Charlton 1 (Taylor 24,pen) Oxford United 1 (Whyte 70).
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
Like champagne left open from the night before, Charlton were haggard shadows of the effervescent side which left high-flying Barnsley with a thumping hangover last Saturday. The euphoria had vanished, the bubbles had disappeared, they were a flat, jaded version of the weekend playboys who delivered a season's-best performance just three days previously.
Chief beneficiaries of the post-party slump were Oxford United, brought to The Valley by Karl Robinson possibly more in hope than expectation. The Mersey Motormouth's line-up featured Ricky Holmes, routinely booed by a bovine minority, alongside a snarling, battling group of hardnosed spoilers who prudently passed five bookings from player to player, indulged in tutored gamesmanship, scored a truly superb goal and had every reason to savour the point they took home with them. Not exactly bookish Oxford dons, this little lot.
Fitful and frazzled, meanwhile, the Addicks trudged through treacle, led until the 70th minute but succumbed yet again to a chronic inability to protect the lead to a winning conclusion. Grinding out a result in other words, an art form which cuts little ice in these philistinic parts.
While the beleaguered visitors understandably celebrated a virtual victory, Lee Bowyer's men trudged off like a beaten team. But a point is, after all, a point which might loom large when the final accounting is completed. It's better than nothing, which was their discouraging return from a disastrous collapse, in similar circumstances, against Coventry recently. When substitute Gavin Whyte spectacularly equalised for Oxford, it seemed reasonable to expect Robinson's Dark Blues to emulate Mark Robins' Sky Blues in recovering from an interval penalty deficit to win 2-1. Charlton had just enough about them, however, to re-group and hang on to a scrappy point. Local hearts were in their mouths, admittedly, as Cameron Brannagan's deflected rocket seared into Jed Steer's grateful hands and again in the final minute when James Henry blasted an acceptable chance narrowly off target.
Charlton's difficult evening was not, it's important to point out, for want of trying. They toiled diligently enough, throwing willing bodies in front of goalbound shots, as Ben Reeves did to foil Brannagan in the first half and Chris Solly heroically reprised to deny Whyte a second goal near the end. But toil it doggedly was up to and after Lyle Taylor gave them a welcome lead from the penalty spot.
It was Taylor whose searching pass found Reeves in promising space near the right byline where he was confronted by Josh Ruffels, sensibly blocking his expected move infield on to his favoured left foot but confounded as Reeves skilfully squeezed through the gap provided on the opposite side. Sensing immediate danger, Simon Eastwood charged from his goal, proved no match for Reeves' deft touch past him and responded by bringing the elusive midfielder crashing down to earth. Referee Dean Whitestone was ideally placed to rule the offence well inside the area, whereupon Robinson's kneejerk bellyaching began an orchestrated effort to distract Taylor from his 12-yard task. A committee of yellow shirts besieged Whitestone, while another posse pursued Taylor, burring in his ear while following him to the spot as he prepared to take the penalty. When order was belatedly restored, the fetchingly pink striker put a sock in their mouths by blasting an unstoppable drive past the blameless Eastwood.
As usual, a second goal became crucial to the Addicks and Joe Aribo should have almost instantly provided it. The air kick he applied to Taylor's cute cutback was as embarrassing as it was to prove costly. In reply, a typical turn of pace carried Holmes into shooting range but his clever shot curled wide of the right post. A precarious single-goal lead was the home team's consolation at the break.
Soon after resumption, an otherwise subdued Karlan Grant should have doubled the advantage but his heavy touch on Anfernee Dijksteel's devastating through pass forced him into a straining shot, with which Eastwood dealt capably. It was Charlton's last chance to seal the issue and it came as no surprise that United levelled with a quite special goal 20 minutes before the end.
While Holmes and Josh Cullen collided painfully in the centre circle, referee Whitestone correctly allowed play to continue through Brannagan who picked up the loose ball, drove forward and picked out Whyte on the right of the Addicks' penalty area. Gliding into space, the young Northern Irishman uncorked a venomous drive which was still rising as it rippled the net behind a hopelessly beaten Steer. A "choir invisible" before Whyte's brilliant intervention, the mute away end was galvanised into "you're not singing any more" defiance.
Not so much two points lost as one unconvincingly earned must be Bowyer's conclusion as he continues to struggle with enforced adjustments to his preferred line-up. So impressive against Barnsley, Krystian Bielik was considered unready to face Oxford, with Darren Pratley an often shaky replacement who rode the line in many untidy clashes, which this referee tolerated but which might incur official displeasure elsewhere. Saturday's trip to Rochdale must see Bielik's reinstatement. We go again as football's latest cliche has it.
Charlton: Steer, Dijksteel, Pearce, Pratley, Solly, Cullen, Reeves (Ward 75), Aribo, Fosu (Bielik 88), Grant, Taylor. Not used: Phillips, Marshall, Sarr, Ajose, Lapslie. Booked: Fosu.
Oxford: Eastwood, Dickie (Hanson 60), Nelson, Brannagan, Browne (Whyte 66), Holmes (Carruthers 90), Ruffels, Mousinho, Henry, Mackie, McMahon. Not used: Mitchell, Smith, Raglan, Long. Booked: Dickie, Nelson, Ruffels, Mackie, McMahon.
Referee: Dean Whitestone. Att: 9,984 (538 visiting).