Football: Home truths decide basement duel

Charlton Athletic 0 Sheffield Wednesday 1
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WHEN THE issues are decided on the final day of the season, it is time to face up to home truths and the truth was that Charlton needed to win this home game and hope Southampton dropped points against Everton to avoid the drop into the First Division. Neither happened and so Charlton, after their first season in the Premiership, join Blackburn Rovers and Nottingham Forest in being relegated from the top flight.

It was 12 months ago that they emerged victorious from a nerve-wracking play-off final against Sunderland at Wembley to win promotion, a result that left players exhausted and flat out with emotion.

They kicked off this season at The Valley to a firework display on and off the pitch, as they beat Southampton 5-0 and briefly went top of the league, but sadly for their manager, Alan Curbishley, and his side precious little has gone right since that August day. Players were again flat out on the turf after the final whistle of this game, but this time for very different reasons.

Wednesday manager Danny Wilson, who experienced relegation this time last year with Barnsley, had sympathy for his counterpart afterwards: "I know how they feel and it's a very disappointing day to be relegated." However, he added, "The First Division is very difficult to get out of."

Their problems have been more in front of goal than at the back and to prove the point, on a day when they had to score to give themselves a chance, it took Charlton 26 minutes to make a decent attempt on goal, and when it came, Graham Stuart sent his effort agonisingly wide. A cross in from the left tempted Pavel Srnicek out of the Wednesday goal, and his weak punch fell to Stuart, who was faced with an empty net 20 yards out, but he sent his lob just wide of a post. As Curbishley said afterwards: "It's tougher to score in the Premiership than Division One and our home form has been a problem."

But Stuart's effort was the start of a more positive approach from the home side, who had nearly committed the cardinal sin of conceding an early goal. Wednesday had nothing to play for, but were close to taking the lead after only five minutes when Niclas Alexandersson's low shot forced goalkeeper Andy Petterson into a diving save.

However, Wednesday's policy of knocking the ball around invited Charlton to attack, and two minutes after Stuart's miss, Carl Tiler sent a glancing header again just wide, from a Mark Kinsella free-kick. It was the Republic of Ireland midfielder who was doing all of the prompting, as he then sent a cross to the far post that Steve Brown headed against the top of the crossbar.

Charlton were getting closer to scoring that vital goal and just when a cheer from the crowd mistakenly suggested Everton had taken the lead against Southampton, on the stroke of half-time Clive Mendonca put the ball in the net after Srnicek had saved Brown's free-kick, only to be flagged offside.

However, Charlton have not won at home since mid-February, and since then had dropped valuable points by drawing with Forest and Blackburn.

But it is goals that have been conspicuous by their absence for Charlton, and with the exception of Forest, they have the lowest home total in the Premiership. As if to reinforce that point, their closest effort on goal in the second half came via the head of a Wednesday player as Stephen Haslam deflected a Kinsella free-kick just past Srnicek's post.

Yet while the game remained goalless, there remained a glimmer of hope for Curbishley's men which was extinguished with 11 minutes left as Wednesday scored. Andy Booth slipped a pass to substitute Danny Sonner, who calmly lifted the ball over Petterson.

Peter Atherton was sent off with four minutes left, but that came too late to help Charlton, who went on a lap of honour afterwards for their fans that would have brought back wistful memories of happier events a year ago.

Goal: Sonner (79) 0-1.

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Petterson; Mills, Tiler, Brown (Bowen, 64), Powell; Stuart, Kinsella, Redfearn (Barnes, 62), Robinson (Pringle, 70); Jones, Mendonca. Substitutes not used: Parker, Ilic (gk).

Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Srnicek; Stefanovic, Thome, Walker, Haslam (Cresswell, 59); Rudi, Atherton, Jonk, Alexandersson; Carbone (Sonner, 59), Booth. Substitutes not used: Humphreys, McKeever, Pressman (gk).

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

Man of the match: Kinsella.

Attendance: 20,043.