As the final whistle sounded, the Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp stared fixedly down at the turf before kicking the air. It was a frustrated gesture which spoke for his players - many of whom were standing dazed after a match they had so dominated until the final quarter of an hour - and the team's loyal supporters, whose delirious optimism on a sunny spring afternoon was ultimately overshadowed.
For all the neatness of their play, and the indomitability of their fans, the visitors saw their six-match unbeaten run ended by two touches of international class from Charlton's England forward, Darren Bent, who set up Bryan Hughes for a tap-in equaliser in the 76th minute and then settled the match seven minutes from time after bursting clear of Portsmouth's weary defensive cover following Hermann Hreidarsson's flicked header. The Great Escapers had glimpsed the light at the end of their tunnel - and then had seen it cave in.
"I think this could have been the day that we got out of trouble," Redknapp reflected ruefully after a result that leaves his side three points clear of the relegation zone but with their two pursuers, Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion, having played a game less. "I felt we deserved to win here today, and three points could have taken us out of it," the Portsmouth manager added. "It would have frightened the other teams out of their socks. But that's life. You often don't get what you deserve."
Portsmouth's final three games - Sunderland at home, Wigan away and then Liverpool at home - still offer a sporting chance of survival. And if willpower worked, their fans - 5,000 of whom filled the Jimmy Seed stand yesterday - would have them safe.
Fortune appeared to be turning against the visitors even before kick-off as, still unable to recall their top scorer Lomana LuaLua following the ankle injury he incurred while celebrating his equaliser against Arsenal five days earlier, they lost the centre-back Andy O'Brien to an strain incurred while warming up.
But the travelling faithful were soon enjoying a hugely satisfying first half in which their side outplayed their hosts to the point where the home supporters booed their men in at half-time.
By that point, Andres D'Alessandro had put Portsmouth ahead. It was, as Redknapp later observed, a goal fit to win a game as the nimble Argentinian midfielder evaded Radistan Kishishev and then Chris Powell as he cut in from the right before sending a left-footed shot gliding into the far top corner of the net.
D'Alessandro could and should have made it 2-0 just after the hour after he skied a shot over from Svetoslav Todorov's lay-back, and Todorov himself almost did the trick 10 minutes later with an early shot that Thomas Myhre did well to block with his legs.
The pattern of the match changed, strangely, at the point when the home side were reduced to 10 men as Hreidarsson nursed an injured ankle on the sidelines. Bent, previously anonymous, flared into vivid life, inspired it seemed by the prompting of half-time substitute Darren Ambrose.
"We were awful in the first half, but I thought that at 1-0 up they dropped off the pace a little bit," said the Charlton manager Alan Curbishley, who believes Bent can make his mark in this summer's World Cup.
As for the question of whether he might make his own mark on England, post-World Cup, Curbishley - who has criticised the Football Association's drawn-out process of choosing the next England manager - was resolutely unforthcoming. "It think it's a bizarre situation at the moment. But I'm not going to talk about it any more."
Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Myhre; Spector (Sankofa, 40min), Sorondo, Hreidarsson, Powell; Kishishev, Holland, Hughes, Thomas (Ambrose, h-t); D Bent, M Bent (Bothroyd, 25). Substitutes not used: Andersen (gk), Euell.
Portsmouth (4-4-2): Kiely; Priske, Primus, Pamarot, Taylor; O'Neil, Dvis, Hughes (Routledge, 85), D'Allesandro; Todorov (Karadas, 79), Mwaruwari. Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Koroman.
Referee: H Webb (S Yorkshire).Reuse content