Thought a 0-0 draw would be a disappointment? Not when you’re fighting relegation and up against one of the division’s top teams. KEVIN NOLAN, still locked down in Grove Park, watched the Addicks take on the Bluebirds in the Welsh capital.
If one volunteer is worth two conscripts, as they preach in the Army, Charlton’s Championship future rests in willing hands. Showing seven changes to the side which squeezed past QPR just three days previously, they still had enough about them to hold in-form play-off hopefuls Cardiff to an honourable, if forgettable, draw.
Having shuffled his pack astutely, Lee Bowyer was dealt a fresh blow – in a season pockmarked by similar pitfalls – when West Brom loanee Sam Field was forced off in the first half following a head clash with Robert Glatzel. Having already missed most of the season through injury, Field had been anxious to make a belated contribution and his distress was obvious. The knock he received prior to his collision with Glatzel was clearly of more concern to the back room boys than the head wound.
Intending to rest veteran Darren Pratley in readiness for Friday evening’s visit of Millwall, Lee Bowyer’s schemes were again disrupted. But there was little cause for immediate alarm. Up stepped 35 year-old warhorse Pratley to take over in a defensive formation designed to reduce this game to one of little incident and fewer chances. His reassuring presence fitted in seamlessly to the game plan.
Though hugely encouraging, Charlton’s post-lockdown results won’t blind Bowyer to one worrying reality. Though pleased with the third consecutive clean sheet achieved by his bloody-minded defence and, when called upon, by his outstanding goalkeeper Dillon Phillips, he must face the uncomfortable fact that the goals which edged Hull and QPR resulted from setpieces created for Pratley and centreback Jason Pearce.
His forwards, meanwhile, have laboured fitfully without suggesting they might score. At the moment, you could say Charlton are operating with non-striking strikers.
Against Neil Harris’ high-flying Bluebirds, Chuks Aneke and Andre Green met mixed fortunes in their first starts since the campaign resumed. Aneke was a muscular handful for the Welsh defence, backing in, holding the ball up and providing a useful outlet up front for beleaguered colleagues. Green, on the other hand, proved too easy to dispossess and unhappily dithered too long over the early chance fashioned for him by Aneke’s persistence.
Perhaps surprisingly, it was Aneke who gave way to Macauley Bonne around the hour mark, with Green eventually replaced by Ben Purrington as a precious point became the priority. Bonne has shown only flashes of the form which brought him eight goals before intermission but an overdue goal could change that. Then it’ll be c’est si Bonne again.
Elsewhere, Bowyer will have found it difficult to name a stand-out contributor to a character-full performance by this battered but admirable squad. The impressive passing and renewed responsibility of Naby Sarr shone in a rock-hard back three alongside redoubtable warriors Pearce and Tom Lockyer. George Lapslie, another vitual newcomer, grafted tirelessly until replaced by Deji Oshilaja at right wingback while fellow Academy graduate Alfie Doughty, the latest cab off the Sparrows Lane rank, frequently left flustered Bluebirds in his wake as he broke out, with pace and uquenchable optimism, from defence.
In front of Pearce’s defensive line, the Addicks were well served by a stubborn, competitive midfield, in which Josh Cullen was, as can by now be assumed, excellent. The West Ham loanee has bought into Charlton’s all-for-one ethos and is indispensable in their hectic schedule, playing every minute so far. Pratley, as already observed, still has an impressive engine which shows no sign of misfiring.
Throw late substitute Albie Morgan into the equation and the Addicks are well served in a midfield where new starter Jake Forster-Caskey alone struggled to impress.
Cardiff’s chances were rare, the best of them created for Albert Adomah by Joe Ralls’ defence-splitting diagonal pass. Shooting across Dillon Phillips, Adomah’s low drive was brilliantly tipped away by the full length keeper. Apart from one or two bits and pieces, Phillips was capably shielded by Charlton’s blanket-like resistance. Doing sterling work for City, centre back Curtis Nelson was alive to the visitors’ most promising chances.
Responsible for smothering Green’s early effort to convert Aneke’s set-up, much later he alertly read the low ball sent in by Sarr fom the left byline, sliding in to whisk the ball off Forster-Caskey’s toes as a tap-in seemed likely. Like Phillips, Alex Smithies had little to do as a dour stalemate developed.
One or two more of these uneventful “clashes”, to be honest, and Charlton will be home and dry. But then Millwall are due at The Valley on Friday evening. That’s a whole different ballgame. There goes the neighbourhood!
Cardiff: Smithies, Sanderson, Bennett, Nelson, Morrison, Ralls (Vaulks 88), Bacuna (Tomlin 65), Pack, Adomah, Mendez-Laing (Hoilett 65), Glatzel (Paterson 46),. Not used: Etheridge, Bamba, Flint, Smith, Whyte. Booked: Sanderson.
Charlton: Phillips, Lapslie (Oshilaja 63), Lockyer, Pearce, Sarr, Doughty, Field (Pratley 36), Cullen, Forster-Caskey (Morgan 79), Aneke (Bonne 63), Green (Purrington 79). Not used: Amos, Williams, Davison, McGeady. Booked: Purrington.
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