Crystal Palace 2 (Murray 75,79) Charlton 1 (Fuller 14).
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Kevin Nolan reports from Selhurst Park.
It's generally accepted that lightning never strikes twice in the same place. But it certainly can strike its victims twice -it just lets fly from a different place after kidding them they've seen the worst. The second zapping can be even more painful.
What happened to Charlton at Selhurst Park shouldn't happen to a junkyard dog. A week earlier at The Valley, they led Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 until goals in the 85th and 89th minutes stunned them. On this equally inauspicious occasion they resolutely, if somewhat precariously, defended the 14th minute lead given them by Ricardo Fuller's maverick enterprise before belatedly caving in again. Two excellent strikes- this time neatly bridging the 75th and 79th minutes- from a deceptively subdued Glenn Murray left them badly burned for a second time.
Until Murrays 24th and 25th goals of a personally prolific season rescued his increasingly frustrated side, the Addicks had more than matched their promotion-seeking local rivals. They were undeniably the better team during a first half they effortlessly dominated; with improved finishing and maybe a timely slice of luck, the points might have been squirrelled away before the break. But Palace survived, relatively but ominously intact. Football makes a time-honoured practice of punishing profligacy and to the sceptics among 3,091 raucous travellers, the potential for disappointment stuck out like a hitchhiker's sore thumb.
Up to the interval, so far was so good. With Leon Cort's physical presence added to the line-up and Dorian Dervite drafted in as a sturdy defensive shield, the visitors called most of the shots. Contesting every scrap of territory, they thrust a large spanner into Palace's midfield works, winning a large majority of second balls while hustling and harassing the startled Eagles to frequent distraction. Only their inability to capitalise further on Fuller's solo effort was a nagging source of worry.
Visiting sinews were certainly stiffened by the shrewd old pro's opener. A muscular, artful handful, Fuller has little to learn about unsettling a defence. A nudge here, a feint there, a nose-to-nose confrontation both here and there, all form part of a softening process. He fights for his right to play but there's considerable skill involved too, as demonstrated by his delicate control of Chris Solly's lofted pass down the right channel. Briefly teasing marker Damien Delaney, he impudently skinned his opponent on the outside before rifling an angled low shot through Julian Speroni's legs into the far corner. Charlton had received a boost but an arduous afternoon still stretched before them.
With the Sheffield Wednesday disaster a raw memory, the Addicks hardly needed reminding that a second goal was vital. They buckled willingly to the task; busy Bradley Pritchard was quickly presented with an acceptable chance by Fuller's cleverly dinked pass but a looming Speroni batted away his attempted lob; Cort headed Johnnie Jackson's resultant corner awkwardly over the bar; the skipper himself glanced an inviting opportunity inches wide after Lawrie Wilson nodded Cedric Evina's cross back from the far post. Not much had inconvenienced Ben Hamer during the first half, meanwhile, but his free ride was not destined to last.
Having switched from left to right, tactically no doubt but just as sensibly to escape Solly's tenacious attentions, Wilfried Zaha made his first contribution with an adroit effort, curled with the outside of his right foot, which missed narrowly. Fuller replied instantly from 30 angled yards, his audacious drive brilliantly tipped over the bar by Speroni. As the home side began to assert themselves, 39 year-old substitute Kevin Phillips shot fiercely from close range but Hamer saved smartly. It was all Palace by now and no surprise that they eventually equalised through the reliable Murray.
The strain was already telling as Palace knitted together a bout of sharp interplay, which culminated in the accurate pass threaded through to Murray by Dean Moxey. One velvety touch made space for a crisp turf trimmer into the bottom right corner. Hamer's superb flying save from Stephen Dobbie's blockbuster briefly protected parity but with a sudden visitation of deja-vu unnerving the Addicks and their apprehensive disciples, Murray did it again four preordained minutes later.
A predatory menace, his expert mastery of Jazz Richards' optimistic delivery put him clear as Cort fatally hesitated and Hamer briefly slipped. A brutal left-footed volley left no room for argument leaving Charlton victors of several battles but cockahoop Palace the outright winners of the war.
With successive defeats following three successive wins, there's no call for panic, of course, but nervous glances over the shoulder toward the bottom of the division are allowed. Abruptly, a season which had been accelerating smoothly for Charlton has run into buffers. There's no intention to add pressure but next Saturday's home game against Birmingham, followed as it is by daunting trips to Hull and Leicester, assumes extra significance. Just saying...that's all.
Palace: Speroni, Richards, Delaney, Ramage, Moxey, Butterfield (Phillips 46), Marrow, O'Keefe (Williams 67), Bolasie (Dobbie 67), Murray, Zaha. Not used: Price, Parr, Blake, Wilbraham.
Charlton: Hamer, Solly, Cort, Morrison, Evina, Wilson (Haynes 81), Dervite, Pritchard, Jackson (Kermorgant 82), Wagstaff (Wiggins 73), Fuller. Not used: Button, Taylor, Stephens, Wright-Phillips.
Referee: Mark Halsey. Att: 17,945.