Charlton 0 Middlesbrough 1 (McNair 17).
Kevin Nolan reports from The Valley.
Another costly error. Another failure to score. Another avoidable defeat, this one plunging Charlton, for the first time this season, into the relegation zone. The search for three teams worse than themselves isn't over but the air of desperation which spread through The Valley on Saturday suggests that self belief is in short supply.
The disastrous mistake which gifted Middlesbrough their winning goal followed the depressing format which has blighted this campaign, its most recent example being the gift presented to Huddersfield's Karlan Grant a week earlier which began a demoralising 4-0 rout. If there's a way of screwing up, Charlton will find one.
On this occasion, a Boro attack had foundered and the ball reached Ben Purrington safely upfield. Anxious to avoid confrontation, he attempted to find George Lapslie in support behind him but carelessly turned over possession to Rudy Gestede who promptly ran at a glacial defence. Gestede's squared pass was efficiently sidefooted past Dillon Phillips by Paddy McNair and the Addicks were already doomed to chase a lost cause.
There were, of course, other options available to Purrington, among them a safety-first approach currently frowned on by the modern game. Had he turned and put his laces through the ball, the moment might have passed unremarked but playing out from the back is now de rigeur. Charlton are nothing if not fashionable, with Phillips following the current trend of initiating pointless passing patterns which usually end up back at his feet and are then kicked long anyway into the heart of a defence given time to prepare.
On those occasions when the keeper sprinted to his 18-yard line to launch quick clearances into the channels, the Teesiders were less secure, with Lyle Taylor a persistent nuisance and Andre Green taking his cue alongside him. Defenders don't relish balls landing over their shoulders. That's not in the coaching manuals but it doesn't make it less true.
Before Boro's 17th minute matchwinner, Green had shown the way by breaking over the halfway line with a train of defenders in his wake. His excellent cross from the right was met by a straining Taylor, who was unable to keep his running volley on target. His "miss" was promptly put into painful context by McNair's cool finish. "It drives me mad after all we work on all week," lamented Lee Bowyer, "and the preparation just goes out the window. We were on top and then we just give them a goal. It's kid's stuff and last week was the same. We need men to stand up and fight."
Bowyer's distress was understandable but there is an alternative. To reduce the potential for defensive error, kybosh the building from the back rigmarole, get the ball through quickly to Taylor and Co. by way of eager midfielders like Josh Cullen and Jonny Williams, and play in the opposition's half as much as possible. There's enough pace and power in his team to trouble moderate sides like Middlesbrough and clearly faltering Hull City next Saturday. Start Taylor, Green and Macauley Bonne up front at KCOM Stadium and go for broke. If we're to go down, do it with a loud bang and not the acquiescent whimper we offer right now.
There were other chances for the Addicks, with Green's goalbound effort alertly blocked by Ryan Shotton and Dejan Stojanovic instictively parrying Green's fiercely struck drive. Deji Oshilaja headed Jonny Williams' cross straight at the debutant goalkeeper. In the second half, lively substitute Bonne's cross set up Darren Pratley to mangle a close range finish, while Bonne himself tamely flicked Taylor's low delivery into the Austrian keeper's hands.
But it was referee Stephen Martin's decision to book Taylor for simulation rather than award him the penalty he deserved for luring Harold Moukoudi into a rash tackle inside the area that rankled. The defender clearly clipped Taylor after being fooled by his sharp turn but Martin added the insult of a yellow card to the injury he inflicted by turning down his justified appeal for a spotkick.
None of which implies that Middlesbrough were anything but reasonably comfortable winners. Phillips contributed fine saves from Marcus Tavernier and Lewis Wing as the Northerners wasted time expertly, managed the second half shrewdly and completed a 1-0 league double over the Addicks. They inflicted a body blow, no getting away from that. But it ain't over, not yet it ain't. With Tom Lockyer back and Naby Sarr hopefully on his way, Charlton still have a shot at safety. It all begins again at Hull. See you there.
Charlton: Phillips, Matthews, Oshilaja, Pearce, Purrington (Hemed 83), Pratley, Green, Cullen, Lapslie (Bonne 46), Williams (Doughty 66), Taylor. Not used: Amos, McGeady, Amith, Davis. Booked: Matthews, Purrington, Taylor.
Boro: Stojanovic, Howson, Shotton, Moukoudi, Johnson, Clayton, McNair (Saville 81), Tavernier (Spence 87), Wing, Coulson, Gestede. Not used: Pears, Assombalonga, Fletcher, Morrison, Nmecha. Booked: Shotton.
Referee: Stephen Martin