Taylor 63, Grant 90
By Kevin Nolan at The Valley
The visit of Shewsbury Town to The Valley gave Charlton an early opportunity to wreak vengeance on the team which dismissed them from the League One play-offs just three months ago. Vengeance of a diluted sort, it should be said, since only five Shrews survived of the 17 who finished the job with a second deceptively close 1-0 victory in Shropshire. Both goalscorers – Jon Nolan and Stefan Payne – were recently sold, as were key defender Aristote Nsiala and dangerous winger Alex Rodman. Town have changed -but ominously not for the better.
Still smarting from their cruel defeat at Sunderland, from the defiant ashes of which Lee Bowyer was justified in drawing considerable encouragement, Charlton’s future is clearly tied up in youth. No fewer than 10 of Saturday’s squad were academy graduates, with precocious 18 year-old debutant Albie Morgan the first to have been born in the new millenium. The New Eltham assembly line, where Steve Avory and Jason Euell head the nurturing system, remains a source of pride and pleasure at a club otherwise torn apart by inner strife. There’s nothing a football fan enjoys more than singing the praises of “one of their own.” Charlton supporters are spoiled for choice.
“You win nothing with kids,” of course, and Bowyer’s shrewd summer acquisitions, Darren Pratley and Lyle Taylor, made the case for experience. A non-stop bundle of energy, Pratley belied his 33 years in covering every blade of The Valley’s manicured surface. The veteran tackled, covered and passed with an urgency undimmed by age. And the cross he supplied for Karlan Grant’s matchwinner was, by any standards, extraordinary.
With his second strike in as many games, relative youngster Taylor is already on his way to solving Charlton’s chronic goalscoring problem. A handful for any defence at this level -as the Addicks have more than once discovered to their cost – the 28 year-old’s movement and anticipation are that of a born centre forward. Taylor was a thorn in Shrewsbury’s side. An even bigger nuisance alongside him was homegrown Karlan Grant, who tore the visitors’ central defenders apart in his best performance in the red shirt. Bowyer’s patience with an often frustrating but clearly talented youngster -still only 20- seems about to be rewarded.
The first half of Charlton’s ultimately satisfying victory was dreary. If, as W.C. Fields advised, the best cure for imsomnia is to get plenty of sleep, then a re-run of these opening 45 minutes must surely run it close. For the Addicks, Taylor’s shrewd pass sent Grant through but left back Ryan Haynes’ crucial tackle snuffed out the danger. At the other end, Alex Gillead headed tamely into Dillon Phillips’s hands and Greg Docherty dragged a clearcut chance wide. An otherwise forgettable experience at least provided a showcase for the central midfield excellence of Joe Aribo.
Bowyer’s interval adjustment from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2, with Mark Marshall making way for Morgan, evergreen Chris Solly adapting seamlessly on the left side of three centre backs and with George Lapslie and Lewis Page pushing up on the flanks, loosened Charlton’s bonds. The early going favoured the visitors, however, with Solly materialising magically on the goalline to clear Docherty’s shot, then Dillon Phillips reacting smartly to smother Aaron Amadi-Holloway’s downward header. But it was the Addicks who seized a coveted lead on 63 minutes.
Showing strength and persistence near the right byline, Aribo resisted James Bolton’s challenge and bought time to find George Lapslie in cleverly engineered space. The indefatigable kid’s fine cross was met by Taylor, who rose above a posse of straining defenders to nod neatly inside the left post.
As usual, unfortunately, Charlton proved unable to protect their advantage. There were six increasingly tense minutes left when Fejiri Okenabirhie broke away on the left to deliver a dipping centre, which useful substitute Lenell John-Lewis glanced across Phillips into the opposite corner of his net.
With the issue finely balanced, Bowyer was pleased with his side’s reaction. “To keep going the way we did shows that their will to keep fighting to the end is a special thing.” In the last minute of normal time, that will paid off.
Morgan’s foot-on-the-ball coolness made room for the chipped pass which picked out Pratley, tightly marked near the right corner flag but still able to improvise a cross of outstanding quality. Brushing in front of his marker at the near post, Grant managed an athletic header over Joel Coleman, which squeezed into the far corner. Celebrations were wild, energetic and proved that, despite dire predictions to the contrary, Charlton’s overwhelmingly youthful spirit may be bruised but never broken. Let’s hear it for the kids. And just as loudly for the old ‘uns.
Charlton: Phillips 6, Solly 8, Bauer 7, Sarr 6, Page 6, Marshall 6 (Morgan 46, 7), Aribo 8, Pratley 8, Lapslie 7 (Dijksteel 89), Taylor 8 (Hackett-Fairchild 90), Grant 9. Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Ajose, Maloney.
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