Charlton 4 (Aribo 19, Andrew 32 o.g. Taylor 40, Bielik 75) Rochdale 0.
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
The buzz sweeping The Valley at half-time wasn't entirely due to Charlton's perfect performance which left Rochdale breathless at the break. There was plenty to celebrate, of course, but it was news from other key venues which iced a tasty cake.
While the Addicks were finding it difficult to misplace a pass, mistime an interception, much less miss their chances, play-off rivals Portsmouth and Sunderland were busy bottling it against similarly modest opposition. Both of them were struggling at the interval and if they continued to flounder, one more goal would catapult Charlton over them into third place and with it the prize of visiting Doncaster Rovers in the first leg of the semi-finals. While being careful what they wished for, most fans and probably Lee Bowyer had no problem with that surprising outcome.
The addition of a fourth goal to a 3-0 scoreline which actually flattered 'Dale, seemed the least of Charlton's concerns. They had outclassed the mid-table visitors and were expected to blow them away while attacking their favoured covered end. To their credit, they buckled to the task but things began to go wrong.
Referee Charles Breakspear's baffling decision that Jimmy Keohane's deliberate foul which hauled back Josh Parker as he burst clear to confront Josh Lillis deserved a yellow rather than the red card it clearly deserved, sowed the first seeds of doubt. And when the otherwise excellent Albie Morgan sidefooted Lyle Taylor's deft cross wide, they began to grow. But it was Parker's remarkable miss before the hour which lent substance to the mounting suspicion that Bowyer's rampant men might be on the verge of squandering a golden opportunity.
Parker, whose wholehearted contribution deserved better than the abuse he received from a small minority of an enthusiastic crowd, found himself facing a yawning net after Lillis had smartly saved Taylor's crisp low drive. With the keeper still prone, the burly forward placed the easy rebound lamentably wide of the target.
At precisely the same time, Portsmouth equalised at Fratton Park to ramp up the pressure.
In no mood to accept disappointment, Charlton continued the hunt. Joe Aribo's clever chip sailed narrowly over the bar before Parker's artful flick sent Taylor's right wing cross inches wide. At the other end, Ryan Delaney volleyed Aaron Morley's corner over the in a rare respite for overworked Rochdale. With a quarter hour remaining, they finally capitulated although it took a marvellous goal to unravel them.
Along with Josh Cullen, Krystian Bielik ranks as one of the shrewdest loan acquisitions ever to pitch up in S.E.7. Versatile, powerful and richly talented, the Arsenal midfielder is vital to the Addicks' play-off prospects. He showed exactly why with a trademarked solo surge over the halfway line and the intuitive one-two he played with Morgan. The return pass sent him clear of Rochdale's ruthlessly filleted defence and his cool finish into the bottom left corner applied a fitting coup-de-grace. It also provided Morgan with his second assist of the evening, which neatly returns us to a fuller description of Charlton's exhilarating first half display.
A bright opening, during which Aribo's close range effort to convert Ben Purrington's cutback was bravely blocked and Taylor's low drive forced a smart save from Lillis, brought the first of the Addicks' three-goal salvo after 19 minutes. Aribo both started and finished the process which set up Taylor's shot, gamely smothered by Lillis, but re-cycled by Parker for Aribo to curl unstoppably inside the left-hand post from the edge of the penalty area. His ninth goal of the season -and third in as many games - enhanced the loose-limbed 22 year-old's growing reputation as a free-scoring midfielder.
Just past the half hour, the lead was doubled, but not before Dillon Phillips did his bit by athletically tipping over a meaty effort hit by Callum Camps with minimal backlift but surprising power. His solitary save protected a third consecutive clean sheet.
As irrepressible as ever, meanwhile, Taylor was doing pretty much as he pleased. An electric turn and burst to the right byline was followed by a firmly hit centre which eluded Parker in the middle but was turned into his own goal, under pressure from Purrington at the far post, by Rochdale skipper Calvin Andrew.
Inevitably, Taylor added his name to the scoresheet before the break. Sent down the middle by Morgan's precisely weighted through ball, he made easy work of slotting Charlton's third past the optimistically advancing Lillis.
So that's the marathon all but done and dusted. Now for the sprint finish. With a full squad at his disposal, Bowyer is primed and ready. Late knocks to Bielik and Taylor caused him brief palpitations, no doubt, but his decks are cleared for action. He's got some side at his disposal. They're a pleasure to watch. Bring it on!
Charlton: Phillips, Dijksteel, Bauer, Sarr, Purrington, Bielik (Pratley 84), Morgan, Cullen, Aribo (Reeves 89), Parker, Taylor (Marshall 83). Not used: Maxwell, Page, Pearce, Lapslie. Booked: Sarr.
Rochdale: Lillis, Morley, Delaney, Hamilton, Ntlhe (Bunney 62), Adshead, Williams, Camps, Keohane, Andrew (Wilbraham 69), Pyke (Bradley 76). Not used: Wade, McNulty, Done, Henderson. Booked: Delaney, Keohane.
Referee: Charles Breakspear. Att: 12,705 (290 visiting)