Ward 10 Aribo 45 Grant 90+4
BRISTOL ROVERS 1
BY KEVIN NOLAN AT THE VALLEY
Treading gingerly at times, Charlton managed to avoid the banana skin optimistically placed in their path by Bristol Rovers and made scruffy work of beating their relegation-haunted visitors.
It wasn’t exactly “winning ugly” as Lee Bowyer described it but it was no work of art either. The issue remained awkwardly unresolved until Karlan Grant made the points safe in the last of four added minutes.
Deprived through suspension of Lyle Taylor’s talismanic influence and unconvinced that Billy Clarke is ready to return yet, Bowyer again shuffled his pack with Charlton’s crowded schedule, particularly tonight’s trip to Burton Albion, in mind. Nicky Ajose was preferred to Tarique Fosu as Taylor’s deputy, with Krystian Bielik stepping up from centre-back to anchor midfield. More contentiously, Chris Solly filled the yawning gap at left-back, allowing rookie Anfernee Dijksteel to continue in Solly’s place at right-back. Both emergency full-backs acquitted themselves competently but the feeling persists that Charlton are “getting away with it” at present. Upcoming games at Portsmouth and Blackpool will test their resolve but Bowyer’s juggling act has proven masterly so far.
An early goal seemed the ideal nerve-settler for these sorely depleted Addicks and they set about their task with an engaging lack of inhibition. Skipper Jason Pearce volleyed Ajose’s left-wing corner off target, then George Lapslie, otherwise a bundle of effective energy, lacked conviction in driving Ajose’s cutback tamely at Jack Bonham. After just 10 minutes, their early aggression was rewarded by a fine opening goal.
A free-kick clumsily conceded by Patrick Bauer for bundling into Tom Nichols led, ironically enough, to Rovers’ undoing. Ed Upson’s delivery was plucked out of the air by Jed Steer and promptly launched downfield by the alert keeper to Jamie Ward, already on the run behind a disastrously square defence. Ward’s excellent first touch set up the lob he dinked over the advancing Bonham and into his vacated net on one bounce. Route one – unapologetically direct; quite simply brilliant.
Belying their position among League One’s basement dwellers, meanwhile, the Gas refused to panic, kept the ball down and stuck to their game plan. They came within a straining whisker of equalising when Stefan Payne’s low ball across the six-yard area agonisingly eluded Nichols at the far post. On the half hour they equalised with a strike which more than matched Ward’s in quality.
A lightning counter attack from their own penalty area, led by Upson’s incisive pass out to Liam Sercombe stretched the retreating home defence, with Sercombe weighing options on both sides as he advanced into the home half. His choice of Joe Martin to his left was vindicated by the unstoppable drive blasted first time into the far top corner. Scorers of only 15 league goals (with an impressive 16 conceded) the Westcountrymen were temporarily on course for a surprise result until unhappily, they fell behind again in first-half added time. But not before Steer was called upon to rescue a stumbling Ward by saving magnificently from Ollie Clarke at close range.
A short corner worked on the right by Ajose and Dijksteel led to goalmouth chaos as the young right-back reached the byline before drilling a low cross into the mix. Grant’s valiant attempt to shield and shoot on the turn was blocked but the ball spun invitingly for Joe Aribo to force a header home off Bonham’s hand. Given Rovers’ miserly scoring record, it was a blow from which they were unlikely to recover.
A dour second half wore on with the Addicks rarely threatening to seal the deal. Always vulnerable to late setbacks, they battled doggedly and paid their defensive dues. “I like seeing that togetherness and that fight,” said Bowyer. “Defending for your lives, putting your body on the line and blocking shots. For that, we deserved to win, for sure.”
Despite a late flurry from the visitors, during which Steer again distinguished himself with a gravity-defying save from Chris Lines’ drifting shot-cum-cross, that willingness to absorb pressure and hang on to their slender advantage saw them home. They even distorted the scoreline somewhat by making it 3-1 with the last kick of a gruelling game.
A last-gasp corner was hacked clear inside Charlton’s half to Fosu, who was no doubt agreeably surprised to find Bonham, in frantic flight from a desperate upfield sortie, keeping pace at his elbow. Turning down the chance of long distance glory, Fosu unselfishly volleyed Grant, onside in his own half, through on a distant goal. In a 60 metre race to the line, there was only one winner, with Grant justifying his prohibitively short price by comfortably outstripping the field to slip his ninth goal of a prolific campaign into Rovers’ deserted net. It might have been thoughtful to pull it off a half hour previously but better late than never.
Charlton (4-4-2): Steer 8, Dijksteel 7, Bauer 7, Pearce 7, Solly 7, Bielik 8, Ward 8 (Hackett-Fairchild 88), Aribo 8, Lapslie 7 (Marshall 82), Ajose 71), Grant 7. Not used: Phillips, Morgan, Sarr, Stevenson.