Leeds United 1
Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 20,043
REDUCED TO 10 men and in spite of missing a penalty, Charlton did more than cling on to a valuable point that should have been three at The Valley yesterday. Their defiance emphasised that the improving Leeds are still prone to the occasional haphazard performance which will give heart to the three real championship challengers, all of whom they meet before the end of the season.
David O'Leary said afterwards that he would still be delighted with fourth place behind Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea, which would be like winning "that other league" - the one starting below the super-rich top trio. All Charlton wanted was a trio of points to keep half a step ahead of the bottom three and reinforce their hopes of making it a full stride by beating Everton at Goodison next weekend. Their need was the greater but having to call upon their third-choice goalkeeper, Andy Petterson, and losing Clive Mendonca to a back injury, prompted only pessimism which they quickly did remarkably well to quell - Andy Hunt had three moderately hopeful opportunities frustrated by hurried defending, all in the first 13 minutes. None was clear-cut but Leeds were unsettled.
The unsettling process continued. A high ball drifted across the goalmouth by Richard Rufus totally bemused Nigel Martyn, who was worriedly falling backwards. He probably felt sure the ball was veering inside his far post but he was wrong and it passed a shade beyond it. Nevertheless, it was great encouragement for Charlton who, in the 20th minute, took the lead when Hunt headed on to Graham Stuart who enterprisingly raised the ball over Martyn.
Within five minutes, but not within the trend of the game, Leeds were back on terms. Harry Kewell was carelessly brought down, Ian Harte slung the free-kick across the penalty area, and Jonathon Woodgate, slipping in behind the defence, competently slid the ball past Petterson. Nevertheless, Leeds were having problems some of which were not of Charlton's making - David Hopkin and Jimmy Hasselbaink had to be substituted before the half-hour - but many of which were. Any ball driven low across the face of their goal almost always arrived at Charlton feet, usually those of Hunt or Martin Pringle.
Charlton's opportunity to take a serious advantage came 10 minutes into the second half. Woodgate's clumsy tackle on Pringle was perhaps not as troublesome as the Swede made out but was bad enough for the referee to award a penalty. Paul Mortimer will not rapidly forgive himself for a slovenly kick - the ball virtually rolled into the post.
The self-inflicted pain was made even worse when Rufus appeared to kick the face of the young Leeds substitute, Matthew Jones. As Charlton's manager, Alan Curbishley, said, appearances can be deceptive - the referee sent off Rufus for "stamping". Curbishley said: "Rufus told me he was trying to avoid the player by jumping over him. It's inconceivable that he would have kicked him on purpose - especially in our situation." Jones recovered so quickly that it was easy to sympathise with Curbishley, but the fact was that Charlton were left to endure the last 25 minutes with 10 men.
Far from slowing the game with possession play which would have taken advantage of Charlton's numerical deficiency, Leeds allowed them to dictate the pace. For almost the entire final 15 minutes they were prepared to hold on to their point. Petterson retained Charlton's by stifling a late shot from Kewell.