At full-time, a spectator emerged from the North Stand and collected the corner flag as he ran onto The Valley turf.
With the flag’s spike in their direction, the invader charged towards the Middlesbrough fans in the Jimmy Seed Stand, seemingly confident enough to take on 2,000 or so celebratory supporters with just his pitch accessory for company.
Showing speed the quickest of Charlton players would do well to emulate, the 20-something male quickly found himself directly in front of the opposition fans. He hurdled the advertising hoardings and made for the barrier between himself and Boro’s visiting army, only to be stopped rather emphatically by a no-nonsense steward, much to the disappointment of the clearly entertained Charlton fans.
This incident, however, probably didn’t provide as much shock as it should have done. It fact, it was hardly an unusual occurrence.
For the Addicks, well off the pace in the first half and still struggling to make an impact in the first passages of play in the second, found the impetuous to dominate in the game’s closing stages. A Charlton man charging into Middlesbrough territory before falling short at the final hurdle had been seen several times before the invader’s desperate attempt.
Helped by the red card awarded to Boro’s Albert Adomah, a high footed challenge on Rhoys Wiggins that resulted in a second yellow for the tricky winger, Aitor Karana’s men were forced to sit back and cling on as Bob Peeters’ side came desperately close to an unlikely win on several occasions.
A post was hit, a shot was blocked and a header was hoicked away perilously close to the line in the final 15 minutes, but the hosts were left somewhat frustrated.
Boro, meanwhile, breathed a sigh of relief that their failure to make the most of the early pressure didn’t cost them more than two points. Nonetheless, it was a goalless draw arguably fair to both sides.
And a goalless draw that leaves the Addicks nine league games without defeat, or with one win from six. Whichever angle you choose to take on Charlton’s recent run of results, there was at least encouraging signs in the game’s final moments, rather than the worrying ones that had been on show in recent weeks.
There was also something to be encouraged about before kick-off at The Valley, with youngster Karlan Ahearne-Grant given a place on Charlton’s bench.
While Ahearne-Grant was in the squad for the first time, a first start was given to Standard Liege loanee Frederic Bulot, replacing Franck Moussa as a second striker to support Igor Vetokele.
However, few would have confidently predicted anything resembling an encouraging outcome at any point throughout the first half.
The Addicks may have had a fair amount of possession, but much of their ball retention was done in their own half, with attempts to get forward often let down by a lack of creativity, questionable decision making and poor execution.
There was also a static nature about Charlton, with pace and movement lacking. Boro, on the other hand, were playing in a manner almost opposite to that, with sharp forward passing and intelligent off the ball movement on show.
And one such forward move, started by Adam Clayton’s almost unchallenged burst through midfield, produced an excellent opening for the visitors. Clayton’s resulting pass was cleverly knocked on by Patrick Bamford to the unmarked Adomah, but the winger could only lash his effort against the side netting form a promising position.
Boro’s threat was now clear, but Charlton’s continued to be almost non-existent. Vetokele’s pace, strength and perseverance at least kept Daniel Ayla and Kenneth Omeruo on their toes, while Johnnie Jackson’s set-pieces were consistently delivered into areas that forced the Boro defence to react, but it was hardly enough for the Addicks to create a meaningful opening.
However, although a little desperately at times, the hosts were resolute enough to restrict the visitors to few clear cut chances of their own. Another strike from Adomah, claimed comfortably enough by Stephen Henderson, was all Boro could add to their early opening in the game’s first 20 minutes.
It was largely the work of Chris Solly, constantly denying the lively Adam Reach, and Andre Bikey, dealing well enough with the excellent Bamford, who were almost faultless in their efforts to contain the rampant away side.
But such was the persistence with which Boro attacked, there was always likely to be more chances created. George Friend, just a fraction wide, and Daniel Ayala both came close with headers from Clayton corners, while Tal Ben Haim stuck his head in the way of Bamford’s fierce strike, deflecting it over the bar.
Jackson’s delivery from set-pieces again proved testing for the Boro defence, if ultimately fruitless for the Addicks, and Lee Tomlin’s effort looped over Henderson’s crossbar as a half lacking any real entertainment.
It was fair to say Boro’s early unrelenting pressure had been somewhat relaxed towards the end of the first period, but Charlton remained void of creativity and attacking threat, seemingly not helped when Johann Berg Gudmundsson fell to the ground just before stoppage time.
The Icelandic winger had looked the most likely to create something for the Addicks, but was now visibly in discomfort and hardly able to stand. With Gudmundsson being carried back to the dressing room to end a disappointing half, there was little hope of a more promising second period at half-time.
Alas, with Gudmundsson’s replacement Moussa providing some much needed pace and energy on the left, the Addicks began the second half in much stronger fashion than they ended the first.
Still they remained without a meaningful effort on goal, but this was no longer for the want of trying. There was more urgency about Charlton’s play, a greater intent to get forward down the flanks and Boro’s centre back pairing were having to work harder than ever to limit Vetokele’s threat, with the home supporters responding to the improvement with an increase in the volume.
What was also noticeable was that Middlesbrough were no longer noticeable. That’s not to say the afternoon suddenly became a peaceful one for Charlton’s back four, but a mixture of tiring Boro bodies and an increased amount of pressing from the hosts meant their forward play was no longer as fluent. Peeters had clearly demanded more from his side during the break.
But, with neither side able to make their mark in the final third, a goalless game grew more likely as 25 minutes of the second half passed without much more than a few testing crosses being sent into either box.
Few Addicks would have been unhappy with a point with 20 minutes to play, but events began to turn the way of the home side.
First, the outstanding Omeruo was forced off through injury, removing an irremovable object that had halted almost every Charlton attempt to get forward. Had it been acceptable to do so, Vetokele would have celebrated the substitution, as Ben Gibson came on.
It was then the turn of Charlton’s irremovable object to leave the field, or so thought those of a Middlesbrough persuasion. Not for the first time, Bikey and Bamford tussled, and the former Boro man appeared to strike the Chelsea-loanee across the face. Not so much as a free-kick was awarded to the visitors, incensing the supporters behind the goal Bikey was protecting, and leading to vocal booing each time he touched the ball from those who used to support him.
In turn, the Addicks cheered a man that is quickly becoming a cult hero, and they almost had cause for genuine cheers with 12 minutes to play.
Rhoys Wiggins’ excellent delivery from the left wing picked out Bulot perfectly, and the Gabon international connected sweetly to send a half volley goalwards. With the Covered End prematurely celebrating, the swerve put on the ball by the nature of Bulot’s contact agonisingly diverted the ball onto the inside of the post and into Middlesbrough’s possession. Regardless of the Addicks finally creating an opening, ecstasy had quickly turned to anguish.
However, with Boro seemingly intent to sit back and hold on to a valuable away point and Charlton now pressing forward, a moment of anguish turned to something resembling ecstasy moments later.
Almost as one, the home dugout included, The Valley rose to send their verbal fury in the direction of referee Ward, who was stood signalling for a Middlesbrough free-kick after Adomah and Wiggins had both challenged for a loose ball with high feet.
As the anger raged on, Ward went to his pocked and produced a yellow card, seemingly flung in the direction of the already booked Adomah. It was followed by a red, also in Adomah’s direction. Despite his protestations, the winger had to walk and the Addicks were, if a little shocked, more than happy to see him go.
Ward, who had been poor for both sides all game, had seemingly pointed the wrong way. As a level seven referee who officiates youth league football and the occasional County Cup game, I sometimes point the wrong way at the start of a half as I adjust to who is shooting in which direction.
For a professional to do that in such a situation is bizarre, and the reaction from Boro’s bench was understandable, especially with the Covered End now roaring and Charlton clear favourites to win the game, if there was to be a winner.
However, it remained the case that Boro’s attacking threat was not to be underestimated regardless of their one man shortage. Only a piece of brave goalkeeping from Henderson prevented Tomlin’s through ball being tucked away by Bamford.
Nonetheless, the closing stages were firmly dominated by those in red as Boro attempted to stand firm and run the clock down to protect their point.
And just as they thought they had done enough, up popped the Addicks with two excellent chances in the final minute of four added on.
There may have been confusion when Bikey was spotted acting as a makeshift forward, the clashes with Bamford seemingly resulting in the Cameroonian losing his sense of direction, but his excellent hold up play provided an opening for Vetokele.
As the home supporters rose off their seats in anticipation of the Angolan’s strike, Vetokele cleverly opted to lay the ball off to Lawrie Wilson, whose first time effort brought the very best out of Dimitri Konstantopoulos and the very best frustrated reaction from the curly-haired substitute.
Regardless, there was still a corner for Charlton to attempt to find a winner from, and they came incredibly close to doing so. Only Reach’s heroics on the line prevented Wiggins from sealing a win for the Addicks.
Alas, the full-time whistle blew soon after. The Boro fans, delighted with an away point despite their early domination, celebrated accordingly, while the home fans clapped the efforts of their players, but there was a sense they might well have been appreciating efforts that led to a win.
Nonetheless, the home supporters had every reason to be happy. Their side, coming into the game on the back of some rather disappointing and worrying performances, not to mention a dreadful first half, had matched and then bettered one of the best teams in the division for much of the second half. Where the draws with Wolves and Rotherham were frustrating owing to the the quality of the performances, this was not only an excellent point but frustrating only for the fact one of those late chances couldn’t quite sneak in.
To have beaten this Boro side, who showed their ability in the first half with pacey attacks and penetrative passing on occasions, would have been an incredible effort. It’s with that in mind that I have no complaints with the fact that the Addicks couldn’t quite snatch a win.
Regardless of the failure to score, the most pleasing aspect of the performance was the way in which Charlton throw bodies forward in the final 20 minutes, both before and after the sending off. After weeks of putting men behind the ball and dubiously clinging onto points, it was great to see some attacking intent return.
The likes of Bulot, Vetokele and Cousins really came alive in those closing stages, while Peeters deserve plenty of credit for forcing his side forwards against opposition clearly capable of punishing any sort of mistake on the break.
It was also a delight to see such attacking intent after a worrying first half. It’s incredibly frustrating that we can’t perform with such pace and creativity for 90 minutes, or at least a large part of the game, when we look so poor in the passages of play in which we don’t apply the same intensity to our attacks.
Nonetheless, when we were under the cosh, more often that not the back four stood up. Both Bikey and Solly are deserving of endless praise, while Ben Haim responded well to his awful performance at the New York Stadium and Wiggins was solid.
We were also given a glimpse of the future, with Solly taking the armband after Jackson was subbed. No doubt once the skipper calls it a day, Solly will be a prime candidate to replace him.
Of course, there’s the question about whether this is primarily an unbeaten run or a run with just a single victory. The BBC referred to the Addicks as ‘draw specialists’, which can’t be a good thing, but the disappointment should be with the performances in the draws with Huddersfield, Wolves and Rotherham, not with the one in this stalemate. Overall, it was much improved.
After that, I feel much more encouraged going into the game against Norwich City on Tuesday than I expected to be on the back of the Rotherham performance. The trip to Carrow Road will be an incredibly tough test, but one we might well get something out of if we can repeat that second half display.