Charlton Athletic 2
Taylor 41, Vetokele 47
WITH the bottom half of Sky Bet League One as congested as it is, it seems certain that at least some of the teams to lose status in a month’s time will do so by the slimmest of margins.
Argyle, well as they are playing at the moment, are finding the margins against them: 2-1 up against Bristol Rovers going into added time a fortnight ago and 2-0 up and cruising at Blackpool with six minutes to play last week, they failed to bring home the win that would surely all but guarantee safety.
Saturday’s defeat by a good South London side was not as teeth-gnashingly annoying, but it was immensely frustrating, nonetheless. The Pilgrims bossed the first half as impressively as they had dominated proceedings throughout at Bloomfield Road but could not convert superiority into goals, not even when awarded a penalty that Graham Carey spurned.
Instead, they went into the interval one down, to Lyle Taylor’s seventh goal in nine appearances against them from a rare first-half occasion when Charlton were inside the Argyle final third, never mind the penalty area.
A second goal immediately after the break, from Taylor’s strike-partner Igor Vetokele, further widened the gap between the two sides and the Pilgrims, for all their admirable effort, could not find the necdessary impetus to lessen it thereafter.
Argyle showed one change against play-off certainties Athletic at Home Park after Joe Riley was ruled out with a broken elbow sustained at Blackpool seven days earlier.
Oscar Threlkeld stepped up for only his second Home Park start since rejoining on loan from Belgian side Waasland-Beveren in the January transfer-window.
Midfielder Antoni Sarcevic, who hurt his foot at Bloomfield Road and missed training in the early part of the week, was passed fit to continue, while forward Alex Fletcher came into the squad on the substitutes’ bench.
The Charlton side included Argyle Academy graduate Ben Purrington, on loan at the Valley from Rotherham United and making his third appearance of the current campaign against his former club, having been in the AFC Wimbledon side in this season’s two encounters with the Pilgrims.
The Spring sunshine that bathed the Theatre of Greens provided the perfect complement to a bright opening by Argyle, one that had you pondering what might have been had they performed similarly before the previous autumn was out.
Carey, playing at the apex of a diamond midfield, was central to the Pilgrims’ early moves and obliged goalkeeper Dillon Phillips to save low at his near post as the Green machine glided effortlessly through the gears.
Charlton have not made it to the verge of the Championship by being pushovers, though, and their defence stood firm. A little too firm in the case of centre-backs Naby Sarr and Patrick Bauer, who were booked before the first quarter was out.
The nearest the Pilgrims came to scoring in that same period was from a back-post header by Ryan Edwards that did not trouble Phillips.
Ladapo was the next to engage the Addicks’ custodian, cutting in from the right, leaving Sarr on his ample posterior, and firing off a shot.
Carey then entered his audacious mode, clipping a long-range shot that was so well saved by Phillips that neither referee Charles Breakspear nor his assistant saw his intervention.
Breakspear then further infuriated the Greens and the Green Army by declining to take no further action against the already cautioned Bauer for a foul on Ruben Lameiras that was about as stonewall a yellow-card offence as they come. Margins.
Lameiras, lectured by Breakspear for his reaction, had the satisfaction of winning a penalty moments later, inducing a clumsy trip from Krystian Bielik. Carey’s penalty was not good, down the middle and a decent height for Phillips to knock it away with his knee. Margins again.
The Pilgrims went closer from the corner, Edwards meeting Carey’s delivery in the six-yard box and shovelling the ball to an even-nearer Ladapo, who the ball hit, rather than vice versa.
Inevitably, Charlton then scored, with their first attack of note. Equally inevitably, it was Taylor who was on the end of Chris Solly’s cross. Completing the hat-trick of predictabilities, he gave plenty to the Devonport end in celebrating.
If Argyle found it difficult to comprehend how they were a goal down to 11 men at the interval, they were dumfounded when they conceded a second straight after the restart, as Williams’ low cross to the near post from the right was bundled home by Vetokele.
Charlton with the wind in their sails were a different prospect than the rather timid opponents of the first half, and Macey was called upon to bat away decent efforts from Williams and Joe Aribo.
At the back, too, they were more in command, keeping Argyle largely at arm’s length.
The Pilgrims sent on Ryan Taylor to support Ladapo, who responded with one of his shimmies past a marker followed by a curled attempt that Phillips watched over.
In contrast to the first half’s myriad possibilities, it was a comparatively rare moment when Argyle looked like they might be able to force their way into contention, and away from potential trouble.
Argyle (4-4-2): 1 Matt Macey; 26 Oscar Threlkeld, 5 Ryan Edwards, 14 Niall Canavan (20 Lloyd Jones 71), 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 7 Antoni Sarcevic (9 Ryan Taylor 71), 8 David Fox, 10 Graham Carey, 6 Jamie Ness (29 Alex Fletcher 84); 11 Ruben Lameiras; 19 Freddie Ladapo. Substitutes (not used): 4 Yann Songo’o, 13 Paul Anderson, 21 Kyle Letheren (gk), 23 Ashley Smith-Brown.
Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): 1 Dillon Phillips; 20 Chris Solly (capt), 5 Patrick Bauer (capt), 23 Naby Sarr, 16 Ben Purrington, 24 Josh Cullen, 4 Krystian Bielik (15 Darren Pratley 63), 21 Jonny Williams (10 Josh Parker 79), 17 Joe Aribo; 9 Lyle Taylor, 14, Igor Vetokele (32 George Lapslie 74). Substitutes (not used): 2 Anfernee Dijksteel, 6 Jason Pearce, 12 Ben Reeves, 22 Chris Maxwell (gk),
Booked: Sarr 13, Bauer 18, Vetokele 32, Bielik 42, Purrington 52.
Referee: Charles Breakspear.
Attendance: 10,696 (817 away).