BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Charlton Athletic moved back into the League One play-off places as they produced a gritty 2-1 win at table-topping Portsmouth.
If there was wrongs to be righted after defeat at Blackpool on Saturday, the Addicks did exactly that.
This was about digging deep, particularly in a second half where the Charlton defence was tested time and time again.
First-half goals from Karlan Grant and Nicky Ajose were enough – just. Andre Green gave Pompey late hope of a comeback and six minutes of stoppage time was the last thing that the tired visitors wanted.
On-loan Millwall midfielder Ben Thompson was dismissed in the closing stages. The straight red shown by referee John Brooks as he went in for a 50-50 challenge with Lyle Taylor only plummeted his popularity further with the home support, who got increasingly incensed at decisions they felt went against them. A steady stream of penalty appeals were waved away by the official.
It is the second time in a row that Charlton have won at Fratton Park.
The only thing that wasn’t perfect about the first half from an Addicks perspective was an injury to Grant.
The in-form frontman had already pulled up slightly with a hamstring injury even before he had scored the opening goal of the evening.
Grant’s pace had unsettled Portsmouth in the first 30 minutes but his replacement Ajose produced a notable moment of his own not long after.
Charlton defended so well that Jed Steer did not have a save of note to make during the first period.
His opposite number Craig MacGillivray had to turn away a Lyle Taylor shot after Grant had flicked on Patrick Bauer’s long ball forward.
And whenever Charlton popped a pass over the top to chase it was a problem for the hosts.
Naby Sarr failed to pull the trigger when Jason Pearce dropped a header at the Frenchman’s feet on 21 minutes.
Three minutes later it was 1-0. Joe Aribo climbed above Ben Thompson to win a high ball on the edge of the Pompey box and Taylor fired a wicked cross across the face of goal for Grant to force it home at the back post.
The hosts’ best chance came after that. Jamal Lowe easily turned Sarr and slipped in Nathan Thompson but his cross was just too high for Millwall loanee Ben Thompson.
Grant was sending out distress signals and his game was over on 35 minutes. Some home fans chanted “whooooooo?” when Ajose came on – maybe they needed a reminder he had scored the winner in the same fixture last season.
And they got that reminder on 43 minutes. George Lapslie did well to keep the ball in on the right touchline – with Portsmouth players stopping as they thought it had gone out of play. Instead the academy product crossed for Taylor to flick into the path of Ajose, who kept his composure to finish from close range.
The Portsmouth onslaught, as expected, came from the start of the second half.
Addicks boss Lee Bowyer soon replaced Ben Reeves for Mark Marshall to try and slow Lee Brown’s surges down the left flank.
There were still sightings of goal for Charlton but on at least two occasions they failed to find Taylor when the striker was in space.
The tricky Lowe drove narrowly over the bar before a series of frantic goalmouth scrambles which the Addicks managed to emerge unscathed from.
Steer, booked for timewasting near the very end, did not have many shots to save despite the pressure – instead needing to be alert in the scrambles inside the Charlton area.
The Addicks had defended manfully but finally cracked on 87 minutes as substitute Green halved the deficit.
Thompson was sent off in stoppage time. He was never going to pull out of a challenge on the halfway line with Taylor and it was a surprise to see Brooks decide on an instant dismissal.
Lapslie, perpetual motion all night, won a late free-kick as he bravely put his head in and caught a high boot off Tom Naylor, who was cautioned.
It summed Charlton up on the night – courageous and ready to battle for a big three points.
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