Olly Groome reports from The Valley
Charlton’s U23s have been crowned Professional Development League 2 – South champions after beating Millwall 2-1 at The Valley on Monday evening.
The Addicks only needed one point from the game to ensure they could not be caught by their local rivals and the hosts gained more than just bragging right from a fiery encounter in SE7, earning all three points and the regional crown.
It was the visitors who registered the first shot on target of the evening, with striker Harry Smith, who was booked after just 20 seconds following a dangerous challenge on Matt Carter, headed straight at stopper Dimitar Mitov.
The Addicks began to see lots of possession, playing patient football as they looked to unlock the Lions.
Karlan Ahearne-Grant fired a speculative effort from distance towards goal which was collected by visiting custodian Harry Girling, while a clever free-kick routine saw George Lapslie pull the ball back to Matt Carter, whose good-looking effort deflected wide.
Ahearne-Grant had a glorious opportunity to fire the hosts in front on 37 minutes when he did brilliantly to dance past the entire Millwall defence, and the keeper, before finding an open goal in front of him from five yards. But, incredibly, the striker hit an air shot, providing the Lions with a real let off.
The pressure began to mount on the visitors’ goal, with Dan Bowry glancing a header inches wide, before Ahearne-Grant was given the opportunity to make up for his earlier miss from the penalty spot after Aaron Barnes was taken out by a crunching challenge in the box, four minutes before the break.
The striker stepped up, took a cool run up, and dispatched his penalty with ease, sending Girling the wrong way to give his side a fully-deserved lead at half-time.
Charlton continued to impress after the break and it was not long before their lead was doubled.
A left-sided free-kick delivery from Lapslie, who was excellent throughout, found an unmarked Bowry at the far post, and the centre-back made no mistake, heading past the keeper to put one hand on the title.
The Lions, however, were determined to keep fighting, as shown my some very rash challenges, including one such horror challenge from skipper James Brown, which should have seen the defender sent for an early bath. But the referee deemed it worthy of only a yellow card.
Millwall kept themselves in the game with a goal on 58 minutes thanks to a very good Lewis White strike into the top right-hand corner from 25 yards.
Mitov was called into action shortly after, making a superb save to get down and tip Noel Leighton’s goal-bound header away from the bottom left corner.
The Lions threw all they had at the Addicks, but the hosts stood firm and managed the game brilliantly to play out the rest of the match and earn the points that were needed to seal the title and gain home advantage in the end-of-season play-offs, where they will take on wither Hull City or Bolton Wanderers in the semi-final.
Charlton: Mitov; Barnes, Cummings, Bowry, Edwards; Dijksteel, Carter, Lapslie; Yamfam (Doughty 69), Ahearne-Grant (Maloney 90+4), Hanlan.
Subs (not used): Beeney, Millar, Davidson-Miller.
Booked: Cummings 45 (foul), Barnes 61 (dissent), Lapslie 66 (foul on Mbulu)
Goals: Ahearne-Grant 41 (pen), Bowry 54
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