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.