Accrington Stanley 1 (Pritchard 81) Charlton (Aneke 90+5).
Despite a last touch equaliser by Chuks Aneke which keeps mathematically alive hopes of a shot at the play-offs, common sense dictates that Charlton's 2020-21 season is prematurely over. A convoluted combination of results could still extend it into the post-season gunfight but, let's face it, that's unlikely to happen. A litany of mostly self-inflicted setbacks has hobbled their progress at regular intervals. Sickeningly conceded late goals - the most recent of them Owen Dales's 96th minute equaliser for Crewe in midweek - and missed penalties at strategic times have delivered body blows from which any side would struggle to recover. A disastrous injury list when things were going well hardly helped, it's fair to say.
It was ironic that the Addicks' own point-saver at the whimsically-named Wham Stadium arrived after four added minutes had expired. Its scorer not surprisingly was the chronically under-used Aneke, whose 14 goals have been mainly delivered from the substitutes' bench. His latest contribution opportunistically turned Albie Morgan's excellent free kick past 19 year-old goalkeeper Toby Savin and confirmed that Charlton are a better side when the deceptively skilful forward is included.
This trip to spectacularly unpredictable Accrington was the latest in a string of "must win" games faced recently by Nigel Adkins' hit-or-miss squad. Authors so often of their own downfall, they set out with their fate, as the saying goes, in their own hands. Win all three of their remaining games and a play-offs slot was guaranteed. Losing was not an option so, true to form, the Addicks sat on the fence and drew. When they fell behind to an 81st minute opener scored by Stanley substitute Joe Pritchard, even that modest outcome seemed beyond them. Pritchard showed skill which belonged in a far better setting than on offer here as he cleverly soloed through and drilled a crisp low drive into the left corner.
With news filtering through that both Portsmouth and Oxford United were both winning away from home, a positive response was essential but with mere seconds remaining, Charlton seemed down and out. Then Morgan delivered, Aneke poked home and a faint pulse was discovered. The Addicks are down but not quite out yet. The boom will probably be lowered by surprise packets Lincoln City on Tuesday. That's Lincoln flaming City hard on the heels of Accrington bloody Stanley! Standing on the shoulders of giants like that puts us firmly in our place.
It will be time then to pick the bones of a season that promised much but delivered only heartache. Crucial penalties missed at Gillingham, Oxford and at home to Peterborough cost Charlton the five points which currently separate them from decidedly ordinary Pompey; a crazy last gasp spotkick conceded to lowly Shrewsbury accounts for two more. Though last season's vulnerability to added time goals was largely corrected, last Tuesday's fatal lapse against Crewe proved that the debilitating habit was not entirely kicked. Let's not forget, by the way, the mind-boggling cock-up at Wimbledon... nah, on second thoughts maybe best we don't go there. That one's still too recent and much too painful.
Clearly expecting John Coleman's side to be staffed by a collection of bristling Bill Sikes, Adkins fielded all three of his centre backs, planted Darren Pratley in front of them for added muscle and joined battle with the affable Scouser. For more than half of the first session, the ball scarcely made contact with the ground as it travelled up and down in prolonged bouts of head tennis. The more cerebral players -such as Jake Forster-Caskey - were surplus to requirements as Coleman sought to soften up the Southern softies and Adkins deployed his resources to withstand the bombardment. Abruptly, Coleman changed his tactics before the interval, Stanley returned the ball to terra firma and showed they could play a bit.
A gruesome game developed along more civilised lines but chances were few and shots on target even fewer. For the visitors, Conor Washington accepted Ian Maatsen's pass and drove over the bar; likewise, Alex Gilbey moved on to Jayden Stockley's lay-off but pulled his shot wide. The Accies replied through Dion Charles who rattled the woodwork in first half stoppage time.
On 58 minutes, Aneke replaced the always willing Washington and made an immediate difference. Another of Stockley's flicks set up his fiercely struck effort but Savin saved at his near post, From Forster-Caskey's resultant corner, Ryan Inniss headed narrowly wide. Again Stanley responded with Colby Bishop forcing a fine close range save from Ben Amos. But a dreary game was drifting to a scoreless stalemate when Pritchard took matters into his own hands. His fine strike looked like a winner until Harvey Rodgers imprudently decked Liam Millar and Morgan used his first touch to set up Aneke.
It's probably safe to say that the Addicks are destined to spend at least another season in League One. Not good enough to even make the top six, it might be wise to dial down talk of them reaching the Premier League under the customary five-year plan. Owner Thomas "Standguard" seems like an all-round decent Joe, in whose hands the club is secure but the failure last season to survive in the Championship and the feeble fist they made of their promotion bid this time around will have taught him what he's up against. One step at a time, Thomas, that's how it works. Meanwhile, let's hope that pride alone accounts for Lincoln on Tuesday and takes the fight into the last weekend. End as you mean to go on... next season, that is.
Accrington: Savin, Barclay, Nottingham, Burgess, Rodgers, Russell (Pritchard 65), Morgan, Phillips, McConville, Bishop, Charles. Not used: Buckley, Perritt, Maguire, Scully, Mansell, Smyth. Booked: Russell, McConville, Rodgers.
Charlton: Amos, Gunter, Inniss, Famewo, Pearce (Millar 74), Maatsen, Gilbey, Pratley (Morgan 90), Forster-Caskey, Shinnie (90), Washington (Aneke 58), Stockley. Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Purrington, Watson. Booked: Forster-Caskey, Inniss.
Referee: Alan Young.