Taylor 11, 52, 85 Marshall 81 Ajose 90+1
BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT THE VALLEY
I’d question whether a Charlton Athletic striker has scored a hat-trick in less low-key surroundings than Lyle Taylor’s treble on Tuesday evening.
A crowd of just 1,910 were at The Valley to see the Addicks book their FA Cup second round spot as slick finishing on a decidedly damp night in SE7 saw off Mansfield Town.
But this felt like an EFL Trophy match with the lack of atmosphere. Two sides of the ground were closed and the players’ shouts and instructions echoed around the largely deserted stadium. It is the lowest crowd for a Charlton game in the competition since 1921.
Taylor’s third goal certainly deserved a bigger audience. It underlined his confidence and swagger as he dinked the cheekiest of chips over Robert Olejnik to make sure he walked off with the matchball tucked under the back of his shirt.
Yet if anyone had the hump, it was Stags boss David Flitcroft.
He was unhappy that referee Kevin Johnson reversed a free-kick decision, the Addicks taking it quickly after his big defenders had lumbered forward with Mark Marshall finding the net for the first time since January.
But Charlton had too much quality in attack with Taylor – suspended for tomorrow’s visit of Bristol Rovers – an irrepressible handful. The Montserrat international got 18 goals for AFC Wimbledon last season – his best haul when playing League One football.
Taylor is on 12 already for the current term and we’re not even into December yet.
He could be the first Addick to break the 20-goal barrier since Bradley Wright-Phillips bagged 22 in that memorable promotion-winning campaign under Chris Powell in 2011-12.
With the steady stream of injuries which have depleted pretty much every department of Lee Bowyer’s squad, you’ve just got to hope that Taylor is one of the lucky few to come through unscathed. Because there is no-one else who can perform his role anywhere near as effectively.
Nicky Ajose played very well in midweek, claiming assists for Taylor’s first two goals and then finishing off George Lapslie’s perceptive ball over the top – Olejnik making a rash rush-of-blood-to-the-head charge out of his penalty area to leave a largely untended net – but he needs to deliver a whole lot more at League One level.
Of his seven goals since the start of last season, five have been in cup competitions.
This game was already well and truly wrapped up by the time he got in on the scoring action. The same applied when he notched in the evisceration of Stevenage in the EFL Trophy early in October.
If Ajose can finally click then it will be of benefit as much to him as it is to Charlton. He is out of contract at the end of June. Ten goals in 52 appearances was not the return expected of him when he arrived from Swindon Town in the summer of 2016.
But Tuesday’s unselfish shift means he deserves to partner Karlan Grant against the Gas.
Whether Bowyer wanted progression in the FA Cup is a subject for conjecture.
“I will not take my eye of the league, I can assure you,” said the Addicks boss. But a home tie against Doncaster Rovers adds another match into their schedule.
It really isn’t ideal when Charlton’s squad is stretched. Yes, Patrick Bauer came through an hour on his return from a knee injury. But Darren Pratley was forced off after feeling a tweak in the same area. Anfernee Dijksteel, already a makeshift right-back, was switched to a stop-gap central defender for the closing stages.
On more than one occasion Bowyer has had to patch up his side. The fact that they have managed to record results to keep themselves in the League One play-off hunt is to their credit.
But the reward of progressing in the FA Cup, at least in those early rounds, is not that important even for a cost-cutting owner like Roland Duchatelet. The Addicks banked £36,000 in prize money and will get a further £54,000 if they can see off Donny. Gate receipts in midweek were minimal.
Mansfield’s chances to change the flow of this contest came in a first half where there was little to separate the two teams.
Bauer had to make a last-ditch challenge on CJ Hamilton, who also managed to hit the outside of the post from Hayden White’s excellent low ball across the face of goal – Danny Rose just failing to get a touch as well.
Charlton worked hard but were also slack in possession. Mansfield were unable to punish them. The same didn’t apply at the other end, as the hosts converted five of their seven shots on target.
Ajose played a one-two down the left with Tariqe Fosu, Taylor beating his marker to convert at the near post to get the ball rolling.
The second arrived in similar fashion as Toby Stevenson picked out Ajose and he dragged back for Taylor to precisely thread his finish through a congested goalmouth.
It still didn’t feel game over until those final 10 minutes. Stevenson had looked uncomfortable on the back foot at times in a few pace races but found Marshall for a close-range finish.
Then Ajose had a relatively straightforward opportunity to make it 4-0. Olejnik’s decision to come belting off his line as Lapslie arrowed a 70 yard ball over the Stags backline only left backpeddling defender Matt Preston to beat.
But the best goal – without an iota of doubt – was saved until last.
Initially Taylor flicked the ball on to the inside of his left leg but he spun just inside the penalty area to curl over the straining left arm of Olejnik.
Charlton (4-4-2): Phillips 7, Dijksteel 6, Bauer 7 (Sarpeng-Wiredu 62, 6), Sarr 7, Stevenson 6, Pratley 6 (Marshall 66, 7), Lapslie 7, Fosu 6, Clarke 6 (Morgan 74), Taylor 9, Ajose 8. Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Grant, Hackett-Fairchild.