Charlton 1 (Holmes 78) AFC Wimbledon 0
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
When Wimbledon goalkeeper George Long was booked for making a laborious, time-consuming meal of placing the ball for a free kick just ten minutes into the second half, he was reinforcing the line his side had metaphorically drawn in the sand at the start of this bitterly disputed local derby. The Dons had headed eastward along the Thames in pursuit of a point and they didn't much care who knew it or how they achieved it. In their parlous position just above League One's relegation basement, their dogged attitude was understandable. It was also dangerously provocative to hosts with a score to settle.
Memories of the SW Londoners' smash-and-grab win at The Valley in September 2016 and the last minute equaliser in Kingston earlier this year, which mocked Charlton's hunger for revenge, were still raw in S.E.7. On Saturday, they came within 12 minutes of sucking up a further dose of frustration. Until, that is, another booking led directly to the visitors' downfall.
Hardnosed and competitive, Dons' skipper Barry Fuller is a doughty opponent. Already limping painfully from a knock sustained early in the second half, the gutsy ex-Charlton academy graduate was left to struggle on though substitutes were still available. Clearly targeted by speedster Ricky Holmes, manager Neal Ardley's reluctance to replace his handicapped talisman was to cost him a sorely needed point.
Left hopelessly trailing Holmes as the flying winger turned towards the penalty area, all of Fuller's experience was brought to bear in tripping his tormentor carefully computed inches the safe side of the 18-yard line. Perfectly placed referee Ben Toner's correct decision to award a free kick rather than a penalty appeared to vindicate Fuller's cynicism but Holmes had other ideas. From an awkward angle close to the left byline, his breathtaking setpiece, cleared the wall, soared over the desperately backtracking Long's head and nestled sweetly inside the far post. There were still one or two awkward moments for Charlton to negotiate but the game was already up for Ardley's stubborn but unambitious troops.
Winners by 1-0 three times in their last four games, meanwhile, during which they have managed the same number of goals, Karl Robinson's resourceful team have learned to make a little go a long way. Their defending, exemplified by the excellence of centre backs Patrick Bauer and Ezri Konsa, has provided a bedrock. Behind them, Ben Amos has been faultless and in front of them a human shield has been erected by Ahmed Kashi.
Diminutive full backs Chris Solly and Jay Dasilva are encouraged to spend as much time in the opposition's half as they do in their own. A perceived lack of support for lone striker Josh Magennis has been ameliorated, at least temporarily, by the important goals recently contributed by a hard-grafting midfield.
The first half of this uninspiring game was frankly dreadful and, for that, Charlton were as much at fault as their well organised visitors. For the record, Jake Forster-Caskey sent a free kick, awarded for Tom Soares' foul on Tarique Fosu, limply over the bar and Fosu himself drove embarrassing yards wide from distance. For the Dons, Lyle Taylor was set up by Liam Trotter and Andy Barcham but blazed hopelessly wide of his target. If memory serves, those were the only attempts at goal and have been mentioned solely to pad out an otherwise alarmingly flimsy report.
Following the break, the exchanges improved, though still falling far short of excitement. Making space along the left flank, nippy Dasilva left Nadjim Abdou awash in his slipstream before delivering a telling cross. met on the volley by Fosu wide of the far post but crucially blocked by Darius Charles. In reply, substitute Callum Kennedy's free kick ricocheted off brick-in-the-wall Foster-Caskey to swerve perilously behind for a right wing corner. From George Francombe's ensuing flagkick, impressive centre back Deji Oshilaja spun on an inconclusive clearance but, from the penalty spot, blazed Wimbledon's best chance of the game over the bar.
Hustling, harassing and harrying the out-of-sorts Addicks, the Dons were within touching distance of their goal when the normally astute Ardley's curious decision not to relieve a clearly struggling Fuller caught up with them. The crippled right back's percentage foul on Holmes backfired badly, leaving his victim, scorer of an even better free kick during the 1-1 draw at Kingsmeadow last February, to be Wimbledon's deadball nemesis yet again.
Without Tom Elliott to provide a last minute equaliser, as he did in that toxic stand-off, AFC nevertheless came within a whisker of repeating their dramatic escape. Local hearts were in local mouths as Solly's misguided header sent Francombe's ballooning cross skittering to safety off Amos' crossbar. Behind the goal, 1357 travellers subsided into helpless frustration before re-doubling their foul-mouthed assault on Robinson. It's a crying shame. They'll break the poor man one day.
Charlton: Amos, Solly, Bauer, Konsa, Dasilva (Sarr 86), Kashi, Holmes, Forster-Caskey, Clarke (Marshall 70), Fosu (Reeves 86), Magennis. Not used: Phillips, Jackson, Aribo, Dodoo. Booked: Bauer, Kashi (artful dodger).
AFC Wimbledon: Long, Fuller, Oshilaja, Charles, Trotter, Barcham, Soares, Kaja (Kennedy 70), Francombe, Abdou (McDonald 81), Taylor. Not used: McDonnell, Robinson, Sibbick, Hartigan, Egan. Booked: Francombe, Trotter, Long, Fuller.
Referee: Ben Toner. Att: 12,575 (1357 visiting).