Brave, battling Charlton underlined their own right to a Premiership spot with a magnificent display at Anfield. And they re-opened all the old deep wounds that have blighted Liverpool's recent past. Having lost at West Ham last weekend, the Merseysiders once again have seen their nightmare defence and utter dependence on the injured Paul Ince cruelly exposed. Without Ince in midfield they are a mess. Without him confronting them across midfield, Charlton took the game by storm. They led deservedly early on, saw that advantage wiped out by a Robbie Fowler penalty - just 33 minutes into his top flight return - and battled back to regain the lead in the second half.
Even when Liverpool, bouncing from disarray to attacking brilliance, equalised and then took the lead, Charlton produced the magnificent spirit that got them through that fabulous play-off confrontation with Sunderland last season, to grab a deserved equaliser and a valuable point.
Charlton left knowing they had proved themselves on one of English soccer's most demanding stages. Driven on by Neil Redfearn, and with John Robinson, Mark Kinsella and Richard Rufus outstanding, Alan Curbishley's men had what everyone thought was a reborn Liverpool rocking and reeling in a tremendous match.
The fact that Fowler scored twice on his comeback was totally overshadowed by Charlton's performance. The irony of Fowler's tremendous reception from the home fans was that it was these very people who were hurling abuse at him last season because of his contract demands and indifferent form. The contract is still unresolved, but all the nastiness that Fowler endured last term was forgotten as he was welcomed back after seven months of hard graft to recover from cruciate knee problems.
But it was Charlton who upstaged the fledgling partnership of Fowler and Michael Owen. The South Londoners started with great purpose, contesting midfield ferociously and worrying the life out of the Anfield men. Chances came with increasing regularity in an opening first half hour that Charlton dominated.
Mark Kinsella's snap shot from the edge of the box was volleyed on instinctively by Clive Mendonca, with Brad Friedel only able to parry the shot before collecting the loose ball. A minute later Friedel was down to his right to scoop up a low drive from John Robinson.
Charlton were growing in confidence and getting behind Liverpool's midfield. Welsh winger Robinson had another glittering chance when he got away from Vegard Heggem to cut into the six-yard box from the left and crack his shot into the side netting. Sixty seconds later it was Kinsella again with a snap shot from 20 yards that fizzed past the right hand post.
Liverpool were barely a threat at this stage, as quick breaking Charlton left Jamie Redknapp and Steve Harkness virtual spectators in the home midfield. Andy Hunt broke from the middle of the park, fed the ball across to Redfearn, who unleashed another fierce drive that flashed inches wide.
Patrik Berger forced Sasa Ilic into a point blank save in a rare Liverpool attack, and then Redknapp curled a free kick just wide from 20 yards.
Liverpool had loud appeals for a penalty turned down when Richard Rufus brought down Owen in the box, and then there was more complaining when Eddie Youds left Owen in a heap with an off the ball challenge.
Liverpool were clearly rattled, and when Jamie Carragher gave away a free kick by bringing down Robinson on the left after 24 minutes, Charlton took the lead.
Robinson took the free kick himself, flighted it into the six yard box where Rufus exploited the lack of height in the Reds' defence to power a header past Friedel.
Liverpool were getting desperate and they got themselves level when their second appeal for a penalty was rewarded by referee Paul Alcock. Owen spun away from Rufus in the box and went flying over the Charlton defender's legs. Fowler reclaimed the penalty duties from Owen and stepped up to crash a low shot past Ilic.
But Charlton didn't fold as many had expected after the break, opening the second half as they had started the first, leaving Liverpool rocking. A Danny Mills header flashed over when Liverpool were caught out at another set-piece and then Charlton should have scored when Phil Babb gifted the ball to Hunt. The big striker raced away, saw Friedel block his first effort but put the rebound over the top.
Hunt volleyed another effort just over with Liverpool all over the place and it was no surprise when the visitors went in front again after 65 minutes. Steve Harkness, being roundly abused by the home fans for indecision, gave the ball away in midfield, and Mills charged away down the right. He raced on and fed the ball across to the unmarked Mendonca, who cooly clipped his shot over the advancing Friedel.
Liverpool belatedly roused themselves into action and Ilic saved superbly from a blistering Steve Staunton shot.
But, just as Charlton looked like they were going to weather the storm, they were stunned by a sensational 25-yard Berger drive that flashed into the top corner after 66 minutes without a movement from Ilic.
Charlton were being forced back as Liverpool fought despairingly for an escape route from a match they had never at any stage looked in control of.
And the home side stole into the lead after 81 minutes when Owen's cross from the right saw Ilic and Rufus get in each other's way, allowing Fowler to bundle the ball home.
Charlton's response was instant. Fired by the injustice of it all, they stormed forward. Two minutes after going behind they were level, substitute Steve Jones hooking a great equaliser amid more sloppy Liverpool defending.
A minute from the end, Charlton broke again, Shaun Newton got down the right and crossed for an unmarked Mendonca to head wide from eight yards out...the men from the Valley were as near a win as that.
Liverpool: Friedel, Staunton (Matteo 64), Babb, McManaman, Fowler, Owen, Redknapp, Harkness (McAteer 61), Heggem (Thompson 85), Berger, Carragher.
Subs Not Used: James, Murphy. Booked: Carragher.
Goals: Fowler 33 pen, Berger 67, Fowler 82.
Charlton: Ilic, Mills, Powell, Redfearn, Rufus, Youds, Newton, Kinsella (K. Jones 74), Hunt (S. Jones 77), Mendonca, Robinson.
Subs Not Used: Brown, Petterson, Mortimer.
Booked: Redfearn, Mills.
Goals: Rufus 24, Mendonca 61, S. Jones 83.
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