Football: Into the Valley rode the tight brigade

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The Independent Online
Charlton Athletic 0

Leicester City 0

Attendance: 20,021

THE MUTUAL admiration between clubs who have risen above their station to win a place in the upper reaches of the Premiership prevented yesterday's game at the Valley from taking wing.

The teams' qualities of determination, tenacity and spirit cancelled each other out, spoiling the spectacle but allowing each to stretch their recent unbeaten run in the league.

After coming successfully through some glamorous games in that period, this was back to the nitty gritty for both sides, and one point apiece was about right, given the balance swung back Charlton's way in the second half after Leicester had threatened to repeat their victory in the Worthington Cup tie nine days earlier.

The absence of Tony Cottee, who scored both Leicester's goals that night, underlined how badly they need an extra striker. Martin O'Neill was forced to use Steve Walsh - a centre half starting for the first time since August - in a formidable physical partnership with Emile Heskey.

Since the equally resolute Eddie Youds and Carl Tiler were marking them, and Matt Elliott was also available as a third force at set pieces, it was no surprise that the dominant image of the afternoon was of a dozen players leaping for a high ball as David Elleray awarded a free kick for nudging or shoving.

It was tough on the fan who had travelled from Texas for the match. According to O'Neill what he saw was "a good old fashioned English game". This is not always a compliment.

Within 10 minutes both Leicester strikers had taken a mandatory count and soon afterwards Walsh and Tiler were lectured for having a swing at each other off the ball. Paradoxically, Leicester's Theo Zagorakis was sent to the touchline to remove his jewellery while Muzzy Izzet received the first of five yellow cards for petulantly throwing the ball down.

For all the neat approach play by the men in midfield, the best chances predictably fell to the boys up front. Walsh produced a thumping header from Steve Guppy's disputed corner, which Mark Kinsella cleared off the line. From the subsequent corner Elliott had his header saved by Sasa Ilic.

Charlton had another escape as Danny Mills cleared a cross straight at Izzet, the rebound bouncing straight back at him and, within 20 seconds of the restart, Heskey homing in as Tiler stumbled, chipped the wrong side of a post.

Charlton's best move and then best period followed. Steve Jones, brought on to try and disturb the visitors with his direct running in a 4-3-3 formation headed down Chris Powell's cross for Clive Mendonca, searching for his first goal in eight games, to drive narrowly wide.

Leicester forced backwards for the first time, made discretion the better part of valour by withdrawing Walsh to defence. "I think he was relieved," O'Neill said.

They would still have won following his quick free kick if the substitute Stuart Wilson could have reached Heskey's low cross.