Phil Smith's verdict: The one that got away hurts Sunderland but draw shows January tweaks can send them clear

Both sides were left with a justifiable pride after the conclusion of this pulsating contest.

Sunday, 6th January 2019, 11:03 am
Updated Wednesday, 9th January 2019, 12:30 pm
Duncan Watmore made another encouraging cameo from the bench at the Valley

Lee Bowyer’s squad is heavily depleted but in the second half they played with verve and real intensity.

After a long, difficult spell under the ownership of Roland Duchatelet, Bowyer’s team appear to have brought real pride back to the Valley and there are not many teams who will pick up a point here.

Duncan Watmore made another encouraging cameo from the bench at the Valley

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So Jack Ross was pleased to leave with one, especially as he had his own selection issues and could only name six players on the bench.

It was an afternoon that underlined how tight it is at the top of League One.

There is no outstanding team and any one of the top seven could realistically push for the automatic promotion spots.

January could prove to be crucial, whether it be bringing in an extra bit of quality or keeping hold of prize assets.

Assessing Sunderland’s performance is not straightforward.

In the first 40 minutes they were so excellent that they looked set to deliver a statement result.

The set up was perfect, Charlton forced to pass the ball into dangerous areas.

Sunderland broke purposefully when they won it back and created chance after chance.

Charlie Wyke missed three golden openings, all the more frustrating because he had again changed the dynamics of his team for the better. He won everything in the air, brought others into play and also showed real intelligence to drop back in and break up the play on the rare occasions that the team did look vulnerable.

That lack of sharpness in front of goal will hopefully return as gets more minutes under his belt.

So in control in the first half, there is then no disguising that Sunderland were overrun in the second.

Bowyer made the obvious tactical change, urging his team to play into their own talisman earlier and more often.

It is a mystery that Lyle Taylor is still playing in the third tier.

A target for Sunderland in the summer, he opted to stay in London and there cannot be a better all-round, experienced player at this level.

His hold-up play is exceptional but he is also quick enough to mix up his game by spinning into the channel and making occasional runs behind the defence.

He has a good touch and only a fine Jon McLaughlin save prevented him from scoring the winner.

His play bought the midfield diamond into play and raised a couple of questions for this Sunderland side.

There is no doubting that they struggle under the high ball and their play in possession can lack composure when they come under pressure.

They could have won it themselves, though, in the latter stages when Duncan Watmore raced free on countless occasions.

His cameo was heartening and it was not the first time he has surged into the action from the bench.

At the end all you could do was praise two resilient sides for playing expansively and with real intent.

It didn’t seem outlandish afterwards when Bowyer said he could push for the top two and it certainly didn’t seem it when Ross says his team had build the platform for a title charge.

The Black Cats face Luton Town next weekend and another tense, good-quality game can be expected.

There is little between these sides at the top.

Sunderland, and those around them, know January could be a pivotal moment in pushing ahead.

Ross hopes to start next week by addressing one issue on show again here, a lack of physicality in the backline.

The margins at the moment are fine, and Sunderland will feel that with a little extra power, they can make real strides in the push for promotion.