Olly Groome reports from The Valley
The U23s’ season came to a heart-breaking end in the Professional Development League 2 national play-offs semi-finals, losing out on penalties to Hull City after a 3-3 draw.
With the score goalless after 90 minutes, the Tigers went 2-0 ahead early in the second half, only for the Addicks to stage a stunning comeback, scoring three goals in a matter of minutes to put themselves 3-2 ahead.
But just seconds before the full-time whistle, a gut-wrenching equaliser forced penalties, with the visitors coming out on top 5-4, following Regan Charles-Cook’s missed effort.
Jason Euell kept with the same starting XI that beat Millwall in the last league game of the season a fortnight earlier and it was the hosts who came close to taking an early lead with just three minutes on the clock.
After Aaron Barnes had surged forwards, he played Karlan Ahearne-Grant into the box. The striker had just Charlie Andrew to beat, but the Tigers keeper stood strong to keep him out with a good save.
Chances in the first half were scarce and it was 38 minutes before the visitors tested Dimitar Mitov in the Addicks’ goal when Greg Leur’s shot was deflected and spun towards the bottom left-hand corner, only for the Bulgarian stopper to react well to keep it out.
Moments later, Mitov made an outstanding save when he dived to his left to deny Will Annan, and he was quickly called into action once again when he made yet another eye-catching stop, this time keeping Max Clark’s volley at bay.
The cagey affair continued into the second period.
The Tigers came closest to opening the scoring when a chance fell to the feet of Greg Olley, but the visiting skipper could only fire over the bar from inside the box.
Mitov continued to stake his claim for man of the match by pulling off his best save yet on the hour mark. With the ball falling to Annan inside the six-yard box, the stopper stuck out a hand to make a stunning point-blank save.
At the other end, Ahearne-Grant forced Andrew into a save at his near post, and the striker should have put his side in front with 15 minutes remaining.
The 19-year old pounced on a loose ball which dropped over the Hull defence, leaving him one-on-one with Andrew, but the striker could not capitalise as the keeper made a vital stop to keep the scores level.
In the 84th minute, the Tigers struck the bar via Jarrod Bowen’s ferocious effort, while Ahearne-Grant came inches away late on, firing just past the post as the game headed for extra-time.
Mitov continued to impress after the restart, diving to tip away sub Jonathan Edwards’ goalbound overhead kick, but from the visitors took the lead from the resulting corner, three minutes into extra time.
With the set-piece delivered from the right, Bowen rose highest to head home and give the Addicks an uphill climb to keep their season going.
It was to get worse for Charlton in the 102nd minute when substitute Johan Ter Horst headed Hull into a two-goal lead and it looked like that would be that for the Addicks’ title hopes.
But there was to be a glimmer of hope in the 105th minute when Brandon Hanlan thumped a shot into the bottom right-hand corner from 22 yards and just one minute later, the hosts were level.
Alfie Doughty’s lung-busting run through midfield ended in the U18s midfielder slipping in Ahearne-Grant, who finished confidently past Andrew to level matters.
It was an incredible turnaround by Euell’s side and it was set to get even better.
Just four minutes into the second period of extra time, the Addicks found themselves in front thanks to a sumptuous curling effort from sub Charles-Cook, which flew into the top right-hand corner.
It was all set to be an outstanding comeback, but the Tigers were not done yet.
With just 30 seconds of injury time left, Jonathan Edwards nodded home from close range to break Charlton hearts and force an unlikely penalty shootout.
Charles-Cook was first to step up, but his weak penalty was kept out by Andrew.
Robbie McKenzie was first up for Hull and he dispatched his kick into the bottom left-hand corner, while Doughty made no mistake from Charlton’s second to make it 1-1.
Bowen squeezed the Tiger’s next penalty past Mitov, as did Reeco Hackett-Fairchild past Andrew, before Edwards confidently made it 3-2 to the visitors.
Lapslie kept the Addicks in it with the hosts fourth penalty, while Olley kept Hull’s noses in front.
Ahearne-Grant kept Charlton’s hope’s alive with penalty number five, but it was Josh Clackstone who would prove to be the hero, putting away Hull’s fifth to book their place in the final against Sheffield Wednesday.
Charlton U23: Mitov; Barnes, Cummings, Bowry, Edwards; Dijksteel, Carter (Charles-Cook 66), Lapslie; Yamfam (Doughty 69), Ahearne-Grant (Maloney 90+4), Hanlan.
Subs (not-used): Beeney, Maloney, Hackett-Fairchild.
Booked: Bowry 69 (foul on Leur), Lapslie 89 (dissent), Ahearne-Grant 120+1 (timewasting)
Goals: Hanlan 105, Ahearne-Grant 105+1, Charles-Cook 109
Referee: P Kelly
Read Time: 5 mins