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.