Johnnie Jackson is to Chris Powell’s Charlton what Bradley Wiggins is to post-Armstrong cycling and Mo Farah is to British Athletics surrounding London 2012.
There are plenty of other characters that will be synonymously linked with Charlton’s boss, like there are currently in cycling and athletics, but, like Wiggins and Farah do in their sports’ current period of success, one Addick embodies everything that Chris Powell’s Charlton stands for.
Jackson isn’t an eccentric attacking midfielder in the mould of Chelsea’s Oscar, he isn’t a playmaker in the style of Barcelona’s Andreas Iniesta, nor can he occupy a holding role like Tottenham’s Sandro.
In fact, like his Charlton teammates, he’d struggle to get in most other starting XIs in the division.
But, like several players under the stewardship of Powell, his very ordinary ability relative to his opponents in England’s second tier is made eye catching by incredible amounts of determination, hard-work and, in Jackson’s case, the inspirational qualities that make him the perfect leader of this Charlton side.
He’s the poster boy of the Chris Powell regime; an image of him celebrating any goal tells you all you need to know about the skipper’s love for the club and his desire to achieve.
But, after Sunday’s disappointment draw with Sheffield Wednesday, it seemed as if Jackson’s superhero-like powers were fading.
Some were disappointed to see him come straight back into the side; most were disappointed with his performance. It was time to move away from this idea that Jackson is Charlton’s saviour, or so some said.
Fast-forward to the 90th minute of Charlton’s New Year’s Day trip to Ipswich Town, and the Portman Road away end was hosting the sort of celebrations you expect after a last minute equaliser. Charlton had snatched a point at the death.
But this felt different, somehow more special that just a last minute equaliser. Why? Because the poster boy, after being on the bench minutes before, had volleyed home and immediately raced over to the travelling Charlton fans, arm aloft and cutting a heroic figure, before knee-sliding and being surrounded his teammates.
The teammates that had showed determination, fight and grit, and were now seeing it rewarded by their leader; the man that displayed those qualities in abundance throughout his Charlton career.
They may have been behind for the majority of the game, but this point, a 1-1 draw, was the least Charlton’s efforts deserved.
The New Year’s Day hangovers, made worse by the rain that had forced the postponement of several other fixtures around the country, were soothed somewhat with a viewing of the team sheet.
Chris Solly and Charlton’s very own Wiggins, Rhoys, returned to the side, whilst Marvin Sordell, previously a forgotten figure, was given just his seventh start of the season. Jackson, Cedric Evina and Simon Church the trio to miss out.
Also on the team sheet was the name Stuart Attwell, and the referee who often finds himself involved in controversial moments had a key decision to make just two minutes in.
The loud travelling Addicks were briefly silenced by fear as Jordan Cousins misjudged a knock back from Sordell, with the ball zipping off the wet pitch and into the path of Daryl Murphy, who had a clear run at goal. But Richard Wood tracked the forward closely all the way and, at the crucial moment, managed to bustle Murphy off the ball. It looked untidy, and both players ended up on the deck, but appeals for a penalty from the Tractor Boys were waved away by Attwell.
After sighs of relief had been expressed, Charlton fans were left to be frustrated by the side’s efforts when coming forward. A Dale Stephens free-kick just evaded the outstretched boot of Wood; a touch would have given the Addicks the lead.
Owing somewhat to the conditions, it certainly wasn’t the most attractive game of football that will take place in the year ahead, but the opening was incident packed nonetheless. Cameron Stewart, attempting a flick in his own half, lost possession which resulted in Paul Anderson curling an effort at goal. It was well directed, but Ben Alnwick strongly pushed the ball away.
Murphy and Aaron Cresswell both sent shots from range wide of goal, before an excellent stop from Town ‘keeper Dean Gerken prevented the visitors from opening the scoring. Kermorgant’s well struck effort from the edge of the area was tipped around the post by the stopper.
It was Charlton’s first meaningful effort on goal, but it wasn’t the case the Addicks weren’t getting forward. But, as has been the case on so many occasions this season, their final ball was letting them down.
Not least was this the case when Sordell did the hard work to break into the box from out wide, but his cut back to Stephens, in a glorious position to score, was intercepted.
At the other end, there was little wrong with Ipswich’s final ball, but Town’s finishing left a lot to be desired. A cross wasn’t read by Wiggins, as he unintentionally moved away from the ball, allowing it to continue on its path through to Cresswell at the back post. But the full-back applied a defender’s finish, sending the ball skywards and into the Ipswich fans behind Alnwick’s goal.
That move had exposed Charlton’s defensive frailties, and they were exposed once again after 24 minutes with Ipswich taking the lead in shambolic circumstances.
On several occasions the Addicks could have dispossessed the home side, with Wilson and then Cousins slow to react to intercept the ball out wide. This allowed Murphy to break free and send a driven ball across the face of goal, that Michael Morrison’s slide couldn’t stop, and, under little pressure, Wood turned the ball into his own net. It was a comedy of errors; the embarrassment silencing the Charlton fans.
It was deflating, and the Addicks were sloppy from the point of conceding the goal until half-time, but that’s not to say Powell’s men didn’t farm up out the occasional opportunity in the remaining 20 minutes or so.
It looked like the visitors would equalise almost immediately when Kermorgant sent Wilson through, but the winger opted to look for a pass inside when a shot appeared to be the better option. The frustration was still yet to reach its peak.
Kermorgant was once again the architect, playing in Stewart with a delicious ball over the top and into his path. The winger cut inside and drove towards goal before being brought down by Luke Chambers. Stewart was in a fantastic position to score, but the penalty was an arguably even better chance for the Addicks to draw level.
It took referee Attwell a moment or two’s thinking time before he blew his whistle, but he didn’t point to the spot. Instead, a yellow card was shown to Stewart for diving; an incredible decision that left the away end, and the players in red on the pitch, in a state of disbelief.
But the Addicks continued to search for an equaliser, and Kermorgant’s lay off for Sordell almost produced just that; the striker’s volley only narrowly going wide of the post.
Up to that point, Sordell had done well enough to warrant his inclusion in the starting XI, at times looking like a real threat. And so it was doubly disappointing to see both the Bolton loanee pull up with what appeared to be a hamstring problem just before half-time, and sections of the away end celebrate his injury. To make matters worse, those same supporters also reacted angrily to him struggling off the pitch; clearly pulling a hamstring is no excuse.
With Church in reserve, it was somewhat surprising to see Jordan Cook enter the fray to replace Sordell, but the forward immediately won a free-kick in a dangerous position for the Addicks. But, after his free-kick taking heroics on Boxing Day, Kermorgant’s effort flashed just wide of goal.
And with that came the half-time whistle. A frustrating half rather than a poor performance, made even more so by Attwell’s decisions.
The first of several Charlton corners throughout the second half saw Stephens come close for the Addicks, but his scuffed shot bounced wide. But, despite Powell’s side now having the bulk of possession, Ipswich weren’t void of attacking threat, with Paul Taylor forcing Alnwick into a decent save low down to his left.
You couldn’t question Charlton’s desire and determination, but they were struggling to find a way through the Ipswich backline. It too until the 65th minute for a second moment where Ipswich were made to panic as Kermorgant and Stewart combined for the latter to deliver a testing cross. Only a crucial headed clearance behind from Tommy Smith prevented Cook from testing Gerken.
With Town boss Mick McCarthy clearly sensing the tide of the game turning, he introduced top goal scorer David McGoldrick, replacing Taylor, in order to add a second and seal the points for the home side.
Neither he nor Charlton substitute Church, who replaced Wilson with 20 minutes to play, could test their opposition’s keeper, with the game in a deep lull. The cry of ‘just one shot, Charlton’ from the man dressed as Robin, stood in front of me, was a sign of how desperate things were getting.
With just less than 15 minutes to play, the game came alive again. McGoldrick’s ball through to Murphy the catalyst, and the forward’s shot from a tight angle was parried away for a corner by Alnwick.
The resulting ball into the box was half cleared, but remained inside the goal area. Cousins attempted to clear, but kicked Anderson unintentionally whilst doing so. With a horrendous own goal conceded and a stonewall penalty turned down, it went in line with Charlton’s luck that Attwell pointed to the spot. It seemed a little harsh, but one I would have wanted had it been for the Addicks. The injustice revolved around not getting a spot kick in the first half.
Up stepped McGoldrick; a clinical finish and scorer of plenty of goals this season. In front of him was a ‘keeper that, despite having an excellent afternoon, hadn’t always been convincing since stepping in for Ben Hamer. The mood in the away end was one of a beaten set of supporters.
McGoldrick fired low to Alnwick’s left, but the ‘keeper got across and got his palms behind it. The fact Ipswich now had a corner mattered little; hope was restored and the celebrations showed it.
The only person in the away end who didn’t seem to be full of hope was Robin. With Batman failing to offer any words of wisdom, and then disappearing briefly (possibly to fight crime, or go to the loo), he needed a new hero. Jackson replaced Stewart with ten minutes left.
Powell’s side were still displaying their trademark fight as they had been all game; they really didn’t deserve to lose this. But, despite a number of corners, chances weren’t being created. A tame Wiggins effort from the edge of the area with two minutes to play was all that was added to the shot tally in final ten minutes.
With the game now in stoppage time, Wiggins delivered a ball deep into the area, where Kermorgant was lurking. He was always going to win the header, and it came to Church with his back to goal. Thankfully, he had Jackson just in front of him, and an excellent lay off presented the skipper with the opportunity to equalise.
His volley was hit into the ground and took a deflection, but it mattered little. All that did matter was that the net had rippled and chaos had broken out in the away end. I found myself embracing Robin as Jackson’s trademark knee-slide took place below. An equaliser that felt like a winner; a rescued point that was more than deserved.
That wasn’t the end to the action, as superb work from the diligent Cook produced a chance for Stephens, but the midfielder’s effort was blocked on its way to goal, whilst Frank Nouble reacquainted himself with Solly by lashing the ball against him twice and earned himself a booking.
But Attwell’s whistle went soon after; a valuable point for the Addicks that felt like a win.
Every player was applauded by the travelling fans as if they had won the game, whilst Jackson was applauded as if he’d won the Tour De France or an Olympic Gold Medal.
This wasn’t a game the neutral would have enjoyed, nor was it a game that saw an incredibly skilled Charlton performance. But it was a display of fight and determination against a resolute side in tough conditions with a painfully poor referee not helping Charlton’s cause.
It was the sort of game every Charlton fans has come to appreciate the most since our return to the Championship, the sort of game where the odds are against the Addicks but they run themselves into the ground and achieve a result in the process.
And, rather surprisingly, no one embodied that more that Jordan Cook. A brave decision from Powell, which paid off, as did everything he did before and during 3PM.
Not once did Cook stop running, not one did stop fighting and on several occasions he played his hand in attacking moves.
It was disappointing to see Sordell go off, he’d done well up to that point, but Cook was superb both up top and when pushed out wide. He grabbed the chance given to him perfectly.
In addition, the usual suspects were superb with Solly, Wiggins and Kermorgant all performing superbly. Wiggins especially doing his utmost to find his way through the resolute Ipswich defence in a game of few chances.
And in a game of few chances, it was the goal scorer and the goal saver who were the heroes.
The goal, and the moment, was perfect for a leader like Jackson, but the moment wouldn’t have been there without Alnwick’s heroics. Not only was his penalty save crucial, but his stops throughout the game prevented Ipswich from taking a two goal lead that would have been desperately harsh on the Addicks.
If only he could distribute an ounce more successfully…
Of course, the goal was avoidable, Attwell was inept and we could have created more openings, but they are minor negatives on a very positive day. A very positive ten days or so, in fact.
If you’d have offered me six points from the four games of the festive period before hand, I would have snapped your hand off. Needless to say I’m delighted with the upturn in form.
We’ve got our Charlton back.