George Jones reports from Bramall Lane
Charlton were beaten 2-1 by champions-elect Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Saturday afternoon.
Ahead through Ricky Holmes’ third-minute free-kick, the Addicks dominated large chunks of the first half and could have scored a second when Tony Watt hit the crossbar with an over-head kick.
But the high-flying Blades levelled though Jack O’Connell’s deft header and, after the break, Daniel Lafferty netted the winner from close range, after Declan Rudd had made a brilliant save from his initial header.
Charlton applied the pressure late on but to no avail, with the defeat being their first against any of the top-five clubs in League One this season.
In terms of team news, the Addicks again lined up in a midfield diamond formation, with Karl Robinson making three changes in personnel from Tuesday’s draw with Bradford City.
Nathan Byrne, Ezri Konsa and Jake Forster-Caskey - all fit again following injuries – were recalled to the XI, with Johnnie Jackson and Andrew Crofts dropping to the bench, while Lewis Page missed out completely with his hamstring problem.
Charlton made an extremely bright start to the match and they took the lead inside just three minutes. The returning Forster-Caskey did well to win possession on the edge of United’s box and then was fouled by a clumsy challenge.
Holmes stood over the set-piece and – as he did at AFC Wimbledon at Shrewsbury Town - expertly curled the ball into the corner of the net.
It rewarded a quick opening from Robinson’s men and they immediately went in search of number two. They came very close to getting one with seven minutes played.
Patrick Bauer headed a Holmes corner back into the danger area and Tony Watt improvised to hook the ball over his head and towards goal. Unfortunately for the Scot, it bounced off the crossbar and the host were able to scramble the loose ball clear.
Konsa forced home stopper Simon Moore into a decent save shortly afterwards and then Forster-Caskey glanced a cross just wide with his head, as the Addicks continued to make the early running.
United levelled on 13 minutes, though, with the goal coming from their first attack of the game.
Mark Duffy flighted an inviting cross into the box and centre-back O’Connell was first to it to glance the equaliser into the far corner of the net.
Lafferty and Lee Novak fired tame strikes at goal for their respective sides, as the game began to settle down midway through the first period, and Charlton then carved out another great opportunity.
Forster-Caskey nutmegged his man on the right before cutting the ball back for Novak and only a vital block from Ethan Ebanks-Landell prevented the striker’s first-time effort from flying into the corner of the goal.
Holmes shot over with his left foot on 26 minutes and four minutes later John Fleck threw himself to the ground inside the penalty area to try and win his side a penalty. Referee Scott Duncan waved away his appeals, however.
A vital interception from Ebanks-Landell prevented Holmes from putting Watt in on goal on the half-hour mark, but the Scot did get the chance to shoot 60 seconds later, with his low strike forcing Moore into a good stop at his near post.
The Blades enjoyed their best period of possession five minutes before the break and it ended with them creating a good chance of their own. Captain Billy Sharp broke the offside trap on the left but neither James Hanson or Fleck were able to steer his low cross home in the middle.
United began to turn the screw as the first half drew to a close and two opportunities fell the way of Ebanks-Landell. The first was a strike that Teixeira blocked behind for a corner and from the resulting set-piece the Blades defender nodded onto the roof of the net at the far post.
The two sides went in level at the break and once play restarted it was the home side that made the brighter side and, like Charlton in the first period, they took just three minutes to score.
Sharp delivered a cross to the far post and Lafferty met it with a firm header that Rudd made a superb save from. The loose ball dropped back for the Northern Irishman, though, and he was able to tuck home from close range.
The Addicks looked for a quick response and came close through Bauer’s back-post header and then through Holmes, who volleyed wide from Watt’s cross.
They came closer on 58 minutes when Novak flicked a Forster-Caskey cross into the path of Konsa, but the academy graduate could not get enough power into his finish and Moore saved.
Forster-Caskey stung the palms of Moore with a long-range shot on the hour mark and Holmes then fired over from the edge of the ball, after a cross into the box was not properly cleared.
At the other end, Chris Basham headed onto the roof of the net and substitute Samir Carruthers drove a strike into the side netting from a tight angle.
A penalty appeal from United’s Sharp was correctly ignored by referee Duncan after he went down under a challenge from Rudd and the Addicks goalkeeper then made a good save to keep out a Lafferty shot at his near post.
A Watt strike was well blocked by O’Connell on 75 minutes and, five minutes later, no-one in the middle was able to connect with a low, Holmes centre.
The Addicks - boosted in energy by the introductions of Crofts, Jordan Botaka and Jay Dasilva – pushed forward in the minutes that remained but for all their late territory, they were unable to create any chances at goal and Sheffield United held on to win.
Sheffield United: Moore, Fleck, O’Connell, Basham, Sharp (c), Coutts (O’Shea 85), Hanson (Lavery 73), Freeman, Ebanks-Landell, Duffy (Carruthers 63), Lafferty.
Subs (not used): Long, Done, Wright, O’Shea, Chapman.
Goals: O’Connell 13, Lafferty 48
Charlton: Rudd, Byrne, Teixeira, Bauer, Chicksen (Dasilva 84), Ulvestad (Botaka 80), Forster-Caskey (Crofts 74), Konsa, Holmes (c) Novak, Watt.
Subs (not used): Phillips, Jackson, Hanlan, Ahearne-Grant.
Goal: Holmes 3
Referee: S Duncan
Attendance: 23,308 (589 from Charlton).