Charlton Athletic 1 Stoke City 0: Sam's late flourish at Valley ends Stoke's 12-game streak

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The Independent Football

Andy Gray, given his full debut after arriving from Burnley for £1.5m, produced all the class up front for which Charlton's manager Alan Pardew had been hoping last night – but when it came to producing the cutting edge, Lloyd Sam was the man.

The midfielder's close-range header just seven minutes from time to make it unlucky 13 for a formidable Stoke side that had not been beaten in its previous 12 Championship matches.

When substitute Luke Varney missed his kick in front of goal it seemed as if the home side would go unrewarded for a second half of irrepressible enterprise in the face of increasingly obdurate defending, but Varney recovered to hook the ball across goal for the decisive strike.

With leaders West Bromwich losing, and Watford dropping another two points, Charlton gained valuable ground to move level with their visitors, within four points of the top.

Pardew, who had forewarned the home fans to expect an "ugly" game against the side he rated as the most difficult to break down in the Championship, was understandably proud of his team.

"I've played against Premier League teams who haven't defended as diligently as Stoke have tonight," Pardew said. "People have looked at the Championship this season and said there's not a quality team in it. I disagree.

"I think the bottom half of the League is far stronger than it was the last time I was involved two years ago, and a lot of the top teams are going to have indifferent results against them. Our fate will probably be decided by those match-ups, so from that point of view this was a big win."

Pardew was well satisfied by Gray's expertise up front. "Andy did make a difference and his ability to hold onto possession in not a lot of room is key. He has taken us up a level."

Pardew reserved plenty of admiration too for Stoke's front man Ricardo Fuller, who threatened throughout on the break and was only prevented from giving his side the lead a minute into the second half by an excellent reflex save from Nicky Weaver.

And the 'keeper reacted again in time added on to maintain a precious victory after substitute Jon Parkin connected with one of Rory Delap's trademark long throw-ins from the left sideline.

Stoke manager Tony Pulis felt his side might have nicked a point, but made his own point about Charlton's recent Premier League status and relative wealth.

"They will be absolutely devastated here if they don't get promoted, because other than West Brom I think they've got the strongest squad."

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Weaver; Moutaouakil, McCarthy, Bougherra, Youga; Sam (Semedo, 86), Holland, Zhi, Ambrose (Thomas, 70); Gray, Iwelumo (Varney, 65). Substitutes not used: Randolph (gk), Fortune.

Stoke City (4-4-2): Simonsen; Griffin, Cort, Shawcross, Dickinson (Parkin, 86); Lawrence, Eustace, Delap, Pugh; Cresswell, Fuller. Substitutes not used: Hoult (gk), Pulis, Diao, Zakuani.

Referee: M Haywood (W Yorkshire).