Holland's header keeps the big prize in sight

Charlton Athletic 1 Birmingham City 1

Birmingham's manager, Steve Bruce, summed up the thoughts of everyone inside The Valley. "I thought it had 0-0 written all over it," he said. In neon lights, Steve. This was one of the most numbingly ineffective draws witnessed in the Premiership this season. Defences were on top because there was so little attacking intent. It wasn't catenaccio. It was catatonic.

Still from this state two goals were dredged plus a glaring miss, which, if it had been taken, could have propelled Birmingham improbably back towards that final Champions' League place. The race for fourth is starting to resemble an embarrassing gentlemen's excuse me in which everyone's a wallflower. "No one really wants to grab it, do they?" Charlton's Alan Curbishley wryly commented after hearing Liverpool had also picked up just a point. "At least we are still in there."

Indeed they are and when Curbishley sits down for Charlton's end-of-season dinner at the Royal Lancaster Hotel next month, he may be celebrating European football and the stickability of his side. Despite this performance they deserve to succeed and even playing as poorly as this - in admittedly poor conditions - they showed character, Matt Holland's equalising goal coming immediately after Clinton Morrison had put the visitors ahead. Lesser teams would have capitulated.

They had luck, too. In the final seconds a flick-on fell to Bryan Hughes, clear, who miskicked terribly. Bruce's exasperation was compounded in that, but for Mikael Forssell, who was criminally neglected by his team-mates throughout, Hughes is probably the club's most accomplished finisher. "That summed up the last four minutes for me," Bruce said.

But what about the previous 86? Well, after an early flurry, in which Kenny Cunningham dumped Jonatan Johansson in the area, but marginally took the ball first, the game meandered. It was not until the 59th minute that a shot reached its target. Even then Johansson's effort - after charging down Cunningham's clearance - was weak and easily held by Maik Taylor. At half-time Curbishley had introduced Paolo Di Canio, for the injured Shaun Bartlett (who had flashed one header wide), and the Italian added both urgency and guile. Suddenly the play began to stretch and Charlton's control grew.

They almost flourished from a corner. A second substitute, Carlton Cole, headed on and the ball fell to Jonathan Fortune. On the stretch, the defender skied his shot. It almost proved costly. With just six minutes to go Damien Johnson's cross from the right was headed back by Matthew Upson. Both Forssell and Morrison were free and the latter nodded in easily.

"It would have been nice for him to get the winner and be the hero for a change," Bruce said of his hardworking striker. Instead Morrison's Republic of Ireland team-mate Holland intervened. The tidy Chris Powell burst down the left and crossed deep. His captain, unmarked, controlled a header into the bottom corner of the net. Once again - having scored twice in Charlton's November win at St Andrew's - he was their nemesis.

"When Birmingham scored I thought that was it," Curbishley admitted. Bruce agreed and rued Hughes's subsequent miss. "A huge disappointment," he said. Bruce was referring to the chance. He could have been describing the match.

Charlton Athletic 1
Holland 86

Birmingham City 1
Morrison 84

Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 25,206

Comments