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Bradley Wright-Phillips: the Forgotten Hero

14/04/12. Carlisle away. 76 minutes had been played when Charlton won a corner. With fellow promotional hopefuls Sheffield Wednesday being held by Colchester United, the Addicks need only to score in order to seal promotion back to the second tier. Johnnie Jackson’s corner swings in, Dale Stephens heads it back across goal, Bradley Wright-Phillips stabs at the ball in hope and, via a Carlisle body, is bundled over the line. Pandemonium. Whether you were sat tentatively in front of the TV and now informing everyone in a mile radius of your delight with some excessive celebrating, embarrassing yourself in public after seeing the score update via Twitter or one of the lucky few to be right at the heart of the moment up in the stands at Brunton Park, it was a moment every Charlton fan would never forget as the goal proved to be the match winner and promotion confirmer. His 21 goals prior to kick-off on that day had gone a long way to putting Charlton in a position in which promotion could be achieved; his 22nd had made him a hero.

But with the news this week that New York Charlton Reserves, or Red Bulls as they are more commonly known, were set to take another player with an Addicks connection on trial, it would seem Wright-Phillips’ days in a Charlton shirt are over. Dropped, vanquished from the first team and sent out on loan to League One Brentford, the striker couldn’t quite make the step up to Championship footballer and with the 28-year-old out of contract, an opportunity to ply his trade in the ever improving MLS with, it would appear, no deal from Charlton on the table is an opportunity impossible to turn down. Despite one and a half prolific seasons in League One, including ‘that’ goal, it’s almost certainly the correct decision to let Wright-Phillips go. Requiring a number of chances to score, his often indifferent finishing could be forgiven in League One but not in the Championship were clear cut chances are few and far between; a succession of unexplainable misses against Watford in October summed up his frailties. However, it would appear many are being left with the lasting impression of Wright-Phillips as a poor finisher who failed to adjust to a higher level of football and got lucky in a lower division. It’s vitally important that is corrected; Bradley Wright-Phillips deserves hero status within Charlton Athletic Football Club.

Chris Powell’s first signing as Charlton manager; the former Southampton striker joined the Addicks for an undisclosed fee from Plymouth in January 2011 after scoring 13 goals for the Pilgrims in the first half of the 2010/2011 season. Wright-Phillips joined just days after the Addicks beat his previous employers 2-0 at the Valley in Powell’s first game in charge, two factors which helped to spark excessive positivity amongst Charlton fans that promotion to the Championship would be achieved come May. He made his debut a week after joining as he lined up against Colchester on a chilly Tuesday night at the Valley. The game offered little to liven up the frozen crowd; that was until Wright-Phillips acrobatically turned in Scott Wagstaff’s cross to seal a second consecutive three points for the Addicks with 15 minutes left to play. A second goal and a third win on the bounce followed away at Yeovil as Charlton climbed back into the play-off spots with games in hand meaning an automatic promotion place wasn’t beyond the grasp of Chris Powell and his team. Another goal and another win followed in a thrilling 3-2 victory over Peterborough, but that was where the honeymoon ended for Powell. A run that saw just two wins in the final 19 games of the season saw the Addicks finish the season languishing in 13th and many disgruntled fans calling for the manager’s head. However, amidst the chaos and depression, Wright-Phillips grabbed himself another five goals in what was seen as the only positive to come from the final period of the season. It may seem like an exaggeration now, but at the time it felt like his goals had kept Charlton away from any threat of being considered a relegation candidate.

It also seems incredibly silly to use words such as these now, but the board stuck by Powell and gave him the chance to build a squad capable of challenging for promotion for the 2011/12 season. The defence was shored up with the likes of Michael Morrison and Rhoys Wiggins in the hope a solid foundation at the back would provide more points from Wright-Phillips’ goals, gifted midfielders such as Dale Stephens and Danny Green were snapped up to provide Wright-Phillips with the ammunition to shoot and striker partners in the shape of Paul Hayes and later Yann Kermorgant were brought in to compliment Wright-Phillips’ attributes and assist in goal scoring positions. The squad was almost flawless in every department and it showed as the Addicks, and Wright-Phillips, took the league by storm. It took the striker three games to get off the mark, although he had played provider in the first two games of the season, with a double in a 2-0 win at Colchester and the goals flowed freely after that. Goals against Scunthorpe, Sheffield Wednesday, Exeter, Chesterfield, Sheffield United, Carlisle, Preston North End and Brentford, along with braces against Wycombe and Hartlepool, meant Wright-Phillips could boast an impressive 14 goals in his first 17 league appearances.

However, the goals dried up for Wright-Phillips after his close range finish at Griffin Park as he was forced to wait 14 games for his 15th goal of the season, an excellent finish in the 2-0 win over Stevenage, but his performance away from in front of goal remained high, running the channels, working hard and contributing with a number of assists. Charlton’s team performances also failed to decline with the Addicks losing just one game during Wright-Phillips’ barren spell; an indicator that the striker has more to his game than just goals. His first hat-trick for the club came in the game following the Stevenage win, a 4-0 win at Chesterfield, and it seemed Charlton’s number 10 had his mojo back. Four more goals, including that all important goal at Carlisle, followed as Charlton raced to the title with 101 points, seeing him finish the season on 22 goals and becoming the first Charlton striker to achieve 20 or more league goals in a season since Andy Hunt in 1999/2000, another title winning campaign. Every championship winning side needs a prolific striker; the ever-so-hard to find 20 goal a season striker. Wright-Phillips’ goals were crucial to Charlton’s success in achieving promotion in such emphatic style.

Could Wright-Phillips produce another 20 goal season in the Championship? The answer was ultimately no, but the early signs were promising. A hard working performance in the cruel draw away at Birmingham on the opening day of the season was followed by arguably Wright-Phillips’ best performance in a Charlton shirt. Terrorising the Leicester defence all night along with his fellow partner in crime Yann Kermorgant, the striker grabbed a goal with an exquisite finish to cap a wonderful display. The message boards and social networks were awash with Wright-Phillips based praise, but he wasn’t to reach those heights again. A factor as simple as a wrongly called offside decision, disallowing Wright-Phillips’ goal against Crystal Palace, is seen by many as a grand ‘what if?’ moment. If the goal had been given, would he have had the confidence to turn in simple chances against Blackburn and Watford in the following weeks? It’s a possibility, but ultimately it would appear the Championship is a level too high for the striker; a return to League One with Brentford were he impressed a large portion of their fans only strengthens the idea that the third tier is his level. Before he left for Brentford, there were some glimmers of hope in cameos against Millwall and Derby in January, but a start against Huddersfield United in the FA Cup left many unimpressed and ‘subs not used: Wright-Phillips’ became a familiar site, if the striker was fortunate enough to even receive a place on the bench. The hope and potential from one Tuesday night in August was never fulfilled.

Football’s a cruel game, and it’s ever so cruel that Wright-Phillips wasn’t able to flourish in the Championship in a red shirt, whilst it’s crueller still that those less than pleasing performances in the final year of his Charlton career will form the lasting memory of some, but hopefully, as time passes, what Wright-Phillips did for the club will be appreciated to the extent that it should be. He succeeded where Mooney, Burton, Sodje, Abbot, Benson and Anyinsah all failed; he scored the goals to get Charlton Athletic out of the third tier of English football. He scored the goal to get Charlton Athletic out of the third tier of English football. There was no one more dissevering. In my eyes, he’ll always be better than Shaun.

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