Cheltenham Town 1 (Pell 17), Charlton 0.
Kevin Nolan reports from Whaddon Road.
Deep among the leafy lanes of Gloucestershire - in posh territory they had never previously visited - Charlton got stuck straight into their annual early-season task of lightening the fixture load. Their prompt departure from the EFL Cup was as predictable as it was inevitable. They won't find it as easy to exit the EFL Trophy (nee Johnstone's Paint Trophy) with its irritating mini-league format but where there's a will, the Addicks will always come up with a way.
Charlton's latest custodians of a club tradition which regards early elimination from cup competitions as almost an article of faith, gave best to a 17th minute goal from Harry Pell, a towering midfielder who spent the 2009-10 season in their youth ranks. Pell bashed a loose ball past Declan Rudd after Danny Whitehead helped on Daniel O'Shaughnessy's huge throw from the right. Beaten at Bury three days previously by goals conceded from a corner and a penalty, the Addicks look set to continue last season's chronic vulnerability to setpieces.
Before Pell scored, both sides had seen "goals" ruled out for offside, with the visitors the more aggrieved victims of the fatal flag. Nicky Ajose seemed at least level with Brandon Hanlan as the strongly built 19 year-old debutant ran on to Ricky Holmes' pass and crossed low for Ajose to turn home from two yards. Two minutes later, Rudd parried Pell's deflected drive to Danny Wright, who netted from a more obviously offside position.
The burst of early excitement soon abated, though the abject depths plumbed at Gigg Lane were never emulated. This game looked positively jaunty alongside Saturday's tedium.
Also making his debut in the beautiful Cotswolds was 18 year-old Ezri Konsa, with both teenagers acquitting themselves well. Assured on the ball and positionally sound, Konsa oozes promise. A comparative veteran, meanwhile, though still two months short of his 19th birthday, Ademola Lookman ran through his impressive box of tricks in his restless efforts to haul his side back into contention. Occasionally overdoing his individualism but not above tackling back where needed, Lookman's a bright spark in danger of being extinguished by the dampness around him.
With 73 minutes available to find an equaliser after falling behind, Russell Slade's men rarely threatened to cut the mustard. Shortly after Pell's opener, Roger Johnson's sidefooted shot was blocked on the line but Russell Griffiths should have been given no chance by Ajose, who scuffed weakly wide from Hanlan's knockdown. Otherwise impressive before limping painfully off, Holmes blasted a half chance over the bar before Ajose was a toe-end away from meaningful contact with Holmes' hard low centre. None of Charlton's efforts, however, matched the quality of Wright's venomously struck volley shortly before the break, which dipped over the crossbar by mere inches.
A livelier second period was largely controlled by the city slickers but the country bumpkins, bless 'em, stayed solid and rode out the occasional bump in the road. Charlton's best chances fell to willing worker Hanlan, who twice screwed wide on the turn, then saw a shot blocked at close range. Cheltenham actually came closer to scoring again but O'Shaughnessy spooned wildly over the bar after Rudd spilled Whitehead's free kick. The new keeper then kept the issue alive by saving smartly from Wright.
An ominous reminder that in the event of a draw, extra-time and potentially penalties would apply, concentrated minds wonderfully but that grisly prospect was avoided as Charlton ran out of ideas. Which is exactly what has happened to your reporter under the strain of padding out a full report. So that's all she, or in this case he, wrote.
Charlton: Rudd, Foley, Konsa, Johnson, Fox, Holmes (Ahearne-Grant 68), Crofts, Jackson, Lookman, Hanlan (Holmes-Dennis 80), Ajose. Not used: Phillips, Pearce, Solly, Muldoon, Thomas.
Booked: Foley, Johnson, Crofts, Fox.
Cheltenham: Griffiths, Parslow, Suliman, Holman, Cranston (Jennings 90), Waters (Barthram 89), Pell, Morgan-Smith (Rowe 89), Whitehead, Holman, Wright. Not used: Kitscha, Lymn, Bower, Thomas.