MATCH VERDICT: Wanderers must chin and bear it after Mills' hairy moment
CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0 BOLTON WANDERERS 0
WANDERERS huffed, and they puffed but as so often has been the case this season, they couldn’t blow the house down.
Dougie Freedman’s side came dramatically close to a fourth successive win – the width of a hair on Matt Mills’ chinny, chin, chin, in fact.
And the big defender had more reason than most to be regretful after the final whistle at the Valley – after being told that his second half header, cleared acrobatically by Diego Poyet, had actually crossed the line.
“Their keeper (Ben Hamer) is my best mate and he said ‘I think it was over the line,’ and Tim Ream was stood right on the goal-line and he said it was a goal, so it’s difficult to take,” Mills told The Bolton News after the game.
“We don’t have the goal-line technology down here so it was a tough one to call for the linesman but I’d met the header nicely. As soon as I got to it, I thought it had a chance.
“It’s a bit more frustrating when you hear from other people that it should have stood. But it didn’t count, we got the draw and we move on.”
Both Mills and Charlton’s keeper Hamer have clearly discarded their razors but there was nothing sharp about the finishing shown by either side on the day.
Charlton will point to a header from Simon Church in the first half that should have found the back of the net, and a good save from Adam Bogdan from Reza Ghoochannejhad’s angled effort.
The South Londoners’ need was arguably greater, balanced so precariously above the bottom three in the Championship, but their football became nervous after a good first-half spell and it fell to Wanderers to make them pay.
Mills’ header aside, Neil Danns wasted the best chance, blasting a shot woefully over the top after some good work from Jermaine Beckford.
Lukas Jutkiewicz also had a shot blocked well by Hamer – but on a terrible pitch, neither side could really stake claim to all three points.
From a Whites’ perspective the lack of attacking edge was a shame.
Freedman had gone 4-4-2 and paired Jutkiewicz and Beckford from the start for the first time but the duo never really clicked.
Defensively they were sound – Tim Ream the pick of an excellent back four – while Jay Spearing rattled round in a game that was made for his scrappy style.
After causing such a fluster among the fans by playing one up front so often this season, Freedman might well point at a fairly average attacking performance as evidence that players, and not formations, get results.
Stripped of Medo Kamara (stomach virus), Mark Davies (groin) and Andre Moritz (hamstring) before kick-off, he made three changes to the side that had beaten Barnsley and also named youngster Georg Iliev on the bench for the first time.
Sadly, the game was so finely poised, we didn’t get a chance to see the young Bulgarian striker in action but it seems on his current career trajectory, his time will come.
Liam Trotter also continued his encouraging improvement of late, going close with a very early volley that was spilled by Hamer and cleared under heavy pressure by Michael Morrison.
Perhaps Spearing’s influence is starting to rub off on the Millwall loanee because his defensive work in particular lent an air of solidity to the Whites midfielder that meant a clean sheet was very rarely threatened.
Freedman knows full well that he needs to sharpen his attack next season and would ideally like Jutkiewicz to be the man to do it.
But with his budget likely to be cut considerably again next season there is a worry that the Middlesbrough man might be out of his financial reach after such a successful spell at the Reebok.
Perhaps Wanderers should have sent Aitor Karanka a copy of this game – with Jutkiewicz unable to look anything like the dominant force he has since January whilst feeding off scraps.
Crucial passes went astray, too many unnecessary touches were made in the penalty box.
But unlike earlier in the season, Wanderers looked well capable of holding on to a point rather than slip to defeat – and if anything, that is the biggest improvement that has been made under Freedman since the start of the club’s late-season run.
“We played some decent football, created some opportunities but if anything was missing it was that final touch,” Freedman said after the game.
“We need to be a little bit more careful with the pass, how we lay the ball off for the strikers, create a bit for each other.
“But I’m pleased because it was a game where we had to be resilient and fight for each other because Charlton are in a dogfight.
“It’s pleasing for me to see how far we have come from that opening 12 games of the season.
“We’re not the finished article at all, but I think there is improvement there.”