Manchester City's depressing run without a win goes on and on, now stretching to 13 games following the late penalty that gave Paolo Di Canio the equaliser last night.
Robbie Fowler's 39th-minute goal seemed to have set City on the way to their long-awaited victory and, if the performance had not been sparkling, the result would have been no less valuable for that. But with six minutes to play, a Charlton side who had been the only genuine giant-killing victims in the third round of the FA Cup denied them.
A free-kick from the right seemed to hit Joey Barton's arm in a goalmouth mêlée. It was rough justice for the young midfielder, who had been among City's best performers after coming on as a first-half substitute, while his manager, Kevin Keegan, called it a "very, very harsh decision, but a costly one for us. We are not getting the run of the green at the moment and if something can go wrong it is going wrong".
David Seaman saved Di Canio's spot-kick, but the ball came back off him for the Italian to follow up and score. If their Cup defeat had redoubled their determination to hang on to what has been so hard won in the Premiership, it had not been particularly apparent, but they had escaped with a point.
A rejigged City side had not been impressive overall, but they had seemed to remember how to win a game. Keegan said in his programme notes that the main thing wrong with his much criticised strike force this season is that they have had to score goals to save matches, and Nicolas Anelka had a couple of early chances to change that pattern but dwelt too long on the ball.
At the other end, Di Canio shot wide of an invitingly open goal after being set up by Jonatan Johansson's square ball, but it was a game of few clear-cut opportunities.
The one that put City ahead arrived in rather messy fashion. Anelka bustled his way into the area, rode a couple of ineffectual tackles and rode his luck with a couple of favourable bounces. When the ball broke for Fowler, he was in a position from which it would have been difficult to miss and he duly recorded his third goal in as many Premiership games to bear out Keegan's contention that his old instincts are returning.
Seaman did well to protect City's lead at the start of the second half, showing the otherwise subdued Scott Parker the near post when he was sent through by a sublime touch from Di Canio. Seaman's smothering save looked a crafty piece of goalkeeping and, having survived that, City should have gone on to make the game safe. But Mark Fish got in a vital tackle on Anelka, Paul Bosvelt had a shot saved when put through by Fowler's clever ball, and Trevor Sinclair's shot on the turn slid past the post.
That left the door ajar for Charlton, whose progress this season has been partly based on taking advantage of such failures. "We deserved to get back into it, we created the better chances on the night," their manager, Alan Curbishley, said.
Curbishley also believed that if the penalty had been a harsh one, Charlton had had a blatant one turned down by the referee in the first half. "Maybe it evened out," he said.
Manchester City (3-5-2): Seaman 6; Sommeil 5, Dunne 6, Distin 6; Sinclair 6; Bosvelt 5, Sibierski 5 (Wright-Phillips 5, 73), Reyna 5 (Barton 7, 19), Tarnat 6; Anelka 6, Fowler 6 (Macken 5, 70). Substitutes not used: Ellegaard (gk), Su.
Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Kiely 5; Kishishev 6, Perry 5, Fish 5, Hreidarsson 7; Holland 4, Parker 4, Euell 5, Konshesky 5 (Cole 5, 61); Di Canio 6, Johansson 5 (Jemson 5, 73). Substitutes not used: Royce (gk), Stuart, Fortune.
Referee: P Walton 5 (Northamptonshire).
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