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Obika Pounces to Wound Wolves Survival Hopes

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.

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