A dull and tense affair, with neither side willing to overcommit in search of victory, opened up as it reached its conclusion. But so too did the gap between Charlton Athletic and safety.
Good fortune playing a part in Cardiff City failing to take one of several fantastic openings, and make that gap even larger. Luck lacking away from SE7, though, as those around the Addicks in the Championship table had greater success.
Jose Riga’s side coming alive in the closing stages, applying immense, but ultimately frustratingly toothless, pressure to the visiting Bluebirds. Their hopes of maintaining their Championship status, however, edging closer towards a terminal diagnosis.
For while this was the sort of goalless draw where there was a positive for every negative, the nature of Charlton’s position means there can only be frustration and disappointment with the outcome. Just Pinocchio would suggest this was a successful afternoon for those in red.
An improvement on the shambolic effort in defeat to Bristol City, helped by the battling Simon Makienok, but not nearly enough. Particularly prior to the 80th minute, with intensity, urgency and a genuine attacking threat still lacking.
The Bluebirds, through Joe Ralls hitting the post, Sammy Ameobi curling agonisingly wide, and the hands of Stephen Henderson on more than one occasion, really should have found themselves in front long before Riga’s men took control.
But when this Charlton side, fitter and more effective in the closing stages under their most recently appointed Belgian boss if nothing else, found pace, energy and drive on the break as stalemate drew ever closer, they were unable to use it to capitalise on the opportunity offered by Cardiff’s wastefulness.
Backed by the Covered End, awoken from the slumber the uninspiring display had put them in, each attacking move offered genuine hope. The ball moved quickly, red shirts outnumbering blue in the spaces that mattered, and a roar of expectation on several occasions.
Each time, however, that roar of expectation was not rewarded. A Bruno Ecuele Manga intervention, hacking away a Simon Makienok effort that appeared to be heading across the face of a near-empty goal, the only time panic in Cardiff’s penalty area became genuine concern.
And though the dismissal of Ameobi, receiving a second booking for kicking the ball away deep into stoppage-time, allowed the home supporters the last laugh between the two sides, they would ultimately end the afternoon in despair.
Milton Keynes Dons and Bristol City both winning, leaving Charlton effectively seven points from safety when goal difference is considered. The failure to take advantage of a promising situation making this two costly points dropped, rather than Cardiff’s wasted chances making it one point gained. This not a time where positives can be taken if not enough points are picked up.
The gap between the Addicks and safety large enough to house Pinocchio’s noise. The chances of avoiding the drop now as unlikely as Katrien Meire persistently telling the truth. The worry over Charlton’s Championship status as large as the fear over Roland Duchatelet’s running of the club.
Worry also existing before kick-off, as the Igor Vetokele-shaped hole in Charlton’s starting XI remained unfilled. The Angolan forward, so vital in the victory over Rotherham United a fortnight ago, yet to recover from the knock that kept him out of the Bristol City defeat.
In fact, there was, rather disappointingly, just one change to the side that faltered against the Millers. Reza Ghoochannejhad coming in for Ademola Lookman, with the Iranian occupying a wide role and Johann Berg Gudmundsson taking up a central position.
It meant Morgan Fox, the target of abuse as he left the field following a disappointing performance a week ago, was not hidden away or protected. A nervy start, as Ameobi got the better of him, and a vital Chris Solly intervention was needed to nick the ball off the head of Anthony Pilkington. Ecuele Manga hacking an effort from the resulting corner well off-target.
But the Welshman, seemingly determined to get supporters onside, soon began to settle. In fact, he began a move which ultimately resulting in Charlton coming desperately close to taking an early lead out of nothing. Having made a complete hash of dealing with Zakarya Bergdich’s cross, allowing the ball to pop to Gudmundsson, Paul Connolly recovered superbly to throw himself in front of the goalbound effort.
These early exchanges certainly not offering evidence that a comfortable home win was to follow, but somewhat encouraging nonetheless. At least Makienok, dominated by Bristol City’s backline, was giving Cardiff’s centre-backs something to think about. His efforts applauded, though his flick-ons not rewarded.
Similar frustration, if a less direct style used, for the visitors, who found themselves in promising positions on the outskirts of Charlton’s defensive third, only to lack quality in their next pass. Ameobi and Peter Whittingham guilty, and possibly impacting on Fabio’s questionable decision to aim in the general direction of the corner flag with a strike from some distance.
However, Cardiff’s more frequent wayward passers were quick to look to make amends. Whittingham always providing a threat from a dead ball situation, and his delivery picked out an unmarked Ameobi at the far post. Had the ball not bounced in such a way that meant it merely deflected wide off of the Newcastle loanee’s shin, the Addicks would have surely been behind.
And they most certainly would have been had an assistant’s flag not been raised just shy of the half hour. The ball pumped into the path of Pilkington and converted coolly, but the former Norwich man was adjudged offside. His suggestion that Johnnie Jackson, running back up field, was playing him on falling on deaf ears.
The ping as the ball rebounded back off Henderson’s right-hand post moments later, however, slightly harder to ignore. Red shirts standing off Ralls, and the midfielder drilling an effort against the frame of the goal. For all Makienok’s efforts up the pitch, and persistence and determination of Charlton’s back line, the Bluebirds’ control of the game was growing.
It meant that Ghoochannejhad’s two half-chances in quick succession – one a poorly executed first-time strike from a Fox through ball and the other a drive straight into the hands of David Marshall from a position that promised more – did little to alter the emotions of home supporters. Their side’s dull performance not assisting in their battle with apathy.
Somewhat ironic, therefore, that a more positive response came from the more frustrating miss. That the Addicks were able to create such an opening, as Gudmundsson’s corner picked out an unmarked Jackson in a position from which he has scored many times before, encouraging. That it was not taken, with the skipper heading into the ground and over the bar, unpleasant.
So too was the remainder of the half, as the Bluebirds worked themselves into decent positions and weaned out half-chances. Tom Lawrence hacking an effort over after another dangerous Whittingham delivery was only half-cleared, and Whittingham himself slicing horribly off-target when teammates appeared better placed.
Regardless, the Addicks had made it through to the interval relatively unharmed. Positives to be taken, with a man needed to be shoved alongside Makienok to collect his flick-ons, and things to build upon, with the midfield battle being lost and a general resolute defensive effort being let down by the occasional uncomfortable moment.
Uncomfortable moments, not including the announcement that an incorrect photo of Graham Moore was displayed during a minute’s applause for the former Addick and Bluebird who died this week, which continued beyond the half-time whistle. Too many men in red following the ball, allowing Pilkington to be played through on the right, with Henderson needed to deflect his effort behind.
And Henderson could only stand and watch barely a minute later as a loose ball fell to Ameobi in the box. The brother of Shola curling an effort so agonisingly close, some in the Covered End had accepted their side were about to fall behind as the ball floated towards goal.
A horribly unconfident start to the half, only reaffirmed by promising attacking moves breaking down. Makienok and Jackson linking up cleverly, but neither confident enough to take the ball on themselves when a path to goal appeared on.
The Bluebirds, however, if not exactly rampant, were more willing to attempt to exploit an unorganised opposition. Scott Malone’s cross flicked onto the top of Charlton’s crossbar by the ever-lively Pilkington, and Ralls’ first-time shot dragged across the face of goal. Surely on a matter of time before the visitors got the lead their domination deserved.
But while they failed to capitalise on Charlton’s sluggish efforts, there always remained a chance the Addicks would find something on the break. Fox, composed and growing in confidence, delivering a fine cross to an unmarked Ghoochannejhad at the back post, but his volley was so spectacularly awful that it drew justified taunts from the home supporters. Grim.
The feeling that this would be another totally enjoyable afternoon in SE7 growing and growing, and not helped by Jackson going down injured. The skipper not having his best day, but replacing him with El-Hadji Ba, while Diego Poyet sat in reserve, not exactly welcomed by supporters.
At least their side continued to enjoy an unprecedented amount of good fortune. Ralls’ effort deflecting off the toe of Lawrence, but not to the extent that Henderson wasn’t able to respond and get a crucial fingertip to the ball.
And so too did they have Jordan Cousins, discovering the sort of drive that has been absent for most of this season. Determined runs, shaking off blue shirts as he marched forward before ultimately breaking down, providing some much-needed encouragement to the Covered End. Their voices slowly returning, if dampened by the need to withdraw the academy graduate through injury moments later.
It allowed Yaya Sanogo to come on for his debut, while Poyet soon replaced the lazy and ineffective Ghoochannejhad. Not dramatically so, but he shape of Charlton’s team now different. Gudmundsson hugging the touchline, and Sanogo supporting the tiring Makienok.
Something was building. All the time let down by some sort of horrendous final delivery or touch, quite often from Ba or Bergdich, but there was certainly a greater intensity about the Addicks. A shame that Bergdich, latching onto Sanogo’s flick-on, could not get more power behind an effort that failed to test Marshall.
But for all the huff and puff of the Addicks, the numerous misplaced crosses, and the increased volume with each attack, Cardiff remained threatening. Lawrence volleying strongly towards goal, but Henderson again equal to a testing effort.
In fact, this was almost an end-to-end finish. Charlton having the better of it, but the Bluebirds not lying down and accepting that they would need to dig in for the remainder of the game.
As the 90th minute approached, however, desperation was required to prevent the Addicks from scoring. It might well have been going wide, but Ecuele Manga’s block after Makienok’s effort had beaten Marshall was superb. Bodies flying all over the place once again as the big Dane broke into the box in Charlton’s next attack, but Makienok and Sanogo unable to break through.
A roar of encouragement as five minutes of stoppage-time were announced, but a worry this point would be lost also existed. The two emotions felt back-to-back, as Lennon’s superb blocked denied Lawrence after a Cardiff counter, before Makienok drove forward only to find a dead end.
But, rather than the end-to-end chaos of the remaining ten minutes or so, it was probably the last meaningful action of the game that summed it up best. Ameobi, lashing the ball into the net as he did so, kicking the ball away after the referee’s whistle had blown for a foul, and receiving a second yellow.
An incident which provided frustration for both sides. A needless, and rather harsh, dismissal to add to Cardiff’s annoyance that they couldn’t take any of their numerous chances, while Charlton were left disappointed that they didn’t have enough to capitalise properly, as was their case when they began to perform late on.
Frustrating and deflating. The boos that met the full-time whistle possibly not for the general performance of each individual, but for how costly these dropped points appear to be.
Of course, the Addicks could so easily effectively be eight points from safety this evening. Cardiff, always lacking just a touch of composure in the final third to make their pressure count, were arguably the side more deserving of victory. At least the side consistently creating the better chances.
For it was only in the those closing moments that Charlton genuinely carried a persistent threat. Frustrating that more wasn’t made of that threat, but ten minutes of pressure not nearly enough to suggest a win was warranted.
And there were those wearing red who performed for the entire game. Jorge Teixeira sometimes shaky, but Harry Lennon defiant, a sense of pride felt in Fox’s response to recent events, and Chris Solly, as ever, showing drive and determination.
Makienok, if horribly unlucky, also worthy of plenty of praise. Battling right until the final moment, and deserving more for his efforts. A mistake from Riga not to give him a partner sooner, with so many of his flick-ons not met.
Alas, it’s all empty praise. Positives that are meaningless in the position we’re in, and tainted by a rather lacklustre effort for much of the game. A result that makes relegation look even more likely.
The platform to release some of that frustration and disappointment provided in the protest, but it wasn’t enough to provide the hope that it has done previously. The hope of change and opportunity.
It’s incredibly hard to not feel like it’s game over. The Addicks in desperate need to provide some proper hope and encouragement.