Midway through the first half, the home supporters in the covered end were loud, but not passionate, in their chants of Chrisy Powell’s Red Army. There was an air of resignation that the points were gone, but this was a bold statement. The Charlton fans were well and truly behind their manager, despite being 2-0 down to Cardiff and playing poorly once again. Midway through the second half, all three home sides were rocking, chanting along to the previously mentioned song, as the Addicks unbelievably had a 5-2 lead. The gloss was taken off the victory slightly as the away side grabbed two goals in six minutes of added on time at the end, but the crowd never stopped. After the booing, whispers and disgust of Saturday, Charlton’s 12th man roared the side on to victory.
Defensive frailties showed with all four goals soft, but going forward Charlton were the best they’ve been all season. Unbelievably, they took their chances. If only this had been the case throughout the season; the current position of 19th would be a distant image in the wing mirrors. This could be the game to kick us on, and the late goals could be a blessing in disguise, keeping us on our feet and giving Powell the opportunity to work on the slack defending.
Charlton lined up with two player changes from the weekend’s humiliation against Middlesbrough. Danny Haynes came in on the right flank for his first start of the season to replace the injured the Lawrie Wilson, whilst Dale Stephens replaced Bradley Wright-Phillips as Charlton lined up with a 4-5-1 formation. Kerkar pushed back up to his natural position of left wing, with Solly reverting to left back, Morrison moving to the right and Dervite coming into the centre of defence. Mark Hudson captained the Bluebirds on his first return to the Valley since his one season spell ended with relegation for the Addicks; he lead a team filled with quality that, on paper, justified their top of the table position.
It took just three minutes for Cardiff to take the lead. Hamer pulled off a decent save from Craig Noone, only to see the resulting corner headed past him by Heidar Helguson. An early goal is the worst possible start to a game as it is, but on the back of the defeat on Saturday, it felt like this was going to be the first of many. The Charlton fans sang without stop for the first ten minutes; you’d have thought they had taken the lead.
But Charlton didn’t look at the races. No real chances were created and you couldn’t see any forthcoming. Cardiff had their chances to double the lead, especially through the lively Noone, whose shot across goal looked to be heading in with Hamer flatfooted, only for Joe Mason to connect with the ball in an offside position. It was only a matter of time, and the second goal game 25 minutes in from another corner.
A looping header from Turner hit the bar, only for the ball to be scooped back across goal on the rebound. Hamer flapped and Mason pounced. 2-0 and seemingly game over. For the first time in the game, there was a lull in the atmosphere. Dejected Charlton fans feared the worst. This mood wasn’t helped when Stephens broke and pressed towards goal, only to lay off a poor pass and waste the chance.
By now, Charlton had changed to a 4-4-2 formation, with Haynes moving upfront and Pritchard moving out to the wing. It was to be an inspired move by Powell, as Charlton soon got a goal back. Rob Hulse and Cardiff keeper David Marshall challenged for an aerial ball, with Marshall fumbling and the ball falling to Salim Kerkar, who teed up Johnnie Jackson who finished well. There was hope. Hope, however, that almost vanished straight away when Helguson headed wide when it seemed easier to score, but Charlton were growing in confidence and didn’t want the half to end.
Two minutes of stoppage time were signalled and it looked like Cardiff would go in at the break ahead. That was until Hulse, in a one-on-one, rounded the keeper, only to see his shot cleared off the line and away from a corner. From Kerkar’s corner, the skipper jumped highest and headed home to draw the Addicks level. Cue pandemonium in the stands that continued after the referee blew his whistle for half time. Deflation had turned to hope, and hope and turned to belief.
The second half began in open fashion. Cardiff had their chances, and their corners continued to cause problems, directly hitting the bar from one, but Charlton certainly weren’t on the back foot. Hulse was winning his balls up top, Haynes was getting a chance to reach top speed and the midfield was working tirelessly. Chris Solly, not to be kept away from positive reviews, showed unbelievable desire and strength to knock the ball past two Cardiff players in a tight position just inside their half and win Charlton a free-kick ten minutes into the half. Stephens took the free-kick, hitting it long into the box, but it evaded everyone and Marshall could only get fingertips to it. Somehow, the Addicks were in front, and in the most remarkable fashion.
Just five minutes later and Charlton had a fourth. Pritchard didn’t stop running all night, and his movement and control at the back post after collecting a Solly cross allowed him to set up Haynes, who headed home past a desperate Marshall. It still didn’t feel like the points were the Addicks despite their domination, so thankfully Kerkar claimed yet another assist, sending in a delightful whipped cross into the box which was headed home clinically by Hulse. Midweek games at the Valley tend to be quiet affairs, but not this one; the home support was sensational. Loud and passionate was exactly want the players were looking for, and they responded and then some.
Haynes pulled up with what appeared to be hamstring injury, but turned out to be cramp, with 20 minutes left and was replaced by Wright-Phillips. Haynes had been sensational, linking up excellently with Hulse and adding some much needed pace to the Charlton side. Leon Cort almost added a sixth, volleying on the spin from a Marshall save after a Jackson effort from a corner, only to see Marshall get his body behind the attempt.
Despite Charlton’s lead, Cardiff controlled the closing stages. No real chances were created though, not until Noone scored in the second minute of six added on, calmly taking the ball round Hamer, who possibly went down to early, when one-on-one. The home fans still weren’t nervous and half-hearted cheers could be heard from the away end. That was until Aron Gunnarsson tapped home a ball played across goal to bring the score back to 5-4. A nervy few minutes followed, with Cardiff having all the possession, but no real chances were created. Noone hit the ball wide and referee Stroud blew his whistle for full time. Relief at first, followed by sheer delight; Charlton had finally recorded a home win, their first since August, and in some style.
It goes without saying, but wow, what a game. One that will live long in the memory of every Charlton fan, not just for pure excitement, but the range of emotions from despair to joy to relief. An unbelievable performance from every player, there’s no one that can be criticised. As a team, it was one of those spirited Chris Powell performance; a complete contrast to Saturday. The support for Powell too was incredibly. He’s backed by every single fan, the board must understand that.
Special mentions must go to Kerkar, who warranted his three assists and then some, Pritchard, who had the game of his life and Stephens, who looked like that lad Aston Villa wanted in the summer. The front two were unplayable at times and keeping Haynes fit is a must; both deserved their goals. Finally, the skipper, he gets stick from left, right and centre. Not a left winger, a League One player, only playing because he’s captain, but tonight was a captain’s performance of the highest magnitude.
The Defensive issues need to be addressed. Eight goals in four days isn’t good enough, but let’s not dwell on that. Bristol City on Sunday is a six pointer and a win in that could see us move well away from the relegation zone. How quickly things can change in the world of football.