In almost identical fashion to the game against Sheffield Wednesday just seven days prior to this South London Derby, Charlton took the lead, dominated for the majority of the game and went away empty handing thanks to two Crystal Palace goals in a five minute period. A wonder strike from Ricardo Fuller had given the Addicks the lead a quarter of an hour into the first half and, despite creating several glorious chances, couldn’t add to it in an impressive opening 45 minutes. The second half continued in a similar fashion with Charlton well on top, but Palace’s introduction of Jonathan Williams and new signing Stephen Dobbie in the 67th minute swung the game in the home sides favour; producing dominance in midfield as Charlton began to tire. The pressure was mounting, and despite some excellent saves from Ben Hamer in the Charlton goal, there was nothing he could do about Glen Murray’s equaliser, whilst the second, just five minutes later, came about as a result of a Hamer slip, giving Murray the simplest of chances to add his second. Agonising for the away fans and yet another close of what could have been for the Addicks.
There were a few confused heads when the Charlton team news was announced. Out were arguably three of the star performers in recent weeks: Matt Taylor, Dale Stephens and Yann Kermorgant, with the fit again Leon Cort, Dorian Dervite and Fuller into replace the trio. The reintroduction of Cort seemed fair, but there was little explanation for the other two changes. The three to miss out were forced to settle for a place on the bench alongside Bradley Wright-Phillips who saw a deadline day loan move to Swindon fall through in the final minutes of the window.
For Palace, their deadline day signings of the experienced Kevin Phillips and Dobbie started life as an Eagle on the bench, whilst another man who had filled the gossip columns throughout the window fowling his move to Manchester United, Wilfried Zaha, started on the wing after being loaned back to the South London club. January loan signings Jaz Richards from Swansea and Jacob Butterfield from Norwich also started, as did fringe players Alex Marrow and Stuart O’Keefe due to a number of absentees for the home side, including Kagisho Dikgacoi, scorer of the winning goal in the reverse fixture in September.
Charlton, inspired by the passionate 3,000 away fans, roared into life in the opening stages, controlling possession and creating the early openings. A dangerous cross from Dervite could only be headed out by Damien Delaney and the resulting corner, swung in by Jackson, was met by the head of Cort but he failed to keep the ball down and it sailed harmlessly over the bar. Just moments later, the away side had an even greater chance to open the scoring when Bradley Pritchard cut back to unmarked Lawrie Wilson just inside the area, but his effort was blocked away by Delaney and desperate appeals for handball were turned away by referee Halsey. Palace soon had their first opportunity of the game, and a spectacular one at that, as great strength from Yannick Bolasie saw him move a long ball pumped up to him on the right into the centre and, with Evina and Morrison on his back, pulled off an overhead kick that Hamer was comfortably equal to.
Fuller had started brightly, winning headers and showing great strength to hold up the ball in the lone front man position, and it was exactly that kind of work that produced the opening goal for the Addicks. A punt up field by Chris Solly, impressive in his own right for keeping Zaha quiet, found the target man a fair distance from goal, who controlled, turned and travelled down the right flank, before cutting inside and unleashing a fierce drive into the opposite corner from the tightest of angels. Pandemonium resulted in the away end as the travelling supporters couldn’t have wished for a better start.
Palace heads didn’t drop however, and in their next attack, confusion between Hamer, Morrison and Cort led to the keeper dropping a cross with Cort obstructing him from the loose ball. Thankfully for the Addicks, Hamer was able to pick up the pieces before any opposition player could respond. That was to be Palace’s last threat on the Charlton goal for a considerable amount of time, as the away side created a series of attacks and wasted a number of guilt edge chances. Pritchard, uncharismatically, found himself inside the opposition’s box following a lovely ball into him by Fuller, but the angle was tight and his shot was blocked away for a Charlton corner. Jackson’s set piece was met by Cort who, somehow, contrived to miss the target from a couple of yards out when it appeared easier to score. Jackson himself then had two good opportunities, first a cross from Pritchard that, after some confusion between the skipper and Cort, was eventually poked at goal, only to be excellently saved by Julian Speroni, but his second chance has to go down as an embarrassing miss. Fantastic and patient play on the left by Cedric Evina and Scott Wagstaff saw the left back cross into the box for Wilson to head across goal to Jackson no more than four yards away from goal and under no challenge from a Palace defender, but his effort floated across the face of goal and evaded the far post.
A familiar story was already being told with a failure to take chances surely being paid for at some stage, but despite a late effort from Marrow that in truth was well wide of the post, Palace could offer little counter against the Charlton first half onslaught. Charlton went in at the break by far the happy side; Palace just thankful not to be out of the game completely.
Palace manager threw on Phillips off the bench at the start of the second half and he immediately began to throw himself around and hold the ball up like someone far younger than his 39 years. It was Charlton who remained on top though, and fantastic strength and desire from Dervite, who had been excellent in the first half despite his questionable start, saw him break into the Palace box only for the connection with his shot to fail him leaving Speroni to gather comfortably. Dervite had another chance with a long range effort that was drilled just wide, a far more pleasing attempt than Richards, who ballooned over from similar distance for the home side.
With Fuller continuing to win his aerial battles, it was no surprise to see him bring a long ball down and turn his marker with ease. What was a surprise though was the strikers attempt on goal; a curling effort from all of 30 yards that forced Speroni into a scrambled save over the bar. It certainly appeared to be heading in over him with the keeper’s intervention. Chaos then reigned from the resulting corner as Jackson and Pritchard exchanged passes in a short corner routine, only for Jackson to be given offside despite Palace having players on their goal line. One of a host of questionable decisions from the referee’s assistant on the right hand side.
With 60 minutes on the clock, Palace began to slowly come into the game, and created their first real opening. Good build up play saw the ball for perfectly to Phillips inside the Charlton box but Hamer pulled off an outstanding (or ‘worldy’ as the keeper himself would call it) save to tip the ball around the post. Palace came close again moments later as Zaha, now on the right, beat Evina and put in cross that set O’Keefe up for a glorious chance, but his header went over when, like Cort and Jackson in the first half for the away side, it appeared easier to score. Amidst the pressure from Palace, Wagstaff saw a long range attempt taken well by Speroni, but that was to be his last real action as he was replaced by Rhoys Wiggins who was making his first appearance since the return fixture after breaking a bone in his foot. By this stage, Williams and Dobbie were on and Palace were dominating the play, but in the build up to their goal, it was Charlton who were camped firmly in the oppositions half. A succession of throws on the left, all of which landed at the feet of Fuller with no defender able to get near him, eventually resulted in an offside call being given. Speroni took the deal ball quickly, finding Moxey, who had made himself an enemy with the Charlton fans for some unprofessional remonstrating with the referee, who was able to hoard off the challenge from Jackson and put a ball into the box for Murray, who controlled and finished into the bottom corner; the array of goal music making the moment all the more painful for the travelling fans.
The impressive Dobbie almost had a goal to his name as Hamer pulled off yet another stupendous save, tipping the ball over the bar from long range, but it seemed Palace were now increasingly likely to grab a winner. The resulting corner wasn’t cleared properly and the ball back in left Hamer in two minds, causing him to slip and giving Murray, who yet again and controlled well, to rifle the ball into an almost empty net. Joy to despair in five minutes; unbelievable for the away fans that experienced the same feeling just a week ago.
In desperation, Charlton threw on Kermorgant and the fit again Danny Haynes, but neither could change the course of the game as Palace passed the ball around with little Charlton threat. The only real attempt on goal in the final 10 minutes of the game from a Charlton perspective came from Pritchard, as Morrison teed him up for a volley that was fired straight at Speroni. In fact it was Palace who applied the pressure late on, with Murray having three chances to seal a hat-trick, the final of which was an outrageous slice from just a few yards out. But luckily for the Eagles it wasn’t to matter, they had done enough to seal the win and do the double over their South London neighbours.
A soul destroying loss, but the first hour of the game was as good as Charlton have played all season; a fantastic team performance with the likes of Fuller, Solly and Evina impressing. But after that, it all seemed to fall apart. Tiring in midfield, Palace were able to dominate with ease, and despite only having 30 minutes of the play, they deserved their victory. This wasn’t a case of being robbed in the same sense as last week, but it was a case of missed chances and little going Charlton’s way, as has been the story of this season. But it was another closing stage where the Charlton performance just wasn’t good enough to hold on, and that’s the problem, we’re always trying to hold on. Palace didn’t sit back on their lead, they continued to attack, and that’s what we should be looking to do in similar positions. Hopefully Powell has seen enough of these situations now to have a better understanding of what to do the next time one occurs.
I also feel it’s important to mention some of the ‘unsavoury’ scenes that followed the final whistle, and in fact, occurred during the game. In a week in which Chelsea fans were arrested for being possession of flares at Swansea during their Capital One Cup Semi Final, a series of flares and smoke bombs were let off throughout the game. Some may argue it creates an atmosphere, but I don’t see it. In my view, it’s unnecessary and dangerous. But this pales in comparison to the damage caused to the stadium, including by all accounts total destruction to the away end toilets, and damage to cars parked along the streets outside the ground as Charlton fans were held back by police cordons. The atmosphere was fantastic, and there can be nothing but praise to the vast majority of Charlton fans who went along purely to support their club in a local derby fixture, but that has been damaged by several thugs and idiots who seem to feel the need to act against the laws of the land to show passion to the club. It’s embarrassing. This type of behaviour has been growing recently and I for one really hope something is down to control it, or even better, stop it all together. I want to attend football with other football fans and feel safe, not have the thought of ‘it’s all going to kick off after we leave’ playing on my mind for the duration of the game’.
This season was all about staying up, and as hard as it is to take this defeat, Charlton are still more than likely to stay up. Take the positives and bounce back next week.