BRISTOL ROVERS 0
BY KEVIN NOLAN AT THE MEMORIAL STADIUM
With a wild, westerly wind frequently making a farce of this evenly-fought game, both sides were left grudgingly content with its scoreless outcome.
From Charlton’s point of view – one shared by the 1,146 frozen roadies huddled inside this ramshackle venue – its main virtue was the extension of their unbeaten run to seven games.
During that often painstaking sequence, only 14 goals have been scored, eight of them by the Addicks. The conclusion drawn from those meagre figures is that Lee Bowyer’s hard-nosed defence is hard to break down but his attack, which consists primarily of lone wolf Lyle Taylor, finds it equally difficult to turn that solid base to advantage at the sharp end.
They remain hard to beat and a viable proposition in the play-offs, which is where they are heading.
In blustery, treacherous conditions, which made the destination of passes over 10 yards mere chance, Charlton were technically the better side, although it was Rovers who came closer to breaking the deadlock.
With experienced Jason Pearce returning from his long absence to form a back three alongside Patrick Bauer and attack-minded Krystian Bielik – keeper Dillon Phillips reliable behind them – it was his rearguard that Bowyer had to thank for this treadwater point.
Phillips was well-protected but more than did his bit with one quite sensational first-half save.
An unintentional but clumsy foul by Darren Pratley on Jonson Clarke-Harris some 25 yards distant from and slightly to the right of goal, conceded a free kick which the Gas’ bang in-form striker clearly relished. His fierce, dipping delivery skidded dangerously in front of Phillips on its way inside the keeper’s left-hand post. At full length, the young keeper somehow conjured the ball to safety to register his best save of the season, with even the frustrated Clarke-Harris sportingly joining the applause.
Phillips’ moment of inspiration earned him the luck he enjoyed later when Michael Kelly’s left-wing corner ricocheted off Ollie Clarke’s unwitting shins and ended up in his grateful hands.
On a day when defences were frequently at the mercy of the weather but held firm, Phillips’ tour-de-force was not the only individual contribution worthy of special mention. Replacing Chris Solly, right wing-back Anfernee Dijksteel capped a sound performance with a last-minute flash of brilliance which ensured the clean sheet. Intelligently tracking Liam Sercombe’s sprint on to Ed Upson’s perfectly-flighted ball over the top, Dijksteel timed his tackle with surgical precision as the flying Rover prepared to finish and whipped the ball cleanly off his toe. With Solly and Naby Sarr unused from the bench, Bowyer seems spoiled for choice at the back.
The Addicks were also well-served in midfield, where Josh Cullen, still lacking a goal to seal his growing influence, was superb. Continuing the fine form he showed in the back-to-back Valley victories over Portsmouth and Burton Albion, Cullen was a restless hive of industry.
Called up to Ireland’s senior squad by manager Mick McCarthy, who caught him in midweek action, the sawn-off dynamo, if given his chance, is likely to remind Dublin’s Aviva of another insatiable midfielder who swapped Charlton’s red for Ireland’s green with great distinction. Kinsella Mark Two to coin an obvious phrase.
With defending necessarily stripped-down to the basics of anywhere-will-do clearances, chances were few. Taylor was first to threaten when Bauer headed Cullen’s corner back from the far post.
Unable to react quickly enough, the chance disappeared between his feet.
Still in the first period, Cullen’s piercing through ball was taken in stride by Igor Vetokele, whose shot on the run was aimed too close to Jack Bonham.
After the break, Gas substitute Alex Jakubiak slalomed through but shot straight at Phillips. Apart from timely blocks at each end, there was little else, other than the raw weather conditions, to alarm either keeper.
With the play-offs all but guaranteed and Portsmouth their likely semi-final opponents, Bowyer clearly intends to give game time to every member of his squad. The benching of unused subs Solly and Sarr gave him the opportunity to play the hugely promising Dijksteel and welcome back Pearce.
Likewise, Vetokele was relieved by Josh Parker near the hour mark, with the increasingly influential Joe Aribo rested until taking over from Pratley four minutes later. Tarique Fosu for Ben Reeves completed the substitutions. Expect youngsters George Lapslie and Albie Morgan to reappear after the international break as nothing is left to chance. It’s a 14-a-side game these days.
Charlton (3-5-2): Phillips 8, Dijksteel 8, Bauer 7, Bielik 8, Pearce 7 Purrington 7, Cullen 8, Reeves 7 (Fosu 77), Pratley 6 (Aribo 66, 7), Taylor 6, Vetokele 6 (Parker 62, 6). Not used: Maxwell, Solly, Sarr, Lapslie.