AFC Wimbledon 1 (Folivi 24) Charlton 2 (Sarr 51, Vetokele 90).
Kevin Nolan reporting from the Cherry Red Records Stadium.
The exact words used by Lee Bowyer to inspire his insipid side at half-time were no doubt self-edited for public consumption. He had just witnessed 45 spineless, gormless minutes which left them mercifully only one down and still in touch with a game, to which they had contributed nothing but apathy and timid acquiescence.
"We just looked nervous", the rookie manager explained, "and didn't move the ball like we normally do. I told them to be brave and believe in each other." There, in an understated nutshell, is the gist of his interval message. Fill in your own blanks about what was really said. But it worked because as Bowyer further observed "we got there in the end and that's the most important thing."
Nothing in an horrendous first half encouraged hope that the Addicks would haul themselves out of the hole they had dug for themselves. Facing desperate, fully committed opposition who, despite being anchored at the bottom of the table, were coming off two consecutive league wins, they were passive to the point of paralysis. Without a win from their last three visits to this cramped little venue in Kingston, where the locals relish nothing more than cutting big shots down to size, they seemed on course to bottle it yet again. Football is however, as the cliche insists, a game of two halves. And Wimbledon, in failing to press home their early advantage, blew a golden opportunity to put a precious result out of reach.
The first period must be dealt with but briefly, in fairness to the hosts. They moved in front midway through the session when Joe Aribo, a driving force during Charlton's second half rally, began the process by needlessly shoving Scott Wagstaff in the back. Anthony Hartigan's free kick was turned back from the left byline by Terell Thomas and alertly nudged home by loanee Michael Polivi. It was no more than the Dons deserved but, significantly, a second goal eluded them. Their visitors, meanwhile, sputtered and spluttered fitfully on the way to an uncomfortable dressing room confrontation with their guv'nor.
Bowyer's rallying cry, if lacking Churchillian or Shakespearean resonance, also turned out to be his last direct contribution to the cause. Two minutes after resumption, he took vocal exception to a heavy challenge on Chris Solly in front of the away dug-out, forcefully making his objections known to referee Chris Kavanagh. A sarcastic addendum sealed his fate and he began the lonely trek across the pitch to the opposite sideline.
From his new vantage point, Bowyer was perfectly positioned to enjoy a truly marvellous equaliser, scored by the newly totemic Naby Sarr, a player whose steady improvement must make Naby the first name on his manager's teamsheet. Sarr stepped up to take the free kick awarded against Thomas for chopping down Lyle Taylor and, from 25 yards, bent an unstoppable delivery into the top left corner. His magnificent strike galvanised the Addicks from their torpor, though he risked expulsion himself later for a brutal assault on Wagstaff close to the right touchline. Rightly booked but possibly lucky to be spared a straight red, his absence through suspension would be disastrous at this critical time. Not only that, he was out of order in setting about popular Waggy, "one of our own" not so long ago.
Gritty and stubborn, the Dons began to run on empty but fought bravely to salvage at least a point from a game which initially promised so much. Charlton's pressure was intense but went unrewarded, due mainly to goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale's dogged defiance, until 79th minute substitute Igor Vetokele broke local hearts with a scruffily scrambled matchwinner. Four added minutes were waiting to be announced when Josh Cullen's short corner found its way to him by means of a brief bout of head tennis (with Sarr's head the loftiest among them), leaving the goal-starved Vetokele to nod home through the goalmouth chaos.
The joy of emerging unscathed from this most tricky of fixtures won't wipe, from Bowyer's memory bank, the nightmare of a first half, during which the disjointed Addicks flirted with premature defeat by the division's bottom club. Maybe he'll just choose to concentrate on the spirit which drove them to win an unlikely victory over perenially awkward customers, their comeback sparked by the insatiable workrate and no little skillof midfield warriors Aribo, Cullen, George Lapslie and Jonny Williams. If he needs his cockles further warmed, he'll dwell briefly on Ben Purrington's coolness under fire from his former colleagues, not to mention the huge influence all over the pitch of the mighty Sarr. He might then allow himself a smile.
Charlton: Phillips, Sarr (Dijksteel 85), Bauer, Sarr, Purrington, Aribo, Cullen, Lapslie (Vetokele 79), Williams, Taylor, Marshall (Fosu 61). Not used: Maxwell, Pearce, Reeves, Pratley.
Booked: Sarr, Williams, Marshall.
AFC Wimbledon: Ramsdale, Thomas, Nightingale, Kalambayi, Sibbick, Wagstaff, Hartigan (McLaughlin 63), Wordsworth (Barcham 80), Seddon, Pigott, Folivi (Hanson 70). Not used: McDonnell, Watson, Pinnock, Garratt.
Booked: Thomas, Sibbick, Seddon.
Referee: Chris Kavanagh. Att: 4,532 (750 visiting).