Charlton 2 (Aribo 41, Taylor 51) Portsmouth 1 (Curtis 45).
Kevin Nolan reporting from The Valley.
Seamlessly dovetailing a polished performance with this reverberating result, Charlton delighted the Valley faithful on a chilly evening which was also savoured by Sky's TV audience. Brimming with confidence and controlled aggression, they kept alive their faint hopes of automatic promotion while all but nailing down the consolation prize of a place in the post-season play-offs. Beaten by the Addicks for the second time this season, meanwhile, Portsmouth might well be opponents seeking revenge in the semi-finals.
Starting clearly as they intended to go on, a strong side which lacked only the rested Chris Solly, absorbed an early shot across their bows when Jamal Lowe's dangerously driven cross zipped untouched throught the six-yard area before they took over. An urgent, marauding midfield, with the outstanding Krystian Bielik at its base, dominated possession and promptly reclaimed it whenever the ball was turned over. Bielik was majestic until a suspected hamstring niggle forced him off at half-time, with his replacement Ben Reeves enthusiastically picking up the second half slack.
The loss of the Arsenal loanee -and that of hard running Jonny Williams with a similar injury- were two dark clouds hanging over an abundance of silver linings. But adversity spurred superb Joe Aribo, all quick feet, sharp turns and endless mobility to turn in a nationally televised man-of-the-match display which, as Lee Bowyer ruefully acknowledged, will have alerted the usual jackals to his developing talent. Knowing the price, but not necessarily the value of everything, Roland Duchatelet will be looking forward to the summer sales.
Equally indispensable to Charlton's restlessly driving midfield -the one-for-all, all-for-one unit which Pompey boss Kenny Jackett recognised as the technical difference between these promotion seekers - was Josh Cullen. Still waiting to hear whether he or John Marquis will be credited with the Addicks' goal at Doncaster last week (his optimism, if not his judgement, is touching), Cullen seemed certain to open his account when Aribo and Williams combined to set him up with a point blank chance. The scurrying busybody's shot was on target but rebounded off Igor Vetokele's unhelpful back on the goalline. Shame Marquis wasn't around to lend a hand -or head.
So Cullen's search for his first Charlton goal continues but it was from another midfielder that the breakthrough came. At the end of an intricate passing sequence, Cullen's ball in to Aribo's feet was controlled, shielded, then drilled on the turn across Craig MacGillivray into the bottom right corner. Encouraged by management to get into the penalty area more often, the 23 year-old's finishing was exemplary.
After undergoing a first half going-over but hanging on grimly, Pompey promptly equalised a minute before the break with their first effort on goal. A right wing corner was curled in left-footed by Lee Brown to the far post where Ronan Curtis' well-timed leap between Bielik and Ben Purrington generated the elevation he needed to power an unstoppable header inches below the crossbar. The young scallywag then added insult to injury by shushing the home fans with a cautionary finger to his lips. The nerve of the guy!
With Bielik failing to re-appear following the interval and Williams soon to join him in the infirmary, Curtis' fine equaliser threatened to turn the tide but the Addicks were having none of it. Within six minutes of resumption, they reclaimed the lead under scruffy but no less telling circumstances.
Aribo's persistence on the left earned him space to drill over a low cross which cannoned off Matthew Clarke to Reeves, whose hastily prodded effort fell kindly to Lyle Taylor alongside him. With the natural predator's instinct for the right place at precisely the right time, Charlton's blonde bombshell made it sixteen for the season from four unencumbered yards. His eagerly awaited goal was reward for a selfless, energetic demonstration of defending from the front.
With a one-goal lead to protect for almost the entire second period, Charlton's vaunted defence coped coolly until, with 10 minutes remaining, weary cracks began to appear. Jackett's shrewd introduction of Brett Pitman in an unusually withdrawn role had its effect and it was the veteran's angled pass which freed Lowe to roll an inviting ball across goal where Curtis failed, by agonising inches, to tap into an open goal. Patrick Bauer's heroic block on Pitman was the visitors' last throw of the dice before The Valley stood to salute a side which wades through regular setbacks to make its point - or three. Bowyer's got something going on over in S.E.7. It goes on again on Tuesday evening when Nigel Clough brings Burton Albion down to try their luck. The cracks will be papered over by then.
Charlton: Phillips, Dijksteel, Bauer, Sarr, Purrington, Bielik (Reeves 46), Cullen, Aribo, Wiliams (Fosu 58), Vetokele (Pratley 84, Taylor. Not used: Maxwell, Solly, Lapslie, Parker.
Portsmouth: MacGillivray, Thompson, Burgess, Clarke, Brown, Naylor, Close (Donohue 81), Lowe, Evans (Pitman 75), Curtis, Hawkins (Vaughan 61). Not used: Bass, Walkes, Solomon-Otabor, Hanstrup.
Referee: Roger East. Att: 14,451 (3,097 visiting).