It looked suspiciously like a valedictory wave. Lyle Taylor left the pitch at The Valley after the last home fixture of the decade acknowledging the cheers of the crowd.
In truth, he had contributed usefully to an exhilarating afternoon, including in Charlton’s own penalty area as the team came under second-half pressure from Bristol City, even though he had not added to his six-goal tally for the campaign.
But whether or not Taylor ever reappears in SE7 wearing a red-and-white shirt, there was no concealing the fact that on this occasion, at least, he had been upstaged.
Charlton’s first home win on Boxing Day in six years – indeed their first opportunity since 2014 – turned out to be a repeat of the 3-2 success against Brighton & Hove Albion in 2013. The scorer of what proved to be the winning goal that day was another talismanic striker – Yann Kermorgant. It was also to be his last in the league for the club.
In 2019, however, the man for the hour turned out to be Macauley Bonne. He scored twice in a match for the first time in Charlton colours, then set up a third for another emerging Valley hero, 20-year-old Alfie Doughty. Both have been the unexpected beneficiaries of the club’s injury crisis, with the midfielder enjoying a richly deserved standing ovation when substituted in stoppage time.
Bonne took his official tally for the season to eight goals with this brace and claimed the leading scorer tag for his own. Yet he had been on target only once in the previous nine games - against Sheffield Wednesday at the end of November – after launching his Valley career with a purple patch of five in six in the autumn.
The summer step up from the National League had begun to look a difficult one again as he laboured diligently through the Addicks’ 11 winless matches after mid-October, with boss Lee Bowyer unable to offer him the respite of dropping down to the bench.
Bonne may also have benefited from the return of Taylor. This was only the second game he had started alongside the senior striker and the pairing gave the opposition defence someone else to think about. Too often he has been left to shoulder responsibility alone.
What can’t be challenged is Bonne’s workrate and marksman’s instinct. The latter had already been showcased with a range of different finishes from the sublime top-corner strike in Charlton’s previous win, against Derby County way back on October 19th, to the ridiculous on his full debut against Leeds United in September, when simply being there contributed to a goalward deflection.
In between, there had been a deceptive looping header at Fulham, a poacher’s nod at West Bromwich Albion, and a confident one-on-one finish from an angle at Ashton Gate. Bristol City couldn’t complain they hadn’t been warned.
His first goal in the Boxing Day clash arrived five minutes before the break, racing on to Albie Morgan’s ball down the right channel to flick the ball over keeper Dan Bentley and watch it bounce beyond the hapless pursuit of Tomas Kalas and into the roof of the net.
The visitors, who arrived on the back of three defeats, had done little to justify their reputation as promotion contenders in the first 45 minutes, but were level within a minute of the restart.
Andreas Weimann did the damage with a glancing header that caught Charlton cold. Things got rapidly worse as midfielder Conor Gallagher soon had to limp off injured. The club had only just learned that Jonathan Leko is out for the season. How many more?
And as the home side struggled to regain the initiative, substitute Niclas Eliasson added a second for City on the hour with an angled drive. At the point the Addicks looked spent and likely to concede a third goal. But instead they levelled with another moment of magic from Bonne on 77 minutes. Like the earlier one, it came out of nowhere.
This time it started with a long clearance by keeper Dillon Phillips, which Bonne and Taylor each headed on before the 24-year-old shrugged off a defensive challenge to swivel and crash home a left-foot shot from close range. Now it was the Robins that were rocking.
Five minutes later Bonne raced down the right wing and delivered a low, hard cross to the far post, where Doughty poked the ball past Bentley at the second attempt for the winner and his first senior goal. New year, new heroes? The old ones will still be needed too.
City had taken all three points in the 98thminute at Ashton Gate and when referee Keith Stroud extended the five advertised for injury time to allow for an injury to Deji Oshilaja, Charlton fans feared a similar fate again.
For the first time in four matches, however, there would no such stoppage-time drama. Instead there was just huge relief and the joyful celebration of a memorable afternoon. It had been a long time coming, and not just because of Stroud’s reluctance to end the game.
VOTV175, the final issue of the 2021/22 season, was published on April 14th. There are three pricing options - for UK (first class), European and worldwide delivery.
To order issues published between April 2013 and October 2021, please see the back issues pages. VOTV124 and VOTV127 are sold out.