Charlton 1 (James 51 o.g.) Sunderland 1 (O'Nien 2).
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
Should Charlton not make at least the play-offs at the end of this difficult season, their failure won't be blamed on a lack of spirit. The point for which they dug deep in this sizzling promotion clash left no doubt about their character and ability to go toe-to-toe with League One's best teams and not fear the outcome.
Rocked by a second minute Sunderland goal, the Addicks were battered by cockahoop visitors, who could -and should- have been home and dry by half-time. Stubbornly, they hung in, rode their luck occasionally and stayed in the game. After the break, a rejuvenated team emerged and it was the Black Cats' turn to squirm. Until, that is, virtually the last kick, which substitute Duncan Watmore spooned haplessly over the bar from 10 unmarked yards. Defeat so late would have been catastrophic, if not unfamiliar.
Facing visitors who have been beaten only twice this season, Lee Bowyer's men made the worst possible start. Caught cold as Sunderland made inroads on the left flank, they were statuesque onlookers while Lynden Gooch's clever hold-up play made space for Reece James to cross dangerously to the far post. Arriving late, Luke O'Nien expertly cushioned a right-footed volley across Dillon Phillips into the top left corner. It was the best of starts (by Sunderland) and the worst of starts (by Charlton).
As the home side wavered, Scottish veteran Aidan McGeady and American youth product Gooch plotted further damage. Stylish McGeady's long range strike skimmed the bar while Gooch's quickwitted dummy set up ponderous centre forward Charlie Wyke to fire hopelessly off target. Before the break, Gooch's viciously angled drive crashed off the crossbar to Wyke, who involuntarily shovelled the rebound over the top. A third chance was provided for Wyke by Krystian Bielik's header, intended for Phillips but disastrously under powered. As the striker painstakingly sorted out his feet, Patrick Bauer made up the ground to save Bielik's face with a timely block.
Mainly concerned with surviving a one-sided first half, Charlton's attacking contribution included a full-blooded effort from Albie Morgan, which almost cut Tom Flanagan in two and a crisp shot from Bielik, which whistled narrowly wide. But as the interval neared, there were unmistakeable signs of recovery. McGeady's wiles were being steadily blunted, combative Gooch's cage was rattled once or twice and the Addicks restored equilibrium with their usual accurate passing, to which fearless teenager Morgan, Bielik and talented Naby Sarr made accurate contributions. There were also encouraging hints that Lyle Taylor was entering one of his unplayable moods. The Mackems were clearly in for a less comfortable second half.
Six minutes after the break, the subtle change in momentum was confirmed by Charlton's equaliser. Drifting to the right, Taylor made a tortured mess of Jack Baldwin's marking, twisting outside the baffled defender to cross hard and low with his right foot. Keeper Jon McLaughlin was given no chance as the ball cannoned past him off James. Scorers of all three Charlton goals in a 3-1 defeat in February 2003, the Black Cats have been bricks about bashing goals into their own net.
The attacking boot was on the other foot now and an unmarked Darren Pratley (or was it Bauer?) wastefully headed Morgan's right wing corner wide at the far post. A relatively subdued Karlan Grant was also badly off target when meeting an excellent cross from improving right back Anfernee Dijksteel on the volley. Given a timely shot in the arm by new arrival Jonny Williams' aggressive contribution, meanwhile, the Addicks' superiority was answered by some shameless timewasting from the Wearsiders, in which McLaughlin played a lollygagging part. Yet it was the visitors who closed strongly with Watmore causing local hearts to pop up in local mouths as met a left wing cutback but drove wildly over the bar. Shame he wasn't facing his own goal. He might have been more clinical. But there you go...
Charlton: Phillips, Dijksteel, Bauer, Sarr, Solly, Bielik, Morgan (Williams 68), Pratley, Fosu, Grant, Taylor. Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Marshall, Clarke, Ajose, Hackett-Fairchild, Stevenson.
Sunderland: McLaughlin, McGeough, Baldwin, Flanagan, James, O'Nien, Gooch (Watmore 67), McGeady, Maja (Maguire 84), Power, Wyke. Not used: Ruiter, Ozturk, Sinclair, Mumba. Booked: Baldwin, Power.
Referee: Stephen Martin. Att: 16,317 (3125 visiting).