Wycombe Wanderers 1 (Beavon 63 Charlton 2 (Wright-Phillips 6,41).
Treading the finest of lines again, Charlton completed the third leg of their Home Counties odyssey with a bitterly earned victory over dogged Wycombe Wanderers.
Before Tuesday's vital win, the Addicks hadn't fared too well in the leafy shires. A creditable 1-1 draw with MK Dons was followed by the disappointing surrender of their unbeaten league record at Stevenage. But with results elsewhere favouring them, they put daylight between themselves and their pursuers at the top of League One. All in all, it was a satisfactory, if harrowing, night's work.
In the cold light of day, however, the perfectionist in Chris Powell will focus as much on the flaws in his side's performance as on its undeniable merits. At half-time, Charlton were full value for their 2-0 lead after dominating their outplayed hosts and seemingly on course for a win as comprehensive as their effortless dismissal of Carlisle three days previously. During an increasingly torrid second half, however, their superiority began to fray to the point where the addition of four extra minutes arrived as an intolerable burden. They crawled over the line but that's what champions do sometimes.
There were only six minutes on the clock when Bradley Wright-Phillips (who else?) fired the visitors in front. His part in the goal might have been negligible but his instinct for being in the right place at the right time is an art in itself. A superbly flighted pass from old pro Andy Hughes sent Rhoys Wiggins marauding clear of right back Danny Foster to cross on the run but slightly behind Yann Kermorgant. The Breton's enterprising overhead effort hit the right post, before bouncing back to the predatory Wright-Phillips, whose finish past Nikki Bull was clinical.
Neat and constructive, meanwhile, Wycombe kept their nerve. A fine strike from Stuart Lewis skimmed the bar before Ben Strevens shot accurately but too close to Ben Hamer. The Chairboys were still in touch until Wright-Phillips' second goal knocked the wind out of their sails.
Set up by a magnificently judged pass from Danny Hollands, Wright-Phillips stole a key yard off his outmanouevred marker Dave Winfield, stumbled under the impact of the centre back's desperate challenge but recovered to drill a crisp low drive in off the left post. Ten goals in only fourteen starts this season is the return of a top notch marksman.
It was too easy to be true but reality bit after the break, The dominant visitors were served warning by tricky wide man Kadeem Harris. whose rising drive was nimbly turned over the bar by Hamer. Wanderers sniffed a switch in momentum, their growing confidence bolstered by Hamer's sudden nervousness in handling a couple of high balls. Midway through the second period, they deservedly reduced their arrears.
In Stuart Beavon, Wycombe have an in-form forward of their own. Scorer of seven of his side's fourteen league goals, he made it eight from fifiteen games by resolving an untidy goalmouth mess, during which Harris shot cannoned off Hamer's chest, with a no-nonsense close range shot.
Their comfortable ride no more than a memory now, the Addicks lived on their nerves as Strevens cut in from the left to curl a fine crosshot wide of the far post. Matt Taylor's miscued header which conceded an unnecessary corner was a sign that the times they were a-changin' but when they were asked to dig in, Powell's men answered the call. Centre backs Taylor and Michael Morrison headed ball after ball clear as the Chairboys adapted their ground-based tactics to include a steady barrage of high balls; full backs Wiggins and Chris Solly provided further evidence that their partnership is unsurpassed in the division. In front of them, Hollands superbly organised the first line of resistance, with the staunchness of Hughes at his elbow. Though Wanderers pressed relentlessly, they produced few chances.
When you're top of the league, as Charlton's marvellously vocal support reminded the locals they are, you find ways to win. And bloodymindedness has its place alongside elegance. There's more than one way to skin a Wanderer.
Wycombe (4-5-1): Bull, Foster, Johnson, Winfield, Basey, Harris, Bloomfield (Ibe 87), Strevens (Ainsworth 82), Lewis, Grant (Bignall 65), Beavon. Not used: Tunnicliffe, McCoy.
Charlton (4-4-2): Hamer, Solly, Morrison, Taylor, Wiggins, Green, Hollands, Hughes, Jackson, Kermorgant, Wright-Phillips (Wagstaff 85). Not used: Sullivan, Hayes, Euell, Cort.
Referee: Andy D'Urso. Attendance: 5,406.