Fulham missed out on the opportunity to make serious inroads on the Championship’s top two as they were held to a goalless draw by a committed Charlton side at the Valley tonight.
The Addicks were well-drilled and diligent throughout, keeping Fulham at bay with a spirited defensive display, and looked more threatening the longer a soporific contest went on. Buoyed by the news that boss Lee Bowyer had put pen to paper on a new three-year contract at long last, Charlton were good value for their first clean sheet in seventeen games but barely tested Marek Rodak in the visiting goal.
Fulham, already without their talisman in Aleksandar Mitrovic, were dealt another serious blow before kick-off as Anthony Knockaert was ruled out for approximately three weeks with a hamstring problem. Shorn of a significant source of creativity as well as their main goal threat, Fulham lacked both the guile to unlock a disciplined Charlton defence and the penetration to take advantage when they did get into the final third. Their clearest chance fell to defender Michael Hector, who contrived to head wide from close range, having peeled off his man to get to Ivan Cavaleiro’s corner unattended in the second half.
There was little of the vibrant movement that had characterised the first half an hour against Middlesbrough on Friday and a distinct raising of the tempo after the break merely petered out. Scott Parker’s solution to Knockaert’s absence was to shoehorn Josh Onomah into a left-wing role where he toiled manfully but looked uncomfortable – and the manager’s substitutions with the game in the balance were baffling. On came Cyrus Christie as the Whites switched to a back three when a more adventurous change might have penned Charlton back and teenage striker Jay Stansfield barely touched the ball having been given just three minutes to make an impression.
The home side began brightly and forced a succession of early corners but Fulham gradually grabbed control of the contest, dominating possession but struggling to fashion clear-cut openings. Onomah grazed the side netting having darted in from the left before Bobby Decordova-Reid went close twice in two minutes. Dillion Phillips did well to turn a swerving shot aside at his near post and then was alert again to claw an effort to safety from much closer range after Tom Cairney had sent the on-loan man Cardiff man through on goal.
Cairney then produced a beautifully threaded ball to release Joe Bryan into the inside left channel but the advancing full-back shot right across the face of goal to finish a flowing move. Fulham failed to seriously extend the Charlton defence again before the interval, with the home side occasionally looking dangerous on the counter. Nippy winger Alfie Doughty showed a blistering turn of pace to take the ball away from three Fulham players on a direct 60-yard run before running into Tim Ream as he approached the penalty area.
Hector, who was composed once again at the heart of the Fulham defence, spurned the game’s best opportunity at the start of the second half, heading criminally wide when completely unmarked at the far post. There was a let off for Jason Pearce, who was robbed in a dangerous position by Onomah, after Tom Lockyer produced a well-timed challenge to prevent Decordova-Reid from surging through on goal.
Fulham’s high press was causing Charlton a goal deal of discomfort. Onomah pounced on an error from Josh Cullen but Cavaleiro’s eventual shot was bravely blocked by Pearce and Kevin McDonald’s wild attempt on the follow-up flew into the visiting fans behind the goal. The lively Doughty was Charlton’s most promising outlet – and the 20 year-old winger seized on a rare mistake from Harry Arter but Rodak was equal to his low effort at his near post. Ream then produced a superb saving tackle to deny Tomer Hemed as the Israeli seemed set to score a sixth goal in four games against the Whites.
Bowyer’s changes were far more adventurous than Parker’s as the Charlton boss introduced Jonny Williams and the returning Lyle Taylor as he sought a late winner. Doughty drove disappointingly over after working space down the left with Taylor well placed in the centre and he kicked the turf in anger, but the youngster showed plenty of promise on a night when inventiveness was in short supply.
Fulham probed away patiently in front of the Charlton defence but looked alarmingly toothless without Mitrovic’s hulking presence and it was actually the home side who looked more likely to nick it late on. Christie produced a magnificent piece of defending to snuff out the danger as Williams appeared certain to turn home a Taylor cross after a break sparked by another beautiful Doughty ball. Right at the death, Pearce glanced a Cullen free-kick wide and Fulham had to be content with a third consecutive clean sheet and cutting the deficit to second-placed Leeds to three points.
CHARLTON ATHLETIC (4-2-3-1): Phillips; Matthews, Purrington, Lockyer, Pearce; Pratley, Cullen; Morgan (Williams 62), Doughty, Oztumer (Green 80); Hemed (Taylor 70). Subs (not used): Maynard-Brewer, Sarr, Oshilaja, Dempsey.
FULHAM (4-3-3): Rodak; Odoi, Bryan, Hector, Ream; McDonald, Arter (Christie 74), Cairney (Johansen 77); Cavaleiro, Onomah (Stansfield 88), Decordova-Reid. Subs (not used): Bettinelli, S. Sessegnon, Kongolo, de la Torre.
REFEREE: Stephen Martin (Staffordshire).