CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0 BIRMINGHAM CITY 0
This was a case of after the Lord Mayor’s show for Birmingham City.
It was always going to be difficult to replicate the highs of the derby victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers a week ago, especially against a fearless Charlton side who are fighting for their Championship lives.
Apart from the final ten minutes, this was a bland affair. A fixture that could have swung either way but one that is unlikely to feature on Birmingham’s ‘best of’ DVD come the end of the season.
However, while those seeking entertainment may grumble, Birmingham managed to salvage an important point from the depths of The Valley. The single point ensured that the Blues clambered above Sheffield United and back into the Championship’s automatic promotion places. Come the end of the season it is precisely that, and not how entertaining they were, that will matter for Birmingham.
If this season ends in success for Alex McLeish’s side then they will look back on this trip to south London as a point gained and not two squandered.
Charlton may be at rock-bottom but their never-say-die approach meant that they were a potential banana skin in waiting. The Addicks approached this game positively and the support of their fans doesn’t appear to have waned despite their current predicament.
It is ironic that a club staring at life in the third tier of English football were regularly screening sentimental videos detailing their rise from the brink of collapse during the 1980s on Saturday afternoon.
After a slow start, it was Charlton who narrowly edged the early stages of this encounter with their forward Jonjo Shelvey a particular livewire.
The best opportunity to break the deadlock went to Charlton shortly after the half-an-hour mark. Midfielder Nicky Bailey, who was talked up and then dismissed as a transfer target of Birmingham’s before this game, delivered a low cross into his opposition’s penalty area that caused confusion between Lloyd Sam and Tresor Kandol and the chance went begging.
On the other hand Birmingham could only muster half-chances. Nicky Weaver punched clear a free-kick from the right from Hameur Bouazza, targeted by the Charlton boo-boys, and caught a Sebastian Larsson set-piece from the opposite flank.
McLeish had once again opted for the 4-5-1 formation, with Cameron Jerome acting as the lone frontman, that had worked so well at Doncaster Rovers. However, it failed to have the same effect at The Valley and the Birmingham manager began to gradually change his system to a more familiar 4-4-2 during the early stages of the second half by introducing attacking trio Kevin Phillips, Marcus Bent and James McFadden.
The changes did make a difference but not enough to earn Birmingham a winner.
In fact, Charlton looked the most likely to score shortly after the interval. Sam struck a stinging effort against Maik Taylor’s woodwork before on loan Wolves defender Darren Ward fired home from close range, only to be held back by a debatable off-side decision.
Shelvey also had a shot nervously palmed away by Taylor in the 61st minute before Kandol directed a header over the upright six minutes later.
Disaster almost struck for the visitors in the 75th minute when a mix-up between Taylor and Radhi Jaidi gifted Zheng Zhi a glorious opportunity to score from inside the penalty area. Fortunately for Birmingham, the ever-reliable Stephen Carr was alert to defend the open goal and block the effort.
Apart from stumbling on the edge of his area while gathering a harmless looking through-ball, Taylor was a rock in the Birmingham goal and the main reason why his side gained this point. Right on the stroke of full-time, the Northern Ireland international goalkeeper produced two stunning saves within seconds of each other to deny Shelvey and Kandol.
As the game wore on, Birmingham began to mount goal-scoring opportunities of their own and, like his opposite number, Weaver was regularly called into action.
Keith Fahey had Weaver sprawling with a tricky shot from distance before the Irishman had his 85th minute close range header, from Bent’s knock down, brilliantly saved by the Charlton goalkeeper.
As Birmingham pushed for that winner, dangerous gaps appeared at the back but fortunately the visitors had club captain Damien Johnson back in the starting line-up and the Northern Ireland international operated as a useful shield in front of the defence.
It looked as though this could have been the setting for another one of Phillips’ trademark winners but not even Super Kev could prevent this clash edging towards the draw that it had looked destined to be from the off.
CHARLTON ATHLETIC (4-4-2): Elliot; Butterfield, Ward, Hudson, Youga; Sam (Ambrose, 90), Racon (Dickson, 79), Zhi, Bailey; Shelvey, Kandol. Substitutes: Randolph, Holland, Burton.
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-5-1): Taylor; Carr, Jaidi, Ridgewell, Murphy; Larsson (Phillips, 50), Fahey, Bowyer, Johnson, Bouazza (McFadden, 65); Jerome (Bent, 60). Substitutes: Doyle, Queudrue.
Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshire)
Bookings: Charlton: Bailey (foul). Birmingham: Murphy (foul).