Charlton 0 AFC Bournemouth 3 (Ritchie 10,85, Arter 12).
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
Oozing class and confidence, upwardly mobile AFC Bournemouth put Charlton in their place (which turned out to be bottom of the top half of the Championship) in this embarrassingly one-sided season finale.
Clearly the best side in the division, the rampant visitors' outstanding campaign was dramatically rubberstamped deep into added time with the galvanic news that Sheffield Wednesday had equalised at title rivals Watford. The Cherries' perfect day was complete; they were going up as champions. Shame they couldn't have celebrated their success at their own ground but their gleeful followers had already turned Floyd Road into some corner of a foreign field that is forever Dorset. And anyway there's twice the room at a gleaming Valley to throw a promotion party. Even the sun made spasmodic efforts to shoulder its way through the oppressive cloud cover and join in but never quite made it.
Provided with some 1400 extra seats after selling out the away end, Bournemouth's supporters made the most of their unexpected freedom. They seemed to be everywhere. There aren't many clubs thoughtful enough to evict their own fans from season-ticketed seats to accomodate glory-hunting visitors but that's Charlton in a nutshell. Decent to a fault, they sought to compensate the dispossessed locals with offers of free food which, when supply disastrously failed to meet demand, proved yet again that there's no such thing as a free lunch. For their part, the South Coasters rather ungraciously responded by blitzing their benefactors with two goal inside the opening 12 minutes..
Generously welcomed back to his former stamping ground, Yann Kermorgant had a quietly effective game, which began with an assist on Matt Ritchie's well taken opener. With his back to goal, the burly Breton's perfectly weighted square pass invited the onrushing Ritchie to bury a firm shot across Stephen Henderson's bows and into the net off the foot of the left upright.
Already discouragingly in arrears, the last thing Charlton needed was to carelessly concede a second goal before the shock of the first one wore off. But Yoni Buyens compounded their problems by being caught napping in possession by hustling Harry Arter. The former Charlton youth player neatly picked his pocket, promptly closed in on Henderson and left him helpless with a low drive into the bottom left corner. Arter's ninth goal neatly bookended a season during which his steady improvement placed him among the Championship's best midfielders.
With their job prematurely done, Eddie Howe's talented side throttled back and spent almost 75 scoreless minutes toying absentmindedly with their outclassed victims. As the Addicks floundered from one defensive crisis to another, their tormentors queued up at times to score at close range, instead over-elaborated extravagantly and until the diminutive Ritchie claimed his second goal with five minutes remaining, allowed the scoreline to suggest there was a contest going on. It was a measure of the visitors' superiority that despite being patronised, Charlton were never in with a chance of reducing their arrears. The gap separating the sides was far too wide.
Still only 37, the deeply impressive Howe now faces a formidable challenge in the Premier League. It's de rigeur to predict that promoted sides are destined to struggle at top level but history justifies pessimism. But the Cherries will give it a go and, before leaving, showed Charlton what it takes to climb out of the Championship. With their kaleidoscopic movement, intuitive passing and clinical finishing which fell just two short of 100 league goals, they're quite a side. The Premier League will be graced by their presence.
So Charlton's uneven season concluded with two depressing performances, neither of which will have pleased Guy Luzon. When the Israeli took over in the immediate aftermath of a 5-0 thumping at Watford on January 17th, the Addicks were in 17th position before subsequently slumping to 20th in the wake of a 3-2 home defeat by Norwich. A steady improvement began with the 3-0 dismantling of Brentford four days later and relegation was comfortably avoided with several games to spare. That's acceptable this term but it won't cut the mustard next time around, not if there's any ambition at board level.
Luzon's post-game comments suggested that he will be at the helm again when hostilities resume. A period of managerial stability will be a welcome change but Addicks fans will be watching the comings and goings of players with even keener interest. A summer of organic team-building and a competitive pre-season are expected to launch a serious attempt to emulate Bournemouth's example. It's time Charlton fans looked upward. Relegation is unthinkable, mid-table security no longer an option. Let's go for it, Guy!
Charlton: Henderson, Solly, Ben Haim, Johnson, Fox, Gudmundsson, Diarra (Gomez 69), Buyens, Bulot (Eagles 69), Watt, Vetokele (Church 39). Not used: Etheridge, Bikey, Wiggins, Lennon. Booked: Diarra, Johnson.
Bournemouth: Boruc, Francis, Cook, Elphick, Daniels, Pugh (Smith 69), Arter (Gosling 62), Surman, Ritchie, Kermorgant (Jones 82), Wilson. Not used: Allsop, Pitman, Fraser, Ward.
Referee: Neil Swarbrick. Att: 21,280 (4,668 visiting).
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