Shrewsbury Town 1 (Carlton Morris 58) Charlton 0.
Kevin Nolan reports from Montgomery Waters' greenhouse.
Well, it's over for another few months. Bloody good job too, many of us felt as Charlton's chaotic 2017-18 season - disjointed, disappointing, depressing, take your pick - was pepper-sprayed into an ugly conclusion on Sunday. Few of their supporters, certainly none of the 1,568 tetchy loyalists who gathered here for the last rites, will regret its passing. It ended in two feeble whimpers and no audible bang as Shrewsbury easily won both legs of this play-off semi-final 1-0 to book their place at Wembley later this month.
As the post-mortems begin, the main item on most agendas will be the immediate fate of caretaker boss Lee Bowyer. And the conclusion will be, it's to be hoped, that little blame for Charlton's burn-out is his to shoulder. He inherited a team in freefall, with the grisly 0-1 debacle at Blackpool as recently as March 13th, and a miserable 0-0 home draw against Fleetwood four days later, rival nadirs which persuaded Karl Robinson to jump ship before he was pushed overboard. The Mersey Mouth duly sidled off to Oxford, where he switched his affections with all the ersatz sincerity of the smooth philanderer. Wherever he lays his hat, that's Karl's home.
Buckling down immediately, Bowyer restored equilibrium with three consecutive victories, boosted by a surprising 9-1 goal difference, over all-comers. Results inevitably flattened out but their titanic win over Blackburn propelled the Addicks into the play-offs, an achievement regarded by most fans as nothing short of miraculous given the unholy mess the caretaker faced when he took over. His managerial future now lies in the hands of Roland Duchatelet, a Belgian hologram whose word is as scattergunned as it is final. Bowyer would be unwise to move his belongings in yet.
This failure in Shropshire, meanwhile, followed almost regimental lines of predictability and order. The Addicks enjoyed (or, more probably, were allowed) a deceptive 54%-46% advantage in possession, contributing their usual neat approach play but rarely threatening to break through to where it mattered. They buzzed impressively up to the home penalty area where they encountered the rugged Salopians, who closed ranks and physically bashed them up. Paul Hurst's hard men racked up a 14-5 foul count before the interval, which they increased to 23-8 before the final whistle. They also survived a confident penalty appeal when rock-hard skipper Mat Sadler blatantly handled Joe Aribo's dangerous cross. Ruthless Town manipulated the rules, brushed aside their frail opposition and ran out comfortable winners.
The security given them by Jon Nolan's wonder strike at The Valley three days previously bolstered Shrewsbury. Charlton struggle to score once, much less twice, in any single game; yet again, their lack of a natural finisher saw them complete this vital game without seriously testing Dean Henderson. It also goes without saying that not a single cross was provided for Josh Magennis, a more than useful header of a ball but one regularly starved of even average service from the flanks.
At the other end, Ben Amos was the visitors' best performer, his pair of first half saves from Alex Rodman, the first low at his near post, the second in one-on-one confrontation with the winger a minute before the interval, prolonging Charlton's academic interest in the tie. The marvellous stop he made from Stefan Payne in second half added time meant little in the bigger picture but confirmed Amos' consistent excellence, which made nonsense of his absence from the top three nominations as Player-of-the-Season recently.
As this second leg chugged along in a mirror-image of the first, tough guy Carlton Morris scored Town's matchwinner at almost precisely the same stage as Nolan had so memorably struck at The Valley. Moving alertly into position as the outstanding Shaun Whalley burst through to the right byline, the Norwich City loanee took a steadying touch before fizzing the attacking midfielder's perfect cutback past Amos into the bottom right corner. It wasn't as spectacular as Nolan's howitzer but was even more effective in settling Charlton's hash.
The Addicks' meagre chances are easily recounted. Magennis turned sharply in the penalty area but blasted Jake Forster-Caskey's free kick over the bar; Aribo's devastating break should have resulted in a penalty when Sadler handled; Nicky Ajose was denied by Aristote Nsiala's fine recovery tackle as he bore down on Henderson; Forster-Caskey's fierce drive brought Henderson plunging to his left to save. For a team that simply had to score, it was hardly the constant softening-up bombardment prepatory to getting back on terms. But in reality, Charlton were as good as beaten as soon as Nolan scored at The Valley. The bookies could have settled then.
Ah well, here's Elkie Brooks to sing us out again. "Fool if you think it's over..." er, you can give it a rest now, Elkie, wrong choice to be brutally honest. Thing is, it's as over as over gets for now. But thanks for trying. Come back in August. You're always welcome.
Shrewsbury: Henderson, Godfrey, Sadler, Beckles, Whalley (Riley 89), Carlton Morris (Payne 69), Bolton, Bryn Morris, Nolan (Jon-Lewis 90), Nsiala, Rodman. Not used: MacGillivray, Lowe, Jones, Eisa. Booked: Bryn Morris, Nolan.
Charlton: Amos, Dijksteel (Sarr 86), Bauer, Pearce, Dasilva, Aribo, Forster-Caskey, Konsa, Ajose (Mavididi 59, Fosu (Kaikai 62), Magennis. Not used: Phillips, Kashi, Reeves, Zyro. Booked: Bauer.
Referee: Jeremy Simpson.
Att: 9,026 (1,568 visiting).