John Gregory, who was at The Valley last Monday when Aston Villa won their final match before his resignation, was back in south-east London last night to see Derby County, the club he is expected to join this week, suffer a less satisfactory result. It means that Gregory or whoever is brave enough to take the job will face a daunting task to keep them in the Premiership. After a bright start, the visitors' lack of self-belief showed as they were slowly overwhelmed by a Charlton side rediscovering some form after three successive defeats to establish themselves in the top half of the table again.
Billy McEwan, the man holding the fort for Derby since Colin Todd's dismissal, said: "We were very, very unfortunate. There were a lot of good points to come out of this game tonight." Not the right sort of points, however. With only one win and one draw away from home all season, they already lie six points from safety.
Fluent, flowing football was hardly to be expected from two sides on losing runs, and that proved to be the case. Charlton's three successive defeats going into the game was their worst sequence since being relegated from the Premiership three seasons ago; Derby had lost their previous four, the first three of them costing Todd his job.
McEwan understandably felt the need to talk up a performance in which his team only once troubled Dean Kiely in the Charlton goal. The midfielder Darryl Powell was more realistic in admitting: "We can stay up but it's getting harder and harder." Charlton, missing Luke Young and Mark Fish in defence, and Mark Kinsella and Claus Jensen in midfield, were disjointed for 20 minutes before settling down. They hit more long passes than usual some of them from Chris Bart-Williams who has now signed from Nottingham Forest until the end of the season commendably accurate and keeping the visitors' back-three on their toes. John Robinson was unable to turn in a cross by Scott Parker, Jason Euell headed Graham Stuart's lofted pass wide and another Stuart cross gave Andy Oakes a save to make at last, from Jonatan Johansson's header. In the final minute of the first half, however, Derby wasted their only opportunity of the night. Malcolm Christie forced the ball over Jorge Costa's head and was clean through after eluding Paul Konchesky, but Kiely made a fine save with his feet.
He was not called upon for the rest of the match as Charlton resumed more vigorously and penned their opponents back. Robinson beat his man on the right and centred low for Johansson, who scooped his effort over the bar under pressure and the Finnish striker then curled a shot too high when played in by Stuart.
For all the home team's improved midfield passing, Oakes was not being tested, and it was surprising that Charlton did not send on the more physical Matt Svensson earlier. Instead, midway through the half, Alan Curbishley chose to introduce Kevin Lisbie as a replacement for Johansson.
Lisbie's first touch was a header from Bart-Williams' corner, diverting the ball wide of the far post, and his second intervention was a dangerous run that led to the goal. Youl Mawene conceded a free-kick and received a yellow card for holding him back and Bart-Williams drove a fine low free-kick from 25 yards through the ball and just inside Oakes' near post his first goal for the club. The television cameras panned to an empty seat where Gregory had been. A very hot seat awaits at Pride Park.
Charlton Athletic (3-5-2): Kiely 7; Fortune 6, Jorge Costa 6, Konchesky 5; Robinson 7, Stuart 6, Parker 5, Bart-Williams 7, C.Powell 6; Euell 6, Johansson 6 (Lisbie 7, 66). Substitutes not used: Ilic (gk), Brown, Kishishev, Svensson.
Derby County (3-5-2): Oakes 4; Mawene 5, Riggott 6, Higginbotham 6; Jackson 4, Valakari 4, D.Powell 5, Ducrocq 4, Boertien 5; Christie 4, Ravanelli 5. Substitutes not used: Grant (gk), Bolder, Morris, Carbonari, Kinkladze.
Referee: D Pugh (Bebington) 5.Reuse content