Charlton 2 (Page 3, Zyro 17) Plymouth Argyle 0.
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
Emboldened by their four-month unbeaten run and roared on by over 3,000 of Paul Whitehouse's cocky Green Army, Plymouth Argyle pulled into The Valley clearly expecting to leave a few hours later with all three points.
Argyle's brimming confidence, to be fair, was justified. They were visiting a football club which has become the butt of a joke with the longest punch line in history. Every time you think the last laugh has been wrung from Charlton's antics, they come up with another zinger to keep the mirth alive. Off the field, they've been a toe-curling embarrassment; on the park recently -don't go there, just don't go there. Unless, of course, you want to discuss Saturday's game.
During the week preceding the Pilgrims' arrival, even the departure of Karl Robinson descended into knockabout farce. His resignation was tendered to a slimline board which had been reduced from three members to two since Katrien Meire took it on her toes in January. Its chairman is a lugubrious old Belgian badger, who has prudently stayed out of England since the government declared war on his secretive species. Meanwhile, poor Richard Murray has carried the can alone and has found it lonely at the top.
Already lined up with a job at Oxford, Robinson's resignation became a mini-saga. He found it difficult to find someone qualified to accept it although a tea lady gamely volunteered to forward it. His first effort was eventually rejected, apparently on a split 1-1 vote, so he sought a re-count. This time he was successful and got his way 1-0 with one abstention. Off he trundled to the shires and Plymouth's fate, though far from obvious at the time, was sealed.
Lying in wait for the tearaway Westcountrymen were caretaker manager Lee Bowyer and his right-hand man Johnnie Jackson, both of them boasting solid Charlton pedigrees and each with a point to prove. They had prepared a revitalised side in a re-jigged 4-4-2 formation and unleashed them on unsuspecting Argyle. The visitors were taken by the scruff of their necks and handed a comprehensive hiding in comfortably the Addicks' best performance of an otherwise wretched season. They were never in with a chance.
Bowyer's men announced their aggressive intentions as early as the first minute when Remi Matthews bravely whisked Nicky Ajose's clever flick off Michal Zyro's toes. Plymouth's relief was short-lived as the outstanding Anfernee Dijksteel's cross from the right was inconclusively headed clear by Oscar Threlkeld to Lewis Page, unmarked over 30 yards from goal. A cushioned chest touch set up Page's left-footed volley which screamed beyond Matthews' despairing grasp on its way into the top right corner. Charlton had been given the perfect start on which to build and made a masterclass of it.
Largely untroubled as his side called the tune, Ben Amos promptly did his bit with a key contribution to keep out Argyle's best chance. Plunging low to his left as Ryan Taylor met Gary Sawyer's cutback from the byline, Amos fingertipped the low shot on to the post and safety. The importance of his save increased when the Addicks almost immediately doubled their lead. A sharp interchange of passes after Ben Reeves shrewdly switched play from right to left culminated in Ajose's cross which eluded a packed penalty area but was retrieved by Joe Aribo wide of the far post. The midfielder shifted the ball to his left foot before providing a perfect delivery which Zyro powered past Matthews.
Required to protect their lead for over 70 minutes, Charlton coped almost effortlessly. Centre backs Patrick Bauer and Jason Pearce were ruthless stoppers, unbeatable in the air and never reluctant to put a foot through the ball when necessary. Dijksteel compensated for the odd positional misjudgement with blistering speed and muted the threat offered by playmaker Graham Carey; on the opposite flank, left back Page followed his wonder strike with a sound, sensible performance.
Reeves was a busy, constructive influence in midfield alongside Jake Forster-Caskey's man-of-the match display, Aribo continued his impressive improvement, Tarique Fosu's pace and trickery frequently tied Argyle in knots. Up front, the skilful Ajose deserved a goal while, in Zyro, Bowyer has a centre forward capable of protecting the ball, passing it accurately and clearly with a goal in his repertoire.
"They were all men today," summarised a pleased but down-to-earth Bowyer, "I have no doubt we'll make the play-offs." Plymouth's reaction to rare defeat was slightly more puzzling. "Argyle continued to be the side who dictated the pace of the game" is a typical comment lifted from the club website's relentlessly optimistic match report. And with history duly re-written, the visitors probably enjoyed their long journey home. They were laughing when they arrived. And still managing faint smiles as they left. They might fade, though, when the truth kicks in.
Charlton: Amos, Dijksteel, Bauer, Pearce, Page (Sarr 88), Aribo, Reeves (Maloney 90), Forster-Caskey, Fosu, Ajose (Marshall 82), Zyro. Not used: Phillips, Kaikai, Lennon, Umerah. Booked: Bauer, Forster-Caskey.
Plymouth: Matthews, Sawyer, Songo'o (Fletcher 54), Ness, Carey, Lameiras (Taylor-Sinclair 54), Makasi, Threlkeld, Vyner, Fox (Paton 72), Taylor. Not used: Letheren, Ainsworth, Grant, Sangster. Booked: Paton.
Referee: John Busby.
Att: 13,989 (3,034 visiting).