Cornick 74 Collins 81
CHARLTON 2Fosu 23 pen Solly 90+5
BY KEVIN NOLAN AT KENILWORTH ROAD
In over nine years as the first name on a fluctuating parade of managers’ team-sheets, Chris Solly’s well-spaced goals have become collectors’ items.
Before the frantic conclusion to this otherwise entertaining game, they numbered two; the more recent of them was a long-range screamer some six years ago at Blackpool, the unusually raucous celebration of which frightened the local wildlife.
At Kenilworth Road, Solly’s latest contribution sparked similar delirium.
The crisp finish which whistled into Luton Town’s net was virtually the last kick of a game which the Addicks were on the verge of losing, or to be more blunt, blowing.
To the shattered hosts, it felt like the loss of two points; their jubilant visitors, meanwhile, hugged their share of the spoils with unapologetic relief.
That’s the psychology of the last-gasp goal, wherein one man’s despair is inevitably another man’s delight.
Solly’s dramatic equaliser was, in fact, no more than Charlton deserved, if only for the battering they gave the Hatters during five frantic added minutes.
James Shea’s goal became a protected species, as first Jason Pearce, then Joe Aribo, headed set-pieces from Josh Cullen against his bar.
Naby Sarr returned the rebound from Pearce’s effort but his header was cleared off the line by Matty Pearson. And when Jack Stacey blatantly hauled down Lyle Taylor inside the penalty area but escaped without censure, it seemed depressingly clear this was not to be Charlton’s day.
Then up stepped Solly, still a livewire as Luton began to run on empty.
Having patiently waited for some local twerps to return him the ball, Cullen’s latest delivery, an inswinging corner from the left, was untidily scrambled away beyond the 18-yard line and practically invited the onrushing right-back to strike first-time for goal.
His low drive caught a faint deflection off Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu before nestling sweetly in the bottom left corner.
As Nathan Jones’ men sank to their knees, Solly’s team-mates engulfed him in genuine respect and affection for this epitome of a player’s player. It takes one to know one.
While commending his side’s never-say-die spirit, manager Lee Bowyer will no doubt be concerned that they disastrously lost their grip on a game which had seemed under control until deep into the second half.
Urgently closing down space, hunting ball-carriers in groups of two or three, covering zealously for each other, this was, for 70 minutes, an object lesson in one-for-all, all-for-one team bonding.
Not that Town were ever out of contention, as evidenced by the goal-line clearance Pearce produced to keep out Andrew Shinnie’s low shot midway through the first half.
But Charlton were in charge and it came as no surprise when they took the lead two minutes later.
Setting the pace for his side’s breakneck onslaught and owner of two blindingly quick feet, Joe Aribo has apparently mastered the art of playing in two places at once.
The rangy 22-year-old sauntered into the home penalty area, pursued optimistically by James Collins and brought down from behind by the anxious-to-help forward.
The penalty was undisputed and with a stutter step to send Shea diving prematurely to his right, Tarique Fosu’s spot-kick was efficiently buried into the opposite corner.
Charlton’s interval lead was deserved but hardly conclusive.
Shortly after resumption, they were reminded that the issue remained unresolved when Jorge Grant set up Elliot Lee to sting Jed Steer’s palms with a fierce drive, then clip the outside of the post from the follow-up.
And the alarm bells rang again as Stacey eluded the sometimes shaky Sarr and laid on a chance which substitute Harry Cornick blasted wastefully off target.
The warnings went unheeded and the Hatters drew level with just over a quarter hour remaining amid growing defensive chaos.
Steer’s errant clearance was promptly headed back by Matty Pearson, adroitly flicked on by Collins and drilled through the advancing keeper’s legs from the 18-yard line by Cornick.
The unexpected equaliser brought with it instant disintegration and almost inevitably a second goal within seven more minutes.
An industrious handful up front for the Hatters, Mpanzu’s electric turn was followed by a ferocious drive which rebounded unluckily off the bar.
In the right place at precisely the right time, Collins had the simple task of tapping the rebound past a helpless Steer.
The turnaround was bewildering and Collins should have sealed the deal in the last minute of regular time but fired high, wide and unhandsomely over the bar when well clear.
His miss was to prove costly as Bowyer’s shattered troops pulled themselves together.
A flagging Ben Reeves, exhausted by his honest endeavour, was replaced by the battery-powered George Lapslie, with Karlan Grant already thrown into the fray for Igor Vetokele.
Cullen’s nagging salvo of set-pieces began to erode Luton’s resistance before eventually the persistent engine-room stoker combined with Solly to break Hertfordshire hearts.
Not to mention sending the ball-hoggers behind the goal into apoplectic rage. Mad Hatters, so to speak. Hopping mad Hatters, more poetically before the show moves to Scunthorpe this evening.
Not too much poetry in good old Scunny, a place more aligned to the prosaic view of things.
Charlton (4-4-2): Steer 6, Solly 8, Pearce 6, Sarr 5, Page 6, Aribo 8, Reeves 7 (Lapslie 84), Cullen 7, Vetokele 6 (Grant 76), Fosu 6, Taylor 6. Not used: Phillips, Dijksteel, Marshall, Pratley, Ajose.