Aribo 41 Taylor 51
BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT THE VALLEY
Charlton 2 Portsmouth 0. And no, I haven’t made a mistake with the scoreline – I’m talking about the meetings between these two League One heavyweights. And there is every chance this season’s series will not end there.
Because while Pompey manager Kenny Jackett refused to rule his side out from a late surge on the top two, the reality is that particular race is being run by Luton Town, Barnsley and Sunderland.
After that, it becomes a fight for the four play-off spots. And Saturday was a very, very good afternoon in that respect for the Addicks.
Even before a ball was kicked in SE7, the League One results went pretty much perfectly. AFC Wimbledon’s 2-0 win over Doncaster Rovers and Peterborough’s 3-1 reverse at Bradford were unexpected triumphs for the division’s stragglers. The only shame was Taylor Moore’s stoppage-time own goal helping Blackpool snatch a 2-2 draw with Southend.
In saying that, not too many Charlton fans will begrudge the Tangerines starting life Owen Oyston-free by avoiding a defeat – their Bloomfield Road crowd jumping by 11,000 from their last Saturday home fixture.
The Valley would have been a whole lot more packed than 14,451 – 3,097 in the away end – if Roland Duchatelet was also in the rear-view mirror.
The only distance right now is between the Addicks and seventh-placed Posh – eight points after Joe Aribo and Lyle Taylor extended the South London club’s impressive form at The Valley.
Charlton have not lost in the league there since October 6, winning eight of their 12 fixtures. It’s 11 victories in 18 matches with only Luton (14) and Barnsley (12) managing more.
The Addicks are a force at The Valley in League One. They’ve kept six clean sheets in their last 12 and not conceded more than a single goal in that period.
It’s going to take a pretty spectacular implosion by Lee Bowyer’s boys to drop out of the top six. I already said that after the 2-1 win at Wimbledon in February, and since then they’ve taken four points off promotion rivals.
Charlton have done the double over Portsmouth and the displays in both fixtures have got to go down as some of their most impressive work in the 2018-19 campaign.
The Addicks had to put their bodies on the line to get across the finishing line at Fratton Park in early December – George Lapslie suffering concussion from one goal-line clearance – and again on Saturday they had to show the kind of steel that was missing until Bowyer took charge.
In terms of the side looking to play football, Charlton were emphatic winners. I’ve not got the pass statistics to hand but they had so much more of the ball – their opener showcasing them at their fluid best.
There had to be at least a dozen passes popped together before Josh Cullen’s floated ball into the box was taken down by Aribo and expertly slid into the bottom right corner of the net.
Portsmouth, whose only impressive spell of pressure had come in a bright opening five minutes, managed to find a response just four minutes later. Ronan Curtis headed emphatically past Dillon Phillips – celebrating his leveller on the stroke of half-time with a shushing gesture to the Covered End.
But keeping Charlton’s players quiet proved a more difficult task.
The hosts went on the offensive from the start of the second half and quickly had the advantage again.
Igor Vetokele did well in the build-up to collect possession on the left wing before finding Aribo for a low cross in, Ben Reeves just about nipped in for the ball ahead of Matthew Clarke to dink it sideways to Taylor, who used the sole of his right boot to force home before Lee Brown could make the block.
It was the Charlton number nine’s 16th goal of the season and first since January 12 – actually only a four-match barren spell as he had to serve a three-game suspension.
Taylor’s hollering into the sky after his goal was probably a mixture of joy and a release of frustration. Charlton have only lost twice when he has netted this season, on the opening day at Sunderland and at home to Coventry City in early October.
Phillips produced a smart save to his right to push away a Curtis strike that was travelling at speed and there was one late chance for Pompey, who had been pacesetters in the opening months. A weary Igor Vetokele lost possession and Bret Pitman hit the perfect diagonal into the box for Jamal Lowe but the winger’s shot – or maybe it was meant to be cued up for James Vaughan to slide home – travelled through no-man’s land and out for a goal-kick.
Portsmouth boss Kenny Jackett felt that Charlton’s midfield had been the difference. “They are very, very strong in midfield – they have got very good technical players and at times we didn’t get to grips with them,” said the ex-Millwall chief.
And he was right, with it being a desperately difficult call over who merited the man of the match award.
Aribo got it off Sky Sports, televising the contest. He scored an excellent goal but also showed strength to win the ball time and again, not seeming to waste a pass.
But Krystian Bielik had been similarly imperious until his enforced withdrawal at half-time with a hamstring injury. Josh Cullen buzzed around with his typical industry as well. From that deeper role he keeps possession ticking over and orchestrates play.
The middle of the park is undoubtedly the strongest area for Charlton, the nagging worry remaining that they lack depth in their frontline. Any injury to Taylor would be a cataclysmic blow.
But the defence also deserved some plaudits too at the weekend.
Ben Purrington lost Curtis for the Portsmouth goal but did an excellent job of keeping the dangerous Lowe quiet. The on-loan Rotherham United man has been a strong addition to the Addicks ranks.
Anfernee Dijksteel, while not a natural at right-back, also makes up for any shortcomings in that role with maximum commitment.
What’s clear to see is that Charlton will have nothing to fear in the play-offs. They have taken six points off Portsmouth, four in the meetings with Doncaster and had two evenly-contested battles with Sunderland, even if that only yielded one point.
Charlton (4-2-3-1): Phillips 7, Dijksteel 7, Bauer 7, Sarr 7, Purrington 8, Bielik 8 (Reeves 46, 7), Cullen 8, Aribo 9, Williams 7 (Fosu 58, 8), Vetokele 7 (Pratley 84), Taylor 8. Not used: Maxwell, Solly, Lapslie, Parker.
Photos by Keith Gillard