A lot has changed for Charlton Athletic since their last excursion in the FA Championship. Two days after that 1-0 loss at the hands of Sheffield, Karen Hills came on board as head coach. It continues a strange trend of demotion in the women’s game, like with Aston Villa, with Riteesh Mishra remaining at the club but no longer as their leader.
Hills, however, brings a wealth of experience and quality to a team that has renewed ambitions for FAWSL football, having recently come under the Charlton umbrella with the men’s team. Her 11 years at Tottenham saw her bring the north London side up into the top division and those higher up at Charlton will be hoping for more of the same.
The Addicks travelled to Bromley on Thursday night to face a Palace side that sat five points clear of them in the table. Hill made two changes to their last run out, handing a start in midfield to Elisha Sulola while Shauna Vassell came in for Ellie Dorey.
Palace, on the other hand, were looking for their first win in four. Dean Davenport stuck with the same starting 11 to the one that had lost narrowly to Liverpool two and a half weeks ago with Siobhan Wilson, Kate Natkiel and Bianca Baptise making up a promising front three.
It was the hosts who started brightly, with Wilson in particular causing issues down the left flank. In fact, they almost took an early lead when Charley Clifford, the Charlton captain, deflected an effort narrowly wide of her own post.
But as the game settled so did Charlton with Ella Rutherford and Vassell proving a handful in early on. The pace of Vassell was causing all sorts of problems for Lizzie Waldie at left back and she set up Rutherford to deliver a pinpoint cross that was headed narrowly over the bar.
It was through the right channel that the opener came when Charlton won a corner in the 18th minute. Rutherford delivered once again and it was Lois Heuchan, the impressive left back, who leapt highest in the box to head home.
Palace tried to pull themselves back into it but while they produced some good play in the build-up, all too often the move broke down in the final third. All the while, the visitors continued to threaten. They perhaps should have added to their lead just before the break when first Jess King looped a volley over from a good position before Rutherford rattled the crossbar.
The hosts made a change at half time, bringing on Cherelle Khassal for Ffion Morgan, as they looked to hit the ground running. But their chances were limited to a series of free kick deliveries that were easily tidied up by the Charlton defence. The introduction of Coral Jade Haines gave them a spark with her creativity from midfield but neither she, nor the forwards, could particularly trouble Eartha Cummings in goal.
In fact, it was the visitors with the best chance of the second half when King was played in over the top. The prolific forward surged into the box and Chloe Morgan had to produce a fine save to tip away her angled shot. Minutes later, Rutherford flashed an effort across goal and wide.
Football can be a cruel old game and one thing’s for certain, a 1-0 lead is never enough. With six minutes injury time added on, Palace pushed forward searching for the equaliser. And with virtually the last kick of the game, they got it. Annabel Johnson sent a long ball forward towards Baptiste, who ran at her defenders and sent in a low ball across the face of goal. It found Charlton’s Shauna Vassell, who seemed to think she was under more pressure than she was and turned the attempted clearance into her own net. It was so unlucky for a player who had been so bright throughout the match.
With that, the whistle blew, and the spoils were shared. A real snatch and grab point for Palace who are probably now assured of their FA Championship status. On the other hand, there is still more work to do for the Addicks who will need to bounce back quickly for their trip to London City on Sunday.