Sunday 5th November 2017, 1400 KO
Charlton Athletic FC vs Truro City FC
The Build Up
I’m usually able to write these missives from a strictly neutral standpoint. Although I’ve naturally developed a fondness for some of the teams I’ve watched – usually based on the people I’ve met along the way, today is the first time where I’m genuinely going to struggle for any sort of neutrality. You see, despite not being a Truro City fan, I am a proud native of God’s County, the land of pasties, fishing and irritatingly large numbers of tourists every summer. So, when The White Tigers became Cornwall’s first representatives in the FA Cup proper since Falmouth Town lost 4-1 to Peterborough in 1969, my choice of match this weekend was an easy one.
When Truro City beat their Vanarama National League South rivals Hampton & Richmond 2-0 in the 4th Qualifying Round, I (along with thousands of others) watched the First Round draw with bated breath. The draw could hardly have been better – away from home against one of the biggest teams in the draw, Charlton Athletic. In fact, a Charlton Athletic side, who are flying high in League One. Currently 4th, they have a game in hand over Bradford City, who they would leapfrog in third with a win.
The Addicks have real FA Cup pedigree, having finished runners-up in 1946, and actually won the damn thing in 1947. All that feels a long way away at the moment (I mean, it is a long way away, 70 years in fact…) under the scandalous ownership of Roland Duchatelet. Charlton Athletic, and particularly their fans, have endured a torrid few years under the “management” of Duchatelet, and their fans have won widespread admiration from the football community for their actions to protest his ownership.
Whilst on paper, this would seem to be a one-sided fixture, Truro City will be hoping to emulate some of yesterday’s heroic performances – none more so than Oxford City and Maidstone United dumping out Football League opposition, whilst Slough Town put six past Gainsborough Trinity, a division higher than them in the Non-League system. Karl Robinson’s Addicks on the other hand, will be seeking to avoid the banana skin and ignominy of exiting the FA Cup at the first hurdle.
I made my way out to The Valley on the 1112 for Gravesend, through the bowels of South East London. It never ceases to astonish me just how bloody massive London is, and after an hour and a half of travelling, the rail network finally vomited me out at Charlton station. Out of the station, the ground is just a short walk away – a walk that is nicely broken up with a dip into The Valley Café. Bedecked in Charlton Athletic insignia and memorabilia, the café was already full by midday for a 1400 kick off. One substantial fried breakfast later and I was ready to head to the stadium.
The Valley has a 27,111 capacity, and today, around a thousand of those seats were filled by Truro City fans, who had made the trip of roughly 300 miles to watch Cornwall’s finest in action. The Valley is an immaculate ground, and quickly brings to mind Charlton’s Premier League exploits in the early part of the century. There are murals and billboards commemorating the club’s exceptional 1998 promotion, along with Sasa Illic’s famous penalty save. A happy reminder of what I like to refer to as the Clive Mendonca years.
A well-stocked club superstore, helpful stewards, and a press office that gives you both pies and coffee, all combine to make Charlton a very welcoming ground to visit. As the stadium started to fill up I noticed a poignant memorial to PC Keith Palmer, tragically killed at Westminster earlier this year. A lifelong Addicks fan, his banner in the East Stand is a fitting tribute.
In front of a minimalist Charlton crowd, only 4,494 fans in total, the match got underway. If the usual script to these fixtures is that the lower league team shuts up shop and attempts to nick a goal, then today’s match was going to be somewhat contrary to the norm. It took only four minutes for Truro to register their first opportunity, when Aaron Lamont was set up by Tyler Harvey, but saw his shot from the edge of the area comfortably saved by Ben Amos.
Only two minutes later, the Addicks threatened for the first time, when Ricky Holmes – absurdly fast, and justly abused by Truro’s support throughout for an equally absurd top knot – crossed from the left, but Jake Forster-Caskey’s header was well tipped onto the crossbar by Tom McHale in Truro’s goal.
In an almost socialist approach to chances, it was Truro’s turn next, when Harvey met a good cross but Amos dived full stretch and held on. Two minutes later, Truro would rue these early missed opportunities, when Ben Reeves put the home side ahead. After a lengthy injury layoff, he’ll be delighted with his goal, which was well made by Chelsea loanee, and England Under 20 skipper, Jay DaSilva. Reeves took DaSilva’s cross down well with his chest, and fired home left footed.
It was around twenty minutes in, shortly after some excellent goalkeeping by McHale, and a decent old-school goalmouth scramble in Charlton’s area, that I noticed one of Truro’s fans’ songs. They actually spell out the name of the club as part of the song, which strikes me as unnecessarily American. On reflection, and having been “educated” by the Cornish schooling system myself, I suppose the fact they at least spelled it correctly is cause for commendation.
On 42 minutes McHale was again pressed into action, when the effervescent Holmes set up a free kick. Given for a clumsy Ben Gerring challenge at the edge of the area, Holmes whipped in a low free kick, but McHale excellently sprang to his left to tip around the post.
The shrill pitch of the referee’s whistle signalled the interval. Despite acquitting themselves well and creating some early chances, Truro were being controlled professionally by Charlton. The pace of Holmes and DaSilva down the left, coupled with some excellent ball retention by Johnnie Jackson and Jake Forster-Caskey in midfield was proving too much for Truro. In fact, bar some excellent goalkeeping behaviour from McHale, it would have been more. The 22 year-old local lad had a very impressive first half, and would go on to do likewise in the second.
The second half began to a rousing refrain of “You Dirty Northern Bastards” by the Cornish travelling supporters. Always a treat when you hear that sung to a team comfortably south of the Thames. Of course, technically, it is accurate, and I imagine it’s a song that Truro fans get some use out of.
Unfortunately for those supporters, one of those dirty Northerners, Mark Marshall, from the notoriously northern outpost of Deptford, made it 2-0. Cutting inside his full back, Marshall worked the ball onto his left and struck. With the ball heading wide, a cruel/fortunate (depending on perspective) deflection took the ball past McHale and into the Truro net. After the match, Karl Robinson would describe Marshall as the best right footed right-winger in the division, and he certainly looked the business today.
Charlton’s lead lasted for approximately fifteen minutes, as Truro pushed hard for a way back into the match. After Marshall was sent through on goal, and a decent shot brought yet another save out of the heroically performing, and heroically ginger, McHale, Tyler Harvey went close at the other end. A snapshot in the box didn’t see the former Plymouth Argyle striker rewarded on this occasion, but on 59 minutes he got the goal he deserved.
When the energetic Aaron Lamont found time on the right side of midfield, he looked up and played the cross in towards Harvey. Despite being sandwiched between red-shirted defenders, the man with a barnet like Boromir rose highest, and with one majestic flick of his mane, halved Truro’s deficit. A thousand Cornishmen promptly went wild, and Truro looked firmly back in this match.
It was just the moment the away fans had been waiting for.
A new lease of life seemed to fill the White Tigers from this point on, with Masters-educated Noah Keats, and Truro College-educated Cody Cooke really upping their game. The man the resurgence was built on though was Aaron Lamont. The former QPR and Kingstonian midfielder was strength and aggression personified in the engine room at times, like a less hirsute Gattuso.
A pattern was established, of Truro pressing high up the pitch, and generally maintaining a level of threat against the Charlton goal. Karl Robinson was sufficiently worried to bring on top goalscorer Tarique Fosu, and he – and later Karlan Ahearne-Grant posed a real danger on the counter. There were definitely still goals to be had, it just remained to be seen whether the next goal would be 2-2 or 3-1.
As it happened, 3-1. Some good interplay between Ben Reeves and (I think) Jake Forster-Caskey, put Reeves clear in the box. Reeves, having scored already today, and once against Fulham U21s in the Checkatrade midweek, clearly has his shooting boots on, and tucked away in the bottom right, despite McHale’s touch.
If that third goal would have deflated most teams, not so Truro City. With the away fans roaring them on, the White Tigers pressed forward. As with the previous ten minutes, it was a toss-up whether they’d pull it back to one goal, or if Charlton would run away with it.
Chances came and went at both ends, with Truro substitute Andrew Neal going close on two occasions. Unfortunately, whilst he looks like a mini Antoine Griezemann, he doesn’t finish like one, and both his chances went straight at Ben Amos. With five minutes to go, Jake Forster-Caskey had two good chances to end the contest once and for all, but McHale saved well on one occasion, and JF-C hit the post when perfectly positioned on the other.
No great cup tie is complete without handbags, and on 90 minutes Andrew Neal and Ezri Konsa provided the goods. Nicknamed “Rocky” on the programme, Neal displayed his scrappy spirit by taking out Konsa, and then going head to stomach with him. A ballsy effort from Neal given that Konsa was approximately double his size.
McHale produced a final exceptional single-handed save before one last chance to reduce the arrears came and went for Truro City, when Tyler Harvey, Man of Gondor, headed against the crossbar. 3-1 the final score, after a highly creditable performance by the Vanarama National League South side.
The Wash Up
The post match press conference saw a very magnanimous Karl Robinson pay several compliments to his vanquished opponents. Truro put up a strong fight, and traded blow for blow with Charlton, but in the end the Football League side’s quality told. Either team could have scored more than they did, and Robinson knew it. As it is, he will be delighted to progress in the FA Cup, and certainly acknowledges the responsibility of managing a former winner of this grand competition.
Truro City will have won a great many admirers on today’s performance, and in amongst a great team effort, there were some standout performers. Aaron Lamont in midfield, alongside Noah Keats were tyros, and Jamie Richards was solid in defence. Their star men on the day, however, were Tyler Harvey and Tom McHale.
Both players clearly have the ability to play at a higher level, and Harvey has indeed done so at Plymouth Argyle. With the White Tigers sitting well in the league, and aiming for the Play Offs, Lee Hodges will hope that they’re able to do so with Truro City. A record-breaking FA Cup run comes to an end for Truro, but if they can carry this performance on into the league, they will surely dispatch Dartford next weekend with minimal difficulties.
For Karl Robinson and his side, the challenge is now to get into the automatic promotion places. Solid performances from his midfield, and a muscular display by Sarr and Konsa in defence will give him a warm and fuzzy feeling. Ben Reeves and Mark Marshall continued returns from injury with minutes and goals, but it was the left-wing duo of DaSilva and Holmes who really ran the show. Holmes was tricky and pacey, and both he and DaSilva delivered some perfect crosses from the left.
A solid performance today, even with a few key players missing, Charlton can look forward to the next round with confidence. Under Robinson’s stewardship, it may just be that the good times are returning to SE7.
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