The Hatters' club record unbeaten league run came to an end in the 29th match at Charlton this afternoon, six months after the table-topping Town side last tasted defeat in Sky Bet League One.
Harry Cornick gave the Town a 15th-minute lead, but a Lyle Taylor brace and one from Igor Vetokele kept in-form Charlton's own bid for automatic promotion to the Championship alive with a 3-1 victory.
The defeat also meant the Town's remarkable run of not being beaten having taken the lead in a match came to to an end after 76 matches dating back to November 2016 when Portsmouth came from behind to win at Kenilworth Road.
Manager Mick Harford made two enforced changes to his starting XI for this afternoon’s Sky Bet League One game at Charlton Athletic.
The changes were required, with top scorer James Collins serving a one-match suspension and Kazenga LuaLua missing out through injury.
As a result, striker Harry Cornick returned to the team from kick-off for the first time in 2019, while George Moncur also started after coming on as a substitute in last week’s 2-2 draw with Blackpool.
That meant James Shea was in goal, behind a back four of Jack Stacey, Matty Pearson, Sonny Bradley and James Justin. Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu was in the midfield holding role, with Andrew Shinnie and Luke Berry either side of him, Moncur at the tip of the diamond and Cornick and Elliot Lee up front.
Making their first appearances on the substitutes’ bench, as the Town look to make it 29 league games without defeat, are on-loan Brighton striker Aaron Connolly and youth team defender Corey Panter.
The Town settled quickly and produced the best move of the opening exchanges when Lee, Shinnie, Moncur and Berry combined to play the ball from a Stacey throw-in on the right out to opposite full-back Justin, whose low cross from the left was hacked clear by Naby Sarr.
We didn’t have to wait long for the breakthrough, and it was Cornick who got it on the quarter-of-an-hour mark with an emphatic right-footed finish after Mpanzu, driving forward from midfield, bided his time and slipped him in to the right edge of the penalty area.
Cornick’s bullet into the top corner gave home keeper Dillon Phillips no chance, and Moncur almost doubled the advantage with a curling shot aimed for the same spot, but Phillips flew across his line to tip it behind.
Lee went close a couple of times more, before the Addicks came within a lick of paint of drawing level on 28 minutes as Igor Vetokele took advantage of a slip from Pearson on halfway and broke down the left, finding Lyle Taylor in the box, but the striker’s shot rattled the crossbar.
In an end-to-end encounter, the Town were playing some liquid football and after Berry played Cornick again on the right of the Charlton penalty area, it took another good save from Phillips to keep out his skimming cross via a deflection off Sarr.
Phillips quickly launched the ball upfield and Vetokele was onto it in a flash, getting the wrong side of the Town defence and getting his shot away before Shea upended him two yards outside the penalty area.
Referee Gavin Ward showed Shea a yellow card, as the home crowd screamed for red, but with two covering defenders and the ball well off the pitch, it was the right decision – in particularly for anyone of a Hatters persuasion!
The Town continued to play the better football and Moncur sent another low shot in straight at Phillips from 20 yards.
Then, in first-half added time, after some terrific pressing by Cornick and Lee in the Charlton penalty area, Berry collected a loose pass from keeper Phillips and triggered another move down the left that ended with Justin whipping a beautiful right-foot curler that went just millimetres past the far post, before Mpanzu fired high over the bar from 25 yards just before the whistle.
The Hatters survived a penalty shout soon into the second half when Jonny Williams went down under a challenge from Stacey, but referee Ward waved the appeals away.
Not so in the 53rd minute, however, when the official pointed to spot as Taylor went down in front of Bradley as the Addicks looked to work the ball in from the right. The Charlton top scorer sent his former AFC Wimbledon team-mate Shea the wrong way from 12 yards to level the scores.
The Hatters were having to weather a home storm, and Vetokele went agonisingly close to giving his side the lead on the hour when his glancing header from Joe Aribo’s cross went just wide of the far post.
Harford brought Connolly on for his professional debut in the 69th minute, but within a minute the hosts were level, and it was Vetokele who tucked a neat finish past Shea after Krystian Bielik drove from his deep lying midfield role and played the striker into the box.
Two minutes later it was 3-1 to Charlton as Vetokele crossed from the left and Taylor steered home his second of the afternoon from inside the six-yard box.
Williams was soon trying his luck from 30 yards, with his shot deflected behind for a corner as Harford prepared to bring on Jason Cummings and captain Alan Sheehan in place of Lee and Berry.
The Hatters were reduced to ten men with a couple of minutes of normal time remaining when Shinnie was shown a second yellow card for a foul on Williams.
The Town couldn't find a way back, but received a terrific reception from the 3,144 travelling support in the Jimmy Seed Stand as Hatters fans recognised their achievements over the past half a year.
On to Accrington next Saturday!
TOWN: Shea, Stacey, Pearson, Bradley ©, Justin, Mpanzu, Shinnie, Berry (Sheehan 81), Moncur, Lee (Cummings 81), Cornick (Connolly 69). Subs: Baptiste, Thorne, Panter, Isted.
Goals: Cornick 15
Yellows: Shinnie, Shea, Berry, Sheehan
CHARLTON: Phillips, Bielik (Pratley 86), Bauer, Taylor, Vetokele (Lapslie 77), Purrington, Aribo, Solly ©, Williams (Dijksteel 90+1), Sarr, Cullen. Subs: Maxwell (GK), Pearce, Parker, Reeves
Goals: Taylor (pen) 53, 72, Vetokele 70
Yellows: Taylor, Vetokele
REFEREE: Gavin Ward
ATT: 16,449 (3,144 Hatters)