Charlton Athletic 2, Barnsley 0
(SkyBet League One)
Consistency is the key when it comes to winning promotion – and so far the Reds are struggling to find it.
A praiseworthy 3-1 away victory over Fleetwood Town at the end of September was followed by a below-par 1-1 draw at home to bottom team Plymouth Argyle three days later, and now, after excellent 4-0 and 3-2 victories over Peterborough United (away) and Luton Town (home) they have stumbled falteringly to a deserved defeat at The Valley.
Their attacking flair was stifled by a more pragmatic Charlton side who suggested that they will be right up there when the promotion places are being decided at the end of the campaign.
This is not to say that the Reds played particularly badly. They still served up some good football – as far as the penalty area – and they had much more of the possession than the home team, but they rarely looked like adding the end product, not even when striker Kieffer Moore, returning after an ankle injury, was sent on as substitute to add his physical presence in the second half.
Charlton, on the other hand, constantly stretched the Barnsley defence, with the pace of two-goal Karlan Grant posing a persistent problem.
Addicks’ boss Lee Bowyer said it was his side’s best performance of the season and they were certainly better than a disappointing Barnsley on this occasion, despite the fact that the Reds were supposedly strengthened with goalkeeper Adam Davies and midfield maestro Kenny Dougall back from international duty and full-back Dani Pinillos making his first start after injury.
It took Charlton only eight minutes to break through a Barnsley defence boasting the second best goals against record in the League, Grant beating Davies with a low shot which went in off the far post after receiving a precise diagonal pass from Jamie Ward.
The latter also tested Davies twice as Charlton took a firm grip on the game, the Reds’ only response coming when Alex Mowatt forced a diving save from Jed Steer.
Moore failed to make the desired impact after substituting for Cameron McGeehan at the break and the second half started in very similar fashion to the first, Lyle Taylor this time crossing for the impressive Grant to notch his seventh goal of the season from close range.
That prompted head coach Daniel Stendel (pictured) to make two further substitutions on the hour mark, Ryan Hedges replacing Pinillos, and Mamadou Thiam going on for George Moncur, and the Reds did provide a more attacking threat as a result, but, even so, it was only from set-pieces that a goal looked remotely possible and Charlton comfortably played the game out with very few moments of anxiety.
It was a disappointing day for the Oakwell team, but they have an early opportunity to make amends away to 18th-placed Shrewsbury Town on Tuesday night.
With Portsmouth steaming ahead like a train at the top of the table, now six points clear of the rest, it is important that the Reds retain their place in the play-off places, which now include an emerging Accrington Stanley as well as free-scoring Peterborough, fancied Sunderland – who have, along with Barnsley, a game in hand on their other rivals – and neighbours Doncaster Rovers.
The Reds have shown already this season that, at their best, they are promotion material. Now they have to produce that best on a more regular basis if they are to remain at the forefront of the race.
Charlton: Steer; Dijksteel, Bielik (Sarr, 82 mins), Pearce, Solly, Cullen, Reeves (Lapslie, 74 mins), Aribo, Ward (Fosu-Henry, 62 mins), Grant, Taylor.
Barnsley: Davies; Cavare, Pinnock, indsay, Pinillos (Hedges, 60 mins), Dougall, Mowatt, Potts, McGeehan (Moore, 45 mins), Moncur (Thiam, 60 mins), Brown.
Bookings: Bielik, Solly (Charlton); Pinillos (Barnsley).
Referee: James Linnington.