Kevin Nolan’s big-match verdict: One win in 16 games for Charlton Athletic – Deepdale loss only deepens fears of Championship survival scrap

Harrop 31 Bauer 52
Green 5

Charlton’s depressingly routine defeat at historic Deepdale continued their disastrous slump which began after Derby County were brushed aside 3-0 at The Valley on October 19.

Sixteen league games have brought them one win – a stirring come-from-behind victory over Bristol City – four draws and 11 defeats, nine of them by a one-goal margin.

Seven points from 48 on offer is relegation form. And though the word is rarely used, relegation is a very real prospect unless their nosedive can be corrected.

One more significant statistic can be added to the mountain of evidence stacked against Lee Bowyer’s sputtering side. In not one of those 16 games has a clean sheet been achieved.

In fact, the Addicks have kept a clean sheet on just four occasions this season in 28 league games.

Only their barnstorming start to the campaign and the ineptness of their relegation rivals have kept them in with a realistic chance of avoiding a return to League One and all the horror that entails.

This spiritless surrender at Deepdale might serve as a useful microcosm of Charlton’s disintegration. Their early season success was based on an almost feverish intensity they brought to every game.

Opposing ball carriers were surrounded by a pack of snapping, snarling guard dogs dedicated to winning back possession; defensive blocks were selfless, often suicidal; the second ball was attacked hungrily. The team meant everything to brave players ready to go the extra yard.

That didn’t appear to be the case during this setback in the Red Rose county, where Andre Green’s first goal for the club seemed, even as early as the fifth minute, no more than mere consolation.

There was never any conviction that it would mean anything.

Which turned out to be the case.

No stranger to upheaval, Bowyer’s preparations for this difficult assignment had the rug swept from under them by the shattering news that Chelsea had decided Conor Gallagher’s football education would continue, not in South London with Charlton, but in South Wales with Swansea.

While lamenting the loss of one talented youngster. Bowyer admitted that at Deepdale, he had “too many kids out there – no disrespect to them, they are trying their hardest, but they are not ready for this”.

His loss of faith in Jason Pearce, admittedly prone to rushes of blood but exactly the type of in-your-face warrior suited to this dogfight, along with his puzzling disregard for the priceless experience of Chris Solly, rather undermine that argument. Darren Pratley currently shoulders the burden for the older generation in a side overloaded with callow youths.

Green’s false dawn was ironically down to the youthful zest of Alfie Doughty, who broke away on to Deji Oshilaja’s pass down the left, with Darnell Fisher in fruitless pursuit, to cross hard and low on the run. Anticipating Doughty’s delivery at the near post, the Aston Villa loanee stabbed the visitors into a lead which surprised nobody more than themselves.

Given Charlton’s chronic vulnerability, there wasn’t the remotest possibility it would last.

Hardly rattled by the setback, Preston set about restoring order, with Daniel Johnson accepting Josh Harrop’s pass before curling a shot inches over the bar.

Just past the half hour, Harrop exchanged passes with Fisher and, untroubled by opposition, bent an almost casual equaliser beyond Dillon Phillips’ reach and into the top left corner.

Phillips’ smart save from Scott Sinclair limited the damage before the break but Alex Neil’s promotion hopefuls were not kept waiting long to settle the issue in the second half.

Wing-back Doughty’s conscientious tracking back caught up with Harrop and blocked the playmaker’s cross from the right byline. So far so good, but Harrop’s outswinger was met by Patrick Bauer whose downward header through a ruck of earthbound defenders found the bottom right corner. Guarding the post was Adam Matthews, who more or less waved the ball through.

Bauer declined to celebrate his goal out of “respect” for his former club.

Apparently it was just business, nothing personal.  Last seen bludgeoning Charlton into the Championship with his last kick in an Addicks shirt, the Wembley legend could have done the “decent thing” and headed deliberately wide. Now that would have been really personal. A bit much to ask, to be fair, though.

With Barnsley, Wigan and Luton also losing, Charlton remain a deceptive five points above the bottom three.

An awkward game against buoyant Fulham looms tomorrow – a re-arranged fixture which oddly they considered a good idea to move forward from its original date after the west London club reached the FA Cup fifth round.

A two week lay-off affording time for injured players to recover and for new arrivals  – assuming there are any – to bed in seemed to have provided them divine intervention but was turned down.

And where’s Marcus Maddison when you need him?

Charlton (4-5-1): Phillips 6, Matthews 6, Oshilaja 6 (Morgan 62, 5), Lockyer 6, Sarr 7, Doughty 7, Pratley 6, Williams 5 (Oztumer 62, 5), Dempsey 5, Davison 5, Green 6 (Hemed 68, 5), Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Pearce, Purrington.

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