Their spirit has never been in question and last night Wimbledon, needing a win themselves to hit the heights of sixth place in the table, seemed taken aback to meet a team battling and chasing as hard as they traditionally do. As in the FA Cup tie at Tottenham last week, Wimbledon did not play well, and, eventually coming under some pressure in defence, found the ball bouncing against them.
Dean Blackwell thought he had cleared the danger eight minutes before half-time, only for the Swedish striker Martin Pringle to bustle on and score, and Blackwell's comical own goal 23 minutes into the second half brought back at least some of the optimism that Charlton had felt in the late summer.
Barnes's brief run as a substitute against them on the opening day of the season was the last time he appeared for Newcastle. At 35, it will be his passing rather than his pace that they look to now, but the Charlton manager, Alan Curbishley, has also been keen to bring in players not touched by the inevitable depression of three and a half months without a victory. "Just having John walk into the building last week gave everyone a lift," Curbishley said.
Not such a huge lift as Pringle's goal, however. Running from the half- way line, he seemed to have been halted by Blackwell, only for a bounce off Chris Perry's toe to give the Swede the opportunity to drive in his second goal in three starts since joining on loan from Benfica. Even that went through the goalkeeper's legs.
On a very different sort of occasion from their last home game, against Manchester United, Charlton were clearly edgy in a poor first half, but Wimbledon could take no more advantage than a strong header wide by John Hartson from Neil Ardley's cross. It was Hartson's only contribution and Wimbledon's only threatening effort.
They were undone, and condemned to another dressing-room dressing-down from Joe Kinnear, in the 68th minute. After Neil Sullivan had to throw himself left to hold a hold a header by Steve Brown, who had another fine game in the home defence, Chris Powell's angled cross should have been collected by the goalkeeper. Instead, he all but collided with Blackwell, the ball bouncing off the defender and rolling almost apologetically over the line.
"We are staying up," was heard from the home supporters for the first time in weeks as their side clawed to within four points of Everton and Coventry. As at White Hart Lane, Kinnear did not visit the press room to make his views known. "I think they're having a tear-up," said Curbishley, which appears to be manager-speak for a little chat about how matters might be improved.
Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Royce; Mills, Brown, Tiler, Konchesky; Robinson (Newton, 70), Kinsella, Redfearn, Powell; Hunt, Pringle. Substitutes not used: Ilic (gk), K Jones, Bright, Barness.
Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Perry, Blackwell, Thatcher; Ardley, Roberts, Kennedy, Euell (Goodman, 85); Hartson, Cort (C Hughes, 61). Substitutes not used: Heald (gk), Kimble,Castledine.
Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).