Stand-in skipper Darel Russell rode to Norwich's rescue this afternoon with a 72nd minute leveller that finally prised a stubborn, ten-man Charlton side apart.
Zheng Zhi's first-half opener had given the Addicks a slender lead before the contest turned on a ghastly two-foot lunge by Sam Sodje. Handed a 30th minute red card, Norwich huffed and puffed for the next hour but minus that final piece of quality in and around the final third, all their best efforts – bar one – proved in vain.
City's way back into the contest arrived 18 minutes from the end as Huckerby swung an inviting corner onto the edge of the Charlton six-yard box where Russell rose highest and with a deft flick of his head managed to arc the ball over a stranded Nicky Weaver. Chris Powell's leap on the line was too little, too late to deny the City midfielder his first goal since his summer return to the club.
Pre-match and it was time to mark the passing of another of the genuine Canary greats as '59ers hero Ken Nethercott was granted a minute's heart-felt applause after his recent death following a short illness. The legendary City keeper was 82.
Pre-match and it was also an occasion to speculate as to the non-appearance of skipper Mark Fotheringham who was the one, notable absentee from the team that racked up a fifth win in seven games away at Glanford Park on Saturday.
Late injury looked the most likely culprit – all of which handed Jimmy Smith a start as Jamie Cureton's late winner was duly rewarded with his own return to the starting line-up. Dion Dublin rested his 38-year-old limbs on the bench as Ched Evans' footballing education continued alongside Cureton. Darel Russell became the latest bearer of the skipper's armband.
For the visitors, the shame was who wasn't on duty. As a footballer, skipper Andy Reid was a pleasure to watch at The Valley – he was out through injury, as was ex-Town youngster Darren Ambrose. As for the on-loan Danny Mills, the one-time Sprowston High School pupil would have been guaranteed a warm welcome home following events at The Valley – certainly both Messrs Dublin and Huckerby might have wished to have shared a few seasonal greetings with the combative right-back.
Unfortunately, after comprehensively driving Hull City to distraction on Saturday, Mills' mouth got the better of him as far as the referee was concerned and one red card later, Mills was sitting out this afternoon's fun and games. It wouldn't, you sensed, be quite the same without his cool and calming influence on proceedings.
As it was, it was City who made the brighter opening. Cureton proved sharp and busy; Russell driving low into Nicky Weaver's arms after Evans had forced a fifth minute corner. The better chance came off a floated, diagonal ball from Matty Pattison that Cureton never quite got enough purchase on – it merely gently floated into Weaver's arms.
Two minutes later and Evans put Huckerby into the Addicks box. Madjid Bougherra committed himself horribly as the City star dragged the ball back to open up the angle; his final, sweeping shot whipped a foot over. A minute later and it needed a fabulous, one-handed save from Weaver off to his right to claw a Jason Shackell header off the line. At the other end, Chris Iwelumo had dropped one regulation header into David Marshall's arms and that was that. Advantage firmly Norwich.
Right up until the moment in the 21st minute that Zheng Zhi drifted away from Gary Doherty and as both Pattison and Shackell dived to cover, so the Chinese skipper picked his spot low to Marshall's left and from some 20-yards distant, the ball bobbled off into the bottom corner. Cue Roeder's arrival on the touchline and Cureton whistling a 25-yarder an inch beyond Weaver's left upright.
Not that Russell would have thanked anyone for it, but the City skipper was about to turn the contest back Norwich's way following an eye-watering, two-footed lunge by Sam Sodje on the 31st minute that reduced the Addicks to ten men. In fairness to Sodje, he was halfway down the tunnel before referee Mick Russell reached for his red. Which is roughly where Russell's ankle would have been had he not been airborne and rolled with the challenge.
For those who liked a coincidence, and 12 months ago Sodje's elder brother Efe was also seeing red at Carrow Road on Boxing Day.
Before the break and Mo Camara would smash a 25-yard free-kick straight at Weaver as the Canaries looked to make their one-man advantage count; Russell would drill a 22-yarder just wide, too. The real onslaught would, you suspect, await the second-half.
Backs likely to be pretty much to the wall, Addicks boss Alan Pardew used the interval to make his first change as he swapped Chris Iwelumo's presence for the pace of Izale McLeod. Left alone up front, the lad would have some running to do over the next 45 minutes as Norwich looked to turn the screw.
As ever, however, prising apart ten men can prove twice as problematic as opening up 11 – particularly when the level of expectation among the home faithful rises in corresponding fashion. As the hour mark loomed and Norwich continued to scratch about for an answer to their leveller prayers, so Roeder made his first switch with Lee Croft replacing Smith.
The irony, of course, was that as legs tired and space developed, the one person best equipped to take advantage – Fotheringham – was still notable only in his absence. Without him and City's final ball was all too predictable. For now the ten men were comfortable.
Even when Croft did dig out a 70th minute cross it was met only by a tired, downward header from an unmarked Evans. Inspiration was proving in short supply. Cue Russell.
Norwich City (4-4-2): Marshall; Otsemobor, Camara, Doherty, Shackell; Smith (Croft, 62 mins), Pattison, Russell, Huckerby; Evans, Cureton (Dublin, 79 mins). Subs (not used): Arnold, Spillane, Martin.
Charlton Athletic (4-5-1): Weaver; Bougherra, Powell, McCarthy, Sodje; Holland, Semedo, Zhi, Varney, Thomas; Iwelumo (McLeod, 45 mins (Sam, 83 mins)). Subs (not used): Randolph, Racon, Dickson.
Man of the Match: Darel Russell.