It proved scant consolation for Charlton supporters, but this toothless, goalless occasion was rescued from total embarrassment by the sublime skills of Alen Boksic. The Croatian is Middlesbrough's top Premiership scorer with two goals, both penalties, so it is clear their problems are as acute as Charlton's. But at least they have Boksic. The rest of the team should be encouraged to spend their waking hours passing balls to cardboard cut-outs of the great man. Preferably to the feet. Some did their best to comply, notably Paul Ince and, when he was introduced in the second half, the Argentine Carlos Marinelli. Until Charlton's captain, Mark Kinsella, brought Mark Crossley to a stunning reflex save with virtually the last kick of the match , Boksic had looked the only player likely, even capable, of getting a goal.
Boksic is reported to be pocketing £40,000 a week for showing up the rest of the team. He is clearly worth the money, but a goal or two from open play would obviously cheer up his manager, Steve McClaren. Championships, or in Middlesbrough's case survival, come from the ability to consummate eye-catching football with goals.
Charlton have no such shining light on which to focus their gaze. Just an honest, workmanlike squad who, on their day, will catch one or two better sides out on the strength of their ability to run and run. This they did to some purpose in the first 20 minutes, with Paul Konchesky an unlikely fulcrum as he ran things from the left side of midfield and caused Mark Crossley a deal of angst in the Boro goal with some well delivered inswinging corners.
Shaun Bartlett directed one of these wastefully high when it dropped on his forehead smack in front of the net, while Crossley did well to tip away another just before Mark Fish connected. Generally, however, the ex-Villa pairing of Ugo Ehiogu and Gareth Southgate was comfortable enough in riding the pressure and Boro also smoothly overcame the early injury to Jason Gavin which ultimately forced him off the field after half an hour.
It was about this time that Boksic began to wave his wand. A slick backheel which put Southgate in the clear, a dipping free-kick which had Dean Kiely scuttling anxiously in pursuit, and then a glorious moment. Receiving from Ince, Boksic turned past Konchelsky and Fish as if they did not exist, only to bend his effort beyond the far post. Next, this time diddling Kinsella, Boksic was foiled by the combined blocking efforts of Fish and Kiely.
Konchelsky, who had whistled a 30-yard free kick narrowly wide of Crossley's left-hand upright on the stroke of half-time, was rapidly deployed in the second half as an anti-Boksic measure to counter Boro's growing domination, with Ince playing a true captain's role in galvanising his men to turn superiority into goals.
Generally, Charlton managed to confine the opposition to long-range efforts, but it was Boksic (who else?) who produced the one real alarm as, benefitting from a rebound off Andy Todd, he closed in on goal from the left side. The shot was true but the angle proved too acute and a relieved Kiely beat the ball away.
For the three added minutes of injury time Boksic was replaced by Dean Windass, but the broadsword was no more capable of breaking this deadlock than the rapier had been.
Charlton Athletic 0 Middlesbrough 0
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