Charlton 2 (Jackson 42, 45 pens) MK Dons 1 (Bowditch 87).
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
Almost five months ago, Charlton arrived at MK Dons evocatively named stadium.mk, unbeaten in their opening nine games and solidly ensconced at the top of League, a position they have jealously guarded since. Beaten only once themselves, Dons were comfortably placed in ninth place, five points behind the Addicks. Following this defeat, they now trail the leaders by a whopping 17 points; their consolation is that they have inched into fifth position, with a play-off spot a reasonable ambition.
For over a half hour on that crisp September evening, Charlton were all but played off the park by their brilliant hosts. A breathtaking display of pure football, easily the best they have encountered this season, saw them struggling to stave off an embarrassing hiding. Dons were too good for them yet took into their half-time dressing room only a single-goal lead and that from a penalty conceded by the usually impeccable Chris Solly. It wasn't enough and the improving visitors reeled them in during a far more even second period. Yann Kermorgant's first goal for his new employers won them a valuable and ultimately merited point.
On Tuesday, Karl Robinson's side were again impressive, on this occasion emerging for the second half, two goals and a man down, yet proceeding to dominate the startled league leaders. Charlton were thankful that Dean Bowditch's fine effort, which deservedly reduced the arrears, arrived as late as the 87th minute. Even then, they endured an undignified struggle to protect the points.
MK Dons have only themselves to blame for blowing this particular game. They were more than holding their own as a competitive first half wound down until the fatal indiscipline of Scottish centre back Gary McKenzie ruined their chances. The aggressive defender had already been booked for an violent foul on Kermorgant when he clashed with the big Breton amid the confusion caused by a Johnnie Jackson corner. A six of one, half dozen of the other clash turned ugly in the moment it took McKenzie to deliberately head butt Kermorgant in full view of referee Stroud. A red card was inevitable, as was a penalty since the ball was still in play. Jackson's nerveless spotkick into the bottom left corner ensured that McKenzie's boneheaded behaviour incurred the full majesty of the law.
Toiling away on the left flank for Dons, meanwhile, was Alan Smith, a fading veteran presumably hired to bring streetwise savvy to the greenhorn Bedfordshire country club. Smith had generally pottered about to no great effect before popping up to help his defence out after Danny Green's thunderous drive crashed back from the bar. In the feverish scramble which developed around the rebound, he stuck out an ill-advised foot, flagrantly tripping Jackson to concede a second penalty. Charlton's skipper dispassionately scored his 12th goal of the season from the spot, with Smith booked for his ridiculous protests.
Their two-goal deficit was poor reward for the visitors' first half efforts, many of them inspired by marauding right wingback James Tavernier, on loan from Newcastle United. Moments after Jackson had shaved a post from a free kick, Tavernier tormented Rhoys Wiggins with a sinuous run before crossing dangerously from the touchline. A helpful deflection set up a point blank header for Smith, who gaped in amazement as Ben Hamer clawed away the sure thing. Ex-Addick Charlie McDonald fired the rebound over the bar as the Addicks lived on their nerves.
Still seeking to end a scoring drought stretching back nine games since November 19th, Bradley Wright-Phillips came close to changing his luck by blocking a clearance from the hapless McDonald. The rebound ballooned under the bar, where it was claimed with difficulty by backtracking keeper David Martin. Optimistic appeals that it had crossed the line were correctly dismissed by Mr. Stroud. Wright-Phillips' overdue breakthrough will come eventually, possibly when it's least expected. Meanwhile, the blistering pace of new boy Danny Haynes offers an alternative, briefly or otherwise, for patient boss Chris Powell. Trust him to get it right.
The second half of what promised to be a comfortable stroll turned into a gruelling ordeal for the nervy Addicks. Pushed back by the defiant ten men and unable to retain possession, they were required yet again to defend grimly, something they have made almost an art form, with a paltry 20 goals conceded in 28 league games preceding this encounter. It seemed they might protect that outstanding record when a flying Hamer brilliantly tipped Stephen Gleeson's piledriver over the bar but, with three minutes left, Bowditch's goal ensured another of those nerve shredding finishes, to which The Valley faithful have become wearily accustomed.
Having replaced the increasingly tetchy Smith, Jay O'Shea made an immediate impact with a clever pass which caught Wiggins, for once, on the wrong side of his man. Taking a steadying touch, Bowditch detonated a rising drive into the near top corner. Six more minutes (three of them added) passed in a blur of hectic activity, during which the abiding memory remains yet another of those sturdy blocks, patented by the indomitable Solly, perilously close to Hamer's besieged goal.
Piece of cake, really. Don't know what all the fuss was about. We all need to calm down and get hold of ourselves. I didn't fight in two world wars (and Cyprus) to fall apart now. We're all in this together. Me, you, David Cameron, his missus, all their mates....
Charlton: Hamer, Solly, Morrison, Taylor, Wiggins, Green, Holllands, Stephens, Jackson (Haynes 63), Kermorgant, Wright-Phillips (Pritchard 90). Not used: Sullivan, Cort, Clarke.
MK Dons: Martin, Tavernier, Mackenzie (sent off), Williams, Lewington, Chadwick (Powell 76), Potter, Gleeson, Smith (O'Shea 83), Bowditch, McDonald (Kouo-Doumbe 46). Not used: McLoughlin, Ibehre.
Referee: K. Stroud. Attendance: 15,569.