There are several important dates in the recent history of Charlton Athletic Football Club that are nailed in stone, to be remembered forever more.
May 25 1998, the famous play-off final win over Sunderland, April 29 2006, the day Alan Curbishley broke the hearts of Charlton fans by announcing his departure and January 14 2011, the day Chris Powell began the healing process by agreeing to become the Addicks’ new boss, are amongst those dates that have special meaning for Charlton fans.
But what about September 13 2011? A rather inconspicuous date on the surface. The Addicks, fielding a weakened side, fell to a 2-0 defeat to Preston North End in the Carling Cup. Nothing to celebrate, but hardly a day to morn.
However, the date was remarkable for three reasons.
First, Simon Francis played his final game for the club. He bowed out in the only way he knew how to; by having a bit of a shocker. The full-back may have recovered his career elsewhere, but he was the poster boy for a disastrous time in Charlton’s history. The poorest of a very poor bunch.
Secondly, although not announced until the following day, a Frenchman named Yann Kermorgant joined the club. Little was known about Powell’s new recruit, apart from his penalty failure for Leicester City. The reports relayed to Charlton fans by their Leicester counterparts were accordingly less than glowing.
There were very serious concerns as to whether he would be good enough, whether he was needed with Paul Hayes forming a promising partnership with Bradley Wright-Phillips and if a player who had the audacity to chip a crucial penalty was welcome at the club. Alas, most showed faith in Powell’s judgement.
However, that faith was rewarded as the September 13 2011 also marked a substantial turning point in Charlton’s history. Kermorgant was the finishing touch to ‘Chris Powell’s Charlton’ side of grit, determination and players who fell in love with the club and had the fans fall in love with them. A good team became a great team, promotion from League One became inevitable and Charlton’s downward spiral came to an end.
We might not have realised it at the time, but September 13 2011 was the day we got our Charlton back.
Therefore, January 31 2014 must also be considered an equally important date in the history of Charlton Athletic Football Club. The day Yann Kermorgant departed SE7; the day Chris Powell’s Charlton came to an end.
Although new owner Roland Duchatelet offered the forward a new deal, it was seen fit to reward the talismanic figure with reduced terms, forcing Kermorgant to opt for a move to Bournemouth.
Incredibly tough to take for all Addicks; their hero, who supplied them with so many memories, would never wear the Charlton red again.
The first memory most Charlton fans, the best part of 22,000 of them, will have of the Breton will be his brief appearance off the bench in a 3-1 win over Chesterfield at The Valley. The Frenchman was involved in the third goal, showing a lovely touch and sending Scott Wagstaff clear down the right to cross for Bradley Wright-Phillips to finish. The doubts turned to optimism; optimism turned to justified excitement three days later.
In what has been dubbed by many (just myself) as the ‘Kyle Andrews Derby’, my dubiously labelled hometown club, MK Dons, were totally in control against the club I love, with the Addicks well off the pace. Facing the prospect of constant mocking at sixth form for days to come, Powell threw on Danny Green and Kermorgant in an attempt to save me from humiliation. Green’s excellent turn, the winger’s exceptional cross and Kermorgant’s majestic header pulled Charlton level. Scoring a crucial goal against MK Dons in your second game for the club is as good as any way to win me over. I had a new hero to worship.
His header, again after coming off the bench, against Sheffield United to give the away side the lead in a crucial top of the table clash in the following fixture gave every Addick a reason to believe this man was worthy of worship.
A third telling contribution in a row was enough to force Kermorgant into the starting XI at the expense of Hayes. The Frenchman, and Charlton, never looked back.
He may not have been prolific, he didn’t quite reach the prolific qualifying record of a goal every other game, but he didn’t need to be. He offered the side far more than just goals.
League One defences couldn’t deal with Kermorgant’s ability in the air, nor could they cope with his strength and guile when the ball was played into his feet. He always seemed to have ran himself into the ground by the end of every game, taking one knock too many from a burley centre back, but he still had the ability to excel from the first minute until the last. His quality made a good side a great side, but so did his determination, that rubbed off on all his teammates. The man that caused the phrase ‘a Chris Powell player’ to be coined.
However, the goals he did score were almost always crucial. The opener in the 2-0 win over six centuries unbeaten Huddersfield Town, a last minute winner against Bournemouth that sent the Addicks so far clear at the top of the division even Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink could have fitted into the gap and the only goal of the game against Oldham as nine-man Charlton all but sealed their promotion to the second tier.
He also gave a glimpse of his ability with a dead-ball. His free-kick against Yeovil was a thing of beauty and his strike against Wycombe put Charlton ahead in a game they would go onto win to confirm the title that had been theirs in all but name since November. It was over to him to wrap up an incredible season.
“And number 70, is Kermorgant,” sang the Covered End choir as a rendition of ‘We All Dream of a Team of Kermorgants” went on for several minutes in the final game of the campaign against Hartlepool; a tribute the heroic figure deserved. He responded by scoring one of the best goals ever seen in SE7.
Bradley Pritchard’s over hit cross looked to be heading out of play, but Kermorgant stretched every muscle in his body to keep it in. He deserved plaudits for that alone, but to direct the ball over the head of Hartlepool’s keeper and into the far corner of the goal from an impossible angle was something special. A special goal for a special player in a special season.
As the Frenchman, flanked by his wife and child, walked around The Valley pitch wearing a beret during the post-trophy lifting celebrations, it became clear to me how important and treasured Yann Kermorgant was.
It had been hard to love a player during the years of relegations, disappointment and failure, now there was several players Charlton fans had fallen in love with. The loveable character of ‘keeper Ben Hamer, the inspirational leadership qualities of Johnnie Jackson and the goal scoring exploits of Bradley Wight-Phillips.
And yet, one stood out on top. One man was loved more passionately by almost everyone. This was a true connection and a true two way bond that hadn’t been felt by Charlton fans in years. Especially for many of the younger fans, Yann Kermorgant was already a legend.
For me, he was that and everything more. As I have explained before, football is escapism for me. Part of that escapism was having a hero to worship; someone to love when others deserted me. An exceptional footballer whose ability gave me memorable moments in difficult times; a human whose existence made mine more bearable.
I’m sure Kermorgant had similar feelings. His difficult time at Leicester, with fans passionately hating him, was over. He now had fans that had quickly moved away from the initial scepticism and viewed him in indescribably high regard. He was welcomed, wanted and loved.
When his former employers visited The Valley in the first home game of Charlton’s return to the Championship, both sets of fans made their feelings clear about Kermorgant. Much to the delight of the home fans, the Frenchman silenced his critics, volleying home a first half goal to double Charlton’s lead. His raised finger to his lips became an iconic image; an image that will last in the minds of Addicks for decades to come.
Despite being plagued by injury for parts of the season, and being sent off in inexcusable circumstances against Nottingham Forest, the forward carried on from where he left the season before. The jump to the Championship causing few problems.
Despite a higher standard of centre back, few could prevent Kermorgant dominating in the air. Sheffield Wednesday’s Anthony Gardner held the secret to bossing Kermorgant; no others followed suit to such an extent.
Again, Kermorgant provided Charlton fans with some special moments, not least another goal against Leicester in the return fixture.
A sensational display against Watford in a 4-3 victory, a goal off the bench in his comeback from injury when Peterborough visited The Valley and the third goal, made all the sweeter by the fact it was a penalty, in an incredible comeback win over Bolton Wanderers.
But it was his, and Charlton’s form, following the Bolton game that brought untold happiness to Charlton fans. Working in partnership with Ricardo Fuller, the Frenchman flourished in what was almost a free role. Constantly dropping into midfield, Kermorgant worked harder than ever and performed arguably at his highest level during his time at the club. Goals and assists followed, including a fantastic header in the 6-0 rout at Oakwell.
But, once again, he saved his best until the final day of the season.
The game against already relegated Bristol City was a drab and dull affair, right until Kermorgant brought the game alive just after half-time. A vicious first time volley crashed into the back of the net to give the Addicks the lead, before he added his second with his lethal head. An audacious chip almost gave him his hat-trick; the fact he never scored three in one game of the Addicks is quite an injustice.
With the tune of ‘we’ve got our Charlton back ringing around The Valley following a 4-1 win and powerful words from Powell, it seemed like Chris Powell’s Charlton would never be broken up and they’d never stop rising. It seemed like Yann would be an Addick for the rest of his career.
In the summer, Kermorgant was the hope that kept us all going. With Fuller departing, leaving a small dent in one young fan’s heart, alongside Danny Haynes, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Jon Obila retuning to Spurs, the Addicks were left with only the French forward. But it was Yann. He could probably do it all on his own if needs be.
He eventually was given some partners in the form of Simon Church and Marvin Sordell, but it was Kermorgant who carried an alarmingly out of form side in the first few weeks of the season.
A delightful volley in a dire defeat to Bournemouth, the bi-annual goal against Leicester in a 2-1 win and a penalty against Watford showed his powers were far from fading.
However, the Watford game would be his last meaningful appearance for several months as Charlton’s talisman picked up an ankle injury, leaving the Addicks weaker than they already were.
Church stepped up to the plate in brief sparks, Sordell in even briefer moments, but it was obvious the Addicks were suffering without their talisman. A worrying sign for times to come with the striker out of contract and the owners seemingly unwilling to offer new deals.
And when he did return, he was a little off the pace. His performances against Yeovil and Derby were somewhat unpleasing.
The heroic Kermorgant was far from dead, however, and he returned with a bang over the Christmas period. An exceptional performance, and a goal, against Bolton was followed by one of those days that makes you fall even more in love with him.
An outstanding display of fight and determination, emphasised by shorts his mother won’t have been pleased to see, and a sensational free-kick helped Charlton to an unlikely 3-2 to win over Brighton; the last time Kermorgant would score in the league for the Addicks.
He did, however, score three times against Oxford over the course of two FA Cup ties with the League Two club, including a free-kick that was arguably the best of his dead ball show reel. Surely it was enough to persuade the new owners to reward him with a new contract?
It was, and a new deal was offered, but at reduced terms; no way to treat a player that had almost certainly become a club legend. It was apparent he would be departing.
Speculation emerged in the week that Bournemouth had bid. I laughed it off at first, but his tearful farewell in the 3-0 defeat to Doncaster found the Ricardo Fuller shaped dent in my heart and ripped right through it. Yann Kermorgant was leaving Charlton.
It was a horrible way, for both Kermorgant and Chris Powell’s Charlton, to end; a disastrous defeat and a poor performance from Kermorgant himself, only brightened by a piece of trademark trickery. An incredible era did not deserve to end like that.
Despite now being almost certain Kermorgant would depart, I tried to laugh through the moments that made it even more apparent he had played his final game for Charlton. A brief moment of hope on Thursday, with suggestions that the deal wasn’t quite a forgone conclusion, only stood to make the confirmation of his transfer more heart-breaking.
I choose the word heart-breaking very carefully. Upon seeing the official confirmation on my Twitter feed, my heart sank; sank in a way that has only happened once before, when a girlfriend of mine indicated she no longer wanted to be with me, also via the social networking site.
I’m thankful that on both those occasions, I was with the company of friends, who kept me sane; an indication that there was more to life than a girl, and there remains more to life than my worship of Kermorgant, however difficult it is to take.
For so long he has carried this wonderful Charlton side, for so long he has performed miracles and for so long he has been someone I treasured in my life. I never thought I’d find a player I’d fall in love with more than I did Darren Bent, but I did.
Kermorgant is a legend. I will defend his right to have that tag for the rest of my life.
That he will never play for Charlton again hurts. That he will be wearing another club’s shirt hurts. That he will be wearing another club’s shirt at The Valley is a soul destroying thought. My heart will sink for a third time if he scores against us.
However, I wish him well. I would love for him to be a success at Bournemouth, ironically counterbalancing the fact they have Simon Francis on their books. It’s funny how these things work out.
Another man mentioned in this piece, Fuller, had Stoke fans suggesting they would watch him play for Charlton, possibly attending away games to see their hero. Dare I say it, I’d love to turn up at Dean Court in my Charlton shirt and cheer on my hero one last time.
That thought is helped by his send off to the club’s fans. The man who had the cocky arrogance of a 17-year-old who had just passed his driving test throughout his Charlton career became the blubbering wreck of a young driver taking their first lesson.
“I’m a Charlton fan as well. I had a very, very good relationship with the fans and I love them.
“I will always be grateful for what they (the Charlton fans) have done for me.”
We love you too Yann.
We’ll always be grateful for what you’ve done for us.
There were worrying signs before kick-off that suggested this could be the last time ‘Chris Powell’s Charlton’ took to the field. The symbolic construct might not have taken to the field at all.
That’s not to say Powell would be leaving, but several men who embodied the determination and grit of Chris Powell’s Charlton, not to mention playing crucial roles in three years of relative success, were the subject of bids.
The futures of the talismanic Yann Kermorgant, the creative Dale Stephens and the flying full-back Rhoys Wiggins were in the balance. Kermorgant and Wiggins wanted by Bournemouth, Stephens rumoured to be advanced talks with Brighton.
The end of era? Maybe not. With Wiggins suspended, he was always going to be absent, but Kermorgant and Stephens were both named by Powell in his starting XI for the trip to Doncaster Rovers; a crucial clash in the fight for survival.
Even so, worries remained that this would be the final time Kermorgant and Stephens would be seen in an Addicks shirt; the final time Chris Powell’s Charlton would be showing their trademark fight.
Charlton had slipped into the bottom three, Doncaster sat just one place above them; the perfect setting for one more show of guts, determination and winning with backs against the walls.
But the Addicks didn’t show guts. They didn’t show determination. The wall came down and, instead of fighting back, Charlton let it come crashing down upon them.
This wasn’t a Chris Powell inspired performance that left you proud to be an Addick; it was an Alan Pardew-like performance that left you hurting. This could have easily been the 47th game of the 2008/09 season.
The players were nervous from the start and quickly became void of ideas. The first sent heads down, the second sent the Addicks down to ten and left them beaten, the third went in long after they’d given up. The fourth, fifth and sixth should have followed; 3-0 didn’t do justice to how inept and lacklustre Charlton were.
Stephens cut the figure of a man departing; Kermorgant held back the tears as he waved goodbye. There’s been some tough nights supporting this club; this is right up there.
The end of an era that didn’t deserve to finish like this.
It seems hard to believe there was positivity before kick-off. A bold selection from Powell, not to mention the inclusion of Kermorgant and Stephens, had fans purring.
What appeared to be a 3-5-2 formation saw Harry Lennon make his first start for the club, with Michael Morrison and Dorian Dervite alongside him at the back. Astrit Ajdaveric dropped to the bench to accommodate Lennon, as did Marvin Sordell, making way for Kermorgant. The only other change from Saturday’s confidence boosting FA Cup win against Huddersfield saw Jordan Cousins replace Callum Harriott.
But it was clear from kick-off that the Addicks were operating under a 4-4-2 system. Lennon was at left back, Cedric Evina at left midfield and Jordan Cousins playing in an unfamiliar wide right role; a sign of how depleted Powell’s resources remain despite Roland Duchatelet’s takeover.
The Addicks competed well enough in the opening stages. Doncaster, as they would for the entirety of the bitingly cold evening in Yorkshire, had more of the ball early on, but only had Gabriel Tamas’ optimistic long range drive to show for it.
Charlton responded with a long range shot of their own; Johnnie Jackson’s speculative strike that cleared the crossbar. It might not have tested Ross Turnball in the Doncaster goal, but the passing play before the effort was promising, and the 400-odd travelling Addicks were in fine voice.
Another spell of possession concluded in Simon Church breaking into the box and attempting to lay the ball back to Kermorgant, with the Frenchman in clear sight of goal. But the deflected pass proved a challenge for the cult hero to control, meaning a Doncaster body was in place by the time the ball had been sent goalwards.
The travelling fans were right in the middle of a rather long rendition of ‘Since I was Young’; it had all the hallmarks of a special night to be a Charlton fan. However, that was as good as it got for Charlton. The away end would soon fall flat, before coming hostile, and only one more shot would be fired in the general direction of the Doncaster goal.
The Addicks had passed the ball around well up until the 12th minute of the game, but an under hit knock back from Jackson was intercepted by the prolific Billy Sharp; not the sort of player you gift chances too. The Captain’s blushes were spared by an excellent block from Morrison as Sharp got his shot away.
The resulting corner was claimed by Ben Alnwick, and the Addicks ‘keeper would pluck several deliveries out of the air over the course of the next ten minutes, calming the ever increasing nerves in the away end as Charlton struggled to get forward.
And when they did, it quickly broke down. A lovely piece of Kermorgant trickery and a chip over the top sent Lennon through, but the youngster mis-controlled, and a Jackson free-kick evaded everyone despite opening up the Doncaster defence; this didn’t appear to be a night for Charlton heroics.
But a heroic piece of defending from the least experienced player on the pitch kept the scores level.
James Husband’s teasing delivery from a free-kick was nodded on by the impressive Bongani Khumalo and left Alnwick stone dead. With Doncaster fans already up in celebration, it appeared as if the Addicks were falling behind, but Lennon dived in to clear the ball off the line. A stunning effort that would surely act as a catalyst to the change the course of the game.
But Doncaster clearly hadn’t read the script marked ‘Charlton backs to the wall performance’, as they punished the Addicks from the following corner.
The initial delivery led to chaos in the Charlton penalty area, with Alnwick eventually saving from Marc Duffy, only for Abdouoaye Meite to react quickest and tap home the rebound.
The previously electric away end immediately lost its spark, as did the Addicks on the pitch. Meite and Khumalo were dominant at the back, Richie Wellens was pulling the strings in midfield whilst Duffy was causing all sorts of problems to Charlton with his trickery down the flank.
Billy Sharp, however, had been rather quiet. Too quiet. It was surely only a matter of time before the returning hero burst into life, as he so often does. A defence splitting ball sent the former Southampton man through on goal; he would surely score.
A desperate lunge from Lawrie Wilson prevented that eventually, but it didn’t do so legally. Fearful silence fell upon the away end as referee Tierney blew his whistle and made for his pocket. There could be no complaints with the red card, but it didn’t make the situation any less painful.
Alnwick stood in the way of Doncaster taking a two goal lead, but he couldn’t repeat his penalty heroics of New Year’s Day. Chris Brown rolling the ball calmly into the net as Alnwick divided in the opposite direction. Despair.
The Addicks had been two goals down, and been as poor, in ‘must win’ games before, but never had the win been needed so much, and never had they been down to ten men. There was no hope of a turnaround; the players couldn’t respond.
They appeared void of energy, lacking the determination to chase balls and close down their opponents and unable to have any impact on the game. They were statues watching Rovers players knock the ball about however they pleased.
With Doncaster having the freedom to play like Barcelona, James Coppinger broke into the box as the half reached its conclusion, but Alnwick saved well, and a tame Sharp effort was gobbled up, but it felt insignificant. The game was already gone.
The players left the pitch at half-time with an away end too stunned to react.
Powell’s job was unenviable as he faced the impossible task of turning his side’s fortunes around, and he would have been criticised whatever decision he made.
However, taking off the shambolic Evina for the reliable Richard Wood seemed sensible; not the attacking substitution many were crying out for, but the Addicks had no hope of getting forward if they couldn’t contend with Doncaster’s attacking threat.
It proved meaningless. Doncaster continued to have the freedom of the Keepmoat pitch, and a succession of corners eventually resulted in the exceptional Duffy sending an effort just wide.
Charlton, to the dismay of everyone inside the ground, went down the other end and mustered a shot of their own. Cousins’ ball into the box was perfect for Church, but the forward blasted the ball harmlessly over the bar. No other effort on goal could be mustered from the Addicks in the remaining 37 minutes.
It was just a matter of how many Doncaster would score as the Charlton fans were left to watch on in pain with their side embarrassed and outplayed.
Sharp met a cross but could only divert the effort wide, whilst Tamas’ vicious volley crashed into the side netting, but it wasn’t to be long before the home side had their third.
Match of the Day would have pressed the fast forward button and added a counter to the side of the screen as what felt like an age of Doncaster passing eventually resulted in Duffy firing a shot from the edge of the box into the net.
The Doncaster players involved in the build-up were left unopposed, not to mention Duffy, whilst Alnwick’s effort to save the shot seemed a little half-hearted. Such capitulation was sickening to behold.
With the Addicks unable to string a pass together, and Alwnick’s kicking desperately poor, there was little hope of them even notching up a consolation goal. Several fans had left the moment the third had gone in; they were the sensible ones.
Doncaster really should have grabbed a fourth, but Alnwick pulled off a superb save from Sharp when one-on-one, giving the hurting Addicks something to cheer. Sort of.
Stephens decided he’d had enough of the shambles, and attempted to get himself sent off by kicking anything that moved in red and white, and was eventually taken off by Powell, replaced by Ajdaveric. Not the best way to end a successful career at Charlton.
And, after substitute David Cottrell curled two shots wide, Richie Wellens’ dipping volley crashed against the crossbar, and the initial boos and aggression towards their side passed, a hero got to say goodbye in a dignified manner.
Walking over alone, Yann Kermorgant waved goodbye for one final time. He looked tearful, regretful and frustrated.
There had been talk in recent weeks as to whether he’s an icon or a legend. In my eyes, he’s a legend, and that was the goodbye of a legend.
If it wasn’t a goodbye, it was Kermorgant showing he was hurting as much as us. He’s a Charlton fan as much as he is a Charlton player.
Doncaster were everything Charlton weren’t. Sharp (not just Billy), determined and dominant. They passed the ball around with ease, and should have had more to their name than three goals. Playing like that will keep them well clear of trouble.
The Charlton performance is one not worth dwelling on. It simply wasn’t good enough. Even with eleven men, it was nothing short of hopeless. The red card didn’t change the course of the game; the Addicks were already struggling to cope with their opponents.
There were no positives and every player should be ashamed of their performance; from Kermorgant to Evina.
What’s important now is to look ahead. One Chris Powell side is being torn apart, but he has to be allowed to take another one on. He’s got an incredibly hard job, but it would be an impossible job to any other man.
Duchatelet must back him, we have to back him, and the players he has available must perform. A performance like this cannot happen again. The ghost of Alan Pardew was haunting me throughout the 90 minutes at the Keepmoat. Powell will know that wasn’t good enough, and Powell will put it right. Of course, you can argue his selection wasn’t right, but equally he doesn’t have much to choose from and what he picked didn’t perform for him.
One performance of such a disgustingly low standard does not mean the magic is fading.
Another tough trip to Wigan follows on Saturday, and we, as fans, have to get behind Powell and whatever side he puts out. Whether Kermorgant starts, or Joe Piggot. Whether Wiggins, or Cedric Evina. Whether Stephens, or Ajdaveric. It’s still Charlton Athletic, it’s still our club.
Results went our way elsewhere, and the Addicks are by no means cut a drift at the bottom. A few wins and suddenly we’re out of immediate danger. All is not lost.
We’ve come back from tough times before, and I’m so glad we have a man like Powell, not to mention a captain like Jackson, to guide us through this period.
Keep the faith. Please, the last thing we need right now is the fans to turn their back on Powell and his players.
What is it that makes a few hundred Charlton fans travel north to Huddersfield for the third time this season? Is it something as simple as wanting something to do on a Saturday? Is it slightly more complex like a deep connection to the Addicks that 300 miles and previous woes in Yorkshire can’t break? Or is it, a concept that hasn’t made many appearances in SE7, the magic of the cup?
Whatever way you look at it, the decision to make the crusade up to Charlton’s regular cup opponents was quite a delusional one.
The Addicks are often more Uncle Vernon than Harry Potter in the FA Cup, and the only magic about the fixture was that the two clubs had been drawn out the hat together, again.
Even so, with the fifth round on the horizon, there was still mostly irrational hope that Charlton could pull off a miracle and progress to the last 16 of football’s oldest competition.
That hope became reality as a large dosage of cup magic fell Charlton’s way, with Huddersfield seemingly suffering from a curse in front of goal.
The hosts missed chance after chance, either side of Simon Church’s winner, Charlton’s only shot on target all game, as the Addicks appeared to be getting the luck that had been absent on several occasions this season.
Add into that a refereeing decision going their way, and you could certainly say the Addicks were fortunate to grab their victory.
But this was another signature Chris Powell display of grit and fight; the second half illustrating the determination that has made every member of this Charlton side a hero. The Addicks cast their own spells.
However, there wasn’t much sense of magic before kick-off as a deluge of rain only dampened Charlton spirits further following the announcement of the team news.
The Addicks were without their talismanic figure, Yann Kermorgant, with Chris Powell resting the scorer of two goals in Tuesday’s third round replay win against Oxford.
The baton was passed over to Marvin Sordell; the striker now recovered from a hamstring injury and looking to prove his doubters wrong.
He started up top on his own, with Church occupying a wide right role. Astrit Ajdaveric, making his first start for the club, was the only other change from the 3-0 win over Oxford, with Danny Green dropping to the bench.
And, if the opening exchanges were anything to go by, it appeared it was going to be a painful afternoon rather than a magic one.
Whilst both sides were struggling to keep possession, it was Huddersfield who started the strongest with Charlton fragile. Cedric Evina, constantly out of position and slow to react, was exposed down the left by Adam Hammill on several occasions, and only a fine block from Michael Morrison prevented Danny Ward from opening the scoring after some lacklustre efforts to break down a Terriers’ attack.
Ward then turned provider as he played the ball into the path of Oliver Norwood, but the former Manchester United trainee’s effort from the edge of the box was comfortably held by Ben Alnwick.
In a rare move over the halfway line, and an even rarer display of passing football, the Addicks managed an attempt of their own inside the opening ten minutes. Lawrie Wilson sent Church free down the right, and the Welshman’s cross was met at the near post by Sordell, who could only scoop the ball over the bar.
It was a sign of what Chris Powell’s men can do when they attempt to patiently build up play, and should have been the catalyst for a much needed improvement in performance, but it wasn’t.
Evina, who by now had suffered a knock and didn’t look at all comfortable, was still gifting Huddersfield space on the wing, whilst the Addicks were penned into their own half by the hosts.
Norwood fired over from range, invoking a ‘waaahaaay’ from the subdued travelling support, before Dervite was forced into a smart clearance from Ward’s low drive across goal.
Another excellent block from Morrison prevented the prolific James Vaughan adding to his season’s goal tally and, with the Addicks unable to clear their lines, Norwood headed over Hammil’s cross. The visitors had a brief moment to collect themselves.
And in that moment, Sordell was hauled down and won his side a free-kick in advanced position. Johnnie Jackson’s header from Dale Stephens’ delivery summed up Charlton’s first half performance; tame, lacking direction and unthreatening.
Worry had grown to anger in the away end, with many voicing their displeasure at the performance; Evina taking the brunt of the criticism which only increased as he failed to react to a short corner that Oscar Gobern eventually blasted over.
But, with 25 minutes played, the travelling Londeners finally had something worth applauding.
A superb ball played in Ward one-on-one with Alnwick, but the Charlton stopper pulled off a fine save before pouncing on the rebound with Vaughan lurking. Standing applause from some, relief expressed in the form of expletives by others.
How the Addicks were still clinging onto their clean sheet was a mystery, but luck appeared to be firmly on their side as Stephens escaped with a yellow after committing a high tackle worthy of a red. Was the luck a sign this going to be our afternoon? At the time, it felt like the inevitable blow was only being softened.
The foul injured Hammill, and he was replaced by Jordan Sinnott, whilst Evina, to Charlton cheers, was forced off, giving academy graduate Harry Lennon his debut.
A young centre back coming on to play at left-back didn’t seem like the catalyst to change the game; but it was. Lennon immediately looked assured and helped to calm down a side on the brink of collapse.
Such was the impact of Lennon’s introduction with ten first half minutes remaining, the away side ended the half the strongest. But the Addicks couldn’t find a cutting edge to the their forward moves, with Sordell losing the ball out wide in a promising position, Ajdaveric firing a shot out for a throw and Harriott unable to direct his volley across goal with Church poised.
Whether blinded by optimism or responding to how Charlton finished the half, the away end clapped their side off at half-time and responded well to their reappearance after the break.
And the Addicks responded by taking the lead with 56 minutes played.
They had looked far more composed in the early stages of the second half, and were rewarded when Wilson played in Church and the converted winger’s effort dribbled over the line. Wilson’s run from out wide was delightful, his ball through classy and Church’s finish cool. That’s not to mention the wonderful build up play involving Sordell, Stephens and Ajdaveric. A thing of beauty.
Undeserved? Probably, but try telling that to Church and his supporters, who celebrated with vigour.
The task now facing a previously shambolic Charlton was to hold onto their lead; a task that now looked more doable with Jackson, Stephens and Ajdaveric impressing in midfield.
But that didn’t stop Huddersfield carving out chance after chance. Sean Scannell was thrown on by the Terriers and the winger was immediately involved, breaking into the box and cutting the ball back for Ward. He could do little but score, but the winger’s effort trickled wide of the far post.
Scannell continued to cause concern to Charlton’s defence, and only a smart stop from Alnwick prevented his ball across goal from finding Vaughan at the far post.
Duane Holmes was introduced by Mark Robins, whilst Green, replacing the ineffective Sordell, and Cousins, coming on for the excellent Ajdaveric, were brought on to help Powell’s side close the game.
And the Addicks had the chance to put the tie beyond doubt with with 16 minutes remaining when Church drove towards goal. With Stephens free to his right, the Welshman opted to continue his run and scuffed a harmless shot wide. The nerves remained.
With Church fighting up top, and doing his best to keep the ball as far away from his own goal as possible, the Addicks were seeing out the game well.
A number of Huddersfield corners filled the final minutes, but Charlton held firm. That was until Stephens lost the ball in midfield and Holmes broke free on goal in the final minute. The youngster looked destined to send the tie to a replay, but his effort trickled wide of the far post, with Charlton fans breathing a collective sigh of relief that moved into mocking Huddersfield’s misfortune.
A corner in stoppage time saw Smithies make for Charlton’s area, but he could only stand and watch as the Addicks cleared their lines on three occasions.
Attwell’s full-time whistle brought celebrations of relief and jubilation in the away end; a game that may have ended so differently if it were not for a helping of FA Cup magic.
There’s no getting away from it; the Addicks road their luck. Chances wasted by the hosts, Stephens’ challenge going relatively unpunished and a goal out of nothing to give them their victory.
But that’s not to say Charlton didn’t deserve to progress to the fifth round for the fist time in eight years. The increase in performance level in the second half, not to mention the Chris Powell signature fight and determination, was enough to suggest Charlton warranted their win.
Even during the first half chaos, as bad as any 45 minutes this season, Alnwick, Morrison and Dervite impressed. The trio kept Huddersfield at bay and prevented the Terriers from taking a first half lead, whilst Harry Lennon’s introduction can’t be undervalued in the context of the game.
In the second half, the central midfield trio were crucial to the victory. Ajdarevic, despite making a few mistakes, looked comfortable in the English game and looked stylish on the ball, whilst Stephens calmed down after his outrageous tackle and was faultless until the final minute.
But, of the trio, Jackson stood out. The leader of this side embodied its determination and fight, whilst also dictating play in middle. In the first half, he spent most of his time dictating Evina and covering for his mistakes, in the second, he was free to worry purely about his own game. A game that remains excellent. I wouldn’t want anyone else being the captain of this side.
In addition, Church impressed, winning almost every ball out wide and in the middle and making life tough for Huddersfield’s defence, whilst Cousins looked back to his old self after a few error-prone performances in recent weeks.
Evina’s terrible display, Sordell’s struggle and Harriott’s lack of end product forgotten in the pride felt following such a hard fought win.
It was something of an ugly win, but if Charlton win ugly for the remainder of the season, few will complain. The journey from deepest Sussex to Yorkshire more than worthwhile.
The fifth round awaits, and whilst many will want a big tie, I’d like something winnable. We are, after all, only two wins from Wembley.
Roland Duchatelet’s takeover of Charlton Athletic brought about something that is normally an alien concept amongst fans of the Addicks; positivity and rational thought.
Of course, there were those who were dubious about the Belgian’s intentions, worried about the safety of Chris Powell’s position as Charlton boss and panicking that the club’s home colours would be changed to black, yellow and red.
But the majority, in a rare break from tradition, were optimistic. Duchatelet’s pedigree was, to some extent at least, encouraging, his piggy bank was significantly heavier than the one owned by the departing Michael Slater and Tony Jimenez, whilst the positivity that Powell exhibited when speaking about his new chairman was infectious.
On top of that, the Addicks were destined to stay up. The cash laden Belgium would add a touch of quality to a side that were beginning to improve already. Johnnie Jackson’s last minute equaliser against Ipswich Town two days before Duchatelet took over had extended Charlton’s unbeaten run to four.
Add into that the promise of players signing new contracts and a statement from the owner that suggested Powell was part of his plans for the club, and everything was looking up.
Maybe not the immediate future, in terms of rocketing up the table this season, but the future beyond that promised progression.
Alas, that stage of Charlton fans broadcasting positive and rational thoughts didn’t last long; events in the very minute short-term dictating the overall emotions of Addicks towards the club and Duchatelet.
First, Andy Hughes was in the firing line. His crime? Being a Leeds fan in a Charlton shirt.
It was clear and apparent that Hughes instigated Cameron Stewart’s move to the Elland Road club. Stewart wouldn’t dream of moving to a huge club, with the potential to be great again, that’s in the north without the persuasion of Hughes.
In reality, Hughes only offered some words after Stewart had already opted to join Leeds. That it’s clear the midfielder is completely committed to Charlton, and wouldn’t want to weaken his current side, seemed to completely escape the minds of some.
Next, Duchatelet was unable to locate a new pitch for insertion over The Valley’s bog of a playing surface. Neither of his 3153 clubs were willing to depart with theirs, apparently they needed to use them, and so Charlton were left to postpone games against Oxford United (x2) and Barnsley in farcical circumstances.
All he could offer was a cover, sort of named after a former Charlton striker who was a bit rubbish, that helped to improve the state of the pitch to a playable condition in time for Oxford’s third attempt to travel to The Valley.
Of course, the previous owners were at fault in the grand scheme of things. The damaged drainage system that was causing the pitch problems could have been fixed in the summer, or the bank of Slater&Jimenez could have parted with a relatively small amount of cash for a MacLeod Cover.
But, if you really must blame someone, why be rational and logical when you can blame the club’s media department or the ground staff? Duchatelet just about got away with this one.
He didn’t escape the wrath of Charlton fans for long.
His first signings at the club were midfielder Astrit Ajdarević, on loan from Standard Liege, and goalkeeper Yohann Thuram, on loan from Standard Liege.
Ajdarević was clearly rubbish. Leicester City fans didn’t think he was any good six years ago, and getting a game for Hereford United automatically ends any hopes of a successful career. That he had plenty of games for top flight Swedish and Belgium clubs meant absolutely nothing, of course.
Thuram just wasn’t needed. Signing him was a clear sign that Ben Hamer would be leaving, the ‘keeper no one likes anyway apart from when he wins Charlton points, which is quite often.
That a 30-goal-a-season striker and a winger, both with Championship experience, weren’t brought in, but this pair of Standard players, showed Powell wasn’t in charge of transfers, nor would he be in charge of picking his team.
How on earth could the Addicks be expected to stay in the division with a bunch of Standard rejects loaned to us by Duchatelet?
That Thuram started in the defeat to Middlesbrough on Saturday showed for certain that Powell wouldn’t be picking the team. Hamer’s injury and Alnwick’s illness were just cover ups. A view only amplified by Thuram’s error for Middlesbrough’s goal; the worst mistake committed by any man in a Charlton shirt since the beginning of time.
With more Standard players rumoured to be joining, and neither Powell nor his players agreeing new contracts 17 days after the Belgium took over the club, Duchatelet was clearly intent on destroying Charlton’s soul and turning the South East London club into Standard B.
So it must have been rather confusing for some to see Ajdarević enter the fray with 15 minutes to play on Saturday, after not being picked to start, and quietly impress. That Thuram pulled off two incredible saves to keep Charlton in the game has also passed many by.
Of course, Powell wouldn’t have had any of the players coming in from Standard on his wishlist a few weeks ago, but that isn’t to say he doesn’t want them, and it certainly doesn’t mean he isn’t making the transfers.
In my eyes, there’s nothing wrong with Duchatelet offering these players to Powell. It’ll be up to Powell whether he picks them or not. It’s very similar to a scout offering players to Powell.
A man of such integrity wouldn’t allow the owner to pick his side. I’ll refer you back to the warmth in Powell’s tone when speaking of Duchatelet.
Of course, I’d love us to sign a Billy Sharp and an Andy Reid, but players of that quality aren’t easy to sign at the best of times, let alone in January.
The indication from many is that the Standard players won’t be good enough, but that’s said without any prior knowledge. Even if they’re not better than what we’ve already got, they’ll bolster a very small squad. Give them a chance.
Give Duchatelet a chance too. A chance to get his feet under the desk and work on offering new contracts to Powell and his players. These things don’t happen overnight, and that Powell hasn’t been offered a deal yet doesn’t mean he won’t get one at all.
I don’t believe Saturday’s defeat changes anything either. The Addicks played well, like they did against Brighton and Ipswich, but were just missing a little bit of cutting edge, and Chris Solly. Powell will undoubtedly guide this side away from trouble, let alone a side with a few additions.
Yes, Stewart’s gone. Yes, the pitch is poor. Yes, the squad needs a striker and Powell’s men lost their first game in four against Middlesbrough, dragging them right back into the mire.
But a replacement for Stewart and a striker will be found. I have trust in both Duchatelet and Powell to come up with the goods; it’s clear they both want whats best for the club. Whether they be a short-term fix or a long term option doesn’t really matter; this season is all about staying up and rebuilding next season.
The pitch is the perfect metaphor for that. The cover will keep it just about playable before major work can be carried out in the summer.
In the meantime, faith in the owner, Powell and his players is needed. Not the cynicism that is seen so often.
Patience and calm, please.
Following Charlton over land and sea this season hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s often been soul destroying.
Each time the Addicks look to be moving away from danger, each time there’s legitimate reason to be hopeful of a brighter tomorrow, that hope is cruely snatched away in circumstances that are often difficult to take.
The sensible would have given up, or at least given Charlton’s longest away trip of the season a miss. The sensible wouldn’t have been won over by the faint glimmers of something resembling hope.
Going into the game against Middlesbrough, the Addicks were unbeaten in four league games. The midweek comeback draw over Oxford United in the FA Cup extended that run to five in all competitions, and suggested Chris Powell’s Charlton’s signature determination was still emanating throughout the side. The sort of determination a team needs to pull away from the threat of relegation.
The positive mood from Roland Duchatelet’s takeover was also providing some degree of hope to emotionally battered and bruised Charlton fans. Some hope Powell’s resources would be bolstered and the ‘R’ word would be removed from the Addick dictionary.
Alas, like on so many occasions before, that positive feeling of hope was dashed by a heartbreaking Charlton defeat.
A single goal from Boro’s Emmanuel Ledesma was enough to give the in-form home side the victory, a victory that they were made to work hard for by a determined and spirited Addicks performance.
Yet another negative result Powell’s men didn’t deserve. Heartbreak, frustration and a destroyed soul rather than anger.
Powell, and Charlton’s, streak of bad luck showed no signs of stopping before kick-off, with the boss forced into selections he probably didn’t want to make.
Chris Solly, a player who ups the overall performance of his side by 100% on his own from right-back, remained absent after missing the Oxford cup tie, forcing Lawrie Wilson to cover at the back with Jordan Cook starting wide right.
Both Ben Alnwick and Hamer were also unavailable, forcing Powell to hand a debut to French ‘Keeper Yohann Thuram, a recent loan signing from Standard Liege.
There were also starts for Dale Stephens, after missing the midweek fixture, and Callum Harriott, after a long absence from the starting XI, as Powell opted to field a 4-5-1 formation.
The Addicks could have provided the percect reward for the 250 travelling fans’ dedication after just two minutes, but a supporters’ hero made himself an unlikely villain.
Harriott broke at pace before linking up with Cook, only for the former’s soft pass to be intercepted. But ‘Boro’s defence made a hash of their efforts to clear, with the ball pinballing off bodies and falling perfectly to Yann Kermorgant inside the area. Some had begun celebration preparations, whilst others already had their arms aloft. Their actions were misguided.
Confusion and frustration rained as, somehow, the French forward scuffed his shot horribly off-target.
But the opening, and a hint that Boro had some defensive frailties to be exploited, gave the Charlton supporters tucked away in one of The Riverside’s corners reason to dream of a victory.
Another strong run from Harriott, that concluded with a shot being blocked behind by Ledesma, only increased the positivity in the away end, with Charlton fans in fine voice.
They were brought straight back down to earth with the home side’s first meaningful attack. Curtis Main got in behind Wilson on the wing, and the Boro striker reacted quicker to the loose ball than the curly haired right-back after Michael Morrison briefly dispossessed him.
Main broke into the box and had an excellent site of goal, but flashed his effort just wide with Thuram seemingly beaten.
The two sides exchanged chances again with just over ten minutes played. Jordan Cousins’ tame shot from distance was comfortably gathered by experienced stopper Shay Given, whilst Marvin Emnes fired into the side netting with Wood hot on his tails.
But, despite Charlton looking settled and marginally having the better of an even opening 15 minutes, it was Boro who took the lead.
Ledesma’s 25 yard effort was hit well enough, and the fizz off the surface made life difficult for Thuram, but the Addicks would have been disappointed to concede a goal of such nature.
The Argentine was invited to shoot, with no player in a black shirt getting close to him, and the French stopper really should have kept out the driven strike. Not the best way to introduce yourself to an already impatient and worried set of supporters.
But the visitors responded well enough, and could have been level almost immediately.
Morrison had stayed inside in the box following a free-kick, and he was whisker away from connecting with Harriott’s cross.
However, it was clear the nature of the goal had knocked the stuffing out of the Addicks, and Middlesbrough almost took full advantage of Charlton’s sluggishness.
Mustapha Caroyal’s quick feet bamboozled Stephens, leaving him on the deck, and the Boro winger tried his luck with a shot at goal. Thuram appeared to see it late, saving a less than testing effort with his legs, before the ‘keeper just about held on to Emnes’s follow up. Hearts were in mouths every time a Boro player shaped to shoot.
The Addicks had lost all spark going forward, were misplacing simple passes and struggling to close down their opponents, who were passing nicely and maintaining possession with ease.
But one final chance fell to the visitors just before half-time. Stephens’ corner was tipped away by Given with Jackson lurking. Had Given failed to make the crucial interception, Charlton’s skipper would have surely leveled.
Nonetheless, the Addicks went in a goal down at half-time, clapped off by the travelling fans who knew their side, despite falling away slightly towards the end of the half, were far from out of this one.
A big response, one akin to the second half performance that prevented certain defeat against Oxford in midweek, was needed.
It might have taken an early second half effort from Dean Whitehead, a first time strike the flew horribly wide, but the SE7 club finally kicked into life a little more than five minutes into the second 45.
In fact, Charlton had their best chance to equalise thus far with 53 minutes played.
Stephens’ free-kick into the box was won by the head of Richard Wood and knocked down into the path of Morrison. The centre back paring combined again with Morrison setting the ball back to Wood and the former Coventry man poked a shot just wide of goal. Premature celebrations in the away curtailed once more.
Harriott and Wiggins were causing distress to Boro’s right-back Jozsef Varga, whilst Stephens’ work as a deep-lying midfielder was given the Addicks plenty of possession, but, as has been the case so frequently this season, they lacked a cutting edge.
In fact, it was Boro who had the next meaningful attempt on goal. Another teasing run from Caroyal saw the winger break into a position to shoot, but Thuram did well to stop the effort. Calm restored.
Whilst Charlton were much improved, something was still missing. The introduction of midweek hero Danny Green, replacing the ineffectual Jackson, and hard working Simon Church, coming on for the anonymous Jordan Cook, should have pulled Charlton level immediately.
Danny Green’s overhit cross was superbly kept in play by a classy Kermorgant overhead kick, and the ball hung in the air with Given and Church challenging.
It was almost impossible to make out whether Given’s palms or Church’s head got to the ball first, but the ball was somehow bundled into the goal. No flag from the assistant seemed to suggest a goal had been given, but referee Stroud opted to blow his whistle and award Boro a free-kick for a foul on Given.
The decision infuriated the Addicks but, with 20 minutes still to play, they had little choice but to refocus and go again.
Powell hauled off Cousins, who struggled once again, and brought Astrit Ajdarevic on for his Charlton debut in the hope he’d provide the spark to steal a point for the visitors.
The Swedish midfielder looked useful in his brief time on the pitch but, with Charlton still failing to test Given significantly, his chances impacting the game were scuppered by Stroud’s red card.
Wiggins had been a vital cog in everything Charlton had done well; arguably a man of the match performance. And so, when he lunged in on Whitehead, a challenge that Stroud deemed to be worthy of a dismissal, all hope appeared to be gone for the Addicks.
Any faint hope remaining of a late equaliser seemed to be fading as Lukas Jutkiewicz burst through on goal with five minutes to play, but Thuram burst out and stopped the former Everton forward. It was one of those one-on-one challenges that would have resulted in a penalty had Thuram misjudged his lunge; the Frenchman had just about redeemed himself.
The save meant the game entered five minutes of stoppage time with Charlton still just a goal away from deserved parity.
And when Kermorgant found some space on the left to deliver a low cross, it looked like the goal the Addicks had been searching for was about to be produced. But Church, despite getting to the ball first, failed to make contact and the ball fizzed through the goal mouth.
Thankfully for Charlton, Kermorgant had been swiped down as he delivered the ball, and referee Stroud awarded the Addicks a free-kick. Green sent the ball back to Wilson on the edge of the area, but the full-back cracked an effort not too far wide.
With the five minutes almost up, Boro looked to have doubled their lead. Jutkiewicz broke free, and Thuram raced out again, but instead the forward rolled the ball across goal and into the path of Ledesma. Incredibly, the wingers goal bound effort was kept by a flying Frenchman’s palms, before aa follow up strike was blasted over the bar.
Thuram quickly turned from villain to alright-ain, and he would have been a hero if it wasn’t for the heroics of his opposite number.
A ball into the box fell kindly to Stephens. The midfielder had time to pick out a spot in the goal and finish, but his half volley was incredibly saved by Given. The Irishman held onto the strike, preventing one of a number of Charlton forwards tapping in a rebound. Heartbreak.
The players were warmly clapped off at full-time; they’d thought hard against a strong side and certainly deserved more for their efforts.
First of all, credit must go to Middlesbrough. Aitor Karanka has got his talent side playing an excellent brand of football, whilst the resilance of his outstanding back four, and ‘keeper, gave them the edge over a slightly error prone Charlton side.
But, despite the occasional error, the Addicks matched them.
Wiggins was excellent up until the red card, Harriott caused all sorts of problems and delivered the occasional testing delivery whilst Stephens’ holding role helped to keep possession ticking over.
The performance of Ajdarevic was also promising, with midfielder looking comfortable on the ball and making some neat passes.
In fact, in the second half I’d go as far to say Charlton were on top.
On top in terms of possession that is, not on top in terms of chances created. And there in lies Charlton’s problem; and inability to carve out chances, and an inability to finish them when they are. The sooner Powell is able to bring in some more potent wingers and a finisher to partner Kermorgant, the sooner this side will be in a position in the table that better reflects their efforts over the course of the season. They certainly don’t deserve to be 21st.
But the Addicks are 21st, and only out of the bottom three on goal difference.
Part of that is down to individual errors costing Charlton points. From Lawrie Wilson’s poor performance at right-back, with mistakes almost resulting in Boro goals on a number of occasions, to Cousins failure to keep possession and Thuram’s poor piece of ‘keeping for the goal; they’re all costly.
And into that errors in attacking positions, such as Kermorgant’s miss, Church’s failure to connect and Wood’s inability to direct his stab goal wards, and it’s not hard to see where it’s going wrong.
It’s almost there, the Addicks are so close to finding their feet again, but individual mistakes are preventing the side from picking up points.
Solly’s absence was also a huge factor in Charlton’s failure to pick up any points. With Wiggins now out for three games, it’s vital the right-back returns. Vital.
With results going horribly against the Addicks, some have descended into panic. I won’t be joining them. I saw enough to suggest that Powell and his side won’t be down where they are for too long; especially if new attacking options and brought in.
Keep the faith. Keep the faith in the players. Keep the faith in Powell.
A third round FA Cup tie at home to a League Two side doesn’t seem like the obvious backdrop to a number of noteworthy occasions.
Alas, Oxford United’s visit to The Valley was momentous for three reasons.
The first was that The Valley’s playing surface was finally fit for football after three consecutive postponements. In fact, this was the third attempt to get this game played; a waterlogged pitch prevented the fixture being fulfilled on both its original and the first rearranged date.
The day Oxford fans were first prevented from making their journey to South East London, with the original fixture postponed on Friday 3 January, was also the day that Belgium businessman Roland Duchatelet completed his purchase of Charlton. With the home game against Barnsley also postponed on Saturday, this would be the first game of a new era.
But it wasn’t all new owners and new pitch covers at The Valley; some things are part of the furniture. Chris Powell was celebrating the third anniversary of his appointment as Charlton boss, with many Addicks supporters already looking ahead to the next three years of their flat-capped hero’s rein.
And, even in this new era, the SE7 club showed two elements, one heart-warmingly positive and another painfully frustrating, which have become synonymous with Powell’s time in charge.
Charlton’s trademark inability to perform in cup ties saw them embarrassingly capitulate to a 2-0 deficit at half-time, before Powell’s side’s signature sheer determination against the odds prevailed, with the Addicks snatching a draw they just about deserved.
Fears of a typically underwhelming performance against lower league opposition in the cup appeared to be averted before kick-off, with Powell clearly desperate to spend another Saturday in glorious Huddersfield (or, more plausibly, simply win a game).
Whilst Chris Solly and Dale Stephens were absent, the bulk of what many consider to be Charlton’s strongest XI took to the field to do battle with United for the right to travel up north in the fourth round.
Ben Hamer made a long awaited return from injury replacing Ben Alnwick, whilst Simon Church, Johnnie Jackson and Bradley Pritchard returned to the starting line-up. There was also a chance from the start for Jordan Cook, who impressed off the bench at Ipswich Town on New Year’s Day,
However, there weren’t many signs early on that the Addicks would be dominating the game, as many a Charlton fan expected.
Oxford were there to cause an upset, and raced out of the blocks; the home side sloppy and lacklustre in comparison.
Despite the overall pattern of play, it was the Addicks who had the game’s first meaningful effort on goal. Lawrie Wilson was played into space on the right and delivered a teasing cross. Cristiano Ronaldo would have been proud of Jackson’s leap, but less so of his header, as his powerful nod towards got flew just wide.
But any optimism taken from that attempt was misguided; Charlton’s untidy performance reflected the surface they were, when hopeless long balls weren’t pumped forward, delivering it on.
Rhoys Wiggins was caught in possession with ten minutes played, and hastily committed a foul on Scott Davies who had broken away from him. Whilst the delivery came to nothing, it was to be the first of many individual mistakes, and one of few Charlton weren’t punished for.
Although appearing to push Richard Wood, Oxford talisman James Constable broke free after getting the better of Charlton’s centre back. Only a timely block from Michael Morrison prevented the visitors taking the lead.
The resulting corner was won by Wood under no challenge, but he directed the ball back where it came from. Davies’ second delivery found John Mullins, whose deflected effort appeared to be floating into Hamer’s hands. That was until Morrison stuck out an aimless leg that directed the ball into the far corner of the net.
“Embarrassing,” was the rather vocal shout from one member of the Lower North Choir (consider it like a replacement bus service that pops up on a day when people are less likely to travel, like they were to attend The Valley for the visit of a League Two outfit), whilst many threw their head into their hands. That positive vibe from Duchatelet’s takeover hadn’t lasted long.
An already disgruntled Valley ground were left further frustrated by yet more individual errors, Pritchard, Morrison and Cousins all guilty, and Kermorgant’s inability to finish.
The Frenchman didn’t look himself for much of the half, not least when he turned down the chance to volley an equaliser and instead dinked the ball back across the face of goal, to no avail.
The Addicks couldn’t find a way forward, let alone test Clarke in the Oxford goal. The visitor’s centre back paring, with captain Wright to the fore, won almost every long ball sent forward by the desperate home side.
And the situation got even worse for Charlton with 24 minutes played. Cousins took far too long in possession, losing the battle with Constable, which set Davies free. He bore down on goal from a similar angle to which Constable had done earlier on, but this time there was to be no crucial intervention. Davies’ sweet strike flashed past Hamer and into the far corner. Surreal.
You couldn’t blame the Charlton fans for their anger, but their decision to take it out on Bradley Pritchard lacked rational thinking. The midfielder had a torrid time, but so had many others in a red shirt. That he was the scapegoat seemed clear when an over hit Cousins pass sailed over his head, but Pritchard took the blame.
Players are not deaf, nor are they immune to abuse. Confidence crushing actions from the home crowd.
Away from the Pritchard bashing, Addicks supporters almost had a third Oxford goal to curse as Sean Rigg’s long range effort flew just over the bar. No Charlton defender had closed the man down, and those defensive frailties marred the remainder of the half.
Morrison under hit passes, Wilson was dispossessed more than once and Cousins was finding life tough in the middle. Half-time couldn’t come quick enough.
But, just before the break, Charlton had something of a half chance. A blocked shot fell to Pritchard, and his low effort on goal was gathered by Clarke at the second attempt. It was as if the effort hadn’t occurred, with the Valley crowd silent but for the occasional tut.
The half ended with Kermorgant failing to control a long ball that might have been the catalyst for an opening had he fought off the Oxford defender.
He trudged off, with his team mates, to a chorus of boos, the level of which hadn’t been heard since the Millwall defeat in September.
A response was needed in the second period, and it was apparent Charlton would have the chance to put some pressure on their opponents. Oxford’s long balls forward were aimless, and they weren’t committing men forward.
And still, even with the visitors sitting off, the Addicks failed to make a real mark on the game. It was anything but fluid.
Alas, with opportunities at a premium in the first half, Charlton at least carved out some openings with the supporters chanting suggesting they were back on their side.
A short corner should have brought a goal back for Charlton, but Kermorgant’s shot was scuffed and was gathered with ease by Clarke.
But there was little the Oxford ‘keeper could so with the effort that followed the home side’s next corner with 54 minutes played.
Cook’s ball in was perfect, Morrison’s header was clinical. The vice-captain had made amends for his errors in the opening 45 and given Charlton a route back into the tie.
It was far from pretty, but the Addicks were now on top. Pritchard had a shot blocked, then saw a cross turned away and into the path of Jackson, whose effort forced a good save out Clarke.
Oxford, however, had no intentions of lying down and giving up their lead. In fact, they almost added a third when James Constable headed towards goal, but Hamer pulled off a superb stop to keep the away side’s lead to just a single goal.
Davies and Wiggins exchanged optimistic long range efforts that both veered way off target, before Bradley Pritchard, to the sound of cheers, was replaced by Danny Green with 25 minutes to play.
It didn’t click immediately for the substitute, but he was providing something of a threat down the right hand side, testing the tired legs of Oxford full-back Tom Newey.
But it was another substitute on the opposite flank who provided the assist for Charlton’s best chance to pull level with the game entering its final ten minutes. Callum Harriott’s excellent delivery was met by Jackson, but his header bounced agonisingly wide of the post. The look on the skipper’s face suggested he knew he’d blown his side’s chances of forcing a replay, but he needn’t have worried.
Green, often cautious and rarely showing such ability, opted to run at Newey and was rewarded with a bit of luck as the ball deflected off the defender and back into the winger’s path. Green’s cross picked out Kermorgant, and the Frenchman emphatically volleyed beyond Clarke.
Whilst the Addicks behind the goal were celebrating with such vigour to suggest it was the winner, the half-time boos now a distant memory, Kermorgant clearly wasn’t happy with just a draw. Eight minutes remained, and the forward made a dash to collect the ball from the net and restart play as quickly as possible; surely Charlton couldn’t win this?
Deep into five minutes of injury time, a cross from the right looked to have provided Charlton with a third goal to mark Chris Powell’s third year in charge. Harriott was on the end of the delivery, and his header was heading in, but a crucial interception from David Hunt diverted the ball behind for a corner.
Despite the second half domination, defeat would have been unfair on Oxford, and a victory highly flattering to a lacklustre Charlton. In the end, a draw was just about fair.
First of all, credit must go to Oxford. Despite falling away in the second half, they made the most of Charlton’s dire first half display and were rewarded for their attacking endeavour. It’s not difficult to see why they’re near the top of their division; such energy and threat up top must scare the life out of League Two defences.
But the Addicks we’re well below even standards fit for League Two in the opening 45 minutes. It was an embarrassing display that provided no spark going forward and numerous individual errors from every man in a red shirt. Not even the absent of Dale Stephens’ creativity and Chris Solly’s heroicness could be used as an adequate excuse.
The improvement in the second half was huge, but it had to be. Even so, the performance in the final 45 was merely teetering on the verge of being adequate. It was still lacklustre but I can only commend Chris Powell’s side for showing their trademark fight to scrape over the line and earn a replay.
On an individual level, amidst the at times depressing performances from some, there were a handful of somewhat pleasing performances.
Wiggins, after that early error, recovered well and did little wrong in comparison to his team mates, likewise Jackson, although the pair will be left disappointed by their crossing and finishing on occasions.
Simon Church put plenty of energy and guts into his performance, chasing down defenders with lighting quick pace, but once again was let down by his end product.
Praise must also go to Green and Harriott, who really helped to give Charlton some impetus going into the final period of the game. It was obvious how much we missed Cameron Stewart’s threat down a flank, and the pair helped to provide something like that.
I would warn against getting carried away by either, they were playing against four tier opposition, after all, but it was promising to see two players I’ve criticised this season perform well.
However, the likes of Morrison (despite his goal), Cousins and Pritchard simply didn’t perform. Morrison’s performance can be passed off as a bad night, he’s been solid in recent weeks and showed some signs of recovery in the second half what must have been his worst 45 minutes in a Charlton shirt in the first.
But the performances of Cousins and Pritchard are a little more worrying.
Cousins, at just 19, is an excellent prospect and superb when at his best, like against Brighton on Boxing Day. However, on a couple of occasions in the last month or so, his performance level has dipped and he’s developed a habit of throwing away possession cheaply. Tonight was the first time he was properly punished for it. Hopefully it’s a huge lesson to the young man, but I would argue he could do with a game or two out of the team, having not missed a match since October. He will no doubt return stronger.
On the other hand, I have serious doubts as to whether Bradley Pritchard will recover from such a performance, and such a reaction from his supporters. In his three seasons with the club, Pritchard has been a big game player in League One, an excellent winger for much of last season and hardworking cog in a central midfield three. But the last few months have seen Pritchard decline steeply, so much so that he looked lost against a League Two side, not to mention incredibly unfit.
Despite his performance, the abuse he received was unacceptable. I felt embarrassed to have to sit and listen whilst a player in a Charlton shirt was treated like an enemy.
As many of my regular readers will know, I idolise Pritchard. Whilst others may have given up on him, I know he has the ability hiding away somewhere. I compare his performance in this game and the one against Barnsley in the 6-0 victory last season and they couldn’t be any more different. Out pacing his man to running in quick sand, using his strength to win possession to being bossed off every ball and delivery fine passes, crosses and scoring to looking lost for ideas with the ball at his feet. I hope he returns to the high standards he set last season, but I worry his chance has gone.
But, despite the serious issues with the performance, Chris Powell’s men have once again fought against the odds to salvage something from a certain defeat. Play up to the level that was at least shown in the second half and the replay should result in a Charlton victory.
Football, in its purest sense, isn’t real life.
Yes, that’s blasphemy. Of course, football is the main element of a great deal of people’s ‘real lives’. Certainly, I’m not a true supporter for stringing those four words together in that order.
Losing puts me in a fragile state for days to come, winning providing euphoric invincibility and off-field affairs all too often creating a sense of confusion; football does have an impact on my wellbeing away from stands.
But for 90 minutes every week, twice a week if I’m lucky, I have the chance to lose myself in a story unfolding in front me. Twenty-two players doing battle, emotions soaring and sinking along with the added bonus of the atmosphere and family-like camaraderie with your fellow supporters.
It’s a world away from the stresses, anxieties and sadness of everyday life. For me, the only time in which I can truly prevent the problems of life overtaking my thoughts is between the referee’s first whistle and his last.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who uses football as escapism. Why wouldn’t you? It’s so easy to lose yourself in the rush of emotions.
On several occasions I’ve turned up at The Valley in sour mood and remained in such a state right up until kick-off. But, normally after the game’s first event or the Covered End’s first chant, I’m in the football bubble. Whatever had upset me before is temporarily forgotten and I enter a state of excitement and enjoyment. It’s a happy place. Possibly the only happy place I know.
Several of my favourite Charlton games will mean nothing to other supporters; some are games that will have been forgotten quite quickly. But they provided me with a source of relief at various difficult times in my life. Of course, I’m desperate for the Addicks to pick up points, but, in these few fixtures, the result was irrelevant. Just being in that football bubble gave me a distraction that I needed.
A 1-0 defeat to Brighton on a Tuesday night in February 2010 is one such game. It was dire, we were dire, but it kept me sane.
One game that stands out and had the bonus of a positive result is the 4-2 win over Reading in August in 2008. My parents had split up in the week leading into the game, and both me and my father were in a state of depression, made worse before kick-off whilst being inside the ground.
It was the perfect game of twists and turns, with Charlton throwing away a 2-0 lead only to score two more late on, and exactly what I needed to distract myself from what was occurring in my life.
Recently, the 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest provided me with a source of comfort after moving away from home to university; something I didn’t particularly want to do.
In times like those, when my mental wellbeing is poor and events are conspiring against me, football also provides something to look forward to. Slugging through a week when I’m low is impossibly hard, but it’s made easier by counting down the days until I’m next watching Charlton. Midweek games either side of two weekend games are blissful.
My anxiety, my depression and my sheer lack of confidence have always prevented me from socialising. That only makes my quality of life worse; I’m a reclusive university student who is viewed with suspicion by others for my reluctance, if not inability, to leave my room. It’s a lonely existence.
But, in the football environment, I can talk. I wouldn’t go as far to say as I come out of my shell or open up, but I gain the ability to put myself out there and interact with people like I wouldn’t do elsewhere.
I recently met someone at an away game, without prior warning, who I’d spoken to online; an incredibly difficult task for me and my anxieties. But, in that football environment, I coped with the situation almost stress free. I now consider that individual a close friend.
You might be thinking now, ‘oh dear, a trainee journalist with a lack of confidence, he’s not going to get very far’, and you’re probably right to think that. However, I’ve found myself able to adopt a confident character in my journalism related encounters thus far. Acting as a journalist, or just simply writing, is second only to football in the escape it provides.
Football is my award-winning counsellor, my double strength anti-depressant and my powerful high.
And so, it seemed obvious to attend Charlton’s FA Cup third round tie with Oxford United on the Saturday before I returned to university after my Christmas break. Not an attractive fixture, and one many wouldn’t bother to do when travelling form Milton Keynes, but it’s football and it would have given me a chance to forget I was returning back to a place, and a life, I didn’t enjoy.
I was almost certainly more disappointed than any other Charlton fan when the tie was postponed due to The Valley’s ongoing pitch problems. That Saturday was spent in a state of depression, refusing to get out of bed and all in all making my situation much, much worse.
With the fixture rearranged to the following Wednesday, I at least now had the chance to get away from university on a day where I have no lectures; a day that’s often spent alone in my room. With that postponed too, I was left again to find other ways to fight off the negative thoughts; something I struggled to do.
But Saturday, lovely, lovely Saturday, would finally provide the football I so desperately needed. I’d made the journey, buying my train ticket on Thursday after the club confirmed there would be no inspection, and even devoured some grub in the Valley Café before the game was postponed. It was tough to take. I didn’t really have time to feel any anger about the situation, just frustration that the football I required had been taken away from me.
Not even Bradley Pritchard smiling at me through the windscreen of his very un-footballer like car could cheer me up.
With the game off, I was invited to socialise, but, without the football setting, I found it difficult. I wanted to leave straight away, but didn’t through fear and embarrassment. The fear that I would be mocked after I had left, the embarrassment that once again I couldn’t cope in a social setting.
I was also given the chance to go and watch Leyton Orient. I should have done, but owing to the fact I didn’t want to depart with more cash, and that I was in my Charlton coat and shirt, I opted not to.
Without the football distraction again, I was left feeling lower than ever in my room upon my return ‘home’. Again, I struggled to fight off the negative thoughts and again I made the situation worse for myself.
I imagine that if Monday’s precautionary pitch inspection for Tuesday’s game against Oxford results in another postponement, the news will be like a dagger to the heart. I’m unable to attend the Middlesbrough away game, the Bournemouth home game is likely to be postponed and I wouldn’t have the funds to get to Huddersfield should we progress in the cup.
The last game I attended was Ipswich away, my next could be Doncaster away. Almost a month apart.
At a time when I’m bogged down by exam and assessment stress, finding adapting to university life hard again and missing home, the lack of football really couldn’t be more difficult to take.
I can’t believe I need a cup tie against a League Two team to go ahead for the sake of my wellbeing.