Charlton 0 Portsmouth 1 (Main 18).
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
Already qualified for the knock-out stages of the Checkatrade Trophy, a surprisingly strong Charlton selection failed to secure even the draw which would have guaranteed them, as group winners, a home tie in the next round. Instead they face the possibility of an inconvenient away trip which, despite regionalisation still being a factor, might see them travel to the western tip of the island.
A far less experienced Portsmouth side scored early, played neat, composed football and won this final group game without undue difficulty. Though the Addicks beavered away earnestly in search of an equaliser and missed the proverbial hatful of chances, Pompey keeper Luke McGee remained relatively untroubled in the eye of a storm which menaced but amounted to nothing.
Charlton's finishing was deplorable, as nutshelled by the clumsy mess Naby Sarr made of converting an exquisite delivery struck deliciously with the outside of Ricky Holmes' right foot in added time. Pushed forward in a last throw of Karl Robinson's dice, Sarr was admittedly under defensive pressure at the far post but lacked conviction and commitment in meeting the cross.
Sarr's missed opportunity neatly bookended a catalogue of near things begun after 30 seconds by Karlan Ahearne-Grant. Picked out in an identical position by Tarique Fosu's deep centre from the left, Ahearne-Grant was unable to make telling contact and shovelled wide. Even his sternest critic must feel a pang of compassion for a player so clearly struggling to realise his potential.
Fosu's contribution was his first and last flourish, as he departed after just nine minutes to be replaced by Ben Reeves. Shortly after he limped off, the visitors grabbed their matchwinner. Milan Lalkovic's cross from the left was returned from the far post by Kai Naismith and tapped home by Curtis Main.
Up front for the Addicks, Joe Dodoo's feeble efforts spotlighted Robinson's glaring lack of support for Josh Magennis. The Northern Irishman toils selflessly but could hardly be described as a prolific scorer. Neither the Academy nor the loan system has produced a natural predator, a succession of candidates emerging with impressive scoring credentials at junior level but appearing to freeze in front of the grown-ups' goal before seeking sanctuary on the wing.. Ahearne-Grant and Dodoo fit this bill, while late substitute Reeco Hackett-Fairchild tried his best without suggesting he was equipped to buck the trend. Others, including Brandon Hanlan, Mikhail Kennedy and Josh Umerah, have been farmed out on loan. Charlton are in dire need of a finishing school.
Sixteen of Charlton's 23 league goals, meanwhile, have been distributed among their talented midfield with Magennis (4) and Dodoo (1) scoring the only goals by a recognised striker. Centre back Patrick Bauer's early season pair accounts for the balance. In fairness, they've made a little go a long way.
Enough said then about a virtually meaningless setback in a correspondingly meaningless competition. I'm only sorry I brought it up. Move on.
Charlton: Phillips, Dijksteel, Sarr, Bauer, Mascoll, Kashi, Aribo, Fosu (Reeves 9), Clarke, Dodoo (Hackett-Fairchild 58), Ahearne-Grant (Holmes 70). Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Marshall, Forster-Caskey, Barnes.
Referee: Nicholas Kinseley. Att: 1307 (206 visiting).