Birmingham City 1 (Zigic 90+3) Charlton 1 (Cort 82)
Kevin Nolan reports from St. Andrews.
A desperately late equaliser, lashed home by beanpole Serbian Nikola Zigic in the the third of four added minutes, denied Charlton deserved victory at sunsplashed St. Andrews. Their crisp, assured football seemed to have been capped by the perfect result until the 6'7" substitute struck. Disappointment was inevitable but more sober reflection will bring with it the consolation that an away point at one of the Championship's more grudging venues amounts to a more than useful result.
It's encouraging to report that the Addicks adapted seamlessly to life at a higher level. Only their inability to convert at least one of several clearcut first half chances let them down. It's part of football's folklore that if you fail to turn superiority into the hard currency of goals, you pay for your carelessness. And not for the first time, so it proved.
City were hardly slouches themselves. They began brightly, with Marlon King's teasing cross headed clear by a straining Leon Cort, then Peter Lovenkrands' low snapshot stretching Ben Hamer. But the confident visitors promptly responded through Johnnie Jackson, who glanced Dale Stephens' inswinging corner narrowly wide, then headed Rhoys Wiggins' precise centre inches too high. The skipper's own delicious cross eluded Bradley Wright-Phillips but was awkwardly bundled over the bar by Yann Kermorgant at the far post. Though hardly rampant, Charlton gradually silenced this most raucous and one-eyed of crowds.
A scintillating game between fancied sides continued to entertain as Lovenkrands wriggled in from the left touchline, eluded Chris Solly, but chipped tamely into Hamer's hands. His poised midfield colleague, Ravel Morrison - one of Alex Ferguson's rare admissions of man-management failure at Old Trafford - caught the solo mood and shot dangerously wide after positive running created space to try his luck. The last word before the break belonged to Kermorgant, who picked up Wright-Phillips' pass only to shoot straight at Blues' debutant goalkeeper Jack Butland.
There was further good news for Charlton in a competitive second half. By now settled to their task, they had the better of a side hotly tipped to be among the division's front runners. With Dale Stephens providing foot-on-the-ball calmness as the midfield fulcrum, brilliant full backs Solly and Wiggins picking up precisely where they left off last May and Leon Cort outshining even the excellent Michael Morrison inside them, the Addicks had enough about them to suggest that the upcoming campaign is nothing to be feared.
A great block by Morrison was needed to stop King but the momentum was with the Addicks. Clever combination featuring Kermorgant's incisive and Bradley Pritchard's accurate delivery from the right touchline set up yet another headed chance for Jackson, which was again bulleted off target.
That the Blues were far from finished was proved by King, who rolled Cort before driving harmlessly at Hamer. Jackson provided an immediate riposte with a low drive, saved smartly by the precocious Butland, before highly regarded substitute Nathan Redmond wasted an opening luckily created by King, snatching at a shot into the near sidenet.
Abruptly, the Championship new boys broke through. A long throw from Danny Hollands forced City captain Steven Caldwell to concede a right wing corner, which was swung in at the second attempt by Jackson; alert substitute Jordan Cook and Kermorgant engaged in a spot of head tennis at opposite posts, leaving Cort to nod downward past Butland from no more than a yard. The celebrations were mighty but Charlton were not yet home and dry.
With nothing to lose, new Birmingham boss Lee Clark rushed the lanky Zigic into the fray. Powell instantly countered with Matt Taylor replacing Jackson, in anticipation of an aerial bombardment. It was not without irony, therefore, that the sickening body blow was delivered by Zigic's left foot. With the home side turning Charlton's penalty area into a disorderly mob scene, Butland's huge, hopeful Hail Mary punt was the last throw -or kick- of the dice. A lucky bounce favoured the massive sub but his 15-yard finish low into the bottom left corner was cool and clinical. There's nothing quite like the last-kick goal. It's the cause of wild celebration among its recipients, accompanied by the sound of the bottom dropping out of the world of its victims.
Arch-pragmatist Powell won't be fooled. Whatever the late dramatics, the scoreline was 1-1, an eminently satisfactory result in a difficult opening game, one he might have accepted if offered it before kick-off. Pity about the unexpected setback but there you go. It happens to all of us at one time or another. Charlton played well. Very well. They're off and running. See how they go.
Birmingham: Butland, Packwood (Spector 64), Caldwell, Davies, Murphy, Burke, Mullins, Morrison (Redmond 64), Ambrose, King, Lovenkrands (Zigic 86). Not used: Doyle, Ibanez, Elliott, Rooney.
Charlton: Hamer, Solly, Morrison, Cort, Wiggins, Pritchard, Hollands, Stephens, Jackson (Taylor 89), Wright-Phillips (Cook 77), Kermorgant. Not used: Sullivan. Green, Kerkar, Wilson, Smith.
Referee: Gary Sutton. Att: 18,210 (1,637 Charlton).
Kevin Nolan’s Match Report is brought to you in association with , 294 Burnt Ash Hill, London, SE12 0QD.
Newly sponsored by some absolutely spiffing chaps, I didn't get off to the best of starts last Tuesday. Somehow I mixed up Shrewsbury with Chesterfield and ended up describing Shrewsbury as the "Spireites." Nobody picked up on it, which only goes to show that there's never a pedant around when you need one. This is not my first brush with sponsorship. I did a sponsored silence once and was left speechless by the enthusiastic response I received.