BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Darren Pratley was happy to get the starting nod for Charlton’s League One play-off final on Sunday – but that didn’t stop the seasoned campaigner from thinking about Albie Morgan missing out.
It was a choice of experience versus youth for the final midfield spot in Lee Bowyer’s side for last weekend’s Wembley decider with Sunderland.
And you always felt that the Addicks boss would plump for the big-game know-how of Pratley, whose extra-time goal against Doncaster Rovers in the semi-final second leg at The Valley took the play-off encounter to a penalty shootout.
Morgan, 19, had impressed in the run-in to the regulation campaign and started both of the matches against the Yorkshire outfit.
But he was replaced by Pratley, 34, at the start of the second half of that decisive second meeting and then did not even make the matchday 18 when Charlton’s promotion hopes reached the crunch.
The former Fulham, Swansea City and Bolton man stepped in at the national stadium and was left celebrating his fourth promotion and second via the play-offs.
“He [Bowyer] named the side on Thursday or Friday,” said Pratley. “You’re obviously delighted to be starting and a little bit upset for Albie, because he got thrown in for the two semi-finals and he wasn’t in the 18 on Sunday.
“But Albie is going to have a bright future and I’m sure he will play on this stage many more times throughout his career.
“From a selfish point of view every player wants to play, but for a young lad not to be in the squad here is hard to take.
“This is up there as one of my best moments, especially with this group of lads, we all get on well.
“I said we needed to get promotion to keep hold of some of our better players – and the manager as well. I’m buzzing for the club.”
There seems a strong chance that Joe Aribo and Patrick Bauer – both out of contract at the end of June – could end their Charlton careers on this high note. Both have admirers and probably at a financial level that the South Londoners will not be able to match.
But Charlton will be in English football’s second tier – adding an extra lure.
“This can only help,” said Pratley, signed on a two-year contract last summer following his release by Bolton. “Playing in the Championship and under a manager who is going to play you every week can only be good for us. But the boy [Aribo] has got quality – he is going to have a lot of teams looking at him. And if he leaves, he has got us into the Championship and we wish him well.
“The boys have got us to the Championship. If they want to play for other clubs then fair enough. We want them to stay, but we’ll see what happens.”
Now comes the challenge of a new division packed with heavily-resourced opposition.
“The Championship will probably suit us in terms of the way we play,” said Pratley. “League One is so hard because it is 100 miles-per-hour. The Championship has better players.
“The first thing we have got to do is stay in the league and then build on that. We need to do that before we start thinking about promotion.”