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.