Charlton 0 Birmingham City 2 (Macheda 22,79).
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
The table is a stickler for truth and with two thirds of the season gone, Charlton are where they belong - third from bottom of the Championship. The mutual ineptitude of their three closest rivals offers hope but you can rely on the kindness of strangers only so long. Eventually you sink or swim on your own merits.
An unfamiliar line-up, featuring only four starters from the side which beat Birmingham City at St. Andrews on November 2nd, fought earnestly to complete a league double over the Blues. As usual lately, they fell short with a goal in each half enough to settle their hash. Still they remain within touching distance of safety. Thanks to low standards, the issue is far from resolved yet.
Whatever the outcome of Charlton's fight to stay in the Championship, the wisdom of disconnecting the main components of an admittedly misfiring team and re-calibrating them with untested parts comes into question. Our new guvnors might well know what they're about but it seems to the less business-savvy of us that spreadsheets, rather than team sheets, dictate policy these days. Surely Chris Powell's need was for reinforcements, not replacements, as he juggled injuries and suspensions alongside a poorly stocked squad That's probably an unpopular point of view in the board room but I've never actually been inside one and I'll take my chances.
Not that blame for this latest discouraging setback is directed at the three new arrivals making their Valley debuts. Far from it. Up front, Reza Ghoochannejhad was a lively, mobile handful for the visiting defenders, has a goal in him and can be forgiven for his risible attempt to con a penalty from unimpressed referee Adcock; at the tip of the Addicks' new-fangled midfield diamond, Astrit Ajdarevic improved on a quiet first half, coming into his own with a repertoire of tricks and flicks; goalkeeper Yohann Thuram was horribly exposed for both City goals but contributed several important saves and, despite some faulty kicking, is beginning to settle down to the job. They're the future but trouble is the future looks bleak. And getting bleaker all the time.
It's possible to build an argument that Charlton were unlucky to lose this game but just as easy to demolish it. They dictated much of the action, played pleasingly at times, with young Diego Poyet outstanding, but were again undone by their failure to improve on a miserable record of just 23 goals in 28 league games. With depressing statistics like those, you're doomed to struggle.
Gamely coming to terms with their stodgy but playable pitch, the Addicks carved out one or two early chances, the best of them falling to Ajdarevic, who headed tamely at Darren Randolph after Richard Wood nodded Lawrie Wilson's free kick back from the far post. Ajdarevic had also lobbed Wilson's through pass over the bar when promisingly placed. In reply, Lee Novak drove into the sidenet and Federico Macheda sidefooted Paul Caddis' low cross narrowly wide. With dreary predictability, it was the visitors who broke the deadlock after 22 minutes.
A borderline foul by Wood on lanky midfielder Tom Adeyemi gave left-footed Manchester City loanee Emyr Huws the perfect opportunity to whip in a wickedly dipping free kick from the right touchline. The most delicate of glances from Macheda's head in a congested box re-directed the ball beyond a frozen Thuram and into the left corner. A familiar gloom settled over The Valley and was destined to stay there despite occasional shafts of light.
Charlton's embattled keeper promptly rescued his side with an alert one-on-one save after right winger Chris Burke, not for the first time, outwitted Cedric Evina before Jordan Cousins missed his side's best chance before the interval.
Set up by Reza's clever touch and Ajdarevic's thoughtful pass, the youngster shot unconvincingly against Randolph's legs. The ex-Charlton keeper also reacted smartly to save Ajdarevic's acrobatic volley from Johnnie Jackson's sweeping delivery, then clawed Jackson's snapshot to safety. With the Addicks on top, a diving Reza was straining inches away from converting Cousins' fiercely driven, head-high cross.
There was no relief from frustration after the break as Reza's michievously deflected shot tested Randolph's reflexes, Michael Morrison curled wide and Marvin Sordell's long range effort brought Randolph tumbling to his left to save, Another excellent block from Thuram kept his side in the contest as Evina's error allowed Burke in again but the Addicks were effectively finished off with ten minutes remaining.
Contemptuously brushing aside substitute Danny Green's wafer-thin challenge in the centre circle, Adeyemi ran purposefully at Charlton's wavering defence, before picking the precise moment to release Macheda into space to his left. From point blank range, the perennial Manchester United loanee, seen earlier this season in Doncaster Rovers' colours and still only 22, made easy work of beating Thuram. And that's all she wrote.
Winners only five times in twenty eight league games, Charlton should by rights be marooned at the foot of the table.Surprisingly though, their plight, while desperate, is not hopeless yet. They can't rely on handouts from rivals much longer, of course, before it runs out. Self reliance, that's what it's all about -good old get-up-and-go gumption as practised by our betters in Chipping Campden. See me, I'm all for it, me.
Charlton: Thuram, Wilson, Morrison, Wood, Evina, Cousins, Poyet (Parzyszek 87), Jackson (Green 73), Ajdarevic, Sordeel (Church 73), Ghoochannejhad. Not used: Phillips, Hughes, Nego, Lennon. Booked: Morrison, Ghoochannejhad.
Birmingham: Randolph, Caddis, Martin, Packwood, Robinson, Burke, Lee, Adeyemi, Huws, Novak, Macheda (Lovenkrands 87). Not used: Doyle, Howard, Shinnie, Brown, Rusnak, Blackett. Booked: Huws, Macheda, Robinson.
Referee: J. Adcock. Att: 15,878 (2001 visiting).