An open terrace, rudimentary facilities and not 7,000 in attendance at a ground that is hosting second tier football for the first season in its long history. Huish Park isn’t exactly the setting fitting for a former Premier League club’s biggest game of the campaign to date.
But there’s no getting away from it, Charlton are in a relegation battle. A former League One club fighting for their lives is probably a better description of their status, a status shared by fellow strugglers Yeovil Town.
After two defeats in two, and two wins for Yeovil in the same period, the Addicks sat just two points and a place above the Glovers, who occupied the final spot in the relegation zone. Wins for both Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley, the other two members of the division’s bottom three, in midweek only increased the sense of panic around SE7.
And so it was that a win at the home of the Championship debutants would lift the Addicks, momentarily at least, away from the foot of the table. Surely those three points would be achieved? Surely Chris Powell’s side’s incredible mentality and ability to win when their backs are against the wall would shine through again? Surely Yeovil didn’t have it in themselves for a third upset within a week?
Alas, there is little to be sure about at the moment. From ownership, the future of out of contract players and the course of a game that features the Reds, there is no certainty.
Not even a 2-0 lead could assure Charlton of three precious points as just about everything that could have done conspired against the Addicks. An own goal, a penalty and a red card in ten minutes of mayhem gave Yeovil a point that had looked beyond them.
Hopes were high amongst the strong travelling contingent before kick-off, expectations which were only strengthened by the return of skipper Johnnie Jackson to the starting line-up. This was the sort of game the inspirational leader thrives upon; he’d certainly have a significant impact.
It took him, and his team mates, sometime to get going as both sides started sluggishly in a scrappy opening period. The Addicks could at least claim to be having the better of possession, with a bizarre 4-4-2 containing three centre midfielders and just the one winger working surprisingly well.
However, it was the home side that rose out of the ascetically unappealing first 15 minutes to catch the eye with a handful of efforts on goal. Everton loanee John Lundstram unleashed a vicious long range drive at Ben Alnwick’s goal that had those behind it, and the ‘keeper, momentarily worried as it sailed over the bar, before Alnwick got done well to stop Ishamel Miller’s effort from inside the box.
All of a sudden Charlton looked a little nervous, whilst Yeovil were growing stronger and stronger. Joel Grant was proving a threat down the left, whilst Miller was making a nuisance of himself up top.
Yeovil continued to call Alnwick and his defence into action. A half cleared corner resulted in Liam Davies shooting from just outside the area, but Charlton’s stand in ‘keeper comfortably held onto the effort, whilst Lundstram repeated his earlier attempt with similar results.
The Addicks were coming forward during this period, but were let down time and time again by a poor decision, pass or cross upon entering the final third. Cameron Stewart had clearly had enough of this and decided to go alone, cutting in from the left and firing a shot at goal that was superbly tipped away by Glovers stopper Chris Dunn. The corner, rather predictably, came to nothing.
Hearts were in mouths when Miller forced Alnwick into a mistake as he blocked the ‘keeper’s clearance. Thankfully for Charlton, humiliation was avoided as it trickled out for a goal kick, but they needed to settle quickly.
Another long range Yeovil shot from distance failed to test Alnwick to such an extent that he saw it fit to control the effort with his chest before scooping up the ball. A rare moment of comic relief for the Charlton fans in the open terrace.
However, those hardy souls who had travelled to the West Country to support their side were about to have something to celebrate, something worthy of a chaotic away end celebration.
In a very un-Charlton like manner, a player was waiting near the opposition’s half whilst a Yeovil corner came into the box. Alnwick claimed and quickly found the player, Stewart, with a throw that allowed him to gallop forward unchallenged. He kept coming, cut inside and shot low into the far bottom corner.
My obstructed view from the other end of the pitch made it difficult to see the climax of the Hull loanee’s effort, but it had clearly beaten the desperate dive of Dunn. The glorious ripple of the net sparked mayhem in the away end; a fantastic goal to give the Addicks a 37th minute lead.
Many of Charlton’s problems this season have come as a result of scrappy games getting away from them with no game changer in a red shirt able to make a difference. It seemed as if Stewart was on a mission to claim that role as the Adddicks doubled their lead just before half time.
The pacey winger travelled down the left once again but chose to take his run on, as appose to cutting inside, and delivered a delicious cross with a host of Addicks at the far post. Jackson was the man that lay claim to the ball, heading powerfully beyond Dunn to double Charlton’s lead.
The skipper was always likely to make a crucial contribution, and his fist pumps to the away end after his goal showed just how much it meant to him. He continues to mean a lot to the Charlton fans, who responded with a round of ‘Johnnie, oh Johnnie Jackson…’.
Chris Powell’s men went in at half time to a chorus of applause from the away end, but already talk had turned to ‘getting a third’ amongst the travelling number.
It was expected that the second 45 would involve an ever retreating Charlton backline, nervy defensive moment after nervy defensive moment and plenty of nail biting. Joe Edwards’ early second half volley, which soared over but lifted the Yeovil supporters, and a succession of optimistic shouts for penalties suggested those expectations were becoming reality, but the Addicks weren’t completely devoid of attacking thoughts.
The impressive Rhoys Wiggins crossed to the back post where Dale Stephens was able to head back across goal. Yann Kermorgant latched on but his effort was blocked, as was Jackson’s follow up which induced somewhat wishful claims of handball from the away support, before Cousins finally got a shot away a goal that flashed just wide of the post. Another scramble in and around the box moments later so it climax in Simon Church’s overhead kick forcing an excellent save out of Dunn, but a bit power on the effort and the Addicks would have been celebrating a well-deserved third.
Instead, it all started going wrong for the previously untroubled and in the ascendancy Charlton as they pressed the self-destruct button. It began with Jordan Cousins, who had put in an excellent shift in the middle of the park, going down injured and being forced off, replaced by Andy Hughes. It felt like a relatively insignificant event at the time, but it turned out to be a huge turning point.
Charlton’s downfall was assisted by Referee Pawson, who saw it fit to award a free-kick and a yellow to Kermorgant after the forward challenged for an aerial ball.
From the set-piece, Yeovil got forward and cut their deficit with 18 minutes left to play. Grant’s ball across the fact of goal was deflected past a stranded Alnwick by Michael Morrison, and suddenly those three points seemed a little less secure.
Just three minutes later, they had vanished. The increasingly threatening Grant drove into the box and drew a foul out of Dorian Dervite. Referee Pawson pointed to the spot, but there was little protest about this decision.
Miller stepped up and lashed his spot kick straight down the middle to pull the Glovers, when they looked down and out just moments previously, level. Always the side to come out on top in these high pressure games and always the side to fight back from the brink of defeat, Chris Powell’s Charlton were uncharacteristically faltering and throwing away a lead of their own.
It would take a monumental effort for the Addicks to go back to South East London with all three points now, but with eleven men on the field there was always hope.
Just two minutes after Yeovil’s equaliser, Charlton completed a collapse that England’s cricket team would have been proud of as they were reduced to ten men. Johnnie Jackson’s two footed tackle forced Pawson into producing the red card. It looked very dubious, and Powell was incensed on the touch line. Again everything that possibly could do was conspiring against the Addicks and they now faced a final 12 minutes of desperately attempting to cling onto a point.
Chris Solly’s long awaited return, replacing Simon Church and oddly taking up a position on the right wing, did little to ease the Charlton fans’ nerves and depression as James Hayter fired a tame shot straight at Alnwick before Miller’s effort from a very inviting position flashed just wide of the far post.
Charlton tried to come forward, but the one man disadvantage when they did was strikingly obvious with Kermorgant struggling up top on his own. A corner brought a moment of brief hope for the away side, but it vanished quickly with nothing coming from it.
Powell threw on Richard Wood to help see out the game, which Charlton did despite five minutes of stoppage time. It felt as if the Addicks had seen out a defeat.
There wasn’t just a contrast between the reactions at full-time from the home and away supporters, but a contrast between individual fans in the away end. Some opted to rather unfairly boo, others opted to rather generously clap, the majority stood overwhelmed by no emotion but shock. The Addicks had been humbled at Huish Park.
But how on earth weren’t they celebrating a vital three points in Charlton’s attempts to move away from the bottom three? Up until the 72nd minute Charlton were largely untroubled, comfortable and the best bet to be the scorers of the game’s third goal. Where that side in control vanished to in the final 18 minutes is beyond me.
Of the various conspiracy theories, which include ‘we was robbed by the ref’ and ‘#PowellOut’, that outline why I’m in a state of despair and not one of relief, I’m putting my faith in the idea that Charlton panicked. A very scrappy and fortunate goal got Yeovil back into the game, it wasn’t as if the Addicks imploded before that, but the complexion and attitude of the side seemed to change the moment the ball crossed the line. The calmness and composure had gone, replaced by panic that produced a foul in the penalty area and a tackle that resulted in a red card.
But in the interest of fairness, let’s also assess those other attempts to justify what happened. Referee Pawson was poor throughout the game, and I have serious doubts about the free-kick leading to Yeovil’s first and the validity of Jackson’s red. However, it fails to cover up the manner in which such a comfortable position was blown away.
However, Powell did make some costly mistakes. The lopsided one winger formation was working up to a point, but it was clear it was hindering us at the start of the second half. Attacks down the right struggled to develop with no man in a position to provide an outlet on the wing for the move forward. The situation was crying out for someone to occupy that space; with Danny Green on the bench he probably should have come on with around 60 minutes gone. In other words, his failure to change the shape of his side cost him.
All of this is made even more frustrating and soul destroying-ly depressing by how well we played whilst in control. Yeovil’s point is unjust based upon that.
It was heading for one of those typical Charlton away day performances, with every (player putting in a fantastic shift up until the collapse, with Stewart and Wiggins particularly impressing, but it’s difficult to attempt to take positives after failing to take three points, especially in the circumstances.
The only thing that’s left to be said is that the Addicks remain two points above the relegation zone. Even if the season was decided in December, as some seem to think, we wouldn’t be going down. Nor will we be doing down in May, but our luck needs to turn soon.
Keep the faith.