Charlton 0 Fulham 0.
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
At a Valley with a new, buoyant spring in its step, well-organised Charlton frustrated promotion hopefuls Fulham, achieved their first clean sheet since October 15th and added a precious point to the total they need to ensure Championship safety. The game itself was no thing of beauty but provided a savage satisfaction of its own.
There were numerous, other reasons for optimism. The return of engine room maestro Josh Cullen to the starting line-up and the charismatic presence of Lyle Taylor on the bench provided exactly the boost a threadbare squad needed to re-energise itself. Word is they will be joined soon by other long-term absentees.
The West Londoners, meanwhile, had injury problems of their own, all of them up front. They arrived, as expected, without clever bruiser Aleksandar Mitrovic and Brighton loanee Anthony Knockaert, who had scored their recent winner against Middlesbrough. Also unavailable was Aboubakar Kamara, Mitrovic's natural deputy, whose two goals beat QPR 2-1 two weeks ago. There was abundant skill in Fulham's line-up but an obvious lack of cutting edge.
The reinstatement in central defence of Jason Pearce was Lee Bowyer's solution to the worrying vulnerability which has regularly leaked goals and squandered leads. Pearce comes in for criticism from many keyboard experts but his spirit will be invaluable in the coming weeks. Always prone to at least one defensive bloodrush -the late free kick he conceded to Fulham here caused unpleasant heart murmurs - his captain's example more than compensates, a point made by his crucial second half block on Bobby DeCordova-Reid. The no-quarter battle of Charlton's Crazy Horse with Mitrovic at Craven Cottage in October is the stuff of legend.
After a three-month absence, Cullen took time to settle in but his influence is incalculable and his continuing good health vital. Typically he completed 90 minutes, by the end of which he was calling the shots again as the go-to midfielder. Taylor's 70th minute re-appearance, as replacement for hardworking Tomer Hemed, whose passionate appeal for a penalty when hauled down by Michael Hector was ignored by referee Stephen Martin, also lifted The Valley and helped see them over the line to a useful result. The encouraging performance was illuminated yet again by a sterling contribution from ageless Darren Pratley. A full complement of Addicks, strengthened by one or two transfer window arrivals, has little to fear in this division.
Chances in a grimly contested game were few. Neat in their approach but playing harmlessly in front of Charlton's alert defence, the Cottagers made the majority of them and should have broken local hearts early in the second half. Upfield for a left wing corner, defender Michael Hector was unmarked at the far post when picked out by Ivan Cavaleiro's precise cross. The Chelsea loanee's free header was wastefully directed wide. In a tepid first half, Dillon Phillips made two smart saves from DeCordova-Reid, but was beaten by Joe Bryan's fierce low crosshot as it zipped dangerously wide of his left-hand post. In defence of his rare clean sheet, Phillips was relatively untroubled during an attritional second period.
Solid and determined, Charlton offered an occasional threat. Alfie Doughty's pace posed problems though his final ball was frequently wayward. Switched to the right flank in the second half, his clever cutback to Erhun Oztumer brought a wildly sliced effort from the diminutive fireball which flew high, wide and unhandsome on its way over Marek Rodak's crossbar. Doughty himself pounced on an error by a tetchy. Harry Arter and forced a rare save from Rodak.
Pleased and proud of his warriors, Bowyer can now turn his attention to the massive encounter with Barnsley at The Valley on February 1st. His squad could be bolstered by recovered invalids and new blood while the Tykes face an inconvenient Cup trip to Portsmouth on Saturday, where Dickie Bird and Michael Parkinson are expected to start. Still with only one win in their last 17 league games, the green shoots of recovery, nurtured by the return to the colours of Cullen, Taylor and the effervescent Jonny Williams, are at last poking through. The treatment rooms at Sparrows Lane are beginning to empty. We're close to having our Charlton back...
Charlton: Phillips,Matthews, Lockyer, Pearce, Purrington, Pratley, Morgan (Williams 63), Cullen, Oztumer (Green 82), Doughty, Hemed (Taylor 70). Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Oshilaja, Sarr, Dempsey. Booked: Cullen.
Fulham: Rodak, Hector, Odoi, McDonald, Cairney (Johansen 77), Ream, DeCordova-Reid, Arter (Christie 72), Cavaleiro, Bryan, Onomah (Stansfield 88). Not used: Bettinelli, Kongolo,De la Torre, Sessegnon. Booked:Ream.
Referee: Stephen Martin. Att: 16,424 (2,337 visiting).
In memory of Barry Cawley -Richard's dad and dedicated Fulham fan - who died recently and whose funeral takes place next Tuesday 28th, 2020. Rest in Peace, Barry - in the Premier League hopefully.