Charlton 0 Fleetwood Town 0.
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
As losing contributors to the ghastliest game of football any of its traumatised witnesses will wish to recall, Charlton quickly followed up their midweek horror show at Blackpool with another performance of soul-destroying incompetence. With the unapologetically negative co-operation of point-seeking Fleetwood Town, they came nightmarishly close to re-running the Bloomfield Road shambles for the benefit of their home fans. But they fell short. That standard is all but impossible to duplicate.
For one thing, the Addicks held Fleetwood to a draw. That's an improvement in itself. And for another, they also recorded a rare clean sheet and even went so far as surviving three added minutes without collapsing into rubber-legged defeat. Not only that, the stand-off helped them maintain their 13-point advantage over the Cod Army, who currently sit fifth from bottom in League One. It's time to relax, Charlton are safe from relegation. Well, safeish.
There was little else to comfort beleaguered boss Karl Robinson, who watched his side dominate possession, while peppering the visitors with 17 shots, only 2 of which were actually on target. "That's the story of our season", he groaned, "there was only one team in it...it was as simple as that. It's two points dropped today." It's hardly helpful to point out that those two dropped points might well have swelled to three, had Town made more of the two clearcut second half chances they created on the end of lightning counter-attacks.
The first of them saw Ben Amos' outstretched right boot foil Ashley Hunter in one-on-one confrontation after the dangerous winger was sent clear by Kyle Dempsey; but Charlton should have been punished for Jason Pearce's catastrophic error when Paddy Madden broke away to set up a shooting opportunity which substitute Conor McAleny, Oxford United's matchwinner here last season, screwed wastefully wide.
At the other end, Alex Cairns was relatively untroubled. Charlton's 17 shots were mostly comically feeble efforts, the last minute aberration skied by Naby Sarr into a derisive North Stand painfully typical of their boss-eyed marksmanship. It's frankly hard to recall the pair of attempts alleged to have arrived on target but it's safe to claim that neither of them unduly inconvenienced Cairns.
Weaving their usual tippy-tapping patterns around the edge of the visitors' penalty area, the Addicks were toothless where it counted. Their early chances fell to Ben Reeves whose free kick, after Tarique Fosu was chopped down by Madden, rebounded to him off the wall and was volleyed well wide. Reeves then charged down Gethin Jones' clearance, darted clear but fired a low drive across goal and wide of the far post. For Fleetwood, Madden met Wes Burns' cutback from close range only to drive his shot against Patrick Bauer. Hunter was their main man and after depositing Ezri Konsa on his posterior, his left-wing cross whizzed to safety through a congested six-yard box. And that, stand on me, does justice to the first half "action."
Things didn't exactly take off in the second period, either, to be honest. The Addicks buzzed around in possession of a ball they passed to each other like a hot potato. It became a bit bewildering at times as the Cod Army formed up stoically and channelled them into meaningless cul-de-sacs. The occasional shot sailed harmlessly high or wide, unlike those beauties we wistfully watch on Channel Five every Saturday evening, being skilfully bent, chipped or blasted home for the likes of Accrington Stanley or Lincoln City by blokes we've never heard of. And all expertly analysed for us by a writhing, gurning, lip-licking Clinton Morrison, who also assures us that some manager or other "is doing a great job." Clinton's savvy is invaluable because he has turned out for almost every club from the Championship down to League Two.
So it's farewell, meanwhile, to Blackpool and Fleetwood, next door neighbours whose back to-back partnership exploded Charlton's last lingering fantasy of play-offs qualification. But hold on a minute. Plymouth Argyle are up next, only five points ahead of the Addicks, who have a game in hand. What if we beat Argyle? That would put Charlton only two points behind the Pilgrims, still with that game in hand. Hold up...tell that fat lady to stick around but not to actually start singing yet...
Charlton: Amos, Konsa, Bauer, Pearce, Sarr, Aribo, Forster-Caskey, Marshall (Kaikai 66), Reeves (Ajose 60), Fosu, Magennis (Zyro 60). Not used: Maynard-Brewer, Jackson, Lennon, Dijksteel. Booked: Kaikai.
Fleetwood: Cairns, Coyle, Eastham, Bolger, Jones, Sowerby, Dempsey, Diagouraga, Hunter, Madden (Hiwula 87), Burns (McAleny 75). Not used: Neal, Pond, Grant, Maguire, Glendon. Booked: Diagouraga.
Referee: Mark Heywood. Att: 9,865 (105 visiting).