Fightback keeps survival hopes alive
3:08pm Monday 5th March 2007 in Charlton Match Reports
Watford 2 v 2 Charlton Athletic
Report by Gary Haines
A STUNNIG second half fight-back saw battling Charlton pocket a Premiership point at Vicarage Road and they almost snatched all three at the death.
Trailing 2-0 at the break to goals from Hameur Bouazza and Damien Francis, Alan Pardew's tactical change at the break proved dividends for the visitors.
The overlapping Luke Young gave the Addicks a lifeline midway through the second half, latching on to a through ball from Alexandre Song to finish coolly.
Then they drew level in the final minute when substitute Dennis Rommedahl centred for Darren Ambrose to head home his second goal in as many games.
There was still time for the Addicks to carve out one final chance and Kevin Lisbie was denied by the legs of Richard Lee before slicing the rebound wide from the edge of the box.
The Hornets were booed off after squandering a two-goal lead but all the credit must go to Pardew's troops for their second half recovery.
Second best in the opening period, a switch to five in midfield and the introduction of Zhang Zhi offered them added impetus and they were dramatically improved.
When Matt Holland skied over the bar after racing through on goal one sensed their chance may have vanished.
But Song, terrific in the second-half, set up Young for his first of the season and then Ambrose gave the never-say-die Addicks a point which may yet prove priceless come the end of the season.
Jonathan Fortune jumped from the Championship play-off race to the Premiership fight for survival as the Addicks travelled to Vicarage Road - and boss Pardew was forced into two other significant changes.
Fortune, who played for Stoke in the second tier just five days ago, was plunged straight into the starting line-up for the suspended Souleymane Diawara after being recalled from his loan spell in the Potteries.
Ben Thatcher also missed his first game since joining in January with a knee complaint so that led to some defensive tinkering with youngster Osei Sankofa back in the side at left-back.
Up front the hard-working Marcus Bent, an unsung hero in the brief Pardew era, was also ruled out with the hamstring injury that saw him hobble out of the terrific win over West Ham so in his place slotted Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink.
The Dutchman looked back to his best against the Hammers last week and only the right upright denied him a goal in the second-half.
It's at the back that Pardew was presented with the biggest headache, however, with Diawara's fifth booking of the season - in the final round of matches before the nominal bans are disregarded - adding to a backline that was also missing Madjid Bougherra and Hermann Hreidarsson.
With the Icelander a secondary left-back option, Pardew switched his attentions to Sankofa to fill the void while Fortune The hosts had Lee in goal with England's newest goalkeeper, Ben Foster, hampered by a dead leg.
There was no place, even on the bench, for former Charlton fan favourite Chris Powell starts on the bench while the Addicks would have be well-advised to keep an eye on improving Hungarian striker Tamas Priskin.
Both teams entered the arena to the aptly-titled tune of Mission Impossible and after trading corners it was ex-Addicks youngster Dan Shittu who dived to head a Jordan Stewart flag-kick well off target on four minutes.
Priskin teed up home skipper Gavin Mahon to drive well over four minutes later after a mix-up between Song and Young And a slip from Talal El Karkouri, as the game reached ten minutes, let in Priskin for the first clear-cut chance of the afternoon.
The Moroccan misjudged a through pass from Tommy Smith and suddenly the striker was in on goal, but Scott Carson reacted well to clutch the low drive.
The Addicks responded well and Bent collected a raking crossfield pass in the 14th minute and cut inside before letting fly with a rasping drive that was expertly beaten away by Lee.
Watford quickly headed down the other end - and opened the scoring a minute later.
Priskin picked the pocket of El Karkouri and the Hungarian did brilliantly to skip to the byline on the right and clip the ball across.
Francis connected with a firm header which Carson did remarkably well to claw away but unluckily for the visitors Hameur Bouazza was on hand at the back post to turn the ball into the roof of the net.
El Karkouri blazed a free-kick from range way over the bar before the afternoon got worst for the Addicks as Watford struck again on 21 minutes.
This time Smith was the engineer on the left, weaving into space and sending a dangerous cross that eluded all and sundry in the middle before Francis swept the ball home from a narrow angle at the far post.
Francis was booked for a foul on Young in the 28th minute and moments later Charlton carved out a decent opening, route one style.
A hopeful hoist forward from Holland was flicked on by Bent and suddenly Hasselbaink had a sight of goal on the left.
Instead of shooting first time the Dutchman checked inside and that gave Jay DeMerit the chance to make a key block.
Fortune sliced a dangerous low centre from Adrian Mariappa behind for a corner after more good play from Smith while Ambrose sent an angled drive bouncing across goal and wide as the visitors attempted to forge a way back into the game.
Francis put the ball in the net for a third time three minutes before the break only for the strike to be ruled out for offside by a consistently late-flagging linesman.
Fortune was yellow-carded for a foul on Bouazza a minute later while Hasselbaink blasted over the bar in stoppage time after collecting a through pass from Song.
Mariappa collected the third yellow card of the afternoon moments later and the half-time whistle left the visitors with plenty to ponder during the interval.
Zheng replaced Hasselbaink at the interval with Lloyd Doyley coming on for Jordan Stewart for the hosts and Bent, now operating alone upfront, spun and hooked wide for the visitors a minute in.
Zheng flashed a dangerous cross-shot across the face of goal as the Addicks put the pressure on and Holland curled a shot inches wide from the edge of the box, with the midfielder claiming the ball took a deflection on its way.
At the other end Doyley made a purposeful burst for the hosts and his cross was met sweetly on the volley by Francis but the ball flew just over the bar.
After Adie Boothroyd and the fans protested bitterly about a throw, Charlton broke again in the 58th-minute and Ambrose weaved to the edge of the box and his intended pass to Zheng clattered against Doyley and forced a flying saw from Lee.
Charlton were in the ascendancy by this stage and on the hour a high cross from Thomas found the head of Bent and although Lee spilled the ball he reacted to snatch it off the England striker's toes at the second attempt.
Johan Cavalli replaced Francis for the hosts on 64 minutes while Bent glanced another Thomas cross wide when the action resumed.
The visitors then spurned a glorious chance to halve the deficit in the 66th minute after some intricate build-up play.
Ambrose fed Song and the Arsenal loanee slipped a fine ball through for the onrushing Holland but the midfielder, without a goal this season, could only shoot high over the bar.
But the Addicks were back in the game a minute later from an unlikely source.
Song was again the architect, slipping a delicious through pass through the yellow rearguard and Young had scampered down the right on the overlap and produced a calm finish into the bottom corner.
Bouazza fired straight at Carson from range and Song, beginning to boss the game in the middle of the park, got back to cut out a Smith cross at the expense of a corner.
The towering Shittu headed a corner over the bar before Holland made way for Kevin Lisbie 12 minutes from time.
El Karkouri crucially blocked a Priskin shot after a high ball had picked out the Hungarian, onside, in the box.
Thomas made way for Dennis Rommedahl four minutes from time while Darius Henderson replaced Priskin two minutes later.
And it was Charlton who hauled themselves level a minute from time with the Danish sub a pivotal figure.
Rommedahl it was who engineered an opening on the right and his cross was perfect with Ambrose one of a clutch of players in the mix-up and it was he who headed home to level the scores.
Pardew punched the air in delight on the touchline and the big question was, was there enough time for the Addicks to win it?
Young got a crucial foot in as the hosts attempted a response but chances came and went for the visitors in the frantic final stages.
Sankofa was booked and with gaps opening up all over the place Zheng and Lisbie combined to tee up Bent but Lee got behind the striker's angled drive.
Then in the dying embers two great chances arrived in rapid succession.
First, after a driving break forward Bent found Rommedahl and he carried the ball down the middle and found Lisbie to his left in acres of space.
The striker cut inside but Lee reacted brilliantly to save with his legs.
The loose ball was eventually helped back to Lisbie but the substitute crashed his shot wide -and the final whistle quickly followed at the end of a pulsating affair.
CHARLTON ATHLETIC: Carson, Young, Sankofa, El Karkouri, Fortune, Ambrose, Holland (Lisbie, 78), Song, Thomas (Rommedahl, 86), Hasselbaink (Zheng, 46), D Bent.
SUBS NOT USED: Randolph, Faye.