Whether you’re about to be crowned champions, have nothing to play for in mid-table or fighting for your lives at the bottom of the league, the final away of the season is always one of the most enjoyable days in the football calendar. The club merchandise is left in the wardrobe for one weekend and the fancy dress shops are raided for the finest Superman, Rainbow and banana costumes. Charlton’s own take on the traditional dress down day of the season was to dress up; numerous fully suited, flat-capped and mask wearing Chris Powells made the long trip up north to Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium. Whilst the home side’s season was over, sitting in mid-table after falling drastically since their 4-1 win in the reverse fixture at the Valley in November, the Addicks still had the faint glimmer of the play-offs in the distance. With five points separating them from 6th place, results going the Addicks’ way and, of course, another three points away from home would have seen Charlton still have an outside chance of competing to extend their season on the final day. Their hopes, however, were dashed by a late Middlesbrough come back as the sides shared the spoils in a 2-2 draw.
The game couldn’t have got off to a better start for the Addicks as Ricardo Fuller broke down the left and played the ball into the box for Bradley Pritchard to finish with less than a minute on the clock. Both sides were creating chances but, with 17 minutes gone, it was Charlton who doubled their lead. A cleverly worked free-kick from Mark Gower was crossed on the volley by Yann Kermorgant and, under pressure from Michael Morrison, Boro skipper Rhys Williams could only clear the ball into his own net. The away side created several chances to add a third, but Middlesbrough never gave up, especially after half time when the Addicks began to look nervous and the home side began to test Ben Hamer in the Charlton goal with more regularity. The goal was coming, and with 76 minutes on the clock, Marvin Emnes flicked home Grant Leadbitter’s cross to give the Boro a lifeline. That lifeline looked to have vanished in Charlton’s next attack as Kermorgant battled through down the right and worked his way into the box before sliding the ball across goal for Fuller to tap home, but the assistant referee raised his flag for offside, much to the dismay of all inside the Riverside with a Charlton connection. With replays suggesting Fuller was comfortably onside, Scott McDonald’s 87th minute equaliser from Mustapha Carayol’s corner was a cruel and undeserved blow for the Addicks. There was still time for two penalty shouts to be dubiously turned down by referee Drysdale in stoppage time but the Addicks couldn’t get the goal they needed to give themselves an outside chance of the final play-off spot.
Charlton were forced into making alterations to their starting line-up for the first time in five games with hamstring injuries ruling out both captain Johnnie Jackson and lucky charm Andy Hughes. Gower came into centre midfield, alongside the returning Danny Hollands, making his first appearance of 2013 for the Addicks in a selection that raised many an eyebrow. The two like-for-like changes meant Charlton were able to be otherwise unchanged, fielding the remaining nine players from the current excellent run of form. Chris Solly, Dorian Dervite, Morrison and Wiggins protected Hamer’s goal whilst Pritchard and Callum Harriott flanked the new partnership in the centre of midfield with Kermorgant and Fuller remaining up top. There was also a return to the match day squad for Danny Haynes who filled the space Gower vacated on the bench.
Middlesbrough, on the other hand, made a host of changes following their 2-1 defeat to Bolton last Saturday. Out went Jonathan Woodgate, Kieran Dyer, Josh McEarchran and Sammi Ameob, in came Andre Bikey, Adam Reach, Curtis Main and Emnes as the Boro reverted from a 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation to a 4-4-2 set up. And as the match day programme celebrated the Teesside club’s impressive record of producing first team players through their academy, Reach and Main were joined by fellow academy graduates Jason Steele, Richard Smallwood and Williams. Having been told he won’t be getting his contract renewed in the week, former Charlton captain and infamous penalty misser Nicky Bailey was given a place on the bench.
With the travelling 600 or so Charlton fans in fine voice, they were given a reason to be even more joyful with 30 seconds gone. Kermorgant set Fuller free down the left and, in typical fashion, the Jamaican attempted to cut inside and beat his man with some clever footwork, which he did, setting himself free to play the ball across goal for Pritchard to pounce and give the Addicks and early lead. The bunt of many jokes for his finishing, Pritchard was making no mistakes with this one, lashing the ball into the back of the net for his third of the season. Chants with a theme of Wembley and promotion were the order of the day in the away end, made to seem even more optimistic as Boro immediately came forward and wasted an excellent opportunity as Carayol blasted over from Main’s ball across goal. A succession of corners followed for the home side but the heads of Kermorgant and Dervite were able to clear the danger away from Charlton’s goal.
After absorbing some degree of pressure, the Addicks created another opening for themselves after 10 minutes. Kermorgant collected the ball in the middle of the park and played through a defence splitting pass into the feet of Fuller. The forward cut in from the left and shaped to shoot but was unable to get his effort away after being clipped by Williams. Falling to the ground, Fuller still had the ball and could have guided the ball back to Gower but instead stopped in anticipation of referee Drysdale blowing his whistle and pointing to the spot. Dyrsdale crossed his arms to dismiss Fuller’s appeals and the Jamaican’s distraught reaction gave the impression he wasn’t best pleased with the decision. The anger of not being rewarded the penalty was almost made dramatically worse as Charlton lost the ball in midfield soon after and the dangerous Carayol broke free of Solly, seeing his resulting shot blocked by a coalition of ‘keeper and defence as Hamer raced off his line.
Despite the threat from Boro, Charlton were beginning to dominate the game, looking comfortable in possession and defending solidly, and with 17 minutes gone, that domination was extended with the Addicks doubling their lead. Fuller was brought down 10 yards inside the Boro half and Charlton were presented with a seemingly innocuous free-kick; Fuller forced to stand off the pitch following a spell of treatment made the set piece appear even less threatening. Gower and Kermorgant stood over the ball but Kermorgant sprinted away with the referee ready to restart play and Gower’s delivery was perfect for the Frenchman to run onto and volley first time across the face of goal from just inside area. A collection of bodies wearing both red and black challenged for the ball and, amidst the confusion, Williams turned the ball into his own net in unfortunate circumstances. Unfortunate for Middlesbrough; delightful for Charlton.
Middlesbrough were in no mood to roll over and accept defeat, but a label of half chance would have been generous for the openings they managed to create. Smallwood fired horrendously off target from distance, whilst Carayol and Emnes combined down the left for the latter to get a shot away, but his effort rolled into the side netting. Charlton, on the other hand, were creating far more clear cut chances and wasted a glorious opportunity to go three in front after 30 minutes. Fuller’s headed flick on found Prichard and the winger went on a marauding run, seeming to have gone too far on a couple of occasions before shaking off his opponents as if they weren’t there, working his way to the outskirts of the box and picking out Kermorgant with a pinpoint pass, but the resulting shot flashed wide of the far post leaving the talismanic figure laying in the grass cursing his wasteful finishing. Fuller’s involvement in the build-up to Kermorgant’s effort was a sign of the level of performance the strike was putting in and soon after the experienced striker could have been celebrating an incredible goal with his effort from 40 yards catching an off-his-line Steele out and he could only watch as the ball sailed wide.
Hamer took the ball into his body well after a swerving effort from Reach provided a rare moment of concern for the Addicks as the away side won a corner with the clock ticking into the 45th minute. However, Boro, specifically Emnes, dealt with the set-piece and broke away at pace, going from goal to goal area, before Morrison and Pritchard prevented the striker from getting his shot away. There were cries for a penalty as Emnes hit the deck and boos from the crowd when referee Drysdale waved play on but there didn’t appear to be any substance to their claims on first viewing. It was left for Charlton to deal successfully with two late Boro corners before being serenaded off the pitch at half time with a series of chants and appreciative applause for another dominant Addicks display.
The second half got underway without the exciting start of the opening 45 as Middlesbrough struggled to maintain possession for more than a handful of passes and putting the ball mistakenly out of play on several occasions. Eight minutes into the second period, shortly after Harriott had been denied by Williams after Kermorgant had flicked through, Boro manager was left with no choice but to haul off Reach and Main and introduce Scott McDonald and Emmanuel Ledesma and the former made an immediate impact, testing Hamer’s gloves from just outside the area. Charlton were still looking threatening though and a break down the right from Kermorgant, who seemed to be popping up everywhere, produced a fantastic cross for Fuller but he couldn’t keep his header down and the ball sailed over the bar.
McDonald had made a real impact up top for the home side, collecting the majority of the balls pumped forward and making himself a real nuisance for the Charlton defence. He forced Hamer into another save, albeit comfortable, whilst his flick on from Ledesma found Emnes clean through on goal. It was an absolutely golden chance for the Dutchman to put his side back into the game but, somehow, he sliced wide when it seemed easier to score. The new found threat Middlesbrough posed gave Charlton the jolt they needed to create some chances of their. Fuller volleyed from distance on his weak feet but Steele got his body behind the effort, whilst Harriott worked his way in from the left and fired straight at the Boro ‘keeper, who wasn’t quite as helping to Harriott as his namesake Luke had been a fortnight ago. However, it wasn’t to be long before Middlesbrough gave themselves a root back into the game.
A simple move forward, not too dissimilar in manner to Charlton’s in the opening minute, saw Leadbitter send in a delicious cross that Emnes couldn’t possibly let up this time, flicking the ball past a motionless Hamer into the top corner of the goal. Game on. It so easily could have been game off again just moments later as yet more fantastic work from the determined Kermorgant saw him break down the right and cut inside, producing a fantastic drilled ball across goal with Fuller on the end of it to tap home to secure the three points. The near side assistant, however, was on hand to spoil the party with his flag raised for offside the moment Fuller made contact. Kermorgant and Fuller looked perplexed; replays later proved their shock to be justified with Fuller at least a year onside.
Powell threw on Salim Kerkar and late goal getter Jonathan Obika with the final five minutes approaching, giving Fuller and Harriott a breather. Middlesbrough, now with the incentive of a point in sight, came forward in search for the equaliser and some nervy defending saw the ball sit up for Leadbitter 25 yards from goal but his long range effort was always rising and soared over Hamer’s crossbar. Charlton fans thought they had sealed with 4 minutes to go as Hollands, excellent following his recall to the side, played though Obika with an excellent side-footed pass. The striker’s run towards goal was threatening but the shot was tame as Steele got down to save. With Obika still ruing that miss, Middlesbrough broke through Carayol and won themselves a corner. At the time it felt like Morrison’s intervention to stop Carayol’s ball in was an excellent piece of defending, but as the net rippled with McDonald’s nodding the ball past Hamer from Carayol’s corner, it seemed anything but. Boro had certainly giving it a go in the second half, but there was no way they warranted an equaliser. Utter heartbreak for the Charlton fans who had not long heard the news of Cardiff’s equaliser against Bolton, making the play-off dream slightly more of a reality if the three points had been protected.
All hope wasn’t quite lost with four minutes of added on time still to be played, and Charlton looked to have won it on two occasions. Excellent work from Kermorgant and Pritchard down the right allowed the latter to get his pall across the box with Kerkar and Obika waiting in the middle. Steele was beaten and all one of the Charlton players had to do was tuck the ball into the empty net, but their path was blocked by Justin Hoyte, who seemed to haul down Obika, but shouts for a penalty were again ignored by referee Drysdale. Carayol had an effort saved but Charlton came again, and this time Kermorgant worked his way into the box, shaping to shoot before being brought down by Williams. Again, nothing doing for Drysdale. Hollands had a shot from the edge of the box that sailed over the bar when he probably should have at least tested Steele but it wasn’t to be. The faint glimmer of a play-off challenge had vanished into the distance.
The performance, for 75 minutes at least, was another outstanding away day display. Let’s pretend that final period of play didn’t occur for the duration of this paragraph. Hamer was solid and did what he had to do well, Morrison and Dervite were as dominant as ever whilst Solly and Wiggins were excellent going forward and back, linking up with Pritchard and Harriott. Harriott had a slightly quieter game when compared to recent weeks, but Pritchard was absolutely outstanding; the goal the icing on the cake for arguably Charlton’s most improved player during Chris Powell’s time in charge. The return of Hollands was a complete shock but he did very, very well, as did Gower and it’ll be interesting to see if either of the pair have done enough to secure a future at the Valley. Fuller showed glimpses of utter quality and should have had a goal to his name; if only he didn’t demand such a high wage I’d want that new contract signed on Monday morning, whilst Kermorgant, operating deep in midfield, cutting out wide with regularity and up top, never stopped working and created countless chances for the Addicks.
Where did those certain three points disappear to? It was quite a remarkable turnaround by Middlesbrough but Charlton really should have had the game put to bed long before Emnes’ strike. Not only were chances wasted beforehand, but the questionable decisions of Darren Drysdale and his team left many a Charlton baffled. I could so easily be writing about the awaiting excitement of a play-off push on the final day of the season, instead, I have to settle for perspective and reflection on what has been an excellent season. Who’d have thought after the defeat to Millwall we’d even have a chance of a play-off spot? The mood regarding the club then was desperate and dark; now it’s as bright and positive as ever. With the final game of the season against already relegated Bristol City, it may be the right time to field some of the title winners from the club’s U21’s and U18’s sides. The likes of Cousins, Fox, Feely, Ajayi, Azeez and Poyet are names which are all highly rated, along with many, many more, and it would be a delight to see the future of this club given a brief chance to shine for the first team.
The capitulation today showed the side does need strengthening if we’re to be a serious contender next season, and whether that’s through the development and academy sides or significant investment means we can be a player in the transfer marker, Powell will have a plan. Powell will lead this team onwards. Powell will make us great again.
The mid-table end of season run in. You’re not going down, you’re not going up, the sun’s out and you can sit back and watch your side without endangering your finger nails. Charlton have worked themselves into such a situation after a run of three wins and two draws in the last five games. But despite sitting comfortably in ninth, too far away from the play-off chasing pack and well above the sides sweating it out in the battle for safety, Chris Powell was quoted in the week as saying he didn’t believe his side were safe just yet. You wouldn’t expect anything less from the ultra-professional manager, and it hinted that the Addicks would be fighting as ever for every last point. Unfortunately, this kind of mentality means there’s no time for anyone to put their feet up, the sun makes the sweat more prudent and nails become dish of the day. This is especially the case when, after five incredible performances, the Addicks put in a below par display that looked to have earned them just a point against an incredibly poor Wolves side. Maybe another side in Charlton’s situation would have settled for that, but not Chris Powell’s men. The battle to the end mentality shined through as a second consecutive last minute winner gave the Addicks a 2-1 win; their third consecutive home win.
If the first half was a stage show, or anything else that’s primary aim is to entertain, the crowd would have walked out in disgust. A pass finding its intended target was a rare occurrence, shots were scarce and a number of injuries and stoppages slowed the game down completely. An extraordinary high amount of stoppage time for the first period, five minutes, highlighted the stop start nature of the opening 45. The second half improved somewhat, but both sides were hardly exhibiting a strong advert for Championship football. The opening goal summed up the scrappy and sloppy nature of the game as substitute Danny Green’s scuffed corner wasn’t dealt with, Ricardo Fuller was kept out by a combination of a flapping Dorus De Vries and a Wolves defender on the line sparing his keepers blushes, but Dorian Dervite was there to tap in the rebound from a few yards out and give the Addicks the lead in the 63rd minute. Just three minutes later, Wolves had levelled as Charlton were caught out by a Jack Robinson long throw that was headed home by Kevin Doyle with Ben Hamer flatfooted in the Charlton goal. The following 24 minutes offered little in terms of goal mouth action but Wolves played with the fight you would expect from a side in a relegation battle and Charlton were required to defend for their lives by any means. Just as the game looked to be petering out as a draw, one of the very few pieces of excellent play in the whole game won the game for Charlton. Rhoys Wiggins, in fine goal making form, took the ball past Robinson and found himself in a fantastic crossing position from which he found Green. Green was possibly too slow in releasing his shot and his effort was blocked away but the ball fell perfectly to Jonathan Obika who slotted home from a tight angle. The 90 minute man had done it again to give Charlton another three points and only increase the current feel good factor around the club.
The excellent form of Powell’s side has meant team selection has become an incredibly easy task for Charlton’s manager. An unchanged side was named for the fourth game in a row meaning Chris Solly, Michael Morrison, Dervite and Wiggins started in defence ahead of Hamer in goal. The growing partnership between Johnnie Jackson and Andy Hughes in the centre of midfield was allowed to continue, whilst Bradley Pritchard and Callum Harriott were looking to build on their recent excellent performances on either wing. The talismanic figure of Yann Kermorgant started up top alongside Fuller, whilst Powell also named an unchanged bench containing the likes of Mark Gower, Green and Obika.
A read of a Wolves team sheet from any of their previous games this season mixed with a quick glance at the table has left many a football fan questioning their predicament. A trio of Irish internationals, Stephen Hunt, Stephen Ward and Doyle, started alongside Icelandic international Bjorn Sigurdarson along with the experienced Roger Johnson, Karl Henry and De Vires. A trio of loanees, the Latvian international Kaspars Gorkss from Reading, the Mali international Tongo Doumbia from Rennes and the England U21 international Robinson from Liverpool, along with the Ireland U21 international Matt Doherty, completed the, all be it on paper, exceptionally talented starting line-up. On the bench, the likes of highly rated Danny Batth and Jake Cassidy, along with Irish international Kevin Foley only makes the fact this side are battling for their survival at this stage of the season even more baffling.
The first half started slowly and both sides struggled to get going thereafter. The scene was set for the half from the first half chance of the game as the Addicks lost the ball in midfield and Doyle worked the ball to Siguardarson but his shot was blocked and comfortably snatched by Hamer. The sides then exchanged corners, with Hunt’s ball in fantastically headed away by Kermorgant and Jackson’s delivery claimed by De Vries but the first ten minutes of the game passed without a real effort on goal. The first meaningful test for either keeper came just after the clocked ticked into the 10th minute as Harriott, on a trademark run, bamboozled the Wolves defence with stepover after stepover before playing in Fuller, who turned Johnson and saw his resulting shot palmed away by De Vries. Near joy turned to panic two minutes later as Hughes, a central figure in Charlton’s excellent form, stayed down for a number of moments whilst being treated to. Unfortunately, the injury plagued midfielder was forced off and replaced by Gower, looking to make an impression with his first substantial amount of playing time since joining the club.
It wasn’t the sort of game for making impressions, however, as both sides lacked any fluency in their passing and struggled to maintain possession, let alone eke out many meaningful chances. On the few occasions that either side looked to be in a position to create an opportunity, referee East was on hand to blow up and award a free-kick to the defending side. It felt like I was watching a scrappy school boy game. It normally takes something out of nothing to liven these games up, and Karl Henry almost did just that. Unleashing a vicious drive from just inside the Charlton half, Henry’s shot looked destined to clear the ball with Hamer seemingly jumping across to match the flight of the ball out of instinct, but the effort dipped and hit the upright and bounced away. However, the flash of quality did little to change the overall outlook of the game and a collision between Johnson and Fuller led to yet another lengthy brake in play with Johnson down for several minutes.
When the game resumed, the two sides exchanged two corners each, but these produced little with the defences able to deal with balls in, especially Doyle who did well to prevent Solly’s near post corner causing any threat to the Wolves goal as Dervite challenged. Siguardarson had a chance early in the five minutes of stoppage time, but Wiggins was able to block his attempt, whilst the half finished with Charlton unable to get the ball away from the touchline close to Wolves’ goal with East’s whistle blowing just as Gower had given the ball away in midfield; the perfect summary for the first half with neither side able to offer much in the final third and continuously giving the ball away cheaply.
Fuller got the second half off to a bright start after volleying Kermorgant’s knock down from 30 yards, but his effort was sliced well wide in truth. Despite Hunt being allowed to shoot inside the area, thankfully scuffing his shot and firing off target and although it wasn’t the flowing football of Barnsley, the Addicks had begun to make themselves more of a threat and a break saw Kermorgant feed through Pritchard on the right wing with his cross a dangerous one and only partially cleared. This gave Fuller the chance to put another cross in, but his attempt floated over the box and came straight through to Solly on the opposite flank who saw his ball in beaten away after beating his man and driving towards the box. There was still time for Gower to make De Vries’ life uncomfortable with an over hit volleyed ball in from Solly’s resulting quick throw. Charlton’s chances of capitalising on their growth into the game were given a huge blow moments later as Jackson was forced off with injury, just like his centre midfield counterpart Hughes, and replaced by Green. With the inspirational skipper off, Pritchard moved into the middle to join Gower.
Green’s introduction, however, caused all sorts of problems for the Wolves defence. In space on the right, Robinson, seemingly trying to knock the ball to Doherty at left back, played the ball straight to the Charlton winger and he drove at goal before his effort was blocked behind by Ward. The resulting corner was put behind for another and Green’s second delivery, despite appearing to be a mishit with ball barely getting off the ground, caused chaos in the Wolves defence. It seemed like De Vries had collected the ball, but under pressure from Fuller, he was second to it with the Jamaican stabbing the ball against him and almost through him, but some desperate defending blocked the ball’s route over the line. Thankfully, Dervite was there to pounce and finish the easiest of chances for his third of the season and give the home side the lead.
A goal, it was presumed, would give the Addicks a lift and allow to them start to play as they had been doing in recent weeks. In fact, it woke up the away side and the Charlton back four were immediately called into action as the away side attacked down either flank. From one such attack, Solly did well to block Siguardarson’s path and knock the ball out for a throw, but from the resulting throw, Robinson threw long to Doyle who flicked the ball on with his head whilst a motionless Charlton defence watched the ball glide into the back of the net. A bizarre goal to concede, but the Addicks still had plenty of time to regain the lead and almost did so in their next attack as Green’s free-kick was cleared only as a far as Gower, but his shot was sliced wide. Kermorgant, attempting to repeat his incredible effort against Hartlepool from the final day of last season, flicked the ball goalward from the tightest of tight angles, forcing De Vries into tipping the ball over the bar, whilst Green’s resulting corner was again played in low and headed well wide by Dervite.
Despite the Charlton pressure, Wolves hadn’t given up and they continued to come down either flank with a threat, even with Doherty booked for diving whilst breaking away after making the most of little if any contact from Gower and soaring through the air like an Olympic gymnast. The referee received a round of applause from the home fans for his decision, but he soon became the subject of booing, along with the offender, after failing to send off Hunt. The Irishman powered through the Charlton half of the field but lost possession when on the edge of the box and the ball tricked through to Hamer but Hunt, with the ball safely in Hamer’s hands, followed through with his studs up and making hefty contact with the Addicks stopper. East produced a yellow card when a sending off wouldn’t have been unjust, much to the anger of the Valley faithful. Reminiscent of Hunt’s dangerous challenge on Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech in 2006 that left him in a hospital bed, injured for months and forced to wear a rugby style skull cap for the rest of his career; Hamer was lucky to get up and carry on unhurt.
Some good work down the left by Harriott won Charlton a free-kick, but Green’s delivery evaded several outstretched body parts belonging to red shirts and went behind for a goal kick before Obika came on to replace Fuller and Adam Hammill replaced the pantomime villain Hunt. Despite Charlton creating the better of the chances in the second half, it was they who appeared to be hanging on in the final few minutes as Wolves went for the win they so desperately needed to get themselves away from trouble for the time being. Defending solidly at times and suicidally at others, the Addicks managed to prevent Hamer from being troubled, and that defending, by whatever means, proved vital in the final minute of normal time. Wiggins’ run down the left was sublime as he ghosted past Robinson, his ball in was perfect for Green, whose shot was weak but the deflection was perfect as Obika hammered home in front of the Covered End and sent it wild with celebrations once again.
It was over just yet for the Addicks as six added minutes were announced just after Obika’s name had been read out as the goal scorer. Charlton continued with their sometimes solid sometimes nail-bitingly painful defending, including a number of sliced clearances, and Doyle headed wide from a decent position. The away side won themselves a corner with the clock ticking over to 96 but it was cleared and the ball back in resulted in an offside, leaving the Charlton fans to celebrate in earnest. East blew up seconds after Hamer took the free-kick and the Addicks had the points.
Unlike the results of recent weeks, there weren’t many standout performances in today’s somewhat lethargic display. Disappointingly, Gower didn’t really impress me as he gave the ball away with regularity, whilst Fuller had an off day and Kermorgant was quiet. However, the individual positives were there, in the shape of Harriott, who continues to excite, Green, who made an impact off the bench, and of course Obika, who looked lively and of course snatched the winner. The stand outs, however, came from the back four with Morrison, although erratic at time, Wiggins and Solly all solid. But the man of the match day, for me, was Dorian Dervite. Not only he did get his goal, but he rarely lost a header and defender exceptionally well. His performances have been exceptional during this run and I’ll be shocked if he hasn’t done enough to earn himself a new contract.
This is the sort of game Charlton wouldn’t have won preceding the current run they are on. The crowd would have quickly got on the players backs for the less than pleasing performance and any last minute goal wouldn’t have been scored by the Addicks. Not playing at your best, all be it against a poor Wolves side, can only be a good sign, and sign that shows how the mentality seems to have changed in and around the club with this six game unbeaten run. The negativity has gone and the positivity is infectious. As Powell mentioned in the post-match press conference, if only this season had ten instead of two more games. That five point gap to the play-offs might well have been breached if that was the case. But another victory is another positive sign for next season, as well as giving us an outstanding 61 points from 44 games in this one. Who knows, maybe this time in a year we’ll be scrapping out vital results to secure a play-off sport, or maybe even more.
Two days and a year ago, Bradley Wright-Phillips stuck out his leg from a corner at Carlisle to give Charlton Athletic promotion to the Championship. A handful of the 900 odd fans who had made the long journey north invaded the pitch at full time, the players celebrated with the fans, Chris Powell shed a tear in his famous ‘it’s my mum’s birthday’ speech; on April 14th 2012, Charlton Athletic were reborn. Not long after that, tonight’s opponents Cardiff City were also reborn but in a way in which their fans didn’t appreciate. Gone were the blue shirts of the ‘Bluebirds’; in came the red shirts of the ‘Red Dragons’. Some argued they had sold their soul, others suggested it was an economic compromise with the club heavily in debt, but whatever way you saw it, as a Cardiff fan, you were outraged. Fast forward to the early signs of Spring in 2013 and Charlton were yet again involved in a fixture that had the potential to decide promotion for a club. The red revolution at the Cardiff City Stadium, whilst not forgotten, was shoved to one side as the Bluebirds gained the point they needed to seal promotion to the Premier League after years of nearly moments. But as the home supporters invaded the pitch on mass, there was a sense of pride from the travelling number slowly leaving the stadium and taking a glimpse of the party atmosphere. The Addicks hadn’t come to put eleven men behind the ball; they’d come to compete. On several occasions they threatened and arguably had the better chances. Charlton Athletic were 13th in League One two years ago, now Powell has led his club to five incredible performances in a row, a solid 9th placed position with three games to go and the outside-iest of outside shouts at the play-offs. We’ve got our Charlton back.
It was one of those 0-0s that both sides will feel they could have won. Ricardo Fuller went close on two occasions; a long ranger out of nothing in the opening moments that was saved by David Marshall in the Cardiff goal down to his left, whilst Marshall pulled off an even better stop to deny the Jamaican from just outside the area midway through the second half. Johnnie Jackson caught out Marshall with an intelligent free-kick in the first half, but his effort bounced back off the post, as did Andrew Taylor’s ferocious drive in the opening minute of the second half whilst Michael Morrison turned like an experienced centre forward inside the area soon after only to mishit his shot horrendously wide. Cardiff did have the ball in the net with 15 minutes to play, but Craig Noone’s header was disallowed for offside and whilst those celebrations were cut short in the home end, a goal for Millwall against third placed Watford meant the party had started in earnest. As the full time whistle went, the stewards did little to hold the delirious Cardiff fans back. A few Charlton fans chose to ignore the context and make tongue in cheek comments about how these wild celebrations were for Cardiff’s incredible point against the mighty Addicks, but the away side had really made them work for it.
With the Cardiff announcer springing no surprises, unlike Barnsley’s announcing ‘Johnnie Johnson’ was skippering the side, Charlton named an unchanged side for the third consecutive game, with Powell resisting the strain of thought that would have suggested adding an extra man in midfield. This meant a start for the trio who had been named in the Championship’s team of the week: two goal scorers from Saturday’s 6-0 thumping of Barnsley in the shape of Johnnie Jackson and Ricardo Fuller were joined by Chris Solly. There were also starts for three of the four other goal scorers from Saturday with the impressive Bradley Pritchard keeping his place on the right flank, Kermorgant joining Fuller up top and Callum Harriott on the left. Ben Hamer started between the sticks with Michael Morrison, Dorian Dervite and Rhoys Wiggins in front of him, whilst Andy Hughes, boasting an impressive record of victories when starting for the Addicks, completed the midfield. The bench was also unchanged from the trip to Oakwell, with goal scorer of the 5th goal Salim Kerkar taking his place alongside Swansea City loanee Mark Gower.
There were two changes to the Cardiff City that beat Nottingham Forest 3-0 at the weekend to all but seal their place in the Premier League. After scoring two goals off the bench, Rudy Gestede was giving a starting birth in place of the injured Heidar Helguson, whilst Noone came in for Tommy Smith. Away from the changes, Cardiff fielded a team fit for promotion with the likes of Craig Bellamy, Aron Gunnarsson and Leon Barnett all starting for the Bluebirds in an attacking 4-5-1 formation. The fact that Peter Whittingham was named amongst the substitutes only further highlighted the strength in depth the Cardiff signed contained.
Despite Cardiff’s considerable talent, it was Charlton who started the brighter of the two sides. After just three minutes, Fuller collected the ball out wide and, seemingly going nowhere, worked his way central and pulled off a 30 yard effort that had Marshall scrambling to tip the ball away from goal. The resulting corner came to nothing, as did a Kim Bo-Kyung free-kick in Cardiff’s next attack with Hamer collecting well. Wiggins was presented with a shooting opportunity 25 yards from goal with 5 minutes gone but he fired comfortably wide, whilst another Cardiff free-kick, this time from Bellamy, cleared the bar by a fair margin. Whilst the opening few minutes were evidently end to end, Charlton were defending solidly and breaking well, matching Cardiff stride for stride.
And it was Charlton who had the best of the next ten minute passage of play too. Fuller found himself in a more reasonable position to shoot than his third minute effort but the ball trickled wid, whilst Harriott was again causing all sorts of problems for the opposition defence, forcing a corner after some excellent wing play. With the corner coming to nothing, the next attack saw Harriott come down the left again and almost play in Kermorgant but Marshall was alert to the danger and raced out of his goal to pick the ball of the Frenchman’s feet. Charlton’s best chance of the half, however, was saved for the final minute of this spell of domination between the 10th and 20th. The Addicks won a free-kick 30 yards from goal in a wide position, so wide that only a ball into the box appeared sensible. But with Jackson’s goal scoring form, he had every right to try his arm at an outrageous curling effort that caught everyone by surprise, including Marshall who desperately scrambled across to his left. His efforts did little, however, as the ball raced past him and hit the post square on, bouncing back out and being cleared away by the Cardiff defence. If they weren’t aware already, Cardiff could now be sure that Charlton were there to spoil to their party.
Unfortunately for the Addicks, Jackson’s effort gave the home side the impetuous to up their game. Bellamy came close from just inside the area after having the ball set back to him but his effort curled high and wide, but Cardiff came forward again quickly and should have had the easiest of chances to put themselves one up. Kim picked up the ball in midfield after the away side lost possession and had a clear run on goal with Charlton’s defensive line pushed up the field. Driving into the box, the South Korean had an open Bellamy to his left and only Solly, attempting to cover both Kim and Bellamy, and Hamer between himself and the Charlton goal. Solly was left with little choice but to commit himself to the man with the ball and Kim’s second touch inside the area allowed the diminutive right back to put in an incredible tackle to dispossess the winger with Hamer picking up the loose ball. Charlton’s number one gave Solly a deserved arm around his shoulder to show his appreciation for such an exceptionally timed tackle.
Cardiff continued to grow into the game, with the eyes of the 600 travelling fans sharing their attentions between the pitch and the clock on the far side as it ticked over towards half time. Jordan Mutch was presented with a decent opening from the edges of the area but his shot was drilled straight at the legs of Dervite with the ball looping into a back peddling Hamer’s hands, whilst the youngster came close again soon after as his header floated wide from a Bellamy cross after the Cardiff captain, on a rare occasion, got the better of Solly. Another free-kick was awarded to Cardiff in a dangerous position and to half the home support, Kim’s rippling of the side netting looked like a goal had been scored, much to the delight of the away support who mocked the over enthusiastic home fans. With half time just around the corner, there was still time for Bellamy, via a tame header and Gestade, through another deflected effort, to come close with half chances, whilst Fuller’s trickery on the right flank in an increasingly rare Charlton attack saw him get the better of McNaughton but Taylor in the box after his ball in was cleared away with Kermorgant ready to pounce. Cheers, claps and encouragement were given to both sets of players with both sets of fans optimistic about their chances in the second half following a first half that was played at such a high standard.
Much like the first half, it took no time at all for the action to get going. Cardiff so easily could have had the lead just a minute into it when Noone’s cross was only half cleared and fell kindly to Taylor, and his first time shot ricocheted off the outside of the post with Hamer’s desperate dive across giving the look of a keeper who didn’t have the effort covered. Much like Charlton’s effort against the post in the first half, Cardiff’s shot against the woodwork gave Charlton a lift and just two minutes later the so easily could have had the lead. A Pritchard throw found its way through to Morrison, who spun his defender and worked himself an opportunity from just a few yards out. Despite the build –up play of a striker, Morrison finished like a defender, slicing well wide when he really should have scored. Gunnarsson, in a similar style to the half chances of the first half for the hosts, was presented with an opening from just outside the area, but his first time shot was scuffed wide, leaving Hamer to watch it sail away from goal. Moments later, however, his counterpart in the Cardiff goal was called into some very meaningful action. A Solly free-kick was played into Fuller, who worked himself yet another shooting opportunity, and with this effort curling into the top corner Marshall somehow dived across and tipped the ball away for a corner. The Cardiff stopper a changed man from his horror show at the Valley in November.
Despite the Fuller chance, Cardiff had the better of the final 25 minutes of the game. A succession of corners caused the Addicks all sorts of problems was Hamer helpless as Kim and Bellamy forced Morrison and co into some desperate defending. And with 20 minutes to play, it looked like Charlton’s hard work would count for nothing as Mutch’s cross was turned in from close range by Noone. As the former Brighton winger turned away in celebration and the Cardiff fans began to wonder when they would be playing Swansea, the majority had failed to notice the raised flag of the nearside assistant, disallowing the goal for offside. Scoreless it remained. Gunnarsson volleyed straight at Hamer, whilst Bellamy’s goal bound effort was blocked away just before the booked Fuller was replaced by Obika and Gower, much to the displeasure of the home fans, came on for Hughes. With Obika seemingly slotting in out wide on the left, Harriott moved to the right and created a chance for himself straight away, showing his trademark quick feet to cut inside and unleash a strike that just dipped too late as it cleared the bar.
There was still time, after Danny Green came on for Pritchard for Gestede to overhead kick horrendously wide and Dervite to stab the ball off target. The final action of the game, with it dying out after the news of Millwall’s goal against Watford, saw a Jackson free-kick just headed over the bar by Kermorgant and the players were ushered into the tunnel by the referee who informed them he was about to blow for full time before he did so. The party began for the newly promoted side, but Charlton fans had every reason to feel just as pleased with their sides display; twice now they have equalled, if not outplayed, the champions to be of this division.
I’ll never get bored of saying this: another truly incredible performance by Charlton. Hamer, bar a few squeamish moments from some corners, was solid, which was again helped by the dependency of Morrison (oh if only he could finish like he can head a ball clear) and Dervite. Solly and Wiggins were again brilliant at the back and linked up with the ever please Pritchard and the ever improving Harriott, whilst Hughes helped to keep things ticking over in his undervalued role, whilst Jackson put yet another captain’s performance. Kermorgant worked hard against a solid defence, and did equally as well in coming back to support the team in defence, whilst Fuller showed signs of his best in another hard working display for the man who is often accused of being lazy. A month or so ago I was unsure about rewarding Fuller with a contract extension, now, if the price is right, I think we’d be stupid not to.
There’s a real thrill, buzz and enjoyment about watching Charlton at the moment. The last five games have almost felt better than last season when the context of the league and the underdog status is considered. The only downside to note was that, as I arrived 20 minutes before kick-off, I missed out on a programme as Cardiff didn’t print enough and the oaf next to me who kept voicing his idiot view that ‘Powell isn’t good enough for this league’ and he was looking for a 0-0 to ‘keep him in a job’, I despair. But the recent performances have given hope to 99% of Charlton’s fans that next season, with the right investment in terms of finance and in the playing stance, could see Charlton take part in scenes similar to what Cardiff enjoyed tonight. If you are a Cardiff fan reading this, I congratulate you on such an excellent achievement and hope your Premier League adventure lasts more than a season too. We’ll be following in your footsteps soon.
Watching Charlton this season, even at the best of times, hasn’t been easy. Although three points all the same, clinging on to a lead for dear life in the dying moments or overturning 2-0 deficits goes someway to explain the large number of bald and greying Addicks fans. Purchasing a Charlton ticket is much like experimenting with drugs; there’s bound to be some buzz, but the side effects probably aren’t worth it. And yet, the tens of thousands return to the Valley every other week for another hit, whilst the travelling hundreds part with their time and cash, risking an excruciating come down. Today’s trip to Barnsley was the perfect example of such addiction overriding sense. A long trip up north to Oakwell, where the Addicks had only won twice prior to Saturday’s kick off, in what could be deemed a meaningless match with Charlton sandwiched in mid-table didn’t appear to be very attractive. But every so often, the Addicks reward their diehard fans for their patience. The players provide the high and leave behind no side effects.
The travelling 600 knew they were in for a treat after just four minutes when Yann Kermorgant’s volley was parried by Luke Steele, only for the ball to fall at the feet of Bradley Pritchard who tapped into an almost empty net from a few yards out. Pritchard’s finishing throughout the season had contributed to the decline in hair follicles amongst Charlton fans as some dreadful finishing had caused grown men to tear their hair out, but, although a gift, the Zimbabwean kept his cool for his second goal of the season. Fifteen minutes later, the away side doubled their lead. Pritchard was involved again as he held the ball inside the area from Kermorgant’s acrobatic flick on, teeing up Johnnie Jackson who coolly slotted past Steele. It wasn’t all easy going for the Addicks and Rhoys Wiggins cleared off the line from first half substitute Jason Scotland whilst Chris Dagnell fired over a decent opening in the first minute of the second half.
Any jitters amongst the away support were put to bed just three minutes into the second period as Wiggins’ fantastic cross flummoxed Steele and his defenders, giving Kermorgant the easiest of headed tap ins to put the Addicks three goals to the good. The fourth followed just before the hour mark as Callum Harriott’s tame looking shot was spilled over the line by an embarrassed Steele and Barnsley’s afternoon was made even worse two minutes later as Stephen Dawson was shown a straight red for an outrageous lunge on Kermorgant. It was only going to get better for the Addicks from that point forward, any number of goals could have been scored, but Charlton had to settle with just another two. Two substitutes combined for the fifth with ten minutes to play as last week’s hero Jonathan Obika played in Salim Kerkar to place the ball past Steele and get his first goal for the Addicks. Barnsley were reduced to nine men as Tom Kennedy was dismissed for bringing down Ricardo Fuller when the defender was the last man, whilst Fuller rounded up the scoring with the last kick of the game, placing the ball into the bottom corner after some pinball in and around the Barnsley box. It was a deserved goal for the Jamaican’s determined work all afternoon with a cool head in front of goal deserting him up until the 93rd minute. 6 (six, yes S-I-X) – 0. Incredible.
There was a huge shock for the travelling Addicks as the Barnsley announcer read out the teams before kick-off. Number four and inspirational skipper Johnnie Jackson had been replaced by a previously unheard of Johnnie Johnson. That case of mistaken identity apart, Chris Powell fielded the same side that put in an impressive display in last Saturday’s last minute victory over Leeds. This meant Ben Hamer continued in goal, now firmly established once again in between the sticks, with Chris Solly, Dorian Dervite, Michael Morrison and Wiggins in front of him. Andy Hughes started in midfield, joined by the real Jackson, with the pair flanked by Pritchard and Harriott, whilst Kermorgant and Fuller were partnered up front. The only change to the 18 came on the bench with Dale Stephens missing out on a place in the match day squad and Danny Green coming in to replace him in reserve.
Following Barnsley’s crucial point in midweek, a last gasp draw away at Cardiff, manager David Flitcroft made two changes to his starting line-up. Out went experienced forward Marlon Harewood, replaced by Dagnell, whilst Thomas Cywka came in for Jim O’Brien in midfield. The experienced pair of Stephen Foster and Bobby Hassell were paired at centre back, with Scott Wiseman and Kennedy were at right and left back respectively. Cywka was joined in midfield by Dawson, former Chelsea youngster Jacob Mellis and journeyman David Perkins, whilst Chris O’Grady joined Dagnell in attack. There was also a familiar face on the Barnsley bench as former Charlton loanee Martin Cranie was included in the Tykes’ match day squad.
It took little over a minute for Charlton to cause a threat in an attacking position. Hughes pinged the ball across field to Harriott, who in turn sent over a cross field ball to Pritchard who shielded the ball on the right flank and one his side a free-kick after being hauled down by Kennedy. Jackson’s resulting dead ball was punched away by Steele and eventually cleared away by the Barnsley defence, but it wasn’t to be long before the away side had the lead. Fuller, as the Jamaican often does, found himself out wide on the right flank and his strength and determination allowed him to beat Kennedy and lay the ball back to Solly. The right back’s cross was perfect for Kermorgant, who volleyed at goal, but probably without as much power as he would have liked, giving Steele the chance to make a save, but he could only parry and Pritchard was there to capitalise. The Addicks were ahead of just four minutes.
Despite the goal, Charlton weren’t at their flowing best and struggled to maintain possession in the early stages. O’Grady ghosted in from the left but his shot caused no difficulty to Hamer, who collected Barnsley’s first shot on target with ease, whilst Wiseman fired well over from range, but despite Charlton’s less than reassuring start, Barnsley never looked like causing the Addicks any real problems. In fact, they too struggled to keep the ball and, after Charlton bagged a second, they began to look second best. Hughes’ cross found Kermorgant on the edge of the area, and his flick on found Pritchard, who held off his man and set the ball back for Jackson who tucked the ball past Steele. It was Charlton’s first real opening since the goal 15 minutes beforehand and, with finishing being an issue in so many dropped points, it was a delight to see the Addicks capitalise on their chances.
Despite the away side now on top, in terms of both the scoreline and the play, they continued to face some pressure from the Tykes. This wasn’t helped by referee Eltringham constantly blowing up for seemingly non-existent infringements, preventing the Addicks from getting clear and breaking away. Dervite was penalised on several occasions and, on one such occasion, gave away a foul just outside the area, giving Barnsley an excellent shooting opportunity. Mellis’ weak shot against the wall was a sign of what was to come for Barnsley; not a lot. Dagnell had a shot caught comfortably by Hamer, whilst Mellis had another shot blocked, this time by Dervite in open play in the two or three minutes after the free-kick, but nothing was going Barnsley’s way. It was now Charlton’s turn to cause yet more problems in the Barnsley defence as a succession of corners highlighted their defensive frailties. Jackson’s first was turned over the bar by Steele, his second cleared, but only as far as the skipper again whose over hit cross almost creeped in but for Steele’s intervention before Solly’s corner from the left was headed over by Kermorgant.
With it so tight down the bottom, Barnsley had to find a way to get back into the game and Flitcroft made his first change after juts half an hour, hauling off the ineffective Cywka and bringing on the robust Scotland. He was involved in Barnsley’s best chance of the half as he found himself with the ball at his feet deep inside the Charlton area, his shot was blocked away but only as far as Mellis, whose shot looked destined for the back of the net. But just as it seemed the Tykes had found themselves an avenue back into the game, on-the-line heroics from Wiggins kept the clean sheet intact. The final meaningful action of the half saw Hassell float a header well wide from a Kennedy corner, and Charlton walked off for half time, to the sound of their appreciative fans, well in control of the contest.
They say 2-0 is the most dangerous lead to have, and Barnsley were always going to come at Charlton from the off at the start of the second half. They might have pulled one back had Dagnell not fluffed his lines after being played in by the impressive Scotland, but the wild shot signalled the end of any hopes Barnsley had of a comeback as the Addicks added a third. The ball was pumped up field, Fuller held up the ball and knocked it across to the left flank, where Harriott and Wiggins combined to give the latter the chance to deliver into the box, and he did just that. Barnsley’s defence could do little and all Steele could do was watch as the ball floated perfectly for the head of Kermorgant who could do little but nod the ball into an empty net with Steele stranded. The Frenchman celebrated against the net, looking up to the travelling fans; he had a look of a man who knew the three points were safe.
But Barnsley still hadn’t thrown in the towel completely. Hamer did well to punch away a swerving Dagnell shot, whilst the resulting corner was fantastically tipped away by a stretching Hamer after Foster’s effort looked destined for the top corner of the goal. Whilst Barnsley were wasting the few chances that fell to them, you felt Charlton were going to score every time they attacked, and Fuller’s effort from just outside the area tricked wide of the far post, which wasn’t helped by the time he took to get his shot away as red shirts closed in around him. All was forgotten just minutes later, however, as Charlton made it four. Pritchard, putting in an almost faultless display, added a second assist of the afternoon as he played in Harriott, who drove with the ball at his feet before firing, what appeared to be, a weak shot at goal. Steele should have gathered the ball with ease, but instead allowed it to spill through his fingers and trickle into the net. That wasn’t the only leak inside Oakwell as the sound of Charlton fans cheering was simultaneously met by the clunking of seats as hundreds of home fans seeped out the exits. Game over with half an hour still to play.
Such is often the case for a side losing by such a margin, confidence and discipline had long left the Barnsley players and Dawson showed a lack of the second attribute with a horrendous lunge on Kermorgant with the ball thirty yards from Charlton’s goal and causing no immediate threat to the home side. Kermorgant, although not injured, came off soon after to be replaced by Obika, whilst Mark Gower came on to give Jackson a breather before Tuesday’s clash with Cardiff City. The Addicks, especially with the home side now lacking numbers, continued to find openings but Fuller could only slice an effort from inside the area way off target. In an increasingly rare attack for the hosts, substitute O’Brien fired well over the bar, before Obika came close twice and Harriott’s footwork proved too much for the Barnsley defence but fired just wide. The travelling fans were in party mode by now, not only taunting the home fans with ‘there’s only one Maggie Thatcher’ but unleashing a repertoire or classics such as ‘super, super Clive’ and a rendition of ‘stand up for Chrissy Powell’ that embodied the admiration the Charlton fans have towards their manager.
With the clock entering the final ten minutes, Harriott was given yet another standing ovation and replaced by Kerkar, and the substitute added a fifth moments later. Fuller played in Obika, but the loanee couldn’t get his shot away, instead teeing up Kerkar who was presented with a fantastic opportunity to grab his first Charlton goal, which he duly did with a side footed finish past Steele. ‘5-0, even Kerker scored’ chanted the away fans; it was a rout. A rout, however, that wasn’t quite finished yet. A second red card, this time for Kennedy has he hauled Fuller down when the experienced striker was bearing down on goal, reduced the Tykes to nine men, whilst Fuller tamely curled the resulting free-kick wide before lashing a long range effort well over the bar. Visibly exhausted, the Jamaican had put everything into his performance, and finally got his goal with the final kick of the game. It looked as if Pritchard was going to add a second, but Steele made one of very few saves, only for the ball to fall kindly to Fuller, allowing him to place the ball into the bottom corner and express his relief with his familiar hop and point to the skies celebration. It had been a long time coming, the last time Fuller scored was away at Crystal Palace, and it wrapped a perfect afternoon for the Addicks as they recorded their biggest ever away win. As the official Twitter account put it: ‘SIX BLOODY NIL’.
What an incredible result. I was cautious going into this one and would have been happy with a point; I certainly didn’t see the Addicks recording such an empathic victory. The opening may have been sluggish, but after the second Charlton never looked back and, in the second half especially, played some wonderful football. Hamer did what he had to do exceptionally, Morrison and Dervite, as they have been of late, were solid, whilst Solly and Wiggins were outstanding in defence and going forward, especially the latter who linked up superbly yet again with Harriott, who becomes more and more exciting by the minute. Captain Jackson grabbed himself yet another goal and put in a fantastic shift alongside Hughes, who continues to be a talismanic figure in this Charlton side. I have no shame in admitting I’m probably Bradley Pritchard’s biggest fan, and it was a delight to see him grab a goal and put in one of his best performances in a Charlton shirt. He’d obviously given his shooting boots to Fuller, who just couldn’t finish but in put in a fantastic, determined display and thoroughly deserved his late goal, whilst Yann, as always, was Yann. Kermorgant can really do no wrong. Obika, Gower and Kerkar all played well after coming on and, after a tough few months out of the team, it was great to see the joyous scenes on the pitch after Kerkar’s goal. Man of the match? All of them. They were all unbelievable today.
Team spirit has never been an issue for Powell’s bunch of players, but the togetherness come the final whistle was really quite something. The close knit group of players applauded the travelling fans whilst taking in their own applause. Pritchard showed some dance moves that probably end any chance of him appearing on Strictly Come Dancing in the future, Kermoragnt smiled the widest smile ever seen and patted the Charlton badge on his coat, whilst Powell celebrated as passionately as any of the fans. It’s days like today that make the ‘we’ve got our Charlton back’ moment in the title winning celebrations last season so true.
42 played, 57 points on the board, eight points clear of relegation and six behind the play-offs in 9th place. We’re safe, we’re ending the season on a high and the youth team won their league earlier on today. The future’s bright, the future’s red and white.
Those who drink from a cup half full and wear the Charlton red, your writer being one of them, will tell you that to be just four points from the relegation zone going in today’s game against Leeds United isn’t a fair reflection of the performances throughout this season. In the most competitive of seasons in one of the most competitive leagues in the world Charlton have competed or out done their opposition in all bar a handful of games, and yet they’ve come away from games more often than not feeling like they’ve deserved more. Chances have been wasted and dubious decisions have gone against the Addicks, but the main factor in this dropping of points is the leaking of late goals. The first day of the season set the trend with Birmingham City stealing a point with virtually the last kick of the game; Huddersfield United, Sheffield Wednesday, Birmingham again and many other goals scored with minutes remaining followed. The misfortunates of football are supposed to balance themselves out over the course of a season, and yet, they haven’t; it’s a rare occurrence that the Addicks score in the final stages of a match, let alone take any points from such a goal. Today was worth the wait.
Following the excellent performances in the past week against Bolton and Brighton, it was no surprise to see the Addicks playing exceptionally well. It was a mystery as to how the home side weren’t at least one up at half time, Michael Morrison’s effort over the bar one of the best opportunities, and it started to feel like this was going to be one of those games where Charlton were punished for not taking their chances when on top. That all changed just two minutes into the second half. A persistent attack wasn’t cleared properly by Leeds and the ball popped out to former Whites’ hero Andy Hughes. His driven shot look destined to be smuggled into the palms of Paddy Kenny in the Leeds goal, but a deflection off Jason Pearce in a crowded penalty area fell kindly to Johnnie Jackson who rifled home for his 10th of the season. As is often the case when a team go behind, the goal woke Leeds up and they started to look a bit more threatening, but not to the extent that an equaliser was warranted.
The Addicks continued to come forward, whilst the centre back paring of Dorian Dervite and Morrison looked solid; the points seemed to be wrapped up. That was until Leeds brought Luke Varney, returning to the Valley following a spell between 2007 and 2008, on and the forward grabbed an equaliser. Stephen Warnock’s 80th minute free-kick caused havoc in the Charlton box, legs were flying everywhere and a number of blocks appeared to have spared Charlton’s blushes but Varney followed up again and finished past Ben Hamer via a deflection off Hughes. The Addicks attacked, Chris Solly came close twice and Yann Kermorgant’s header failed to test Kenny, but it looked like it would be another frustrating afternoon at the Valley for the home fans. Four minutes of added time were signalled, which didn’t commence until two minutes after the 90 as physios attended to an injured Lee Peltier, and with just seconds of those remaining, Charlton grabbed themselves a last minute winner. Salim Kerkar held up the ball from a Rhoys Wiggins throw on the left and worked it back to the Welshman, who beat David Norris and put in a ball his Welsh compatriot Gareth Bale would have been proud of for Jonathan Obika to rise unchallenged and head into the top corner. Cue pandemonium. A deserved victory in a manner than had been a long time coming.
Chris Powell sprang no surprises with his team selection. Out went Lawrie Wilson, well below par in Tuesday night’s 0-0 draw with Brighton, with Ricardo Fuller coming in for him. With just the one chance, this meant a return to the side that played so well in last Saturday’s comeback against Bolton. Despite Matthew Taylor returning to fitness, Dervite kept his place in the centre of defence, whilst Hughes started his third game in a row against the club whose fans worship him as a cult hero. The only minor shock was the admission of Danny Haynes from the Addicks’ bench. The winger-cum-forward has put in several outstanding cameo performances this season and his exclusion, with no news from the club with regards to an injury, seemed a strange one.
For Leeds, it was their first game under caretaker manager, and former Addick, Neil Redfearn after his namesake Warnock had left the club following Monday’s defeat to Derby. Following a number of ‘I won’t be here next season’ performances in the press that resembled a stroppy teenager begging for sympathy, it seemed to be only a matter of time before the experienced manager passed on his duties and the mutual termination of Warnock’s contract came as no surprise after comments made after the Easter Monday loss at Elland Road. In a hope to freshen things up after a string of poor results, Redfearn made a number of changes from Warnock’s last starting XI. In came Michael Tonge, David Norris, Aidy White and Ross McCormack, replacing Rudolph Austin, Chris Dawson, Luke Varney and El-Hadji Diouf. There was also a place for youngster Dominic Poleon on the bench following his recall from a loan spell at Sheffield United, whilst former Millwall striker Steve Morison started up top for the Whites.
On Grand National day it was Leeds who were quickest out of the blocks. The talented Sam Byram played a ball through to Paul Green that caught Charlton’s back four asleep but Hughes did well to track Green and force him off the ball despite half-hearted claims for a penalty. Green was involved again for Leeds’ first shot on goal as he flicked the ball into the path of Morison, but the attempt was weak and comfortably held by Hamer. Despite Leeds’ early pressure, Charlton were looking good on the ball, and a passing move eventually saw Hughes’ cross bicycle kicked by Kermorgant into the hands of Kenny for the home sides first meaningful effort after ten minutes.
Creating their first opportunity seemed to kick Charlton into life and just moments later they should have been a goal to the good. Solly’s free-kick from the half way line was knocked down into the path of Dervite inside the box and his turn and shot forced Kenny into a fantastic save. Just as Leeds thought they had got away with it, Morrison pounced on the loose ball but the centre back produced a real defenders’ finish, blasting well over with the goal at his mercy. The Addicks continued to pass the ball and move forward to great effect but were lacking an end product. The Harriott and Wiggins partnership was again looking exciting down the left, but neither could deliver a final ball to a Charlton shirt, whilst Pritchard and Fuller, who working his socks off to hold up Hamer’s goal kicks, got themselves into decent positions but couldn’t produce a final pass or shot. A number of corners were won as a result of the continuing pressure from the home side, but Leeds cleared again and again.
Leeds almost made Charlton pay for their poor end product on the half hour mark as the away side broke and McCormack’s drag back found Green, in the thick of the action again, but he fired his shot skyward. The opportunity for the visitors was a brief gap in the Charlton dominance as the home side finally carved out another effort on goal just past the 30 minute mark. Wiggins’ cross from the touchline evaded everyone inside the box but for Kermorgant, who connected at the far post put couldn’t guide his header on target as it floated just wide of the post. In Charlton’s next attack, Harriott was a similar distance wide with his vicious long range effort after a trademark mazy run as Byram and Peltier could do little but watch as the youngster jinked past them.
With the first half coming to an end, the home fans were growing more and more frustrated by the performance of referee Stuart Attwell. Having been dominated from the elite last season after a number of high profile errors, the relatively young official always raises concern amongst fans when it is he who has been picked to officiate. Whilst taking a tough line with Charlton, blowing up and awarding free-kicks for every niggle and touch of a Leeds’ player from a player in red, he seemed to be oblivious to Tonge holding onto Hughes and taking him out of action from every goal kick, whilst Pearce and Peltier’s holding of Kermorgant and Fuller went equally unnoticed. Sarcastic cheers were heard as Tonge received the game’s first yellow card for a trip on Fuller, and from the resulting free-kick, Charlton carved out one last opportunity before half time. The ball forward eventually found Morrison in the box who laid the ball off to Wiggins. With the Welshman unable to shoot, he flicked the ball back to Morrison who headed across for Kermorgant to tap into an empty net. Unfortunately for the Addicks, the offside flag had been raised long before the ball trickled through to Kermorgant’s feet at the fast post and the sides went in at the break all square.
Charlton raced into life at the start of the second half and had a goal to show for it after just two minutes. A Charlton break saw Fuller cross, with his target seemingly Kermorgant, but the ball looped over him and off the head of Harriott. But the youngster chased after it and switched the ball back to Fuller, who drove at the defence and saw his ball in headed away straight into the path of Hughes who was lurking just outside the area. His shot was well hit but it didn’t appear to have enough to beat Kenny in the Leeds’ goal. Thankfully for the Addicks, a huge deflection off Pearce looped the ball straight to Jackson’s feet and he made no mistake from just a few yards out, taking a touch and smashing the ball past a stranded Kenny. It was no less than the Addicks deserved and just two minutes later, their lead could have been doubled. A fantastic low ball from Pritchard flashed across the face of the goal with neither Jackson nor Kermorgant, who were lurking inside the area, gambling to get on the end of the loose ball.
Bookings were handed out to Norris and Jackson for separate reckless tackles, and Jackson’s offence helped to produce an opportunity for the away side. McCormack’s free-kick was looped into the area and knocked down by a Leeds head into the path of Tonge, whose shot was desperately blocked by Morrison who bent down to get his head (face) in front of the goal bound effort. The attack wasn’t over just yet, and Morison found himself free inside the box, only to fire his shot against the frame of the goal from a tight angle. Charlton, much like for a period in the first half, were maintaining possession well and exploiting the outlets of Fuller and Kermorgant up top, but failed to fashion any openings. But unlike the first half, and despite Dervite and Morrison winning almost every aerial ball, Leeds were an attacking threat. Tongue’s effort from outside the area was drilled wide and Morison’s turn and shot found row z of the Jimmy Seed stand shortly after the introduction of Varney, who replaced the largely ineffective White.
With Fuller tiring and Charlton attempting to hold onto their precarious lead, Powell threw on Kerkar to replace the Jamaican and bolster the numbers in midfield. But just three minutes later, Leeds had equalised. Warnock’s free-kick just couldn’t be dealt with and, despite consecutive blocks, eventually fell to Varney, whose shot was again blocked but this time floated into the top off Hughes’ body. Agonising and undeserved, the Charlton players bemoaned Attwell and his officials as it appeared a Leeds handball had been missed in the build-up. Hamer’s sarcastic clapping, Kerkar’s questioning to the assistant closest to the incident and Hughes’ conversation with Attwell himself showed the players weren’t too impressed.
With under ten minutes to play once the game had restarted, there was little time for Charlton to regain the lead, but they created enough chances to do just that. It appeared Mr Attwell had been told he was in charge of a Leeds Rhinos rugby game as another call for handball was turned down, this time from a Jackson shot deflecting off what appeared to be the hand of Peltier, before Kerkar crossed for Kermorgant to head softly into the hands of Kenny. Charlton kept coming and Pritchard was working tirelessly, as ever, down the right hand flank. His ball in was only half cleared and fell to Solly with the whole goal to aim at. The home fans rose in expectation but the right back’s effort flashed marginally wide. Visibly frustrated, Solly picked himself up and a minute later and had a similar chance to score as substitute Obika danced past Warnock and pulled the ball back to the fans’ favourite. Completely open and again with the goal at his mercy, he saw his shot, which may have been heading just wide again anyway, blocked by Peltier. It looked like another case of what might have been for the Addicks.
Leeds introduced the notorious card collector Michael Brown with a minute left on the clock and he had himself a yellow one after being on the pitch for less than 20 seconds. A horrible two footed lunge on Kermorgant, it deserved a red, but given Attwell’s performance, it was no surprise the referee opted to hand out a very lenient caution. From Jackson’s free-kick, Morrison was dragged down, as he had been down twice before from various set plays through the course of the match, but again Attwell turned a blind eye to it. At least the more cynical Charlton fans, who normally find a player at fault for a poor result, had someone else to direct their anger out if the scores remained level. With Peltier going down as he attempted to clear with Kermorgant chasing him from the resulting corner, a nervous wait to play out the four minutes of additional time was endured by all inside the Valley as the centre back was helped off the pitch and replaced by Austin.
Charlton came forward for the whole period of additional time; Jackson had himself another free-kick and a couple of over hit crosses game to nothing, but Charlton weren’t about to give up just yet. Constant pressure down the left with Wiggins, Kerkar and Kermorgant coming across was proving to be difficult for the Leeds back four to cope with, especially Austin who nervously hacked away at his clearances. From such hack, the Addicks won a throw parallel with the edge of the box and got the goal they deserved. Wiggins threw short to Kerkar, Kerkar held up the ball for long enough to allow Wiggins to drop behind him, Kerkar pulled it back looking as if he had set up a perfect first time crossing opportunity for the left back. That was obviously what Norris thought as he focused his energies into blocking the delivery, only to be beaten comprehensively by the Welshman, who then delivered a cross on a par at least with anything else seen at the Valley this season and Obika was presented with the perfect chance to score his first goal as an Addick. A delightful glancing header that Kenny could only watch hit the back of the net. Oh that last minute winner feeling, how you’ve been missed.
I believe I have said similar in my summaries of the previous two games, but that was one of the best performances, if not the best, of the season. The flowing, passing style seemingly buried with many other memories from last season returned with the midfield dictating the game, the wingers and full backs combining well to create all sorts of opportunities and exciting play, whilst the front two held the ball up and won their headers almost robotically. From front to back it was spotless.
Hamer had very few saves to make, but his distribution helped to start a number of break aways, and with the exciting Harriott there to latch onto them, there’s always a chance to be hand. He may have tired towards the end, but it was another promising display from the 19 year old. Dervite and Morrison were impassable whilst Wiggins and Solly, somehow, put in displays both attackingly and defensively even better than their previous two outings. Pritchard, despite giving the ball away at times, never gave up on any cause with his terrier like approach, whilst Jackson and Hughes kept the game ticking over in midfield. Jackson’s display was again outstanding and his goal vital, whilst Hughes has been inspirational since coming back into the side. His games to win ratio must be mightily impressive in a red shirt. Fuller, despite some harsh criticism for apparent laziness, worked himself into the ground and was at the centre of most of Charlton’s good moves, whilst the central midfield paring were helped by Kermorgant, who kept dropping into midfield to assist in ticking over possession. Yann was Yann when in more attacking positions; there’s no other way to describe his genius. I’ve run of superlatives.
Up to 12th and seven points clear of the relegation zone with five games to go, I feel we are as good as safe. Given the performances of late, I see no reason why we can’t aim to for a top ten finish, especially with Middlesbrough just one point away in 9th. What a difference a week makes, eh?
There are two things you can’t accuse Chris Powell’s Charlton of not having: passionate determination and hardworking fight. And yet, those two assets were seen to be lacking in the games preceding the international break. The gritty display to thwart Huddersfield was a sign that neither had been drained from the Addicks, but the seemingly gutless performances against Nottingham Forest, Burnley and Millwall had left many Charlton fans seeking a response worthy of the red shirt. That’s exactly what this week has given them. The Bolton result showed an incredible level of determination to overcome a dreadful start, and tonight’s 0-0 draw against Brighton and Hove Albion was all about digging in and fighting, quite literally, until the very end.
On any other day, against any other team who are still looking over their shoulders in this incredibly tight league, Brighton could have scored three or four in either half. Of course, such is the case in any ‘park the bus’ performance, Charlton had Lady Luck as their 12th man; Brighton were wasteful, the exciting Kazenga LuaLua fired several shots over the bar and arguably the best chance of the first half was wasted by Calderon, stabbing wide from five yards out, but that only tells one chapter to the story of this game. The defence was solid, shown to its highest extent in the first half by an inspired Dorian Dervite, who blocked superbly from point blank range to prevent Leonadro Ulloa’s goal bound effort from giving the Seagulls the lead. The counter attacks kept Brighton on their toes with Yann Kermorgant coming close and the Addicks threatening down the left constantly at the start of the second half.
The most important figure in stealing this vital point, however, was the man facing the Brighton onslaught head on: Ben Hamer. Charlton’s number one was equal to cross after cross that bombarded his box, whilst some exceptional saves, not least from Matthew Upson’s header in the first half and Lopez’s long range drive in the second, kept his clean sheet intact. It was, with this in mind, fitting that it was Hamer’s heroics that sealed the draw. Ulloa had the goal at his mercy after being played in by Will Buckley; his effort from close range looked to have given the home side all three points in stoppage time, but somehow, the ball went over the bar. Hamer and pulled off a remarkable save to tip the ball clear. Fingernails bitten, sweat pouring and stress ridden, Charlton fans were delighted to hear the final whistle; their side had pulled off an unlikely shut out.
Powell’s team selection was heavily influenced by the difficult of the task facing him on this bitterly cold Tuesday night. Despite the fantastic football played for the best part of 75 minutes on Saturday, a formation change from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1 was in order to combat the threat posed by Brighton. Out went Ricardo Fuller, in came Lawrie Wilson with the winger slotting in on the right hand side of midfield. This meant Bradley Pritchard took up a central role alongside Johnnie Jackson and Andy Hughes, starting his second game in a row after almost 15 months out. The rest of the starting XI was unchanged from Saturday, but Dale Stephens, Matthew Taylor and Salim Kerkar were each given a place on the bench.
Brighton made just three changes from their weekend draw against Nottingham Forest. The man at fault for Forest’s last minute equaliser, Casper Ankergen, was replaced in goal by a fit again Tomasz kuszczak, whilst another man returning from injury, Liam Bridcutt, replaced Andrew Crofts in midfield and the third change saw Andrea Orlandi miss out in favour of Vicente. This meant the Seagulls fielded arguably their strongest side with exciting young players such as Buckley and LuaLua blended with experienced heads in the shape of Wayne Bridge and David Lopez.
It was Charlton’s first trip to Brighton’s new American Express Community Stadium, the Amex to me and you, and the travelling fans were treated to not only some Crystal Palace bashing on the ‘big screens’ but also the best pies served up a football ground in one 40-something year old fan’s lifetime. But the laughs, the well served stomachs and the all-round relaxed atmosphere soon turned to nerves in the south stand as Brighton quickly stamped their authority on the game. The midfield trio of Buckley, Lopez and Bridcutt were pulling the strings in midfield whilst Vicente and LuaLua were getting forward with intent down either flank. It was LuaLua who had Brighton’s first effort on goal after a Vicente corner was cleared out to the winger just outside the box but he shot wildly off target. Brighton’s attacking effort was assisted by Bridge and Calderon getting forward from full back on both sides, and it was Bridge’s clever link up play with LuaLua that crafted it out the first of many excellent chances for the hosts. Bridge’s one-two with LuaLua set him free down the left and, keeping Chris Solly at pay, put a driven ball across goal that caused havoc. Ulloa connected and it appeared as if he had given the Seagulls an early lead, but Dervite through himself in front of the ball to deflect it away for a corner.
It took the best part of ten minutes for the Addicks to get out of their half, but Johnnie Jackson’s corner from the right was collected by kuszczak with minimal fuss and a break away soon after was thwarted cynically by Bridcutt, who received a yellow card after bringing down Kermorgant on the half way line. Brighton continued to throw no caution to wind in their efforts to get forward as Calderon’s effort from the right curled just wide of Hamer’s far post, whilst LuaLua eked out a corner from which Calderon headed wide before the former Newcastle winger had another long range shot that flew harmlessly wide. The fact it took 24 minutes for the Addick’s to muster their first shot on goal showed the extent to which Brighton had controlled the game, but the away side could have so easily gone ahead. Pritchard started the move, bombing forward with the ball at his feet, before reaching a dead end and laying the ball out wide to right. Jackson picked up the ball and sent in a driven cross that found Kermorgant, via a Pritchard dummy, and the Frenchman’s turn and shot saw the ball narrowly clear the bar with kuszczak beaten.
Just a minute later, Brighton put that brief lapse in concentration at the back behind them as they created yet another goal scoring opportunity. Vicente’s corner was met by the head of Upson, but Hamer was equal to it, scrambling to his left and palming the ball away. Another corner in the next attack presented with arguably the best opportunity to date as the ball fell to Calderon just yards from goal but he poked wide when he really should have finished. A collective sigh of relief was let out by the travelling fans, but Brighton failed to let up, creating more chances with LuaLua finally getting a shot on target, that was comfortably saved by Hamer, before reverting to type and firing over from range either side of Charlton’s second shot; a tame header from Kermorgant floating well wide after a Jackson free-kick. The remainder of the half petered out with neither side creating a meaningful opportunity, but Brighton remained utterly dominant, controlling the game in midfield and testing Hamer’s gloves from a number of crosses. The vocal Charlton fans applauded their troops at half time, knowing the Addicks were doing a sterling job in difficult circumstances. They had 15 minutes to regain their composure for what was sure to be another 45 of Brighton control.
But, in fact, the early signs were promising. The potent left hand side partnership of Rhoys Wiggins and Callum Harriott hadn’t been able to have such an effect as the pair did on Saturday, but they started the second half well with Wiggins unlucky to overrun the ball after overlapping and linking up well with the youngster. The pair then linked up again with Wiggins putting Harriott through and the exciting talent found himself in the box with an excellent chance to finish after beating his man but his shot was fired well over when he really should have tested the keeper at least. A drilled effort from just outside the area shortly after forced kuszczak
into a save as Harriott’s youthful exuberance gave him the impetus to right the wrongs of the previous effort on goal. Brighton soon created a chance of their own as Buckley headed wide from Vicente’s cross to the far post, but Charlton weren’t done just yet, as Jackson’s free-kick was headed narrowly wide by Dervite.
Brighton soon resumed their control of the game, and a succession of Lopez corners produced two excellent opportunities for the home side. You could be forgiven for mistaken Calderon for a centre forward as he had yet another effort on goal, this time connecting with the corner but sending the ball well wide. The next corner awarded to Brighton, however, saw Hamer tested properly for the first time in the half with just over 70 minutes gone. Upson met the ball in and his header looked to be heading into the top corner before an acrobatic Hamer dived upwards to turn the ball over the bar. Yet another incredible stop from the rejuvenated ‘keeper.
Brighton’s patient and sensible passing play left the Addick’s constantly chasing shadows, Lawrie Wilson especially struggled to get a foot on the ball and he was subbed off for Dale Stephens with 15 minutes to play after a long period involving wave after wave of attack from Brighton. The new man was involved in a rare Addicks attack just minutes after coming on as Jackson’s free-kick was headed into his path. Stephens appeared to lose control, only to get a shot away that was blocked and fell to Pritchard whose goal bound effort was brilliantly blocked by Bridcutt. It would have been totally undeserved, but it was Charlton’s best chance to take the lead in this contest.
The final ten minutes involved plenty of deep breathing and clock checking for the Charlton fans as they began with Hamer pulling off a fine save from Lopez’s long range strike, before the Addicks came under heavy pressure from a series of Brighton attacks down either flank. Solly and Wiggins were in fine form, stopping several deliveries, whilst Morrison, Dervite and whoever else found themselves back in support, along with Hamer, picked off the balls the beat Charlton’s full backs. The drastic effort to maintain the point was seen no better than by Johnnie Jackson’s efforts, putting his body on the line to block a powerful shot from Buckley. But the real scare for Charlton was to come once the 4th official indicated three minutes of additional time.
That, however, wasn’t before Stephens almost won it for Charlton. Completely out of nothing, the substitute unleashed a dipping, swerving effort from 30 yards that forced kuszczak into a fantastic save, tipping the ball over the bar. Charlton wasted the corner however and soon found themselves under pressure as Hamer’s ‘worldie’ saved the point. Buckley broke and sent in a perfect ball for Ulloa, but somehow, Hamer was able to tip the Argentinian’s effort onto the bar and over. The danger wasn’t cleared just yet as the resulting corner saw Greer’s header just about kept out by the post and Wiggins on the line. There was a suspicion of hand ball, but referee Russell saw nothing doing and soon after blew his whistle for full time. The travelling 2,000 applauded their heroes as if they had pulled of a miraculous victory, and that’s what it felt like. Special praise was, of course, aimed at Ben Hamer with the fans letting everyone know who they think is Charlton’s number one. A remarkable performance to hold onto a valuable point.
And breathe. For me, this performance was up there with the best of the season, such was the standard to which Brighton played at. Dervite looked a completely different player to his struggles early on on Saturday whilst Morrison was solid as ever. Solly and Wiggins, facing difficult threats from either flank, were given a torrid time but dug in and performed admirably. Kermorgant, a lone figure up top, fought for every ball and despite visibly being completely knackered at the end carried on putting himself about, whilst Jackson, Pritchard and Hughes did well in the centre both at the back and going forward on the rare occasions that they did. Harriott was incredibly impressive again, and it was a shame he didn’t have more opportunities to bamboozle the Brighton back four.
With Wilson below bar, that leaves one player to praise: Ben Hamer. After the Huddersfield match a questioned whether or not we would see him again after an excellent display from David Button, but Button has proved himself to be unreliable in between the sticks. Hamer has come back a changed man; gone have the flaps at crosses and the weak palms at shots, come back has the Hamer of the season and a half before his error filled run. It’s a delight to have him back. A special mention should also go to Chris Powell, who set up his team to perfection. I’ll always trust Powell and he knows what he’s doing; he’s something special.
Four points, which is in effect five due to Huddersfield’s goal difference, clear of the relegation zone and sitting in 14th place with 6 games left, another four points will provide safety in my opinion. I can see those points coming in the next two games against Leeds and Barnsley. I look forward to the moment where we can finally turn our attentions to next season.