Two embarrassing defeats in four days have dented Charlton's home reputation. The sequence has not done much for their confidence, either. Here they were hardly ever in with a hope of extending their unbeaten Premiership run at The Valley against a classier Middlesbrough who nowadays are far removed from the sort of outfit who had managed just one goal in six previous trips to this part of South London.
Charlton manager Alan Curbishley made five changes after the League Cup loss to Crystal Palace in midweek, awarding a Premiership start to his £100,000 buy from Arsenal, Jerome Thomas. But Curbishley still possesses no one in the squad of sufficient quality to replace the departed Paolo Di Canio and Claus Jensen.
Huffing and puffing, charging and chasing; such tactics broke against the well-drilled rock that Middlesbrough have become at the back, while in midfield Charlton had no one to match the skilled work rate of Boudewijn Zenden or the commanding presence of George Boateng.
It was fortunate for Charlton that Middlesbrough's front pair of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Mark Viduka were out of sorts. Viduka was woefully slow on return from injury, while Hasselbaink fluffed the sort of second half chance he used to bury imperiously. Still, manager Steve McClaren was delighted: "Apparently we never win here, never score a goal, so we have made a major breakthrough."
The breakthrough was not long arriving, albeit fortuitously. The young winger Stewart Downing's low cross from the left brought a horribly miscued attempt at a clearance from Chris Perry. He directed the ball straight to Zenden, who gratefully let fly. The ball struck Hasselbaink but would not have gone in had it not subsequently struck Talal El Karkouri, and wrong-footed Dean Kiely. Charlton managed a lively few minutes before half-time, only to find Chris Riggott at his sharpest in tackling Jonatan Johansson as he prepared to pull the trigger from close range.
The Finn gained revenge a minute into the second half, however. Jason Euell's cute threaded pass enabled Johansson to round Mark Schwarzer and score at his leisure.
Immediately Franck Queudrue produced a pass of similar quality, this one of at least 40 yards, to send Hasselbaink clear. But beating Kiely proved beyond him and the Charlton keeper pulled off a fine block.
Charlton's reprieve did not last long. A classy move started with Hasselbaink and was carried on by Zenden and Ray Parlour. The ex-Arsenal player was fouled, but his bellow of pain turned to joy as he watched his pass snapped up by Zenden and curled perfectly beyond Kiely.
Soon after, substitute Kevin Lisbie failed to connect with a fine long ball by Thomas, while Johansson saw his low drive well held by Schwarzer. But the nearest to a goal came at the other end, when another errant pass from Perry, an attempt to find his keeper, should have been snapped up, but Viduka lacked the pace to cash in.Reuse content