Birmingham 1 (Jutkiewicz 90+3 Charlton 1 (Bonne 58).
By Kevin Nolan off Valley Pass.
Though dealt another sickening body blow by Lukas Jutkiewicz's added time equaliser, Charlton are not done for yet. This relegation scrap is far from over. Before it's resolved, there will be more than one twist, more than one turn, until the music stops and the final scramble for chairs begins.
Charlton are being quoted as warm favourites to go down despite sitting two points (not to mention an unassailable goal difference) above the drop zone with only two games to play. Daunting assignments against surprise packets Wigan Athletic and champions-elect Leeds United account for the negativity which followed this latest setback. Wigan are hotter than pistols right now while Leeds, far from easing up as fervently hoped, will be seeking to use Charlton as the cherry on their title-winning cake. On paper, the Addicks are clearly not expected to add to their current points total of 47; on honest-to-goodness grass, they stand a chance.
A newly determined Charlton did enough -on reflection perhaps not quite enough - to win this crucial game. As usual, sturdy defending, with goalkeeper Dillon Phillips adding a brilliant penalty save to his customary excellence, underpinned their performance, while there were several chances to consolidate the 58th minute lead provided by Macauley Bonne's 10th goal of the season. The scorer himself squandered opportunities to double the lead and Aiden McGeady, continuing the encouraging improvement in his form, hit a post with a cleverly aimed snapshot. But the coup-de-grace proved elusive and the visitors paid a costly price for their chronic failure to seal the deal. As the minutes ticked by, protecting their lead became the pressing priority; bitter experience hardly inspired confidence in their ability to do so. As world weary Lee Bowyer commented "we can't see a game out, we don't manage it well."
Legs were becoming heavy and concentration faltered as 17 year-old prodigy Jude Bellingham accelerated into Charlton's penalty area and crossed on the run from the left. At the near post, Phillips kept out Gary Gardner's low shot but Jutkiewicz poked home a cruel equaliser off the woodwork. The sucker punch briefly knocked the stuffing out of the Addicks and they were indebted to Phillips for clawing clear a deceptively drifting cross in the final minute. This was a desperately disappointing draw but the point might yet keep them up when the calculators are put to use next Wednesday.
Far from defensive in their approach, at least until City's desperation drove them back to their 18-yard line, Charlton played some nice stuff, never more so than when Bonne completed a scintillating move to give them the lead just before the hour mark. Jonny Williams, as usual the target for a series of cynical fouls, timed a delicious pass inside right back Maxime Colin to send Alfie Doughty surging to the left byline. The speedy wingback's hard-drived centre left Bonne the easy task of tapping past Lee Camp with the Midlanders' defence a spreadeagled mess
Phillips preserved the lead by reacting splendidly to turn aside Ivan Sunjic's volley as it zipped through a thicket of legs. But the outstanding young keeper's first half penalty save from Scott Hogan for so long promised to be the turning point on which this game revolved. Left exposed by Josh Cullen's disastrously underpowered backpass, he clipped Jutkiewicz as they came together for the 50-50 ball and was penalised by referee David Webb. Guessing Hogan's intentions correctly, Phillips plunged to his right to save and deserved the luck he got as Hogan inexplicably shovelled the rebound over the bar from five yards.
Heartened by Bonne's opener, meanwhile, the Addicks sought to double their advantage. Set up by the irrepressible Doughty, McGeady found space for a curling potshot which rebounded harmlessly off Camp's right hand post. Minutes later, belligerent substitute Chuks Aneke disdainfully broke through two overpowered defenders to lay on a point blank chance which Bonne hammered directly at Camp. "Missing clear chances from four yards out in the middle of the goal...you miss things like that, you don't win" was frustrated boss Bowyer's reaction to his side's profligacy.
Quite so... but the decks are cleared for the closing acts of this troubled, marathon season. Having persevered through a crippling injury list, expensive backroom thievery and the treacherous dive overboard of three rats, Bowyer's Boys of Summer deserve credit for taking the battle to survive into the final reckoning. They're fighting their hearts out for our club. Let's not give up on them now.
Birmingham: Camp, Pederson, Roberts, Dean, Colin, Sunjic (Kieftenbeld 73), Gardner, Crowley (Boyd-Munce 90), Bela (Bellingham 59), Hoan (Reid 59), Jutkiewicz. Not used: Trueman, Harding, Gordon, Burke, Fernandez. Booked: Gardner, Crowley.
Charlton: Phillips, Lockyer, Pearce, Doughty (Purrington 77), Field (Pratley 77), Cullen, Williams (Morgan 77), McGeady (Sarr 85), Hemed (Aneke 65), Bonne. Not used: Amos, Oshilaja, Forster-Caskey, Davison. Booked: Phillips.
Referee: David Webb.