The Valley hasn’t been an enjoyable place to be this season. I’m sure the majority of travelling fans will have something to say about that, but with only four wins at home all season before today, Charlton fans have often walked down Floyd Road at five o’clock feeling frustrated and angered. The previous three home games had produced no goals for, five goals against and no points. Grumbling were growing and the threat of being drawn into a relegation battle was seen by some as all too likely. However, those four wins have all, not only come at crucial times, but been special: Yann Kermorgant’s goal against Leicester for the season’s first three points, Ricardo Fuller’s stunner in a tight contest with Peterborough, a solid performance when Blackpool were the visitors and, of course, the incredible turn around over league leaders Cardiff after a similar poor run. Today, in terms of importance, performance and spectacle, topped all of them.
An inform Bolton Wanderers side were the visitors and, after being just outside the relegation zone in February, now found themselves chasing a play-off spot. It was always going to be a tough one for the Addicks, many seeing any points out of this one as a bonus with more important games to come, and the away side raced into a 2-0 lead. After early pressure and two excellent chances, a third opening for Bolton in the third minute saw Marvin Sordell walk through the Charlton defence and slot home past Ben Hamer. A spell of Charlton pressure, which saw Bradley Pritchard come close and have what looked like a clear penalty shout turned down, failed to produce an equaliser and with the Addicks’ defence looked unorganised and frail, Bolton pounced again. David N’gog was invited to take a shot but Dorian Dervite got a block in, only for the ball to fall straight to Mohammed Medo whose shot trickled beyond Hamer and into the back of the net via a deflection off the post. The boos rang out from the home fans as the poor defending left many disgusted. The game looked beyond the Addicks with just 17 minutes on the clock.
The thought clearly hadn’t crossed the minds of the players however as they went on to dominate the remainder of the match. Inspirational skipper Johnnie Jackson pulled one back seven minutes later through a calm finish from just inside the area after a corner wasn’t cleared properly by the Bolton defence. The score remained at 2-1 until the game changed totally in Charlton’s favour in the space of just one second half minute; the 56th to be exact. A determined Ricardo Fuller was hauled down by Sam Ricketts 30 yards from goal and, with Ricketts already on a caution, referee Kettle was left with little choice but to produce a second yellow and send the Bolton right back off. Kermorgant’s resulting free-kick hit the post, Pritchard reacted too late to connect with the rebound but Dervite was there to tuck home a deserved equaliser for the Addicks. Incredibly, Charlton had the lead just five minutes later as Fuller earned a penalty with some quick feet inside the box, causing Darren Prately to clip him and send the forward tumbling. Hearts were in mouths as infamous penalty misser Kermorgant stepped up, but the Frenchman did the business with a cool kick past Andy Lonergan. The Addicks put their man advantage to good use for the rest of the game, comfortably controlling possession and coming under little threat from the away side, but seven minutes of added time after injuries to players and officials alike made for a nervy finish. Thankfully, Charlton saw it through, helped by two yellow cards for Craig Davies to bring Bolton down to nine men for the final few seconds. The Valley roar returned at the final whistle; an incredible comeback and an incredible performance.
Chris Powell had spoke of a rejuvenated team in the week after the international break and the rejuvenation was enhanced by a number of changes to Charlton’s starting line-up. Out went David Button, whose performance against Millwall faced heavy criticism, with Hamer returning to starting XI for the first time since the defeat against Nottingham Forest. Hamer had been exceptional all season, but a number of mistakes in the games preceding his dropping had given Powell food for thought in the goalkeeping department. With Button unable to prove himself, Charlton’s number one was back. There was also a change in front of Hamer with Dorian Dervite coming in for the injured Matthew Taylor. With Leon Cort still nursing a thigh injury, youngster Kevin Feely was included in the squad for the first time and took his place on the bench, alongside new loan signing Mark Gower and Danny Haynes, who was left out in favour of Fuller. The most surprising change of all, and one no one could have predicted, saw the return of Andy Hughes. The likebale midfielder who had returned to fitness after over 12 months out with an Achilles problem was making his first appearance since January 2012 after, for some time, it appeared he wouldn’t make a professional appearance again. Whilst a few eyebrows were raised, no one could take anything away from a Hughes’ remarkable recovery.
For Bolton, all eyes were on club captain and legend Kevin Davies, who is set to leave the club after almost ten years of service. He had to settle for a place on the bench, with former Charlton target Sordell starting alongside N’gog, scorer of both goals against the Addicks in the 2-0 victory for the Trotters in December. Sordell had replaced Craig Davies from Bolton’s last fixture against Ipswich and the inclusion of Medo in the starting line-up was the only other change from the 1-0 defeat as the Sierra Leone international replaced Chris Eagles. Deadline day loan signing and former Addicks loanee Danny Butterfield was given a spot on the bench.
The away side raced into life and almost had the lead just after the first minute. N’gog won his side a corner and Jay Spearing’s resulting set piece was met by the stretching head of Dawson with the ball seemingly falling harmlessly for Charlton to clear. But Pritchard was slow in moving to the ball and Chung-Young Lee reacted but the opportunity was wasted as his effort flew over the bar. With Charlton thanking their luck, they had Hamer to praise a minute later as Sordell played in N’gog, who raced through on goal but couldn’t get his shot past the Charlton ‘keeper as Hamer got down well to save. The defence frailties were obvious for all to see, especially Dervite’s, who seemed to be struggling with Bolton’s front pair and it was N’Gog and Sordell who were involved in Bolton’s opener. N’Gog played in Sordell who broke free and in on goal, calmly slotting past a faultless Hamer. It was a deserved goal for the Trotters and, after only three minutes, it felt like there would be plenty more of them to come in the ensuing 87 minutes.
The goal, without solving the defensive issues, at least saw Charlton get out of their own half and start to question Bolton’s back four. Wiggins and Harriott especially were looking lively and they combined well to create Charlton’s first opening with Wiggins’ flat cross met by Pritchard who forced Lonergan into an outstanding save. It had appeared Pritchard was pulled back by a Bolton defender as he went to shoot but Kettle was having none of it. The resulting corner saw the ball fall to Harriott but his effort was blocked behind for another corner, as was Pritchard’s long range shot moments later, but the Addicks couldn’t get the goal they were looking for to level up the match and Bolton capitalised. N’gog collected the ball on the edge of the error with Dervite allowing him to travel and shoot, but the Frenchman managed to get a block in, only for the ball to pop out to Medo, whose shot clipped the post on its way past Hamer. Heads were in hands, accusations were being made and the home fans loudly booed. A horrendous start for the Addicks.
Prately was made to look like Xavi, Fuller couldn’t cope up against the towering Zat Knight and Dervite was having a nightmare return to the first team. Bolton were on top in every department. But the second goal finally gave Charlton some spark as they began to stamp their mark on the game. Harriott, possibly without any pressure on his back, was giving Ricketts a torrid time with step overs galore. Even with Craig Dawson doubling up on the youngster, Bolton’s defence struggled to cope with Charlton’s threat down the left hand side. A couple of crosses came to nothing, but it wasn’t long until the Addicks were threatening Bolton’s goal. Jackson had a shot deflected behind for a corner, and the resulting set piece, eventually, led to Charlton getting themselves right back into the game. Harriott’s delivery wasn’t properly cleared and Charlton kept possession, with Pritchard delivering a ball in which Harriott took down and teed up Jackson who finished in style into the bottom corner of the net. There was hope.
However, there was no forgetting the level of opposition Charlton were up against and in their next attack, Bolton crafted out an opening for N’Gog, but Wiggins got across and blocked his shot well. But Charlton remained on top despite their goal deficit and Fuller’s strength and desire saw him out do Knight for the first time and break into the box but the Jamaican was sent wider than he would have liked and his shot flashed across the face of goal and out for a throw. Jackson had a long range effort that, in truth, was well over and Hughes hit a harmless shot well wide as an over eagerness to impress appeared to get the better of him. With the half coming to an end, there was still time for one last piece of action as Harriott again beat Ricketts, only for the Welshman to bring him down, giving the Addicks a free-kick and Ricketts a yellow card. Jackson’s resulting dead ball was headed out only as far as Solly, and the right back’s shot was heading on target but for a deflection which saw the ball loop wide of the post. The resulting corner game to nothing and the final five minutes of the half played out with little to speak of, but Charlton’s performance had improved considerably in the final 25 minutes of the half. This hadn’t gone unnoticed by the home fans with their boos turning to applause as the players left the field for the break.
The second half began as the first had ended with Charlton dominating in their search for an equaliser. Jackson played in Harriott, whose shot looked to have deflected off the hands of Knight on its way through to Lonergan, but Kettle again saw no reason to award a penalty. After a poor first half, Fuller was now growing into the game and his cross had just too much on it for Pritchard to cope with, whilst his side foot shot from 25 yards had too little on it as it dipped straight into the hands of Lonergan. Cries of ‘you’re not fit to referee’ could be heard soon after, but not for any of Kettle’s questionable decisions. They were aimed at assistant referee Sannerude, who was forced off the field with an injury. After the break in play whilst the 4th official prepared himself for duty, Kettle was again centre of attention as he was forced into a game changing decision. Fuller battled with Ricketts with the former coming out on top and looking to break free, but Ricketts unfairly stopped him from doing so, dragging him to ground. The second yellow was produced and few inside the ground could argue that wasn’t the correct decision. There was some concern for Fuller, widely known to be suffering from a dislocated shoulder that he relocates during play, but the striker eventually got himself up and carried on. In the meantime, Charlton had themselves a very dangerous free-kick with specialist Yann Kermorgant standing over it. His delicious effort looked to be heading in but it curled just an inch too much and bounced back off the post and away from the stretched leg of Pritchard, only for the ball to land perfectly at the feet of Dervite who slotted into a near empty net. Hope had turned to reality, and with the Trotters down to ten, there was every possibility the Addicks could get all three points.
Just minutes later, those three points were looking even more realistic. It was unthinkable to think this was the same Ricardo Fuller than had looked completely out of sorts in the first half as he collected the ball out wide and walked past two Bolton defenders as if they weren’t there, only they were, and one of them in Prately stuck out a leg and brought Fuller down. Penalty to the Addicks. With Jackson relieved of his penalty duties after three consecutive misses and Danny Haynes, although kitted up waiting to come on in case of Fuller’s shoulder becoming too much of an issue, not on the pitch, a new penalty taker was needed. Kermorgant picked up the ball, placed it on the spot and walked back ready to take, all with the confidence of a man who had never missed a spot kick in his life. The tension was unbearable; many couldn’t look and some cursed Kermorgant for taking it, but the long gone were his days of missed chips and he smashed home the spot kick into the bottom corner. A lead after all looked lost.
Despite the visitors introducing striker Craig Davies, it was Charlton who looked like extending their lead. Pritchard came close again as Dawson blocked his goal bound effort from a matter of yards after Jackson set Harriott free and the youngster pulled the ball across goal whilst Harriott himself almost added a fourth with Kermorgant’s cross picking him out at the back post but his stretching legs could only turn the ball wide. Gower was introduced for his debut, replacing Hughes, who received a standing ovation; it was hard to tell the midfielder had been away for so long after such a composed display. Gower assisted the Addicks in abusing their man advantage and maintain possession as Kermorgant dropped into a deeper role, helping to spread the ball from red shirt to red shirt. Bolton were always going to make the final 15 minutes nervy, but Hamer was equal to their tame efforts and the determination of Charlton side was shown by Solly racing out of defence to steal a ball of Dawson he had no right to get to. With Solly clean through down the right flank, Dawson cynically dragged him to the ground and was luck to receive just a yellow. It was moments like that helped to calm the nerves; today was one of those few days this season were things were going Charlton’s way.
Fuller and Harriott both came off to rapturous applause, replaced by Lawrie Wilson and Haynes as the Addicks looked to see the game out. An outstanding save kept the score down with Solly’s cross being met powerfully by the head of Kermorgant who for Lonergan to tip the ball over the bar. That was to be the final meaningful effort on the Bolton goal as 90 minutes approached and seven minutes of added on time were awarded. Given Charlton’s record of conceding goals in stoppage time this season, the seven felt like seventy as Bolton threw men forward in the hope of finding an equaliser. Despite some nervy defending, the defence held strong and Hamer picked up the pieces when needed. Davies was shown a yellow after charging into Morrison in one of Bolton’s many crusades on the Charlton box and was then shown a second yellow just seconds later after recklessly bringing down Wiggins. Bolton were down to nine and Charlton had all three points. Loud chants of ‘we’re the red and white army’ were sung as the Charlton fans clapped their heroes off the field. A truly remarkable performance.
The opening 17 minutes were dire, and every Charlton fan feared the worst, but the following 73 minutes were some of the best at the Valley this season. Hamer was solid and his distribution was excellent, Dervite and Morrison recovered well after their shaky start, whilst Pritchard worked tirelessly as ever and on another day could have had a goal to his name and Hughes marked his return with an excellent performance. Harriott showed his talents yet again and his link up play with Wiggins was a joy to behold whilst Fuller’s turnaround from first half to second was welcomed. It’s obvious he’s got the ability and it’s been frustrating him play so poorly in recent weeks. The second half was the Fuller we had come to know previously.
But special mentions are reserved for three men; the three men that such mentions are often reserved for. Yann Kermorgant was sensational, winning his headers as always, excellent when dropping into a deeper role where he dictated play and created openings for his teammates and got himself a goal to boot. Johnnie Jackson was inspirational, lifting heads after both Bolton goals, getting the goal that gave the Addicks hope and putting in another captain’s performance when it was needed most. Chris Solly was, well, I’m not sure there are words that will do Chris Solly’s performance justice. He is an exceptional footballer and how he continues to be ignored for the England U21’s is beyond me. Hopefully the eyes of the Premier League have also failed to notice him and he can remain a Charlton player for many years to come.
With Wolves, Peterborough, Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich all winning, the three points were as vital as any this season. It maintains the Addicks’ five point cushion above the relegation zone, moves us up to 14th and has seen us hit the magic 50 point mark. Talk of relegation should be forgotten with one more victory. Play like we did for 77 minutes today and we’ll have plenty more than one victory in the final 7 games.
I’m not a fan of being a neutral. I know some of you are absolutely desperate to attend a football match each week, no matter who’s playing, but it’s not for me. I’ll watch games all day long on the TV but being an isolated figure amongst loyal supporters has never felt right (except, of course, for at Stadium:MK where everyone’s a ‘neutral’); it’s incomparable to watching your own team play.
It was with no surprise, therefore, that I had my apprehensions about attending the FA Trophy Final between Wrexham and Grimsby. I filled the role of every diehard supporter’s worst nightmare; a day tripper. I’d gone for a day out at Wembley, expecting an average atmosphere and a below average game. Of course, I wasn’t ignorant enough to not appreciate the growing quality of non-league football but when you’ve spent the last eight months watching Championship football, I expected the gap in class to be huge.
On the pitch, the first half did little to alter my pre-match fears. A sloppy, slow and at times dull affair was played out for the majority of the opening 45 minutes. Whether it was Wembley nerves or the true quality of the sides shining through, both Wrexham and Grimsby consistently gave the ball away, often sending wayward passes out of play which did little to help the game flow. The Wembley nerves certainly got the better of Grimsby’s Craig Disley, who somehow got away without even a yellow card after a two footed lunge on Wrexham captain Dean Keates. That moment of controversy was one of few highlights in the half as most of the goalmouth action for both sides came from set pieces that produced little.
There were signs though towards the end of the half that this game had a lot more to offer after the break. Wrexham’s playmaker Jay Harris was pinging balls left, right and centre, whilst also causing a threat to the Grimsby back four with some clever footwork but letting himself down with a reluctance to shoot. Grimsby’s biggest threat came from Marcus Marshall down the left flank; his pace, supported by left back Aswad Thomas, was proving a difficulty for the Wrexham defence but his final product was lacking.
Away from the game itself, there were signs that, even with the cup final scenario taken into consideration, this was anything but a ‘non-league game’. There were no gimmicks before kick-off; something the Trophy’s Football League counterpart, the Johnstone’s Pain Trophy, is familiar with, whilst the atmosphere was excellent with the majority of the 35,226 inside Wembley appearing to have some connection to either side. Being in among some of the more vocal Wrexham fans, much to my disgust, I even found myself joining in with a few chants. These were not your stereotypical non-league, or even lower depths of the Football League, fans. They seemed truly passionate about their club. They may have been inspired by the cup final, not ‘true fans’ after all, but that to me seemed highly unlikely.
By the end of the second 45, I was totally won over. These were two quality sides, neither of which would look out of place in the Football League, playing in an atmosphere that even a staunch neutral like me couldn’t help but be drawn into. The game began to flow, chances were created and Wrexham had two excellent opportunities to take the lead within the opening ten minutes of the restart. Player-manager Andy Morrell was played in on goal and, with Grimsby ‘keeper James McKeown slipping as Morrell attempted to round him, look destined to finish. But Mckeown recovered well to pull off a fantastic reflex save and tip the ball around the post from Morrell’s driven shot. A Wrexham corner then caused havoc in the Grimsby box and the ball ended up at the feet of Danny Wright, but the striker could only poke wide when it seemed easier to score.
Wrexham remained on top and the introduction of former Man City youngster Adrian Cieslewicz gave the Welsh side a threat down the left wing. His quick feet and pace continuously bamboozled the Mariners’ defence but his decision making prevented any real chances from being created. Looking to play the ball flat across goal each time after beating his man, a Grimsby player was often first to the ball, whilst a couple of shots after cutting inside did little to test McKeown. Down the other end, ‘keeper Chris Maxwell had little, if anything, to do. In fact, his first meaningful touch of the ball saw him pull off a fantastic save from Andy Cook after Joe Colbeck had broke down the right flank and played the ball across goal. The save meant little though as, against the run of play, Grimsby were able to take the lead with Cook reacting to the loose ball and rifling the ball into the bottom corner of the net with just under 20 minutes still to play.
With Wrexham dominating up to that point, the game certainly wasn’t beyond them. They were becoming frustrating to watch, however, as, much in the same way that Barcelona do when in desperate need for goal, they continued to casually knock the ball around midfield and maintain possession without any real chances being created. Experienced defender Chris Westwood headed over and the likes of Cieslewicz , Harris, Keates and Kevin Thornton all had efforts on gaol, but as the clocked ticked into the final 10 minutes, it seemed as if time was running out for Wrexham. That was until Cieslewicz finally produced a threatening delivery after some fancy footwork with the ball finding its way through to Keats inside the area. Shaping to shoot, the skipper was brought down by Shaun Pearson and referee Moss had little choice but to award a penalty. Thornton stepped up and showed complete calmness to coolly covert the spot kick.
The goal brought the game into extra time, with McKeown pulling off a fantastic save from a Harris free-kick soon after the equaliser to keep the scores level. At half time I had prayed for the game to be decided in normal time, but now I was delighted it hadn’t. It seemed as if the game and Wrexham especially had grown with every passing minute. My optimism for high quality period of extra time was rewarded with just that.
With Grimsby limited to nothing more than a few half chances, Wrexham pilled on the pressure, finally following up excellent build up play with opportunities at their climax. Cieslewicz fired off target after creating space for himself, and with moments left of the first period, almost caught McKeown out with a volley from range after bringing the ball down with his chest and turning quickly, but the ‘keeper scrambled across goal to save well. The second period of extra time seemed like a case of when, not if, would Wrexham score but McKeown was in sensational form. Another effort from Cieslewicz was tipped away and Stephen Wright’s ball into the box for name sake Danny was incredibly saved with Wright just a few yards from goal and firing a shot that looked destined for the bottom corner. A final chance saw a tame header at the far post comfortably saved by McKeown as the game headed for penalties.
My neutral hating, non-league bashing thoughts pre-match were now long gone. The game had me gripped and I, like every Wrexham fan around me, felt sick with the fact the trophy wasn’t won in normal time. Cieslewicz took the opening penalty and scored, which was followed up by Disley hitting the post, much to the delight of Maxwell who celebrated like he was in the stands. Danny Wright coolly rolled the second in for Wrexham, whilst Brodie lashed the ball over the bar. The trophy had Wrexham’s name on it. Westwood finished a third consecutive penalty and Colbeck kept the shoot-out alive with his kick, but Johnny Hunt converted the winner with the next kick. Pandemonium in the stands followed, something which I couldn’t help be drawn into. Wrexham were FA Trophy winners.
Yes, these are two non-league sides who have spent the majority of their life spans in the Football League, and yes, it was cup final, but that takes nothing away from the spectacle they both put on. Grimsby had their moments, but Wrexham were by the far better side and they especially wouldn’t look out of place in the Football League. One player especially, Jay Harris, impressed me greatly. He fell away towards the end, but his calmness and authority in midfield was of a player who deserved to be in a much higher division. If he plays like that on a consistent basis, as a few Wrexham fans have informed me he does, I see no reason why he can’t push up the leagues and make a name for himself elsewhere.
A truly fantastic advert for non-league football; my cynicism has vanished.
It’s rare, almost as rare as Dave Whelan forming a diplomatic and sensible opinion, but sometimes all football fans, apart from Mr Whelan, agree on a controversy. Whether you thought it was a malicious assault or a piece of poor technique, next to none of you will think Wigan’s Callum McManaman’s outrageous lunge on Newcastle’s Massaido Haidara wasn’t worthy of a red card. Mark Halsey and his officials got that one wrong; a genuine mistake that even the best officials can make. With Newcastle fans left to feel bitter and aggrieved as eleven men Wigan snatched a late winner to secure a vital 2-1 win, they hoped some retribution would come from the FA punishment. A retrospective ban of three games was deemed suitable, even if McManaman doesn’t have a ‘nasty bone’ in his body, as manager Roberto Martinez suggested following the game on Sunday.
But it didn’t. Unbeknown to many (including your writer, a self-proclaimed know-it-all of laws and rulings) the FA had implemented a policy at the start of the season by which retrospective action could only be taken if the officials had missed the incident. Missed completely, that is. Halsey, or at least one of his assistants, saw the coming together, but didn’t gage the severity of the incident. Bafflingly, that means no retrospective action could be taken.
Rules are rules and the FA are in one sense correct to stand by their policy, but why couldn’t common sense prevail? Referees are instructed to apply common sense where they see fit, so why not the body that governs them and every aspect of the English game? The way the policy came about has a lot to do with that. According to the FA statement, the ‘game’s stakeholders’ agreed to tis ruling at the start of the season. These ‘stakeholders’ include the Premier League and League Managers Association, along with the body protecting the interests of referees, the PGMO. It does seem ludicrous that Premier League clubs and their managers would agree to the implementation of the retrospective action policy; a player is able to get away with murder because the officials’ views were obscured, but they did. With so many bodies in apparent support of this procedure, it would have been impossible to ignore it. As a result, the FA were unable to hand out a punishment to McManaman, even though common, and not so common, sense suggests it’s more than fitting for the severity of the incident.
The FA justify this rather questionable policy by suggesting it’s to prevent ‘the re-refereeing of incidents’; protect the integrity of referees when you remove the euphemistic jargon. But as a referee myself, I can’t agree with this at all. Even in the slow paced, scrappy and uncoordinated youth Sunday League football I officiate, mistakes are very easy to make. Your view of a tackle may have been partially obscured and neither of your officials saw it; you can only be sure it’s a foul, not of the extremities of the offence. It can also be the case, more so with Level 7 Kyle Andrews and less so with Level 1 Mark Halsey, that an incident worthy of a red card can happen right at your feet and, for whatever reason, you don’t send the player off. It’s a mistake. An honest mistake, like a goalkeeper letting a ball slip through his fingers or a striker missing an open goal, it’s certainly not corruption, bias, a sign of poor refereeing standards or any other label those most cynical of referees may have.
As a referee, I’d like the player to be punished even if I’d seen the incident and my name is now tarnished. The game isn’t about referees and their integrity, the best referees are the ones that can make themselves go unnoticed for 90 minutes and thereafter, it’s about the players and the game of football. It’s about fairness and playing to the laws of the game. Forget whether or not giving retrospective action might alienate the referee, it alienates the football clubs more. The club of the offending player are allowed to carry on playing him when he otherwise should be sitting out a suspension, whilst the next three clubs the offending player comes up against would undoubtedly deem it an injustice to see him in the starting line-up of the opposing side, not to mention the anger of the club who the incident was committed against in the first place. Supporting one man, who would certainly be aware of the mistake he’s made, at the expense of the integrity of the game feels very wrong.
There is of course a point where the line has to be draw. I’m by no means suggesting all contentious incidents should be ‘re-refereed’, nor should referees have their integrities questioned any more than they do, but for honest mistakes on serious incidents, common sense can and should be applied for retrospective action.
Derby day. Ninety minutes of maximum fight and desire; no excuses. The fans need the bragging rights, the players need the pride. Both managers might tell their player, and the press, it’s just another three points; it’s not. Victory feels sweeter than in any other fixture, defeat hurts more. For Charlton fans, the previous derby days this season were ones to forget. With Crystal Palace doing the double over the Addicks and, despite coming away from the New Den with a point, a disappointing display in the away fixture at Millwall, today’s home game against the Lions was the last chance of the season for Charlton to regain some derby pride. A sold victory over Huddersfield last Saturday coupled with Millwall’s excursions in the FA cup on Wednesday and their current poor league form had given the Charlton fans cause for optimism. That’s despite the disastrous home form, the 24th worst in the league, that has left many disgruntled. But once again, the home and derby curses struck again as the Addicks were left embarrassed by a 2-0 defeat to their South East London neighbours.
The first half, an even affair with both sides creating a handful of half chances, contained far more positives than negatives for the Addicks and they started the second brightly. A signature free-kick from Yann Kermorgant went just wide and Lawrie Wilson connected to a ball played across the face of goal but somehow put over whilst a livid Kermorgant berated the referee for not awarding a penalty for a foul in a build-up, all of this inside the first ten minutes of the second period. Millwall had barely got out of their half, let alone threatened the Charlton goal, since the start of second 45 but it only took one move for the Lions to take the lead. Two players signed on loan on Friday, Richard Chaplow and Jermaine Easter, combined for the latter to turn in the former’s low cross with the clock on 58 minutes. The goal completely changed the game as Millwall came alive and just six minutes later they had a second; Shane Lowry’s long range free-kick somehow beat the hapless David Button who seemed to be well out of position. Millwall created little for the remainder of the game and when Charlton did the finish was lacking, summed up by Ricardo Fuller’s volley into the upper north from a decent scoring position. The final whistle was met by boos and grumblings from the home fans, partly due to another substandard home performance, partly due to the humiliation of another derby disappointment.
For Charlton, the main piece of team news saw the return of Kermorgant to the starting line-up after being forced to sit out the past three games due to suspension. The Frenchman replaced Fuller, who had been ineffective in Kermorgant’s absence. That was the only change for the Addicks from last week’s win over Huddersfield despite the signing of Mark Gower on Thursday, who wasn’t fit enough to even for a place on the bench. As a result, Johnnie Jackson and Bradley Pritchard continued in the centre of midfield, Matthew Taylor kept his place with ex-Lion Leon Cort still injured whilst youngster Callum Harriott was rewarded with his third start in a row after his winner on Saturday.
Millwall’s side was packed with ex-Addicks players looking to prove a point. Danny Shittu, scorer of the goal that sent the Lions to Wembley in midweek, was sold to QPR as a youngster without making an appearance at Charlton and started at centre back whilst two former loanees who split opinion amongst Charlton fans, Dany N’Guessan and Rob Hulse, started on the left wing and up front respectively. The 4-5-1 formation Kenny Jackett went with saw new signing Chaplow come in to replace Andy Keogh whilst Karleigh Osborne replaced Mark Beevers at centre back.
It was Millwall who had the first chance of the game inside the first minute as the returning N’Guessan held off Solly and fired a shot across the rain sodden surface and wide of the far post. Charlton immediately responded with a chance of their own as Rhoys Wiggins’ pass in the path of Pritchard was hit first time and struck well enough for Forde in the Millwall goal to be forced palm away. Haynes put the ‘keeper under pressure but the Irish international reacted quickly and pounced on the loose ball. In an end to end first half, it was now the away side’s turn to carve out an opportunity as Hulse broke into the box only for his cross-cum-shot to be blocked by Michael Morrison, giving Wiggins the chance to head away with Smith lurking, but the header was tame and fell kindly to Trotter who fired horrendously wide. There was still time for one more chance to be carved out for the home side as Jackson’s header was met by Morrison and knocked down to Pritchard, but he connected off balance and sent the ball sailing over the bar.
The two stand out performers on the pitch amidst the frenzy of opportunities were surprisingly defenders. The returning Kermorgant was winning the majority of balls played over the top but the excellent Shittu proved an impossible barrier to pass as, if not collecting the loose ball, he thwarted Haynes’ attempts to collect the ball time and time again whilst putting his body on the line to block a Jackson volley after 12 minutes. As for Charlton, Morrison was proven too tough an opponent for Hulse as the striker on loan from QPR struggled to win a header and constantly found himself disposed even when meeting the ball first. Morrison even had time to pull off a clever piece of foot work a Premier League winger would have been proud of to prevent Hulse robbing him of the ball. After another fine piece of defensive work, an excellent tackle by Osborne to prevent a Charlton break, the Millwall defender was forced off the field with an injury and replaced by Adam Smith.
With the defences on top, the chances dried up, and when Millwall were presented with a corner just past the 25 minute mark, Taylor’s attempt to dink the ball in at the far post went horribly wrong, rolling out of play and trickling into the side netting. Both sides exchanged crosses, Charlton’s left hand side synchronising well but lacking the final ball on several occasions, with little threat and it took until the half hour for the next meaningful opportunity. One of many long balls was flicked on by Kermorgant into the path of Haynes who only had the onrushing Forde to beat, but the ‘keeper was able to just about win the race and get the ball away for a throw. The Millwall stopper had to be on his toes again just a few moments later and as the lively Harriott cut inside from the left and, unchallenged, unleashed a terrific strike that look destined for the back of the net but for Forde’s intervention.
Millwall were starting to come under heavy pressure and Hulse’s long range effort that sailed way over the bar offered little relief. The threat from Charlton continued to come down the left and Harriott’s deep ball in to the box was met by Kermorgant, who attempted to replicate his ‘Yann-Basten’ effort from the final day of last season but the ball looped harmlessly away from goal. The Lions had the best of the final few minutes with Shittu shifting through the gears to outpace Harriott and deliver a cross that was met by Button, whilst Adam Smith really should have done better from Hulse’s knock down after some excellent work out on the left by N’Guessan, but the substitute could only poke wide. As the half time whistle blew, both sides would have been happy with their first half displays but it was Charlton who, albeit marginally, were on top.
The Addicks so easily could have been ahead on several occasions within the first 10 minutes of the second half. Harriott’s trickery on the edge of the box saw him brought down by Alan Dunne, resulting in a yellow card for the Millwall defender and a free-kick to Charlton in an excellent position. Kermorgant and Jackson stood over it; the former stepped up and curled his effort inches wide of the post. Initially it looked to be heading into the top corner but the ball moved away from goal; agonising for the home fans. Kermorgant was proving an impossibility to cope with in the air for the Lions defence and his flick-ons played in Haynes on several occasions with the striker in front of Shittu in each of them only for the robust defender to get back and prevent him from getting a shot away. There were several shouts for infringements in Shittu’s dispossessing of the ball and he appeared lucky to get away with raising his hands and pushing Haynes off the ball, but referee Swarbrick saw nothing wrong with the incident.
Shittu and Forde were proving the difference for Millwall as Kermorgant himself managed to break free after Millwall lost control of the ball in midfield but the former of the key men raced off his line again to send the ball clear for a throw. Charlton continued to press and Chris Solly’s free-kick could only be cleared into the path of Harriott, but the winger fired over from an excellent position. With Millwall struggling to withstand the Charlton pressure, the Addicks wasted their best opportunity to take the lead with 56 minutes on the clock. Again, the threat came from the left as Wiggins crossed, Kermorgant flicked on and Wilson stuck out a leg to seemingly turn the ball in from a matter of inches. But, under pressure from Smith and Forde, Wilson somehow managed to get his effort to clear the ball. Whilst Kermorgant complained to the referee for not awarding a penalty with the Frenchman being hauled down in the build-up, there was a feeling of disbelief around the ground as to how the Addicks hadn’t gone a goal up. It would prove to be crucial.
Millwall brought on new signing Easter for N’guessan as the away switched to a 4-4-2 formation and it proved to be an inspired change from Jackett as, with his first touch of a ball in a Millwall shirt, Easter gave his side the lead. Chaplow collected the ball out on the left and swung a low cross into the box for Easter to poke underneath Button from close range. Against the run of play and totally undeserved, it was a huge blow to take for the Charlton fans and players whose performance up to that point hadn’t warranted the lead. But the performance took a severe nose dive from that moment forth. The lucky break for the away side saw the tides turn completely and it was now they who were exerting pressure on the opposition’s goal, an Easter ball in was collected by Button and two blocked shots in succession threated to double the lead, but it wasn’t to be long before Millwall added a second. Adam Smith was clipped by Pritchard 30 yards from goal, resulting in a yellow card for the Charlton midfielder. Seemingly too far out to shoot, Lowry stepped to do exactly that, and, defying all logic, curled the ball past Button into the top corner. Button may have been out of position and arguably should have stopped a dead ball effort from such a distance, but that takes nothing away from the sheer brilliance of the goal. The wonder strike had seemingly killed the game off and given Millwall all three points with 25 minutes left.
Chris Powell responded immediately, bringing off the ineffective Wilson and Haynes, who arguably had his worst 65 minutes in a Charlton shirt, to be replaced by Fuller and Scott Wagstaff. Another penalty claim for the Addicks was waved away soon after as Fuller was hauled down by Shittu. The defender had his hands all over the substitute and it looked to be a stonewall penalty but Swarbrick barely batted an eyelid. Charlton endeavoured but with no reward as their numerous crosses and balls played forward provided very few opportunities. Pritchard’s defence splitting ball into Harriott with the winger choosing to take a touch instead of shooting first time, resulting in Millwall getting clear, the best of the bunch. There was still over 15 minutes to play at the point, but with the clock ticking away, the fading hope of any points turned to black. Solly’s driven cross was prevented from finding a Charlton shirt by the body of Forde after the right back’s original ball in after collecting a Pritchard throw had caused confusion, whilst Fuller unforgivably wasted a glorious opportunity to pull one back with 5 minutes to play as he sent the ball soaring into the third row of the upper north after the ball fell to him from a half cleared cross. Millwall rarely got forward in the closing stages, they had no need to, the points were there’s. An almost empty Valley serenaded the Charlton players off the field with a chorus of boos at the final whistle; an all too familiar sound at home this season.
Another case of what might have been for the Addicks. A hatful of points have been lost through wasted chances and bad luck, but that’s football, only it seems to happen week in, week out at the Valley. Up until Millwall’s opener, the performance was solid. Morrison and Taylor were rocks at the back, Wiggins and Solly were fantastic, especially Wiggins down the left with Harriott, whilst Jackson and Pritchard were excellent in the centre. Kermorgant also put in a decent shift whilst getting no protection from the referee. After the goal, it’s difficult to praise any of them, summed up by Kermorgant’s constant moaning.
But those mentioned above didn’t have poor performances; Button, Wilson and Haynes did. Gone was the assured performance of last week from Button to be replaced with a shaky display characterised with poor distribution, fumbling from crosses and two goals conceded which he arguably could have done better with. Wilson, who not only missed the best chance of the game, also missed his team mates with his passing, which was way off target throughout his time on the pitch, whilst Haynes was highly disappointing, unable to cope with Shittu and seemingly throwing a strop as he came off.
Disappointing? Of course. Sickening? Most definitely. Disastrous? No. There will of course be an outraged backlash after this and there’s no getting away from the fact the home form isn’t good enough, but calling for Powell’s head or anything of a similar nature is nonsense. The squad isn’t good enough; Powell has worked wonders to grind out some brilliant victories with a substandard set of players for this division and should be praised no end for keeping us in the division. Yes, the gap between us and the bottom three is now only five points, but I have no fears about relegation and I still believe we’ll finish around about 13th.
To sum up this week, I leave you with this message posted on Twitter by club legend Jason Euell: ‘As a fan I feel sick that we lost to Millwall,but I still continue to back and have belief in the Gaffer and The Boys. So should you.’
After the results of recent weeks, the dreaded ‘r’ word was again being mentioned by some. Whilst still having a healthy gap over the drop zone, the worrying results at home and the form of those fighting for their lives down the bottom had led to a number of Charlton fans voicing concerns about the club’s Championship safety. With the Addicks coming back to South East London with a hard earned point from Peterborough in midweek, an overdue win against Huddersfield would see any relegation concerns lessen. Charlton duly obliged. It wasn’t one for the purists but a strong defensive performance, including a first clean sheet in 16, saw the Addicks come away from the John Smiths Stadium with a vital 1-0 victory.
The Addicks, starting by far the brighter of the two sides, took the lead after just four minutes. A cleverly worked free-kick saw Callum Harriott presented with an excellent scoring opportunity, and the youngster stabbed home for his first professional goal. The 300 travelling fans would have hoped the away side would have pressed on and doubled their lead, but it wasn’t to be as Huddersfield set the tone immediately after the Charlton opener. Dominating possession, the home side pushed the Addicks onto the back foot without creating many clear cut chances; Charlton produced the better opportunities on the break but poor finishing prevented them from putting the game beyond the Terriers before halftime. The second half followed in similar fashion. Cross after cross and corner after corner went into the Charlton box, but through a mixture of solid defending, David Button’s dominance inside the box and the odd bit of luck, the Addicks held on for the three points.
Following a vastly improved performance at London Road on Tuesday night, Chris Powell opted to field an unchanged XI. This meant a second start of the season for the exciting 19-year-old Harriott, Danny Haynes and Ricardo Fuller continued up top in the absence of the suspended Yann Kermorgant, whilst Matthew Taylor kept his place at centre back with Leon Cort failing to recover from injury. Dale Stephens, however, had managed to overcome his injury problems and took his place on the substitute’s bench, replacing Andy Hughes.
Huddersfield had also had an impressive result in midweek; a 2-1 win over Middlesbrough, and they too went with an unchanged side. This saw starts for the highly rated Alex Smithies and the right back that beat Chris Solly to a place in the League One Team of the Season last term, Jack Hunt. The Terriers latest loan signing, Theo Robinson from Derby, started up top alongside Lee Novak, whilst the bench had a couple of familiar names for Charlton fans in the shape of former Crystal Palace striker Alan Lee and Danny Ward, who was the star of Swindon’s play-off victory in 2010.
The game raced into life with Charlton in control in the opening minutes. The lively Harriott beat Hunt twice over on the left flank and his pull back found Haynes, only for the striker to hesitate and see his shot deflected behind off Peter Clarke for a corner. Johnnie Jackson’s resulting set piece came to nothing, but it wasn’t to be long before another dead ball produced the opening goal for the Addicks. Fuller was brought down on the left hand side, presenting Chris Solly with an excellent opportunity to cross the ball into the box, and that’s obviously what the Terriers expected as Harriott was left unmarked just inside the area. Solly cleverly pulled the back, Harriott took a touch and poked the ball past Smithies into the bottom corner of the net. Characteristically slow starters, the early goal for the away side was more than welcomed by the delirious travelling supporters.
Unable to get out of their own half in the opening five minutes, the goal kicked Huddersfield into life. Almost immediately, Neil Danns had an effort from outside the area but his shot went sailing over the bar. The shot was a rare occurrence as, despite the possession and the ball spending most of its time in Charlton’s defensive third of the pitch, Huddersfield failed to carve out any real openings. A corner from Oliver Norwood fizzed across goal but no player in a blue and white shirt could capitalise, whilst several crosses from the left through the impressive Danns and the left back Paul Dixon caused a few scares, but Button and his defence were equal to the continuous pressure. In a rare Charlton break, Haynes almost got in behind after a Rhoys Wiggins free-kick was lifted up field, but Smithies, despite a fumble, managed to collect the ball.
Huddersfield remained well on top and when Robinson had the ball played into him it looked like they might pull level, but his shot was tame and Button had no worries preventing an equaliser. The corners continued but the Terries couldn’t make anything of them, only a Clarke header that flew well wide could go down as an attempt on goal. But the pressure was always going to lead to something and Novak’s header produced a fantastic point blank save from Button just after half an hour.
After seemingly weathering the storm, Charlton had a period of possession and ironed out a number of chances. Bradley Pritchard flicked through to set Lawrie Wilson free down the right, but his cross to the near post was headed well wide by Haynes. Haynes then had an even better chance to score as Wilson’s ball into Harriott on the half way line set Charlton up for break. The winger travelled before picking out Haynes with a pinpoint ball that split the back four, leaving Haynes one-on-one with Smithies, but the keeper got down well to the effort and saved well. The ball was cleared and Fuller picked up, but his shot from outside the area was rushed and fired well wide of goal.
A guilt edge chance missed for the Addicks, but just a few moments later, the away side carved out an even better opening. Solly was cynically hacked down by Oscar Gobern on the right hand side, winning a free-kick in an excellent crossing position. Jackson’s delivery was flicked on by Wilson, beating Smithies and looking set to nestle in the back of the net, but Clarke obviously hadn’t read that script and pulled off an acrobatic clearance to hook the ball away from goal. Dangerously close to crossing the line, Wilson appeared but the assistant didn’t respond, whilst Pritchard’s follow up was blocked and saved at the second attempt by Smithies. With the first half coming to an end, there was still an opportunity for Huddersfield to threaten in the one minute of additional time. In a similar situation to Charlie Austin’s wonderstrike last week, Norwood wasn’t closed down and invited to shoot from range, which he did, but his effort lacked the power to beat Button and he was able to get across and pull off an excellent save to hold Charlton’s lead into half time.
After the solid defensive display in the first half, it was clear the Addicks would have to replicate that and more in the second with Huddersfield starting brightly. Just a minute into the half, Taylor lunged at Hunt resulting in a free-kick for the Terriers in a dangerous position. Clayton stood over the ball and his effort, heading for the top corner, was parried away by Button and just about cleared for a corner after pressure from Novak. Novak himself then had an effort from just outside the area but his shot was fired well over; Huddersfield’s possession was again producing very little. The introduction of target man Lee and pacey winger Ward after 55 minutes saw Huddersfield push further forward, with the former giving Morrison and Taylor a torrid time, but the back four and Button remained solid. A scramble in the box eventually saw the ball fall to Gobern on the edge, but his shot trickled through in the hands of Button. The frustration in the home ends was obvious as it began to look like Huddersfield could play all day for no reward.
In a rare Charlton break, Wiggins and Harriot combined down the left with the latter being sent in but one touch too many resulted in a corner, which came to nothing. It was clear Powell had little more in mind than to hold on and Fuller was replaced by Dorian Dervite with the Frenchman slotting in in behind the midfield. Several fans in the away end were disgruntled with the defensive change as 25 minutes still remained on the clock, but it seemed to the job with the defence remaining as strong as ever. Morrison and Taylor won every head whilst Solly and Wiggins were exceptional at full back as Huddersfield continued to be frustrated.
Charlton’s goal scorer, Harriott, was replaced by Cedric Evina with just over ten minutes to play with the left back playing in an unnatural left wing position but spending most of his time doubling up with Wiggins to prevent the threat from Huddersfield’s right hand side. As the Addicks went to hit and hope clearances, one such ball up field with time running out from Dervite bounced through and set the tiring Haynes in, but Smithies came quickly off his line to hook the ball away. A corner from Jackson moments later resulted in a goal mouth scramble caused by a Taylor head, but Huddersfield eventually cleared and desperately sought out an equaliser.
Charlton had long been time wasting, Rhoys Wiggins had already received a booking for such an offence, and Button’s delaying tactics in not picking up the ball until Lee was a yard away from him earned the Charlton keeper a petulant kick from the Town striker, resulting in a yellow card. Haynes, clearly feeling the effects of three games in a week, was brought off with Jonathan Obika replacing him, and a break down the left with Evina looked to have played him in the final minute of normal time, but his hesitation on the ball allowed Huddersfield to get clear.
Five minutes of additional time were signalled, much to the bemusement and anger of the away fans, and Huddersfield camped themselves in Charlton’s half for a nervy end to the game. Smithies came up for several corners and a free-kick, but the Charlton defence were equal to them all with Button, apart from collecting crosses, only forced into a save from Lee’s header right at the death. Obika found his way into the box again as Charlton hoofed clear, but his poor touch in a shooting position saw Town clear, but it meant little as referee Stroud blew the final whistle just seconds later. A fantastic and hard fought win for the Addicks.
Just as the point was vital on Tuesday night to stop the rot and prevent Charlton being dragged into a relegation battle, the victory today was vital in pulling the Addicks well away from the drop zone. Whilst not the most pleasing display going forward, the defensive performance deserves endless praise. Morrison and Taylor were solid, winning the vast majority of their headers and making some crucial tackles, Solly was his usual immaculate self, doubling up with Wilson to cope well with the dangerous Danns down the right hand side, whilst Wiggins looked back to his old self after some shaky displays after coming back from injury.
But special praise must go to David Button. I criticised his inclusion last week as much as anyone else and saw little in the game against Burnley to convince me he was any more worthy of his place in the side than Hamer. I saw some promise on Tuesday night, but his performance was ruined by his ‘mistake’ for Peterborough’s equaliser, but today he was exceptional. Every cross was collected and every effort on goal was kept out superbly; you felt assured with him in between the sticks. His kicking was a little wayward towards the end, but that takes nothing away from a fantastic performance.
Elsewhere, Haynes caused a nuisance until he tired, Pritchard and Jackson followed on from midweek with a solid display in the centre of midfield and Harriott showed moments of brilliance, his goal included, and dogged determination to again suggest he has the potential to be something special. Certainly not faultless and often giving the ball away cheaply, he also has a lot to learn and certainly isn’t the finished article yet. It’s only a matter of time.
Seven points clear of the drop zone and sitting pretty in a solid 12th position, all signs suggest the Addicks have done enough to remain in the Championship for another season. The task now is to end the season, finish as high as possible and put some exciting performances along the way. With Millwall coming to the Valley next week, it’s time to sort that home form out.
After two soulless performances at home in the last two weeks, anything out of a tough midweek trip to London Road to face Peterborough United would have been more than welcome prior to kick off. But, as seems to be the case more often than not when a point would be taken, there was a slight sense of frustration as the referee blew his whistle for full time with the score at 2-2. A vastly improved performance on the last fortnight, several chances fell the way of the Addicks but, as has been the case for most of the season, they weren’t taken. Peterborough had their chances too and have the right to feel just as aggrieved with the point as the away side, especially with the situation they find themselves in and how crucial a victory would have been for the Posh. But the draw was fair; a result that will please the Charlton camp much more than it will Peterborough’s.
Despite Charlton creating the best of the early chances, it was the home side that took the lead after 24 minutes. A Peterborough break saw Danny Swanson pick up the ball on the half way line and, almost unchallenged, ran through and slotted past David Button into the bottom corner from just inside the area. The setback hit the Addicks hard and their performance dropped for the remainder of the half with Peterborough dominating. Charlton started the second half slowly, but quickly picked up their game and levelled through captain Johnnie Jackson after 55 minutes. The goal gave them the impetus and, as Posh failed to clear on several occasions from a corner and the following crosses, a goal mouth scramble resulted in Danny Haynes poking home to give Charlton a lead with 59 minutes on the clock. It was now Charlton’s turn to dominate, but they couldn’t capitalise on several clear cut chances, and Peterborough took advantage in the 71st minute with Michael Bostwick crashing him from range. Peterborough had the best of the chances in the final twenty minutes and Charlton were hanging on to their point in stoppage time with the final whistle coming as a relief for the vocal away support.
Chris Powell again reworked his side following the poor display against Burnley at the weekend. A conventional 4-4-2 was deployed with Jonathan Obika and Dorian Dervite missing out, Haynes moving up top to partner Ricardo Fuller and youngster Callum Harriott coming in to start his first game in the Championship on the left flank. The youth team product had been impressive in brief cameo roles throughout the season and he was worthy of his place in the starting XI. The change of shape also saw Bradley Pritchard move centrally and Lawrie Wilson push up to right midfield with the returning Chris Solly slotting back in to his familiar right back position. The one other change to the line-up saw Matthew Taylor come in at centre back to replace the injured Leon Cort.
Things were far more straight forward for Peterborough boss Darren Ferguson as he named an unchanged side following their 3-2 victory over Blackburn Rovers on Saturday. Posh’s main threat would come from Dwight Gayle with the striker coming into the came off the back of a hat-trick at Ewood Park. There were also starts for two players who were the subject of interest from Charlton in the summer; Boswick and, the man Peterborough fans are hoping can fill the George Boyd shaped hole in their team, Danny Swanson.
It was Charlton who raced into life and so easily could have been a goal up after just a matter of minutes. Wilson dispossessed Tommy Rowe on the right flank and, admits the backdrop of Peterborough fans calling for a free-kick for an infringement, cut inside before unleashing a ferocious strike that crashed against the underside of the bar and back out again. Harriott picked up the loose ball but his cross from the left could only be turned against the side netting by Fuller but the away fans were still in a state of shock has to how Wilson’s effort hadn’t found its way into the net. Charlton created another opening just two minutes later as Fuller’s cross-cum-shot just evaded the outstretched leg of Danny Haynes at the far post. With Posh on the back foot, they could only muster a Nathaniel Mendez-Laing effort in the first 10 minutes that found its way straight into the hands of Button.
Charlton remained dominant and, with a Haynes half volley comfortably saved in between, had their best chance to open the scoring with the clock nearing 20 minutes. Jackson picked up the ball in midfield on a Charlton break and drove forward with the ball at his feet before sending Wilson free down the right. His cross found an unmarked Fuller in the centre but his header was placed perfectly for Posh keeper Bobby Olejink to hold. A yard either side of the keeper and the Addicks would have been celebrating a fantastic breakaway goal, but they were made to rue that miss as Peterborough began to grow into the game. Almost immediately Posh went down the other end with Mark Little and Mendez-Laing linking up for the Latter to break free one on one with Button, but the keeper made himself big and blocked the ball away for a corner, which produced an even greater chance for the home side, but Gabriel Zakuani somehow blasted over from no more than six yards out. A let off for the Addicks, but it wasn’t to be long before Peterborough did have the ball in the net.
The away side lost possession in the final third and, with numbers hanging back low, Swanson was able to race through on goal, only having to briefly skip past the onrushing Michael Morrison, and finish calmly past Button. A feeling of injustice was felt by the Charlton fans as their side’s 20 minutes of dominance had come to nothing and Peterborough’s brief spell of possession had brought them a goal. But it was now the home side on top and Charlton’s performance looked alarmingly similar to ones seen at home in recent weeks with misplaced passes and over hit crosses become the norm, whilst Morrison had clear the ball away for a corner from just under his crossbar moments after the goal.
With ten minutes to play in the half, the Addicks had their keeper to thank for keeping the deficit at one. Mendez-Laing’s pace saw him continuously find ways to trouble the Charlton back line and Rowe’s ball through allowed him to break away in behind the defence again, but Button got enough of his body behind the shot to see it deflected away for a corner. Whilst Charlton weren’t troubled for the remainder of the half, they struggled to replicate the dominance of the opening passages of play and half time couldn’t come quick enough.
It was hoped that Powell’s words would get the side playing again, but Charlton had good fortune to thank as they were almost two down after 20 seconds of play in the second half. Dwight Gayle had the ball played to him out wide from kick off and after a lucky break managed to get past Rhoys Wiggins before playing in a perfect ball for Lee Tomlin. Bearing down on goal it looked like there was only one outcome, but the winger sliced his shot and could only find the outside of the post. A major wake up call for the Addicks, who managed to regain their stride soon after. Good work down the right from Wilson won Charlton their first corner of the half, which was cleared away by the Peterborough defence, and Callum Harriott’s volley that flew just wide were signs Charlton were slowly growing back into the game.
Harriott had looked impressive with the ball at his feet in the first half but failed to produce much with his final delivery; he quickly put that right in the second half. Collecting the ball whilst on the move in a Charlton break, the teenager quickly spotted the run of Jackson and played in an inch perfect pass for the skipper to finish past Olejnik. The travelling fans responded by singing Jackson’s chant continuously, that is until the Addicks won a corner. The skipper’s delivery skinned the head of Taylor, but found its way out to Solly whose cross was blocked but not cleared as Solly again had the ball at his feet. His dinked ball was powerfully headed at goal by Morrison at the far post and, with players and fans alike appealing for a goal with the ball appearing to be over the line, Haynes made sure by smashing the ball into the roof of the net. The away fans in the terrace were bouncing all over the place as Haynes ran past pointing to his name and number before ripping off his shirt in fantastic celebrations. The goal scorer was promptly booked; well worth it for such a celebration.
With the confidence flowing and the Charlton fans louder than ever, the Addicks began to dominate once more. Almost immediately after the goal there was a fantastic chance for Charlton to double their lead as Harriott broke down the left, played in Pritchard who in turn found Wilson, only for the wingers cross to be turned away. However, the ball fell straight to Wiggins’ feet but instead of lashing it at goal like the situation probably required; he chose to attempt to pick Harriott and only succeeded in rolling the ball behind for a goal kick. Haynes remained at the centre of the action, heading over from a Wiggins cross and then, in another fantastic chance, found himself one on one with Olejnik in a position that didn’t favour a shot, but his hesitancy meant his chipped ball to Fuller in the middle was cut out by Zakuani when an early ball would have almost certainly produced goal number three for the Addicks.
But in the position Peterborough find themselves in, they were never going to lie down and accept defeat and they soon overcame the Charlton storm, starting one of their own with a Gayle effort that Button saved well. A drive Mendez-Laing free-kick from the left somehow evaded everyone in the box, eventually falling at the feet of Tomlin but his shot was fantastically blocked by the impressive Jackson. The resulting corner was only half cleared and the ball sat up perfectly for Bostwick to try his luck, and his effort went through a sea of bodies before going underneath Button and nestling in the bottom corner of the net. Whilst not against the run of play, it was an underserved equaliser in the grand scheme of things, with Charlton again made to rue missed chances.
Charlton introduced Obika, whilst Peterborough brought on Tyrone Barnett, who had previously been transfer listed by the club, as both sides searched for a winner. Jackson came close from a free-kick as Olejnik was forced to turn over and Haynes came even close from a corner moments later but his header went just wide after connecting with the ball at the near post. With the game entering the final five minutes, it was Peterborough who were looking more likely to score, and Barnett flashed a shot just wide of Button’s far post whilst Charlton were made to withstand a heavy onslaught of corners. In a rare moment inside the opposition’s box, Obika almost won it for Charlton, but his close range shots after the ball had fallen to him from a throw were both blocked by some last ditched Peterborough defending.
With stoppage time being played, Peterborough had one last chance to win it as another one of their corners caused havoc with Rowe’s header saved at point blank range by Button, causing a goal mouth scramble with Jackson eventually getting the ball away for another corner. But despite the chances created from both sides, there was to be no winner, and the positive reaction of Charlton’s mightily loud away following said it all in terms of which set of supporters were more appreciative of the point.
Another fantastic away performance, as Charlton fans have come to expect this season, that could have given so much more, another factor that Charlton fans have come to expect this season. It’s difficult to say but Charlton marginally had the better of the game and definitely had the better positions from which to win the game or extend their lead, but the point is a vital one to keep them away from the bottom three.
There were some fantastic individual performances: Button pulled off some excellent saves, Harriott showed yet more promise whilst Haynes looked sharp. However, special mention must go to Johnnie Jackson; a captain’s performance of the highest order. When the chips are down, he tends to come up with the goods, Cardiff and Watford spring to mind, and that’s exactly what Jackson did again. The goal capped off a fantastic display that was one of his best in a Charlton shirt after a quiet period. I wouldn’t want anyone else leading this Charlton side.
Whilst that six point cushion and our performances away from home give me little reason to panic, a win over Huddersfield on Saturday is vitally important to avoiding any chance of Charlton being dragged into trouble. A repeat performance with the chances created taken and I see no reason why the Addicks won’t be travelling home with three points on Saturday evening.
In Chris Powell’s programme notes the Charlton manager called winning just four games at home all season ‘not good enough’. Last week’s performance at home to Nottingham Forest was not good enough. The flaws in the home performances needed to be corrected and with an out of form Burnley visiting the Valley, the opportunity was there to right the wrongs of last week in particular. A response was expected. Powell responded, doing what many of the most critical were calling for, by reshaping the team and brining in fresh faces; the players responded with another disappointing and below par performance that, despite Burnley rarely troubling the Charlton goal, got exactly what it warranted in a 1-0 defeat. The odd chance was created, the ball rarely left Burnley’s half for the final ten minutes of the game and there was certainly some puff from most of the eleven, but a failure to keep the ball, a lack of organisation and a general impression that Powell and his team were void of ideas made the performance frustratingly poor.
Burnley also failed to impress in what was a tedious game; the sort of game that requires a moment of magic to snatch the three points. The prolific Charlie Austin, a regular scorer on his visits to the Valley, supplied just a moment with a fantastic long range effort that crashed into the top corner of Charlton’s goal just before halftime. There seemed to be nothing on, but the former bricklayer wasn’t closed down, giving him a clear sight of goal and chance to try to his arm. Danny Haynes came close in both halves and Michael Morrison should have scored in the second, but it wasn’t to be for the Addicks. The doubters’ voices are getting louder and the pressure is on Powell to turn this form around and start picking up points again.
Changes to Charlton’s line up were expected, but Powell was a little bolder than most predicted. Out went Ben Hamer, dropped for the first time in his career as a Charlton player after a string of errors, with David Button coming in to replace him. The change split the home fans. Despite Hamer’s recent calamities, he remains one of the players of the season and his ability, especially in terms of shot stopping, is unquestionable, but the mistakes of late opened the door for former Tottenham keeper Button. With injuries hitting key mean in the shape of Chris Solly and Dale Stephens, Lawrie Wilson and Danny Haynes came into replace them with the later hovering between the left wing and upfront. The other enforced chance saw Ricardo Fuller replace the suspended Yann Kermorgant whilst Scott Wagstaff dropped to the bench, giving Jonathan Obika a first start, who operated up top and along the right hand side in a 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation.
For Burnley, Sean Dyche set his men up in a conservative 4-4-2 formation filled with experience Championship players and developing young players. The exciting Alex Kacaniklic, signed on loan from Fulham on Friday, made his debut on the left flank with former West Ham youngster Junior Stanislas on the right. There was also a start for Martin Paterson, who joined Austin up front for the Clarets. The former Derby, and summer transfer target for the Addicks, Jason Shackell partnered David Edgar at centre back, whilst Kieran Trippier, sent off in the reverse fixture in November, started at left back.
The first 10 minutes were almost identical to last week’s with neither side managing to keep the ball nor create anything of any real note. The first opening for the Addicks five minutes into the game saw the ball land at the feet of Haynes but, under pressure from Kevin Long, he completely miss-kicked the ball, slicing it out of play. Down the other hand, Paterson had the first respectable shot of the game, opening up his shoulders and firing well over from distance, whilst Button was tested for the first time moments later, doing well to save from an Austin header. It looked like Button was beaten in Burnley’s next attack after Stanislas had dispossessed Haynes and fed in Paterson to finish past the keeper, but he was saved by the offside flag.
A sloppy start, but the first real bit of fight and determination crafted Charlton’s first clear cut opportunity just past the ten minute mark. It appeared Marvin Bartley had no red shirt challenging him for an aerial ball, but Haynes showed great strength to come from behind him and powerfully head the ball into the bath of Fuller. He connected with Pritchard and Wilson down the right flank and the latter’s cross was headed just wide by the man who started the move, Haynes. This sparked a brief spell of Charlton dominance and just moments later, a Johnnie Jackson corner was headed back across by Morrison, who was lurking at the far post, onto the head of Haynes and brilliantly tipped over by Lee Grant in the Burnley goal. From the corner that followed, the ball again found its way through to the far post but Cort’s powerful volley raced across the face of goal with no Charlton player able to connect.
Charlton continued to cause a threat from their set pieces and, after a several minutes of Burnley possession which saw crosses from Kacaniklic and Bartley just about dealt with and the first sense of frustration aired by the home fans, produced another opportunity from a Jackson free-kick twenty minutes in. The delivery itself was headed away by Shackell, but only as far as Dorian Dervite, who headed back in setting Morrison and Haynes free. Whether they both feared they were offside or unsure as to who should challenge for the ball as unclear, but they both appeared tentative in sticking a foot on; Morrison’s connection trickled off his foot and, through a scramble of legs, was blocked away. The final effort of the move, Jackson’s curling effort after Fuller had collected the cleared ball, was sent well wide of the far post.
Burnley soon came back into the game and, after pressure from several corners, carved out an excellent scoring opportunity. The corner wasn’t dealt with and Kacaniklic collected the ball inside the area but his shot was saved superbly by Button and cleared away. The replacement keeper had passed his first real test with flying colours. With the away side pressing, Charlton managed to catch Burnley on the break as a fantastic cross field ball from Dervite found its way to Haynes who found Fuller who in turn played in Bradley Pritchard but the Zimbabwean’s tame shot caused no concern to Grant. With Pritchard putting in an excellent shift in midfield, it was no surprise to see him causing a threat down the right hand side, but his excellent outside of the boot cross was only glanced off the head of Haynes and rolled safely into Grant’s hands.
Despite the Charlton chances, it was Burnley who were now dominating possession and looking calmly in control of the game without creating any significant openings. Charlton’s back four were equal to the numerous crosses delivered in, with Kacaniklic posing a real threat and having a shot of his own that in truth sailed harmlessly over the bar. But with a player like Austin in their side, Burnley were ever only going to need the slightest opening to capitalise on, and that’s exactly what was offered to the striker after Kacaniklic played the ball to him on the left and no Charlton player got tight enough to him. Knocking the ball inside, Austin had a clear sight of goal and thumped an outrageous effort from range that, despite the distance, looked in from the moment it left his foot, leaving Button helpless as the ball rifled into the top corner. With just three minutes left of the half, the strike had come at a crucial period as Burnley went in at the break in front. Charlton were left to bemoan their missed chances and sloppy play in terms of conceding possession time and time again that allowed the away side to get on top as they trudged off the pitch to a chorus of boos.
The second half started brightly for Charlton as Pritchard was played in by Fuller, but his volley was deflected wide of the far post. The resulting corner caused more concern in the Burnley box as Jackson’s delivery was sent again to the far post for Cort to head across goal, but Long managed to clear after the ball evaded everyone in a red shirt. Ricardo Fuller then had an effort after Pritchard teed him up, but the Jamaican, putting in a substandard performance, dragged his shot well wide. With Charlton failing to finish, Burnley almost capitalised after a fumble from Button saw the ball land at the feet of Austin but Wilson was able to prevent him prodding the ball into the empty net. With Charlton fans still shaking their heads at Button’s error, Burnley fans had their keeper to thank for a fantastic save moments later. Wilson was played in down the right wing by Fuller and the full backs cross was perfect for Haynes to head powerfully into the bottom corner. It looked destined for the back of the net by Grant pulled off a fantastic fingertip save to tip the ball around the post. The following corner found its way through to Cort again, but the defender was able to control his shot and fired a considerable distance wide. It was beginning to feel like one of those days where nothing would go right for the Addicks.
Powell seemingly thought changes were needed to get the home side back into the game and off came the ineffective Obika and Dervite to be replaced by Danny Green and youngster Callum Harriott. The pair added some pace down the flanks, allowing Haynes to head permanently up top, with Green immediately forcing Austin to bring him down when breaking away and Harriott exciting the crowd with a nutmeg of Long, but both of their final deliveries were lacking, especially in the case of Green’s long throws that were continuously cleared. Even when the balls in were won by a Charlton player, it appeared that the referee blew up for an infringement more often than not, especially in the case of Cort who had been pushed further forward by Powell in a desperate attempt to cause havoc in Burnley’s box.
Green had taken over corner taking duties had his first few led to nothing, but with 15 minutes left to play, his set piece created arguably Charlton’s best chance to level. Fuller flicked on and Morrison slid in at the far post but he couldn’t connect. Any slight touch would have surely seen the Addicks equalise. Green’s introduction had put Charlton on the front foot, and another Green cross moments later saw Cort’s looping header tipped over the bar by the impressive Grant with the resulting corner being headed over the bar by Morrison. The final ten minutes saw the ball spend most of its time in the Burnley half but, try as they might, Charlton couldn’t carve out a meaningful opening. Green’s volley looked to be troubling Grant before it was blocked away and Haynes’ follow up shot saw a similar fate. Cross after cross, corner after corner and throw after throw came to nothing and despite five minutes of added on time, there wasn’t enough time for Charlton to snatch an equaliser. The boos returned with the sound of the final whistle as once again the Addicks hadn’t done enough at home.
On another day, it might have been different. Enough chances were created to suggest a point was a far outcome, but there have been too many games this season in which that can be said and the performance as a whole didn’t warrant anything. I’m not one to blame him, but today I feel it’s justified. Powell’s 4-5-1/4-3-3 backfired with the team lacking organisation and shape, but this wasn’t helped by the players lacking the ability to keep the ball. The strikers failed to hold up the play, especially Obika who looked completely out of his depth. It’s wrong to judge a player on wrong performance but a comparison with Frank Nouble’s impact two seasons ago isn’t unjust on his display today. Haynes was frustrating, looking good in patches, poor in others, whilst Fuller had what was probably his worst day in a Charlton shirt. The decision to bring Button in is also a questionable one, which I didn’t welcome pre kick-off. After seeing Button twice now, and both times look uncomfortable, I’d much prefer to see Hamer in between the sticks.
Unlike last week, it’s possible to take a one or two small positives. Harriott looked exciting as ever when he came on, as did Green. I’m one of Green’s harshest critics but if he puts in shifts like that on a consistent on basis I’ll be willing to take back my moans and groans about him. Pritchard was also outstanding, winning headers, winning possession and putting in some excellent deliveries. Apart from that, it was pretty bleak.
Is it time to panic? Is it time to think about the r word? No to both, at least not yet, but the coming week is huge. Two away games, where Charlton’s best performances are put it, against two beatable sides, Peterborough and Huddersfield, could go a long way to deciding how comfortable we really are. Six points and all his calm once again; no points and the panic buttons will be pressed.