Charlton 1 (Pratley 12) QPR 0
By a nerve-wracked Kevin Nolan and his equally stressed computer.
A second post-lockdown 1-0 victory boosted Charlton's hopes of avoiding immediate relegation back to League One, from the horrors of which they were delivered a year ago at Wembley. Both performances were similar, each hinging on an early setpiece goal which hindsight, with its usual wise-after-the-event cockiness, assures us was capably defended but during which identically unpleasant, tension-charged second halves reduced sofa-bound fans to gibbering wrecks.
If the Addicks stave off relegation, the depleted squad responsible for reaching the promised land will be remembered with affection and gratitude by their fearful fans. Making light of the defection of a talented top scorer, whose name is now irrelevant, and of lesser importance the disloyalty of Chris Solly and David Davis, they have bonded in the club's interest and have given themselves every chance of making it to safety. There are tough tests still ahead but you'd be wise not to bet against them.
Scorers of Charlton's vital goals were a pair of grizzled veterans who have, as they say, been around the block once or twice and seen a thing or two on the way. The manner in which defender Jason Pearce risked life and limb to bully home Tomas Hemed's backheader at Hull was typical of the skipper's unstinting commitment. Pearce has his detractors but while he continues to put up, they need to shut up.
Defensive midfield stalwart Darren Pratley doesn't score often but his goals tend to be important ones. His quick response to Doncaster Rovers' third goal in last season's semi-final second leg set up the penalty shoot-out which booked the Addicks' place at Wembley. This matchwinner against QPR saw him tower above a posse of hooped defenders and direct a forceful downward header from Josh Cullen's outswinging corner off Liam Kelly's left hand and in off the right-hand post. Like Pearce, Pratley's goal topped off another yeoman personal contribution.
With their 12th minute opener to defend, the home heroes set about the task with impressive discipline and calmness. Alongside Pearce, Tom Lockyer was outstanding, as were coldly efficient full backs in man-of-the match Adam Matthews and Deji Oshilaja. In midfield, Cullen put in his customary all-round shift and Albie Morgan continued his dramatic improvement since the Championship resumed. At wide right midfield, Aidan McGeady provided a useful outlet but was eclipsed by the all-action impact of his 60th minute replacement Alfie Doughty. who may well start at Cardiff on Tuesday. Doughty's timely introduction relieved the modest pressure and might have brought him a welcome clinching goal. This kid's a livewire prospect.
Faced by opponents happy to allow them possession up to a mutually agreed point, then allowing them no further in obdurate ranks of four, Rangers advanced, hesitated, square-passed meaninglessly and petered out. A first half of huffing, puffing and generally aimless pottering about produced only Ebere Eze's perilously curling shot which passed uncomfortably close to Dillon Phillips' right post. Meanwhile, the Addicks threatened to double their lead when Macauley Bonne ran on to Morgan's perceptive pass, shot fiercely from a diminishing angle on the left but was denied by Kelly's alert near post save
A minute after the interval, in creating and squandering their solitary clearcut chance, the visitors caused temperatures to rise collectively in living rooms clear across the Southland. Presented with a point blank "certainty" by Angel Rangel's clever delivery, Jordan Hugill applied the routine finishing touch and was already planning his celebration until Phillips, making astounding ground along his goalline, blocked his shot. Pratley's goal settled this vital game; Phillips' incredible save made sure it did.
Almost inured to last gasp sickeners this season, Charlton's absentee fans still feared the worst but were in good hands. Even the grisly prospect of five added minutes caused barely a ripple of inconvenience inside an eerily resonant Valley where Pearce and his defiant cohorts dispassionately stood their ground. Mark Warburton's vanquished West Londoners had been handed a lesson in thrifty use of meagre resources. Mind you, the security of a second goal wouldn't go unnoticed, if only to increase the life expectancy among the Addicks' played out, locked out, worn out supporter.
Charlton: Phillips, Matthews, Lockyer, Pearce, Oshilaja (Purrington76), McGeady (Doughty 60), Cullen, Pratley, Morgan (Field 84), Bonne (Green 84), Hemed (Aneke 60). Not used: Amos, Sarr, Williams, Davison. Booked: Pratley
QPR: Kelly, Manning, Barbet, Masterson, Rangel (Kane 71), Cameron (Amos 71), Ball (Bettache 76), Eze, Chair (Shodipo 60), Osayi-Samuel (Oteh 71), Hugill. Not used: Lumley, Kakay, Gubbins, Clarke