Charlton Athletic suffer no midweek hitch – aside from two more injuries – to jump back into play-off zone 

WALSALL 0
CHARLTON 2
Taylor 5 pen Bielik 52

BY KEVIN NOLAN AT BANKS’S STADIUM

Shaking off their usual Tuesday evening blues, Charlton made full use of their game in hand in adding a second comfortable 2-0 victory to the possibly pivotal dismissal of Doncaster Rovers three days previously.

The back-to-back wins have catapulted them from a slumping 13th position in League One to a place among the play-off contenders.

Ringing four changes as the two-games-per-week routine begins to sap his squad, Lee Bowyer’s satisfaction was tempered by the painful shoulder dislocations freakishly suffered by Igor Vetokele and Josh Cullen.

His worries were allayed somewhat by excellent contributions from Naby Sarr and Darren Pratley, who stepped up to relieve Jamie Ward and Anfernee Dijksteel.

Charlton Athletic’s Igor Vetokele goes down injured

The planned and enforced changes at least showed the beleaguered boss that his squad cuts the mustard in both quality and quantity.

Also making a rare start as battleworn Ben Reeves was omitted, Tarique Fosu made an immediate impact.

His sharp turn on to Joe Aribo’s low cross was too much for outwitted Walsall skipper George Dobson, whose challenge inside the penalty area was disastrously timed. Showing impressive coolness despite having missed two spot-kicks this season, Lyle Taylor sent Liam Roberts the wrong way from the spot and the Addicks were off and running.

Encouraged by their bright start, Charlton continued to control the tempo
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Strong in midfield – where Pratley mixed aggression with responsibility and Cullen was a ball-winning, constructive influence – they seemed bound for an easy evening until Vetokele, starting ahead of the rested Karlan Grant, departed in agony on a stretcher with his right shoulder dislocated.

When Cullen was also forced off with a similar injury 10 minutes from full-time, Bowyer’s ability to adjust to unexpected circumstances was fully tested. His reaction to adversity was admirable.

Summoned from the bench to replace the wretchedly unlucky Vetokele, Grant responded positively. With the first half winding down, he found space to meet Taylor’s perfect cross from the left with a meaty header from six yards.

Twisting spectacularly in the air, Roberts fingertipped the ball over the bar, as Grant’s celebration of his ninth goal of a prolific season died in his throat.

Solid though they had been, the need for that elusive second goal nagged Charlton as they completed a dominant first half with only Taylor’s penalty to show for their superiority.

Little had been seen of the ultra-direct Midlanders as an attacking threat, with Isaiah Osbourne’s first minute effort capably smothered by Jed Steer and an optimistic drive from Josh Gordon whistling wide.

The keeper’s second successive clean sheet was preserved later by the flying save he made from Morgan Ferrier’s fierce drive. Competent and resourceful, Steer has solved Bowyer’s goalkeeping dilemma, if there ever was one.

Six minutes after resumption, the visitors put the result beyond doubt by doubling the lead.

Taylor began the process with the corner he kidded off a bemused Dobson, which Cullen swung into the mixer from the right and Krystian Bielik made a complete hash of air-heading, if such an insulting term exists.

Completely flummoxed by the miss, Jon Guthrie allowed the ball to bounce off him on the six-yard line, from where a pleasantly surprised Bielik gleefully smashed home that vital second goal.

What remained was the mopping up of a thoroughly solid, if largely uneventful, performance on the road but marred only by the pain-wracked loss of Cullen.

George Lapslie brought his customary energy and commitment to the task of replacing the influential West Ham loanee and the three points were secured without drama.

The usual nerve-riddled angst involved in managing a favourable, routine result was not part of the process. Apart from his fine save from Ferrier, Steer was relatively untroubled and well protected by a pragmatic, hard-nosed back four, in which Sarr excelled and Chris Solly was relieved to be deployed in the right-back position he has made his own.

His resources will be tested to the limit, with the evidence suggesting that the second string is well up to the emergency.

A possible EFL Trophy fixture against Swansea in midweek will make different demands but the international break is perfectly timed to ease Bowyer’s furrowed brow.

As much juggler as manager during this injury-riddled campaign, the rookie boss is expected to handle what is thrown at him.

Charlton (4-4-2): Steer 7, Solly 7, Bielik 8, Pearce 8, Sarr 8, Pratley 8, Cullen 7 (Lapslie 80), Aribo 8, Fosu 7 (Marshall 86), Vetokele (Grant 34,7), Taylor 7. Not used: Phillips, Ward, Ajose, Stevenson.

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