THE play-offs are the worst-case scenario for Town after Joey Gudjonsson fired an arrow straight through Charlton’s defences.
On a day when promotion rivals Southampton, Peterborough and MK Dons all won – and Brighton clinched the League I title – it was crucial Town followed suit at The Valley.
Icelandic midfielder Gudjonsson duly delivered with a scorching 83rd-minute shot from a free-kick on the edge of the ‘D’.
It was a second bite of the cherry for the former Burnley man.
Brought down by Jose Semedo 30 yards out, his first effort was handled by Kyel Reid, who was on the end of a five-man wall.
That brought another attempt – and this time neither the red-shirted barrier nor keeper John Sullivan could prevent the ball flying into the right-hand corner right in front of Town’s 1,338-strong travelling contingent.
Cue wild celebrations and a guaranteed play-off place after Rochdale lost 1-0 at home to Brentford, for whom Town loan man Robbie Simpson got the goal.
Of course the second automatic spot alongside Brighton is still up for grabs, and Town continue to push their rivals all the way after a seventh win in 10 games.
It was tough going at times on a sunny afternoon in SE7, with Town fans made to sweat during several phases of home pressure.
But a determined defensive display brought a seventh clean sheet in eight matches, with one save from Ian Bennett really standing out.
It came in the 68th minute, when Portuguese midfielder Semedo met right-back Chris Solly’s cross with a looping header which had goal written all over it – until Town’s 39-year-old stopper defied his years by arching his back, stretching and tipping the ball over the bar.
It was a top stop by a man who has proved a more than useful signing, and there were also strong displays by what manager Lee Clark would deem his first-choice back four of Lee Peltier, Jamie McCombe, Peter Clarke and Gary Naysmith.
It meant an afternoon of frustration for Bradley Wright-Phillips, who put two past Town for Plymouth earlier this season, and Paul Benson, the former Dagenham and Redbridge striker who shot over from a good position late in the first half.
At the other end, former Republic of Ireland and Norwich centre-back Gary Doherty was an impressive performer for Charlton, his battle with on-loan Arsenal teenager Benik Afobe forming an intriguing sub-plot.
Afobe was again handed the central role in a three-man frontline, this time with Jack Hunt to his right, and the young guns responded superbly.
Both mixed energy with adventure, constantly plugging away at the home rearguard, and Town had a decent 30th-minute penalty shout when Hunt’s heels appeared to be clipped by on-loan Leeds left-back Federico Bessone.
Hunt was also involved in the move which brought Town closest to a first-half breakthrough, feeding Peltier, whose cross teed up Gudjonsson for two shots, both of which were blocked.
Charlton’s best effort before the break came from Doherty, whose 27th-minute header was saved, while McCombe, Gary Roberts and Peltier all came close for Town early in the second half.
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