Charlton 0 Wigan Athletic 0.
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
This earnestly contested stalemate featured Charlton's third consecutive clean sheet, an achievement which eluded them during their first ten league games. With a paltry total of nine goals so far, only three of them scored at The Valley, it's just as well they've defiantly clamped down at the other end. Their spirit might be bruised but remains unbroken.
Boosted by the return of Yann Kermorgant, the Addicks probably looked to this fixture for a change in attacking emphasis. Unfortunately, their wretched luck continued, as the Big Yann limped off after just 35 minutes, with a recurrence of his ankle injury. He had started brightly by dominating in the air, screaming blue merde over every decision as usual and generally exuding that air of bristling menace so clearly lacking in his absence.
Kermorgant's departure significantly altered Charlton's approach to this important game. Though Marvin Sordell proved a capable deputy, their priority became corporate solidarity and defensive discipline, with an eye to catching their visitors on the break. To a man, each player did his bit in securing a point which might prove invaluable. If you can't win, make damn sure you don't lose, so they say; it's their five draws that currently keep Charlton off the bottom of the Championship table.
While the hatches were being battened down following the early disruption, nobody was more prominent than Dale Stephens, who has come into his own with a series of fine performances recently. He took this game by the scruff of its neck and inspired his teammates to increased effort. His stylish ability to break up the opposition's play, then turn defence into attack with authoritative passing, was vital to Charlton's re-adjustment during their brief period of vulnerability. Stephens' blistering drive, following hardworking Simon Church's lay-off early in the second half, would have been a worthy winner. From my angle, it seemed destined for the top left corner but instead shaved the woodwork.
Singling out Stephens for mention in no way diminishes worthy contributions elsewhere. Centre backs Michael Morrison and Richard Wood were immense in keeping Grant Holt under control and consigning the highly touted Nick Powell (playing in the hole behind Holt, if my astute tactical eye served me right) to the margins. Holt pushed, shoved and out-moaned Kermorgant but got nowhere; gifted Manchester United loanee Powell supplied the miss of the match by blasting a six-yard sitter wildly over the bar just past the hour. Right back Lawrie Wilson, meanwhile, put James McLean in his pocket, finding time also to make several marauding runs down the right flank.
Providing his customary sturdy support to Stephens and a slightly subdued Jordan Cousins, Bradley Pritchard won't appreciate being reminded that he was responsible for squandering Charlton's best chance. Intelligently tracking the inroads made by Rhoys Wiggins' perceptive pass to Cameron Stewart, he was perfectly placed to meet the flying winger's precise cutback but haplessly shovelled a left-footed shot over the bar from the edge of the penalty area. Before the interval, Wood nodded Stephens's outswinging corner down inside the left post but young goalkeeper Lee Nicholls scooped the ball away.
Improving Wigan had the better of the second half and were desperately unlucky not to take the lead when Chris McCann's fierce header sent McLean's corner thudding against the bar. Ben Watson blasted a good chance wide, while James McArthur ended a series of ricochets by doing likewise. McLean's deflected effort flew into the sidenet and it was becoming hectic around Ben Hamer's goal by the time substitute Callum McManaman's sliced shot wasted the Latics' last opportunity.
The depth of Chris Powell's squad had already been further depleted by the inconvenient 57th minute loss of Wood to injury. His replacement Dorian Dervite, not for the first time, plugged the gap superbly but the list of available personnel gets thinner.
The boss's talent for imaginative re-deployment of his assets will immediately be tested by next Saturday's awkward trip to Birmingham City. His patience knows no bounds, his grace under pressure seems unshakeable. He's going to need both qualities in keeping Charlton's heads above water. They're in safe hands.
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Charlton: Hamer, Wilson, Morrison, Wood (Dervite 57), Wiggins, Pritchard, Stephens, Cousins (Jackson 84), Stewart, Church, Kermorgant (Sordell 35). Not used: Pope, Hughes, Evina, Green. Booked: Pritchard.
Wigan: Nicholls, Boyce, Rogne, Barnett, Perch, McArthur, Watson (Espinoza 72), McLean (McManaman 65), McCann, Powell, Holt (Fortune 75). Not used: Shotton, Gomez, Beausejour, Crainey.
Referee: S. Martin. Att: 23,600 (775 visiting).