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.