This was a strange – and gloriously gripping – game. Fulham would justifiably leave frustrated with a point – despite having come from behind twice – but Lee Bowyer’s Charlton, who are making a habit of surprising opponents on their return to the Championship, would have felt they were good value for the draw as well.
The Addicks certainly surprised Fulham with an adventurous approach from the off, setting Scott Parker’s side on the back foot without managing to carve out a clear opening. The Whites boss had made two changes from the midweek mauling of Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, but that seemed to stall the momentum gained from that performance. Steven Sessegnon returned at right back but his shaky performance underlined that, for all his undoubted promise, the teenager still has a lot to learn at this level.
Charlton may been without the services of striker Lyle Taylor, but they created the better chances after absorbing plenty of patient possession football from the hosts. Former Fulham midfielder Darren Pratley should have opened the scoring but could only direct his header straight at Marcus Bettinelli, who also thwarted the lively Jonny Williams after a swift Charlton counter.
Referee Keith Stroud waved away a strong penalty shout when Aleksandar Mitrovic looked to have been hauled down by Tom Lockyer and the Serbian striker then headed over the bar from being found by a beautiful chip from Stefan Johansen, but it was little surprise when the visitors got the goal their enterprise deserved four minutes before the break. Jake Forster-Caskey was given far too much time to cross from the left and Chris Solly leapt under little pressure to cushion the ball down for Conor Gallagher, whose low shot trickled under Bettinelli.
Parker made radical changes at half-time, hauling off Sessegnon and replacing an injured Harry Arter with the composed Harrison Reed as he went to an experimental back three. The tactical switch did the trick as Fulham looked much more threatening with Bobby Decordova-Reid offering support to a previously isolated Mitrovic. The on-loan Cardiff forward nearly made an immediate impact but drove wide from range, although an effort from distance did level matters ten minutes after the interval.
Decordova-Reid had a hand in the equaliser as well, as his precise pass allowed Ivan Cavaleiro to roam infield from the right and the Portuguese winger crashed an unstoppable effort past the otherwise impregnable Dillon Phillips from 20 yards. The relief around Craven Cottage was tangible, but Fulham’s fragility at the back soon set them back once again.
The home side had ample opportunities to clear their lines from a corner but couldn’t get out of the box and Macauley Bonne climbed above Alfie Mawson to loop a header over Bettinelli and restore Charlton’s advantage. That set the stage for a rip-roaring final half an hour as Fulham poured forward in search of an equaliser.
They rattled the woodwork three times in quick succession. The first was fortuitous as Joe Bryan’s overhit cross almost embarrassed Phillips, but Mitrovic perhaps should have done better than find the crossbar when found by low crosses from Knockaert and Johansen.
The equaliser did arrive just after the hour mark as Mitrovic showed commendable quick thinking to scoop the ball over a grounded goalkeeper from close range after Phillips had pulled off another stunning save to keep Tom Cairney’s flying header. Charlton almost went straight up the other end and scored again, with Bettinelli producing an excellent stop of his own to deny substitute Jonathan Leko.
Fulham laid siege to the visitors’ goal in the final stages but couldn’t find a winner – even during seven minutes of second half stoppage time. Phillips was to the fore in Charlton’s resistance, whilst Lockyer and Jason Pearce fought a physical battle with Mitrovic that referee Stroud struggled to control. The goalkeeper made a string of fine saves, first positioning himself perfectly to pluck Decordova-Reid’s near post header out of the air and then turning aside the lively forward’s low shot after a dangerous one-two with Johansen.
The finest save of them all came right at the start of added time when he somehow denied Decordova-Reid, sliding in at the far post from three yards out, with the goal gaping. Fulham’s final opportunity was a central free-kick some 25 yards out that was mystifyingly curled over by Mawson when Cairney or Knockaert appeared far saner takers. Victory would have taken Fulham top, but Parker’s men will need to cut out the silly defensive mistakes if they are to threaten the automatic promotion places.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Bettinelli; S. Sessegnon (Decordova-Reid 45), Bryan, Mawson, Ream; Arter (Reed 45), Johansen (Onomah 87), Cairney; Knockaert, Cavaleiro, Mitrovic. Subs (not used): Rodak, Odoi, Le Marchand.
BOOKED: Bryan, Mitrovic.
GOALS: Cavaleiro (55), Mitrovic (63).
CHARLTON ATHLETIC (3-5-1-1): Phillips; Lockyer, Pearce, Sarr; Solly, Forster-Caskey (Field 89), Cullen, Pratley, Gallagher; Williams (Leko 64); Bonne (Matthews 90). Subs (not used): Amos, Oshilaja, Oztumer, Lapslie.
GOALS: Gallagher (41), Bonne (57).
REFEREE: Keith Stroud (Gloucestershire).