CARDIFF CITY 0
CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0
BY RICHARD CAWLEY
The biggest factor in Charlton’s positive return to action has been their defensive stability – and it’s going to be absolutely key that continues until Championship safety is secured.
The Addicks made it three clean sheets on the bounce as they battled out a stalemate with Cardiff City – another of the form sides since the restart – on Tuesday night.
If any Charlton fan had been offered seven points from a possible nine before league action resumed then I can’t imagine there would be many who would have said no.
But it’s still looking like another couple of victories are going to be required to make sure it isn’t an instant return to League One. Barnsley and Luton are also undefeated since June and the total needed for survival is a moving one.
Forty-one points would have been enough to stay up in the 2018-19 season. The Tykes, in 23rd place, moved on to that figure after their midweek 2-0 victory at Blackburn.
You have to go back to March 2014 for the last time that Charlton managed to record a hat-trick of shutouts at this level.
Tom Lockyer, Jason Pearce and Josh Cullen have been the standout performers for the Addicks since football resumed. And Dillon Phillips has provided further evidence that he is one of the best young keepers plying their trade outside of the Premier League.
Phillips made one excellent save in midweek to deny Albert Adomah, one of the rare moments when the Addicks defence has been opened up.
But Cardiff, hoping to cement their play-off spot, found Charlton tough to break down.
And that has to carry on, because the goals aren’t flowing at the other end for Lee Bowyer’s side. It’s not exactly a surprise when you take Lyle Taylor out of the attacking equation, coupled with the January departure of Conor Gallagher and a campaign-curtailing injury to fellow loanee Jonathan Leko.
The Addicks have only scored more than one goal once in their last 10 games. They have failed to net in four out of six fixtures. Their last two goals have both been from set-pieces. It underlines the importance of not falling behind if they want to get a positive result.
Chuks Aneke didn’t do a bad job at all at Cardiff City Stadium on his first league start since joining from Milton Keynes last summer, but never looked like adding to his solitary goal in a Charlton shirt.
Tomer Hemed hasn’t been on the scoresheet since April 2019. Macauley Bonne has eight goals – a decent return in his first campaign at Championship level – but the former Orient forward has not netted since Boxing Day.
Lyle Taylor has the combined league goals of Bonne, Aneke and Andre Green – 11 – despite making only 17 starts. The fact he refused to play in the run-in was a major blow, but Charlton have found a way to win without him.
It’s not worth thinking about if Cullen had not extended his loan until the end of July. The West Ham midfielder has been superb since the resumption and is a vital cog in the middle of the park.
There are reasons for optimism that Bowyer and his players can get across the finishing line. They seem to have benefitted from the enforced lockdown, emerging fresher and with a slimmed-down Albie Morgan adding to their options along with Sam Field, who would not have recovered from his knee injury if the campaign had been completed on schedule.
Next comes Millwall tonight at an empty Valley. If Charlton get the three points then they will be almost safe and it would extinguish any lingering hopes the Lions have of a top-six finish.
Charlton (3-5-2): Phillips 7, Pearce 8, Lockyer 7, Sarr 7, Forster-Caskey 6 (Morgan 79), Cullen 8, Field 6 (Pratley 35, 7), Lapslie 6 (Oshilaja 63, 6), Doughty 8, Green 6, Aneke 8 (Bonne 63). Not used: Amos, Williams, McGeady, Davison.
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