Crewe Alexandra 0 Charlton 2 (Doughty 24, Washington 43).
Kevin Nolan reports from a comfortable armchair far south of Crewe.
Two expertly spaced first half goals -the first of them Alfie Doughty's ruthless strike on the break - saw off not so solid Crewe and provided Charlton with an encouraging start to life in League One.
Rumoured to be a target for Celtic among others, Doughty finished off a lightning counter attack set in motion by Alex Gilbey's interception of a wayward pass near the halfway line. Cutting inside from the right, the 20 year-old speedster controlled Gilbey's defence-splitting pass on the run, outpaced left back Ryan Wintle and left Will Jaaskelainen helpless with a sizzling left-footed drive into the far corner. The next call inquiring into Doughty's availability may include an offer Charlton can't refuse. That's the downside to running one of English football's most prolific academies.
A summer signing from MK Dons, Gilbey keynoted the Addicks' effortless domination of a first half which effectively decided the eventual outcome of a lively game. His range of passing, alert interventions and willingness to put a foot in softened the impact of losing the outstanding Josh Cullen, with his arrival promising to remove one of the furrows creasing Lee Bowyer's brow.
Compact and relaxed, the visitors settled down quickly, survived an early scare when Alex's captain Perrie Ng shaved the bar from long range and eased into a pleasing rhythm. There was another awkward moment provided by Ng who blasted a point blank chance wildly off target but their superiority was obvious and was cemented by a second goal two minutes before the break.
Signed from Hearts during lockdown, Conor Washington had been quiet but patient on his league debut for Charlton. His alertness was rewarded as Dele Oshilaja's brave header reached him unmarked to the left of Crewe's goal and though the right footed volley which beat Jaaskelainen wasn't entirely convincing, it had enough mustard on it to find the left corner of the Finnish keeper's goal. Back in Grove Park, initial celebrations were muted until confirmation was received that the goal stood. There's something eerie about locked-in football, something unreal and remote. It'll be good to get back to bad language and one-eyed partisanship. Not that I'm ever guilty of either, I hardly need point out.
Unsurprisingly, the second half of this all-CAFC contest was a different proposition, with the Addicks required to hold their nerve on a couple of occasions, most notably when Ben Amos reacted superbly to keep out the surefire header from Mikael Madron which seemed momentarily to have passed him on its way under the bar. No disrespect for backup keeper Ashley Maynard-Brewer is intended in concluding thatthe retention of experienced campaigner Amos is an occasion for huge relief at The Valley. As the door behind the popular Dillon Phillips disappointingly closes, another one opens to admit the reassuring presence of Amos.
Had the deflected effort from Jake Forster-Caskey early in the second half squeezed into the bottom left corner, Charlton's progress to three useful points might have been smoother. As it was, Laaskelainen's sprawling save to shovel the ball wide of his right post provided his side with the impetus they needed to stage a recovery of sorts. As they applied modest pressure, however, they encountered Bowyer's newly constructed rearguard organised by the unflappable Darren Pratley, with feisty Oshilaja and the precocious Charlie Barker lending stout support down the middle.
Rejoicing in a name which belongs in the days of brylcreemed centre partings, cigarette cards and two points for a win, the 17 year-old Barker is in fact as modern as they come. Sturdy and sensible, Charlie promises to be The Valley's newest darling until, of course, the word gets round and the predators begin to circle.
An Alexandra goal, meanwhile, might have made matters uncomfortable and Madron came within inches of coming up with one but was unlucky to see his fierce drive rebound from Amos' bar. There was none of that old familiar panic within the visiting ranks, though, with Amos relatively secure behind an efficient defensive cordon. It was still a relief, don't get me wrong, to hear the final whistle, but there was little cause for alarm.
Charlton won this one in a gentle canter to begin what, hopefully, will be a journey out of this nightmarish division and back to where it's safe to say they belong -in the Championship. Those final few minutes of last season will continue to haunt until that becomes mission completed.
Let the nerds explore the quaintness of League One, with its quirky grounds and obscure postcodes. Give me the big cities and famous grounds. I'd rather step in a puddle than a cowpat.
Crewe: Laaskelainen, Ng, Beckles, Offord, Pickering, Murphy (Ainley 62), Wintle, Finney (Lundstram 75), Dale (Zanzala 75), Mandron, Kirk. Not used: Richards, Lancashire, Sass-Davies, Johnson.
Charlton: Amos, Lapslie (Williams 61), Pratley, Oshilaja, Barker, Purrington, Forster-Caskey, Gilbey, Doughty (Morgan 90), Bonne, Washington (Aneke 76). Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Oztumer, Levitt, Vennings. Booked: Amos, Doughty.
Referee: Graham Salisbury.