Charlton 2 (Morrison 49, Wright-Phillips 64) Stevenage 0.
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
It seems like yesterday that Charlton were in the Premier League, while Stevenage Borough, nee Stevenage Town but recently re-branded as Stevenage FC (it seems only a matter of time before they call themselves "Steve") were plotting their meteoric rise from The Conference. Yesterday was five years ago, to be precise.
The first of only two teams to have beaten the Addicks in the league this season, Stevenage's achievements have been phenomenal. Two consecutive promotions have catapulted them into League One, from which they are making a bold bid to pass straight through into The Championship via the play-offs. Like 'em for their chutzpah or loathe 'em for their iconoclastic impudence, the Hertfordshire arrivistes are here to stay or, at least, until their bubble bursts. The latter is probably more likely.
Rarely have visitors to The Valley been awaited with such trepidation by the locals. Battered into submission at Broadhall Way in October, admittedly by a treacherously deflected Stacy Long drive, Charlton were braced for more of the same. On that wretched occasion, Chris Powell might feel, in retrospect, that his decision to tinker with his defence in a bid to protect diminutive right back Chris Solly from Stevenage's aerial bombardment was a tactical faux pas. The initiative was passed to the hosts and they duly edged a miserable game of head tennis. Powell's men have nursed a sense of grievance since that chastening defeat. Revenge, some four months later, was a dish served - and enjoyed - with cold relish.
There was little about the admirably well behaved visitors to trouble Charlton on Saturday. Forget the narrowness of the scoreline. Stevenage were outclassed, even outmuscled, beaten out of sight by a side without a single weakness.
Back from the migraine which caused him to miss Tuesday's disappointing draw with Rochdale, the impeccable Solly was part of an immaculate back four, with centre backs Michael Morrison and Matt Taylor impassable and Rhoys Wiggins in buccaneering form, which considers it an affont to concede a goal. Behind them, steadily improving Ben Hamer quietly registered his 11th clean sheet of the season.
In midfield, the Addicks lacked for nothing. A newly motivated Danny Green showed why he continues to keep Scott Wagstaff out of the team, Danny Hollands soldiered through his usual work quota, Dale Stephens established himself as the side's best passer, while skipper Johnnie Jackson returned from a brief injury absence to add his almost indispensable leadership to the cause.
Up front, Yann Kermorgant and Bradley Wright-Phillips tore their opposition to shreds. With Kermorgant providing the ammuntion, Wright-Phillips missed several chances but brought the house down by ending his tortuous 11-game scoring drought. Their movement and anticipation were too much for a defence which had allowed only four more goals (27) than parsimonious Charlton.
The Kermorgant-Wright-Phillips combination bubbled menacingly during a first half, which Stevenage opened and closed by missing two reasonable chances of their own. As early as the second minute, ex-Addick Lawrie Wilson lobbed tamely into Hamer's hands from close range; in added time, Wilson fed Long, who found unmarked Luke Freeman at the far post but the youngster's volley scarcely troubled Hamer. Not much else was heard from the visitors. Charlton, meanwhile, were merely toying with their prey. It was time to make their move.
Just four minutes after the interval, a quite spectacular strike by Morrison broke the quasi-deadlock. Biding his time at the edge of the penalty area as Hollands threw in long from the left touchline, the rugged defender chested down a scuffed clearance, stumbled slightly but used the momentum to smash an unstoppable drive into the top right corner. A packed away end was happily protected by Chris Day's net.
Shortly after the hour, Wright-Phillips scored surely the most popular goal of the campaign. Played into space on the right by Stephens' perfectly weighted pass, he shot instinctively across Day and found the net off the desperately retreating Jon Ashton's leg. Celebrations were many and mighty among both overjoyed colleagues and a bumper crowd which had kept faith with their profligate son.
Prompted by Kermorgant, Wright-Phillips went looking for more but found, in the defiant Day, an opponent of quality. On two occasions the keeper came out on top of one-on-one confrontations, on a third he saved smartly from the striker's crisp low shot. Each chance was created by the magnificent Kermorgant, whose airborne prowess is enhanced by underrated ability on the deck.
With Stevenage put in their place,the Addicks face only one more date with top-six opposition (at Huddersfield on March 24th). More's the pity, really, because their record against their nearest promotion rivals is hugely impressive. From nine games, they have collected 22 of their current total of 72 points. They have nothing to fear in this division except, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt warned, fear itself. Suddenly Tuesday night's assignment at rock-bottom Chesterfield seems fraught with danger. Nah, only joking! It should be OK.
Charlton: Hamer, Solly, Morrison, Taylor, Wiggins, Green, Hollands, Stephens, Jackson (Haynes 81), Kermorgant, Wright-Phillips (Pritchard 89). Not used: Sullivan, Cort, Clarke.
Stevenage: Day, Henry, Roberts, Ashton (Aneke 75), Laird, Wilson, Bostwick, Long (Myrie-Williams 67), Byrom, Freeman, Beardsley (Charles 22). Not used: Julian, Cowan.
Referee: C. Pawson. Attendance: 26,546.