Charlton in dreamland - and back in Championship
Charlton Athletic 2
League One play-off final
Patrick Bauer sent Charlton fans wild - and his team back into the Championship - with a 94th-minute winner against Sunderland in the League One play-off final at Wembley today.
Twenty-one years after what is generally thought to be the greatest play-off final of them all, when Charlton beat Sunderland on penalties in the Championship final of 1998 after a pulsating 4-4 draw, the Addicks heaped more misery upon the Black Cats – landing the knock-out blow with virtually the last kick of the game.
One tier further down the pyramid, and two decades on, this would have felt no less important. The past few years have been tough for Charlton fans. Three years in English football’s third league have coincided with the reign of Roland Duchatelet – a man who was not even here today, apparently fearing for his safety should he have turned up.
But after all the uncertainty, the South-east Londoners are today in dreamland.
The Addicks made the worst possible start when Naby Sarr’s back-pass slipped under the feet of Dillon Phillips and trickled apologetically over the line.
If you’re trying to find any excuse for the keeper you could say it was slightly further to his right than he would have wanted. But this was one of hundreds of such back-passes a keeper receives in a season – and dozens in a game.
It was a horrific goal for the Addicks to concede - the stuff you don’t even see in playgrounds. Philips’ mind would have been racing until Charlton managed to level half an hour later, with the Black Cats’ fans goading him every time a pass reached his feet for the rest of the half. For such a goal to decide such a crucial game would have been more than cruel.
Charlton were shocked, and it took them time to recover. Passes went astray and they looked genuinely bewildered by what had happened. Phillips did his best to redeem himself five minutes later when he pushed round the post a Grant Leadbitter effort from range, but the Addicks rarely got hold of the ball – and when they did they couldn’t hold on to it.
But as the half wore on the South Londoners began to get a foothold in the game. Joe Aribo was brought down on the edge of the area by Lee Cattermole, but the Addicks’ free-kick came to nothing. Then there was good play down the left involving Aribo and Darren Pratley, but again Charlton, wearing their red home shirt, white shorts and red socks, couldn’t find their shooting boots.
They continued to probe, however - Lyle Taylor winning a succession of corners down the right, one which was headed tamely over by Bauer, another easily cleared by Sunderland.
Then Taylor fired over following a long ball from the left which as flicked on by Darren Pratley.
But the signs were there for Charlton, who had taken only one point from the two previous meetings between these sides this season – a 1-1 draw at The Valley.
And with little more than 10 minutes left until half-time, the Addicks deservedly levelled. Joe Aribo’s ball down the right found Lyle Taylor, who crossed to provide the easiest tap-in for Ben Purrington, and Charlton went in at the break on top - at least on the run of play.
The second half became cat and mouse, and it was apparent that the desire not to lose was greater than that to win, such is the importance of a play-off final.
Chris Maguire’s ball from the right found Lewis Morgan in the centre of the goal, but his touch let him down at the vital moment as Sunderland pushed forward in one of the rare openings of the second period’s early stages.
And, after a sickening clash between Darren Pratley and Luke O’Nien, from which both players thankfully quickly recovered, Charlton made a foray into the Sunderland half, but Josh Cullen’s free-kick from the left curled into the hands of keeper Jon McLaughlin. The whistle had blown for a foul in any case.
As the game wore on into the final 20 minutes of a nine-month season, Lee Bowyer brought on Jonny Williams for Pratley - and his introduction almost had an immediate impact. His run down the left ended in a cross which was just too far in front of Taylor for him to properly connect with his head.
Minutes later he drew a foul – and a yellow card for Luke O’Nien, the pace of the substitute causing havoc for the weary legs of the Sunderland defence.
Sunderland then introduced their own fresh legs, in the shape of their player of the year Aiden McGeady, as neither side seemed to want an extra 30 minutes at the end of a long season.
Lewis Morgan’s shot was charged down in the centre of the goal for Sunderland, and Lee Bowyer became more agitated as the game went on, taking all his frustration out on poor fourth official Peter Bankes.
With 10 minutes left on the clock Bryan Oviedo made a rare run into the Charlton final third and curled a shot which was easily held by Phillips. Then a cross from the left was headed goalwards by Will Grigg but cleared by the Charlton defence.
Soon after a long ball down the left found Grigg, but his ball back to McGeady was fired over the bar. Down the other end a cross from Josh Parker was gathered by McLaughlin.
Into injury time we went and Charlton first nearly won it when Williams’ cross was flicked goalwards by Parker, whose effort was blocked.
But as the clock ticked towards 95 minutes Cullen played a brilliant ball to the far post, and after the ball broke loose, Bauer was there. His first effort was blocked, but he was quick to the rebound, and poked Charlton into the Championship.
Charlton: Phillips, Bauer, Taylor, Cullen, Sarr (yellow, Pearce 46), Parker, Aribo, Dijksteel, Bielik, Purrington, Pratley (Wiliams, 70)
Subs: Maxwell, Pearce, Forster-Caskey, Reeves, Solly, Williams, Lapslie
Sunderland: McLaughlin, Oviedo, Ozturk, Cattermole, Maguire (Grigg, 56 (yellow), Wyke (McGeady), Honeyman, Flanagan (Yellow), O’Nien (Yellow), Leadbitter (Yellow), Power (Sub: Morgan, 9)
Subs: Stryjek, Mathews, Gooch, Morgan, McGeady, Grigg, Dunne
Referee: Andy Madley