Olly Groome reports
Charlton’s search for a league victory continued into an eighth game as Preston North End claimed a 3-0 victory on a disappointing evening at The Valley on Tuesday.
With the injury-hit Addicks facing yet another game of forced changes, the visitors were on their way to victory as early as the second minute when Paul Gallagher lashed home a free-kick, while the former Blackburn Rovers striker scored a second before half-time.
And despite the hosts providing some hope with glimpses of good possession football early in the second half, Daniel Johnson put pay to the game, striking a third with half-an-hour still to play and condemning Charlton to their fifth defeat in six league games.
Guy Luzon was forced into five changes as the injury problems continue to hurt the Israeli’s team selection, with Johann Berg Gudmundsson missing after picking up an injury at Reading three days earlier, while two games in quick succession came too soon for Johnnie Jackson, Conor McAleny and Franck Moussa.
That meant there would be an Addicks league debut for academy graduate Tareiq Holmes-Dennis on the left of midfield, while Naby Sarr replaced the suspended Patrick Bauer at centre half.
Elsewhere, El-Hadji Ba came back into the starting XI, as did Morgan Fox with Zakarya Bergdich switching to the right-wing and Tony Watt came back into the fold to partner Karlan Ahearne-Grant up top.
After seven league games without victory, the Addicks were hoping for a positive starts under the lights in SE7. Unfortunately, they would begin with an almost immediate handicap, falling behind with just two minutes on the clock.
From their first move forwards, Preston won a free-kick when El-Hadji Ba clipped the heels of Adam Reach on the edge of the box from which the experienced Gallagher delivered a low finish into the bottom left-hand corner and out of Nick Pope’s reach.
Another free-kick from an almost identical position threatened to punish the hosts six minutes later, but the Addicks’ backline blocked the effort before clearing up in a crowded box, while Pope did well to stop Johnson’s tricky shot shortly after.
At the other end, Watt enjoyed Charlton’s first shot on goal on 27 minutes, creating a yard of space for himself before firing firmly at Preston stopper Jordan Pickford.
And the Scot was determined to make things happen for his side, running at the visitors’ defence with purpose and diverting another shot wide as Luzon’s men looked to regain a foothold on proceedings.
Morgan Fox was next to try his luck with a fizzing ball into the box which sailed just wide, but the home side’s task was about to get even more difficult with Gallagher firing an unstoppable finish past Pope for 2-0 on 36 minutes.
When the Addicks’ defence failed to adequately clear a corner, the ball fell to the Lillywhites’ skipper just inside the left-hand edge of the box and he proceeded to larrup a powerful, curling finish which dipped into the top right-hand corner.
Two very nearly became three when Alan Browne nodded Gallagher’s corner off the woodwork and the disappointing first-half showing prompted the Valley faithful into a chorus of boos as the two sides retreated for the break, and Luzon into making the first of three changes ahead of the second period with McAleny replacing Bergdich.
After an uneventful start to the half which saw Charlton put on a somewhat more positive showing, Luzon opted to use his final two subs with Jackson and Simon Makienok, who was making his long-awaited return from injury, emerging in place of Ahearne-Grant and Ba to try and rally the troops.
But no sooner had the duo entered the fray than the hosts would find themselves three goals down.
Johnson was the man to inflict more punishment on the Addicks, winning the ball well before unleashing a sumptuous, curling shot into the top left-hand corner from 25 yards with 62 minutes played.
The travelling Preston fans thought they had a fourth when Johnson rattled the side-netting with another good-looking effort shortly after, and with Charlton still failing to make an impact in the final third, reality was sinking in that this would truly be a night to forget at The Valley.
The rest of the game was played out, seemingly as a formality, and although Makienok did show glimpses of what the side have been missing over the last six weeks, there would be little for the reds to cheer about as the Addicks slide into the bottom three, with Saturday’s visit of 20th-placed Brentford now proving all-the-more vital.
Charlton: Pope, Solly, Diarra, Sarr, Fox, Bergdich, Ba, Cousins, Holmes-Dennis, Watt, Ahearne-Grant.
Subs (not used): Henderson, Jackson, McAleny, Moussa, Kennedy, Makienok, Ghoochannejhad.
Booked: Fox 47 (altercation with Browne)
Preston: Pickford, Vermijl (Huntington 70), Woods, Wright, Cunningham, Gallagher (Kilkenny 79), Browne, Johnson, Reach, Hugill, Doyle (Keane 84).
Subs (not used): James, Davies, Welsh, May.
Booked: Gallagher 26 (foul on Gallagher), Browne 47 (altercation with Fox), Cunningham 55 (foul on McAleny),
Goals: Gallagher 2, 36, Johnson 62
Referee: S Hooper
Att: 13,586 (481 from Preston)