Charlton 1 (Sarr 80) Brighton 1 (Gross 47).
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
Stepping up in class as the new season looms large, spirited Charlton went toe-to-toe with Premier League visitors Brighton and emerged with an honourable draw as reward for their unstinting effort. Clearly the satisfying result, as much as their energetic performance, mattered greatly to Lee Bowyer's men.
A discouraging 1-0 loss seemed on the cards until, with ten minutes remaining, huge centre back Naby Sarr decided to take matters into his own hands. A ball-playing defender very much in the modern mould, Sarr controlled a clearance inside his own half before setting out for Albion's distant goal with mayhem in mind. Improvised one-twos with Nicky Ajose and Simon Dawkins carried him on like an impetuous Light Brigade cavalryman at Balaclava. As the whites of Hugo Keto's eyes came into sight, the run of the ball favoured the by-now irresistible Sarr in placing a precise, sidefooted shot inside the keeper's right hand post. Some goal it was too, a singular effort unlikely to be bettered during the season proper but one Bowyer will hope to see duplicated more than once by an unpredictable player who answers a different drum.
Quite apart from Sarr's unorthodoxy, there was plenty to encourage the manager in a feisty clash with visitors whose ascension to the Premier League coincided with Charlton's fall from grace. As recently as the 2015-16 campaign, the Seagulls and Addicks were squaring off in the Championship, with the former's 3-2 victory at the Amex Stadium on December 5th 2015 propelling them to the top of the table. Meanwhile, of course, Charlton were heading in a disastrously different direction.
In charge of Brighton back then was Chris Hughton, still bringing his calm influence to bear at The Valley on Tuesday evening. Matching "wits" with him less than three years ago was one Karel Fraeye, the latest in a pathetic parade of easy-come, soon-to-be-gone losers who ensured Charlton's steady decline. In Hughton, Albion had -and still have- rock-solid leadership which they ranged behind in thinner times. Fraeye was gone just a month after the December 2015 defeat, as the bodies continued to pile up. Don't hold your breath until Bowyer is confirmed in the job. After all, this sorry saga began with the treacherous backstabbing of another Valley legend.
Further evidence of the contrasting fortunes of these fine clubs was provided by ex-Addick Dale Stephens, whose effortless range of passing now earns him a Premiership crust on the South Coast. He wasted little time in showcasing his ability with a gorgeous, defence-splitting delivery which Pascal Gross squandered by shooting against the advancing legs of Dillon Phillips. Prolific scorer Glenn Murray was even more wasteful when firing inexplicably wide from point-blank range after being set up by Lewis Dunk's pass and Gross' clever flick. At the other end, David Button was untroubled by the rising effort driven over the bar by promising Albie Morgan.
Bowyer has reason to be pleased with the tireless contributions of his interval substitutions. But before they were heard from, Charlton fell behind. James Tilley's right wing cross was headed back across Phillips by Murray and seemed bound for the opposite corner until the keeper's straining fingertips kept it out. Unhindered by the right post, Gross was left with a simple tap-in.
Down but clearly far from out, the Addicks responded with youthful irreverence. Tenacious left full back Jamie Mascoll was an aggressive fireball, whose uninhibited tackling caused Hughton, a similarly committed left back during his distinguished playing career, to wince on more than one occasion. Equally committed George Lapslie popped up on both flanks to put himself about, as a shaken Arrun Connelly would confirm, pausing briefly to apologise before hustling back for the free kick. Midfield bite at Charlton - remind you of anyone?
Charlton were beginning to run out of time when Keto withstood a rat-a-tat three-shot salvo from Josh Magennis, saving each of them with commendable defiance, which Phillips matched with two fine saves from close range efforts from Solly March and Connolly. Then Sarr stepped up to defy logic, destroy tactics and deliver a draw which mattered. Really mattered.
Charlton: Phillips, Marshall (Yao 46), Ward, Sarr, Page (Mascoll 46), Forster-Caskey (Maloney 46), Pratley (Ince 46), Dawkins, Morgan (Lapslie 46), Ajose, Magennis.
Referee: Gavin Ward.
Att: 2256 (458 visiting).