Sunderland 1 (Scowen 77) Charlton 2 (Scowen o.g 31, Gilbey 61).
This mighty result - against the odds and contrary to most expectations - went some way to erasing from memory many of the setbacks suffered by Charlton during this unpredictable season. It also propelled the Addicks into a position (7th) from which to launch a serious bid to reach the play-offs, in which their current form would make them valid contenders.
There were times during their victory on Wearside when they rode their luck and were indebted to the excellence of Ben Amos to see them through. Several of Amos' saves exceeded the call of duty; even the 77th minute goal, through which Josh Scowen halved his side's deficit and set up a potentially tense climax, was scored in the aftermath of two outstanding stops from Charlton's outstanding keeper.
First things first, of course, and Nigel Adkins' naming of a team unchanged from that which saw off Doncaster Rovers last week was encouraging enough to merit mention. Gone was the managerial tinkering with personnel and formation which nonplussed fans and no doubt unsettled players. Conspicuously absent also was the almost obligatory dithering at the back which, in fact, blighted Adkins' debut at AFC Wimbledon two weeks ago. The players who represented the club at Sunderland executed a simple game plan which had, as its bedrock, the clear intention of spending as much time as possible in the opposition's half. Even after Scowen's goal gave the Black Cats a glimpse of redemption, they were repulsed with a coolness and sense of purpose not normally associated with Charlton. Much of that confidence can be traced to the timely return of massive Ryan Inniss, whose defensive influence radiates through his colleagues, each one of whom played his own part in dimming the Stadium of Light. Inniss was no one-man band. To be frank, though, it didn't look promising during a shaky opening period. There were only six minutes on the clock when Aidan McGeady, the heartbeat of Lee Johnson's side, set up Charlie Wyke to volley abysmally wide from six unopposed yards. And there were obvious signs of nerves as Darren Pratley's carelessness in possession allowed Wyke a clearcut chance to finish from close range; Amos made the first of his key saves, then was positively Schmeichel-esque in batting away Aiden O'Brien's dead cert while heading in an opposite direction.
It was far from one-way traffic by then and the left post came to Sunderland's rescue when Jake Forster-Caskey's free kick eluded everyone but Luke O'Nien, whose head caromed the ball to safety off the left post. Twenty minutes later, Scowen was less lucky and entered his name on the scoresheet for all the wrong reasons.
Admirable persistence from Diallang Jaiyesimi wrested a left wing corner off Lyndon Gooch, which Forster-Caskey swung on to Inniss' lofty head. The centre back's downward effort was awkwardly parried by Lee Burge, who might have emerged unscathed had Scowen not haplessly sliced his intended clearance into the roof of the net. They all count equally, of course, and Charlton were off and running. More brilliance from Amos, in diving full length to turn aside Callum McFadzean's corner-bound low drive, protected the lead before the break. Soon after resumption, hardworking Jayden Stockley wasted a clearcut chance to double that lead, glancing Jaiyesimi's perfect cross against the right post when scoring from six yards seemed an easier option.
Stockley's miss was quickly forgotten as he played an important part in the Addicks' second goal. Nodding Adam Matthews' throw into Alex Gilbey's path, he was first to celebrate as the rangy midfielder eluded Dion Sanderson and forced his shot through Burge's legs. How important that second goal was became clear when the Mackems hit back through Scowen and complicated the closing quarter hour.
Amos was entitled to a stroke of luck after saving magnificently from First Wyke, then substitute Ross Stewart but was helpless to intervene as the second rebound fell conveniently for Scowen to plunge forward and head into an empty net from the 18-yard line. An uncomfortable finish loomed in front of the Addicks but was negotiated with commendable poise and minimal anxiety.
The last few hundred words belonged to Sunderland's peevish manager Johnson. He and his gimlet-eyed staff had spotted a spot of sneaky blocking by Jason Pearce, which helped Inniss to reach Forster-Caskey's corner and head the opening goal. In a modern penalty area where wrestling, holding and downright villainy are de rigeur, it requires uncanny perception to separate the guilty from the innocent since everybody's at it. But a less-than-jolly Johnson felt badly let down by the myopic officials and felt it his duty to have a moan about it. He was also a bit upset that Charlton seemed to be taller than his chaps - six or seven inches taller in some cases. That was, of course, beyond referee Backhouse's control, but it still rankled. Oh, and another thing...both of Charlton's goals were "soft". So there you have it. Consider yourself told.
Sunderland: Burge, Power, Sanderson, O'Nien, Gooch (Hume 62), Scowen, Winchester (Jones 60), McFadzean (Stewart 62), O'Brien (McLaughlin 60), Wyke, McGeady. Not used: Matthews, Diamond, Leadbitter.
Charlton: Amos, Matthews, Inniss, Pearce, Purrington. Gilbey, Pratley, Forster-Caskey, Maatsen (Millar 66), Stockley, Jaiyesimi (Gunter 73). Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Oshilaja, Shinnie, Watson, Schwartz. Booked: Gilbey, Forster-Caskey.
Referee: Anthony Backhouse.