DANNY Wilson, the Sheffield United manager, had insisted the outcome of this game would not decide the destination of the title.
But a narrow win for Charlton Athletic, once again sealed by a Johnnie Jackson set-piece, swung the battle for League One supremacy decisively in the Londoners’ favour following a controversial contest which saw both sides finish the afternoon with only 10 players on the pitch.
Wilson’s demeanour during a fiery post-match inquest betrayed his bitter disappointment at the result, with referee Darren Deadman a particular source of frustration.
Branding substitute James Beattie’s dismissal as “pathetic”, Wilson claimed that Charlton’s Yann Kermorgant should have seen red for his part in the melee sparked by teammate Darel Russell’s late sending-off.
With Deadman also provoking angry scenes on the United bench by disallowing what appeared to be a legitimate equaliser from Lee Williamson just before the interval, Wilson could barely conceal his rage after the final whistle.
Wilson conceded Beattie had been guilty of a misguided attempt to protect Matthew Lowton after the United full-back was confronted by Kermorgant.
“The instigator got away,” he said. “If one goes, then the other goes.”
Chris Powell, the Charlton manager, interpreted events differently, joking: “My chairman is a lawyer and he tells me strangulation is a criminal offence.
“Darel shouldn’t have gone because he got the ball but in the current climate things like that happen.”
Michael Doyle, the United captain, said. “To be honest, I didn’t really see what happed with James, It was a two-footed challenge (from Russell) and my response was to try and get him off the pitch as quickly as possible.
“Then, a lot of their boys came flying in and there was all sorts of pushing and shoving.”
Doyle, however, maintained there could be no dispute about the fact Williamson’s effort should have stood.
Wilson labelled Deadman’s decision to disallow the ‘goal’ as “embarrassing” and Doyle, his fellow midfielder, said: “We couldn’t understand why it wasn’t given. That was something we’d been working on all week - getting the ball in close to the keeper - and without being disrespectful to their lad you could see he struggled with it all afternoon.”
Wilson, whose side slip to third in the table and now trail leaders Charlton by seven points, had justifiable cause for complaint about the performance of the officials.
In a tussle dominated by defences, it was inevitable that profligacy would carry a heavy price.
Jackson, seven days after scoring in similar fashion at Sheffield Wednesday, converted the one chance which came his way.
Ched Evans and Richard Cresswell, who otherwise struggled to escape the shackles of Charlton’s rearguard, did not, with the latter punching the air in anger after blazing over the crossbar following another mistake by the nervous Hamer.
“I felt we were the ones really trying to win the game out there,” Doyle continued. “That’s not being disrespectful to Charlton because they were very organised, got men behind the ball, were hard to break down and the finish for the free-kick was excellent.”
Despite seeing Kevin McDonald - later caught by Russell as the two contested possession in midfield - clip a first time effort high and wide moments after the action got under way, United had to wait until after the break before establishing control.
Jackson made no mistake from 25 yards after Neill Collins was adjudged to have impeded Danny Hollands following a throw-in which, according to Wilson, should have “gone the other way”.
Hamer palmed a similar attempt from Williamson around the post as United summoned a response before his blushes were spared by Deadman’s dubious call .
Two shots from Danny Green threatened to swing the contest back in Charlton’s favour but parity should have been restored when Hamer fumbled another Quinn set-piece and Williamson’s deflected cross fell kindly for Cresswell.
Lowton also went close during the closing stages.
“That was a tough game,” Powell, refusing to concede Charlton now appear odds on for promotion, said. “United are probably the best team we’ve seen here at The Valley all season.
“They’re a good side with a good manager.”