A touch of class from an experienced professional left Charlton’s U21s heartbroken at the AMEX on Monday night as Craig Mackail-Smith’s stoppage time strike earned Brighton a point in a 2-2 draw.
Mackail-Smith, featuring for the Seagulls’ Development Squad as part of his return from injury, bullied Cedric Evina off the ball before cutting in from the left and curling an effort from the edge of the box past young Charlton stopper Jordan Beeney.
It was harsh on the Addicks, who had performed impressively all night and fully deserved the two goal lead they had after an hour; Harry Lennon’s volley doubling Charlton’s advantage after Harry Gerard’s first-half goal.
But Brighton, encouraged by Mackail-Smith’s first of the night after 64 minutes , responded admirably and fought valiantly for their point.
With both clubs’ first teams in action on Tuesday tonight, there were few familiar faces in either line up. Joining Evina in Charlton’s starting XI was Lennon, who has three first team appearances under his belt, and a pair of January signings in Anil Koc and Piotr Parzyszeck.
For the hosts, well-travelled ‘keeper Casper Ankergren started between the posts, whilst left-back Adam Chicksen and Mackail-Smith supplemented a young team.
Neither of the inexperienced sides appeared overawed by the occasion under the lights at the AMEX, as both settled quickly and attempted to play commendable passing football.
But, after an opening deprived of goal mouth action, the first chance of the game fell Charlton’s way and set the tone for the rest of the half.
After Brighton lost possession, the Addicks broke with a mixture of quick passes and pace when carrying the ball that resulted in Kadell Daniel finding himself in a shooting position. The former Palace youngster’s effort was well hit, but Ankergren was more than equal, getting down well to comfortably stop the shot.
Jason Euell’s side had quickly found a superb rhythm and tempo to their play, and they were inches away from taking the lead with a little under 15 minutes played. The lively Daniel turned provider as he drove forward and slid in Tobi Sho-Silva, but the England U18 international’s first time strike hit the inside of the far post and agonisingly trickled away from goal.
There was certainly a theme developing as Brighton struggled to maintain the pace with which Charlton got forward, and a superb run from full-back Lavender Pyke played Parzyszeck in. But, from a tight angle, the Polish U21 forward’s effort flashed past the post that had just been hit and been behind.
Nonetheless, this was a bright start from the Addicks. But, as the first team would surely vouch for, it’s crucial chances are taken, especially when the opposition have a threat of their own.
Brighton were certainly no pushovers, and a fine strike from the impressive James Muitt, who would provide a stern test for Charlton’s full-backs all night, went narrowly wide, was followed by a corner for the hosts.
But when that corner was cleared, Charlton’s pace in attack shone as an excellent counter put them a goal up.
Parzyszeck did well to get to the ball first after it left the box, and his tackle-cum-interception set Sho-Silva running free. The pacey strike beat his man before sending Daniel free, with five Charlton players to pick out in the box. His driven cross found Jack Munns, who had his initial shot superbly saved, before Gerard tapped in the rebound to give the Addicks a lead they deserved.
But, despite the Addicks continuing to dictate the game with a number of individuals impressing, Brighton responded well to going a goal down.
After an optimistic penalty shout was waved as Harry Osborne showed great strength to keep out Mackail-Smith, the forward came desperately close to equalising for his side.
A flat cross was met by the Scotland international, and after his first time shot was kept out by a wonderful reaction save, Beeney did even better to deny Mackail-Smith for a second time from the rebound. The ball, however, was trickling towards goal from the ‘keeper’s save, and a crucial intervention from Pyke kept Charlton’s lead intact.
The goal had certainly forced the Seagulls out of their shells, which led for a much more open game in the final ten minutes of the half.
Emil Asmundsson was teed up on the edge of the area, and saw his sweetly struck drive fly past the post with Beeney beaten, whilst Sho-Silva and Munns blasted over from good positions to bring a competitive half to its conclusion.
The Addicks had certainly had the better of things, and been very impressive in their play, but Brighton were beginning to look a real threat and a second goal was desperately needed for Euell’s men.
That need for a second was only increased as the Albion started the second half on the strong foot. Courtney Richards’ effort flew over the bar from range, and an excellent corner into Charlton’s box wasn’t attacked by any Brighton forward.
But, with an hour gone, Brighton’s hard work looked to be underdone when the Addicks scored their much needed second. A stunning strike from Lennon, a volley from the edge of the box, gave Ankergren no chance and even a number of the Brighton fans inside the AMEX gave the goal a round of applause.
The goal appeared to have given the young Addicks their confidence back, and another passing move ended with Daniel driving forward and picking out Parzyszeck, but his effort from 20-yards ended up, in truth, well wide. With Ankergren out of position, an on-target strike would have surely confirmed Charlton’s three points.
But their lead was cut just moments later as Lennon, so impressive all night, failed to deal with a cross and Mackail-Smith bounced, lashing into the roof of the net from close range.
A succession of chances for Muitt followed, with his first a volley from a cross held at the second attempt by Beeney and his second a curling drive parried away by the inform stopper.
With less than twenty minutes to play, the Addicks might well have sat back and protected their lead, but they continued to come forward with the pace they had shown all night. Daniel’s sensational ball picked out Koc, and his cross found Gerard, but the linchpin in Charlton’s midfield couldn’t direct the ball goalwards. Daniel then had a go himself, testing Ankergren with an effort from range that was just about held.
The excellent Gerard was replaced by Albham Banjuka and Pyke, who enraged the home supporters by appearing to fain injury, came off for Hanlan as the game entered its final ten minutes, and Charlton’s nerves weren’t helped when a free-kick was flicked on and only narrowly over the bar.
A cross hit Richards, as appose to Richards meeting the delivery, the deflection off his body caught Beeney wrong-footed, but the ball rolled wide, whilst sub Charles Harris stung the ‘keeper’s hands as the game entered stoppage time and time looked to be running out for the Albion.
But, with the Addicks having seemingly done enough to secure victory, Mackail-Smith capitalised on sloppy defending from Evina and unleashed a stunning effort that flew past the outstretched fingertips of Beeney and into the net.
Despite failing to hold onto their lead, it was an impressive display from Jason Euell’s side. Those who accuse the first team of playing boring football would have enjoyed the lively attacking play of the U21s.
Daniel’s ability to carry the ball forward was particularly impressive, whilst Gerard and Munns looked very comfortable on the ball in the centre of midfield. Sho-Silva and Koc were also exciting to watch, especially during Charlton’s first half dominance.
Unfortunately, for those hoping that Parzyszeck can solve Charlton’s goalscoring problems, the Pole failed to make an impact. In the first half, he put himself about and was involved in the goal, but in the second, he hardly a touch and rarely won a header. In fact, Sho-Silva was arguably much more impressive.
Nonetheless, it was an excellent run out for the Addicks at a stadium of the AMEX’s quality in front of a few hundred spectators. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Poyet, Cousins and Harriott were joined in the first team by some fellow academy graduates in the not too distant future.