League One promotion chase will turn into a sprint soon – and Charlton Athletic are quicker than most

SHREWSBURY 0
CHARLTON 3
Taylor 26 Pratley 54 Grant 79 pen
BY KEVIN NOLAN AT THE MONTGOMERY WATERS MEADOW

On a chilly afternoon in Shropshire, during which results elsewhere obliged them, Charlton produced a clinically effective display which not only outclassed Shrewsbury, their nemesis last season, but served notice that they’re in the 2019 promotion race for the long haul.

If Karlan Grant, brilliant apart from his finishing, had converted even one of three glaring one-on-one chances in the second half, the scoreline would have been even more emphatic.

Not that it mattered greatly because this comprehensive victory provided perfect payback for the pair of 1-0 play-off defeats inflicted on them by the Shrews last May.

In a hugely-satisfying team performance, each one of Lee Bowyer’s players did his bit, none more so ironically enough, than otherwise underworked goalkeeper Dillon Phillips. Under pressure since the arrival of loanee Chris Maxwell, the early save Phillips made from Josh Laurent alone vindicated Bowyer’s decision to keep faith with his fine young incumbent.

Lyle Taylor celebrates after he scores Charlton’s first goal.

Standing tall as Aaron Holloway nodded down Ryan Haynes’ deep cross from the touchline, Phillips reacted with pure instinct to keep out Laurent’s point-blank certainty with an ideally-deployed right foot. If goals win matches, then saves of this stunning quality ensure you don’t lose them.

Impeccable throughout, Phillips’ vital save supplied the first building block on which the Addicks fashioned success.

Their keeper’s important contribution was just one of many made by this steadily improving band of buddies.

Calm and unfussy, newcomer Ben Purrington made an encouraging start towards solving Bowyer’s left-back problem, which has unbalanced the side since Lewis Page succumbed to injury in October.

Purrington settled down quickly, kept it simple and eased his manager’s troubled mind. He also made it possible for Chris Solly to resume as League One’s best right-back.

Shrewsbury Town’s Anthony Grant and Charlton Athletic’s Jonny Williams battle for the ball.

Welsh midfield fireball Johnny Williams, meanwhile, confirmed the excellent impression he made as a substitute in last week’s stubborn resistance to powerful Sunderland. Williams put his foot in, kept the ball moving and narrowly edged out the outstanding Darren Pratley as Charlton’s man-of-the match.

Feisty Pratley matched Williams’ industry and left nothing behind him on Shrewsbury’s pristine pitch. Occasionally awkward, sometimes over-aggressive, his will-to-win is infectious.

His second goal of the season, scored early in the second half was just reward for his total commitment. Meeting Luke Waterfall’s scuffed attempt to clear Williams’ cross, his venomous half-volley left Steve Arnold helpless as it thundered past him into the top right corner.

Pratley’s timely strike doubled the lead the visitors took in with them at half-time. They had moved in front from the left-wing corner Arnold conceded in getting down smartly to keep out Grant’s raking low drive. Albie Morgan’s inswinging delivery was clumsily shovelled against a post by James Bolton leaving Lyle Taylor, predatory as always, to force the loose ball over the line.

Shrewsbury Town’s James Bolton (Left) tries to block a shot on goal by Charlton Athletic’s Ben Purrington.

Taylor was his customary menacing self. The pace he and Grant have between them are a nightmare for opposing defences, with the most basic of balls played over the top or along either flank regularly transformed into defence-splitting passes.

A case in point was the penalty earned and converted by Grant with 20 minutes left of this away day masterclass.

Bursting through a hopelessly square defence from near the halfway line, the speedster left Anthony Grant trailing in an all-Grant race towards the home goal. No slouch himself, a desperate Anthony was reduced to hauling down Karlan from behind as he crossed the 18-yard line.

Having been frustrated by Arnold in three personal duels, Grant accepted Taylor’s thoughtful invitation to take the penalty and exacted a measure of revenge on Town’s defiant keeper by efficiently finding the left corner from the spot.

Karlan Grant scores Charlton’s third goal from the penalty spot.

It’s no surprise to learn that the Addicks are leading all four divisions in penalties awarded. Sheer pace panics the most accomplished of defenders and Charlton have not one but two greyhounds up front.

They are also richly endowed with skill, as evidenced by the magical sleight-of-foot Grant used to send a mesmerised Bolton off in one direction as he hared off in another, somewhat cruelly showed in the first half.

It makes perfect sense to supply them with the ammunition they need to wreak their havoc, which should hopefully see an end to the obsession with the Russian Roulette practice of “playing out from the back” which will be seen as archaic itself some day soon.

With his new recruits bedding in impressively and with every expectation that the infirmary will be returning several of his injured troops to him as the season wears on, Bowyer will be relieved that the Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday grind is virtually over.

His defence, without Jason Pearce but with Naby Sarr proving a resolute and skilful deputy, is solid, midfield brims with talent, while upfront lurks the dynamism of Taylor and Grant. Shame their injury list gave the league a head’s start before they recovered but as the marathon develops, they’re beginning to reel in the front runners. It’ll turn into a sprint soon and Charlton are quicker than most.

Charlton (4-4-2): Phillips 8, Solly 7, Bauer 7, Sarr 8, Purrington 7, Bielik 8 (Dijksteel 81), Morgan 6 (Lapslie 58, 7), Pratley 8, Williams 8 (Marshall 77), Taylor 8, Grant 8. Not used: Maxwell, Clarke, Fosu, Hackett-Fairchild.

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