Charlton 0 Preston North End 2 (Russell 11, Mayor 67)
Encouraged by a tiny train of doughty pilgrims from the Red Rose county, Preston North End helpfully cleared one of Charlton's cluttered decks by removing their second string from the Carling Cup last night. The visitors' reward, if reward is remotely the right word, is an even more daunting midweek shlep to Southampton for a third round tie next week. Home fans breathed a collective sigh of relief at that dismal prospect. "Better them than us" was the general attitude buzzing around The Valley. Unworthy, perhaps, but heartfelt.
Connected to a genuinely proper football club, it has to be said that North End's followers were a less toxic breed than their immediate predecessors from Exeter proved to be last Saturday. So disgruntled were two Devonians by Bradley Wright-Phillips' cheeky reaction to his opening goal that they were unceremoniously chucked out, one of them held symmetrically horizontal with a burly attendant at each corner. Bertie Wooster periodically left the Drones Club in identical fashion after a food fight went too far. The effect is irresistibly comical, totally undignified and punctures the self-esteem of the most neanderthal of football hooligans.
But we digress. Three days after his First X1 laboured in dismissing 10-man Exeter, Chris Powell completely rang the changes, as he had done when the Addicks impressively eliminated Championship opponents Reading in the first round last month. Mahogany-hued Preston boss Phil Brown, meanwhile, had himself more or less re-vamped the line-up which squeezed past Yeovil on Friday night. He was handsomely vindicated by the tape-to-tape superiority exerted by his reserves, who won more or less as they pleased.
Not that Charlton started badly, with Ruben Bover Izquierdo stinging the fingers of Andreas Arestidou from 25 yards. Preston's riposte was immediate; youth academy graduate Danny Mayor began 45 minutes of torture for Simon Francis by cutting inside the hapless right back to cross hard and low, a convenient ricochet leaving experienced Darel Russell the straightforward task of burying a low drive inside the left post. Francis' miserable evening promptly went from bad to worse, with a booking for chopping down Paul Parry, his half-time withdrawal by Chris Powell as much an act of compassion as the manager's tactical response to an already unpromising situation.
Not that Francis was exactly overshadowed by his colleagues, whose performance was as bad on this occasion as it had been good against Reading. Until Scott Wagstaff added his first team pedigree in the second period, they were aimless and gormless. Supposedly under threat from Danny Green for his first team place, Wagstaff added class to a losing cause. Green, on the other hand, seemed dragged down by the mediocrity around him, his solitary contribution a slaloming run which ended anti-climatically when he momentarily stepped on the ball before being crowded out.
Wagstaff was responsible for his side's few positive moments. A searing 25-yard drive was spectacularly tipped over the bar by Arestidou and a close range header from Jason Euell's stoppage time cross hit a post. John Sullivan was the busier keeper, though, an early save to keep out Russell's blockbuster the best of the game and his bravery at Adam Barton's feet earning him a painful injury. He could do nothing, however, to prevent Mayor from sealing the issue in the 67th minute.
Proving as elusive to replacement right back Yado Mambo as he had been to poor Francis, 20 year-old Mayor cut in again from the touchline to curl a fine drive beyond Sullivan's left hand on its way into the right corner. Preston's ticket to Southampton was duly booked, Charlton's lack of envy palpable.
There was prompt consolation for a small crowd and a pragmatic manager as news arrived of defeats for both Sheffield clubs and the failure of Brentford to beat Colchester at home. By default, the Addicks had moved to the top of League One and the Carling Cup paled into comparative insignificance. Brentford are due at The Valley in the JPT on October 5th. Don't expect a bloodcurdling cup tie from teams with more important items on their agenda. It could even be embarrassing.
Charlton (4-4-2): Sullivan 6, Francis 4 (booked), (Mambo 46,5), Doherty 5, Cort 5, Evina 6, Green 5 (Popo 76), Hughes 5, Pritchard 5, Bover Izquierdo 5 (booked), Benson 5 (Wagstaff 46,7), Euell 5. Not used: Hamer, Davisson, Warren, Smith.
PNE: Arestidou 6, Ashbee 6, Carlisle 7, Morgan 6 (booked), Coutts 6 (booked). Isoumou 6, Barton 6 (Zibaka 76), Mayor 8, Parry 7, Russell 7, Clucas 6 (booked). Not used: Comrie, Nicholson, McLean, Wright, McLellan, Mellor.
Referee: F. Graham 7. Attendance: 5,130.