Charlton 0 Peterborough 1 (Cummings 89, pen)
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
From time to time, football fans have been known to blame a referee for defeat. Ref-ism is the last refuge of the sore loser and is normally dead-batted by a non-committal expression, perhaps grudgingly qualified by a muttered version of Mandy Rice-Davies' celebrated put-down - "well, you would, wouldn't you?". Let's be honest, there's nobody more irritating than a football fan with a hard luck story. Well, most of the time.
At The Valley on Tuesday evening, for instance, there were 9,762 witnesses to a refereeing performance of stunning ineptitude. The best and worst you could say for James Linington is that his inefficiency had the whole world and its aunt at his throat until, with a minute remaining on the clock, his panicky award of a match-winning penalty to Peterborough United won him the sudden admiration and gratitude of 745 pilgrims from Cambridgeshire, who found within themselves instant forgiveness for the shoddy 89 minutes which preceded the crucial decision. At odds with dotty Roy Hodgson's piously Corinthian pronouncement that he's uneasy when Crystal Palace benefit from dodgy penalty decisions, the visiting tribunes celebrated a huge break long and hard. They stopped just short of a rousing rendition of "For he's a jolly good fellow" while the rest of the ground seethed with righteous indignation.
If, as they say, the best referees go unnoticed, then Linington failed the litmus test miserably. Pathetically anxious not to be labelled a "homer", he was at posturing pains to establish himself as exactly the opposite. Selflessly assisted by rotund Posh manager Steve Evans, he theatrically ruled most contentious decisions in the visitors' favour. During the second half, he whistled for a foul indisputably committed on Lyle Taylor, but forgot which way the sides were kicking and absentmindedly pointed east when it should clearly have been west. We were in the hands of a fool but not, to be fair, a sizeist. Both rail-thin Lee Bowyer and beer-barrelled Evans were both booked for colourfully expressing their disenchantment with Isle of Wight's finest -possibly only- league referee.
Linington's antics reached their nadir as a goalless draw seemed the logical outcome of an earnest but undistinguished game. The clock signalled the last minute of normal time when the shrewd substitutions made by Evans midway through the second half paid off handsomely. Frequently a thorn in Charlton's side, left-footed wide man Marcus Maddison and Newcastle United loanee Ivan Toney had already made a difference when they combined in a final effort to break the deadlock. Diving headlong in a vain bid to head Maddison's dangerously dipping cross, Toney received the merest nudge from Lewis Page as he plunged to the turf. Succumbing to pressure from behind the away goal and bullied throughout by Evans, Linington pointed to the spot, from where Jason Cummings coolly converted the most contentious of penalties.
Beside himself with anger, Bowyer's unequivocal post-game comments risked sanction. "I told my players they had been cheated, robbed, however you want to describe it, however you want to dress it up. The referee gave them absolutely everything and the manager was constantly riding the ref and I would think that he bullied him into that decision. It was the wrong decision and I feel so sorry for the lads. They've been cheated out of a point, maybe three because we were in the ascendancy and could have scored at the end." He then climbed down from the fence he was straddling and prepared to face the music.
An extra special exercise in eccentricity from Linington was required to resolve this evenly fought issue. Chances were rare as the Addicks coped comfortably enough with the league leaders. Admittedly, a scrambling goalline clearance from Chris Solly was required to repel a looping header from Rhys Bennett, while Dillon Phillips' alert angle-narrowing foiled Siriki Dembele after the elusive bag of tricks was sent clear by Toney. And local hearts were in mouths when Colin Daniel brilliantly pierced the home lines to shoot narrowly wide. But Phillips and his doughty defence -among which new recruit Krystian Bielik was particularly impressive- seemed to have earned their first clean sheet of the season until it was soiled by incompetent refereeing.
With Fleetwood Town due at The Valley on Saturday, Bowyer's immediate task will be restore Charlton's bruised spirits. His players gave everything for him midweek and while unable to carve out clear chances against disciplined Posh, attacked with verve and imagination. Albie Morgan, meanwhile, became the latest academy graduate to make his full debut as youth continues to call the tune. With his squad expected to be reinforced by players returning from injury, the passionate young boss has reasons to be cheerful. Best not to mention the Isle of Wight for a while!
Charlton: Phillips, Solly, Bauer, Bielik, Sarr, Page, Pratley, Aribo, Morgan (Ajose 66), Taylor, Grant. Not used: Steer, Dijksteel, Marshall, Lapslie, Maloney, Hackett-Fairchild. Booked: Pratley, Taylor, Page.
Peterborough: Chapman, Naismith, Daniel, Woodyard, Tafazolli, O'Hara, Godden (Toney 62), Demele (Cooper 83), Ward (Maddison 62), Bennett, Cummings. Not used: Tyler, Reed, Cooke, Yorwerth. Booked: Woodyard.
Referee: James Linington. Att: 9,762 (745 visiting).