The most impressive characteristic of Chris Powell’s Charlton is their ability to come out fighting when their backs are against the wall. Whether that be turning certain defeat into a win over the course of 90 minutes or picking up three points in a high pressure game, the flat-capped wearing boss always gets his side out of the mire.
Despite two relatively impressive displays against Leeds United and Queens Park Rangers, two defeats in two meant the Addicks had slipped to 21st, just three points above the drop, and were in desperate need of a victory to alleviate the mounting pressure.
But that league table pressure was unfair on the Addicks; lying so close to the bottom three was not a fair reflection of the upturn in performances since the start of October. There was always a high quality display and, crucially, three points within this Charlton side.
Doncaster Rovers could only stand still and watch in awe as the Addicks controlled the game with a combination of steady midfield build up and direct endeavour down the wing. 2-0 might have been the final score, and the victory sealed, but the win should have been by a much greater margin. This was a typical Chris Powell directed performance with the pressure mounting and, arguably, the most dominant Charlton display of the season.
Of course, Charlton were fortunate to claim the three points in the grand scheme of things. The previous meeting between these two sides was postponed with Doncaster leading 3-1, but the unplayable conditions meant playing the game again was the fairest thing to do.
And travel chaos threatened to disrupt this rearranged fixture, with signal failure sending London Bridge into meltdown and forcing hoards of both home and away fans to fight their way to The Valley by tube, bus and boot.
Those who were still outside SE7 with less than 30 minutes until kick-off would have started to wonder if it would be one of those nights as their Twitter feeds were full of news that ever present Charlton ‘keeper Ben Hamer had suffered an injury in the warm up and would be replaced by debutant Ben Alnwick. Although the return of Yann Kermorgant lifted spirits, surely this was a recipe for disaster?
Those fears should have been calmed somewhat after just two minutes as Simon Church latched onto a seemingly over hit chip from Jordan Cousins and shot from close range with his second touch. The Valley erupted in earnest; the ball trickled wide. The gaps from the home fans coincided with Church’s head falling into his hands. The evidence for it being ‘one of those nights’ was growing.
But Charlton were in superb form and certainly didn’t look like the side most likely to lose this one. Particularly catching the eye was Cameron Stewart, who had been moved to the right flank in place of Bradley Pritchard and looked far more suited to such a role. He impressed with flashy flicks and tricks, not to mention doing the simple stuff well in combination with both Cousins and Dale Stephens in the middle and Lawrie Wilson at right back.
Only Federico Macheda’s movement was causing any concerns for Charlton, with a couple of Doncaster crosses heading towards the Manchester United loanee before an Addick headed clear. All Anwick had to do in the first 20 minutes was collect a Rhoys Wiggins tackle than inevitably headed towards goal.
It was a steady start by Charlton, but a start that lacked chances. A cynical foul on Kermorgant was the catalyst for a host of Charlton half chances and near misses that increased both the positivity and frustrating inside The Valley.
Kermorgant dusted himself down and curled a free-kick not too far over Ross Turnball’s bar, but the Frenchman was a whisker away from giving Charlton the lead moments later. A low Wiggins cross found its way through to Kermorgant and the forward’s first time shot looked for all the world to be heading in. Again a faint whisper of celebratory noise began, but ended in gasps as the effort came back off the post.
Charlton were pilling on the pressure and a similar ball across goal, this time from Stewart’s right, was left to Jackson to hammer at goal. His well struck effort was superbly saved by Turnball, displaying the qualities of a man who has a number of Chelsea appearances to his name. There was a sense of inevitability Charlton would be made to pay for missing chances.
The Addicks fans were getting restless. Well, the Addicks fan that is always restless behind me was once again restless, berating Charlton’s ‘keeper for not disposing of the ball quick enough. I might have taken his comments seriously had he not decided Hamer was the man between the sticks. A later outburst at Wiggins for a rash clearance led to another fan shouting ‘yeah, take that Evina’. There’s nothing like football ground comedy.
However, there is something better than football ground comedy; witnessing a piece of footballing genius to give your side the lead in a crucial contest. Stewart’s 39th minute cross was headed away by the Doncaster defence, but only as far to Stephens on the edge of the area. The ball looped up and took an eternity to come down, enough time for your writer to wish for him not to shoot, but the playmaker timed his volley to perfection and found the far top corner. Stewart’s strike against Leeds suddenly felt a bit dull. This was sensational.
After Church made the most of a defensive mishap to tee up Kermorgant to finish into an empty net, it looked as if Charlton would double their lead just a minute later, but the Frenchman’s outside of the boot effort from 25 yards swerved wide of goal. A half-hearted offside flag just about saved his blushes.
Whilst the lead was just a solitary goal, the chance remained that Charlton’s wastefulness would cost them, and when Macheda danced into the box and left three defenders in red wrong footed, it looked like it would. But the Italian blasted his shot over the bar from a promising position.
As half-time arrived, finally there was a sense this would be Charlton’s night, even after Church failed to turn in Stewart’s driven cross from a matter of inches out.
The second half began from where the first left off; Doncaster causing few concerns to a very comfortable Charlton. It didn’t take long for Turnball to be tested against as Wilson, via the help of a lucky deflection, was able to break into the box and fire a shot away from a tight angle, but the ‘keeper got down well to block and Cousins’ long range effort in the aftermath sailed over the bar.
It was only a matter of time before the Addicks had their second, and the most deserving man of a goal on the pitch struck with an hour gone to surely put the game out of the away side’s reach. A defence splitting ball from Johnnie Jackson, occupying a wide left position, found Church, and the Welshman sprinted forward before coolly finishing past Turnball via the post. As is customary, Jackson cut the most heroic figure during the celebrations, making sure the Covered End knew just how much that goal meant to the players.
With the game all but secure, the pressure seemed to lift from Charlton’s shoulders and they played out the final 30 minutes in exciting fashion. Much of that exciting play came from Stewart, who forced Turnball into an excellent save before unleashing a vicious drive that cannoned back off the crossbar moments later.
It had got to the point where a 2-0 defeat almost flattered Doncaster, and no one who witnessed Church’s final impact on the game before being replaced will quite understand how it wasn’t at least three. Turnball was at it again, making a double save from Jackson and Stephens, but the ball landed at the feet of Church with the ‘keeper stranded on the deck. In the Welshman’s defence, he did have his back to goal, and in turning to tap home into the empty net, Church fell over his own feet and passed up the easiest of opportunities to score. Needless to say, aforementioned restless man wasn’t happy with Luke Varney’s miss.
Theo Robinson’s introduction had given the away side a bit of spark in the closing moments, and his shot forced Alnwick into his first real save of the night. The ‘keeper might well have held onto it, but his strong palm away was enough to keep his debut clean sheet intact as stoppage time passed with incident.
A crucial victory for the Addicks, and one that was celebrated by flat-capped Chris Powell doing his traditional fist pump jump to the hardy souls who had fought through transport chaos and the cold to witness an outstanding Charlton display.
It must be said that Doncaster were surprisingly weak, but this was a special Charlton performance that deserves all the praise it gets.
Alnwick, although fair from confident, did his job well enough, although I live in hope that Hamer’s injury isn’t too serious. The ‘keeper’s life was made all the easier by Michael Morrison and Dorian Dervite winning the vast majority of their headers and halting Doncaster attacks whenever they did break out. Wilson and Wiggins, as has been the case for the past month or two, were excellent going forward and at the back.
Jackson’s workman like performance out on the left was a joy to behold; the man’s legendary status grows by the week, whilst Cousins again improved his reputation with another steady performance in the centre of midfield.
Kermorgant was Kermorgant and a little bit more, winning headers, holding up play and popping up in midfield to help with the defensive work time and time again. The Addicks are certainly a weaker side without the Frenchman involved.
But the trio worthy of most praise were crucial in deciding the course of the game. Forget Church’s finishing, his endeavour and work away from goal was incredible. Whilst he may have had a hat-trick, running himself into the ground and his goal make up for that.
Stephens’ goal was one of the best seen at The Valley in my lifetime, but his performance was so much more than that. He pulled the strings in midfield, ending Doncaster moves and starting Charlton ones. After a slightly indifferent performance at QPR, he was back to his high quality best.
But the real stand out was Stewart. Time and time again the Hull loanee drove at his defender and left him for dead, whether that be through trickery or sheer pace; Doncaster were scared of him. Moving out to the right worked wonders for him, and there was even an end product to go with his flashy build-up play, something that had previously been missing.
Although clichéd, this result will mean nothing if it’s not followed up by victory against Ipswich Town on Saturday. A performance of a similar level, with some clinical finishing, and Ipswich will have to do a lot to prevent the Addicks’ from taking all three points.