Charlton 1 (Jackson 21) Sheffield United 0.
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
Victims of the same lethal weapon which destroyed their noisy neighbours Wednesday last week, Sheffield United were sent packing from an euphoric Valley as Charlton completed a magnificent back-to-back league double over their hot pursuers from the Steel City. Having resolutely turned back Wednesday's agricultural assault at Hillsborough, the Addicks blunted United's more cerebral tactics with equal ruthlessness. Not for the first time this season, they demonstrated their ability to cope as efficiently with the smooth as the rough.
This vital victory confirms Charlton as the best side in League One and was sealed by a goal with uncanny echoes of the strike which decided the bruising clash with the Owls. Just seven minutes earlier in this case, skipper Johnnie Jackson lined up a promising free kick from as near as dammit the same spot, from which he launched his match-winning howitzer into the top right corner seven days ago. This latest effort differed only in that it was instead angled for the top left corner and, following earnest consultations with fellow setpiece expert Yann Kermorgant, that is precisely where Jackson planted a fiendishly perfect delivery, with full-length goalkeeper Steve Simonsen helpless to intervene. Again, a goal worthy of winning any game, as surly United boss Danny Wilson grudgingly acknowledged after first making a fool of himself by disputing the award of the free kick.
According to Wilson, United had already been robbed of a rightful throw-in, when Danny Hollands escaped from Kevin McDonald in the centre circle and was clearly upended by the outmanouevred midfielder as he made tracks into Wednesday's half. Far from challenging referee Darren Deadman's obvious decision, United's frustrated gaffer, with the Hillsborough evidence still fresh in South Yorkshire minds, might have been better advised to query his player's judgement in conceding a free kick in the same vicinity. Privately, McDonald might be asked to explain himself.
Before Jackson made his decisive intervention, the Blades had edged the exchanges, with McDonald firing Lee Williamson's pass over the bar and Ben Hamer sent scurrying low to his left to shovel Williamson's free kick around a post. There wasn't much in it but the Addicks hadn't produced much until McDonald sinned, Jackson struck and Wilson seethed. Once again, Charlton were asked to defend their slender advantage for over an hour; once again, superbly anchored by outstanding centre backs Michael Morrison and Matt Taylor, they made sound, if occasionally anxious, work of it. For all their patient pressure, the visitors created few clearcut chances, admittedly not for want of trying.
Before the break, Kermorgant's acrobatic overhead effort, after Morrison returned Jackson's inswinging corner from the far post, skimmed the bar before Harry Maguire ended an absorbing half by heading Williamson's deep flagkick wastefully over the top.
Still struggling to turn his unmistakeable style into tangible effect, Danny Green opened the second half by escaping a booking for heavily bringing down Lesinel Jean-Francois, then pounced on a heading error by the possibly dazed left back but shot firmly into Simonsen's midriff. With the bit between his teeth, Green burst clear again to surprise Simonsen into beating his drive awkwardly away.
Contentious cautions issued to non-stop Bradley Pritchard and Hamer, both for questionable timewasting, presaged referee Deadman's total misreading of a far from dirty game. Before the last ten minutes dissolved into an ugly exchange of yellow and red cards, however, the Addicks escaped intact as Hamer, his handling anything but secure throughout, dropped Williamson's corner at Ched Evans feet. Perhaps startled by the chance, United's top scorer spooned his shot over the bar.
With less than a quarter hour remaining, substitutes Darrel Russell and James Beattie joined the action to make brief but dramatic impacts on this suddenly simmering match. Russell's first contribution was a fullblooded challenge on McDonald in the centre circle, deemed by Deadman to have been two-footed and deserving of dismissal. Kermorgant objected, Beattie took exception to his objection ("My chairman is a lawyer and reliably informs me that strangulation is against the law", was Chris Powell's deadpan comment) and United's veteran striker trailed Russell to the dressing rooms.
All Charlton's fault, concluded Wilson, as he leaped vainly to reach the grapes and points dangling so tantalisingly over his head. Must be a barrel of fun when he and Wednesday manager Gary Megson square off (4-4 mayhem the last time they tangled). The truth both of them are at pains to ignore is that the South East Londoners have proved too good for them this season. Throw in Huddersfield (and far more forgivably, Halifax) and, one way or another the Addicks have made soggy puddings of their Yorkshire rivals. Roasted 'em, in fact.
Charlton: Hamer, Solly, Morrison, Taylor, Wiggins, Green (Russell 76), Hollands, Pritchard, Jackson, Kermorgant, Wright-Phillips (Haynes 86). Not used: Sullivan, Cort, Clarke. Booked: Wiggins, Pritchard, Hamer, Kermorgant. Sent off: Russell.
United: Simonsen, Lowton, Collins, Maguire, Jean-Francois (Williams 76), Williamson (Porter 86), McDonald, Doyle, Quinn, Evans, Cresswell (Beattie 76). Not used: Long, Montgomery. Booked: Doyle, McDonald, Evans, Williamson. Sent off: Beattie.
Referee: Darren Deadman. Attendance: 20,992.