Charlton u-23s 3 (Hanlan 105, Ahearne-Grant 105, Charles-Cook 109), Hull City u-23s 3 ( Bowen 93, Ter Horst 102, Edwards 120). Hull won 5-4 on penalties.
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
Tacked on to 90 doggedly contested but generally undistinguished minutes, extra-time in this League 2 u-23 North-South semi-final erupted uproariously into a wildly fluctuating slugfest, during which all six goals were scored. The advantage swung decisively one way, then the other, then back again, with Charlton spectacularly overhauling a two-goal deficit to take a 3-2 lead into the final 30 seconds of a by then pulsating tie. Local hearts were broken when Jonathan Edwards headed home a last gasp equaliser from Greg Olley's soaring cross to set up what pundits have deemed the penalty shoot-out lottery.
Over regulation time, the Addicks were the more accomplished side and might have spared themselves their 12-yard ordeal had they taken even one of numerous chances. Chief culprit was Karlan Ahearne-Grant who twice failed to beat Tigers' goalkeeper Charlie Andrew in one-on-one confrontations. But it was Ahearne-Grant, whose pace and power alongside that of Brandan Hanlan, terrorised Hull's rearguard. Behind them, Anfernee Dijksteel's foot-on-the-ball class and George Lapslie's possession-winning tenacity made sure they were constantly at Hull's throat. Chance after chance was squandered which made even more impressive the sheer quality of Charlton's extra-time strikes.
Spirited City were hardly passive victims, as evidenced by the naming of home keeper Dimitar Mitov as indisputable man-of-the-match. The 20 year-old Bulgarian was outstanding, his saves from Will Annan's point-blank effort and Max Clark's volley the pick of a string of first half contributions. After riding his luck when Jarrod Bowen's ferocious drive almost splintered the bar, his amazing 90th minute instinctive reaction in keeping out an apparently sure thing from Johan Ter Horst ensured extra-time.
Mitov began his overtime shift with an elastic response to turn aside a clever overhead attempt from Edwards. From the resultant corner, unfortunately, his resistance was finally broken, with an unmarked Bowen making easy work of heading Daniel Batty's right wing delivery past him. And when Ter Horst dived to nod home Greg Olley's precise cross, Hull's all-Yorkshire final with Sheffield Wednesday seemed guaranteed. Until, that is, Charlton hit an irresistible purple patch.
Hanlan began the revival by cutting in from the left to thump a gloriously uninhibited right-footed drive inside the far post. With the deficit reduced and the scent of Tigers' blood in their nostrils, the Addicks drew level before the break. A crossfield driving run by substitute Alfie Doughty shredded Hull's resistance, with the talented stripling's perfectly judged pass sending Ahearne-Grant sprinting clear of Josh Clackstone to shoot across Andrew into the bottom right corner.
It was suddenly rousing stuff, which deliriously improved four minutes into the second period. A 68th minute replacement for Matt Carter, Regan Charles-Cook responded by unleashing an unstoppable, swerving strike from over 25 yards, which left Andrew helpless on its way into the top right corner.
Jason Euell's kids had apparently done enough to make the final but failed to seal the deal. Pressing forward in an enthusiastic but ultimately unwise effort to finish off their stunned opponents, they also offered them a way back into the contest. Sure enough, the gritty Humbersiders exploited their hosts' invitation to mix it by equalising with 30 seconds remaining of two added minutes. Olley produced another telling centre and Edwards, a daunting physical challenge for the more willowy Dan Bowry, gleefully made the most of it by heading effortlessly past a hopelessly exposed Mitov.
The penalty shoot-out was a crushing anti-climax, which proceeded routinely. Nine spotkicks were efficiently converted. To Charlton's chagrin, the first of them had already been tamely rolled into Andrews' hands by Charles-Cook, so lethal from twice the distance mere minutes earlier. Defeat for the young Addicks was a bitter pill but they swallowed it with enormous credit. There's a wealth of talent anxious to step up; Dijksteel and Lapslie, to name but two of them, could well be strutting their stuff in the first team next season. There are others, of course, not least that rubber ball in goal. It ain't all doom and gloom at The Valley. Because you've just gotta love these kids.
Charlton: Mitov, Barnes, Bowry, Cummings, Edwards, Dijksteel, Carter (Charles-Cook 68), Lapslie, Yamfam (Doughty 69), Ahearne-Grant (Maloney 120), Hanlan. Not used: Beeney, Hackett-Fairchild. Booked: Bowry, Lapslie, Ahearne-Grant.
Hull: Andrew, Lenihan (Clackstone 91), Rodgers, McKenzie, Tymon, Batty, Annan, Clark (Ter Horst 86), Leur (Edwards 77), Olley, Bowen. Not used: Croudson, Fleming.
Referee: Paul Kelly.