Charlton 2 (Taylor 60, Marshall 86) AFC Wimbledon 0.
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
It's unlikely that Lee Bowyer will easily forget his first season in management. He has handled one injury crisis after another, the nadir of which were the freak shoulder dislocations suffered by Igor Vetokele and Josh Cullen in the same game at Walsall in November. Even during Charlton's heroic win at whinging Portsmouth on Tuesday, he lost newly prolific striker Karlan Grant and midfield dynamo George Lapslie. At one point or another, he has been deprived of several key members of his slender squad.
The injury cloud which has regularly blighted the Addicks' improving progress has been supplied, happily, with a distinctly white lining. While cleverly juggling his resources, the beleaguered boss has been well served by the various stopgaps, volunteers and rookies who have stepped up to plug the holes. Mutual trust has been the key to survival.
It was no doubt a huge relief to the gaffer that without a midweek fixture to complicate matters, Charlton emerged from this routine win over historically awkward Wimbledon with no new casualties. Almost inevitably, however, Naby Sarr's unforgivable excess of zeal before a minute of this low-key derby had elapsed, handed Bowyer another headache in solving the chronic problem at left back. Nineteen year-old Toby Stevenson may now be offered another chance to deputise for long-term absentee Lewis Page, while Sarr serves a three-game suspension. Don't bet against the kid grabbing a second opportunity to impress the guv'nor.
Less than a minute, during which no Addick barely touched the ball, had ticked by before Sarr launched his boneheaded assault on Tennai Watson close to the right touchline. There was an outside possibility that referee Kettle's card of choice, as he closed in on a pack of baying Dons surrounding the stricken Watson, might be yellow but the victim's heartrending agony and his teammates' vociferous outrage convinced the dithering official that red was his only alternative. For all the wrong reasons, he was right.
With no disrespect to the towering Sarr, he was barely missed. Ultra-professional skipper Jason Pearce shifted to left back, with Krystian Bielik taking over seamlessly alongside the rock-like Patrick Bauer at centre half. With dependable Chris Solly continuing at right back, that might well be the back four which welcomes Gillingham to The Valley next Saturday. It served the Addicks well against the passive Dons who were themselves without key defender Deji Oshilaja and top scorer Joe Pigott.
With the 10 men hosts effortlessly hogging possession but rarely threatening to score, lone forward Mitchell Pinnock evened up the personnel count by picking up two quickfire bookings before the break. Already cautioned for a foul on Ben Reeves, it was unwise to exaggerate his fall under Pearce's innocuous challenge near the 18-yard line. There was minimal contact, or so it appeared, but Pinnock's theatrics and that of his excitable colleagues did him no favour. Like Sarr, his departure made little difference.
In no hurry to lower the boom, the Addicks kept both the ball and their heads. Confronted by visitors with no ambition but survival, they bided their time. "We just had to be patient...we had to keep the ball, move the ball and try and switch it", commented Bowyer. Their overwhelming domination of first half possession (73%-27%) softened up new gaffer Wally Downes' curiously unadventurous side for the second half kill.
Resuming with more intent following the interval, Charlton began to create chances. A short corner routine involving Tarique Fosu and charismatic ex-Don Lyle Taylor (serenaded by opposite ends of the ground for his considerable contribution to both clubs) set up Reeves to blast wastefully off target before Joe Aribo did likewise from an equally promising position. The pressure was hardly white hot but it was no surprise when Taylor shot his new employers in front on the hour.
Aribo's industry inside his own half earned him possession and was followed by a raking pass along the left flank which Nicky Ajose's anticipation and pace made his own near the byline. The wide midfielder's hard low cross was met by Taylor, who stole a step on Watson and deftly flicked home with the outside of his right foot. In deference to his Wimbledon connections, he declined to celebrate, a task enthusiastically undertaken by Charlton fans, who have suffered more than once at the hands of their irreverent South West London neighbours.
Briefly inspired by lively substitute Tyley Burey, the previously negative visitors began to stir, their belated nothing-to-lose attitude causing mild consternation in the home tribunes. Clearly a clinching goal was recommended, a detail Ajose should have taken care of when sent through by Reeves' glorious pass. Having momentarily rounded Joe McDonnell, his hesitation allowed the keeper to recover and superbly block the hopeful effort.
The coup-de-grace had been merely delayed as it it turned out. With five minutes remaining, Bielik's outstanding contribution was crowned by the artfully disguised crossfield pass which sent electric-heeled substitute Mark Marshall away to find a niche for the crisply delivered drive across McDonnell which nestled snugly in the far bottom corner.
That was job done against Wimbledon; it's now time to deal with Gillingham, another of those punch-above-their-weight tormentors who habitually raise their game to face Charlton. It might be all about muck and nettles; if it is, Bowyer's men need to get as down and dirty as their visitors. After which, class should out.
Charlton: Steer, Solly, Bauer, Pearce, Sarr (s/o). Bielik, Aribo, Reeves (Marshall 77), Fosu, Ajose (Dijksteel 71), Taylor. Not used: Phillips, Morgan, Hackett-Fairchild, Stevenson, Warpong-Wiredu. Booked: Bielik, Taylor.
Wimbledon: McDonnell,Watson, Purrington, Nightingale, Thomas, Wagstaff (Burey 76), Hartigan (Jervis 60), Pinnock (s/o), Barcham (Hanson 78), Soares, Wordsworth. Not used: King, Trotter, Sibbick, Kalambayi. Booked: Wagstaff.