Charlton 0 Liverpool 3
Liverpool finished with a flourish to increase Charlton’s relegation worries as Craig Bellamy and Steven Gerrard produced a couple of fine late strikes at The Valley.
Rafael Benitez’s men, ahead from an early Xabi Alonso penalty, should have wrapped up their second successive away win in the Barclays Premiership much earlier and looked relieved to survive agonising misses by Darren Ambrose and Darren Bent for Charlton.
But then, with eight minutes left, Bellamy got behind the home defence to rifle in Steve Finnan’s pass, with referee Howard Webb feeling compelled to consult a linesman before awarding the goal.
And poor Charlton, whose new manager Les Reed saw them crushed 5-1 at Tottenham a week ago, were left shattered again when Gerrard, the game’s dominant player, netted a classic curler six minutes later.
It should have been all over long before then but it was worth the wait for the quality of the finishing by Wales ace Bellamy and England star Gerrard.
Former Liverpool defender Djimi Traore handed his old club a third-minute lead when his flying boot caught Jermaine Pennant in the head for an obvious penalty, which Alonso despatched straight down the middle for only his second goal of the season.
Charlton reserve keeper Thomas Myhre – deputising for on-loan Scott Carson - had his first touch in the Premiership when picking the ball out of his net as Traore was booked for his clumsiness by Webb.
But it was Traore, a £2.5 million recruit from Anfield and just back from a stress fracture in his foot, who twice prevented Charlton falling further behind in the next few minutes as Liverpool’s stylish football ripped the London team to shreds.
He got in a tackle that forced Dirk Kuyt to shoot wide and then somehow hooked Pennant’s fierce strike off the line and over the bar.
Skipper Luke Young also cleared from the line when Craig Bellamy burst through to shoot and it looked odds-on a major hiding was on the cards for the Addicks as Liverpool turned on the style.
For a change, manager Rafael Benitez – the king of rotation – made only two alterations to the side that scored the second of two successive 4-0 wins over Fulham last week.
Charlton boss Reed made five changes and his side looked like they hardly recognised each other in the first half-hour.
After Kuyt put another good chance wide, Andy Reid’s free-kick which clipped the Liverpool wall finally brought Charlton some relief with a corner, and there were 18 minutes gone before Pepe Reina had to make any kind of save – smothering Bent’s hopeful cross-shot.
But outplayed Charlton had a golden chance to equalise on 22 minutes when Reina could only push away Reid’s shot and Hermann Hreidarsson hooked the rebound over an empty goal.
Near misses by Bellamy and Mark Gonzalez alarmed Charlton further before the interval as Steven Gerrard and Alonso dominated the midfield and Bellamy and Kuyt caused all sorts of problems up front.
So it was no wonder that mass groans greeted the news that talisman Reid would not be coming out for the second half for Charlton.
Within four minutes of the resumption Myhre had to make a flying save to keep out Alonso’s 25-yard screamer before Gonzalez missed a simple header from the corner that followed.
But after Liverpool somehow failed to build on their narrow lead it was Charlton who should have scored – twice – when Ambrose hooked over from Dennis Rommedahl’s fine cross and then Bent, now without a goal in seven games, cleverly controlled Talal El Karkouri’s cross before drilling it wide.
The punishment was swift and unforgiving as Bellamy and Gerrard finally found the finishing touch.