Charlton Athletic put more pressure on League One top-two after tempers fray in frantic Valley finale

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BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT THE VALLEY

Charlton Athletic have tunnel cameras but the footage from Saturday’s skirmish with Accrington Stanley is never likely to see the light of day.

There is every chance that further disciplinary charges will follow this week after a quite remarkable finish to Saturday’s match.

Charlton have appealed Lyle Taylor’s red card – their 15-goal top-scorer being dismissed along with Accrington goalkeeper Jonny Maxted.

Whether either man actually merited their sending-offs is inconclusive from the replay that I’ve watched back again and again.

The battle for positioning from a Ben Reeves corner got a little out of hand but would usually just result in yellow cards.

It all kicked off straight after that as players from both sides stormed into the action.

But there are a couple of things which are blatantly clear to see. One is Accrington’s Sam Finlay racing over and scraping his right boot down the side of the ground Taylor’s head – the ultimate sneaky cheap shot.

A three-game suspension should be heading his way. There is no question over intent. And while we are naming and shaming, Ross Sykes also got a sly kick in.

Referee John Busby’s already fragile hold on proceedings disappeared after the 81st minute goalmouth melee.

His officiating did not fill you with confidence. Just as an example, Stanley striker Billy Kee received treatment on the pitch and did not leave the field of play afterwards – despite the home crowd reminding Busby of the rules.

And the penalty awarded to Charlton in stoppage time seemed harsh.

Ben Reeves’ shot did strike the arm of Daniel Barlaser but most of the time they are not given.

Accrington number two Jimmy Bell had a point – even if his side didn’t – with his gripe that Busby had a much better view than assistant referee Carl Fitch-Jackson, who indicated it was a spot-kick.

But what followed underlined Busby’s lack of authority. Stanley players raced to the corner flag to berate Fitch-Jackson. It was Addicks captain Chris Solly who tried to keep them away from the besieged official.

Amazingly it did not lead to any more bookings, despite the fact that Accrington’s sparky Mark Hughes spent the final minutes of the match venting his fury at Fitch-Jackson.
To say the finish was eventful is underselling it.

Karlan Grant stepped up after a two-minute delay to beat replacement keeper Dimitar Evtimov. Even before the striker had got his shirt completely off in celebration, Busby was reaching for his pocket to issue the sixth booking of the afternoon.

Then we had Charlton supporters spilling out of the Covered End to celebrate, one of them losing their balance and managing to kick Kristian Bielik in a delicate area – the on-loan Arsenal man crumpling to the turf.

The full-time whistle did not defuse the situation. Accrington captain Liam McConville walked into manager Lee Bowyer as the pair headed off the pitch.

And the retractable tunnel was bouncing around – a sure sign things were kicking off.

Naby Sarr emerged back out with his arms protectively wrapped around Jonny Williams, not the first person you would put down as a fighter.

You wonder if the level of disorder at the end of the match will impede Charlton’s hopes of overturning Taylor’s ban.

And the mass of bodies obscured the frontman, making providing evidence he was not a major offender all the more difficult.

But Bowyer is confident that the former AFC Wimbledon striker will not sit out Saturday’s match at fellow promotion hopefuls Peterborough United, as well as the trip to Fleetwood Town and a home game against Southend United.

It comes at a time when Charlton are not blessed with established striker options – Nicky Ajose has been loaned to Mansfield Town.

Wilberforce Ocran, just 18 and who had a loan spell with Cray Wanderers earlier in the season, was on the bench with Reeco Hackett-Fairchild failing a fitness test on Saturday morning.

Taylor’s omission could prompt a formation change from Bowyer unless it expedites his plans to bring in a forward on loan.

Taylor and Grant have accounted for 29 of Charlton’s 47 goals this season and losing the former – such a talismanic presence – would undoubtedly be a setback, especially with Charlton beginning to increase the heat on the top two.

Second-placed Portsmouth have a three-point lead over the South Londoners and a game in hand – but they also need to come to The Valley at the start of March.

Taking the cup competitions out of the equation, Charlton are unbeaten in nine matches in SE7 and have taken 23 points from a possible 27.

Not that it was all plain sailing against Accrington, anything but. Dillon Phillips did excellently to stand strong and deny Luke Armstrong in the first half from close range.

And the academy product tipped over a Kee header after the interval.

His form has ensured that the far more experienced Chris Maxwell – signed on loan from Preston earlier in the season – remains on the bench.

Charlton found it difficult to pick their way through a Stanley side who kept a decent defensive shape.
Taylor did flash one superb ball across the face of goal on 12 minutes – Grant unable to connect with it as it flashed by – and he had their first effort on target six minutes into the second half.

But it wasn’t until Maxted saved one-handed from Ben Purrington that Charlton had really called him into anything resembling strenuous action.

The Addicks looked the more likely to break the deadlock after the break. Taylor saw a shot deflect off Hughes but only ripple the side-netting, before Grant drove low past the right upright.

Then came the mass confrontation. Busby’s whistle had already been blown for a foul by Taylor before Bielik glanced Reeves’ corner home.

Just when you thought Charlton would not find a way to win, they did.

The penalty award was a touch generous but Grant gratefully accepted and converted their 12th spot-kick of the campaign.

Charlton (4-4-2): Phillips 8, Solly 7, Bauer 7, Sarr 7, Purrington 7, Cullen 8, Pratley 8 (Reeves 67, 6), Bielik 8, Williams 7 (Fosu 79), Taylor 7, Grant 7. Not used: Maxwell, Dijksteel, Marshall, Ocran.

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