Olly Groome reportsfrom The Valley
Another scintillating Charlton performance saw yet another promotion hopeful fall by the wayside at The Valley as the Addicks sealed a 3-2 victory over Derby County on Tuesday night.
Igor Vetokele’s header 12 minutes from time turned out to be the winner as the south Londoners were forced to sweat following Jamie Ward’s second strike of the game with five minutes remaining.
But the south Londoners stood firm to earn all three points as Bob Peeters’ hugely impressive start to life in SE7 continued.
The Addicks had a two-goal cushion when the Angolan international glanced in Lawrie Wilson’s return after Yoni Buyens had put the reds ahead fromm the penalty on the stroke of half-time which followed Ward’s initial equalising strike and George Tucudean’s tidy goal which had put the hosts into an early lead.
And as impressive as the result over the Rams was on its own, the overall performance under the lights at The Valley was simply irresistible.
Peeters made two changes to the side which beat Wigan Athletic in memorable fashion three days earlier with two of those making their full league debuts for the Addicks.
As expected, Nick Pope took his place between the sticks in place of the injured Stephen Henderson to make his first Charlton start, while Joe Gomez became the latest academy graduate to make his league bow, slotting in at right-back with a second game in three days coming too soon for Chris Solly as Peeters continues to carefully manage the defender’s knee.
The Addicks have already shown their intention to play good, passing football on the ground in the first three games of this fledgling season, and that showed no sign of letting up in the early exchanges.
The hosts were content to knock the ball around sweetly from kick-off and it was some two and a half minutes before they surrendered possession when Johann Berg Gudmundsson sent a shot sailing towards goal from range which was easily saved by Rams stopper Lee Grant.
In truth, the early football Charlton were playing was, at times, breathtaking as the visitors were left chasing shadows and it was only a matter of time before it earned the goal that it deserved.
With 11 minutes gone Gudmundsson showed great skill and close control to get himself out of a sticky situation just inside the opposition half before spreading the play out wide to Jordan Cousins.
And just as he did against Wigan, the youngster threatened by cutting into the left, this time, laying off Tucudean who took a touch before swivelling and rifling a shot neatly into the bottom corner to put the Addicks 1-0 in front.
It was the first goal Derby had conceded in all competitions in 2014/15 and Steve McClaren’s men went close to scoring one of their own with an immediate response.
But with Ward taking an awkward touch 12 yards from goal, he fed the ball backwards to Jeff Hendrick whose shot was easily hacked away.
After a pulsating opening to the game the tempo slowed down somewhat midway through the first half. However, Charlton were still showing their class in possession as they moved the ball around with verve.
The impressive Gudmundsson broke just before the half-hour mark to see his dangerous cross cleared away, only for Yoni Buyens to return it with an audacious shot which flew well over the bar while Simon Dawkins followed suit with a hopeful wide shot at the other end.
That would, though, prove to be a warning shot as one minute later, the Rams were level.
Pope did well to get down low and keep out Chris Martin’s initial effort but there was nothing he could do about Ward’s follow-up as he thrashed it straight into the top corner from just inside the box.
That had given the visitors some impetus as they enjoyed their own spell of possession towards the end of the first period.
Pope had his palms stung by a Craig Bryson effort after a short corner before Rhoys Wiggins did well to block Hendrick’s shot as the sides prepared to retreat for the break all square.
Or so it seemed.
In the final seconds of the fourth additional minute, Tucudean bamboozled the Derby defence, cutting inside then out before shaping up to pull the trigger.
But just as the Romanian was about to do so, he was hauled down by Richard Keogh’s challenge leaving the referee no choice but to point to the spot.
And Buyens, who had patrolled the midfield so brilliantly throughout, stepped up to send Grant the wrong way with a carbon copy of his spot-kick scored against Colchester United a week earlier.
That should not have been the extent of the Rams’ punishment but, much to the assembled Addicks’ shock, referee Michael Bull failed to show even a yellow card for the challenge which had, by very definition, denied a goalscoring opportunity.
Nevertheless, Charlton could be happy with their lot as they headed for the break in front, off the back of a fine first-half showing.
Derby did respond strongly as they emerged for the second half, putting Peeters’ men under some pressure with early possession, but it was the Addicks who would have the first chance of the second 45.
Yet another slick passing move saw Johnnie Jackson beat the offside trap to break wide before supplying Vetokele in the middle.
Tha Angolan took a touch to send his effort wide from 12 yards but you just wonder if the lurking Franck Moussa, who replaced the injured Tuudean at half-time, would have been the better option as he lay in wait behind his strike partner.
Confidence was running through the hosts’ veins and Vetokele had a second chance moments later when he pounced on a defensive error to steam towards goal but could only force Grant into a good save at his near post.
Just as they did in the first half, both sides exchanged sustained spells of possession, but every time the Rams asked the hosts’ defence a question, they always seemed to have an answer, hustling and bustling their opponents into submission.
The visitors did nearly see a breakthrough on 64 minutes when a patient piece of build-up play saw Bryson rifle a good-looking shot from the edge of the box, but Pope was happy to ball fly wide before Hendrick sent a rising half-volley over after it set up nicely for the midfielder on the edge Charlton’s box.
It was a spell which Peeters’ side had to soak up and they alleviated the pressure when a swift counter-attacking move ended in Gudmundsson letting fly from 30 yards, but it was another effort which sailed well over.
The Addicks had another sight at goal when Jackson bent a free-kick much more closely over Grant’s left-hand upright as the Addicks looked for a killer third.
And with 12 minutes left on the clock, they got just that.
Jackson’s long cross to the far post was returned smartly into the danger area where Vetokele was on hand to glance a header past Grant to put Charlton 3-1 in front.
With that, the hosts appeared to take control and Vetokele had a chance to make it four when he turned cleverly before scooping a shot straight at the Rams stopper.
But shortly after, Peeters men were made to really sweat when Derby nicked a goal back against the run of play.
An initial blocked shot came back into the path of Ward on the edge of the box, whose low shot squirmed agonisingly through the legs of Pope to give his side hope with five minutes remaining.
And agonising it certainly was.
Charlton were on the brink of a hugely impressive victory over one of this season’s promotion favourites as they soaked up everything the Rams had to throw at them.
But the brick wall at the back stood firm with the final whistle bringing scenes of pure relief, and then unbridled joy, as the Addicks extended their unbeaten start to the season and a secured a third win from four for an (almost) perfect start to Peeters’ reign in charge.
Charlton: Pope; Gomez, Wiggins, Ben Haim, Bikey-Amougou; Gudmundsson (Fox 89), Buyens, Jackson, Cousins (Wilson 64); Vetokele, Tucudean (Moussa 46).
Subs (not used): Phillips, Morrison, Harriott, Church.
Goals: Tucudean 11, Buyens 45 (pen), Vetokele 78.
Booked: Buyens 73 (foul on Martin), Gomez 84 (kicking the ball away)
Derby: Grant; Christie, Forsyth, Bryson, Buxton, Keogh, Dawkins (Russell 69), Hendrick (Best 77), Martin, Ward, Hughes (Mascarell 46).
Subs (not used): Roos, Naylor, Eustace, Whitbread.
Booked: Bryson 35 (foul on Tucudean)
Goals: Ward 31, 85
Ref: M Bull
Att: 15,317 (1,434 from Derby)