Charlton 0 Colchester United 2 (Wordsworth 4, Gillespie 73).
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
An ardous two-games-per-week schedule caught up with Charlton at The Valley, where Colchester not only avenged their 2-0 home defeat in August but destroyed the Addicks' unbeaten record in S.E.7. Having luckily squeaked a vital last minute win at Bournemouth on Saturday, the league leaders had little left in the tank, an observation which takes nothing away from in-form United's battling victory.
Conceding an opening goal after just four minutes was hardly the start recommended to a somewhat stuttering side but there could be few complaints concerning the quality of Anthony Wordsworth's strike. There might, however be training ground questions asked about the wisdom of allowing the unmarked midfielder time and space to line up an unchallenged shot from 25yards. Well known for his left-footed prowess, Wordsworth had only shooting on his mind as he turned on to an innocuous ball, a few paces carrying him into range for a sumptuous drive into the top right corner. Completely beaten by placement and power, Ben Hamer stood no chance, despite scattered criticism that he was at fault. Much later, however, his 73rd minute howler rubberstamped Charlton's first home defeat.
The sole virtue of Wordsworth's bombshell, from the Addicks' point of view, was that they were left with almost an entire game to recover. Though never entirely convincing, they made a fair fist of it, top scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips seeing a shot deflected off target after Yann Kermorgant headed down Danny Green's accurate cross; in quick succession, Dale Stephens' half-volleyed snapshot suffered the same fate and Green's fierce drive forced keeper Ben Williams into a two-handed block.
With the home side continuing on top, their best chance fell to Johnnie Jackson. Set up in his favoured left channel by Chris Solly's determined run and defence-splitting pass, the skipper's faulty first touch hurried him into a rising effort over the bar. United's defensive determination, meanwhile, was exemplified by yet another flying block, which sent Danny Hollands' volley to safety. Charlton's long, fruitless evening was well under way by the time Rhoys Wiggins broke along the left touchline on to Hamer's laser-guided clearance to centre for Wright-Phillips, who screwed an awkward shot wide of the far post with his less trusty left foot.
Before the interval, the luckless Wright-Phillips closed in as Jackson headed Hollands' cross back from the far post but scraped an improvised effort over the bar. His frustration increased when he was bundled off another half chance by a posse of defenders.
Having recovered from a goal behind on several occasions at The Valley, Charlton kept their heads and continued to press after the break. A great low centre from Jackson was met by Hollands' shot on the turn, only for an inevitable block to divert the goalbound effort off target. Next to try his luck was again Wright-Phillips, whose angled drive was turned behind by the full-length Williams. Kermorgant then glanced Jackson's free kick narrowly wide. The one-way traffic seemed to have achieved its purpose at last when Jackson's cross picked out Kermorgant beyond the far post but the Frenchman lost his balance and almost comically handled.
Almost entirely occupied with defending - something they did with great spirit - the Us relieved the pressure through Steven Gillespie, whom turned on to a half chance to test Hamer. The same pair clashed again almost immediately to contrasting effect as the visitors doubled their lead in bizarre circumstances. Optimistically closing Hamer down as he prepared to clear, Gillespie forced the keeper on to his left foot, gambled on an all-or-nothing block and was gratified to watch the ball balloon up into an unguarded net. Colchester had the security they needed.
The disappointment of Charlton's first loss in 12 games since New Years Eve was pleasantly mitigated by news that hapless Sheffield United had suffered their second defeat in three days to leave them 13 points behind in second place, with a game in hand. Their hapless pursuers are practically queuing up to protect the Addicks' lead at the top. The priority now will be to bounce back against play-off hopefuls Notts County at The Valley on Saturday, something they've done following each of their previous two setbacks. This one has been on its way for some time because you can't win - or draw - them all. It won't make them panic. So keep the faith.
Charlton: Hamer, Solly, Morrison, Taylor, Wiggins, Green (Haynes 73), Hollands, Stephens, Jackson (Clarke 86), Kermorgant, Wright-Phillips. Not used: Sullivan, Cort, Russell.
Colchester: Williams, Wilson, Okuonghae, Eastman, White, Henderson, Rowlands (Bond 83), Izzet, Wordsworth, Gillespie (Duguid 90), Odejayi. Not used: Rose, Heath, Sears.
Referee: G. Ward. Attendance: 13,650.