Charlton 0 Blackpool 0.
By Kevin Nolan at The Valley.
Suspicion is beginning to harden into conviction among Charlton fans that the decision to sell Karlan Grant during the recent transfer window means yet another season in the quicksand that is League One.
One man doesn’t make a team but getting rid of a 14-goal striker midway through a nip-and-tuck promotion campaign compromises confidence, always a fragile commodity.
Since Grant somewhat marred his departure by meekly missing a crucial penalty at Peterborough on January 26, the Addicks have picked up two points from four games, scoring just one goal in the stuttering process.
The bright, innovative partnership Grant forged with Lyle Taylor accounted for 26 of Charlton’s 48 league goals but was wilfully broken up by absentee owner Roland Duchatelet in what amounted to a clear statement that any and all assets at The Valley are for sale. It scarcely helped that Taylor was suspended from the first three of those important games, leaving his stricken side to soldier on without a recognisable forward line.
Not that Duchatelet remotely cares whether promotion is won or lost. He isn’t in the least bit interested And there, in a nutshell, is the discouraging handicap under which Lee Bowyer operates; in skilfully juggling his depleted resources and keeping them in play-offs contention, the rookie manager has made himself an attractive proposition for any club seeking a young, imaginative gaffer.
The summer will probably see the arrival of a new incumbent through the same revolving door being used by Bowyer on his way out to saner, more stable employment.
This second successive draw with moderate opposition puts paid to Charlton’s nominal hopes of automatic promotion.
With Saturday’s visitors Blackpool, Peterborough and Doncaster their obvious rivals for two play-off places, the disappointing result at least preserved an eight-point advantage over the Tangerines. Posh ominously halted their recent slide by winning 1-0 at Oxford and slashed to four points the gap which separates them from fifth-placed Charlton.
In-form Doncaster, meanwhile, had FA Cup fish to fry and lie in wait for the Addicks at the Keepmoat Stadium next Saturday week, before which Bowyer’s misfiring men are confronted by an inconveniently awkward assignment at Wimbledon. It’s a minefield in League One, where your dreams face being blown up week by week.
Having conceded a miserly 28 league goals with a similarly paltry 34 scored, Blackpool’s stubborn, well-organised defending came as no surprise. Coupled with their host’s current difficulty in finding the net, the resultant scoreless stalemate stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb.
Returning from his particularly badly-timed suspension, Taylor without Grant was yin without yang, Laurel bereft of Hardy in another nice mess of Duchatelet’s making. He flailed around pointlessly, plaintively claiming fouls where they didn’t exist, before petulantly chuntering his way into referee Kevin Johnson’s notebook. His ninth caution of the season now leaves him a single yellow card away from a two-game ban, hardly the contribution Bowyer sought from his eagerly-awaited talisman.
In a tedious game, the first half of which was a waking nightmare for Charlton, chances were rare and never clearcut. An accurate low cross from Joe Aribo barely eluded Josh Parker during the early going; another from the same source was driven goalwards by Jonny Williams but competently saved by Mark Howard.
With the Seasiders marginally the better side, Crystal Palace loan debutant Nya Kirby volleyed narrowly over the bar, then Armand Gnanduillet’s close-range effort was alertly blocked by Dillon Phillips. The interval brought with it sweet relief.
Despite the general malaise, Bowyer was able to find positives, prominent among them Aribo’s welcome return from a two-month injury absence.
The rangy midfielder completed 90 enterprising minutes, featuring his usual blend of skill and industry but was pipped by Naby Sarr as the best player on view.
A model of defensive responsibility, the massively improved Frenchman hardly put a foot wrong, his stout work at the back setting up a range of impressive passing, which included a couple of 60-yard Hollywood deliveries to Mark Marshall on the right touchline. Second-half substitute Marshall was his usual wholehearted self; a merciful veil will therefore be drawn over the waywardness of his crossing, after noting that his guv’nor was frequently reduced to outbursts of unapologetically fruity language on the sideline.
Either side might have nicked all three points near the end. With time running out, Parker cut in from the left but his firm drive was brilliantly blocked by Ben Heneghan. At the other end, only Gnanduillet will be equipped to explain how he contrived to scoop a point-blank chance over Phillips but also onto the roof of the net. The lanky striker’s glaring miss neatly summed up an instantly forgettable match which is best – er, forgotten.
Charlton (4-3-2-1): Phillips 6, Dijksteel 5, Bauer 6, Sarr 8, Purrington 7, Cullen 6, Reeves 5 (Marshall 46, 5), Aribo 7, Williams 5 (Lapslie 72, 5), Taylor 4, Parker 5 (Vetokele 83). Not used: Maxwell, Pratley, Solly, Hackett-Fairchild.