BY KEVIN NOLAN AT THE ABAX STADIUM
This entertaining but scoreless draw – one which resolved little but maintained both clubs’ interest in the League One promotion race – was dramatically upstaged less than an hour after its final whistle.
There was barely time to evaluate the consequences of Karlan Grant’s 77th-minute penalty miss before Peterborough announced the summary sacking of garrulous Steve Evans, their peripatetic and deeply unpopular manager.
Having won only two of nine previous games, his dismissal was hardly shocking but the timing still came as a mild surprise in the wake of Posh’s spirited display against in-form Charlton.
Evans brings considerable baggage with him to his many jobs, of course, and rarely bothers to completely unpack.
It might, therefore, be wise to read between the lines of the terse, formulaic statement issued by owner Darragh MacAnthony which dutifully thanked the portly Scot for his services and tacitly suggested he leave his keys behind on departure. This story might still have legs.
None of which will unduly concern Lee Bowyer, who seems more secure in his position than any manager hired then fired during the turbulent reign of Charlton’s bunker-bound supremo Roland Duchatelet.
The Addicks have developed into a resilient, talented side under his stewardship and, without giving up on automatic promotion, seem bound for at least the play-offs. And that’s despite an injury list which, at times, has resembled an audition call-out for Casualty.
“I’m so gutted for the lads,” said Bowyer, following this useful draw. “I can’t say enough, they’ve given me everything. Especially second half, we were by far the better team.”
The enthusiastic manager can be forgiven for slightly over-egging Charlton’s superiority.
The visitors were indeed the better team and would have left Cambridgeshire with all three points had Grant made better use of the penalty earned by Josh Cullen, whose nippiness lured Jason Naismith into a rash challenge squarely on the 18-yard line to the left of the home goal.
Referee David Webb sprinted over to the scene of the crime, took time to briefly inspect the evidence, then decided that the offence had occurred inside the dreaded oblong. His ruling appeared somewhat generous to the Addicks but gift horses should never be looked in the mouth. Unfortunately, in the mouth was exactly where Grant looked at this one.
So impressively ice-cool in settling Accrington Stanley’s fate from the spot in the late throes of their violent encounter last week, Grant proved unable to repeat the feat against Posh.
Where out-of-control Stanley had failed miserably in their efforts to distract him, this time he spared time for an unwise exchange with Ivan Toney before embarking on a jittery, shortened run-up and shooting weakly for the bottom left corner.
Reading his intentions astutely, young Mayo man Conor O’Malley dropped effortlessly on the ball.
If this was, as is rumoured, Grant’s last game for Charlton, it’s one he and the club will look back on ruefully.
His performance, during which he hit the bar and laid on Charlton’s best chance, was impressively committed.
A sharp first-half turn and delightfully chipped cross to Cullen at the far post deserved a goal but the all-action West Ham loanee’s half-volley was driven into the ground and athletically turned over the bar, on one bounce, by O’Malley.
Taking matters into his own hands early in the second half, Grant cut in from the left but was unlucky to see his deflected shot rebound off the bar.
In a game of few chances, that was as close as Charlton were to come from open play.
At the other end, the Londoners’ sturdy back four, restricted the hosts to slim pickings. Naby Sarr produced any number of expertly-judged interceptions with solid left-back Ben Purrington remaining the epitome of steadiness.
United began brightly enough with Toney’s enterprising overhead attempt gathered competently by Dillon Phillips and Matt Godden’s header sailing over the bar.
Phillips was helpless as Godden shaved his left-hand post from Toney’s precise cutback after the break but, apart from a curiously chested clearance prompted by misplaced fear of a costly backpass, he was rarely troubled.
His best save was the sprawling 71st-minute effort which kept Daniel Lafferty’s crisp daisycutter out of the bottom-right corner.
There were other positives to warm Bowyer, prominent among them the majestic form shown by midfield anchor Krystian Bielik – mercifully recovered from the friendly fire which felled him during celebrations of Grant’s matchwinner last week.
Bielik’s class, behind that of restless firecrackers Cullen and Johhny Williams, was the glue holding the side together. And in the light of Grant’s uncertain future and Taylor’s suspension, an eye-opening 25 minute contribution by Reeco Hackett-Fairchild will have pleased his boss.
So it’s on to Fleetwood on Saturday, where Tarique Fosu’s wonderful hat-trick provided one of the highlights of last season.
The kid’s had a good rest recently so perhaps it’s worth unleashing him on Joey Barton’s Cod Army. On second thoughts, best to make it the manager’s call.
Charlton (4-2-3-1): Phillips 7, Solly 7, Bauer 7, Sarr 9, Purrington 8, Bielik 8, Pratley 7 (Hackett-Fairchild 66,7), Cullen 7, Reeves 7, Williams 7 (Fosu 82), Grant 7. Not used: Maxwell, Dijksteel, Marshall, Clarke, Lapslie.
Photos by Paul Edwards