Bolton Wanderers 2 (Charles 10, Aimson 83) Charlton 1 (Aneke 76).
Bolton Wanderers vs Charlton Athletic - there was a time when this fixture graced the top flight of English league football. They moved among giants once but their mutual pedigree meant nothing on Tuesday evening when they met to resolve which of them continues to kid themselves that their season has been anything but a crushing disappointment.
On the basis that they made fewer grotesque errors than Charlton, it was Bolton who emerged victorious and duly made all the usual noises about gatecrashing the play-offs. For Charlton, all that's left is the business of making sure they accrue enough points to make relegation an impossibility. They begin their mini-campaign at Wigan on Saturday -hardly a venue you would choose to start the process.
Making the almost obligatory three changes from the side which outlasted Wimbledon at The Valley on Saturday, a wearied Johnnie Jackson saw his side donate a 10th minute lead to Bolton, trail until they equalised superbly more than an hour later, then demonstrate a "what we have, we don't know how to hold" gormlessness which gifted the Trotters the points shortly before the end.
Jackson is tasked with deploying a squad which includes players apparently incapable of completing 90 minutes, others for whom consecutive games are out of the question and transfer window newcomers who remain unknown quantities. A member of that second category is Ryan Inniss, who made a scoring contribution on Saturday but was inevitably excused duty at Bolton. Into his formidable boots stepped dogged warrior Jason Pearce, for whom the occasion proved far too much. It was impossible to feel anything but sympathy for the grizzled old stager as he blustered and bungled his way through 60 minutes of torture before he was replaced by Sam Lavelle, in what was by that stage an act of humanity by his manager.
Pearce was hardly helped by being partnered at the back with Akin Famewo, whose vulnerability isn't similarly explained by age but is instead rooted in a fusion of poor judgement and over-confidence. His contribution to the Trotters' early breakthrough combined both weaknesses as he wavered under a lusty clearance, disastrously allowed it to bounce, then managed only a feeble header back to Craig McGillivray. Brushing through the blundering defender's resistance, Dion Charles rounded the keeper and finished none too clinically past Famewo's tangle-footed effort to clear off the line.
Marginally the better of two substandard sides, Wanderers pottered on until half-time without once showing any sign of increasing their generously gifted lead. For their part, Jackson's Addicks were a clueless assortment who, until Alex Gilbey met Sean Clare's lay-off but saw his goalbound shot deflected over the bar by Ricardo Almeida Santos, were no trouble to anyone. It says much that Gilbey's worthy effort didn't arrive until the second half was ten minutes old.
Bolton were hardly dynamic themselves, with only a narrowly wide drive by Oladapo Afolayan to show for their slight superiority. They were indebted to Ben Toner's benevolent refereeing when Gethin Jones' studs-up, over-the-top challenge callously felled George Dobson; far from the action, Toner deemed the assault worthy only of a yellow card. Charlton expressed their outrage by drawing level in fine style, entirely out of context in this mediocre setting.
The goal was wonderfully conceived and expertly executed by Jackson's substitutes. Brought on as Gilbey's replacement, Scott Fraser moved effortlessly past Jones on the left and crossed perfectly on the run. His enterprise was matched by the movement and timing shown by Chuks Aneke in placing the quintessential centre-forward's header comfortably out of the reach of young goalkeeper James Trafford. Fraser and Aneke must surely start at Wigan, the latter in place of an out-of-his depth Mason Burstow, from whom too much is expected too soon. He's just a promising kid, after all, with two third tier goals to his name - one who's been talked into running before he's learned to walk.
With a creditable point theirs for the taking, meanwhile, it almost goes without saying that the Addicks blew the opportunity. Clare's boneheaded and completely needless foul on George Johnston, who was struggling to control an awkward ball while trapped against the left touchline, conceded an ominous free kick, wickedly whipped in by Aaron Morley and deftly flicked inside the far post by Will Aimson. So for Bolton, the dream goes on. And for Charlton, it's time to wake up and face facts. They're in League One for at least another year. And that's where they belong until they prove otherwise.
Bolton: Trafford, Jones, Almeida Santos, Fossey, Aimson, Fossey, Morley, John, Dempsey (Bakayoko 77), Afolayan (Bodvarsson 72),
Charles (Sadlier 78). Not used: Dixon, Baptiste, Gordon, Lee. Booked: Jones, John, Bakayoko.
Charlton: McGillivray, Matthews, Pearce (Lavelle 60), Fameo, Clare, Gilbey (Fraser 68), Dobson, Morgan, Jaiyesimi, Burstow (Aneke 60),
Washington. Not used: Henderson, Purrington, Lee, Leko. Booked: Washington, Gilbey, Pearce, Dobson.
Referee: Ben Toner. Att; 13,523 (328 visiting).