Olly Groome reports from The Valley
Charlton’s U23s edged closer to securing their place in the end of season play-offs with victory over Sheffield Wednesday at The Valley on Monday afternoon.
The Addicks were worthy winners in SE7 and did not look back once Alfie Doughty’s cross-cum-shot flew in early on.
Karlan Ahearne-Grant, who impressed throughout, grabbed the second in the 76th minute to stretch the lead further and despite the Owls pulling one back shortly after, Jason Euell’s men saw the game out with Wednesday eventually finishing with 10 men after a late red card.
The visitors came close to opening the scoring on seven minutes when Connor O’Grady won his header from a corner. His goalbound effort took a deflection, but keeper Jordan Beeney reacted well to keep it out.
But it was the Addicks who went ahead with 14 minutes on the clock through Doughty, who found the net in some style.
The U18 midfielder picked up possession on the left wing and pinged in a ball from the tightest of angles which flew over the head of Owls stopper Dan Wallis and into the top right-hand corner.
Although it was almost certainly intended as a cross, it was enough to get the hosts’ noses in front and they very nearly stretched the lead shortly after but for a tremendous tackle from visiting centre-back Jordan Thorniley.
Brandon Hanlan found himself in the clear as he got into the box, but just as he was about to pull the trigger, the defender slid in to make a perfectly-timed challenge to prevent a certain goal.
From the resulting corner, Wallis was forced into a good save to tip over Anfernee Dijksteel’s header which looked to be sneaking in under the bar.
With the rain lashing down on The Valley, the Addicks continued to shade matters with Pearce coming close with a header just wide of the post from George Lapslie’s corner delivery.
As the half wore on, Charlton began to gain a greater foothold and Ahearne-Grant was proving to be a thorn in the Owl’s side. He tested their defence in the 66th minute when he burst into the penalty area, but saw an initial shot well blocked by a blue shirt before his follow up suffered a similar fate.
The striker danced into the box once again moments later. This time, he shot took a wicked deflection which saw the ball loop up and over Wallis, but the keeper recovered well to tip it away from goal and from danger.
Ahearne-Grant deserved a goal for his efforts and he finally got it with 14 minutes remaining.
Indeed, the academy graduate started and finished the move, picking possession up in the centre of the park before laying it off to Dijksteel, who showed his class in the centre of midfield all afternoon. The ball was pinged into the box for Hanlan to pluck expertly out of the air before he teed it up for his strike partner and Ahearne-Grant finished with aplomb to put the home side in control.
It was not long, however, before the Owls reduced the arrears back to a single goal. Substitute Lewis Price got on the end of a right-wing cross to send a powerful header past Beeney against the run of play to set up a potentially-nervy last 10 minutes for Euell’s side.
But the Addicks remained comfortable and their job was made easier in injury-time when Wednesday’s Charlie Baker was given his marching orders for two bookable offences both on substitute Louis Yamfam, two minutes apart.
The victory strengthens the development squad’s grip on top spot with just four league games left to play.
Charlton U23s: Beeney; Barnes, Pearce, Bowry, Edwards; Carter, Dijksteel, Lapslie; Doughty (Yamfam 84), Ahearne-Grant, Hanlan.
Subs (not used): Prall, Fox, Millar, Diedrick-Roberts.
Goals: Doughty 14, Ahearne-Grant 76
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