BY KEVIN NOLAN AT THE CITY GROUND
Charlton’s five-month quest for an away win is over. Emphatically and magnificently over.
It ended on a frigid evening by the banks of the Trent, where they outsmarted and outplayed upwardly ambitious Nottingham Forest. This was no backs-to-the wall, smash-and-grab victory over a superior side; until they wilted in the closing stages, the Addicks were comfortably the better side, as generously acknowledged by Forest manager Sabri Lamouchi.
Lamouchi had done his bit by curiously deciding, among five changes he made, to omit 16-goal Lewis Grabban and Sammy Ameobi, scorer of the first goal in the important 2-0 dismissal of Leeds United three days previously.
While preparing for their crunch clash at West Bromwich next weekend, the French-Tunisian manager might have overlooked Charlton as “soft touches”, based on their puny performance at Stoke.
It was an easy, if costly, mistake to make.
Following his policy of reacting to victory and defeat with similar restraint, Lee Bowyer was quietly satisfied with a performance and result that made the spiritless surrender in the Potteries hard to understand.
“We were much more like the way we can play and from start to finish we were better than them,” he said. “We had to be brave on the press and if Naby [Sarr] wasn’t brave, we wouldn’t have scored the goal.
“He has a beautiful left foot. If you give Lyle a chance he scores, that’s what he does.”
Charlton’s winning goal had Bowyer and more than 800 visiting wayfarers purring with pleasure.
Sarr pounced to intercept Carl Jenkinson’s pass, intended for Joe Lolley, near the halfway line and turned defence into all-out attack by surging into City’s half.
That “left foot” mentioned admiringly by Bowyer bent an irresistible cross behind City’s wrongfooted defence for Taylor to time his run to the far post and clinically plant a sidefooted volley past Brice Samba. From conception to execution, it was almost the perfect goal.
Moments later, the irrepressible Sarr came within inches of undoing his sterling work. Lunging in to deal with Lolley’s cross from the right, the huge defender disastrously sliced the ball on to the bar and over to safety, helped by the faintest of touches from a startled Dillon Phillips.
Sarr and Phillips have previous in the matter of own goals, of course, but they’ve reached an understanding and are becoming indispensable to Charlton’s hopes of avoiding the drop.
At the City Ground on Tuesday evening, Sarr was a typically unpredictable tower of strength. As a wingback to the left of Bowyer’s preferred back three, he broke up attacks, kept a wary eye on danger man Lolley and, apart from the aforementioned howler was the best player . He can be a wayward scamp sometimes, but he’s impossible to ignore.
Starting confidently on the front foot elsewhere, the Addicks bore little resemblance to the clueless side which rolled over meekly for Stoke only three days previously.
Facing far better opposition, they made it clear there was to be no repetition of that debacle. Faster to the ball. aggressive in the tackle and ready to put their bodies on the line – as demonstrated by Sarrr’s resounding early block on Tyler Walker – they were no-nonsense, almost cocky threats to Forest’s promotion hopes.
The visitors set their stall out early. Played into space on the left by Erhun Oztumer’s artful pass, Alfie Doughty outpaced his marker before blasting a rising shot which Samba parried awkwardly at his near post.
An occasional throwback to the old-fashioned winger, whose sole ruse was to knock the ball past the full-back, then challenge him to a foot race, Doughty is an improving work in progress. Oztumer, on the other hand, is a cunning box of tricks with an occasional ace up his sleeve.
Bowyer will be encouraged by the unusual coolness which his side – set out in a 3-5-2 formation – showed in coping with high-flying Forest and limiting them to a handful of so-so chances. Phillips was infrequently troubled, first by Tiago Silva, who turned sharply to force a capable low save, then much later when Walker shot straight at him from close range, after Ben Watson and Silva carved out their side’s best chance.
In a game of few openings, the Addicks weren’t exactly lethal themselves but, in Taylor, they were able to turn to one of the Championship’s best strikers.
From only 11 starts (plus five substitute appearances), their talisman has managed nine goals. It’s hardly a coincidence that during their run of 17 games without a win, Taylor was unavailable. He was provided with just one scoring chance at the City Ground. And that’s all the sharpshooter – and Charlton – needed.
Charlton (3-5-2): Phillips 7, Matthews 8, Lockyer 8, Pearce, Davis 8, Cullen 7, Oztumer 7 (McGeady 59, 7), Sarr 9, Doughty (Purrington 60, 6), Hemed 7 (Smith 73, 6), Taylor 8. Not used: Amos, Oshilaja, Aneke, Bonne.