Peterborough Utd (Szmodics 66,79) Charlton 1 (Washington 14,pen).
by Kevin Nolan on duty back at home, where he belongs.
Two descents into momentary madness destroyed what had promised to be an untroubled, tactical tour-de-force by Charlton. On arguably the worst playing surface in League One, they had adapted sensibly to the conditions, kept things deliberately simple and were proceeding uneventfully behind the early lead supplied by Conor Washington's early penalty. Then abruptly they shot themselves twice - once in each foot.
Their first concession involved an outbreak of slapstick misunderstanding - comical under different circumstances but disastrous in this serious context. While converging on an innocuous high ball through the middle, Jason Pearce and Deji Oshilaja contrived to impede each other and turned what should have been a routine clearance into a music hall farce, which Brian Rix might have authored. Subdued up to that point, Jonson Clarke-Harris was quick to exploit the carnage, his flick sending Sammie Szmodics through to slot calmly past Ben Amos. From busy beasts of prey, Charlton became hypnotised rabbits in Peterborough's headlights.
A creditable draw with freescoring Posh (25 goals in 10 home games) was still achievable until more Keystone Kops defending ruined even that modest ambition and handed all three points to their grateful hosts. A faithful re-run of the opening goal saw the hapless Pearce combine with substitute Andrew Shinnie to make an unholy mess of dealing with another apparently harmless delivery near the left touchline. Pearce hesitated, as did Shinnie; both were lost as the predatory Clarke-Harris solved their dilemma, his accurate pass slipping Symodics clear to beat Amos again, this time off the foot of a post.
Before the end, Symodics and Amos confronted one another again, with the keeper winning their third one-on-one duel by blocking the on-fire forward's shot. It was too late to matter by then, with the Addicks already reduced to a broken, disorderly rabble. But until Posh's prolific striker equalised, their tactics had been spot-on. They carried out Lee Bowyer's game plan faithfully, with high-end pressure, tigerish group tackling and defensive responsibility unsettling their normally freewheeling opponents. Taken aback , Duncan Ferguson's men struggled to assert the usual authority they enjoy at home. The question was whether Charlton could keep it up. Five minutes past the hour mark, we had our answer.
On 14 minutes, however, the visitors' future looked bright. They had signalled their aggressive intent shortly after kick-off, with Ian Maatsen's fierce drive skimming the crossbar. It was no shock when they took the lead, with Pearce an important contributor at the right end of United's ill-kempt potato patch. In pursuit of Jake Forster-Caskey's free kick, he was clumsily hauled to the ground by Ethan Hamilton and despite goalkeeper Christy Pym's pointless protests, for which he was booked, a penalty was correctly awarded. From 12 yards, Washington made not altogether convincing work of claiming his 7th goal of the season.
Buoyed by their early success, the Addicks were good value for the lead they brought back to the dressing room at half-time. Oshilaja and Pearce were a redoubtable barrier to progress down the middle, with Darren Pratley in belligerent mood ahead of them; Clarke-Harris and Symodics were reduced to scraps of occasional possession. Full backs Maatsen and Chris Gunter were sound, with Forster-Caskey continuing his recent improvement as midfield organiser. From Omar Bogle up front to Amos in goal, each Addick contributed to a tireless defensive operation which, while hardly attractive, was effective. But it couldn't last.
Had Gunter netted a straightforward headed chance soon after the break, the Addicks might have sealed an unexpected victory over close promotion rivals. His miss denied them the clear water they needed to see them home and an old, familiar feeling of inevitability greeted Posh's equaliser and their eventual winner. That both goals resulted from defensive howlers fails to mitigate the deep disappointment felt in countless living rooms in South London and North Kent. It suggests that Charlton are a decent League One side, whose Championship ambitions are currently so much pie in the sky. And as for the trumpeted five-year plan to "get back where we belong" in the Premier League, that should perhaps be filed under "temporary insanity." There's nothing wrong with mindless optimism. Trouble is that a withering dash of reality is often served as dessert.
In the shorter term, the Addicks will be seeking some sort of redemption against Swindon Town at The Valley on Saturday. It's not too late to make a run for the play-offs. That particular optimism is grounded, not mindless. And we're not too bad at play-offs.
Peterborough: Pym, Butler, Thompson, Beevers, Kent, Taylor, Clarke-Harris, Dembele, Symodics, Kanu (Burrows 58), Hamilton (Brown 64). Not used: Gyollai, Eisa, Broom, Jones, Mason. Booked, Pym, Kent, Symodics.
Charlton: Amos, Gunter, Oshilaja, Pearce, Maatsen, Smyth (Gilbey 79), Pratley, Forster-Caskey (Shinnie 71), Millar (Williams 79), Bogle (Aneke 67), Washington (Schwartz 67). Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Harness, Matthews. Booked: Forster-Caskey, Millar, Smyth, Pratley.
Referee: S. Purkiss.