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.