Football: Charlton suffering vertigo: Trough on road to The Valley

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Charlton Athletic. .0

Luton Town. . . . . 0

ABSENCE makes the heart grow fonder - and sometimes a little weary. The seven-year itch to be back at The Valley is almost over but Charlton supporters were scratching their heads at the First Division leaders' form against Luton at Upton Park.

Before the kick-off Charlton's chairman, Roger Alwen, came on to the pitch to applaud the fans who have helped raise the pounds 1m needed to return the team to its rightful home. Unfortunately, Charlton were not in the mood to illustrate the possibility of Premier League football at The Valley.

Charlton were not worthy of more than the scoreline suggests. Much of the team's midfield possession was wasted on speculative boots upfield or woefully inaccurate passes, although the wind was obviously a factor.

Luton were playing only their third game and can probably take more encouragement from the draw and their first point of the season. They put together a couple of periods of sustained pressure and felt aggrieved when Steve Claridge's 52nd-minute effort was belatedly ruled offside.

Charlton's co-manager, Steve Gritt, admitted his side never looked like scoring but took some comfort from the point as 'we'd have lost that game last season'. Luton, he said, had done their homework and prevented Charlton from capturing the form that took them to the play-offs last season.

But it must be dispiriting for the fans to hear Gritt also put the lacklustre performance down to some players looking tired. Charlton's attempts to grasp a Premier League place last season were not helped by having to overstretch a relatively shallow squad.

Five games gone and Charlton are already suffering for their top of the table status. And it will probably get worse before it gets better. The move back to The Valley will almost certainly mean the sale of one or more key players. When the ground reopens in December it will initially hold only 6,000 and the club will not break even while redevelopment continues, which will force them to sell to survive.

The most sought-after Charlton player, the winger Robert Lee, was among those who looked jaded, but it was his sharp effort in the 77th minute which forced the best save of the match.

Much is pinned on the effect the emotional trip home will have. But reduced capacity among crowd and squad are not the spin- off Charlton need to stay as leaders.

Charlton Athletic: Bolder; Balmer, Barness, Pardew, Webster, Gatting, Lee, Bumstead, Dyer (Grant, 65), Nelson, Walsh. Substitute not used: Minto.

Luton Town: Petterson; Linton, James, Salton, Peake, Dreyer, Claridge, Hughes, Gray (Oakes, 82), Preece, Rees. Substitute not used: Campbell.

Referee: D Elleray (Middlesex).

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