Pratley 34 Sarr 50
HULL CITY 2
Bowen 47 Phillips 90+6
BY KEVIN NOLAN AT THE VALLEY
Charlton’s downward spiral was partly checked on Friday night at The Valley where they battled hard for a point but were denied all three by yet another last-gasp goal.
For the second time in three days, they were unable to ride out added time and succumbed to a late sucker punch. More attention to detail, not to mention keener concentration, would by now have seen the Addicks safe in mid-table.
This latest body blow was inflicted with literally the last touch of a game which had sprung to life in the second half.
Lee Bowyer’s embattled troops were hanging on grimly to a priceless 2-1 lead when Ben Purrington committed an unnecessary foul just inside his own half.
With the home penalty area overloaded by predatory Tigers, goalkeeper George Long sprinted upfield to launch a soaring free-kick, headed out by Jason Pearce to Kamil Grosicki to the left of Charlton’s goal. City’s clever playmaker checked on to his right foot for a delicately-flighted cross which substitute Keane Lewis-Potter, making light of Purrington’s weary challenge at the far post, nodded down for the bottom right corner. Desperately, Dillon Phillips plunged full-length to turn the ball on to his upright but was unable to prevent it squeezing over the line.
While the away end exploded in disbelieving joy, the stunned home fans found it within themselves to salute their heartbroken team’s much-improved performance with heartwarming applause. They deserved no less but there are those venues where they would have been verbally torn to pieces.
With his intended starting line-up again disrupted by the late withdrawal of an ailing Alfie Doughty, Bowyer shuffled his pack into a 3-5-2 formation which proceeded to shade a low-key first half.
He was rewarded especially by stand-out contributions from Naby Sarr and Jonathan Leko which complemented the usual urgency of Darren Pratley and Conor Gallagher in giving the Addicks an important edge.
The unpredictable Sarr is clearly a player who needs an occasional arm round his shoulder. Not for the first time this season, the home crowd which loves the big bloke rose to the occasion and encouraged him through a nervous start into an impeccable display.
Up front, meanwhile, Leko was his customary blend of beguiling trickery and frankly exasperating irresponsibility. There was much more of the former than the latter on this occasion. Sarr and Leko were to combine to lethal effect in the second half but it was the more workmanlike partnership of Pratley and Gallagher which sent the Addicks in with a precious lead at the interval.
Though showing sporadic signs of battle fatigue, Gallagher remains a youthful force of nature.
On 34 minutes, he combined with elder statesman Pratley to fire Charlton into the lead. His deep right-wing corner was met by Pratley at the far post, where the streetwise veteran overpowered a vainly bellyaching Eric Lijaj and headed emphatically past Long.
Taking the lead, of course, is one thing; protecting that lead quite another as Charlton have discovered to their cost so many times this season.
Resuming after the break with a totally different attitude to their task, the Tigers drew level within two minutes.
Anonymous during the opening period, Grosicki wasted no time in reasserting his class. His perfectly-judged low ball in from the left caused fear of an own goal among Pearce and his co-defenders before proceeding untouched to the far post where Jarrod Bowen gleefully rammed the equaliser home from point-blank range.
Charlton’s response was positive. They were in front again almost immediately through a goal started and finished by the admirable Sarr. His pass to Albie Morgan gave the teenager the space he needed to find Leko, who had dropped back on the right to begin a run at the visitors’ defence, where Daniel Batty’s resistance was dismissed with almost contemptuous ease.
The irrepressible trickster topped off his good work with a precisely-squared cross which left Sarr, who had intelligently followed the play, a simple tap-in.
Inspired by Grosicki but with Tom Eaves an ineffective troublestirring liability up front, the Humbersiders applied steady pressure without ever turning the second half into a siege.
Phillips did his bit with two fine saves to keep out the lively Bowen’s whiplash volley and Lichaj’s downward header; Charlton’s fine young keeper might – just might – have done better with Hull’s second equaliser but really has no case to answer. His record of 30 goals conceded in 22 games in a side hovering perilously above the relegation zone speaks for itself.
Charlton’s winless run came within 30 seconds of coming to a halt. It stretches over nearly two months and 10 games since Derby County were vanquished 3-0 at The Valley on October 19th.
But their spirit hasn’t been broken. That much was made clear by the guts they showed despite this sickening setback. It seems merely a matter of time before the tide – and their luck- changes.
Charlton (3-5-2): Phillips 7, Lockyer 7, Pearce 6, Sarr 8, Matthews, Pratley 7 Gallagher 6, Morgan 6 (Oshilaja 67, 6), Purrington 5, Leko 8, Bonne 6 (Taylor 80). Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Ledley, Solly, Vennings.
Photos by Keith Gillard and Paul Edwards
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