The most marked characteristic of Chris Powell’s Charlton is determination. Whether that’s in the form of smash-and-grab wins, spirited comebacks or overturning bad runs of form, Powell and his men don’t know when they’re beaten, and when they are, they put it right quickly. The Charlton that had started this season wasn’t Chris Powell’s Charlton. Flat, off the pace and ridden with individual errors, concern was beginning to turn to panic. After being spared humiliation by Doncaster Rovers last week thanks to the rain and a disappointing defeat to Huddersfield Town in the League Cup in midweek, the visit of Leicester City to The Valley was a daunting prospect. Pessimism filled every forum post, Tweet and word uttered by Charlton fans in the run-up to the game, but this is Chris Powell’s Charlton. A performance full of determination saw the Addicks secure a 2-1 victory; their first win of the season.
After a quiet opening 25 minutes, Charlton’s first corner produced Charlton’s first effort on goal, which gave the Addicks the lead. Dale Stephens’ ball in was perfect for former Leicester defender Michael Morrison, who headed home from close range. It was the first time Charlton had led in a league game all season, and their chances of clinging on were improved shortly after half time. Matty James, who had already been booked for a late challenge on Bradley Pritchard early on in the first half, was shown a second yellow and a subsequent red after referee Deadman took exception to something the midfielder said to him.
A little more than five minutes after Leicester went down to ten men, Charlton doubled their lead through another familiar face to the travelling fans in the Jimmy Seed Stand. Another fantastic corner, this time by Johnnie Jackson, caused havoc in Leicester’s six yard box and the ball found its way through to Yann Kermorgant at the far post. The Frenchman could do little but head past a stranded Kasper Schmeichel and the inevitable had happened; A third goal in as many games for Kermorgant against his former employers, who he infamously missed a penalty for in the 2009/10 play-off semi-final.
But the away side, who were unbeaten going into the game, were never going to lie down and accept defeat. Danny Drinkwater gave them a lifeline after latching onto a poor clearance from Dorian Dervite and smashing the ball beyond Morrison’s attempted block and Ben Hamer’s clutches, setting up a nervy 30 minutes for the Addicks. But, helped by the extra man, it was the home side that created the better chances; the brilliance of Schmeichel kept his side in the game. With six minutes of stoppage time signalled, it was a nail-biting end, but thanks to some excellent hold up play in Leicester’s half of the pitch and some resilient defending, Charlton held on for their first win.
With Charlton fans fearing the worst before kick-off, the glaring omission of Chris Solly’s name from the team sheet did little to raise hopes of a home win. The right-back, who has won the player of the season award for the past two campaigns, was forced to sit out the clash with the Foxes following a minor knee injury. Solly also missed out on Tuesday’s defeat to Huddersfield, where a 3-5-2 formation was deployed, and Powell opted to use the flamboyant set-up once again. Leon Cort and Morrison were joined by Dervite, who came back into the side for Solly after being dropped for the game against Doncaster, in the back three that was flanked by Rhoys Wiggins and Lawrie Wilson in wing back positions that meant Callum Harriott had to settle for a place on the bench. With Jordon Cousins and Mark Gower missing out, skipper Johnnie Jackson started his second league game of the season after overcoming a calf injury alongside Dale Stephens, who had also recovered from injury, with Bradley Pritchard completing the central midfield trio. Kermorgant, whose name produced the expected battle of boos and cheers when announced to the crowd, and Simon Church provided Charlton’s attacking threat.
With just two changes to the side that beat Birmingham 3-2 last weekend, Leicester’s team news was slightly more straightforward then Charlton’s dramatically altered line-up. Captain Wes Morgan returned to the side, replacing Zak Whitbread, whilst Arsenal loanee Ignasi Miquel came in to partner him in the centre of defence alongside Liam Moore. Chris Wood was the unfortunate player who had to make way for Miquel, with manager Nigel Pearson also opting for a 3-5-2 formation that saw Jeffery Schlupp and Richie De Laet occupy the wing-back roles. David Nugent and Jamie Vardy led the line in Wood’s absence, whilst Andy King, Drinkwater and James made up the midfield and ‘keeper Schmeichel completed the XI. The bench contained a number of pacey wingers with the likes of Lloyd Dyer, Anthony Knockaert and Neil Danns in reserve.
The journey to The Valley was a contrasting one to last week’s. Unfortunately the M25 was still its manic self, but no longer were my concerns about whether or not the game would last 90 minutes, but whether or not I would last the 90 minutes stuck in the car in sweltering heat. Gone were the waterproofs and rain of last week to be replaced by shorts and sun. Could the change in the weather coincide with a change in Charlton’s fortunes?
It seemed the answer to that question was yes as Charlton started brightly under brilliant blue skies in SE7. Whilst the Addicks, nor the visitors, could muster an effort on goal in the opening period of play, the home side looked far more assured on the ball and appeared solid at the back. Both sides peppered the opposition’s box with crosses, but for no reward with defences on top. James’ somewhat harsh yellow for a late challenge on Pritchard and Kermorgant’s incredible tackle on Drinkwater, that raised a loud cheer from the Charlton fans, were the only moments of note in the first 20 minutes.
The first effort goal came after 22 minutes of the first half, with James’ corner skidding off the head of Cort on its way through to Moore, but the defender could only nod harmlessly wide. Referee Deadman, who is no stranger to handing out his fair share of cards, produced a second yellow for Leicester after Miquel cynically scythed down Kermorgant just outside the area. Jackson’s dead ball provided the first real test for Leicester’s defence as Schmiechel was forced to punch behind and concede a corner under heavy pressure from Charlton’s forwards. However, there was little Schmiechel could do from the following set-piece. Stephens’ inswinging corner picked up Morrison and the defender powered home an excellent header to give the Addicks the lead. The vice-captain, who was making his 100th appearance in a Charlton shirt, had come under heavy criticism following a number of poor displays in the opening weeks of the season and the goal would have done his, and his team’s, confidence the world of good.
With the Charlton fans in fine voice, as they had been all afternoon, Leicester almost silenced them immediately in their next attack. Hamer came rushing off his line to punch away a Moore long throw, but was quite some distance from making contact with the ball as it was flicked on towards Vardy, who now had an open goal in his sights. But Morrison, battling with Vardy, won the ball and prevented the Leicester forward from equalising for the away side. The ball was eventually put behind for a corner and after James’ delivery was cleared at the first attempt, the ball was put back into the box for Miquel to head wide with Hamer watching bounce out of play.
Jackson became Charlton’s first and the game’s third booking after just half an hour when he went in recklessly on James, and the home skipper was involved again moments later as a succession of corners saw Charlton come close to doubling their lead on two occasions. First, Stephens’ delivery found the head of Church, who forced Schmiechel into an outstanding save before Leicester frantically cleared the ball behind for another corner. That corner was sent in by Jackson, and he picked out an unmarked Church, who somehow managed to volley over when it seemed easier to score. Although ten minutes remained, that marked the end of the action in the first half, and Chris Powell’s men returned to their dressing to the sound and sight of a standing ovation from the home fans; it was thoroughly deserved.
Leicester, as was shown twice last season after they fell behind to the Addicks, were always going to come at Charlton in the second half and cause problems, but it was the home side who created the first opening of the second 45. Kermorgant’s powerful, if not pretty, run saw him take the ball from the halfway line to just outside Leicester’s penalty area before Drinkwater opted to pull back the Frenchman and concede a free-kick. This was right in Kermorgant’s territory, and his effort looked destined for the back of the net if it were not for Schmiechel’s right palm coming across and pulling off another excellent stop. Schmiechel’s save seemed all the more crucial as Vardy broke free in Leicester’s next attack and picked out Nugent in acres of space inside the box. The experienced forward appeared set to draw the Foxes level, but Hamer matched his counterpart with an incredible save to deny Nugent before Morrison thumped the ball away.
Whilst there didn’t seem to be anything untoward with the build-up for Leicester’s opening from my vantage point, a fine Leicester break was thwarted by a finer Hamer save, James clearly thought otherwise. Whilst Moore was waiting to deliver the throw following Morrison’s clearance, James made it known to referee Deadman that he felt a penalty should have been awarded. Deadman took exception to this and produced a second yellow and sent James off, much to the bemusement of the Leicester players, the anger of the fans and astonishment of James himself. Whilst Leicester had little grounds for complaint in regards to the second yellow if something had been said, the harsh yellow awarded after 12 minutes of play to James had now played a part in the Foxes being forced to play the best part of 40 minutes a man light.
Cries from the away end of ‘you’re not fit to referee’ were aimed at Deadman after he let a strong, but fair, challenge from Prichard pass by without any punishment, but Leicester’s frustration almost turned to joy moments later as Nugent came close again. In an almost identical break, Vardy picked out Nugent again and, with a clear sight of goal, fired his shot towards the bottom corner, but Hamer was equal to it once more. Knockaert replace de Laet as Pearson turned his wing backs into wingers and, despite going down to ten men, Leicester were growing into the game and beginning to provide real threat to Charlton. The home side needed a second goal.
That much sought after second goal came with 58 minutes on the clock. Kermorgant was the recipient at the far post of Jackson’s excellent delivery from another Charlton corner, and he powerfully headed into the back of the net as Schmiechel was finally beaten for a second time. However, the Danish international felt he had been impeded as the ball came into the box, but his protests did little but see Deadman award yet another yellow card to the away side. The goal sparked incredible scenes as Kermorgant celebrated a goal that will no doubt mean so much to him whilst the home fans cranked the volume up a notch to sing the name of their hero at full pelt. You could almost hear the individual shouts of ‘not him again’ from the away end too.
If anyone inside The Valley thought the three points were sealed, they were soon made to worry again just four minutes later as Leicester pulled one back. Charlton’s defensive frailties emerged once again as Dervite’s clearance from Vardy’s cross proved to be the perfect set-up for Drinkwater to lash the ball beyond Hamer and into the net. Leicester’s fans were loud once more as they sensed a route back into the game, but their hope was almost crushed in Charlton’s following attack as Kermorgant’s knock down to Jackson bounced unkindly for the captain and his half-volleyed effort cleared the crossbar when taking a touch before getting a shot away may have been the better option.
Despite the renewed Leicester threat, Charlton continued to utilise their extra man and come forward in the quest for a third goal, but they met a man at the top of his game in between the posts. Wilson’s cross was exquisite, finding Kermorgant whose powerful header was sent towards goal, but Schmeichel pulled off arguably one of the best saves ever seen at the Valley to prevent the Frenchman from scoring again. Church’s follow up was nodded against the post, to which Deadman increased his popularity amongst the Leicester players by awarding a corner, and Dervite forced another fine save out of Schmeichel from the following set-piece. In a rare error, Schmeichel rushed a clearance straight to Stephens shortly after, finding himself way off his line, but the midfielder’s shot from just inside the Leicester half floated well wide. Heads were being scratched as to how the Addick had not doubled their lead.
Leicester brought on Wood, scorer of the equaliser at the King Power Stadium last season, and came close as Knockaert broke down the right and squared the ball to King but his effort on goal was tame and Hamer comfortably collected the shot into his chest. Charlton made some changes of their own as Cousins and Gower came on for Jackson and Stephens, whilst Dyer replaced Schlupp for Leicester and, to the complete surprise of everyone inside The Valley, Deadman wiped the cobwebs of his yellow card to book Wiggins for time wasting. The Welshman then crafted another Charlton chance as some clever footwork saw him break into the box and tee-up Church, but Morgan got his body in the way of the effort.
With the game entering the final five minutes of normal time, Charlton had yet another chance to put the game to bed, and what a glorious goal it would have been. The outstanding Pritchard broke down the right, cut across and played Cousins in, who turned and fired at goal only to see a big Dain in his way as Schmeichel once again pulled off an excellent save. Schmeichel saves were becoming as regular as Deadman yellows as Pritchard received a booking for pulling the shirt of Knockaert.
As you would expect, with Charlton unable to beat Schmeichel, it was a backs to wall job for the final few minutes. Miquel was allowed to run at goal but his shot from distance was stopped by Hamer low to his right and Leicester continued to attack down both flanks. But Charlton were superb, a complete contrast from the defensive shambles of previous weeks, and as Pritchard stole the ball from Knockaert and began to break, frustration got the better of the Frenchman who committed a foul as Deadman, who must have needed to sharpen his pencil by now, gave yet another yellow.
Youngster Joe Piggot was brought on for Church, who received a standing ovation for his hard work, as the fourth official indicated a minimum of six minutes added on time. Piggot almost grabbed himself a debut league goal, but his shot was weak after Pritchard set him up following a Gower corner, before Pritchard was at the other end in a matter of seconds to head the ball into Hamer’s hands; it summed up the Zimbabwean’s incredible performance. There were still several minutes of added time to be played and Leicester produced three final chances to draw level. A flat cross evaded the heads of everyone before Drinkwater fired over, but the away side’s best opening fell to Wood, who didn’t get clean strike of the ball with just seconds remaining and Hamer gleefully collected the loose ball. Full time soon followed and Charlton fans celebrated the win in style. Finally, the Addicks had their first three points of the season.
Whether it was luck, refereeing decisions, the change in formation, players lifting their performance or your writer deciding to wear the away shirt instead of the home shirt, something definitely changed today, and that change produced an incredible contrast from the previous weeks of the season. That was Chris Powell’s Charlton Athletic.
Leicester fans will arguably have their gripes with referee Deadman, and I sympathise with them, but that can’t take anything away from the way Charlton performed. Hamer, who looked shaky in the first half, pulled off two saved either side of the red card that kept Charlton in the lead and stopped the tide of the contest turning, whilst Cort, Dervite and Morrison especially were superb at the back. Morrison looked back to his old, reliable self and it was fantastic to see; the goal the icing on the cake.
Wiggins and Wilson were brilliant in their wing-back roles and after Leicester went down to ten exploited the space superbly, whilst Jackson and Stephens were superb in the middle, keeping things ticking over. Church’s work rate was outstanding and, whilst he may not be the most gifted, he suits the determined attitude of this side. The subs, youngsters Cousins and Piggot especially, also impressed.
That leaves two players. Yann Kermorgant is rarely anything below excellent, but playing against Leicester seems to up his game another level. From running 30 yards to make an incredible tackle to winning his headers and from running through Leicester’s defence on several occasions to his goal, he was nothing short of incredible. But the other name yet to be mentioned beats him to man of the match. The ‘he’s here, he’s there’ song may not be sung about him, but it certainly fits Bradley Pritchard down to a tee. At one point he was supporting Wilson on the right, the next Wiggins on the left before coming back into the centre and winning the ball in midfield. He was the engine room behind the win today and, whilst Kermorgant will take the plaudits, Pritchard’s display was exceptional. He’s more than just someone who will run around for 90 minutes, he has incredible talent.
Whilst some might say having an international break will prevent Charlton from gaining momentum, I think the time off will do Powell his men the world of good and will help to iron out the creases in the 3-5-2 formation; not that there are many of those.
Like Cardiff, Watford and Bolton last season, this where our fortunes change. Play like we did today regularly and we’ll be a threat to every side in this division.