Coming into the game, there seemed to be only one plausible team selection for the Addicks. After their excellent victory in their last league outing away at Watford, coupled with a poor performance from several fringe players in the FA Cup fixture against Huddersfield, the obvious choice would have been to play the same team that won at Vicarage Road baring injuries and suspension in defence. But Chris Powell had other ideas, bringing in the isolated and forgotten Scott Wagstaff for Ricardo Fuller, who had performed excellently against the Hornets, and reverting to a 4-5-1 formation. The decision split fans pre kick-off, but the majority were rather confused; the change in formation and personnel appeared to be a maverick one from Addick’s manager Powell. However, come the referee’s final whistle two and a half hours after the team had been announced, opinions had certainly changed. Powell had read the situation perfectly, setting up a solid midfield five to frustrate Blackpool, with their fluid passing style, into mistakes and Wagstaff rewarded the faith shown in him with an excellent performance, not to mention scoring what turned out to be the winning goal in a 2-1 win.
Charlton took the lead, seemingly against the run of play, when Johnnie Jackson’s scuffed shot trickled into the bottom corner of the net just past the 20 minute mark. Wagstaff’s goal came in first half stoppage time: a tap in after Yann Kermorgant’s diving header was palmed away by Matthew Gilks. Blackpool could only reply with a consolation goal from former Addick Nathan Ecclestone, volleying in from the edge of the box, in the dying embers of time added on in the second half, and created little other threat throughout the previous 90 minutes with Charlton’s midfield excellent and the defence solid. Charlton’s first win at home on a Saturday all season was well deserved.
As before mentioned, the team selection was crucial in Charlton collecting all three points, but at the time, appeared surprising. Two enforced, and less surprising, changes occurred in the centre of defence, with the injured Leon Cort and suspended Dorian Dervite replaced by Michael Morrison and Matthew Taylor, who was making his first league start of the season. With Wagstaff coming in on the left, Jackson slotted back into the centre of midfield, joining Bradley Pritchard and Dale Stephens, who had both been the subject of transfer rumours linking them with a move away from the Valley. The bench was packed with youth as Callum Harriott, Morgan Fox and Semi Ajayi all took their places in reserve. They were joined by want away striker Bradley Wright-Phillips, with Powell hinting he was ready to listen to offers for last season’s top scorer.
For Blackpool, a blend of youth and experience was selected by caretaker manager Steve Thompson. This was seen to the fore in attack, with 39 year old Kevin Phillips flanked by 20 year old Thomas Ince and 21 year old Aston Villa loanee Nathan Delfouneso. There was also plenty of experience at the back, with the likes of Ian Crainey and Kirk Broadfoot. Ecclestone, previously on loan at Charlton, was part of an attack minded bench alongside striker Gary Taylor-Fletcher and midfielders Tiago Gomes and Angel.
Despite the Addicks having the first shot, a long range effort from Stephens that wouldn’t have troubled a second goal, it was the visitors who took control of the game early on; their passing style appearing to be too much for Charlton to deal with as they knocked the ball around and kept possession with little concern. A Blackpool break almost produced the first goal of the game early on, with Delfouneso beating Chris Solly and crossing onto the head of Phillips at the back post, who saw his looping effort fantastically cleared off the line by Taylor. Charlton’s few touches of the ball were to clear it and send it straight back to a Blackpool shirt, and as Chris Basham danced past Morrison but slipped as he was about to shoot, that ‘it’s going to be a long afternoon’ feeling was starting to show. A break in play following a clash of heads between Taylor and Issiah Osborne on the 15 minute mark seemed just what the Addicks needed. The red shirts gathered together and held court to work out how to stop Blackpool from playing game, and whatever was said, seemed to work.
After the stoppage, Charlton came alive and grew into the game with the ball spending most of its time in and around Blackpool’s area. A succession of blocked crosses from Evina and Wagstaff eventually result in the Addicks winning a corner. Stephens took it, and his ball in was met by Taylor at the far post, but his header was cleared off the line and away. It wasn’t to be long before Blackpool weren’t so fortunate. Charlton were now looking solid in midfield and at the back, preventing Blackpool from passing and maintaining possession as they had done earlier on. Taylor did brilliantly to win the ball on the halfway line and link up with Solly and Wilson, but nothing came of the attack with Gilks collecting the ball. However, his clearance was picked up by Wagstaff, who knocked the ball into the path of Solly. A fantastic little run from the right back led to a deflected pass that fell right into the path of Jackson and he turned the ball into the far corner of the goal in what seemed to be slow motion.
Despite Charlton coming into the game, it was hard to argue their goal was deserved, but they almost, and should of, had the opportunity to double their lead straight after. A pass into Kermorgant from Evina saw the Frenchman expertly play in Wagstaff with a back heel, who was stopped from going through on goal after seemingly being fouled just outside the area. However, referee Mike Jones somehow saw it fit to award neither a foul or book Wagstaff for diving. A strange decision that angered all in red. Clear cut opportunities for either side were few and far between for the reminder of the half, only an untidy overhead kick from Alex Baptiste troubled either keeper. But soon after the 4th official signalled three minutes of added on time at the end of the first half, the home side had the perfect opportunity to double their lead, and they did just that (at the second attempt). Kermorgant started the move, sending Wilson away down the right with a perfectly placed through ball, and then ran into the box to meet the wideman’s cross with a diving header, only for Gilks to pull off a parried point blank save. Thankfully for the Addicks, the ball fell straight into the path of the returning Wagstaff, who coolly tapped home from close range. ‘There’s only one Scotty Wagstaff’ sung the home crowd as the players left the pitch after a fantastic first half display.
Blackpool again started quickly, putting heavy pressure on the Charlton defence. After Wilson failed to clear, he pulled down Phillips on the edge of the box. A promising position, but Ludovic Sylvestre could only hit the ball straight into the wall. The resulting corner came to nothing, but Blackpool were looking dangerous. The attacking threat from Ince and Delfouneso was causing problems and a number of crosses narrowly evaded men and shots from the pair from distance were fired wide, but Charlton still looked comfortable. Pritchard pulled off an uncharacteristic powerful long shot the hit the stanchion, but in truth was well wide, and unbelievable fight from Kermorgant to keep the ball in play whilst it was seemingly long gone and to chase Broadfoot down as he attempted to pass the ball out of defence moments later sparked a series of corners that, although causing defensive problems for the away side, came to nothing.
In between more wayward shooting from Ince, Charlton brought on youngster Harriott for his first appearance in the Championship. His first action was to bamboozle Neil Eardly with a series of tricks and flicks, allowing him to cut inside and win a corner. The home fans were impressed enough to already be singing the 18 year old’s name. Harriott proved it wasn’t just luck when, in the next attack, the ball fell to him the box and his stepovers resulted in the ball falling into the path of Stephens, who smashed well over. Basham almost got a goal back late on, but Hamer saved well from his diving header, but the Charlton custodian could do little minutes later when Ecclestone grabbed the consolation. Taylor could only clear a Crainey cross straight to Ecclestone on the edge of the box, who fired into the bottom corner on the full. Thankfully, it was a case of too little too late for Blackpool, and Charlton had done enough to secure a valuable three points.
It truly was a fantastic team performance from Chris Powell’s men. There were few stand out performers, but each and every player in a red shirt but in a workman like shift to deny Blackpool the chance to play for the majority of the game. If special mentions are to be made, they must go to two players making their first starts of the season: Taylor and Wagstaff. Taylor was sold, winning almost every header, making a number of brilliant tackles and causing a threat in the opposition’s box from set plays, whilst Wagstaff arguably put in his best ever performance in a Charlton shirt, epitomised by the fight and desire he showed in addition to some brilliant balls sprayed all over the pitch and a goal to boot. Kermorgant was the other stand out. Given a difficult job up front on his own, he ran himself into the ground, taking kicks and hits along the way and holding the ball up brilliantly with some unbelievable touches.
Eleven points clear of the relegation zone, seven behind the play-off places and 14th in the table. You’ll do well to find a Charlton fan that isn’t happy with where they are. Five more wins will see the Addicks past the 50 points mark. Five more wins should see us safe. A few more wins in quick succession and it may be time to start looking up rather than down.