DONCASTER ROVERS 1
CHARLTON ATHLETIC 2
Taylor 32 Aribo 34
BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT THE KEEPMOAT STADIUM
Charlton Athletic have not played at the new Wembley. They are potentially just 90 minutes of football away from ending that wait.
Get it right at The Valley on Friday, and the Addicks will no longer be one of 11 clubs who have not played at the rebuilt national stadium.
And getting it right at The Valley is something that Charlton have done more often than not this season.
They have conceded just 15 goals in 23 matches there – the meanest home record in League One.
The last league loss there was to Coventry City on October 6. Charlton are a different animal now, one that is highly dangerous.
Sunday’s play-off semi-final win at the Keepmoat Stadium means the Addicks have won eight of their last nine fixtures. It’s one reverse since February 2, with 11 victories in 16 games.
Doncaster won in the FA Cup at Charlton in early December. But Rovers trying to garner confidence from that tie is almost impossible.
Only three of the Addicks side who started then also started at the weekend.
Dillon Phillips was understudy to Jed Steer at the time.
Anfernee Dijksteel deputised for Chris Solly. Now the Dutchman’s increasingly assured displays at right-back mean the older man has no guarantees he will be slotted back in after serving a four-match suspension.
Naby Sarr also started in the FA Cup. The Frenchman has powered on in the second half of the campaign and ended up runner-up in the club’s Player of the Year votes.
All three have seized their opportunities. All three deserve huge credit for that.
But it was largely a supporting cast that took to the field at the end of 2018.
There will be no such wholesale changes on what could be a special, special night in SE7 in three days time.
More than 21,000 home tickets had been sold before the weekend – Charlton have since sold pretty much every area they can get fans into, including a section of the Jimmy Seed Stand, to ensure that 24,000-plus will be backing the hosts.
Cards on the table here, any kind of win at Doncaster Rovers on Sunday would have been gladly snapped up by Charlton management, players and fans before this match got underway just after midday in sun-splashed South Yorkshire.
And at one stage it looked as if they could be heading back down with the M1 with a two-goal cushion. The fact they didn’t manage to record a clean sheet was probably the only negative.
This was a first play-off victory for Lee Bowyer as a manager.
Last season Charlton did not score in 180 minutes against Shrewsbury Town. Jon Nolan’s goal in SE7 had put the Shrews 1-0 up with the second leg on their own patch. Yesterday marked a year since Carlton Morris was on target at Greenhous Meadow as the Addicks – lacking a cutting edge – went out 2-0 on aggregate.
This time it is Charlton in the box seat. They are more streetwise and tougher than 12 months ago.
And they have more goal threat. And goals are the currency that every team that wants success tends to trade in.
I wouldn’t say there was loads of difference between these two teams at the weekend.
Doncaster had 16 shots – one more than the visitors. But Grant McCann’s side managed only two on target, compared to their opponent’s eight.
That was Charlton last season. Honest, committed but lacking quality when it counted.
It’s telling that Joe Aribo’s goal was his 10th of the season. That’s the same amount as Josh Magennis managed last season as he finished top of their scoring charts.
Before that, Lyle Taylor bumped his haul to 25 in what must now be seen as an outstanding campaign on an individual level.
The quick-fire double had the away end at the Keepmoat Stadium bouncing. The 3,688 travelling Addicks had travelled far more in hope than trepidation.
But it was not all one-way traffic.
Phillips flew to his left to push away a lovely strike by James Coppinger. Then Danny Andrew crashed a long-distance free-kick on to the bar, although the Charlton keeper looked to have it covered if the ball had dropped a fraction lower.
You need luck in the play-offs, and there was fortune for Charlton’s opening goal.
Ben Whiteman’s touch on Albie Morgan’s cross stopped Josh Cullen being offside – the first bit of luck. Then came the second, Taylor’s initial shot was going wide but hit the grounded Marko Marosi. The Addicks’ top-scorer made no mistake with his second attempt – diving to head in from a matter of yards out.
Marosi will probably be disappointed with the second that followed just two minutes later.
Morgan threaded the ball to Taylor and he teed up Aribo – so good with his runs into the box – the Doncaster stopper only getting the weakest of contacts as the ball squirted between his right arm and body.
If Marosi had not tipped over Morgan’s full-blooded hit soon after, then the tie could have run away from the hosts.
Instead, Doncaster pushed and probed after the restart.
But they found it hard to get real joy. Bowyer revealed post-match that his decision to switch to a 3-5-2 formation was to nullify the way that Rovers and counter-attacked into the space left by the full-backs when the two sides last met at the same venue.
There were a few moments of concern, Cullen clearing off his own line. But Doncaster’s threat was largely restricted to corners, which they whipped in with decent quality.
Charlton were happy to soak up pressure and not over-commit. Josh Parker and Morgan both made way as the experienced Pearce slotted into the backline with Krystian Bielik and Darren Pratley an extra defensive shield.
Aribo – so adept at pickpocketing opponents – sparked a move which saw Cullen’s header pushed behind by Marosi. It looked to be heading past the left upright anyway.
Then Aribo, a class above this level, produced textbook approach play on the right of the box – his cross just evading the highlighted head of Taylor.
Doncaster were heading to a first defeat to Charlton on home soil since the 2008-09 season, ending a three-game unbeaten run, but managed to cut the deficit.
If Taylor got the breaks for his goal, then so too did Matty Blair.
Cullen stepped in to block Mallik Wilks’ cross but the ball looped off him and turned into a devilishly difficult-to-defend delivery for the right-back, who headed in from virtually on the goal-line.
The tie isn’t over. Part of the reason why the play-offs is such rollicking good fun for the neutrals is the drama. Doncaster – 3/1 underdogs to win at The Valley – will come and put everything on the line.
But this Charlton side are confident – not cocky – in what they can do. They need to deliver one more time on their South London manor. If they do, Wembley awaits.
For a set of fans who have been through the mill in recent seasons, they deserve a day on the big stage.