Charlton Athletic 2 Fulham 2: Pardew denied dream debut at last gasp

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The Independent Football

Franck Queudrue tore up the script at The Valley last night with a 94th-minute equaliser for Fulham that wrecked home hopes of seeing Alan Pardew's debut as Charlton Athletic's third manager of the season celebrated with a narrow victory. The left-back collected a loose, headed clearance from Hreidarsson and scored with a perfectly angled drive beyond Scott Carson.

After 90 minutes of hope, noise and euphoria, with pulses racing at last, Pardew and the Charlton fans were left deflated. They were within seconds of victory and had gone past the regulation game time when Queudrue struck, Charlton having led for all the second half until that moment.

If the disappointment was palpable, after goals by the two Darrens, Ambrose and Dent had overhauled Brian McBride's earlier strike for Fulham, Charlton and Pardew could at least point to a vastly improved performance brimming with energy - and plenty of crowd support - on an error-strewn evening.

Pardew had called for passionate support and, at least, he was given a hearty welcome. One was tempted to remark that a few Pardew waves prompted greater noise in the first 41 seconds of his reign than the genial Les Reed had inspired in his entire 41 days, eight games and six defeats.

To his credit, Reed had sent a pre-match message of goodwill to the club and players he had been abruptly and somewhat surprisingly parted from on Christmas Eve (the directors having suggested they were sticking with him).

Under Reed, Charlton supporters had complained of their players' lack of commitment and, at Middlesbrough last Saturday, heart. This was an ailment that had been diagnosed and treated immediately by the new manager, to judge from the opening forays by his team. Leaping, running, harrying and chasing, they played like a side that had eschewed all diversions in the last three days.

But enthusiasm, if naïve, cannot work miracles against organised opponents and even Fulham, with only one away win to their name, appeared to possess the required strength not only to survive, but prosper. This was confirmed after 13 minutes of frantic activity when they took the lead.

From a free-kick taken wide on the left by Franck Queudrue, Carlos Bocanegra flexed his neck to head powerfully against the bar, with the aid of a touch by Scott Carson, and Brian McBride gobbled up the rebound from close range for his sixth goal of the season.

Clearly, Fulham were not intent on a charitable visit, but defensive errors soon created that impression. They might have gone two ahead a few minutes later when, from a Tomasz Radzinski cross, a running header by Heidar Helguson flew just over the bar; but the home fans remained vocal when required and gained some reward, with an equaliser, after 19 minutes.

Jerome Thomas, recalled by Pardew, followed up a Fulham clearance with a high lob goalwards. Antti Niemi came out and only half-punched the ball away to the edge of the penalty area where Darren Ambrose, also recalled, drilled a low diagonal shot inside the keeper's right post.

For a few minutes, home hopes rose. Marcus Bent headed down, but Thomas screwed his shot across the goal, the same Bent then scored from an offside position and Marcus Bent, from 20 yards, saw a firm shot saved. Fulham had no immediate reply and fell behind after 45 minutes.

Again, the visitors had only themselves to blame. This time the two central defenders Philippe Christanval and Bocanegra failed to deal with a long forward pass and, as Niemi advanced, hesitated, gifting Darren Bent an easy ninth goal of the season.

Pardew withdrew Thomas, who had been suffering from a virus, at the interval and sent on Dennis Rommedahl, who made an immediate contribution. His low cross from the right, stepped over by Darren Bent, found Ambrose unmarked, but he dribbled and dallied before firing wide.

While some Charlton men were infused with confidence, others reacted nervously to their advantage. Like Fulham, their defence wobbled alarmingly at times, with the exception of the excellent Talal El Karkouri, and fluffed clearances. One, after 66 minutes, gave Bocanegra a chance to shoot from 15 yards and Carson made a fine save.

This uncertainty gave some credence to the belief that Charlton are poised to sign the former Hearts captain Steven Pressley, who was in the crowd. His presence and experience would be invaluable.

Goals: McBride (13) 0-1; Ambrose (19) 1-1; D Bent (45) 2-1; Queudrue (90) 2-2.

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Carson; Sankofa, El Karkouri, Hreidarsson, Traoré; Ambrose (Hughes, 74), Kishishev, Holland, Thomas (Rommedahl, h-t); D Bent, M Bent (Hasselbaink, 82). Substitutes not used: Myhre (gk), Fortune.

Fulham (4-4-2): Niemi; Rosenior, Christanval, Bocanegra, Queudrue; Routledge, Brown, Volz (Jensen, 75), Radzinski; McBride, Helguson (John, 65). Substitutes not used: Lastuvka (gk), Runstrom, Zakuani.

Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).

Man of the match: D Bent.

Attendance: 25,203.

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