Walsall 1 (Macken 36) Charlton 1 (Kermorgant 45).
Kevin Nolan reports from Banks's Stadium.
This hard-fought, keenly contested game so nearly produced the the blip that cautious Charlton supporters have been expecting for some time. Nearly but not quite.
Since they lost to Stevenage on October 15th for the first and, so far, only time this season, this often irresistible team has carried all before it with six consecutive league wins. You can't win 'em all, of course, but drawing beats losing; the general consensus was that, despite Walsall's lowly status, this was one battling point gained rather than two carelessly squandered. Bless 'em, football fans are natural philosophers.
Though clearly the better side, the Addicks were ultimately grateful for their useful point. During a second half played at breakneck pace, they came under serious pressure, countered with some of their own and finished significantly more strongly than their hosts. There were several hearts-in-mouths moments, none more so than Darrel Russell's goalline clearance of Mat Sadler's goalbound "cert" before referee Webb turned a charitable eye to Richard Taundry's penalty area handling of Hogan Ephraim's added time cross. Swings and roundabouts covers it.
The end-to-end exchanges got off to a riproaring start with tricky wide man Alex Nicholls cutting in to shoot dangerously wide, then Bradley Wright-Phillips hooking off target after Danny Green's long throw caused chaos in the six-yard box.
The direct tactics favoured by the Saddlers contrasted vividly with Charlton's more measured approach. And it was substance rather than style that was initially rewarded. Ephraim had come within inches of breaking through for the visitors with a determined run and shot when the home side turned the trick in more basic circumstances.
Tenacious as ever, Chris Solly checked another of Nicholls' menacing forays at the expense of a left wing corner, which Andrew Halliday played strategically back to Sadler, lurking unmarked on the edge of the penalty area. The left back's unconvincing shot deflected twice before sitting up nicely for veteran Jon Macken to volley through a spreadeagled defence. The whiff of unmistakeable good fortune brought with it distinct memories of Stevenage's cruelly deflected winner. But they all count.
Resilient throughout the team, Charlton hit back and Green's adroit flick sent Wright-Phillips through to shave the left-hand post with a low drive, his uncharacteristic miss fortunately deferring equality only briefly. And the goal which provided it was as sweet in execution as Walsall's had been scrappy.
Enjoying himself in front of the energetic Rhoys Wiggins, Ephraim cut in from the left touchline on to his favoured right foot to deliver the juiciest of inswinging centres. A virtuoso in the air, Kermorgant's eyes practically lit up as he launched himself at the ball near the far post. An unstoppable header left James Walker helpless as it thundered under the bar.
If the South East Londoners believed they were on their way to easy victory, they were quickly disabused of the notion by Walsall's positive start to the second half. A rat-a-tat sequence of corners put them under immediate pressure, during the throes of which no-nonsense Danny Hollands cleared mightily from near the goalline. It was the indefatigable Hollands, however, who wasted his side's best chance just past the hour.
Always eager to join in attack, Wiggins supplied a perfect cross from the left, which Kermorgant carefully cushioned on to Hollands' head. From six yards, the onrushing midfielder buried the sitter into James Walker's arms.
Almost instantly, the Black Countrymen came even closer to snatching the points. French substitute Claude Gnapka broke through into one-on-one confrontation with Ben Hamer but was brilliantly blocked by the advancing keeper. The rebound fell conveniently for Sadler to beat the stranded Hamer but Russell had backtracked intelligently to head the apparent "cert" off the line. Sadler's interesting afternoon fell apart when a booking for fouling Solly was followed by a second yellow card - and automatic dismissal - for repeating the offence on Scott Wagstaff.
This seesaw game had one further flashpoint to debate before the points were justly shared. Switching flanks, the restless Ephraim's cross from the right byline was blocked by Richard Taundry's outflung hand well inside the 18-yard line. No penalty ruled Mr. Webb, a conclusion hardly shared by Chris Powell, who was a model of tight lipped restraint in his comments about the incident later. We were left to wonder who would have taken the spotkick, with Johnnie Jackson injured and his obvious deputy Green already substituted. No doubt the far-seeing boss had the eventuality covered. He doesn't miss much. And he knows a semi-blip when he sees one.
Walsall (4-4-2): Walker, Beevers, Lancashire, Smith, Sadler, Halliday (Gnapka 54), Chambers, Taundry, Nicholls, Paterson (Bowerman 75), Macken (Peterlin 84). Not used: Butler, Grof.
Charlton (4-4-2): Hamer, Solly, Morrison, Taylor, Wiggins, Green (Wagstaff 73), Hollands, Russell, Ephraim, Kermorgant, Wright-Phillips. Not used: Euell, Pritchard, Cort, Sullivan.
Referee: D. Webb. Attendance: 4,537.