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?