Sheffield United 0 Charlton 2 (Kermorgant 65, Wright-Phillips 67)
Kevin Nolan reports from Bramall Lane...
Bouncing straight from their searching midweek test at wet-behind-the-ears MK Dons to what promised to be an even sterner examination of their promotion credentials at venerable Bramall Lane (1889), Charlton sampled both ends of football's historical spectrum last week. It's tempting to dismiss the Dons as no more than cocky young upstarts but even their worst enemies would concede that the quality of their football last Tuesday was hugely impressive.
Sheffield United, on the other hand, have seen it all before in their long, sometimes successful past. They've been yo-yoing between the lower divisions recently after controversially losing their Premiership status, along with Charlton, in 2006. Both clubs have found the going tough in League One; each of them has earmarked the current season as the launch of a serious push to revisit past glories.
More streetwise than MK Dons, United were expected to confront Charlton with their toughest assignment so far. That's not how it turned out. Instead the Blades were turned over on their own hallowed turf by visitors who outclassed them in every department. From tape to tape, bell to bell, the table-topping Addicks were too good for them. Producing their best performance of the season, the two-goal winning margin hardly flattered them.
United's resistance was effectively broken in a first half that, ironically enough, they could claim to have shaded. They came closer to scoring but encountered sturdy, pragmatic defence, which featured several clearances off the line. These anything but soft Southerners were prepared to put their bodies on the line for the general good of their team. They removed any doubt that their position on top of League One is merited.
Courageous captain Johnnie Jackson was the first goalline hero. The skipper was fortuitously placed to scrape Neill Collins' scuffed effort to safety, after Chris Porter made a hash of heading Lee Williamson's corner goalward. His defiance was matched by Rhoys Wiggins in hacking away a deliberate header header from Steohen Quinn, following a momentary lapse by Ben Hamer.
Charlton's best chance, meanwhile, fell unfortunately to rugged centre back Michael Morrison. Set up by Wiggins' approach pass and Ben Hayes' skilful overhead pass, Morrison sliced his shot horribly wide. Sensibly resuming his outstanding partnership with Matt Taylor, Morrison was in impassable mood. And flanking the no-nonsense central defenders are the division's best full back pairing of Chris Solly and Wiggins. It's a back four of purpose and resilience.
Their first half softening process completed, the Addicks moved in for the kill. The natives were already becoming restless at their team's curious reluctance to battle for scraps when Bradley Wright-Phillips rubbed in the difference in commitment by hustling a left wing corner off Matt Lowton.
Before Dale Stephens took the flagkick, however, Chris Powell rushed French substitute Yann Kermorgant into the action in replacement of Hayes. The move smacked of managerial genius when Kermorgant, with his first touch, headed Stephens' inswinger unstoppably past Veteran keeper Steve Simonsen.
The stuffing was knocked out of United. They were defending like the Keystone Kops a minute later, as Wright-Phillips danced between their disintegrating ranks, drew a bead on the left corner but missed his target by inches.
Wright-Phillips' disappointment was ephemeral. One more minute later, he seized on a dreadful mistake by Collins, showed too much of the ball to the onrushing Simonsen but charged through the keeper's panicky clearance. The task of walking his seventh goal of the campaign into a vacant net was a walk in Bramall Lane for the prolific scorer.
Traditionally rocky with a two-goal lead, Charlton coped admirably. It did take a sensational save by Hamer, his best since he joined the club, to protect the advantage but the newcomer has been improving steadily. He won't produce better than the magnificent reaction he produced to reach the text book header directed across him by Richard Cresswell from Lecsinel Jean-Francis' deep cross. Cresswell was already celebrating the reduction of United's arrears before Hamer's athleticism confounded him. The keeper also contributed an alert block when one-on-one with Ched Evans but was a mere onlooker as Evans hit a post in added time. Otherwise a piece of cake, really.
Sheffield United (4-4-2): Simonsen, Lowton, McDonald, Doyle, Jean-Francois, Williamson (Flymm 73), Collins, Maguire, Porter (Cresswell 67), Quinn, Evans. Not used: Montgomery, Long, Parrino.
Charlton (4-4-2): Hamer, Solly, Taylor, Morrison, Wiggins, Wagstaff (Hughes 86), Hollands, Stephens, Jackson, Hayes (Kermorgant 63), Wright-Phillips Green 78). Not used: Sullivan, Cort.
Referee: S. Mathieson. Attendance: 20,743.