 10 minutes Fraser had the ball in the net only to have been judged offside; then Morgan shot powerfully but over the bar, Rak-Sakyi and Egbo combined down the right, leading to the latter trying a sneaky effort which was turned behind, a corner reached Campbell at the far post only for him to demonstrate that, for now at least, headed goals from him are going to be rare, then Campbell cut across the box to find Morgan and his cross probably should have been converted by Rak-Sakyi. We did finally take the lead on 34 minutes as a well-timed Thomas ball forward found Morgan, who moved it on to Campbell. He cut inside and tried his luck. The shot was deflected but dropped kindly for Fraser, who managed a deft touch around the keeper before he planted it across their backtracking defender and into the net.
Before the break it really should have been two, one way or another. A good break and Fraser played it across for Rak-Sakyi to run in on the keeper, albeit with a defender getting across. He opted not to shoot first time, cut back but then stumbled and the keeper blocked his effort, then as Rak-Sakyi tried to go beyond him to have another go the keeper stuck out his leg to bring him down. No penalty awarded.
For sure it wasn’t all one-way traffic. Cheltenham had the ball in dangerous positions several times, although I can’t remember Maynard-Brewer actually being called on to make a meaningful save.
Whatever our first-half edge, only a few minutes into the second and the game was all-square. Maynard-Brewer cleared rather indecisively and their guy shot from their left side. It proved a carbon copy of a recent one at The Valley as Maynard-Brewer dived to his left to stop the shot, only to direct it into the path of another attacker who tapped it into an empty net. Once more the opposition had been more alive than us to the possibility of a rebound, while Maynard-Brewer may need to work on trying to make sure shots are diverted to safety.
Not long after Cheltenham could have been awarded a penalty as Sessegnon was caught out by a ball over his head and in struggling to recover let his arm dangle and it made contact with the ball. As was noted afterwards on Charlton TV, you have seen them given. Not by this ref it seems.
Really the next twenty minutes or so could have seen either side take the lead. Rak-Sakyi had another penalty appeal turned down, Campbell collected a long ball forward and tried without success to chip their keeper, then Sessegnon got to the byline but Rak-Sakyi couldn’t convert the cross. From the same side Campbell kept the ball in play and advanced along the goalline, setting up Fraser, whose shot was creeping inside the far post before being turned around. Equally somehow Maynard-Brewer and Hector combined to stop their guy from scoring.
We did take the lead again with less than 10 minutes on the clock, via a combination of astute thinking by Payne – who had joined the fray along with Asiimwe, replacing Henry and Egbo - and slack play on their part. Their keeper rather telegraphed a ball out and Payne pounced on it before it reached the defender, took it on, and finished well. But there was still time for Cheltenham to be denied another penalty as Hector rather put himself in the way of their guy running through. And time enough for them to equalise again as their leading scorer May gave a demonstration that he didn’t need to be asked twice when given a sight of goal. Mitchell – who had only just come on, for Rak-Sakyi, after Roddy and Rylah made their debuts, for Sessegnon and Campbell – gave him a little too much space after he collected the ball and he set himself then shot home well from the edge of the area.
That proved to be it, honours even. We had put in a credible enough performance in the circumstances and bloodied more youngsters. Now the curtain is drawn and the focus shifts back to what on earth is happening on the ownership front and whether we can really believe that before any actual change a budget has been agreed for us to create the squad necessary to challenge for promotion next season. Obviously the jury is out on that. And there is an awful lot to be done, including dealing with those still under contract returning from loan spells, before we can draw any conclusions.