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The Best Charlton Moments of 2013

2013 has been a year of ups and downs, mostly downs, for the Addicks.

But there have been special moments along the way, from wonder goals to incredible victories.

Here are 13 of the best moments from the year, with the chance to vote on your favourite at the end.

Jackson’s Knee Slide – Watford 3-4 Charlton – 1 January

The Addicks came into the New Year’s Day game at Vicarage Road without a win in six; the Hornets had lost just one game in their last 11. This wasn’t going to be pretty.

It seemed as if Charlton were going to be in for a long afternoon when Daniel Pudil put the home side ahead after just 11 minutes, but an own goal and a Yann Kermorgant header gave the Addicks an unexpected lead at half-time.

The visitors started the second half as they had ended the first, on top and creating chances. And so it was gut wrenching when a clumsy tackle from Dorian Dervite on everyone’s favourite twinkle-toed forward, Fernando Forestieri, gave Watford a penalty that was converted by Almen Abdi.

If that goal was gut wrenching, Alexandre Geijo’s 68 minute strike to give the Hornets the lead for the second time was soul destroying. This was going to be a seventh game without a win; where was this season heading?

But Ricardo Fuller’s clever footwork allowed him to tee up Kermorgant for the equaliser two minutes later. Sheer relief in the away end.

And that relief quickly turned to joy as Johnnie Jackson’s powerful header gave the Addicks all three points. His knee slide celebration one of the most iconic moments and images of the year.

Ricardo’s Solo Strike – Crystal Palace 2-1 Charlton 2 February

It’s a game, with the Addicks throwing away a lead to their bitter rivals, and a day, with misbehaviour marring the aftermath, that most Charlton fans would much rather forget, but Fuller’s solo effort deserves to be remembered.

It was one of those days where everything came off for the Jamaican with the ball glued to his feet. His touch to bring down a long ball was sublime; his run to break into the box even better. The emphatic finish beyond Julian Speroni was the icing on the cake.

The celebrations in the away were incredible. Hopefully 2014 will bring celebrations after 90 minutes in a derby game.

Haynes’ Hammer Blow – Leicester City 1-2 Charlton – 19 February

It takes something special to make a Kermorgant goal against Leicester seem insignificant, and Danny Haynes’ incredible volley was exactly that.

With the scores level at 1-1, Chris Wood cancelling out Kermorgant’s opener, and Charlton on the back foot, it appeared as if the best the Addicks could hope for was a point at the King Power Stadium.

An innocuous long ball forward didn’t look like changing that, but Kermorgant’s flick on bounced into the path of Haynes. His vicious, dipping volley was exquisite, soaring over the head of Kasper Schmeichel to give Charlton a lead they would cling onto.

The celebrations that followed were just as memorable; I can’t remember every celebrating a goal as much as that.

Fuller the Game Changer – Charlton 3-2 Bolton Wanderers – 30 March

Much like the Watford game, the stats didn’t make for pretty reading. Bolton came into the game as the division’s in form side, having won five of their last six; Charlton had won just one of their last five, and a derby day defeat to Millwall had drawn them uncomfortably close to the bottom three.

A Marvin Sordell goal was followed up by a Medo strike to give the visitors a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.

But the Valley crowd stuck with the Addicks, and Jackson’s fine 25th minute strike following a half cleared corner gave Charlton hope of a comeback.

However, the course of the game really turned after half-time, when Ricardo Fuller decided to leave the Ricardo Fuller that was on show in the first half in the dressing room and emerge as a completely different player.

From moans and groans, including cries of ‘get him off’, in Fuller’s direction in the first 45 to incredible ball control and the ability to make something happen every time he had possession; the forward’s change in performance matched Charlton’s.

And it was his run with the ball at his feet at Sam Ricketts that forced the defender to commit a cynical foul and receive a second yellow card. Kermorgant’s following free-kick hit the post, but Dorian Dervite tapped in the rebound before Kermorgant converted a penalty to give the Addicks the lead.

But it was Fuller’s complete change in performance that really turned the game, kick starting Charlton’s end of season unbeaten run.

Hamer’s Heroics – Brighton 0-0 Charlton – 2 April

In a tough fixture at Brighton’s AMEX Stadium, the Addicks had held firm all evening against the Seagull’s considerable attacking threat.

Much of that was down to Ben Hamer, who had made a number of saves throughout the 90 minutes to keep the scores level.

But it was a stop in stoppage time that really stood out; the timing as well as the manner of the save making it truly exceptional.

From point-blank range, Hamer tipped a well struck effort from Vicente onto the bar. Many in the away end already had their heads in their hands, expecting the net to ripple and the home fans to celebrate, but, somehow, Hamer had secured Charlton a point that felt like a victory.

Obika in the Last Minute (x2) – Charlton 2-1 Leeds United– 6 April/Charlton 2-1 Wolves – 20 April

In a season in which the Addicks had conceded late on, conceding points in the process, on several occasions, it was only right they had their own moments of last minute joy.

Previously isolated, rarely getting a game and failing to impress Charlton fans, Jonathan Obika’s introduction in the final ten minutes against Leeds didn’t set the pulses racing.

But he immediately set about proving his doubters wrong, involving himself in several attacking moves with pace and movement down the channels.

It was his contribution in the middle that will be remembered most, however, as a fine Rhoys Wiggins cross in the final minute of stoppage time was powerfully headed home by the on-loan forward.

If there were any doubters remaining, Obika got them onside two weeks later, as another last minute goal secured all three points against Wolves.

It remains a huge disappointment that the Addicks were unable to secure his services for the 2013/14 season, with the talented forward continuing to rot in Tottenham’s U21 squad.

Barnsley Bashing – Barnsley 0-6 Charlton – 13 April

There were plenty of special days and nights in the Premier League and the League One title winning was full of them, but this was right up there in terms of Charlton’s best moment in recent times.

With-in form Barnsley scrapping for survival, it promised to be a tough game for the Addicks, but promises aren’t always kept.

After just four minutes, goal-misser extraordinaire Bradley Pritchard had given Charlton the lead. Pritchard is one of my favourite players, if not the favourite, but even I’ll admit a goal from the Zimbabwean is a moment in itself.

But 55 minutes later, his goal was playing second fiddle to the scoreline. “4-0, even Pritchard scored,” chanted the delirious travelling fans, who had seen Jackson, Kermorgant and Callum Harriott add to Charlton’s lead.

Salim Kerkar added a fifth after Stephen Dawson’s sending off, with the Algerian becoming the subject of a 5-0 chant.

Tom Kennedy’s dismissal saw the Tykes end the game with nine men, and Ricardo Fuller, who had a torrid day in front of goal, got the goal his effort had warranted to give Charlton a sixth.

6-0, Charlton’s biggest ever away win, certainly wasn’t flattering. The Addicks could have had a few more; such was the level of their performance. What a sensational day.

Champions Tamed II – Cardiff City 0-0 Charlton – 16 April

What does every young chap want to do the day before their 18th birthday? If you answered anything but take a seven and a half hour round journey to Wales to take in a 0-0 on a Tuesday night, you answered wrong.

But, away from deciding that crossing the bridge was the best thing to do the day before I became a man (sort of), this was one of Charlton’s best performances of the year. Not only did they match a side who would secure promotion on the night, they, at times, outplayed them.

Every player in a Charlton shirt was outstanding, from Solly’s incredible display at the back to Ricardo Fuller’s attempts to create a goal out of nothing. Had it not been for David Marshall’s heroics in the Bluebirds goal, and Michael Morrison’s ineptitude in front of it, the Addicks may well have ruined the promotion party at the Cardiff City Stadium.

It’s probably not a view that’s shared by all, but this performance was as good, if not better, than the one in the 5-4 win over Cardiff in the first half of the 2012/13 season.

I remember coming away from the ground feeling nothing but pride at how Chris Powell’s side had performed. It also filled me with high expectations for the following season; with some investment, we could be emulating Cardiff in a year’s time.

Whilst those expectations are yet to come to fruition, I still can’t help but feel immensely proud when I recall that night.

“We’ve Got Our Charlton Back” – Charlton 4-1 Bristol City – 4 May

The scenes on the final day of the 11/12 season were never going to be topped, but 12/13’s final day wasn’t far off.

As was the case so often in the final weeks of the season, this was an exceptional, almost faultless Charlton performance.

And it was one of those days where Kermorgant was unplayable, scoring two, providing an assist for another and coming close to a deserved hat-trick on several occasions.

Shambolic defending from the Addicks allowed Bobby Reid to pull one back for Bristol City after Kermorgant had put Charlton two up, but Obika’s tap in after the Frenchman’s chip hit the post and Jackson’s strike ended the season in style.

The only thing that could have made it better was if Scott Wagstaff, in his final game for the club, hadn’t been denied an emotional farewell goal by a clearance off the line.

A heroic speech from Saint/Sir/Superhuman Chris Powell followed, as did the chant “we’ve got our Charlton back”, which clearly touched the great man with the microphone.

It’s going to take a strong second half of the current season for scenes like that to be repeated.

Church Answers Charlton’s Prayers – Barnsley 2-2 Charlton 17 August

After all the positives and incredible performances in the final period of the 12/13 season, the poor start to the 13/14 season was infuriating.

It appeared as if Charlton were going to lose the opening three fixtures of the new campaign after going 2-0 down at Barnsley just after half-time. A stalk contrast from the last time the Addicks were at Oakwell.

But substitute Jordan Cousins grabbed his first professional goal to give Charlton hope with just over 25 minutes to play, before Simon Church tucked the ball past Luke Steele after Kermorgant’s flick to draw the Adddicks level.

Compared to many other moments in 2013, this one is relatively insignificant, but the celebrations in the away end at Oakwell meant it certainly wasn’t at the time.

Same Old Story – Charlton 2-1 Leicester City – 31 August

Yann Kermorgant’s Charlton Vs Leicester City: A Step by Step Guide

1)      Yann Kermorgant is booed at every plausible opportunity by the Leicester supporters.

2)      Yann Kermorgant scores, promptly silencing the boo boys, and Charlton win 2-1.

It’s really as simple as that, but it doesn’t stop the moment getting better every time it happens.

After Charlton’s disastrous start to the season, and Leicester’s impressive one, the result was probably the most improbable of the three Addicks victories over the Foxes.

But Michael Morrison, also a former Leicester player, headed Charlton in front just before the half hour, and Matty James’ red card just after half-time put the Addicks in a strong position.

And Kermorgant’s bi-annual goal, a powerful header past Schmeichel, against his former employers sealed the victory.

Danny Drinkwater pulled one back for the visitors, but Charlton held on for their third consecutive 2-win over the Foxes with Kermorgant the goal scoring hero once again.

Stephens’ Screamer – Charlton 2-0 Doncaster Rovers– 26 November

In this crucial relegation six pointer, it appeared as if Charlton were going to make the most of their reprieve following the original fixture’s abandonment with the Addicks 3-1 down, with the home side well on top.

But Chris Powell’s men, try as they might, couldn’t stick the ball in the net. Kermorgant and Church both came close on several occasions in the opening 35 minutes, but their luck in front of goal was out.

And so, with guilt edge chances being wasted, Dale Stephens took it upon himself to open the scoring with what will surely win goal of the season.

Cameron Stewart’s cross was met by a Doncaster head, but the ball looped up to the edge of the area, where Stephens was lurking.

The ball was in the air long enough for me to wish for him not to shoot, only for the midfielder to incredibly volley into the top corner.

And with many missing the game due to chaos at London Bridge, those who had bussed, walked and fought their way to The Valley were delighted to see their efforts rewarded with such an eye-catching strike.

Walking in a Wilson Wonderland – Charlton 3-2 Brighton 26 December

The 1-1 draw with Bolton less than a week before the Boxing Day clash had left many optimistic of snatching a point against the Seagulls. Dreaming of a point turned out to be somewhat pessimistic.

It looked as if the Addicks wouldn’t be getting anything early on as they started sluggishly and Leonardo Ulloa gave Brighton the lead after 22 minutes.

But the Addicks responded, and two goals from Lawrie Wilson gave Charlton what was now a deserved lead.

‘”He used to be s****, but now he’s alright, walking in a Wilson wonderland,” chanted the home fans. To suggest Wilson had underperformed in his Charlton career up to that point was incredibly harsh; to suggest he was just alright was an understatement.

The battered and bruised Kermorgant rounded off a heroic display with classy free-kick to give the reds a 3-1 lead, meaning that Ulloa’s last minute goal was nothing more than a consolation for Brighton.

Could Wilson’s goals, and Charlton’s victory, be the catalyst for a strong 2014? It remains to be seen.

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Poor Performance, Pathetic Pitch, Precious Point

In a season where positives have been as scarce as Christmas leftovers four days after the event, suddenly the doom and gloom around The Valley had been lifted; lifted quite dramatically.

The 3-2 win over Brighton on Boxing Day was the perfect late Christmas present for every Addick; it couldn’t get much better than that feeling of sheer jubilation.

But it did get better. The news on Friday that Belgium millionaire, and owner of Standard Leige, Roland Duchatelet had bought the club brought a buzz around the word ‘Charlton’ for the first time in several months. The confirmation from the club itself on Saturday that takeover talks were well underway was glorious news for those who refuse to believe what a certain national newspaper print of their website.

You could call it a massive few days in the course of the 2013/14 season and Charlton’s long term future. A win over the self-proclaimed ‘massive’, and fellow strugglers, Sheffield Wednesday would be just as, well, massive.

But, in a season in which impressive displays have been followed by inept and pointless performances, the worry and panic returned as soon as the team sheets were released.

Chris Solly (rested) and Rhoys Wiggins (about to become a father and therefore lose all rest), two players who are always at the forefront of any outstanding Addicks display, were both absent. Not only were Charlton hurt by the individual players not playing, but it forced an uncomfortable rejig that saw Lawrie Wilson drop to right-back, Cedric Evina on the left, and Dale Stephens play wide right, accommodating Johnnie Jackson’s return in the middle.

If the team news wasn’t enough to burst the bubble of positivity, the pitch was. It wasn’t at its best when Brighton visited The Valley, now it looked, and played, worse than the mud bath that angered so many in the final half of last season.

To round it all off, the football played on the substandard pitch was dire. A first half that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Sunday League, but one that Wednesday should have taken the lead in, was followed by a second half in which the Addicks, despite opening the scoring, were always under pressure and rarely looked threatening going forward.

But, despite the circumstances, Charlton will feel slightly aggrieved to have won as an offside goal and two glorious Addicks chances in stoppage time missed meant Sheffield Wednesday came away from SE7 with a point in a 1-1 draw.

Had the game been on Sky Sports, they probably would have thrilled their viewers in the opening 15 minutes with a graphic showing managerless Sheffield Wednesday emphatically dominate possession. But the Owls, not surprising for a side that contained Jose ‘sideways pass’ Semedo, couldn’t turn the ball retention into chances; Connor Wickham’s shot from a tight angle that was well saved by Ben Alnwick was all they could muster.

It became apparent early on that the pitch would prevent anything in the shape of a spectacle developing, with passes being held up, bounces not rebounding as high as they should and both midfields scrapping for the ball.

It was also obvious just how much Charlton were missing Solly and Wiggins. With no way of getting forward down the flanks, unsuccessful long balls were the order of the day. This certainly wasn’t pretty viewing.

But, even with arguably their most important players missing, this Charlton side can play. When they did finally patiently pass the ball around, the first real chance for the home side emerged at its climax. The move saw Cousins collect the ball on the edge of the area, as he so often does, but he scuffed his shot away from goal.

But, unsighted by Wednesday’s back four, Simon Church reacted and latched onto the misdirected ball. His touch, however, was poor and it diverted the ball well wide of goal when, had he controlled it, he only had Chris Kirkland to beat. No offside flag was produced to spare his blushes. An opening wasted in this game of few chances.

The visitors continued to have the better, if that’s what you can call it, of the scrappy affair, with Jeremy Helan and Wickham firing over from distance in quick succession.

Despite the occasional effort on goal, there was certainly no sign that either side were about to take the lead. And so, it was rather ironic that one of the smallest men on the pitch with a less than prolific goal scoring record almost headed his side in front.

No one had picked up Semedo’s run into the box, and he connected with a Wednesday cross from the right, but his header was flicked well wide of goal and inevitably into the path of Chris Maguire. Wilson got to the ball first, though, conceding a corner.

The resulting flag-kick from Stephen McPhail didn’t seem to be the best, with it flat and towards the edge of the box, but Roger Johnson acrobatically got a boot to the delivery that looped the ball up. Alnwick watched it go over, but it dropped out of the air quickly, and suddenly the ‘keeper and Evina on the line were panicking. Thankfully for them, it didn’t dip quickly enough, clipping the bar on its way out.

Charlton fans were praying for half-time, with the Addicks well off the pace and Wednesday exerting much more pressure in the final ten minutes of the half.

After Evina, collecting his own cleared long ball following a corner, optimistically shot from 30 yards, the Owls broke and Wickham had another opening from a tight angle. Alnwick’s palms prevented the England U21 forward from giving his side the lead.

Alnwick was on hand to deny Wickham once again moments later, with the ‘keeper saving well from a 20 yard free-kick that was whipped around the wall. A sigh of relief was breathed from three sides of The Valley; followed by a grunt of distain with the blowing of the whistle at half-time. The Addicks had been poor, but, by holding on, they had every hope of taking all three points from the game with an improved second half performance.

And the home side started the second period well. Kermorgant’s first time effort from outside the box failed to test Kirkland, but it improved the mood inside The Valley somewhat. Charlton’s next attack, with 47 minutes gone, improved the mood no-end.

As is so often the case, Charlton stuttered and panicked over the taking of a throw, but Wilson released the ball in time with Stephens’ fantastic run in behind.

His movement was sublime; the finish even better.

Faking to shoot, when he could have half volleyed beyond Kirkland, Stephens took the ball away from the Wednesday defender in front of him and coolly tucked the ball past the ‘keeper. Out of nothing, Charlton had the lead.

It probably wasn’t deserved, but the goal was the perfect opportunity for Charlton to grab the game by the scruff of the neck.

But, much to the frustration for their supporters, they failed to take it, with Wednesday immediately back in control and coming close to pulling level on a number of occasions.

Wickham had a glorious opportunity to equaliser just two minutes after the Addicks had scored, but he headed over from close range when it looked easier to score. His reaction painted a picture of frustrating and anguish.

Maguire came close with a long range effort that narrowly flew past the post before Wickham fired way off target. Charlton were desperately clinging onto their lead.

And so, whilst a Wednesday goal may have been deserved, the circumstances in which the visitors drew level with 59 minutes played would prove frustrating.

An innocuous long ball caused havoc as Wood and Evina left their ground to both challenge for it. It skipped off Wood’s head and into the path of Maguire, who had all the time and space in the world on the now vacant left.

He crossed, substitute Atdhe Nuhiu’s shot was blocked and Connor Wickham latched onto the rebound and tapped in from close range.

There were calls for offside, with Morrison appealer-in-chief as is customary, but they went unanswered. Replays suggest the goal scorer was a good yard or two offside; the Addicks were left to rue poor officiating and their own questionable defending.

With Charlton so off the pace, it seemed like a good time bury your head and reappear once full-time had come. But the Addicks responded well, and almost pulled back in front straight away.

Evina, attempting to make up for his mistake, drove down the left before crossing to Church, whose header forced a fine reaction save out of Kirkland at the near post. Alas, both referee and assistant signalled for a goal kick, much to the dismay of everyone else inside The Valley.

But, despite the brief opening, Wednesday continued to dominate and the Addicks failed to get forward. Kermorgant and Church were left frustrated by Glenn Loovens, who won almost every ball that was sent forward.

Down the other end, it remained Wickham who was causing all sorts of problems for Charlton’s back line. After teeing up Nuhiu, who blasted over, the forward was off target with two headers in quick succession, the second going narrowly over Alnwick’s bar. Deep breaths.

Dorian Dervite replaced Jackson, whilst Danny Green entered the fray in place of the ineffective Cameron Stewart.

And a Green corner almost saw Charlton retake the lead. His delivery was only half cleared to, as ever, Cousins on the edge of the box. His powerful effort would certainly have found the back of the net, had it not been for a superb block inside the melee of players still inside the box from the corner.

It was then Wednesday who had to curse a fine block from an opposition man, as Alnwick’s legs denied Roger Johnson from giving the visitors the lead with a free header.

The panic in the Covered End wasn’t quelled by whatever Green was up to in the final five minutes. Pumping long when Wilson was overlapping into space and losing the ball pathetically in midfield failed to impress the ever increasingly frustrated home fans. Thankfully for Charlton, and Green, Wednesday couldn’t produce a testing effort on goal.

In fact, it was Charlton who ended the game in the ascendency. Loovens, who had barely put a foot wrong, failed to deal with a punt up field by Dervite and Church was in behind. His touch created the perfect sight of goal with Kirkland in a poor position; all the Welshman had to do was pass the ball into the net. Alas, he was slightly off balance, and the shot was fired well over the bar.

With Charlton fans still licking their wounds, Church picked himself up and created the final chance of the game. He broke down the left and delivered a fine cross for Kermorgant. But Loovens, quite possibly illegally, held back the Frenchman, meaning that even when Kirkland dropped the cross onto Kermorgant’s body, the ‘keeper was able to gather the loose ball into his body. When your luck is out, it’s out.

As lacklustre a display as it may have been, the boos that met the full-time whistle were unnecessary. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was a point worth taking giving Wednesday’s dominance, key players missing and the context of the league table.

Despite those missed chances and frustrating calls by the officials, the performance was dire.

In a less than satisfactory performance, it’s only fair I do something regular readers will know I tend to stay away; focus first of all on the negatives. Charlton were utterly void of any ideas going forward in the absence of Solly and Wiggins, apart from long balls that were either won by a Wednesday man and cleared, or won by Kermorgant and then cleared.

The success rate of those long balls weren’t helped by Alnwick’s distribution. The amount of kicks he slices out of play or mishits too short is embarrassing and invites pressure. He’s a fine shot stopper, but no better than Ben Hamer in that department, whilst Hamer’s distribution ranges between fine and sublime, rarely poor. The sooner Hamer returns, the better.

Hopefully the return of Wiggins will be Wednesday, with the less said about Evina’s performance, the better. He struggled to cope with the threat that came down the right and can certainly take some of the blame for Wednesday’s goal. We certainly missed Wiggins, as well as Solly, for both his defensive work and his role going forward.

I’m also becoming increasingly frustrated with Church. For all the off the ball running he does, it doesn’t take away from the fact he’s a striker in a team that’s desperate for goals. He has to be taking chances like that. Charlton fans, and this piece, could have at totally different tune about them/it if he had tucked the ball past Kirkland.

And maybe more chances would have been created had Powell not opted to play Stephens wide right. There was a lack of threat down either flank, with Stewart uncharacteristically off colour for 90 minutes. But when you take Green’s disastrous spell on the pitch into consideration, you can understand why Powell was forced into such action. I know some doing like this excuse, but his hands are tied with the resources he has available.

But, turning to a the positives, not only was it a hard thought point that looks better when the table and other results are considered, it’s five points from three games, which almost everyone would have taken before kick-off against Bolton just over a week ago. The Addicks are also four points above the relegation zone, look to be improving despite today’s performance and Powell will hopefully have the power to improve his squad in January.

It’s about being rational, realistic and assessing everything in context. It’s also about chosen whether to be negative or positive where both are equally valid. Despite the poor performance, overall, the point is a very decent one. I’m positive and I’m happy.

Another point against Ipswich Town on Wednesday and I’ll be very pleased.

Keep on keeping the faith.

Wilson Stuffs Seagulls

Whilst not being quite at such a fierce level, the anticipation for fixtures between Charlton and Brighton and Hove Albion is almost derby like. It’s a meeting of two clubs who have shared similar experiences, share an equal hatred for a club from Croydon and share a mutual respect for one another.

But, at a time of giving and receiving, the two clubs don’t go as far to have an equal share of points in recent times.

In fact, much like Charlton have done to their true rivals in the past few seasons, the Addicks have been far too generous in their giving of points to the Seagulls. Not a single win for Charlton when Brighton have visited The Valley since 1991 speaks volumes.

Charlton’s recent record in Boxing Day fixtures also isn’t too pretty. Since the memorable 4-2 victory over Chelsea in 2003, only one fixture on December 26th has been won by the Addicks; a 3-2 win over Yeovil in 2011.

After years of giving gifts just after Christmas, and to their South Coast opponents, it was about time Charlton were rewarded for their goodwill, especially with Chris Powell’s side only two points above the Championship’s bottom three.

But the Addicks weren’t handed anything by the visitors; they did the work all on their own, and in some style.

A heroic performance from a man with a cult following and two goals from another who models his hairstyle on Jesus Christ’s helped to give Charlton a crucial and well deserved three points in a 3-2 victory at The Valley.

If Charlton were to beat a Brighton side who boasted an impressive record away from the AMEX, and were bolstered by the return of forward Leonardo Ulloa, then a team performance of some magnitude would be needed. Powell’s decision to name an unchanged side from the hard through draw at Bolton increased hopes of that happening.

But the Addicks started sluggishly in a strangely subdued Valley. Andrew Crofts blasted over from range in the opening minute for the Seagulls whilst Charlton’s Cameron Stewart wasted an opening on the wing with his heavy touch giving Brighton a chance to clear.

Brighton quickly settled into their trademark back to front patient passing style, but they couldn’t create much in terms of attacking threat despite the possession. Charlton’s contrasting style, which is often direct, was also struggling to make any serious inroads on the opposition’s defence.

And so, with both side’s forwards unable to produce, Charlton’s first shot fell to Michael Morrison following a half cleared free-kick. The centre back’s touch to open a sight of goal was akin to a player’s with greater prowess up top, but his stinging effort was blocked superbly by a Brighton defender.

A Brighton break was wasted, with Ulloa over hitting his cross with Keith Andrews in acres of space just inside the box, before Liam Bridcutt fired a long range effort wildly off target.

But, despite the away side creating a couple of half chances, neither of the XIs on display at The Valley had managed to make effective use of their very different systems. There was certainly no sense that a goal was on the horizon with 22 minutes played.

Alas, full of Christmas spirit, the Addicks continued their own traditions and gifted Brighton the lead. Will Buckley was allowed to cut inside, but his shot was blocked by Chris Solly, only for the ball to loop up and Crofts to beat Dale Stephens to knock it on to Ulloa. The Argentinian had far too much time on the ball, with Richard Wood giving the forward the space needed to turn and tuck the ball beyond Ben Alnwick. A subdued Valley became a sombre one.

It’s not as if the goal kicked Charlton into playing glorious, free-flowing football, but they certainly began to make better use of their attacks. Stewart could have, and probably should have, equalised almost immediately after doing the hard work to cut inside and create an opening, but he sliced his effort just wide.

Simon Church saw a shot trickle wide of the far post with his appeals for a corner turned down, just one of many decisions and actions from Referee Russell that infuriated both sides, before opposing central midfielders exchanged optimistic efforts. Crofts’ shot from outside the box was comfortably held by Alnwick and Stephens’ long range free-kick was probably spilled by a Brighton fan behind Peter Brezovan’s goal.

Brighton’s passing wasn’t getting them anywhere, much through the good work of Charlton, and they failed to apply the pressure to cement their lead. Something they surely would have regretted as the Addicks drew level with 32 minutes played.

Powell’s men finally had a lucky break, after weeks of things going against them, with some untidy play inside the box culminating in Yann Kermorgant teeing up Lawrie Wilson to smash home a first time shot into the roof of the net. An emphatic finish, and emphatic celebrations followed.

“He used to be s****, but now he’s alright, walking in a Wilson wonderland” sang the home fans. To suggest he hadn’t done well previously in his Charlton career was a little harsh; to suggest he was just alright right now was understated.

Wilson continued to increase his alright-ness amongst the Charlton fans as his excellent ball into the box was met by Church with five minutes of the half left, but the Welshman could only direct his first time effort wide.

With the half coming to a close, Liam Bridcutt was a whisker away from regaining Brighton’s lead, with his 25 yard strike flashing narrowly wide of Alnwick’s post, and Charlton were pleased to go in level at the break.

The interval appeared to do Charlton the world of good, with the previously somewhat lacklustre Addicks flying out of the blocks in the second period. Only a crucial header from Matthew Upson denied the exceptional Kemorgant from giving Charlton the lead from Stewart’s cross after five second half minutes.

And Kermorgant, who had spent much of the game being battered and bruised by the Brighton defence and still coming out on top, was involved again moments later. His bustling run from inside his own half to the edge of Brighton’s defence saw him outmuscle three opposition players before Adam El-Abd opted to cynically send the Frenchman to the floor. Had he not, Kermorgant would certainly have been through, but the direction of his run (going away from goal) just about save El-Abd from a dismissal. Instead, he received a yellow and enemy status from the Covered End for the reminder of the game.

But, despite the resulting free-kick being wasted, it took just until the 58th minute for Charlton to complete the comeback and grab a deserved lead.

Kermorgant’s attempts to acrobatically volley home Stewart’s cross were futile, but the ball once again found its way out to the right where an unmarked Wilson was lurking. He took a touch before lashing the ball into the roof of the net. Mr Alright pointed his ears at the Covered End as he celebrated; he’d certainly proved any doubters wrong.

Rhoys Wiggins saw a shot blocked and Church an effort saved as Brighton brought on the inform forward Ashley Barnes. There were certainly more goals to be had in what had become an open contest.

Both sides exchanged changes, with Ulloa and Stephens firing well off-target before Barnes met Bridcutt’s corner only to head narrowly over. It should have proved to have been a costly miss with El-Abd committing an assault on Church, but not only did referee Russell fail to send off Brighton’s centre-back, he deemed El-Abd’s actions fair.

With eleven men still on the pitch, Brighton continued to make Charlton work for their three points. Ulloa’s header from another Bridcutt corner left Alnwick stranded, but Stephens was in position on the line to head clear. The Valley breathed a collective sigh of relief.

With 15 minutes still to play and the game far from safe, a third goal would settle the ever increasing nerves inside The Valley.

When Wiggins, impressive going down the left all afternoon, won a free-kick on the edge of the area, the heroic Kermorgant had the chance to put the game out of Brighton’s reach.

His free-kick was out of Brezovan’s reach; the ‘keeper could only watch as the Frenchman’s effort curled up and over the wall before settling in the net’s top corner. Magnifique.

It was a goal Kermorgant’s performance had warranted, with his mud sodden kit emphasising the outstanding effort he had put in over the course of the game.

But Charlton weren’t completely out of the woods yet, and it appeared Lady Luck was firmly with the Addicks, for a change, as Brighton hit the post twice in a matter of seconds.

Barnes’ effort was well struck, with Alnwick beaten, but it rebounded back off the far post, before Inigo Calderon found the same post in similar circumstances before Stephens managed to divert the ball behind for a corner.

Church and Stewart were given a standing ovation as they left the field, replaced by Dorian Dervite and Cedric Evina as Powell looked to shut up shop. But Evina was immediately sent through on goal by Kermorgant, only to be brought down by Calderon. A penalty, surely? No, nor a corner for referee Russell.

Despite the referee’s best efforts to derail them, Charlton were seeing out the game superbly, defending solidly and breaking when the opportunity allowed. But Brighton pulled one back with one of four minutes of stoppage time played.

Barnes, after seeing a shot blocked, teed up Ulloa, who appeared to be an offside position, to tap in and give his side hope of a dramatic comeback. A furious Addicks backline, led as ever in their protest by Morrison, would have to regain focus for the final few minutes.

And that they did, with Brighton unable to break through a resolute Charlton defence. The final whistle a welcome relief for the home fans, with the celebrations come full time more meaningful and expressive than those that occurred after each Addicks goal.

Chris Powell’s fist punch epitomised the emotions of everyone connected with Charlton; this was huge.

For all their possession, patient build up play and even the odd chance, Brighton couldn’t compliment it with a cutting edge in the final third. By contrast, three well taken goals and unbelievable amounts of fight, spirit and determination granted Charlton the three points they deserved.

The man that portrayed all three of those qualities in great quantities, with an added touch of style and class, was Yann Kermorgant. The talismanic figure is certainly back after a slow start to the season; winning every header, fighting for every ball and scoring sensational goals is the Kermorgant every Addick idolises.

Whilst Kermorgant shone, it was a complete team performance, with every player putting in a fantastic shift.

It was a performance that belonged in the back end of last season. Quick pressing, resolute (most of the time) defending and both full-backs and wingers utilising the wings to great results; it reminded me at times of the 3-2 win over Bolton in March.

That Bolton victory was a season changer; this victory has shown this side do have the ability to perform at this level. It may well change the season. The players will certainly be full of confidence.

Alnwick and his central defenders, except for the first goal, were solid up against a strong attacking threat in Ulloa, whilst it really is like Solly has never been away. Wiggins was equally as effective down the left. The full-back pairs work can’t be understated; it’s a joy to have Solly back and Wiggins back to his Gareth Bale-esq best.

The midfield did well to quell the potential threat that Brighton’s passing may have had, with Cousins and, especially Stephens doing their best to prevent the Seagulls from playing.

Of course, Wilson’s two goals were timely and well taken, but his overall performance was excellent, linking up well with Solly, whilst Stewart recovered well after a sloppy first half.

But one man who all too often doesn’t receive the praise he deserves is Church. He ran himself into the ground once again and, whilst he may not by prolific, his work away from goal is as important to the side as a Kermorgant free-kick.

The task now is to build upon this impressive and vital victory. The Addicks are yet to win back to back games this season, but should that happen over fellow strugglers Sheffield Wednesday on Sunday, the gap between themselves and the bottom three will much more comforting.

Your faith has been rewarded.

Sordell’s Valley Stint Not Yet Scuppered

Take your mind back to August 1. All things Charlton were well; or at least what wasn’t well was temporarily forgotten.

A summer spent pondering the benefits of playing Leon Cort up front proved pointless as Chris Powell acquired two exciting attacking players on the same day.

The first of which was 24-year-old Welsh international Simon Church, who arrived on a free after leaving Reading. Not exactly prolific, not exactly rated highly by Royals fans and not exactly the cause of excitement amongst Charlton fans.

A solid acquisition in the circumstances, with just one senior striker at the club on the previous day, but the player signed alongside Church was the one that created optimism amongst the previously confused and worried Addicks.

England U21 international Marvin Sordell arrived on a season long loan from Bolton Wanderers. The forward was highly rated from his time with Watford, with Bolton playing £3million for his services, but apparent home sickness and a lack of playing time in Lancashire had stunted his growth as a footballer.

It was thought a move back down south, along with Powell’s stewardship and a greater chance of playing time at The Valley, was exactly what Sordell needed to recapture that form shown at Watford.

And that’s not to say his form had completely deserted him at Bolton, with an impressive display at The Valley for the Trotters, which included a goal, towards the end of last giving Charlton fans a glimpse of the calibre of player that was joining their club.

This was the man to replace the quality lost with Ricardo Fuller’s departure; some believed Sordell’s quality was superior to that of the Jamaican’s.

The only real concern was that Bolton had the option to recall their man midway through the loan deal. A prolific first half of the season from the 22-year-old and Powell could only watch as he was taken from his grasp.

Fast forward to midway through the season and it would appear Sordell is heading back to Bolton, but not in the circumstances expected.

One goal in 15 league appearances, just six of which were starts, and several substandard performances have left Charlton fans feeling incredibly disappointed by the signing that promised so much.

It would also seem that Sordell himself and Bolton manager Dougie Freedman are as equally disappointed by the success of the loan spell, with reports suggesting that Freedman would recall the frustrated striker should another club show interest in borrowing him.

Most Charlton fans won’t be too concerned by his imminent departure; quite a few are rather pleased that a player who has failed to win over the supporters is leaving the club. The lack of goals aside, his so called laziness, shown to the fore when he failed to leave the pitch quickly enough after being substituted in the 0-0 draw against Blackpool, has made him the target of heavy criticism.

Hopefully it will free up funds to sign a forward who will score the goals to move the Addicks away from danger. With Sport Kansas City striker Dom Dwyer rumoured to be joining the club, and his Twitter feed full of very easy to unravel cryptic hints, he may well be Sordell’s replacement.

But, even with a player who has impressed American audiences and has a rather good name potentially coming in, I don’t feel as relaxed about Sordell’s departure as many others do. In fact, I would go as far to say that I’m a bit gutted.

First of all, I’m probably as disappointed as Sordell and Powell that the move hasn’t worked out. This was supposed to be perfect for him, and his goals would be perfect for us.

I’d been warned by several fans who had seen him play regularly not to get too carried away, but most believed there was certainly a very good player hiding away inside the former Great Britain striker.

I genuinely believed having Powell to guide him, Yann Kermorgant up top with him and being back down south would lead to a 20 goal season for Sordell. He’d provide all the flair and ability of the departed Fuller, but with the added addition of goals on a consistent basis.

And, even with that disappointment, there have been several occasions when he’s impressed me. The sweetly taken goal and overall performance against Forest, the hard working display at Blackburn and the 20 minutes at Reading that left me frothing at the mouth for more.

The way he collected the ball into his feet with his back to goal and created attacking moves time and time again at the Madjeski was superb to see. He looked confident and, along with Danny Green, changed the course of the game, having a goal disallowed for offside and was involved in many of the moves that almost brought the Addicks an equaliser.

I called for him to start the games following the Reading defeat, and I’m incredibly frustrated that he hasn’t had the chance to build upon that performance, whereas Green has been given his ~325th chance to start in a Charlton shirt only to underwhelm once again.

I’ll always back Powell’s judgement over my own, he’s the man that sees the players every day in training, but I can’t help but feel Sordell has been treated a little unfairly with his lack of playing time.

The slow start, with two dire performances against Bournemouth and Middlesbrough, probably cost him, but he’s at least performed to an acceptable level in the other four league games he’s started and the appearances of more than five minutes he’s made off the bench.

And that’s the key issue here; I don’t feel like I’ve seen enough of him. Five minutes here or there isn’t enough to judge a player. I would love for him to be given a run in the starting XI, to prove himself and to show the Reading performance wasn’t a fluke, because, like I had been told, there is certainly a player hiding away in there somewhere.

It’s certainly not a case of forgetting about him and hoping he leaves with Dwyer coming in and Michael Smith returning, because the Adidcks would still be light on both numbers and quality up top. With the lack of goals scored this season, the more strikers the merrier.

With Sordell still at the club for now and a number of fixtures over a short space of time during the Christmas period, the chances are he’ll get some amount of playing time in the coming weeks.

A goal or two could resurrect his Charlton career; something I desperately hope happens.

Powell’s Elves Create Crucial Point

One of the key requirements needed to become a Charlton fan is a keenness to show amateur detective skills.

Of course, nothing Addicks related is as it seems, and everyone sees it in different ways. For what is an unfortunate or unlucky defeat for the glass half full branch of the Charlton detective society, the glass half empty cohort will scour every player and every minute for as many individual and team errors to remove any sense of cruel misfortune.

And those detective skills are being put to good use by the situation Chris Powell’s side currently find themselves in. How is it that Charlton Athletic are 21st in England’s second tier and without a win in four?

Some will blame the manager; Powell’s tactics, team selections and substitutes are failing to impress a minority. Others look towards the players; they’re disgracefully underperforming and not putting the effort in. The majority point the finger at the board; they’ve failed to support Powell financially and the squad reflects that.

But, whatever the reason is, the Addicks are firmly gripped in a relegation battle.

This provides the detectives with their next question; where is the next point coming from? With chances not being taken, luck firmly against the Addicks and players low on confidence, it was beginning to seem like an unanswerable question.

But, as has been stated many a time in this blog, you can’t accuse Chris Powell’s Charlton of lacking fight, spirit and, above all, determination. Those three characteristics were shown in abundance as the Addicks dug deep to secure a vital point, not just in terms of points over a season but to stop the rot, in the 1-1 draw at Bolton Wanderers.

You have to have optimism (much of it irrational) to travel to The Reebok on the Saturday before Christmas, especially when your side have done little but break your heart for weeks. As a result, the return of Chris Solly to the starting XI was monumental; a broken heart that had missed him for weeks was slightly healed and the optimism suddenly seemed less irrational.

A small following of fans at a Lancashire club, the Addicks in all red and Richard Wood back in the side made up the factors that formed my irrational optimism. A red-shorted Charlton, with Wood to the fore, snatched a 1-0 victory over Blackburn with 230 away supporters at Ewood Park in October.

And if the start was anything to go by, this was going to be another successful trip for the small collection of Addicks behind the goal Ben Alwnick was occupying in the first half.

After just six minutes, Charlton’s first chance of the game fell to Lawrie Wilson, pushed forward to the right of midfield, after being chipped through by Yann Kermorgant. Wilson’s first time half volley may have flashed harmlessly wide of goal, but it lifted a previously flat away end with the first cries of ‘since I was young’ produced.

Just moments later, Wanderers ‘keeper Andy Lonergan was forced into his first save of the afternoon with the Addicks lively. Wilson found Kermorgant in space on the edge of the area, but Lonergan got down well to save the Frenchman’s effort.

Kermorgant cut the figure of a frustrated man, with his shot a little under hit, but he’d be able to release those negative emotions in celebration from the resulting corner.

The home side cleared Stephens’ initial delivery, but Rhoys Wiggins picked up the loose ball. His run was sensational, driving down the left and beating his man to cut inside, and his pass into the centre for Charlton’s answer to Eric Cantona was perfect.

Kermorgant’s first time strike was superb, leaving Lonergan with no hope of preventing the deadlock from being broken, and his celebration was sensational, rising several feet off the floor with a fist pump for added emphasis. A previously out of sorts Kermorgant was back and, more importantly, Charlton were ahead.

With Charlton scoring early, the similarities with the trip to Ewood Park were becoming more striking, but, unlike at Blackburn, chances for the Addicks didn’t completely dry up.

Another half cleared corner fell to Wiggins, but this time the Welshman opted to shoot, endangering the safety of the already disgruntled Bolton fans several rows up behind the goal.

It would have taken some effort for a shot to be more wayward than Wiggins’, but such an effort occurred in Charlton’s next attack. A cross field ball was flicked on and into the path of Wilson, who had got in behind Bolton’s backline, but the curly-haired winger, from quite a promising position, somehow contrived to direct his effort away for a Bolton throw.

With Charlton fans sitting comfortably, pleased with themselves for making what previously seemed an illogical decision to travel north, the boos and displeasure emanating from the home ends added to their amusement. As did the pitch side Wanderers mascot, who showed a better first touch than many of those in white. But their relaxing afternoon wasn’t to last, as Bolton came forward and the Addicks sat back.

Fingernails were in Charlton mouths when Joe Mason broke into the box, but a superb block from Michael Morrison prevented the on-loan forward converting the opportunity. However, a roar went round three sides of The Reebok, signalling that the home supporters were intending to now get behind their side.

It sparked a period of 25 minutes worth of Bolton domination that saw the Charlton defence work overtime when many have already signed off for Christmas.

Another loanee, Neil Danns, was Bolton’s brightest spark, threatening Charlton in midfield with pace that the Addicks couldn’t match, and he fired off-target from range with the defence standing firm.

That was until the home side’s next move forward, with Chris Eagles as surprised as anyone that a bundle of red-shirted defenders had failed to adequately dispossess him of the ball. Such was the shock of Charlton’s previously resolute defence falling to pieces; the former Manchester United winger snatched at his effort and poked it straight at Alnwick.

With the previously clam away end now full of panic, a heroic goal line clearance from Wood after Lee-Chung Young’s header beat Alnwick brought back that old feeling of irrational optimism. After weeks of missed chances, unbelievably throwing away points and conceding goals via the face of a Charlton defender, maybe this was a sign Charlton’s luck was finally turning. That was only emphasised as Young failed to connect with an inviting chip into the box that, had his boot directed the ball goal wards, would have surely drawn the Wanderers level.

The latter stages were spent with one eye on the pitch and another on the scoreboard, half to watch the clock tick down and half to remind myself that Charlton still maintained the lead.

That’s not to say the Addicks had completely gone into their shell. Simon Church, back into the starting XI, was causing a nuisance in typical Church fashion, whilst Kermorgant saw a long range effort well saved by Lonergan before the ‘keeper beat him to a long ball over the top from his Welsh forward partner.

The second goal would have come as welcome relief to the travelling fans, but it didn’t appear to be totally necessary, with Bolton’s shooting wayward and Charlton’s defence patiently doing their best to keep the home side at bay. When those two factors were flipped on their heads, Alnwick was on hand to frustrate the Trotters, saving superbly from Mason’s near post flick.

A glance at the scoreboard showed ’01:39’; it seemed Charlton had done enough to hold on until half-time. But, possibly deservingly, Bolton drew level with seconds remaining in the opening 45.

Silver haired full-back Kevin McNaughton was given far too much space inside the box, it was as if Charlton were full of Christmas spirit and giving a gift to an elderly member of society, and had the chance to pick a spot and steady himself, coolly slotting beyond a justifiably enraged Alnwick.

After the way the first half ended, it was almost disappointing that the relative calm of half-time had to end, but the Addicks gave the quest for three points a right good go.

They also had to withstand a considerable amount of pressure from the home side, with Alnwick on hand to save superbly from Mason’s header that seemed destined to give Bolton the lead.

Down the other end, the duel between Kermorgant and Lonergan continued as the Frenchman’s sweetly struck dipping volley was somehow tipped over by the Irish stopper. The Frenchman’s resulting efforts to gee up his supporters were well responded to.

Lonergan wasn’t the only one breaking Charlton hearts, with referee Gibbs on hand to add to the frustration. Church, backed by the travelling fans behind him, appealed frantically for a penalty after his cross was blocked at close range by Alex Baptiste’s hand. Whilst there’s little question as to whether there was contact between hand and ball, Baptiste kept his arm low and therefore pointing to the spot would have been somewhat harsh.

After Mark Davies was given a hero’s welcome by the home fans after coming off the bench, the returning Chris Solly almost made himself a hero in red, firing just wide from distance. Appeals for a corner were waved away, despite the effort deflecting off a Bolton body on the way though, and, with just 15 minutes to play, it seemed with that that Charlton’s chances of grabbing all three points were fading.

Bolton threw on Jermaine Beckford, whilst Powell withdrew Church and Cameron Stewart in favour of Cedric Evina and Dorian Dervite as Charlton looked to seal their point. They did so, but not without the already chewed nails being ripped apart.

Beckford saw a shot blocked, Matt Mills headed over from a corner in stoppage time and Jay Spearing, with what was almost the game’s final kick, flashed over the bar with my life flashing before my eyes.

The final whistle came as a welcome  relief. Both teams could argue they did enough to win, but it was a well-earned point for Chris Powell’s heroes, and a vital one with results elsewhere going their way.

The game’s key men, Kermorgant and Lonergan, exchanged words at full time, before the Frenchman, ever the hero, handed his shirt to a young fan. Despite struggling to hide my jealousy, it was a delight to see the Kermorgant that every Charlton fan idolises back.

And that’s where the analysis of the game has to start; Yann Kermorgant’s heroic effort.

In poor runs of form last season, you could count on a Kermorgant, Jackson or Fuller performance to secure vital points with an incredible display. This was last season’s Kermorgant, and hopefully it’s here to stay.

The forward not only won almost every header, but created attacks with them, he dropped deep to win possession on countless occasions and should have had more than one goal to his name, such was his presence in attacking positions.

And maybe Charlton deserved more from the game. They certainly created enough openings and, despite Bolton’s pressure, defended well but for a brief, panicky period in the first half.

It was the returning Solly who impressed the most out of the back four, and Yann Kermorgant’s inferiors. It was like he had never been away, putting in a superb shift at the back whilst creating a few openings going forward.

However, Cousins and Stephens were uncharacteristically weak in the middle, and that may have prevented Charlton from being dominant, which is shown in the possession statistics.

My only other complaint during the game was the fact Powell settled for a point with the best part of ten minutes to play but, looking back, it seems a sensible thing to have done with Bolton putting increasing amounts of pressure on Charlton’s back four.

But, overall, I can’t complain with the point. It breaks the run of defeats, finally rewards the Addicks for a creditable performance and provides a platform to build upon going into the Christmas period.

Any optimism going into the Boxing Day visit of Brighton can be deemed somewhat justified. It wasn’t quite perfect, but there were signs that showed this side can play.

Keep the faith. Especially after that performance.

Dreaming of Manish; Being a Non-League Fan

You’re one amongst 30,000; part of a choir, a tribe and a culture. You’re surrounded by high quality facilities; in front of you are 22 of the best footballers in the world.

The bright young thing with the world at his feet crosses to the experienced international striker to give your team the lead. Pandemonium. 30,000 of you celebrate the ball crossing the line, one goal in one 90 minutes of football, as if you’ve all won the lottery.

It’s being a fan of a club at the highest level. It’s incredible.

And if you’ve missed that moment, Gary or Manish will guide you through replay after replay on a Saturday night.

On the other hand, you’re one amongst a few hundred, maybe a few thousand if you’re lucky. The tiny stands and empty spaces mean you’re not surrounded at all, but the tea hut serves the best cuppa you’ll ever find. In front of you are 22 footballers who don’t always make enough money from football to survive.

The postman delivers the ball through to the PE Teacher who beats the opposition’s bricklayer in goal to give your side the lead. The celebrations inside the ground are a world away from the Premier League, but you feel exactly the same as any fan of any club in any division would.

You can only dream of Manish analysing your club’s performance, but the low quality YouTube clips just about do the job.

It’s being a fan of a non-league club. It’s an alien concept to some.

In truth, it’s something of an alien concept to me. Apart from a trip to Dover Athletic, for reasons unrelated to real world football, and using the FA Trophy Final as an excuse to visit Wembley for the fifth time, I’ve found it hard to motivate myself to stand in the cold and watch sub-standard football. There’s a strong chance I’ll unfairly patronise non-league fans and non-league at some point during this article, so I’ll  get my apologies in early.

But with attendances healthy, such as an average of 1,800 fans attending games at Maidstone United’s Gallagher Stadium in the Isthmian League, non-league clearly has something attractive about it for the spectator.

“I say the passion and I just enjoy the whole thing a lot more compared to the Premier League,” says Hayes and Yeading fan Corey Eaton, who has supported the club since its creation in 2007.

“I normally compare semi-pro to Premier League.

“It isn’t all about money compared to your Agueros; there are more Gerrards in non-league.

“It’s not exactly cheaper than the lower Football League divisions (in terms of cost of being a supporting) but you get closer to the club and you are able to communicate with the players and management easier.”

That stereotypical idea of non-league clubs being one big community is one that attracts many to the lower tiers, and makes promoted clubs miss it when they enter the Football League.

“I definitely miss the togetherness of the fans,” says Crawley fan Craig Bratt, who has seen his club rise from Conference point deductions to a top half League One side in his life as a supporter.

“The fan base has grown but ultimately our once tight knit group have drifted and are less connected with each other.

“I feel (the togetherness of the fans) is the main difference between supporting a non-league club and a Football League club.”

That all sounds quite attractive, doesn’t it? Attending a game each week with the same group of people, having close contact with your heroes and watching them perform for their love of the game, not primarily to bolster their bank balance.

So why is the Football League such an ideal for those below England’s top four tiers? Why do community based clubs want to sacrifice aspects of their ethos in favour of professionalism, a disconnection between fans and club, and relatively high paid imports?

It’s those questions that lead to Eaton viewing any possibility that his side could one day play in League Two quite sceptically.

“I wouldn’t mind playing in there of course, I see the Football League as a dream just like most of the players, but I don’t think I could handle everyone from the local town coming out in force that was not there during our current dark days ground sharing at Woking.”

But Bratt’s elation upon achieving promotion, and his thereafter enjoyment of the Football League, would suggest that once it happens and once you’re there, there’s little time for scepticism.

“The feeling I felt after gaining promotion was unreal,” he says.

“Nineteen days after the death of our beloved owner Bruce Winfield, we achieved his 50 year dream of getting into the Football League. It was fitting, and it was what Bruce deserved.

“During the lowest times at Crawley, never could I have imagined us in the Football League.

“I was only about 10 years old when we were down to our last penny, but I still remember us being minutes from liquidation.

And watching his side in League Two, and League One, has been an unforgettable experience for Bratt.

“League Two exceeded my expectations. The away days we had were incredible on our way to achieving promotion at the first attempt.

“We took 600 to Oxford United, scored a last minute equaliser and went wild.

“In League One we’ve played teams like Portsmouth and Sheffield United. My little team shouldn’t be doing this.”

But is there really much of a difference between the lower divisions of the Football League and the more well regarded non-league divisions?

The biggest difference would probably be an individually constructed idea of status. Attending a League Two game seems a lot more high profile, and therefore worthwhile and enjoyable, than a Conference fixture.

However, with a host of formerly well regarded league clubs in non-league’s top flight and games being shown live on BT Sport, the difference in status between tier four and tier five is shrinking; like it has been year upon year for quite some time.

But for Wrexham fan Joe Prosser, whose club have suffered several heartbreaks in their attempt to return to the Football League, the two divisions aren’t as equal as some would like to make out.

“I don’t think the quality of football is much different from the bottom half of League Two to the top 5 or 6 in the Conference,” says the teenage supporter.

“However, the difference between playing Portsmouth away with a five-figure attendance and travelling to Hyde and overwhelmingly outnumbering the home support is huge.

“It’s quite disheartening, because we really deserve to be in the Football League.”

After six seasons playing in the conference, Prosser, like fans from other big fishes in a small pond, has grown frustrated by the division.

“At first I thought Wrexham would be in the conference for two seasons maximum and I thought it would be a nice adventure.

“However, it’s just terrible to be down here now.

“Even though the away days are cheaper, flat atmospheres and low attendances year after year get very depressing, whilst bankrolled Sunday league clubs winning the league and not being able to compete with them is another factor (I don’t enjoy).”

His experience hasn’t been helped by the success of another Welsh club, who were once their inferiors.

“Once upon a time we were always looking down on Swansea and things looked bleak for them, but my goodness have they changed things around, and you have to admire them.

“But it could have been us.

“Wrexham are a club with great potential and a similar sized catchment area to what Swansea have.

“I’m not saying we could become a club playing in Europe and constantly in the top half of the Premier League, but we could certainly have established ourselves in the Championship.”

Prosser’s pain has a lot to do with his club’s failure. As a fan of a former League club, he has that very strong win at all costs mentality. If they’d romped to the title inside the first few seasons of their time in non-league, maybe he’d look back on it fondly.

So what is it like supporting a former league club who enjoyed five promotions in nine years to return to the Football League?

“Of course winning made the non-league journey more enjoyable,” says AFC Wimbledon fan Joe Morger.

“And the relief of winning promotion to the Football League was huge. It was what the last 9 years had been about, reclaiming Wimbledon’s football league spot and another one of those stepping stones we needed to jump for.”

For Morger, it also meant he could finally see some consistent TV coverage of his side.

“As much as I’ll complain about the football league show, it beats having no highlights at all. You didn’t always get highlights of games, so if you couldn’t make it to one of the many obscure towns it was annoying not to catch up on.”

But it wasn’t just the winning and having the prospect of Clem visit his club that made it enjoyable, nor the factors surrounding Wimbledon’s story.

Like many others, Morger enjoyed the community spirit of non-league football.

“The best thing about being a non-league fan is knowing the club and the people.

“There’s not a Premier League club where ordinary fans will know the players, staff and those in charge on such a personal level.”

And even non-league bashing Prosser appreciates the community spirit that being in non-league football seems to bring.

Wrexham fans raised £100,000 in a few hours to keep the club alive in 2011, something he rather brilliantly sums up as an ‘outstanding effort’.

So it would seem getting enjoyment from supporting a non-league club has a lot to do with off the field events.

And maybe that’s what it’s all about.

For non-league fans, it’s not entirely about turning up to watch some part timers you’ve never heard of kick a ball around about on a cabbage patch; it’s about the social experiences that connect with you other fans and those inside the club itself.

You could certainly argue it’s the other way around in the top tiers of English football. Whilst I love going to away games, especially ones in which Charlton take 300 fans up north, the day is completely ruined if we don’t get the result.

But, from the way in which each fan describes on the pitch non-league moments, and they’re not all FA Cup runs, that’s certainly an overstatement.

You wouldn’t begrudge Bratt selecting Crawley’s cup run that saw them grace Old Trafford, but he opts for an emotional league success.

“My most memorable game was our 2-1 win away at Eastbourne the day after the death of Winfield.

“We celebrated his life amazingly and fittingly won.”

Despite having all of Wimbledon’s success to choose from, Moger opts for the club’s final moment in non-league football.

“For most people who have been promoted, it’s the very last moment, the moment you get out and hope you never return.

“Because there are only 2 promotion spots it really is the culmination of an incredibly hard fought season.”

Hayes and Yeading upset a few bigger clubs during their time in the Conference, and Eaton remembers one such upset fondly.

“Oxford United were top at the time, it was our first season in the Conference and were favourites to go down.

“But we ended up beating them 2-1 away, and we then did the double over them, beating them 2-1 again.”

For non-league pessimist Prosser, it’s non-league’s show piece occasion.

“It’s the Trophy Final. After all we’d been through only 18 months or so before it (with the fans saving the club), and just seeing Wrexham step onto the Wembley turf for the first time in it’s 149 year history was an incredible moment.”

The football isn’t half bad, and that’s something I can vouch for from my viewing of the FA Trophy Final and Dover Athletic.

The Trophy Final, after a nervy start, was fast paced and both Wrexham and Grimsby played attractive football.

Dover, at least in the two fixtures I’ve seen, play an excellent brand of counter attacking football, with some very talented young wingers making them a constant threat going forward.

A fantastic community ethos and enjoyable football, it’s not difficult to see why so many get sucked into the non-league bubble.

With thanks to:

@Corey_HYUFC1997

@CraigyBratt

@joe_wxm

@JoeMoger

Rams Pounce On Sheepish Addicks

Games involving Charlton Athletic seem to be following a similar script at the moment. The Addicks rarely disgrace themselves, but something is missing from their show to make it a success.

The actors in red, in some scenes at least, appear to be on top of their opponents, but a streak of bad luck and an increasingly frustrating nature to fluff their lines in the final third has prevented more points being put on the board.

On the other hand, the opposition have luck on their side and, more importantly, take their chances. The tales are becoming more heart-breaking with every passing week.

With a failed takeover attempt, fans bemoaning, somewhat unrealistically, a lack of communication from the club and the impending sense of doom that failing to win in three and sitting two points and a place above the relegation zone brings, a repeat script during Derby County’s visit to The Valley would have been disastrous.

Turning poor form around against the division’s in-form side? The chances were that the story of the game would be one of dominance from the Rams.

But Chris Powell’s Charlton are experts in completely ignoring the pre-game script and improvising their own, especially against in form sides, adding in twists that not even the finest writers in the country could have produced.

Much like that incredible season turning victory over Cardiff City in November 2012, there was a feeling of hopelessness before kick-off, the opposition were in blue and Powell sprung a few surprises in his chosen cast; Danny Green made his second start of the season whilst Bradley Pritchard came back into the side in a second striker role in a 4-5-1 formation.

Unlike that famous comeback over the Welsh side, The Covered End Choir rarely raised their voices in song, the Addicks couldn’t take their chances and Lady Luck snuggled up to the visitors.

That familiar script, with Charlton far from poor but not quite doing enough, was repeated in Derby’s 2-0 win at The Valley.

There were some doubts raised before kick-off about Powell’s choice to field just one striker in a home fixture, but it seemed logical when the form of the two sides were compared. It also appeared to be working well in the opening 30 minutes, with Charlton on top.

A lively start from the Addicks saw, rather predictably, poor decision making and execution in the final third fail to convert possession into chances.

But with ten minutes on the clock, Charlton registered the game’s first effort on goal. Michael Morrison, possibly sick of seeing those playing in attacking positions waste promising openings , galloped forward and had the ball played into him 25 yards from goal. His effort was well struck, and forced Rams stopper Lee Grant into a smart save.

Charlton’s next chance, barely five minutes later, would have been quite spectacular had it been finished off. Excellent build up play eventually saw the ball farmed out to Cameron Stewart on the left flank, and the Hull loanee’s cross picked out Dale Stephens perfectly, but the midfielder’s first time volley cleared the bar. It was a glorious opening, but Stephens was possibly in shock that a ball from wide had found its intended target.

Chris Martin’s effort for the away side was deflected wide, and a Buxton header was comfortably held by Ben Alnwick from the resulting corner in a rare Derby attack, but this was certainly an encouraging start for the Addicks.

Kermorgant, Pritchard and Stephens were all impressing, whilst a strong run forward from Jordan Cousins from inside his own half upped the optimism amongst the home fans, and they were in fine voice for a brief period.

Green’s over hit free-kick was heading for goal before Grant tipped the ball away, and Kermorgant almost scored and created an opportunity, seeing a shot blocked and a ball through to Pritchard crucially intercepted by a Rams defender, but the atmosphere and Charlton’s performance fell flat as the half hour mark approached.

Derby were yet to perform like the division’s in-form side; a goal for the rams would have been unwarranted and cruel on the Addicks.

But, with it occurring time and time again this season, there was a growing sense that Charlton would be punished for their failure to take their chances and make the most of their possession.

“Don’t let them come into it, Charlton” was the shout from a spectator behind me as the Rams came forward, eventually winning themselves a free-kick in a very promising position. Jamie Ward stepped up and curled an effort towards goal that, despite appearing to be on target, didn’t look to have the required pace to beat Alnwick.

But a wicked deflection off Rhoys Wiggins’ head in the Charlton wall completed altered the direction of Ward’s attempt. An already committed Alnwick could only stand motionless and watch as the ball bounced into the other side of his goal. Derby hadn’t just come into a game they were previously struggling in, they’d taken an undeserved lead with the most incredible piece of good fortune.

With 13 minutes to go until half-time, there was still sufficient time for the Addicks to equalise, but the goal had seemed to suck the confidence out of Chris Powell’s side. The previously impressive Pritchard suddenly began to struggle, whilst the Addicks as a whole seemed void of ideas going forward.

In fact, only an excellent save from Alnwick kept Charlton in the game going into half time. No one in a red shirt closed down Craig Bryson, with the midfielder opting to unleash an effort from distance that looked to be heading for the top corner, had it not been for the outstretched fingertips of Alnwick tipping the ball behind.

In stoppage time, a Kermorgant ball forward was chased down by Green, forcing Grant to leave his area and head clear straight back to the Frenchman. He attempted to lob the out of position ‘keeper, but there wasn’t enough on the ball and Buxton headed away. That weak chip was symbolic of Charlton’s recent performances; just not quite good enough.

With the half-time whistle blowing, the script reads that the home fans must boo if behind, no matter what the nature of the performance. One very audible noise of displeasure was heard, but, for the most part, Chris Powell’s men were clapped off. There was certainly something in this game for them if they started the second half as brightly as they did the first.

And after just two second half minutes, the Addicks came a whisker away from pulling level. Lawrie Wilson broke down the right and crossed to Stephens, but he failed to make a solid connection with his effort and dragged the ball agonisingly wide, lowering those who had begun to celebrate back to their seats.

Worryingly for the Addicks, Derby had improved upon their indifferent start to the game, and now looked much more of a threat. Simon Dawkins having the best of the away side’s chances in the opening 15 minutes of the half, firing high and wide after the robust Martin teed him up.

Dawkins really should have done better but, as Derby looked to put the game beyond Charlton’s clutches, the Addicks again came desperately close to equalising.

A free-kick eventually saw the ball fall to Kermorgant on the edge of the area, but his shot had a box full of players to break through if he was going to test Grant. It failed to do that, but it did find its way through to Morrison inside the six yard box. The ball bounced off him awkwardly and the stand-in skipper failed to apply the crucial touch.

You got the feeling that had that situation occurred in Charlton’s box, the initial shot would have cannoned off a Derby player’s legs and found the back of the net.

That might not have been the case, however, as the Rams missed another golden opportunity to seal the three points. Martin was again the provider as he set the ball across goal for Bryson, but his effort crashed against the bar.

Dawkins sent another shot soaring over Alnwick’s crossbar before Powell bought on Simon Church and Callum Harriott in place of Green and Pritchard, who had both faded dramatically after promising starts.

The changes proved to be the catalyst for 20 minutes of Charlton dominance.

Stewart set the tone for the period by cutting in superbly from the left and getting his shot away only for a deflection to guide the ball into Grant’s hands; close, but not quite close enough.

After being involved in two of Charlton’s better openings, it was Morrison who had the best chance to equalise for the Addicks. Kermorgant’s cross was perfect and the armband wearer got to the ball in front of his man, but, somehow, contrived to head over from close range.

With less than 15 minutes to play, there were desperate appeals for a penalty as Kermorgant looked to be fouled as he challenged for a cross. Referee Davies, who had made no attempts to please either the Charlton fans or players throughout the afternoon, saw otherwise and awarded Derby a free-kick for an apparent infringement by Kermorgant.

The Frenchman won himself a free-kick shortly after, and received a rather harsh yellow card after applauding the referee for awarding it Charlton’s way.

But the home side continued to pile on the pressure, and a fantastic through ball from Wilson found Church, only for the Welshman’s first time shot to be well saved by Grant.

With five minutes to go there was still hope that the Addicks could snatch a vital point in their bid to stay in the division; with three minutes to go, it was gone.

A clearance from Morrison fell straight to Conor Sammon, a £1,200,000 signing in the summer of 2012 who had spent 84 minutes of the game on the bench, and he fed through Bryson to finish coolly past Alnwick.

The Valley fell silent but for the visiting celebrations; this hurt.

The remainder of the game was played out to the clunk of Charlton fans departing their seats as their players looked defeated.

Bryson almost made it three in the final minute of stoppage time, but his effort cleared the bar from a tight angle. The mood inside The Valley wouldn’t have changed had that shot hit the net; the place was numb. The cruel script had delivered yet another painful blow.

Before I endeavour to rationally explain Charlton’s performance and current situation, it’s only fair that I give Derby the praise they deserve. Whilst not at their best by their own admission, they were very well organised. The centre back paring of Buxton and Richard Keogh were highly impressive, whilst Simon Dawkins, his finishing not including, and Martin were excellent when the Rams attacked.

In one sense, the fact that positives can be taken from defeats is, well, a positive. Rarely have Charlton been outclassed this season, rarely have they not deserved more and rarely has luck been on their side.

At three stages today the Addicks were on top; the opening 30 minutes, the first passages of play after half-time and following Church and Harriott entering the fray. Just a fluke goal and a second that meant very little took the points away from Charlton.

That they’ve not been outclassed is shown by the bizarre statistic that the Addicks have conceded one less time than 4th place Derby’s 26. That the Rams have scored an incredible 42 goals, 26 more than Charlton, highlights the problems in front of goal.

But chances, as they always are, are being created; thereafter wasted.

In another sense, the fact that the same script is repeated week in, week out, is ultimately very concerning. If we can’t turn the positives into points, then surely something is very, very wrong.

Being only one point above the relegation zone with 20 games gone is very concerning, especially when encouraging performances are not bring points.

Whilst I’m certain we’ll be safe, I can’t bear to see this club fall to the third tier again. The fact we’re so close to the drop makes me feel sick.

The players seem incredibly short of confidence, not to mention ability, both in front of goal and in general, optimised by the standard of performance dropping heavily after Derby’s first.

So heavily was that drop, I struggle to name a player who can really be happy with their performance over the 90 minutes.

Powell also seems to have lost a sense of control in recent weeks, tinkering with his selections to such an extent that he too isn’t sure how to go about turning the positives into points. The 4-5-1 worked for a period, but his side certainly posed more of a threat once a second striker was introduced.

That criticism of Powell is by no means an indication that I wish for him to leave. I’m still firmly behind him. However, the defeat has left more Charlton fans before questioning his position.

To those of you who are, I ask you do you honestly believe anyone else could do a better job with the financial restrictions both in the sense of paying wages to the manager and being able to recruit players?

Ipswich seemed like a freak result; Reading filled me with positivity; Yeovil deflated me; and today has destroyed me. I didn’t expect to win, but the manner in which we lost was ultimately very hard to take.

It’s a very difficult time to be a Charlton fan, on and off the pitch. The most disheartening thing for me is the spats on social networks. Disagreements about different aspects seem to go far; I’ve seen several become personal.

The mere mention of ‘Charlton’ throws up negative connotations at the moment.

Even so, I’ll still be keeping the faith.

To reiterate, I’m 100% behind Powell, and will be even if we are in this position in 20 games time. However, with the comments I have read this evening, it seems appropriate to include a poll based around his future.