It wasn’t pretty by any stretch but if the object of the exercise was to ensure we were in the hat for the next round of the FA Cup, it was mission accomplished. If the purpose of the exercise was to entertain and offer hope going forward… at least we’re in the hat for the next round.
To be fair, hope did spring in the form of Teemu Pukki’s second-half excellence and a scoring return for Milot Rashica, so there were positive things to take away from The Valley aside from a goal to celebrate and a clean sheet.
That Charlton deserved more, and more than matched us for the whole 96 is irrelevant now. It was job done.
Yet there’s no escaping the paucity of performance in that first half, when City looked every ounce the Premier League whipping boys, so bereft of confidence that even the most simple and most basic of footballing tasks appeared beyond them.
After a bright and breezy opening few minutes, when it looked as if our finest may enjoy an afternoon free of Premier League angst, all of the pain and fear that’s so blighted the performances of the last few months gradually crept back in. Not to mention, alongside the pain and fear, the poor first touches, the under-hit/over-hit/misdirected passes, the missed tackles and the general lethargy that comes when the brain is fuddled and the legs unwilling.
I’ll not name names because, Tim Krul aside, they were all at it – including the experienced pros to whom the younger players look for guidance and leadership – but it was about as unedifying as anything we’ve seen this season. And that’s saying something.
Fair play to Charlton though. They were everything City weren’t – energetic, brave and buoyant. Had City had gone in at half-time a goal or two in arrears they could have had no complaints.
And this wasn’t one of those scenarios where we aim accusing glares towards the directors’ box and cite a lack of funding or recruitment as root causes of the first-half malaise. This wasn’t about coming up against opponents who were generally better, more skillful and more tactically aware.
This was about opponents who appeared to want it more. Who were stronger and more determined and who won every 50/50 going. Who won the individual battles.
But then Pukki, Rashica and Brandon Williams happened; the latter, in particular, addressing the lack of oomph and desire that was so apparent in minutes 1 to 45.
Dean Smith had clearly mixed and matched his XI from the start for all the right reasons, and he was also right to make that triple substitution at half-time.
While there was still plenty wrong with the performance, at least, through Pukki, there was some urgency and a much-needed focal point when we managed to make it into the Charlton half. Rashica added the quality, Williams the edge.
It still felt like a goal was never coming but when it eventually did, it was no surprise that Rashica and Pukki were the instigators. Worth noting too is that Kenny McLean’s only worthwhile contribution of the afternoon did at least release Pukki in that inside right channel; that area that brings so much success to the Finn.
There were of course the late scares to contend with, including that header from Purrington that crashed onto the crossbar in the dying seconds, but held on they did. And when that final whistle signalled only our fourth win of the whole campaign, we were hardly in a position to dismiss it as ‘only Charlton’.
The Addicks more than played their part and probably should have won the game, but they didn’t. And while it was right that Dean Smith and the players should enjoy the moment – so few and far between have they been – it was the fans behind that goal at The Valley who deserved it most. Heroes all.
Whether this is just a brief moment of light relief before normal service resumes at the London Stadium on Wednesday or whether the boost in confidence will produce something tangible remains to be seen, but how nice did it feel to actually win a game of football.
We’d best savour that moment.