The hardy souls who had travelled to Bolton should have been anticipating victory celebrations as full-time approached. Instead, they were thankful their side’s late implosion had not resulted in defeat.
For had Liam Feeney shown even the smallest amount of composure in the game’s dying moments, then Charlton would have lost a game they had looked like winning for the vast majority of it.
In fact, the Addicks, without being dominant, looked in control of their own destiny from the ninth minute. Frederic Bulot’s excellent volleyed finish giving Guy Luzon’s side a lead with their first chance of the evening.
And while opportunities to double that lead were limited, the visitors were excellent at the back. Even when there was a momentary slip-up, toothless Bolton failed to test Stephen Henderson.
But just as Charlton were beginning to cause a very real threat on the break, Luzon opted to withdraw his main forward outlet. Tony Watt, and Igor Vetokele, replaced as Chris Eagles and Simon Church were introduced.
The mini-crusade on Bolton’s goal ended and the out ball was lost, putting the Addicks under pressure as the game entered its final 15 minutes.
Pressure that eventually told, with the previously faultless Alou Diarra allowing Barry Bannan to get the better of him, before the Scot fed through Adam Le Fondre to finish in typically clinical fashion.
And with the Macron Stadium crowd, on their side’s backs for much of the evening, finally fully behind the Wanderers, the hosts pushed on for a winner. A winner they would have scored, were it not for Feeney blasting over from a fantastic position with a minute to play.
It meant Charlton recorded a third consecutive 1-1 draw as their sluggish, forgettable, and somewhat disappointing end to the season continued.
There was hope of a performance more reminiscent of one seen during the run of seven wins from nine before kick-off, as Luzon brought two of the key men from those victories back into the side.
Watt, rested at Hillsborough on Saturday, came back in for Church, while Bulot replaced former Wanderer Eagles.
Rhoys Wiggins, making his first appearance in two months following injury, also returned in place of Morgan Fox, while it was one game too many for 17-year-old Joe Gomez, who was absent from the 18 altogether with Diarra starting at centre-back.
But Charlton’s half-rotated, half-refreshed side struggled to get going in the game’s opening moments. A slow start from the visitors resulting in Bannan curling an effort over from the edge of the box and Neil Danns lashing a strike that just swerved wide of Henderson’s far post.
So it was somewhat against the run of play that the Addicks took the lead. It was not, however, a goal lacking quality.
Chris Solly did superbly to keep the ball in play out on the right, and the Bolton head that won his resulting delivery could only succeed in knocking down perfectly for Bulot. The Standard Liege loanee wasn’t going to waste such a glorious opening, showing great composure to side-foot volley beyond Bogdan before sprinting off to celebrate with his head coach.
Nonetheless, the goal did little to change the overall pattern of the game. Bolton still having much of the ball, but lacking a real cutting edge. Groans from home ends getting louder as Le Fondre skewed two efforts horribly off-target either side of an important block from Roger Johnson after Danns had been played through.
In fact, the overall defensive efforts were encouraging. Solly and Diarra faultless, Johnson looked a lot more composed than he had in recent weeks, while Wiggins was making a very decent return to first-team action.
And with Charlton, as ever, possessing a threat on the break, it seemed those defensive efforts would be as good as an assist. Watt’s glancing header going just wide after a lovely bit of footwork and even better cross from Bulot.
But as the half drew to a close, there was a growing sense the failure of the Addicks to retain possession would be costly.
After Bannan had finally forced a save out of Henderson, only a crucial intervention from the face of Wiggins prevented Danns from scoring, while Josh Vela somehow conspired to strike over when presented with a glorious chance to score from just inside the box.
It meant the interval came at a fantastic time for the Addicks. Bolton just beginning to offer more of a real threat, and some cracks appearing in Charlton’s backline.
Those cracks, however, were still present after the break. Feeney and Bannan given the space to shoot narrowly off-target in the opening moments of the second half, before Rochina sliced horrendously high and wide – an effort that summed up the tame nature of Wanderers’ attempts to equalise.
Regardless, Charlton had a lot of work to do in order to maintain their lead, and desperately needed to stop affording their opponents so much space on the edge of the box. The Addicks far too slow to close down.
Alternatively, they could have scored a second and put the game to bed without an unnecessary defensive struggle. That seemed likely when fantastic hold play from Watt resulted in the Scot sending Bulot through on goal, only for Bogdan to race off his line and prevent the Gabon international from scoring his second of the game.
It was an opportunity that really should have been taken, but it did seem to give Charlton the self-belief to offer more of a persistent attacking threat. Johann Berg Gudmundsson, who had previously delighted the away supporters with a series of kick-ups that deceived Vela, cutting inside and forcing a good save out of Bogdan.
And Bogdan was called upon again moments later as Watt, in typical fashion, danced into the box and saw his resulting effort blocked away by the feet of the goalkeeper.
The lively Watt, however, was not done there. Another fantastic run, livening up a quiet away end, didn’t quite have the finish to match, with Bogdan well behind the effort from the edge of the box.
With Charlton’s Scottish talisman starting to come into his own, it seemed the worst possible time to withdraw him from the action. Alas, Luzon saw otherwise, taking off Watt and the hardworking Vetokele, replacing them with Eagles, not a striker, and Church, dubiously called one.
Immediately the pace of the visitors’ moves forward were slowed, with Eagles looking a little lost for ideas when receiving the ball on a number of occasions, and Bolton’s backline, including former Addick Dorian Dervite, consistently beating Church to Charlton’s punts forward.
By contrast, Bolton were growing back into the game. Neil Lennon’s substitutions having a much more positive impact, with Emile Heskey putting himself about up top and Mark Davies looking sharp in the middle.
And while Davies’ impact especially settled Bolton down and gave them control of the game in the middle, it was his midfield counterpart that created Bolton’s equaliser.
Bannan had seemingly run into the brick wall Diarra was impersonating, but Charlton’s makeshift centre-back crumbled in disappointing fashion. The ball getting trapped in his feet after blocking off the Crystal Palace loanee, allowing Bannan to regain possession and feed Le Fondre, who took one touch before striking beyond Henderson.
It was an equaliser that had hardly been coming, but one the Addicks had long invited, even before the questionable removal of Watt and Vetokele. Sluggish, slow and comparatively lacklustre once again.
Even with Yoni Bueyns seeing a deflected volley saved by Bogdan, Charlton couldn’t get back into any sort of tempo for the remainder of the match.
In fact, they were made to cling onto their point desperately as full-time approached. More blocks than Lego Land required to thwart Bolton’s unrelenting attacking effort.
But there was no body close to Feeney as Davies picked out the unmarked wide man with seconds left. Taking a touch and opening up his body to finish into the far corner, heads were in hands in the Charlton end, but the former Millwall man, in attempting to place the ball into the top corner, could only lift the ball comfortably over Henderson’s bar.
A huge let off for the Addicks, who were doing their best to throw away the game completely, but defeat would have been very harsh on Luzon’s men. The disappointed groans at full-time quickly replaced by appreciative applause as the players came over to the away end.
For despite the mini-capitulation, and a performance again below the standards Luzon and his side set throughout February and March, the Addicks had put in a decent shift at the Macron.
That especially true of the back line, who had worked extremely hard in the fact of a persistent, if not always truly testing, Bolton threat. Solly fantastic, Johnson offering a relatively error-free display and Diarra brilliant bar what proved to be a crucial, if somewhat unfortunate, error.
But special praise must be reserved for Wiggins, who was exceptional considering this was his first game for two months. Composed at the back, providing at least two vital blocks and offering a threat going forward, it was a Wiggins performance of old, and fantastic to see.
Also worthy of praise, at least on the occasions they were able to get forward, were Charlton’s attacking threats. Gudmundsson constantly beating men in white, Watt driving the Addicks forward and Bulot providing more than just a goal.
The problem, however, is that they were only able to get forward on a few occasions. For whatever reason, the Addicks opted to sit back for much of the game and allow Bolton to come at them, instead of exploiting their main strength and taking the game to them.
That summed up by Luzon’s bizarre call to take off Watt and Vetokele. The pair looked fine, with the Scot just starting to bulldoze his way through, so the ridiculous decision was punished by Bolton’s equaliser.
But if Bolton had any creativity in midfield, and more composure in and around the box, Charlton’s cautiousness would have been capitalised on long before. Jordan Cousins and Yoni Buyens better on the ball than at Hillsborough, but far too slow, and offering too much time and space to the opposition. Pressing absent from the central duo, and their teammates.
Some will suggest that criticism is misplaced, giving our comfortable mid-table position, but this sluggish end to the season is becoming more and more frustrating.
Without wishing to go all Neil Lennon, we could have very easily dominated a poor Bolton side. In fact, much like against Sheffield Wednesday at the weekend, this was a game the Addicks would have bossed if it had been played during their winning run.
I’m probably just being selfish, but it’s disappointing to end the season like this knowing we’re capable of more. Hopefully that is shown at The Valley on Saturday.