Tranmere Rovers 1 (Brunt 33) Charlton 1 (Morrison 60).
Kevin Nolan reports from Prenton Park.
Like postmen persecuted by a persistently baleful mutt, Charlton just can't shake off Tranmere Rovers. No matter how hard they struggle to outwit dogged Rovers, nothing works. They still end up with their teeth buried in their socks. This fifth consecutive 1-1 draw between the sides was easily the most predictable result on the English football coupons on Saturday.
Uncomplicated and unsophisticated, the Wirralsiders make no secret of either their intention or tactics. They get stuck into an unapologetically direct game, with the ball moved aerially from back to front, with minimum risk of interception. They don't score many goals (31 now in 31 games) but keep it tight defensively (36 goals conceded, only 12 of them at home). This latest 1-1- draw was a dot on the cards.
Grateful for their point at The Valley in October, Charlton again started sluggishly and found themselves a goal down at the interval. Once again there was an element of luck about their equaliser though, to be fair, they finished strongly and did enough to share the spoils. Long before the final whistle, Owen Fon Williams acknowledged as much, with an overdue booking for his delaying tactics. Some of these League One keepers could teach procrastination a thing or two about thieving time.
Not that Tranmere were unworthy of their point. They rushed their table-topping visitors out of their stride in an error-strewn first half and but for Ben Hamer's brilliant goalkeeping, they might have put this game out of Charlton's reach by half-time.
Young loanee Ryan Brunt, operating alone up front, was Hamer's first victim. Meeting Martin Devaney's accurate cross at the far post, Brunt directed a text-book downard header which was sneaking inside the left post until Hamer scrambled desperately across his line to save. As it turned out, his first goal in league football had been only briefly delayed.
Without injured skipper Johnnie Jackson and with Danny Haynes making his first start in place of Bradley Wright-Phillips, Charlton struggled to secure a foothold in a game already threatening to drift away from them. Yann Kermorgant was given their best chance by Owen Fon Williams' miskicked clearance but was unable to beat the backtracking keeper from distance. Mere minutes later, Rovers took the lead.
Breaking quickly after Danny Hollands' pass was intercepted, Devaney made tracks in the inside right channel before trying his luck right-footed on the run. Reacting alertly to his blocked effort, he teed up an overhead effort which eluded a forest of legs before being turned into the bottom left corner by the faintest of touches from Brunt. A thoroughly dismal half could hardly end soon enough for the visitors.
Not surprisingly, the Addicks improved after the break. Hollands should have equalised but placed his close range header too close to Fon Williams, who parried smartly. Haynes then wriggled through a posse of defenders, only to be crowded out in the act of shooting. But Charlton weren't kept waiting long for equality.
A string of corners helped apply pressure on Rovers, with Dale Stephens swinging them in dangerously from the right. On the hour, Michael Morrison powerfully headed Stephens' latest delivery against the crossbar before launching a one-man appeal that the ball had bounced down over Fon Williams' line. Much to his delight and Rovers' dismay, referee Andy Haines and his eagle-eyed linesman agreed. Charlton were level and the momentum shifted behind them.
Though deflated, the home side were far from finished. A swirling free kick from Adam McGurk (scorer of Tranmere's goal at The Valley) caught a favourable breeze before being touched on to the bar by Hamer, who then excelled himself by leaving his line alertly to foil McGurk, who had been sent clear by a quickly taken free kick.
A much livelier second period gathered pace with Hollands awkwardly kneeing a difficult chance over the bar and, at the other end, Robbie Weir forcing a fine save from Hamer with a crisp snapshot. The end-to-end exchanges continued as Danny Green's perceptive pass provided the overlapping Rhoys Wiggins with space to cross on the run. Arriving beyond the far post, Kermorgant made a hash of his volleyed effort.
Having replaced apparent hamstring victim Haynes, Wright-Phillips' search for a drought-busting goal duly resumed. The sharpshooter was no doubt thankful for the offside flag which spared his blushes for a horrendous miss from two yards. Undaunted, he tried again but nodded Green's cross too high, then turned provider with a juicy centre of his own which Kermorgant also wasted. Once prolific, the hapless strikers can't buy a goal between them at present. They just need to hang in there. Every dog has its day, as Charlton find to their cost every time they tangle with Tranmere Rovers.
Tranmere: Fon Williams, Holmes, Goodison, Taylor, Buchanan, Devaney, McGurk (Akins 83), Weir, Wallace, Welsh, Brunt (Tiryaki 85). Not used: Labadie, McChrystal, Coughlin. Booked: Fon Williams.
Charlton: Hamer, Solly, Morrison, Taylor, Wiggins, Pritchard, Hollands, Stephens, Green, Haynes (Wright-Phillips 56), Kermorgant. Not used: Sullivan, Wagstaff, Cort, Clarke. Booked: Hamer.
Referee: Andy Haines.