Mention the name ‘Yann Kermorgant’ to a Charlton fan and you’ll no doubt receive a lecture on his hero like qualities and a recreation using whatever props are available of ‘that’ volley against Hartlepool on the final day of last season. Mention the name ‘Yann Kermorgant’ to a Leicester City fan and you’ll be forced into a dark corner, beaten until you plead for forgiveness and forced to promise to never mutter those words again; or possibly lead in the direction of that YouTube video that explains it all. His penalty exploits, a missed chipped attempt, in the 2009/10 Championship play-off semi-final saw Leicester crash out and the Frenchman become public enemy number one. Finding shelter in SE7, Kermorgant scored what turned out to be the winner in the reverse fixture at the Valley in August, silencing the boos from the Leicester fans.
But before the game, even the most optimistic of Charlton fans had their doubts about this one. No clean sheet in 12, no win in 4 and playing against one of the inform teams, and a team packed with quality, in the Championship, the away side certainly had their work cut out to go back down to South East London with even a point. The only realistic hope was a warrior like performance from Kermorgant, supplemented by plenty of fight and desire from the rest of the team, or failing that, a miracle. That’s exactly what the travelling fans got. Not only did the defence remain firm and the midfield work and work, but Kermorgant won every header, chased every loose end and, to put the icing on the cake, grabbed another goal against his former employers. Capitalising on some Leicester defending suited to a Christmas bloopers DVD, Bradley Pritchard teed up Kermorgant, who finished coolly from inside the box to give Charlton the lead after 19 minutes. The script was written for that to be the winning goal, but Leicester clearly hadn’t read it, as Chris Wood equalised with a clinical finish with 69 minutes on the clock. With Leicester pressing and dominating possession, it looked like it would be a familiar story of dropped point from a winning position for Charlton, but instead of attempting to cling on for a point; Chris Powell threw on Danny Haynes, a move that suggested he wanted all three. Haynes’ first touch was to volley a Kermorgant flick on into the top corner from an impossible angle; there was the miracle. Charlton hung on with minimal fuss for the remaining 12 minutes and, somehow, secured an unlikely and impressive victory.
In terms of team news, Charlton made a number of changes following the weekend defeat to Hull. The main change was in terms of set up as Ricardo Fuller was left out in favour of Dorian Dervite, who slotted into a position in behind the midfield in a 4-5-1 formation. There was also a shock as Cedric Evina, who had performed admirably in recent weeks, had to settle for a place on the bench with Rhoys Wiggins coming in for his first start at left back since breaking his foot in September. The third and final change for Charlton saw Scott Wagstaff come back into the side with Lawrie Wilson missing out.
Arguably Leicester’s strongest team was able to take to the field after a return from injury for a number of their key men, including Ben Marshall and January signing Chris Wood. Leicester’s more successful Frenchman in their colours, Anthony Knockaert , started on the wing and big centre back Wes Morgan partnered Michael Keane in defence as they aimed to counter the considerable aerial force of Kermogant. There was a place in the side for former Charlton player Paul Konchesky at left back, whilst former Addicks loanee Martyn Waghorn was on the bench.
The opening 15 minutes of play wasn’t exactly inspiring, but a few chances were created with Leicester having the best of them. The first chance of the game fell the home side’s way as Knockaert’s effort from the edge of the area was fantastically tipped round the post by Ben Hamer. Despite the resulting corner coming to nothing, Leicester were the only side looking likely to score and the fashioned another opening through former Manchester United youth team player Matty James, but Hamer was again equal to the effort, and a chance for David Nugent was ballooned over the bar. It took Charlton the best part of 10 minutes to create their first chance as Kermorgant beat Morgan in the air and found Pritchard who could only fire wide. Morgan won a header himself in the opposition’s half moments later, nodding well over the bar from 10 yards.
With Charlton seemingly camped in their own half and desperately defending an onslaught of Leicester possession and chances, no better signified than by Michael Morrison, against his former club, pulling off several desperate tackles and blocks in the final third, their opening goal came against the run of play. Wagstaff, as he so regularly does, wasn’t prepared to give up on what appeared to be a lost cause and kept the ball in play by the corner flag with drag back, but Danny Drinkwater was there to collect the loose ball. Attempting to send the ball sideways to Kasper Schmeichel in the Leicester goal, Drinkwater hadn’t spotted the diminutive figure of Pritchard lurking in the box. He pounced on the tame pass, had time to look up and calmly lay the ball back to Kermorgant who placed the ball into the far corner of the goal. The away fans, who had been singing Kermorgant’s name all night, responded with chaotic celebrations and another rendition of ‘we all dream of a team of Kermorgants’.
Play carried on as if no goal had been scored with Leicester continuing to control possession and carve out the better openings, but most of these were from range as the Charlton defence remained solid with Hamer having little, if any, real work to do. The one piece he did have to deal with before half time had Charlton fans’ hearts in their mouths as a powerful strike from Marshall was fumbled straight into the path of a melee of players, but the keeper just about managed to recover and safely snatch the ball away from the challenging Nugent. As the half drew to a close, Leicester were starting to look more and more threatening, and a fantastic touch from Ritchie De Laet kidded Wagstaff before the full back drifted past Wiggins and played in a pinpoint cross to Knockaert, but the Frenchman could only fire over from close range. A rare Charlton break saw Jackson fire over just as the referee was about to blow for halftime, and despite all the pressure, the away side went in at the break a goal to the good.
The opening period of the second half would surely be crucial to Charlton’s chances of maintaining their lead, and they started brightly despite Leicester continuing to look comfortable in possesion. Kermorgant, again collecting the ball well, played a perfectly timed through ball for Pritchard to run onto, but the midfielder rushed to take the chance and fired over when another touch looked the better option. The Addicks best chance to double their lead was to come just moments later as a Jackson free-kick was mishit by the fists of Schmeichel, falling perfectly to Morrison who fired his shot on target for what looked like a certain goal. But as the away fans began to anticipate a celebration, Schmeichel pulled off a marvellous reflex save to keep the deficit at just the one. Leicester themselves thought they had scored in their next attack, but Wood was flagged offside after slotting past Hamer.
The home side had weathered the early Charlton pressure and were now firing balls into the Charlton box one after another, and desperation led to various shouts for free-kicks and penalties from the home fans, but nothing was given. However, it wasn’t long before Leicester’s pressure paid off. Substitute Paul Gallagher travelled with ball and forced a collective of Solly and Morrison to attempt to stop him, but the ball popped up kindly to Wood, who fired home past a helpless Hamer into the far bottom corner. On the run of play, it was deserved, but Charlton’s fight hadn’t warranted such a harsh blow. Wood came close again in Leicester’s next attack after their goal and it appeared as if it was only a matter of time before they took the lead, but Danny Haynes had other ideas.
The substitute, who had been on the field a matter of seconds, showed his impressive turn of pace to latch on to a signature Kermorgant flick on following Solly’s punt forward, but out wide and with seemingly little on, it appeared the fine work would come to nothing. Haynes wasn’t to believe that though, and the pacey striker took a swing with his weaker left foot on the half volley, sending the ball crashing past Schmeichel into the far top corner of the net. The goal of the season competition, as if it needed any more, had another entry added to the ever growing shortlist of strikes. Charlton fans, and Haynes himself, celebrated in a manner that the goal warranted, but with 12 minutes left to play, no one was taking anything for granted just yet.
The final passage of the game saw Leicester in control of the ball but fail to create many clear cut chances, the best one falling to Wood, who rifled in a shot from outside the area, forcing Hamer to pull off a wonderful save diving to his right. Charlton broke away twice in stoppage time, but with numbers in the Leicester half in short supply, they came to nothing, and in the last minute of the additional four, the Addicks were wishing they had made more of one of them. A free-kick to Leicester was awarded just 20 yards from goal; a perfect position for Wood to fire home from. To the delight of the cheering travelling fans, he sent the ball well wide of the far post and the game was up almost immediately. The Charlton players and staff came over to join the away fans in their celebrations and it was clear how much it meant to them. A vital three points and a fantastic, fighting display.
Where did it all go right? Just the one goal up with ten minutes to play had spelt trouble for Charlton in recent weeks, but Powell got the response spot on. Changing to a 4-4-2 formation after Leicester’s equalizer showed the attacking intent Powell wanted to instil in his team for the remaining 20 minutes, and although the players dropped deep and a fifth defender came on in the shape of Matthew Taylor when defending their lead, they did so at the right time, and with Kermorgant and Haynes continuing to fight for every loose ball up top, there was an outlet to be found from the desperate attempts to clear.
But the foundations for the result were laid well before the closing stages. The defensive display was one of the best all season: Morrison and Cort won every header, Morrison especially showing exceptional form and one of several possibilities for man of the match, whilst Solly and Wiggins did well under pressure from constant threat down either flank, and when they didn’t, Hamer was there to pull off some fine saves. Dervite, although somewhat wasteful in possession, played a highly important role in cutting out Leicester’s attacks and, along with Jackson and Stephens, worked incredibly hard to get forward and back throughout the game. Wagstaff and Pritchard showed similar fight and work rate, and both proved to be impressive when going forward. This is especially true for Pritchard who seemed to be on the end of every Kermorgant knock down and won a few headers of his own, but the highlight in Pritchard’s display was a piece of trickery that Cristiano Ronaldo would have been proud of to get himself past Konchesky and James when seemingly trapped by the pair. Finally, of course, the display of Kermorgant was a joy to behold. Playing in the difficult lone striker role, the Frenchman had an almost perfect game and got the goal that he was always destined to get. Not forgetting Haynes’ strike, it was a fantastic team performance filled with everything this Charlton side under Chris Powell has in abundance: fight, desire and determination.
The win elevates the pressures of possibly being dragged into the relegation battle with the Addicks now moving eight points clear of the bottom three, whilst also being eight points behind the play-off places. Just one win can make the table look far more attractive in this league, and that’s exactly what it’s done.