Aribo 24, Cullen 42
BY KEVIN NOLAN AT PRIESTFIELD STADIUM
With one eye trained warily on the play-offs, Lee Bowyer’s recent team selections have tightrope-walked the finest of lines in brinkmanship.
His competitive reluctance to concede defeat has been carefully weighed against the need to tackle the post-season melee with a fully-functioning squad.
And apart from his ill-fated use of Chris Solly at left back, his choices have been intuitive.
Judging correctly that Gillingham would approach this fixture with less than their usual fervour once League One survival had been assured, Bowyer made four changes from the side which demolished Scunthorpe.
Lyle Taylor and Patrick Bauer were rested, with Ben Reeves and Albie Morgan dropped to bench duty.
Starts were given to George Lapslie, Darren Pratley, Jonny Williams and Jason Pearce.
Both performance and result vindicated the manager’s decisions.
Gillingham were airily dismissed and routinely beaten by first half goals scored significantly by midfielders. The opener was Joe Aribo’s eighth of a barnstorming season, but even more pleasing was Josh Cullen’s first for the club, a close range finish which rewarded the talented West Ham loanee’s instinct for supporting his forwards in the opposition’s penalty area.
In a dominant midfield, among which 34-year-old Pratley was admirably “down with the kids”, Aribo was frequently unplayable.
A ceaselessly mobile bundle of effective energy, he was impossible to dispossess; his range of passing imaginative; his will to win no doubt especially dear to his manager’s heart. His was a “horse” of a game. A protective rest next Saturday might be advisable since the loss of Charlton’s driving force prior to the play-offs, though unthinkable, starts as a racing certainty in this injury-ravaged campaign.
Pratley and Williams, meanwhile, brought contrasting measures of pragmatism and dash to a hustling, bustling midfield which outclassed Gills. Pratley “won it and gave it” in deference to his more expansive colleagues, Williams ran exuberantly with the ball, drawing fouls as usual but needing a goal to rubberstamp his enthusiastic contributions. His solitary chance was deftly laid on by Aribo but was blasted high over the bar.
At the back for the relaxed visitors, an innovative three- cum-four set-up comprising the dramatically improving Anfernee Dijksteel, Pearce, Naby Sarr and Ben Purrington were unruffled by Gillingham’s progressively feeble incursions. Behind them, Dillon Phillips was required to make only one noteworthy save, a spectacular tip-over of Tahvon Campbell’s potent strike on the turn before the interval.
A fifth clean sheet in Charlton’s last seven games was achieved against hosts prematurely celebrating another season in League One.
Aribo’s goal virtually ended Gills’ token resistance. Before he scored, Igor Vetokele, a livewire up front without Taylor’s galvanic presence, had broken away but was overhauled by Barry Fuller, one of three ex Addicks in the home side.
Phillips’ fine save from Campbell followed, then Aribo crucially struck. Combining with Purrington on the left, he received the left back’s pass via a faint deflection off Max Ehmer before placing a crisp low drive beyond Tomas Holy’s reach inside the right post. Now adding goals to his impressive repertoire, Aribo was unforgivably omitted from the League One All-Star team as selected by his peers. You might have expected fellow professionals to appreciate his all-round excellence but, in this instance, you might also be disappointed. The chosen 11 was Barnsley-dominated and Addick-free, much to Bowyer’s disbelief.
Cullen’s overdue goal arrived three minutes before the break. He was perfectly placed to convert the rebound after Holy found Williams’ low drive too hot to handle.
After Dijksteel’s breakthrough last week, a 13th name was thus added to Charlton’s list of 2018-19 goalscorers, a total Purrington came close to swelling when he arrived at the far post early in the second half to meet Williams’ right wing centre.
His volley was venomously struck but kept out by Holy. The keeper also pulled off a double save to deny Vetokele – reward for an industrious, bighearted performance.
With the naming on the bench of long-term absentees Jake Forster-Caskey and Lewis Page, Bowyer’s squad is dangerously close to being at full strength. Forster-Caskey will find it difficult to break into the Addicks’ well-stocked midfield, to which the almost indispensable Krystian Bielik is expected to return next Saturday against Rochdale.
Likewise, Page’s recall to the starting line-up will surely be delayed by the fine form of Purrington, an unsung, discreetly acquired signing who has made the left back berth his own.
They are problems, so we are told, that a manager loves to solve. He may be mulling over the fact that Rochdale beat his side 1-0 at their place in October. Play-offs or not, he owes ’em one. So first things first.
Charlton (3-4-2-1) Phillips 7, Dijksteel 7, Pearce 8, Sarr 7, Purrington 7, Cullen 8, Pratley 7, Lapslie 6 (Morgan 86), Williams 7 (Parker 78), Aribo 10, Vetokele. Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Forster-Caskey, Reeves, Page, Doughty.
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