Charlton suffered a devastating late double blow as they fell to a 3-2 defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium on Saturday, despite racing into an early two-goal lead.
The Addicks were unstoppable in the first-half as Ademola Lookman belted home his first goal in professional football before Reza Ghoochannejhad made it two before five minutes had been played.
A host of opportunities came and went before the break, but the visitors, who lost Harry Lennon to a head injury after half an hour, would live to regret the missed chances as Brighton struck back early in the second half through James Wilson.
And when Patrick Bauer was given his marching orders for denying a goal-scoring opportunity shortly after, Charlton soaked up as much pressure as they could before two quick-fire goals in the final seven minutes condemned them to, what had seemed like 45 minutes earlier, an unlikely defeat.
Karel Fraeye opted to make four changes to the side which fell to defeat at home to Ipswich Town seven days earlier with academy graduate Lennon coming in to make only his second start for the club in place of Naby Sarr, while Ricardo Vaz Te earned his full Addicks debut after an impressive cameo against the Tractor Boys.
Elsewhere, Chris Solly made a starting return, with Tareiq Holmes-Dennis shifting to the bench, as did Simon Makienok who was replaced by Reza Ghoochannejhad as Charlton looked to start the game with a positive-looking 4-3-3 formation.
And the tactical shift paid off almost immediately as the visitors took the lead inside two minutes with their first attack of the afternoon.
A lightning quick counter-attack saw Vaz Te flick a pass towards Ghoochannejhad who broke through the middle to put through Lookman, and the youngster proceeded to scare the life out of the Seagulls defence.
Haring into the box, the 18-year-old went outside of the covering defender before unleashing an unstoppable left-footed effort into the roof of the net from the tightest of angles as the travelling supporters, and bench, exploded into cheer.
The hosts had no answer for the Addicks’ attacking front three who were at it again just three minutes later as the Londoners raced into a two-goal lead.
Lookman was involved heavily as he ran at the Brighton defence, and although Bruno Saltor halted him with a fine sliding tackle on the edge of the box, Johann Berg Gudmundsson was quick to react to the loose ball.
Keeping the move alive, the Iceland international squared for Ghoochannejhad who made no mistake, dispatching his first-time effort past David Stockdale and into the back of the net from 12 yards.
After the initial shock, Brighton did begin to get somewhat of a foothold back on proceedings, but Charlton remained the bigger threat going forwards.
With 19 minutes on the clock, only a superb Stockdale save prevented Fraeye’s men from pulling further in front of their opponents when Vaz Te dinked a sumptuous ball over the hosts’ defence towards the back post where Ghoochannejhad was lying in wait.
The Iranian met the delivery with a crisp header from close range, but the stopper sprung to his left to claw the ball out of the top left-hand corner.
There was a lengthy stoppage of play just before the 25-minute mark after a nasty clash of heads between Lennon and Solly March left the duo on the deck receiving treatment and it would, unfortunately, prove to be the end of the young Charlton defender’s afternoon.
It did not seem as though that stoppage would stop the visitors’ momentum, however, and they should have scored a third immediately after play restarted, but for another impressive stop from Stockdale.
With the Addicks streaming forward again, Vaz Te brought the ball into the box before it fell at the feet of Gudmundsson seven yards out.
The winger looked favourite to score, but the keeper spread himself to deny Charlton a certain third.
It was 41 minutes before Brighton had their first real chance when Stephen Henderson opted to come and punch a cross at the edge of his crowded penalty area.
His clearance only fell as far as Dale Stephens, but the former Addick could not hit the target as he blazed his effort well over the bar from 25 yards.
Shortly after, a March free-kick from wide-left bounced perilously in the box before flying narrowly past the post, while Bobby Zamora headed wide shortly after, while Charlton came close to a third in the seventh minute of first-half stoppage time when Lookman forced Stockdale into a save at his near post at the other end.
Brighton made a strong start to the second half and looked to quickly make amends for their first-half deficit by going on the front foot.
Indeed, they pulled a goal back just five minutes after the restart.
Manchester United loanee James Wilson picked up possession midway into Charlton’s half and advanced straight into the box and past a sea of red shirts before poking past Henderson and getting his side very much back in the game.
They continued to pile on the pressure and rattled the woodwork four minutes later when the Addicks stopper tipped March’s drive from long distance onto the left-hand upright.
The Londoners’ job was about to get all the more difficult when, on 59 minutes, they were reduced to 10 men following the dismissal of Patrick Bauer.
When the German defender looked to get on the right side of the advancing Zamora, the former England forward stumbled under the pressure, forcing referee Keith Stroud to award a free-kick on the edge of the box before producing the red card.
From the resulting set-piece, Beram Kayal’s shot took a deflection and looped over the bar, while Stephens rolled a shot wide from distance shortly after.
Brighton, inevitably, continued to see all of the ball as they asked all sorts of questions of the Charlton defence who were made to stand tall and soak up the pressure.
The reds suffered another second-half blow with 15 minutes remaining when Gudmundsson limped off with an injury, replaced by Holmes-Dennis, as the Seagulls continued to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the disadvantaged Addicks.
But just as it seemed that Charlton would have enough to hold out, Brighton hit them with an equaliser with just six minutes on the clock.
March made it to the byline before crossing into the six-yard box where Henderson made a superb point-blank save, only for the ball to fall into the feet of Zamora who slammed home the equaliser from close range.
But it was to get worse for the visitors, who somehow found themselves behind moments later.
A cross from the right was met by the head of Hemed which looked to have drawn a fantastic diving save from Henderson, only for the ball to drop dramatically over the line to put the table-toppers in front for the first time.
It was a devastating blow for the Addicks, who were certainly deserving of something from this encounter, but injuries and a red card played their part on an agonising afternoon on the south-coast as they left the Amex, quite unbelievably, empty handed.
Charlton: Henderson, Solly, Bauer, Lennon (Sarr 29), Fox, Diarra, Cousins, Ghoochannejhad, Gudmundsson, Lookman, Vaz Te (Ba 65).
Subs (not used): Pope, Charles-Cook, Ahearne-Grant, Makienok.
Booked: Cousins 43 (foul on Murphy), Henderson 45+2 (time wasting), Fox 90 (foul on van La Parra) Solly 90+2 (foul on March)
Sent off: Bauer 58 (denying a goalscoring opportunity)
Goals: Lookman 2, Ghoochannejhad 5
Brighton: Stockdale; Bruno, Greer, Dunk, Calderon (van La Parra 83); Murphy (Hemed 73), Stephens, Kayal, March; Zamora, Wilson.
Subs (not used): Maenpaa, Chicksen, Huenemeier, Ince, Manu.
Booked: Calderon 45+2 (foul on Ghoochannejhad), Stephens 75 (foul on Cousins)
Goals: Wilson 50, Zamora 83, Hemed 85
Referee: Keith Stroud
Att: 24,587 (1,206 from Charlton)