Grant 6 Taylor 9 pen
BY KEVIN NOLAN AT THE VALLEY
As usual, bad news awaited slightly more than 10,000 Charlton fans at The Valley on Saturday.
For varying reasons, the fall-out from defeat at Barnsley had cost Lee Bowyer three more important players from his already wafer-thin squad. Chris Solly was suspended, Jason Pearce injured and loanee goalkeeper Jed Steer recalled by Aston Villa, his parent club.
The groans were audible and familiar.
Resourceful as ever, boss Bowyer named Toby Stevenson as Solly’s deputy, Naby Sarr came in for Pearce, with 23-year-old Dillon Phillips stepping up for Steer.
The rookie guv’nor was rewarded by solid performances from all three replacements, with Sarr, in particular, making an outstanding contribution, which included a heroic goal-line clearance.
He could also be pleased with the skill and persistence shown by precocious 18-year old Albie Morgan, whose youthful energy was preferred to Darren Pratley’s experience in midfield.
It wasn’t all bad news anyway. Not while irrepressible matchday mascots Stanley McSweeney (10) and Ollie Way (5), Charlton’s very own Stan and Ollie, were around.
Like the peerless originals, they’d liven up a graveyard or even cheer up a beleaguered manager.
Bowyer’s spirits were lifted anyway by the lightning start his patched-up side made to this suddenly critical match.
Within eight breakneck minutes, they were two goals in front and were doing to Walsall what Barnsley had done to them just three days previously.
Capable of magical moments, Tariqe Fosu was the inspiration behind Karlan Grant’s sixth-minute opener.
Intercepting Morgan Ferrier’s errant pass inside the visitor’s half, he alertly read the striker’s run and lanced an early ball between Walsall’s centre-backs.
Grant’s pace carried him clear to slot his 11th goal of a reborn season through Liam Roberts’ legs.
Bowyer’s grin grew broader almost immediately when Morgan broke clear on the right, outpaced pursuit and drilled over a low cross intended for the ever-predatory Lyle Taylor.
Roberts was favoured to beat the forward to the ball but Jack Fitzwater took matters into this own hands, both figuratively and literally. His panicky tug on Taylor’s shirt had him bang to rights in front of well-placed referee Ross Joyce, leaving Taylor to make confident work of converting the inevitable penalty.
Charlton were briefly rampant with Jon Guthrie’s last-ditch block denying Taylor a second goal. As their opening momentum began to abate, however, the visitors improved and Josh Gordon’s tame shot at Phillips at least marked a subtle change in emphasis.
Before the interval, Gordon met Nicky Devlin’s cross with a venomous volley which screamed wide of Phillips but was forcefully headed off the line by Sarr, using every one of his 6ft 5ins to make the clearance. Before the break, a fine low save by Phillips from the unlucky Gordon served further warning that the issue was far from settled.
Two minutes following resumption, the Saddlers duly halved their arrears and were back in the hunt. Centre-forward Andy Cook skilfully chested down Luke Leahy’s pass, turned sharply and placed a low drive beyond Phillips into the bottom left corner.
With almost an entire second half still left to play, the Addicks were vulnerable, as 172 previously tranquil Midlanders behind the away goal were quick to point out.
They were briefly silenced on the hour when Taylor powerfully headed Ben Reeves’s wickedly inswinging corner past Roberts but found their voice again when news reached them the goal had been disallowed for an offence visible only to an interfering linesman. Presumably he spotted a nudge on the keeper. If he did, he spotted alone.
Beavering away in search of an equaliser, Walsall had one or two moments before their tiring hosts – described as “absolutely shattered” by Bowyer – crawled across the line.
Cook continued to be dangerous and, after shouldering Bauer aside, cut in from the left and shot narrowly wide of the far post. Another of his efforts was courageously blocked by Krystian Bielik.
It started well, tailed off into neutrality and ended in well-rehearsed anxiety. But this was a vital victory for a side which has borne far more than its natural, attritional share of injuries.
The sight of Reeves limping painfully off before the end was all too familiar to Bowyer and a wearied Valley. With Sunderland due tomorrow, that old joke about bringing your boots along gained fresh legs.
In a final flourish, the massive Sarr was the perfect choice to effect the tunnel jump tradition. His massive frame carried it off impressively before he departed to the imaginary strains of “The Cuckoo Waltz” better known as Laurel and Hardy’s signature tune.
That’s the appropriate ditty for this resilient band of brothers, not to mention young mascots Stan and Ollie, chips off a much-loved block.
Charlton (4-4-2): Phillips 7. Dijksteel 6, Bauer 6, Sarr 8, Stevenson 7, Bielik 7, Morgan 7, Reeves 6 (Pratley 83), Fosu 6 (Marshall 86), Grant 7, Taylor 7. Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Clarke, Ajose, Hackett-Fairchild, Sarpong-Wiredu.