Bristol Rovers’ attempts to claim their first victory against Charlton Athletic at The Valley in almost 60 years ended in failure on the opening day of the season this afternoon.
Having played much of the match with 10 men following the seventh minute dismissal of striker Lee Novak, central defender Patrick Bauer headed Charlton in front with what turned out to be the only goal of the game on 38 minutes.
Rovers enjoyed the majority of possession and territory following Novak’s departure but were restricted to few clear cut chances as Charlton showed good discipline to retain their shape throughout.
Chris Lines had one good early chance and goalkeeper Ben Amos had to make saves to deny Liam Sercombe and Tom Broadbent after the break, but Rovers were again forced to leave the Valley – a ground they have failed to secure a victory at in 16 previous visits – with nothing to show for their efforts.
Darrell Clarke had started the day by handing competitive full debuts to three of his summer signings. Adam Smith was given the nod to start in goal ahead of Sam Slocombe, while Sercombe started in a three-man midfield alongside Chris Lines and Ollie Clarke. Broadbent was asked to partner Tom Lockyer at the heart of defence.
Marc Bola and Tom Nichols were named on the bench, but on-loan Stoke City duo Ryan Sweeney and Dominic Telford were not registered in time to play after penning deals on Friday.
The match started in a lively fashion in keeping with the excitement of a new season and inside seven minutes there was a flashpoint that ended with Novak seeing a straight red.
Following a slightly heavy first touch to evade the challenge of Tom Broadbent, Novak attempted to make amends by lunging into a challenge with Stuart Sinclair.
Referee Chris Sarginson deemed that both of Novak’s feet had left the ground and produced the red card from his pocket soon after calm had been restored following a short altercation between some of the players.
Sinclair was back on his feet following a short period of treatment and Rovers quickly set about trying to make their numerical advantage count by popping the ball off short in an attempt to pull Charlton out of shape.
The first opening arrived on 11 minutes; Lines snatching at a loose ball and firing wide from a matter of yards after goalkeeper Ben Amos had fumbled Billy Bodin’s delivered free-kick from the right- hand side.
Darrell Clarke, meanwhile, was forced into a reshape earlier than he would have liked when James Clarke limped out of the action on 15 minutes to be replaced by Tom Nichols.
Nichols took up a position in the front three, while Sinclair dropped in at right back. The versatile midfielder had a job on his hands to take care of the lively Ricky Holmes, who skipped inside off the left to fire over the crossbar from distance as Charlton fashioned their first chance of the afternoon on 16 minutes.
Chris Lines and Liam Sercombe both failed to trouble Amos with tame efforts when on the counter attack before Charlton broke the deadlock against the run of possession.
Sinclair was penalised for a foul on Holmes and the winger dusted himself down to deliver a telling free kick that found the head of the unmarked Bauer inside the penalty area.
Smith almost kept the effort out, but, despite pushing the ball onto a post, the linesman indicated it had crossed the line to offer Charlton a precious half-time lead.
Rovers were out of the blocks quickly at the restart in an attempt to restore parity. Sercombe was presented with an opportunity on the half volley from the edge of the penalty area but rushed the finish and fired high and wide on 49 minutes.
The galloping midfielder did much better soon after when forcing Amos to repel a solid drive after Bodin had shown neat footwork and persistence to launch a counter attack from inside his own half.
At the other end, Smith made an easy save after Holmes had delicately curled a free kick around a wall of defenders in what was a rare foray forward as Rovers pressed for an equaliser.
Charlton’s defences were almost breached in unlikely fashion when Broadbent let fly from all of 3o yards only to be thwarted by Amos’ fingertips on the hour mark before Clarke looked to his bench to try and find a breakthrough.
Ryan Broom and Rory Gaffney were introduced to facilitate a switch to a 4-4-2 formation but other than a few scrambles in the penalty area and a spell of sustained pressure late on, Charlton were rewarded for their discipline and durability with an opening day victory.
Bristol Rovers: Adam Smith; James Clarke (Tom Nichols, 15) Tom Lockyer, Tom Broadbent, Lee Brown; Liam Sercombe, Chris Lines, Ollie Clarke (Ryan Broom, 65); Stuart Sinclair, Ellis Harrison (Rory Gaffney, 65), Billy Bodin. Subs: Sam Slocombe, Joe Partington, Jonathan Burn.
Charlton Athletic: Ben Amos, Ahmed Kashi, Patrick Bauer, Jason Pearce, Billy Clarke (Tony Watt, 70), Ricky Holmes (Andrew Croats 90), Tarique Fosu (Karlan Ahearne-Grant, 84), Jake Forster-Caskey, Chris Solly, Lee Novak, Jay Dasilva. Subs: Dillon Phillips, Ben Reeves, Ezra, Konya, Nabby Sarr.
Referee: Christopher Sarginson
Attendance: 12968 (2174).