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Charlton v Doncaster: FLW Reports from a classic at The Valley

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It’s nights like Friday evening at The Valley that remind you, amid all that goes on off of the field even now, Charlton Athletic are a football club – and a well-supported one at that.

Arriving early, as most of the 25,000 plus crowd did – their biggest here since 2012 – you got the sense that tonight was a night purely for football enjoyment, and the crowd were going to do their best to squeeze everything out of it.

Doncaster Rovers, the away side, were underdogs for this one but, as they have done all year, they grasped that tag – and the wall of noise welcoming them – with both hands as a classic played out in South East London.

If it was crackling before kick-off, it took just two minutes for the home side to lift the decibel count in this corner of the Capital through the roof, as Krystian Bielik nodded home.

The Wembley dream was on but, as has been the case so often in these play-offs this year, things didn’t quite go how Addicks fans would have liked the script – things got edgy.

After appearing rattled early on, as you may well appreciate, Doncaster Rovers rallied and were soon exerting some of their own style on this game and it wasn’t long until they were level – Tommy Rowe driving home in fine style from the edge of the box.

Doncaster, of course, were not expected to even be here at this stage of the season; if you listened to many pundits at the start of the campaign they’d have been more likely in the bottom six than the top.

But, here they were, and they were ready to cause one more upset.

An even first-half played out, perhaps not at the tempo the opening ten minutes may have promised, but both had chances; John Marquis, James Coppinger and Patrick Bauer all having the opportunity to score.

The second-half rolled around with them level, though, and both sides were clearly aware of what they were 45 minutes away from.

The first ten minutes of the match were breathless and much of what followed in the ensuing 80 was tense, rushed even. Engrossing to watch but all the same undoubtedly taxing to those packed in under the lights and those watching at home.

Fouls were given, passes were hurried, this became a game poised on a knife-edge, needing that one bit of quality to decide it – and there were plenty on the pitch to help provide.

Lyle Taylor and Josh Parker combined for the latter to just jab wide, the best chance of the second half, and Charlton were getting closer – both to a winner and a place at Wembley.

But then, with minutes to go, Doncaster did what they’ve done for so long – they revived themselves yet again.

A corner from the left, Andy Butler nodded home to level the tie overall and, now, it was the away support in raptures – with just minutes left of normal time.

Doncaster had their tails up and in the dying embers could, and should, have won it. Mallik Wilks flashing a shot across that John Marquis just needed to touch – he could not. Silence at The Valley, for about half a second.

Extra time began, then, and perhaps fittingly given the nature of these play-offs this year, all hell broke loose.

For want of a better description which, minutes after watching such a display, is difficult, this game descended into chaos – in a good way.

The shackles were off it seemed, tension faded and Doncaster took the lead in the tie, now they were the side on the brink of making it to Wembley; they were the side backed by a hefty noise from the stands.

For a minute.

Darren Pratley – on at half-time in normal time to help shore things up for Charlton (how that worked) made it 4-4 on aggregate.

The atmosphere was still incredibly loud, though now no-one really knew what they were shouting for. Delerium and desperation had set in. This match had evolved into something more than just a football game – how the play-off marketers will have loved this.

Truly, only this sport can suck you in as it did everyone in all four corners of the ground and, fittingly for a game that had offered so much of this sport’s facets and traits in 120 minutes, we ended with penalties.

The cruellest of ways to bow out of any competition, this shootout seemed extra harsh on the side that was to lose it and, to the delight of a home crowd that was clearly ready to see in the weekend, it was Doncaster that fell short.

The party at The Valley began though, in truth, it had about three hours earlier – with some considerable dips on the way – and now the Addicks will be planning a bigger bash at Wembley, providing they still have their voices.

ScoopDragon Football News Network