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Last Gasp Lita Shows Wednesday’s Steel

With just twenty minutes left, Charlton were seemingly heading for a fourth straight league win in 2013. A goal early in the second half from captain Johnnie Jackson had given the Addicks the lead over Sheffield Wednesday, whilst the away side’s period of pressure appeared to have passed by without the Charlton net rippling. The home side looked in control of the game. However, with two minutes remaining on the clock, Leroy Lita had slotted home to give Wednesday all three points after a header from Reda Johnson had drawn the two sides level with 84 minutes gone. Charlton punished for sitting too deep in the final stages of the game. A bitter, and arguably underserved, pill to swallow for the Charlton fans, whilst the reaction from the away end showed what a massive victory it was for the side fighting relegation.

I’d managed to avoid discussing the topic of luck over recent weeks, but this game epitomized a reoccurring theme of Charlton’s home form this season. Despite having the bulk of the game and, whilst creating fewer than Wednesday, having several chances to increase their 1-0 lead, Charlton’s luck was out in front of goal. Two chances at the death, the second goal especially having unbelievable amounts of good fortune, was all it took for the away side to snatch three points from Charlton’s grasp.

After three straight victories in the Championship, Charlton’s team picked itself with Chris Powell selecting the same line up for the third consecutive game. This meant the previously forgotten Scott Wagstaff maintained his place, whilst despite the return to fitness of Leon Cort, Matt Taylor kept his place partnering former Wednesdayite Michael Morrison in the centre of defence. Cort had to settle for a place on the bench alongside Calum Harriot, who had impressed in cameo roles in recent weeks.

For Sheffield Wednesday, the line-up was littered with players who once wore the Charlton shirt. Spanish centre back Miguel Llera started in defence, whilst former fans favourite Jose Semedo joined new signing Lita, who signed on loan for the remainder of the season on Friday, on the bench. Danny Pugh, also joining on loan on Friday, made his debut in midfield, whilst the impressive Michail Antonio provided the away side’s main source of threat in front of goal.

The first half was one of little action with neither side managing to get a grip of the game, but Wednesday almost found themselves a man down after just five minutes. With Charlton passing the ball casually between defence and midfield, Dale Stephens sprayed the ball out to the left wing, and with it long gone, Giles Coke went in viciously on the Charlton midfield’s ankle. Ridiculously late, both feet off the floor and studs showing, not to mention the nature of the challenge made it a potential bone breaker, Coke was seemingly saved by the watch as referee Salisbury awarded a yellow card.

With the fury created from the incident giving the 20,000 strong attendance inside the Valley a spark, Charlton fashioned the first meaningful attempt on goal. Lovely play on the left wing saw Cedric Evina and Wagstaff link up to get themselves away from Wednesday pressure, before Wagstaff exchanged passes with Jackson, Jackson’s a delightful back heel, to open up a shooting opportunity, only for Wagstaff’s daisy cutter to trickle into the hands of Chris Kirkland in the Wednesday goal. Wednesday then had an opportunity of their own to open the scoring. A corner taken by Coke evaded everyone, but for Anthony Gardner, who had peeled away from his man and found himself free at the far post. His resulting header was blocked by a melee of players and Evina was in the right place to pick up the pieces and clear away. With the space offered up to him, Gardner really should have made more of the opportunity. A let off for the Addicks.

Both sides traded half chances as Yann Kermorgant acrobatically attempted to flick the ball past Kirkland from a Wagstaff cross but, despite looking impressive, missed the target completely, and the lively Antonio fired an effort from just outside the area well wide, but few real openings were available as both sets of centre backs looked solid. Even when Llera ran into Kirkland as he attempted to collect an Evina cross, the Wednesday defence were alert enough to the loose ball and managed to get it clear.

Wagstaff was involved in almost every positive Charlton move, and his pace and strength were being rewarded with several free-kicks in the wide left position as the Wednesday defence struggled to cope. One such free-kick, seemingly over hit from Stephens, was nodded back into the centre from Taylor and, with Kirkland all at sea, gave Morrison the perfect opportunity to give the Addicks the lead. Unfortunately for the home side, the pressure applied by Lewis Buxton meant Morrison could only direct his header against the bar and the scores remained level; arguably the best chance of the half, and one that really should have been taken. With the half time whistle approaching, Charlton were almost made to rue that miss even more. Hamer raced off his line to challenge Llera for a high ball pumped into the box, but clattered into the big centre back, falling to the floor and failing to collect the ball, allowing Antonio to slide and, with little more to do that poke the ball in the general direction of the empty net, somehow skewing the ball wide of the post.

The second half started at a much greater intensity, with both sides exchanging good crossing opportunities, including a Wednesday corner that was, this time, comfortably taken by Hamer. The solid pair of hands from Charlton’s number one proved to be ever more important as his quick distribution of the ball into the bath of Lawrie Wilson started a magnificent counter attack to give Charlton the lead. Wilson raced to the halfway line, before holding up play in order to wait for Chris Solly’s fantastic diagonal run. Wilson played through the perfect ball and with acres of space Solly travelled closer to goal before putting in a cross that was flicked back by Bradley Pritchard into the path of Jackson to apply the finish off the post. Defence to attack in no time at all and one of the best team goals seen in recent times. The goal of the season competition had yet another candidate.

With the crowd behind them, Charlton got forward again straight from the restart, but Wagstaff’s cross failed to create a meaningful opening. Wednesday heads didn’t drop, however, and shortly after the goal they had their best spell of the match up to that point, despite a woeful free-kick from Llera that tricked against the wall at snail’s pace. Antonio and Johnson were looking dangerous and Charlton’s defence was struggling to cope as they powered through unchallenged and fired just wide of the far post from the left one after the first. With the introduction of Lita, the away side now had even more threat up front, and his first effort goal was fantastically tipped away by Hamer as it looked to be heading past him into the bottom corner. The last effort of Wednesday’s ten minute crusade on the Charlton goal came through Johnson, who received a standing ovation from the home crowd after clearing the Jimmy Seed Stand (no mean feat, it must be said) with his woeful volley.

A break in Wednesday openings saw the home side create two chances of their own through the impressive Wagstaff. Cutting inside from the left and firing a curling just wide of the post, his first effort came close, but his second chance, again after cutting in from the left, was even closer, crashing against the inside of the post and narrowly evading a host of Charlton players in excellent positions to tuck in the rebound. Agonising for the Addicks, as with a bit of luck, the game would have been put to bed. Despite sitting deeper and deeper, Charlton looked a solid bet to maintain their lead, and another quick break following good work from Kermorgant saw the ball drop to the feet of Stephens 25 yards from goal. Probably with visions of his screamer last weekend against Blackburn, he hit the ball first time, when the space around him invited another touch, and smashed it way off target.

With the Addicks to continuing to press down the flanks and Wednesday starved of opportunities, it came as a complete shock when they drew level with six minute to play. Possession in midfield eventually saw the ball played out wide to Buxton, whose looping cross was met powerfully by the head of Reda Johnson, leaving Hamer stranded as it nestled beyond him into the back of the net. Whilst not entirely underserved, the goal did come against the run of play and there was still hope of Charlton taking back their lead, especially when Pritchard got into a decent crossing position, but his delivery was disappointingly hit well past the head of Jackson at the far post. But with just minutes left on the clock, a scuffed pass from Johnson found Lita inside the area, and his deflected effort again saw Hamer powerless to prevent the ball from going in. Scruffy, lucky, underserved; the Charlton fans left in their droves and faces of shock, horror and anger populated the home stands.

Powell’s late introduction of Danny Green, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Ricardo Fuller had no impact at all as, despite a few free-kicks and corners, the five minutes of additional time petered out with no real chances created for either side. Somehow, after looking set for all three points, Charlton were left empty handed.

It’s a difficult performance to access. If Johnson’s header had gone wide and the deflection from Lita’s shot sent it away from goal, everyone connected with the Addicks would be praising a fantastic and resilient performance. However, the outcome raises some doubts about the continuing plan to sit deep after taking the lead. Far too many late goals have been conceded this season because of it; it invites the pressure. Whilst obviously not suggesting an all-out siege on the opposition’s half when defending such a tight lead, a bit of creative and forceful play wouldn’t go a miss.

In terms of individual performances, there’s little to criticise. Only really Hamer, who flapped and a number of balls into the box, didn’t look like his normal self, but he pulled off some decent saves and could do little with the goals. The rest of the team looked comfortable and solid up until the closing stages, especially Taylor and Morrison, who won most of their headers, Evina, who played well both at the back and going forward, and Wagstaff, who stood out above the other players in a red shirt putting in a fantastic showing.

Unlike most defeats, this isn’t one that should spark any major panic amongst Charlton fans, players and staff. It needs to be put to the backs of minds as quickly as possible, especially with the tasty derby away at Crystal Palace next Saturday. The perfect platform to bounce back.

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