Charlton 3 (Taylor 54 pen, 72, Vetokele 70) Luton Town 1 (Cornick 15).
Kevin Nolan reporting from The Valley.
They turned up mob-handed to take over the Jimmy Seed Stand, full of themselves and full of Luton Town, a club whose recent colourful history you couldn't make up.
Chucked out of League Two with a 30 points penalty for "financial irregularities" after the 2008-09 season, the Hatters began the road back to the big-time five years later by winning the Conference Premier. A period of comparatively calm consolidation ended last May when they were promoted automatically from League Two but what they've gone on to achieve in the dizzying heights of League One so far this season makes you pinch someone in disbelief.
Unbeaten in 28 games since Barnsley saw them off 3-2 at Oakwell on October 10th, Town arrived at The Valley to settle unfinished business with Charlton. A tetchy 2-2 draw in September featured a last kick equaliser from improbable marksman Chris Solly who saves his goals for the road (Brisbane, Bloomfield and crucially Kenilworth). The unflappable skipper's excellent strike abruptly silenced the locals who, moments before, had complacently amused themselves by delaying a last chance corner from Josh Cullen and were reminded of their folly by, if memory serves, an ear-cupping Joe Aribo among others.
So there was an edge but no genuine antipathy between two sides who served up a reminder that genuinely attractive football is not confined to the Premier League. In an evenly contested first half, the runaway league leaders showed why they are on their way to the Championship and how that awesome unbeaten streak was put together. Mobile and finely tuned, the visitors retired at half-time deservedly a goal to the good but the Addicks though down were far from out.
Without any of the usual early sparring, battle was joined immediately. Lyle Taylor scuffed wide from Igor Vetokele's set-up while at the other end, Naby Sarr began another impressive contribution with an urgent intervention to clear James Justin's dangerous low cross from Charlton's six-yard box. On the quarter hour the visitors, bristling with menace, took the lead. Pelly Ruddock-Mpanzu's powerful run scattered the home defence and with Ben Purrington drawn out of position, his well-timed pass was drilled first-time into the roof of the net by Harry Cornick.
Conceding for the first time in five games, rattled Charlton were briefly at the mercy of Mick Harford's marauders and not for the first time recently were indebted to Dillon Phillips for staying in contention. Their brilliant young keeper twisted in mid-air to claw George Moncur's wickedly deflected shot to safety. A second goal at that point might have lowered a conclusive boom but Phillips was having none of it.
Up front, meanwhile, Vetokele and Taylor were irrepressible. The Angolan's pass was smashed against the bar by his Montserratan colleague before, minutes later, Phillips' quickly released delivery sent Vetokele haring clear to confront James Shea at the edge of Town's penalty area. Beating the keeper to the ball, his lob drifted agonisingly wide as Shea ruthlessly mowed him down. The argument about covering defenders is specious. The foul itself deserved red rather than the yellow card brandished by wishy-washy referee Gavin Ward.
Charlton's hard-done-by mood was hardly lightened a minute after the break by Ward's decision that Jonny Williams was fairly tackled, rather than crudely brought down from behind in the area by Matty Pearson. Possibly beset by pangs of guilt, Ward promptly compensated with a contentious ruling in the Addicks' favour. It certainly seemed harsh on skipper Sonny Bradley, who was suckered by Taylor's artful habit of backing into an innocuous shove in the striker's back. After peace was restored, Taylor casually converted the spotkick, described post-game by Harford as "disgraceful." The decisions involving Shea and Pearson, of course, went uncontested by the morose manager.
Boiling with indignation at the equaliser, the Hatters fell apart and were all at sea as their hosts battered them with a lethal one-two combination midway through the second session. Needless to say, Vetokele and Taylor were responsible for their downfall. So too was midfield maestro Krystian Bielik who between regular bouts of treatment for what physios tactfully refer to as the "groin area" ("knackers" to us laymen but what do we know?) conducted a masterclass in turning solid defence into lightning attack. Bielik's irresistible surge through the heart of Luton's clinically gutted defence was completed by the ideally judged pass which found Vetokele in space to his left. The resurgent forward coolly gave his side the lead by placing a low drive across Shea into the far corner, his timely return to scoring form greeted with extra-warm acclaim by teammates and crowd alike. Karlan Grant's departure begins to dim into insignificance as Vetokele grows in confidence.
On fire now, the scorer turned provider two minutes later with a tasty cross from the left which Taylor turned past Shea for his 21st goal of a prolific season. By then, the Hatters had disintegrated into rabble, with Andrew Shinnie's petulant dismissal evidence of total surrender. The corner flag keep-ball routine, skilfully conducted by the cheeky Taylor, Aribo and George Lapslie, seemed almost sadistic but was hugely enjoyed by an ecstatic crowd, which brought their jubilant celebrations to the streets outside the ground. Note to surly Plymouth manager Derek Adams: it ain't timewasting, it's part of prudent game management, mate, something Charlton took time to master but which they've now made a frequently hilarious artform. It didn't go down as well in the Jimmy Seed Stand where it's fair to say the end of their team's heroic unbeaten run was greeted with generous appreciation of their marvellous feat.
See you on Friday in Oxford, where they're still a bit sore about the Boat Race.
Charlton: Phillips, Solly, Bauer, Sarr, Purrington, Bielik (Pratley 88), Cullen, Williams (Dijksteel 90), Aribo, Taylor, Vetokele (Lapslie 76). Not used: Maxwell, Pearce, Parker, Reeves. Booked: Taylor, Vetokele.
Luton: Shea, Stacey, Pearson, Bradley, Austin, Shinnie, Lee (Cummings 81), Cornick (Connolly 68), Berry (Sheehan), Moncur, Mpanzu. Not used: Isted, Baptiste, Thorne, Panter. Booked: Shea, Shinnie, Berry, Sheahan. Sent off: Shinnie.
Referee: Gavin Ward. Att: 16,449 (3147 visiting).