Bartlett blunder blunts Charlton's ambitions

Fulham 0 - Charlton Athletic 0
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The Independent Football

A stark indication of the state of affairs at Fulham after this dreary deadlock of a derby was the chirpy comment over the loudspeaker: "That's another point in the bag." Charlton, in the end, had to settle for popping another point in the bag, too, as they labour towards their personal Everest, a place in European football next season by finishing sixth, or higher, in the Premiership.

A stark indication of the state of affairs at Fulham after this dreary deadlock of a derby was the chirpy comment over the loudspeaker: "That's another point in the bag." Charlton, in the end, had to settle for popping another point in the bag, too, as they labour towards their personal Everest, a place in European football next season by finishing sixth, or higher, in the Premiership.

That ambition might have been considerably closer had Shaun Bartlett not perpetrated a horribly embarrassing miss in the third minute when, needing just a tap-in to convert Paul Konchesky's low cross. he trod on the ball.

"A bad miss, we all know that," conceded Charlton's manager, Alan Curbishley. "If he had scored I am sure we would have gone from strength to strength." Strength was not in short supply on either side, but skill and vision were seriously rationed with the shining exception of Steed Malbranque, whose return to Fulham's midfield after missing eight games with an ankle injury visibly lifted the team.

The Frenchman's return is a shaft of sunlight for the manager, Chris Coleman. "We have missed him for three months of this season," he said. "His importance to the team is amazing. I didn't know whether to start him today after his injury but he is so important to us."

With 10 games left, no wins in the last four matches and Fulham only six points clear of the relegation zone, their requirement is clear. "We need two wins because it's close," said Coleman. "But we could have lost this game. Earlier in the season, perhaps we would have done." Charlton's requirement is of the happier variety. "If we can beat our total of 53 points last year, that will take us somewhere near Europe," Curbishley said. "It would be a fantastic achievement but there is a long way to go.

"At least," he smiled, "our chairman can go home tonight happy that we are safe for another season." That is something Fulham's Mohamed Al Fayed will not be able to do just yet.

So anonymous was Andy Cole up front for Fulham that it was deep into the second half before he managed a threatening run, terminated when he was hauled down by Talal El Karkouri, a foul which so incensed Cole that he lashed out at the Moroccan. Both were booked for the squalid exchange.

Fulham's main scoring threats were provided, strangely, by their central defenders. Twice Zat Knight might have scored, first with a soaring, unchallenged header which whizzed past a post and then with an awkward, bouncing, long-range shot which Dean Kiely mishandled. Alain Goma, too, was encouraged to have a dip from distance, which is more than most of the others could manage.

Charlton were also required to try their luck from long range because of the population density in Fulham's area but against a keeper of Edwin van der Sar's merit it was a pointless exercise. The Dutchman was only twice hurried into a save, once with his feet to deny Bartlett and then, with an acrobatic leap, to keep out Konchesky's snap half-volley from the edge of the box.

There were boos, inevitably, at the final whistle from the disgruntled of Craven Cottage. Coleman admitted: "We weren't very exciting." But then echoing his loudspeaker man, he added: "But it was a point."

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