Brewers profit from Charlton disasterpiece
With a month to go until Christmas Eve, it was very much the season for giving at the Pirelli Stadium, as Charlton’s makeshift defence repeatedly shot themselves in the foot to the benefit of a tactically brilliant Burton Albion side.
Lucas Akins and Joe Powell were the gleeful recipients of two gifts as Charlton tried to play out from the back, with Sam Hughes and Charles Vernam later benefitting from the Addicks’ ponderous rearguard. Paul Smyth’s first Charlton goal and a fine strike from Chucks Aneke had reduced the arrears for the visitors in-between times.
The Addicks had previously been unbeaten in League One for eight games, while Burton started the evening bottom of the table after a tough start to life under rookie manager, Jake Buxton. But the South London side were second best from the start, struggling with the intensity of the fired-up hosts. Burton were happy to allow Charlton’s two centre backs time on the ball, before springing a ferocious and effective press whenever the visitors tried to play into midfield.
When Burton did win the ball back, they looked for rapid transitions into the spaces vacated by Charlton as they looked to play out. But the hosts did occasionally put together some tidy prolonged passages of play as well. The first of these came on seven minutes, as a patient move eventually released John Brayford down the right, but he elected to fizz in a low cross when he might have gone for goal himself.
However, it didn’t take long for the home side to break the deadlock, and Charlton’s demise was very much self-inflicted. As the away side looked for a route through Burton’s solid mid-block, Chris Gunter played a square pass, which was intercepted by the alert Lucas Akins, leaving the experienced frontman free to race through on goal. His poor initial effort was saved by League One player of the month Ben Amos. However, the ball squirted towards goal, allowing Akins to tap into an empty net.
With 15 minutes on the clock, Charlton finally managed to play quickly through the lines, leading to a shot from Omar Bogle, which was tipped over by Burton stopper Kieran O’Hara. But this was a rare occurrence, and with just shy of half an hour gone, Lee Bowyer switched from 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3, and shortly afterwards introduced Chucks Aneke for Bogle, in an attempt to change the Addicks’ fortunes by adopting a much more direct approach.
The home side, though, continued to fashion the better openings. Having already made one glaring mistake, Gunter was perhaps fortunate not to be sent off, as his deliberate handball prevented Akins from once again running clean through on goal. Then a quick break from Burton down the left saw an excellent cross aimed at the arriving Ciaran Gilligan, but he couldn’t divert his header goalwards on the stretch.
That should perhaps have served as a warning to Bowyer’s side; they did not heed it. Once again the Addicks were guilty of overplaying at the back. This time, the usually reliable Amos took too many touches and, under pressure from Akins, gifted the ball straight to Joe Powell, who punished him with a smart dinked finish.
There was little to suggest that Charlton would be able to mount a fightback, but the Brewers’ defence, the division’s leakiest, was soon breached again as they allowed the visitors back into the game from a corner. After a spell of pinball in the box, Queen’s Park Rangers loanee Paul Smyth volleyed into the roof of the net at the second attempt to breathe new life into the Addicks.
Half time: Burton 2-1 Charlton
Charlton came out in the second half with renewed vigour and an even greater determination to play long up to the muscular Aneke. The forward, though, could only look on in dismay as Burton restored their two-goal cushion. The visitors fell asleep and failed to respond to a well-worked short corner, allowing the recalled Sam Hughes a free header. His initial effort was saved by Amos, but Hughes made no mistake from the rebound.
Bowyer was once again stung into a response, introducing Albie Morgan and top scorer Connor Washington. The former, in particular, made a difference. He first slipped in Aneke down the right, whose low, hard cross was parried by O’Hara before Alex Gilbey’s header was cleared on the line. Next, Morgan himself was the man to race through into the right channel. He went for goal, but O’Hara was not caught out by the near post effort.
But there was nothing O’Hara could do about Aneke’s touch of magic with just under an hour played. Morgan again found himself in space on the right before drifting in a cross towards the big striker. He was side-on to goal but managed to control the ball on his chest while holding off his marker, before producing a sumptuous bicycle kick into the corner. The phrase, ‘good touch for a big man’ was tailor-made for just such moments.
Charlton were very much in the ascendency at this point, with a couple of dangerous crosses narrowly avoiding their target, before Washington was sent into space in the inside left channel, but saw his shot blocked. However, the visitors once again mustered little resistance as Burton plundered their fourth goal of the night. The busy Charles Vernom scampered down the left, evading several challenges before playing the ball into Akins at the near post. He held up the ball before laying it back to Vernom, who scored with his second bite of the cherry after Amos’ initial save.
The away side continued to look shaky at the back. When a simple long ball was not dealt with, Joe Powell ghosted in for a one-on-one, but his heavy touch allowed Amos to smother. Charlton didn’t give up and managed one final chance. As the clock ticked into stoppage time, Washington scurried onto a through ball into the left channel and seemed to have done the hard work, cutting inside two Brewers defenders onto his right foot, but his shot was blocked by his own teammate.
Full time: Burton 4-2 Charlton
Burton merited their win. In the first half, their shape and press were spot on, and they carried out their game plan with tremendous desire and work rate. Jake Buxton deserves great credit for setting up his side to totally nullify Charlton and exploit them in transition. They were gifted goals, but even without that created better openings.
Charlton came on much stronger in the second half but still looked vulnerable at the back, and even though they looked much more threatening going forward, the damage had already been done.
Man of the Match: Lucas Akins
It seems like Akins has been around forever, but the 31-year-old showed why he has been such a key player for Burton for so long. He got a bit of luck with the finish for his goal but deserved it for making the interception in the first place. He led from the front brilliantly, dropping to cut passing lanes before pressing with hunger when the ball was played forward. He also held up the ball brilliantly, which relieved pressure on the hosts and helped them build attacks, and it was his impressive hold-up play that set up the final goal of the night for Vernom. Akins’ work ethic and attitude typified this Burton performance, which will give them real belief that they have what it takes to beat the drop.