Charlton 1 (Jackson 79, pen) Tranmere 1 (McGurk 33).
At the end of 90-plus mostly wearying minutes, Charlton emerged from this latest test of character with their unbeaten league record intact. A record of 12 games yielding 28 points, without their colours being lowered, is an understandable source of pride at the club. There was, frankly, little else worth remembering about these dour doings, the third successive 1-1 draw between the sides.
And it wasn’t all Tranmere’s fault. The Wirralsiders arrived with a rigid game plan, tweaked it a little as time wore on and came within 10 minutes of claiming a notable scalp. They opened brightly, with a brief flurry of attractive football, snatched a rather fortunate lead just past the half hour and promptly reverted to type. An irritating combination of spoiling, niggling and blatant time wasting was obviously their intention, should they somehow surprise themselves by scoring. The Addicks, meanwhile, showed little imagination in breaking down their dogged visitors, the first half passing them by while they pottered about fruitlessly.
With Enoch Showumni a mobile, surprisingly skilful target man, Rovers began confidently. Before the home side had settled down, Lucas Akins and Joss Labadie both fired narrowly over the bar. Showumni, who scored in both league games against Charlton last season, then muscled Michael Morrison off the ball before setting up Adam McGurk to test Ben Hamer. The big forward blotted his impressive copybook by shovelling Labadie’s inswinging corner tamely over the top but his side promptly moved into a not altogether unexpected lead a minute later.
Tranmere’s shoot-onsight policy finally reaped its reward as McGurk moved on to a convenient ricochet, blazed away hopefully and beat a wrongfooted Hamer with a wicked deflection off Chris Solly’s shoulder. Lucky, maybe, but justified by the run of play.
Like Mr. Hyde shouldering aside Dr. Jekyll to get about his evil business, Rovers changed dramatically. Suddenly goal kicks, throw-ins, corners, free kicks were given painstaking attention before being laboriously delivered, their Plan B obviously geared to cause impatience, frustration, even impotent fury. They did precisely the same at The Valley last season, after Showumni put them in front in the first half and Wright-Phillips equalised early in the second period.
They were, if anything, more devious this time but, to Charlton’s faint credit, again it didn’t entirely work. Except, of course, it did because comical Rovers boss Les Parry led his side back up the motorway chortling about the point they’d quarried from opponents they clearly fear.
Parry’s interval talk was no doubt succinct. Just keep on doing what you’re doing and we’ll have these soft-centred Southerners served up in a hotpot. In the opposite dressing room, Chris Powell might have made it more personal. Most of what he said probably does not belong on a website until the kids are safely in bed.
A second Rovers’ goal was, of course, unthinkable, but Ian Goodison should have provided them one. The craggy centre back topped a weak header into Hamer’s grateful hands, with an otherwise subdued Dale Stephens replying from long range with a potshot which Owen Fon Williams fumbled but recovered. As the exchanges intensified, much to Parry’s genial displeasure, Yann Kermorgant provided a chance which Danny Hollands sliced wide. Morrison’s key interception pipped Showumni to Labadie’s corner. An equaliser was beginning to seem unlikely until Rovers tried the patience of referee Drysdale once too often.
Escaping momentarily from Goodison’s shackles, Wright-Phillips a right-wing corner, which Johnnie Jackson’s educated left foot dropped dangerously into a congested penalty box. At which point your veteran reporter should be excused for failing to pinpoint who did what to whom. Various protagonists, both culprits and victims, featured in many a post-game press room frame but substitute Zoumana Bakayogo featured heavily for hauling down Wright-Phillips. And they’ll have to do. Not that the drama was resolved at any time soon.
Instead the villainous Northerners did everything in their black powers to divert Jackson from exacting the appropriate punishment for Bakayogo’s offence. They griped, delayed, griped some more, behaved like cads and bounders in their efforts to put him off. To no avail. Charlton’s cool captain rose above their machinations and drove the spotkick into the bottom right corner. If the football match during World War 1’s famous Christmas truce had been decided by penalties, you’d have appreciated Jackson stepping up to take the decider.
Both sides had chances to grab all three points, none more clearcut than the awkward volley scuffed over the bar by Jackson or the point blank swing-and-miss by Wright-Phillips when any kind of contact might have turned the trick. New setpiece expert Kermorgant closed out the action with a free kick which shaved the bar but honours, such as they were, remained even.
And so to the round-up interviews, where Parry had the press corps in stitches with a stand-up – well, sit-down, actually – routine of self-deprecating humour. The whiff of deja-vu was inescapable. He made us laugh last season. He made us laugh again on Saturday. Pity there’s nothing remotely amusing about the teams he saddles us with in between the mirth.
Charlton: Hamer, Solly, Morrison, Taylor, Wiggins, Green (Wagstaff 68), Hollands, Stephens, Jackson, Kermorgant, Wright-Phillips. Not used: Sullivan, Evina, Hayes, Doherty. Booked: Solly.
Tranmere: Fon Williams, Raven, Goodison, Taylor, Buchanan, Akins (Kay 84), Weir, Labadie, Baxter (Bakayogo 78), McGurk, Showunmi (Tiryaki 87). Not used: Coughlin, Power.
Referee: D. Drysdale. Attendance: 15,038.