Charlton 2 (Bielik 2, Pratley 102) Doncaster Rovers 3 (Rowe 11, Butler 88, Marquis 100). Aggregate score 4-4 (Charlton won 4-3 on penalties).
Kevin Nolan reporting from The Valley.
Providing the climax to an evening in which Charlton and their magnificent fans were served through wringers, mincers and shredding machines, this frantic play-off semi-final simmered down, as so often they do, into the clinically dispassionate format of the penalty shoot-out. From the moment, in fact, when Matty Blair's late goal for Doncaster in the first leg changed the course of this tie, it became almost inevitable it was heading in that direction.
Penalty shoot-outs have a life of their own, whereby players still running on adrenaline after more than 120 minutes in a pressure cooker, are forced back down to earth quickly, to confront their fears and go about their lonely business from 12 unassisted yards. Unlike the lottery, to which these gunfights are lazily compared, luck takes a back seat. Cool judgement, not blind speculation, wins the day.
Following Greenwich Police's flawless call (who says there's never a copper around when you need one?) that, for security reasons, the spotkicks would take place in front of Charlton's raucous covered end, the Addicks also earned the slight advantage of going first. And emerging from their ruck of players in the centre circle came the reassuring, if unlikely, figure of Chris Solly. He proved an inspired choice.
A 110th minute substitute for battered Krystian Bielik, 28 year-old veteran Solly might -or might not - have been introduced with penalties in mind. His low effort was buried well out of keeper Marko Marosi's reach, calmed local misgivings and provided the template for his teammates to follow. When Dillon Phillips saved John Marquis' fourth penalty, Naby Sarr was handed the opportunity to seal the tie at 5-3 but failed to beat Marko Marosi. No problem really because Rovers' clearly legweary skipper Tommy Owen sent his effort well wide and the pent-up, sell-out crowd erupted like so many corks from pent-up bottles on to the pitch in spontaneous celebration. 4-4 result, followed by penalties... those figures might cause a flutter or two up on Wearside, where 1998 is a year stricken from local calendars.
It was Bielik whose second minute goal apparently simplified Charlton's task in exploiting the narrow lead brought back from Yorkshire five days earlier. Fouled by Owen, he headed Josh Cullen's cleverly feinted free kick irresistibly past Marosi and The Valley's relief was palpable. Not for long, unfortunately, as Owen redeemed himself by finding the space he needed to leave Phillips helpless from over 20 yards. Phillips promptly averted early collapse by saving smartly from Marquis as Donny pressed home their advantage.
Sensing the tension undermining their hosts, Grant McCann's men took over. While not exactly playing Charlton off the park, as McCann claimed, they were the better side and should have levelled the tie long before spiky centre back Andrew Butler turned the trick with just two minutes remaining. Meeting Ali Crawford's left wing corner at the far post, Butler's header found the bottom right corner and Sunderland's Wembley opponents were as far from being identified as they had been at Keepmoat Stadium at 12.15 p.m. five days previously.
The smart money was now, of course, on Donny and they duly justified their narrowing odds by moving in front for the first time in the tie ten minutes into extra time. The close range finish was provided by Marquis but its inspiration was provided by the increasing influence and trickery of Leeds loanee Mallik Wilks. Feinting on to his left foot to shake off a bemused Anfernee Dijksteel, Wilks darted to the right byline before standing up a delicious cross which made scoring a 3-yard headed formality for the prolific Marquis.
Out of sorts, beset by nerves and unable to string together the impressive pass-and-move football which has so often characterised them this season, the Addicks dug deep and refused to quit. A frustrated Lyle Taylor was in no mood to concede defeat and while the visitors were still basking in their success, wriggled free on the right before hammering over one of his trademarked low crosses. Diving outwards, Marosi fumbled, leaving interval substitute Darren Pratley to prod home the point blank rebound. His somewhat startled effort hardly matched the quality of the resounding volley he netted at Shrewsbury back in January but outclassed it in every other respect. In two words, it was scruffy but priceless.
Still juggling with his formation -3-5-2 reverted to a 4-4-2 diamond after the break - Lee Bowyer has an almost full squad and key decisions to make before the rematch with Sunderland next Sunday. Here's one man's opinions...for what they're worth.
Re-deployed in both semi-final legs, Bielik must surely start the final in midfield; Solly's old pro nous should get him the nod at right back over the the irreproachable Dijksteel, whose day will come; if willing to be patched up, Igor Vetokele picks himself to partner Taylor up front; if not, Jonny Williams has to be considered behind Taylor, with Josh Parker the sole forward on the bench. Discuss among yourselves.
Charlton: Phillips, Dijksteel, Bauer, Sarr, Purrington, Bielik (Solly 110), Aribo, Morgan (Pratley 46), Cullen, Parker (Williams 96), Taylor. Not used: Maxwell, Pearce, Forster-Caskey, Lapslie. Booked: Bielik, Aribo, Pratley.
Doncaster: Marosi, Downing, Blair (May 86), Butler, Whiteman, Andrew, Rowe, Coppinger (Sadlier 96), Wilks (Wright 105), Kane (Crawford 80), Marquis. Not used: Lawlor, Anderson, Beeston. Booked: Marosi, Butler, Whiteman, Downing.
Referee: Gavin Ward. Att: 25,428 (1,351).