A team who had given everything for over 90 minutes, a manager who had masterminded his greatest win and a skipper who had delivered his finest moment in Charlton red were expected to do it all once again in a match of arguably larger significance just two days later.
A fifth round tie in football’s oldest competition; a tie that had previously been postponed due to Hillsborough’s waterlogged pitch. Only two wins were needed for Chris Powell to take his side to Wembley. This was massive, but also a massive task.
Sheffield Wednesday, who made several changes to the starting XI that took to the field in their win over Huddersfield Town, were not only fresh, but wanted this more. A trip to rivals Sheffield United would be the reward if they could knock the Addicks out of the FA Cup; a Steel City Derby with the winner heading to the famous arch.
There was surely only one winner; Wednesday’s desire for the derby fixture, not to mention their ability that has lifted the Owls well clear of the relegation zone in the league, would surely be too much for Powell’s sapped men.
Charlton’s odds could have only lengthened when the bookies got a hold of their team sheet. Where Wednesday’s changes strengthened them, Charlton’s five were mixed.
The return of Ben Hamer and Astrit Ajdaveric starting was excellent news; academy graduate Morgan Fox facing a tough debut, in place of the excellent Rhoys Wiggins, and Simon Church left to fend for himself up front was less so.
But this Charlton side care little for odds. There’s no way of measuring their most impressive qualities; determination, fight and a love for a club that has no doubt been drilled into them by their boss.
The desire to meet a rival in a cup quarter-final is one thing; the desire to find the strength to battle once again so soon after the most impressive of victories and to win for the club, teammates and manager you love is another.
It was all on show at full-time. Ninety-minutes of pure fight, with just that little bit of quality, Johnnie Jackson calling his close nit group of players in to visit the celebrating fans together, Andy Hughes holding a loft Chris Powell as the champion he is.
A scrappy game with a 2-1 victory for the Addicks is one way to look at it; but it was so much more than that. It was a team giving everything for 90 minutes once again, a manager masterminding an incredible victory once more and a skipper further cementing his legendary status.
It was a night to warm your heart; a night to feel proud of this great club once again. Chris Powell’s Charlton are back.
Those pre-games apprehensions and nerves were turned into pure excitement by the way the Addicks started the game; the best 20 minutes Charlton have mustered away from home this season.
Church broke free down the right and won his side a corner less than 30 seconds into the game, more than enough ammunition to send an already vocal away end into a frenzy of passion that would know no limit throughout the game.
The corner came to nothing, but Stuart Gray’s side looked shell-shocked in the opening stages; as soon as they gained possession they were pressured into panic that saw it handed back to the visitors. Former Addick Miguel Llera’s long balls picked out Michael Morrison and Richard Wood at the back for Charlton with alarming regularity.
Therefore, it was to the shock of no one inside the famous old ground that the Addicks had the game’s first chance; a chance that ended in desperate gasps but should have concluded with delirium in the away end.
Harriott, facing the daunting prospect of finding a way through two opponents on the wing, beat them both with one piece of trickery, a great deal of strength for someone so slight and an unbelievable amount of pace.
The academy graduate, one of five in the starting XI, picked out Ajdaveric, the only Standard Liege loanee on the pitch, and the Swede saw his shot blocked, only for the ball to return straight to him. Agonisingly so, his second effort took a slight deflection off Llera that diverted the ball wide by the slenderest of margins.
The disappointment in the away end didn’t last long; the travelling fans were determined to make this a night to remember, whatever their result. Twelve minutes in and neither Charlton’s superb start nor the atmosphere the Addicks were creating had allowed me to pause for breath.
But they needn’t have worried about artificially creating an unforgettable night, Chris Powell’s side were determined to do that for them. After ten more minutes of the visitors being in complete control, including a Church cross that just skipped past Harriott and a wayward shot from the young winger, they got the lead their performance thus far deserved.
Jordan Cousins, whose steady contribution has often gone unnoticed in recent weeks, set the ball back to Ajdaveric. The classy midfielder’s drilled shot was blocked, but the loose ball bounced up perfectly for Harriott on the edge of the box. His first time shot with the outside of his boot crashed into the top corner of the net; a vicious strike that sparked a deafening roar from the away end amidst their chaotic celebrations.
There was now surely one winner, and it wasn’t the one many had predicted before-kick. A superb passing move in Charlton’s next attack after the goal merited a second, but Cousins pulled his shot wide, whilst Church took fire from just outside the area and forced home ‘keeper Martinez into a smart save.
But Wednesday haven’t climbed up the league table in recent weeks for nothing; they’re a decent side with a serious threat in the air, and that finally started to show in the latter half of the first period.
Owls forwards Benik Afobe and Leon Best, who came close to joining the Addicks, suddenly started testing Morrison and Wood, but the defensive duo were stern.
In fact, the visitors remained composed and resolute until the 38th minute, when Gary Gardner produced Wednesday’s first meaningful effort. However, with Hamer back between the sticks, no longer was there a feeling of panic with every half chance fired in the general direction of Charlton’s goal. The half-volley from the edge of the area was comfortably collected by the returning stopper.
Hamer was on hand again three minutes later as Leon Best volleyed towards goal from Miguel Llera’s 6,000,000th long ball of his career, but Charlton’s number one was more than equal to drive that was directed straight towards his palms.
After Fox had been outmuscled by Best in the build up to the strike, Hamer spared the blushes of another youngster by getting to Diego Poyet’s weak back pass ahead of Afobe, but you could sense a shift in momentum and half-time couldn’t come quick enough for Powell’s men.
However, just before the interval, the Addicks felt a sense of injustice as Simon Church was fed through on goal. The forward had put in a superb shift, giving Llera a torrid time all night, and the Spaniard appeared to haul him down with the Welshman clean through. Referee Clattenburg saw nothing wrong with the, at best, clumsy challenge and opted not to award a free-kick, let alone a red card. Dismay, disbelief and disgust from both Church and the travelling Addicks.
Nonetheless, half-time arrived with Charlton ahead; a deserved lead and one that was appreciated by the ever vocal away fans.
But the start of the second half was going to be crucial; if Wednesday built upon some promising signs shown at the end of the first, it was going to be an arduous 45 minutes from the Charlton supporters to endure.
They did exactly that. In fact, Charlton couldn’t get a touch of the ball for the first two minutes, whilst Leon Best saw an effort blocked and Giles Coke, after pushing Diego Poyet to the floor without being penalised, fired wide. Deep breaths.
With the Addicks finally getting a hold of the ball, some neat build up play created an opening for Jackson, but his shot from range just flashed with Martinez beaten.
Another opening should have come Charlton’s way when Harriott dispossessed Maguire and saw a path to goal, but Clattenburg saw a foul that didn’t appear to be there. The Premier League official, whether making wrong calls or not, seemed to be intent on breaking up the game and awarding free-kicks to both sides as frequently as possible.
It made for a rather stop-start second-half, and one in which set-pieces proved crucial. With 57 minutes played, a free-kick awarded for a rather soft foul by Wood on Best resulted in Sheffield Wednesday pulling level.
The delivery was won by Llera at the far post and headed back across goal, where Best was lurking, and the Irishman finished emphatically. A sickening blow, not least owing to how close the Blackburn loanee was to joining Charlton last week, that silenced the away end for the first time.
That silence had ended by the time the Addicks placed the ball back on the centre circle. ‘Red Army’ was the roar from the increasingly hungry away end; they wanted this, and they wanted to make sure the players did too.
Church was embodying the desire and determination of all eleven men in red, and his attempt to glide past Llera resulting in the clumsy Spaniard blocking him and Clattenburg awarding the Addicks a free-kick in a promising position.
Jackson’s delivery was exquisite, Church’s movement superb, the Welshman’s connection enough to reclaim Charlton’s lead. There was more than a hint of handball, but that mattered little to the once again delirious supporters behind the goal Church had just scored in.
Twenty-five minutes remained, but you could do little but believe this was meant to be.
The sense it was going to be Charlton’s night only increased when a corner was met by the head of substitute Atdhe Nuhiu and crashed against the post before, judging by the noise from the home ends, appearing to cross the line. But the excellent Hamer and reacted sharply to the ball bouncing off the woodwork, and the bearded stopper had claimed the ball just before it had trickled into his goal. Heart attacks in the away end.
The clock continued to tick, Church received a standing ovation as Reza replaced him and the Addicks maintained their superb resoluteness. In fact, they kept Wednesday away from goal right up until the final three minutes of the game. Even then, there was no getting past Charlton’s number one.
A dangerous low cross was sent into the box by second-half sub Jeremy Helan, but Hamer raced out to tip the ball away from the feet of Nuhiu. The danger was far from over, however, as Best reacted to the loose ball, but Hamer again got to the Wednesday man and grabbed the ball off the tips of his toes. Reckless? Probably. Sensational goalkeeping? Most definitely.
The home side kept coming and Wood was lucky to stay on the pitch after he brought down Nuhiu with the Austrian bearing down on goal, receiving just a yellow. But Wednesday wasted the free-kick, and the resulting corner was headed well over by Nuhiu. One minute remained.
The cautioned Wood was taken out of the firing line, replaced by Dervite, whilst Diego Poyet won the Addicks a free-kick in stoppage-time 25 yards from goal. Wednesday barely bothered with a wall and no Addick stood in front of the kick taker, but Ajdaveric’s effort was well saved, and held, by Martinez.
Despite their brief foray forward, Charlton were clinging on desperately. Deep into five minutes of stoppage time, the ball sat up nicely for Maguire, but his effort towards goal was going to be claimed by Hamer. However, it took a wicked deflection off Morrison and the Charlton stopper was forced to make the most sensational reaction stop to deny Wednesday a leveller. There was still a corner to deal with, but it was celebrated like a goal.
The Addicks dealt with it, and Wednesday could give no more. The hosts had given their all in search of a goal that would keep their hopes of playing their neighbours alive, but there was no getting past a resolute, determined and inspired set of Charlton players.
With pandemonium once again breaking out in the away end upon Clatternburg’s final whistle, Jackson showed the calm and leadership ability that makes him so adored as captain. The players so easily could have come over in their own time, in small clusters, and no one would have batted an eyelid. But, sensing what a moment this was, Jackson called all his players in and led them over to the away end together.
Morrison, Dervite and Wilson were slightly ahead of the back, and the trio burst into celebration the moment they entered the penalty box in front of the end housing the Charlton fans. The rest followed, just as passionately celebrating a sensational display of guts and grit that had earned them progression to the FA Cup quarter-finals.
One man was missing though; the man that masterminded this triumph. Powell’s arrival produced one of the loudest cheers of the nights. The cheers only got louder as Hughes bear-hugged him into the air, before Powell was left to celebrate with his fans alone.
Passionate fist pumps followed, before, in act of sheer delight, the suited gaffer jumped up and swung from the crossbar. PE teachers all over the land reacted in horror; Charlton fans, if at all possible, fell in love with their hero just that little bit more.
What did I do during all of this? Watched. I might have clapped, but it was subconscious. I wanted to watch and let this moment sink in. Here was a group of players who loved this club, celebrating like fans, with a manager displaying such an incredible show of passion. The joy of winning was superb; the scenes after full-time made it the proudest night of my Charlton supporting life and the whole package made it one of the best nights of my life. Whatever has occurred in recent weeks, this football club is special.
Also special was the performance. The opening 25 minutes was the best passage of Charlton play away from The Valley since the 6-0 win over Barnsley. It was relentless, almost perfect, and another goal or two wouldn’t have been flattering for the Addicks at that stage.
And whilst the attacking intensity dropped off, the structured and disciplined approach that proved so crucial in the win over QPR remained. Wednesday provided a great deal more threat than the Rs, but the Addicks still stood firm. An astonishing performance that can’t be undervalued.
The back four were superb, Wilson again particularly impressing and Fox, whilst guilty of few errors, can hold his head high with his debut performance.
Harriott had his best game of the season, and arguably his best for the club, whilst Ajdarevic oozed class, and kept things ticking in the hole.
Poyet and Cousins carried on from where they left off on Saturday, along with Jackson, who was outstanding; not bad for a man many didn’t want in the team before Saturday.
The two stand outs, however, were Hamer and Church. Simply put, the two match winners. Hamer’s save at one end and Church’s endeavour, and goal, were the book ends to a sensational performance and a big part of the reason why the Addicks will again be travelling to Sheffield in two weeks to face United.
A place at Wembley awaits, and these last three days are probably turning points in the history of Charlton Athletic, but for now, I’m going to savour this moment for as long as possible.
What a performance, what a night, what a football club.
Charlton Athletic were on their knees. Key players had departed, four league defeats on the spin had left the Addicks languishing in the bottom three and uncertainty reigned all over the club.
This wasn’t a great time to support Charlton; it almost felt like a burden to tell people you followed the club with the Standard Liege loanees, the atrocious pitch and who couldn’t buy a point. For the first time in a while, it was hard to feel proud of a club that had given so many moments to warm the heart in recent years.
Queens Park Rangers’ visit to the Valley didn’t promise any release from the doom and gloom around SE7. Chris Powell’s nobodies would have to compete with Harry Redknapp’s superstars; a daunting prospect.
And at full-time, one of those Standard Liege loanees, who apparently cares little about this club, sank to the floor. Astrit Ajdarevic was on his knees.
But he wasn’t mourning another heart-breaking defeat; he wasn’t even in a state of despair following a late QPR equaliser.
In fact, the second-half sub had sunk to the floor in relief and joy. His stoppage time corner had been met by the head of Johnnie Jackson, and the heroic skipper had nodded in from a tight angle to give Charlton a dramatic 1-0 win.
Some of The Valley faithful might not have been proud of their club before kick-off, but Ajdaveric was certainly proud to pull on the Charlton shirt; even prouder to be involved his first league win as a Charlton player.
If it meant that much to Ajdarevic, you can imagine how his new supporters reacted. It took a second to realise Jackson’s header had found the net; it’ll take years for those celebrations to be forgotten. Proud? Relief? Passion? Who cares, it was pure delight.
Whilst the goal was one thing, the performance was another. The Addicks didn’t match Redknapp’s handpicked dream team; they bettered them. It was a determined display that made you feel prouder than ever before of Chris Powell and his side.
The dapperly dressed boss set his team up perfectly to deal with QPR’s threat, limiting them to almost nothing. His substitutions provided the impetuous to turn their composed performance into a threatening one. His celebrations at the end belonged to a man who loved this club, was proud of it and wanted to take it further.
We’ve got our Charlton back? It was never gone. Merely crouching, waiting to rise again.
With strong, positive words from Roland Duchatelet during his press conference on Thursday, especially the news that contract talks were underway with Powell, there was some irrational optimism before kick-off. Not many really believed the Addicks would win this, but the club felt like it was in something of a better place than it was a week ago.
The comparative team news, however, crushed that belief.
QPR bought new signing Ravel Morrison into their side, whilst Powell opted to give Danny Green, coming in for Ajdarevic, another opportunity to impress; quite a contrast in ability.
Yohann Thuram continued in goal, much to annoyance of most Charlton fans with Ben Hamer fit enough for the bench, and Dorian Dervite replaced Richard Wood in defence. The Rs, meanwhile, had former England international Rob Green in goal, and handed a start to Nedum Onuhoa.
And on a day where a cap was needed to view the game in delightful sunshine at The Valley, two men with plenty started up top for Charlton. Welsh international Simon Church started his first game since the defeat to Doncaster Rovers, coming in for Marvin Sordell, and he partnered Iranian hero Reza Ghoochannejhad. QPR’s loan front man, Kevin Doyle, had more international appearances than Charlton’s pair combined.
There was, however, some excellent news for the home supporters, with Rhoys Wiggins back into the starting XI ahead of Cedric Evina and new signing Marcus Tudgay on the bench, but QPR’s side sent shivers down the spines of even the most positive of Addicks.
Arguably the biggest gap between the two sides on paper was in the middle. Wonderkid Morrison was joined by the experienced Jermaine Jenas and highly rated Tottenham loanee Tom Carroll in a trio of central midfielders for the away side; Diego Poyet and Jordan Cousins, both in their teens, started for the hosts.
But, for all QPR’s early passing football and possession, it was the Charlton academy graduates that were having the bigger impact on the game in its opening moments.
Cousins dispossessed his adversaries on a number of occasions, whilst Poyet immediately showed the composure and passing ability that has made him an immediate crowd favourite.
Whilst not impressing some inpatient Addicks, Charlton kept their shape well, were disciplined and let the ball have little time in and around their own box. There was no way they could compete with the away side if they went hell for leather, and this structured and patient way of going about things appeared an ideal way to combat QPR’s threat.
So much so that it was the home side who had the first meaningful attempts on goal; attempts that could have, and possibly should have, put Charlton in front.
A ball into the box was only half cleared, and fell to the energetic Cousins on the edge of the area. The Valley faithful were already despairing in angst as his initial shot rebounded back off the post, but hope of an early lead was reignited as the loose ball came straight to Reza. With an open goal to aim at, the Iranian somehow contrived to hit the opposite post and those who had already leapt of their seats in celebration were forced to retreat downwards.
The Valley had been lifted, and the Covered End were in fine voice, but regret was in the air. Against such strong opposition, it seemed vital that chances of that nature had to be taken.
However, the Rs continued to struggle to turn their ball retention into anything that seriously troubled Charlton’s back four. When they did finally find a way through, Armand Traore’s cut back was sliced horribly away from goal by Carroll.
Two more efforts on goal followed for the visitors as Jenas challenged Carroll for most wayward effort of the afternoon and Ravel Morrison connected with an Aaron Hughes cross only to send the ball wide of goal, and a slight sense of nervousness was starting to grow in the home ends.
But there was really no need as the Addicks continued to carry out Chris Powell’s orders to as close to perfection as possible.
A regimented two banks of four formation was kept, with players rarely breaking away from their position to close an R down, and Rangers continued to look composed into possession until the white lines around Charlton’s area could be sniffed.
Therefore, it would have been hard to take had Charlton handed the lead to their opponents. It seemed that would be the case when Onouha broke into the box and went over a loose Dorian Dervite leg, but referee Ilderton continued to officiate as if the incident hadn’t occurred. The home fans were incensed a yellow card hadn’t been awarded for a dive, but I couldn’t help but feel the Addicks had been let off the hook.
In a rare moment down the other end, a common occurrence occurred with Charlton’s Green doing something that wasn’t very good. His ambitious effort from distance soared way over QPR’s Green’s goal, drawing knowing tuts from the Covered End.
Jeers and sarcastic cheers were also sent the way of Thuram, who had trouble with his goal-kicks. The brief smatterings of discontent, however, were not in any way a reflection of Charlton’s determined and disciplined display.
And, after being camped inside their territory for much of it, the Addicks spent at least some amount of time in the opposition’s half in the latter stages of the opening period. An excellent move down the left saw Jackson and Wiggins combine for the latter to deliver an enticing cross. Reza leapt skyward and made a solid connection with the ball, but sent it straight into the gleeful clutches of Rob Green.
The first half ended with the Addicks absorbing yet more QPR possession, but the Valley faithful were knowledgeable enough to appreciate the shift almost every Addick had put in during the first half. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was enough to keep a seriously talented side at bay.
The longer it remained 0-0, the more mistakes QPR would make as a result of the pressure and the greater chance Charlton had of stealing all three points.
Those mistakes were creeping in as early as five minutes into the second period with the away side’s defence giving the ball away to Reza on two occasions in quick succession, but the former Standard Liege man couldn’t capitalise on either occasion. His ingenious chip in the second instance, however, saw Church come a whisker away from latching onto the ball, but solid defensive work from Onuhoa kept the Welshman at bay.
Redknapp, sensing how important a win was to his side with the Rs going three games without one, brought Will Keane on, in place of Junior Hoilett, to partner Kevin Doyle just before the hour mark, and the visitors best chance of the game so far came not long after.
A lovely interchange from Carroll and Ravel Morrison did for Michael Morrison and led to QPR’s Morro being in a glorious position to open the scoring. A collective groan of horror emerged from the Covered End, but the West Ham loanee sliced wide, somehow. Phew.
Ravel Morrison had another effort on goal minutes later, but his effort from distance was as wayward as his first. Nonetheless, it was clear the Rs were providing more of a threat, if not testing Thuram’s dubious credentials in the Charlton goal, and changes were needed.
Powell duly obliged, replacing the struggling Green with Ajdarevic and handing a debut to Tudgay in place of the hardworking Reza.
Much like QPR’s change had been the catalyst for an opening, Charlton came themselves just after the subbed on pair had entered the fray.
Cousins, now playing on the right, delivered a hanging cross that was challenged for by Church and Green. Church was the winner, with the ball falling to Jackson, but Green recovered well to block the skipper’s shot behind.
Ajdarevic and Tudgay had made a notable difference for Charlton, and a threat going forward was now added to their structured defending. Both were involved in a fabulous move that earned a standing ovation as passes were exchanged from front to back before Tudgay teed up Jackson to flash an effort just wide of goal.
With just less than 20 minutes to play, the Addicks were no longer hanging on. Driven by the Covered End’s noise, Diego Poyet’s ability to get to every single ball first and the overall determination of the side, they were searching for victory.
However, let’s not forget that Chris Powell’s side have a habit of throwing away points with individual errors this season, and Dervite and Thuram should have been another guilty pair. The two Frenchman clearly weren’t on the same wavelength as centre back passed to ‘keeper and Thuram’s clearance was blocked by Modibo Maiga.
Thankfully for Charlton, Maiga showed the incompetence that left many West Ham fans far from impressed with the forward as he ran the ball out of play whilst attempting to round Charlton’s keeper.
If anything, the way Charlton were now on top made QPR’s moves forward even more painful to watch; a win for the visitors would have been impossible to take.
But neither side really looked like winning it; Charlton replicating the Rs by successfully building up play but lacking a telling final ball.
And as Jenas fired wide for QPR and the game moved towards stoppage time, you wouldn’t have begrudged Powell brining on another defender to protect Charlton’s point. Instead, Callum Harriott entered the fray. A livewire, but a player who will no doubt leave holes in any structural set up.
He made an immediate impact, bamboozling his opponents and delivering crosses that had to be dealt with, but it looked to have been all in vain after QPR’s first attack in four minutes of additional time.
The ball was driven across goal with Ravel Morrison waiting in the middle. He was unmarked, and only had to tap the ball over the line to score. But, to the delight of Charlton fans who had already began to form tears of pain, he somehow contrived to dink the ball up and, out of nowhere, Thuram leapt like a lion pouncing on its pray to keep the ball out. It was celebrated like a goal in the home ends; little did they know what was coming.
Charlton’s next move forward, which would surely be one of their last, came to its conclusion when the ball fell to the feet of Ajdarevic. 25 yards from goal, the Swede unleashed a top corner-bound curling effort that was kept out by the most astonishing of saves from Green. The heart-break in the Covered End was powerful, but, after a brief sign of frustration, Ajdarevic raced over to take the corner.
His delivery looked to have been over hit, and it appeared as if Jackson was struggling to keep the ball in. But the skipper won his header and all of a sudden there was a ripple of the net.
Such was the angle of Jackson’s nod towards goal, it took a moment to register that the Addicks had actually scored. My mini-second delay before leaping up in celebration was more than made up for.
Chaos, pandemonium, the most incredible scenes witness, or taken part in for that matter, at The Valley in years; whatever it was, it was sensational.
I took a moment out of my own celebrations to look back from my first row Upper North seat to watch those behind me enjoying the moment; an image that will stay with me for a very long time.
A loud rendition of “we are staying up” followed in the aftermath of the jubilant scenes, and more followed as the Addicks stood firm for another two minutes to confirm their victory.
Ajdarevic dropped to the floor, anyone who didn’t get a hug with Jackson probably didn’t play for Charlton and Chris Powell’s fist pumps were riddled with emotion. This was Charlton I know and love. This was a Charlton to be proud of.
There’s only one place to start when analysing the performance, and that’s the role Chris Powell had in it.
In the first half, several Addicks around me were frustrated with Charlton’s failure to close down their opponents, but Powell’s structured and disciplined set up worked fantastically. QPR just couldn’t break through, limited to shots from distance and forced into errors time and time again.
When the Rs looked to be getting on top, Powell’s substitutions swung the pendulum back Charlton’s way, and his decision to go for the victory in the latter stages of the game was very brave but rewarded handsomely.
The away side, man for man, were shattered in the final 15 minutes; Powell’s set up had grounded the Rs down; their efforts to breakthrough producing no reward and sapping the life out of them. That Charlton were first to every ball in the closing stages was no surprise.
I’d go as far to say this was Powell’s best win as Charlton boss. He tactically out mastered a man who was supposed to lead England to World Cup glory; he got his team of nobodies to beat a team of superstars. Give the man a new contract.
Powell was helped by some sensational performances from his players. The centre backs were solid, having Wiggins back was huge and Ajdarevic’s and Jackson’s role, a role that he has played so many times before and is so crucial to Chris Powell’s Charlton, in the win were obviously vital.
But three players stood out, two were meant to struggle and another who has his critics.
Cousins ran himself into the ground, more often than not prevented the man he was pressing from making a forward ball and displaying both superb passing and tackling ability.
If his performance was a ten out of ten, the displays from Poyet and Wilson were 20s. If you had no idea of who Poyet was, you would say he’s a 26-year-old experience holding midfielder who belongs in the Premier League on that display. Every ball, whether on the ground or in the air, was his, every bass found a Charlton player and his calmness and composure in tense moments was a breath of fresh air. Sorry Gus, your son is better than you.
Wilson made on mistake all game; failing to control a simple pass in the opening ten minutes. From that point onwards, he was perfect. Like Poyet, every single ball was his, and part of the reason QPR failed to get through was because of his superb tackles time and time again.
It had been coming; the previous few games had had plenty of positives. But for it to come like that was sensational.
With Millwall losing, the Addicks are now just one point from safety with three games in hand. Safety is there for the taking, especially with performances like that.
Does anyone fancy a trip to Wembley too?
What a difference a win makes. Keep feeling proud about this wonderful club.
Like the bike gathering dust in the garage after its owner learned how to drive, The FA Cup has been mistreated, devalued and would have been forgotten about had it now been borrowed for a bit in May.
The Premier League’s big boys would rather rest players in preparation for their pre-season tour of the world and surrounding districts, the TV companies are more attracted to the unromantic Chelsea Vs Stoke City than a tie with any whiff of value and the FA have decided that the final should be played on the same weekend as Premier League games for the previous two seasons.
However, despite being cornered on all sides by those at the top of the English game, the FA Cup is far from dead. In fact, those below the top flight are propping it up and helping to fight back.
Although two fifth round ties are still be completed, five sides from outside the Premier League remain in this year’s FA Cup. At least three will definitely be in the last eight, and at least one side will play at Wembley in a semi-final; an occasion that can’t be underestimated.
FA Cup fever is alive and well in fans of the Championship and League One clubs who remain in this season’s competition; dreams of Wembley pushing league concerns to one side.
Nowhere is the FA Cup more alive than in the city of Sheffield. Both Steel City rivals remain in the competition and could face each other in the sixth round should the blue half beat Charlton Athletic in their rearranged fifth round tie.
After beating two Premier League clubs and a Championship club, SHEFFIELD UNITED are already in the quarter-finals. The FA Cup means a lot to Blades fan JORDAN NOBLE, who has suffered semi-final heartbreak on three occasions.
“My first memory of the FA Cup was playing Sheffield Wednesday in the semi-final at Wembley in 1993,” recalls Noble
“I was only six at the time and didn’t realise the importance of such a game, but still remember it clearly in my head. We lost that game 2-1 in extra time and my dad was crying; that’s when I realised the importance football would play in my life.
“I’ve been lucky enough to experience two semi-finals since then. One in 1998 against Newcastle and the other against Arsenal in 2003, both matches played at Old Trafford and both ending in 1-0 defeats. I’ll never forget Alan Shearer breaking our hearts and David Seamans’ amazing save from Paul Peschisolido.
“I’m dreaming this year could be our year to overturn those results and make a final, it would be a fantastic achievement for a league One team.”
As you might expect, Noble is loving every moment of this year’s run to the quarter-final stage.
“We’ve come through six games to get to this stage of the cup, I think that makes our achievements all the more remarkable and highlights how important a cup run is to teams in our position,” says Noble.
“You only have to look at how both our fans and players have reacted to recent wins to see how important this competition is to us.
“The magic of the cup is that it can throw up the unknown every so often and this year it’s our turn for that little bit of success.”
Little is an understatement. After wins against Colchester United and Cambridge United, 6,000 Blades saw their side dump Aston Villa out of the cup at Villa Park. That was followed by 210 nervy minutes against Fulham, before a Shaun Miller goal in the last minute of extra time at Craven Cottage set up a home tie against Nottingham Forest. Another last minute goal, this time from Chris Porter, against Forest propelled Sheffield United into the last eight.
The reward is that possible Steel City Derby; a tie so typical of the FA Cup. However, Noble is finding it hard to feel anything but anxious about it.
“The possible tie with Wednesday is certainly a mouth-watering prospect to the neutral, however as a Blades fan it does fill me with nerves that our neighbours could be visiting Wembley at our expense.
“To see them claim bragging rights, especially with no league fixtures against them on the horizon to claim revenge would be depressing.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d rather play Charlton due to a loss against Wednesday being too hard to take.”
But, whoever wins the rearranged tie, Noble believes the draw has been kind to them.
“In terms of ties it was the best we could hope for at this stage and gives us a huge chance of making the last four.
“Charlton have obviously suffered due to the January transfer window, losing key players Stephens and Kermorgant, while Wednesday no longer have Connor Wickham and have suffered recent defeats following a good run.”
However, United themselves are struggling themselves in the division below both their possible opponents, and a drop to League Two could be on the cards.
But Noble sees the cup run as beneficial to their survival prospects:
“I’m still optimistic that we will stay up this season, we have games in hand, confidence from a cup run and added quality players in Scougall and Brayford to the ranks.”
Whilst many clubs view the FA Cup as unnecessary distraction, it would appear as if the cup has given Sheffield United an unstoppable amount of confidence; they followed up their incredible win over Nottingham Forest with a league victory at Gillingham that has lifted them out of the relegation zone.
But their confidence matters little to their neighbours, with SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY fan JOE SHEMELD dreaming of Wembley.
“There’s something special about the FA Cup that is a little bit magical,” says Shemeld, another FA Cup admirer.
“When I was a kid I’d dream of playing in an FA Cup Final at Wembley more than anything else. You’re brought up to love it in this country.
“I believe we’re the only Yorkshire team who hasn’t featured at the new Wembley, so it’d be nice to change that.”
But before Wembley, and even the Steel City Derby, comes the rearranged fixture against Charlton; one Shemeld is cautiously optimistic about.
“It’s definitley one of few good chances we could have got at progressing to the next round, but there’s never an easy game in the FA Cup.
“Charlton may have poor league form and lost a few of their very good players but with Sheffield United in the next round and a game closer to Wembley they’ll be right up for it. It’ll be one of those horrible, gritty, scrappy games.
“We have the players in our squad to cause damage, it’s just a case of if they’ll get the chance.”
However, Shemeld wouldn’t want the cup run to go on any further if it meant sacrificing Wednesday’s Championship status.
“I can’t take going down again, I’m tired of relegation, and League One is a tough league to get out of, so I’d take losing to Charlton and staying up any day of the week,” says Shemeld, slapping the cup loves right across the face.
That said, since Stuart Gray has replaced Dave Jones, Wednesday have moved clear of trouble and, whilst they’re not safe yet, have a comfortable barrier between themselves and the bottom three. As a result, Shemeld isn’t seeing this cup run as a distraction.
“I think Gray is a good enough manager to be able to guide us to safety.
“When you’re constantly spending your time in the Championship battling away against relegation, the FA Cup is something there that gives you that extra buzz.”
Almost forgotten in all of this, by the majority of individuals in Sheffield, neutrals and the media, are CHARLTON ATHLETIC. The Addicks are going through uncertain times and supporter DAN WEBSTER views the cup run as the perfect chance to relieve a bit of pressure from around SE7.
“This run Charlton are on has really brought home just how excited you can get about the Cup,” says Dan, a firm believer in the cup’s magic.
“It’s not like the grind of the league campaign where you’re constantly checking the scores of other teams and worrying about things. It’s just 90 minutes of football between two sides, with a stadium of people all dreaming of Wembley.
“The pressure of the league situation won’t disappear overnight, as games still need to be played and won, but the FA Cup offers something that no other competition comes close to.
“Wembley beckons with victory, but in defeat you are not punished by losing ground on rivals.”
Such as Webster’s love of the cup, not even the original tie’s postponement has managed to cure his FA Cup fever.
“It took away a lot of the excitement at the time, but as I have managed to find a way to make the rearranged game, that’s all come flooding back.”
But it would appear as if the FA are intent on finding new ways to devalue the cup, despite fans like Webster treasuring it.
Owing to a UEFA directive, no top flight or domestic cup games are allowed to be played on the same night as Champions League fixtures. This means that Charlton’s rearranged tie with Wednesday will take place on a Monday night; two days after a crucial league game with QPR.
“It just shows you how pathetic bodies like UEFA have become in trying to do what’s best for advertisers and revenue instead of the game of football itself,” says an infuriated Webster.
“No sane person on earth would dream of a rule that stipulates that domestic cup matches cannot take place on the same night as a Champions League game. It should be up to the FA to decide what is best for the teams it governs, not UEFA deciding what would harm advertisement revenue.
“I chose to go and watch a local Conference game instead of staying in for the Manchester City vs Barcelona game – is that allowed? It is sad that football has to be commercialised so much.”
However, Webster’s verbal volley at those who plan to harm his pressure cup competition can’t take away from his dreams of Charlton lifting the trophy. Despite the Addicks sitting 22nd in the Championship and facing the real possibility of a drop to League One, Webster would take relegation if it meant his side became FA Cup winners.
“I wouldn’t wish for relegation, but when compared with the chance of seeing your heroes travel to Wembley, defy the odds and win the FA Cup, it pales into insignificance.
“The FA Cup is a piece of history that will forever be remembered. Would Wigan have rather stayed in the Premier League for one extra season, or have that Cup victory with all the brilliant memories to go with it? The sense of achievement is greater for those smaller clubs who haven’t spent hundreds of millions of pounds assembling a team.
“From that perspective, it would be an even more heroic effort to win the Cup. It offers a chance to create history that generations of Addicks would enjoy, remember, and cherish. “
But Webster, an experienced pessimist, isn’t even considering booking his tickets to Wembley just yet.
“The opportunity of getting to Wembley is huge, especially given that the two teams that lie ahead aren’t sides from a higher division.
“That said, I view Wembley as a distant possibility rather than a certainty. The motivation for Wednesday is huge, given the potential Sheffield derby that awaits in the sixth round, and our away form has been patchy this season.”
If Webster and his fellow Charlton fans, not to mention those from both sides of Sheffield, need a source of belief, they should look no further than fans of WIGAN ATHLETIC. The Latics won the FA Cup against the odds last season, and find themselves in this campaign’s sixth round.
But the first question to supporter SEAN HEWITT, would he hand back the FA Cup, and all the memories, if meant his club hadn’t suffered relegation last season?
“Not even once,” affirms Hewitt.
“Staying up every season was great, and obviously beneficial for the club, but winning the cup was a historical moment which will be remembered forever.
At the end of the day, Wigan were going to get relegated eventually as you can’t finish 14-17th every year without putting yourself in danger of it happening. Going down with the FA Cup win meant we went out with a bang and with lots of positivity.”
But, rather surprisingly, it was only last year’s cup win that made Hewitt fall in love with football’s oldest competition.
“To be honest, up until we got to something like round five last year, the FA Cup meant very little to me,” admits the teenage supporter.
“In my lifetime Wigan had never got past round four, and the draws were usually against mediocre opponents from the other side of the country away from home.
“However, last year, apart from the less than inspiring original third round 1-1 draw vs Bournemouth, it was just so different.
“Since last year my whole perspective on the cup has changed. It’s given me the best moment I’ve experienced as a football fan and has given Wigan a massive bit of history which everyone will always remember.
“It’s fair to say I love it now.”
For a previous doubter of the FA Cup, who supports a club that has enjoyed so many wonderful moments over the past few years, to say the cup victory was the best moment he’s ever experienced in football is quite something. There’s genuine passion when Hewitt explains the moment when Ben Watson’s header went in.
“Nothing, and I mean nothing, can even come close to that feeling when Watson scored.
“It was complete chaos. Literally nobody could believe what was going on! Even my dad who is a Liverpool fan lost it at Wembley when it happened.
“I was literally stood shouting “OH MY GOD” for about half an hour after it happened.”
And what about this season? Surely one cup win is enough and the focus now should be on returning to the Premier League? Not quite.
“Retaining the cup would be insane,” says an enthusiastic Hewitt.
“It would be historic, not just for the club, but for the whole of football. I’d happily spend another season in the championship under Rösler if it meant we could do that!!
However, standing in Wigan’s way in the sixth round is the might of Manchester City. A daunting prospect, but City were the side Wigan beat at Wembley last year to win the cup, and the Latics have already disposed of two Premier League sides (Crystal Palace and Cardiff City) in this campaign.
But even Hewitt is clutching at straws.
“I suppose what happened last year always gives you the feeling that anything Is possible.
“However, the FA Cup Final at Wembley is a totally different situation to the quarter final at the Etihad. I can’t help but think if City do start a full team and score the first goal, that will lead to the flood gates opening and the match finishing 4 or 5-0.
“On the other hand, city have Barcelona 3 days after the cup match so they may rest a few players. With a bit of luck, maybe we could capitalise on that and somehow get the win.”
Whether Wigan outdo Manchester City again or not, it’s safe to that the club have shown there’s still plenty of value in football’s oldest competition; so much so that the Latics are more than willing to take Championship football in return for FA Cup glory.
Another club battling away at the top end of the Championship who remain in the FA Cup are BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION. Lifelong supporter HARRIET FULLER is certainly an advocate of the value of football’s oldest competition
“Some say the Cup has lost its magic, but I personally disagree,” says the teenager who had Brighton’s 1983 FA Cup Final defeat to Manchester replayed to her many times in her youth.
“The FA Cup will always be a staple part of the football season, and ‘FA Cup fever’ is present every year. This year is no exception, and we have an incredible chance to get to Wembley.”
But, like Charlton fan Webster, Fuller is furious with UEFA and the FA ruling stipulating that an FA can’t be played on the same night as a Champions League game.
The ruling means that Brighton will take on Wigan in a crucial league clash between two play-off contenders on the Saturday, before the Seagulls travel to Hull for their FA Cup fifth round replay.
“I do not understand how Hull v Brighton may somehow affect anything to do with the Champions League,” says Fuller.
“Unfortunately due to this decision, the league game (on Saturday) will take priority, and will take away the importance of the replay on Monday. That in itself is a shame for the competition.”
But Fuller, who will be sacrificing her university study to travel north on Monday night, still has hope that the heart-break following Hull’s late equaliser at the Amex can be overturned, and that the cup can provide a showcase for a club that’s on the up.
“This year we have a great opportunity to go far (in the cup), and we can really show everyone that we do mean business, and that we are a top quality side that can be competitive in the Premier League in a few years’ time.”
With Gus Poyet, the manager credited with taking Brighton to the next level after their time spent at the Withdean Stadium in League One, potentially bringing his Sunderland side to the Amex should Brighton beat Hull, the draw has thrown up something of a classic cup tie that makes getting that win over the Tigers even more important.
“The game against Sunderland will have that bit extra in it, and should make for a cracking sixth round tie,” says the Albion fan, who still holds Poyet in high esteem despite his acrimonious departure after being knocked out by Crystal Palace in the play-off semi-final.
But, for Fuller, dreams of Wembley’s arches are far more enticing that joining her club’s rivals in the top flight.
“The FA Cup is so iconic, I would put winning the FA Cup over promotion any day. A day out at Wembley to see your team win the actual FA Cup is just a dream. The Premier League can wait!”
With thanks to:
Jordan Noble: @Jord1986
Joe Shemeld: @Joeswfc_
Dan Webster: @RamblingAddick (http://ramblingfan44.blogspot.co.uk/)
Sean Hewitt: @WafcSean
Harriet Fuller: @HattieLFuller (http://fullersfinalfurlong.wordpress.com/)
There was a buzz before Saturday’s proposed FA Cup fifth round tie against Sheffield Wednesday; a special kind of buzz that only football’s most treasured competition can bring.
On the surface, it’s quite irrational. Who really gets excited by the thought of travelling to a rather miserable city several hundred miles away in the midst of an unrelenting storm to see a team that Charlton have faced seven times since late 2010?
But it’s much, much more than that. Whatever the sceptics might want to tell you, the FA Cup isn’t dead. The first round stories of plumbers and postmen outdoing established league pros still exist, those top flight sides outside of the European picture live for cup competitions and watching your side win at Wembley, I imagine, is a magical moment.
Where 200 might have visited Hillsborough for a league fixture between these two sides, 2,000 (two-thousand!) odd Addicks were expected to make the trip up north, gripped by cup fever – a condition that does exist and one that I have been suffering from all week.
In a season of few highs, plenty of indifference and occasional despair, the cup felt like not only the perfect platform through which to reignite Charlton’s campaign, but an excellent opportunity for Chris Powell’s side to run out at Wembley.
That the game was against Sheffield Wednesday, arguably a winnable tie, only increased the excitement. A win here and we’re 90 minutes away from the arch. A constant battle between premature celebration and painful worry occupied my head for most of the week; a better battle than deciding whether to cry over Yann Kermorgant’s departure, the Wigan defeat or the league table.
If you’d chosen to place your mind in that ditch of despair, a browse of Twitter towards the end of last week would have quickly made you aware of just how massive this game was for Charlton. Often ignored, the eyes of the country’s media were now on SE7.
Piotr Parzyszek and Reza Ghoochannejhad discussed their unfamiliar names (Peter and Reza to me and you) with the London Evening Standard and the Mail respectively, the bastion of all things laddish, Johnnie Jackson, bemoaned the ‘feminine’ nature of this year’s FA Cup ball (just ban ta, promise), whilst, in a rare move towards something resembling seriousness, Roland Duchatalet was profiled in the Guardian. It turns out Fleet Street and friends are in fact aware where SE7 is.
The most important game in Charlton’s recent history? Probably not, but the week long excitement, anticipation and nerves have rarely been felt before.
This was certainly going to be one of the better days of this sluggish campaign; the best if a victory could be secured.
However, today wasn’t the first time since August that Charlton fans have felt a buzz. Today wasn’t the first time that the buzz turned to nothing but torture.
It was predictable, the weather conditions were atrocious and Hillsborough, taking nothing away from its history and tradition, is no modern arena, but when my bleary 8AM eyes picked up something about a pitch inspection, a Yann Kermorgant-has-been-sold-type stomach drop occurred.
Not today. This day couldn’t be taken away from us. Surely our luck wasn’t so out that the most anticipated fixture of the season, even more so than the lovely trip to the calm surroundings of The New Den, could be postponed?
Why did I even doubt it? Of course it would. False hope and crushed excitement has been a trend this season.
Even before the big kick-off, the signings of Marvin Sordell and Simon Church promised goals. The pair haven’t delivered.
The first league fixture saw Yann Kermorgant’s sharp volley draw the Addicks level against Bournemouth; a route back into the game and an excellent way to kick start the season. Bournemouth’s winner ended that hope.
A win against Leicester City and a draw against Watford were followed by three dour defeats. Five games unbeaten between October and November ended with a painful defeat to Leeds United and a tiresome display against QPR.
Arguably the most exciting performance of the season, a 2-0 win over Doncaster Rovers, came before five games without a win. No league win has been picked up since the superb 3-2 victory over Brighton; no point has been secured since Jackson’s last minute goal at Ipswich.
Roland Duchatelet’s takeover promised signings, contracts and stability. Yann Kermorgant, Dale Stephens and Ben Alnwick all left SE7, crippling confidence and hope.
But Chris Powell’s new side, so abstractly put together that Picasso would have been proud, started strongly against Wigan, only to have a win cruelly snatched away from them.
It’s not a criticism of Charlton, of Powell or his players and it’s not an excuse; our luck has been rotten and highs have been sent tumbling by horribly unfortunate events.
Today was going to be different though. The FA Cup was our source of joy; our escapism from the stresses and strains of the league. This buzz wouldn’t be shot down.
A defeat would have been hard to take, but the day would have softened the blow. There would be something to take away from the trip no matter what happened, and it couldn’t be worse than watching Dan Seaborne and Salim Kerkar at Hillsborough last season.
But not being able to make the trip, with the game postponed whilst my journey was in its infancy, and having that anticipated magical FA Cup day taken away from me was horrid. A feeling felt by every Addick on their way up north.
I’ll be doing all I can to make the rearranged tie, but it won’t be the same. There won’t be 2,000 Addicks there, there won’t be the media build up and the excitement will be tainted. Wembley still awaits, but it strangely seems further away than it did on Friday night.
The final nail in the coffin that was concealing me come 5PM today was from that lovely chap who reads the final scores on Sky Sports News.
I’ve missed his soft, well-spoken tones over the past two seasons, with almost every Saturday spent at The Valley or some location your average human couldn’t point to on a map, but today his words were painfully apt.
Sheffield Wednesday Vs Charlton was described as a ‘Weather casualty’. I will be a casualty of this season if it continues to snatch my hope and my excitement away from me.
But today was the end; I can’t hurt any more than I have done today. It’s all up from here; up the league and up, slightly, from SE7 to Wembley.
That’s just more hope that’ll be crushed, isn’t it?
The language used changes each time, but almost every day for the past few weeks we’ve been informed the FA’s process of overturning a ban following an ‘incorrect’ dismissal, and issuing a suspension for incidents not picked up by the on-field officials, is flawed.
With the fire already warm from West Ham’s failed crusade to get Andy Carroll’s ban overturned following his red card for striking Swansea’s Chico Flores, the FA’s decision to ban Cardiff City’s Craig Bellamy for his petulant punch on Jonathan de Guzman in the South Wales Derby whilst failing to ban Manchester City’s Yaya Toure for kicking out at Norwich’s Ricky van Wolfswinkel has left many at boiling point.
Unfortunately, I had the displeasure of tuning into Sky Sports News last night just as the topic of debate between the panel of ex-pro pundits turned to the aforementioned disciplinary and appeal system.
Cheered on by his colleagues, Phil Thompson delivered an illogical rant about who should be involved in deciding whether or not retrospective action should be dished out.
That three former referees, who watch a tape on their own and decide objectively what fate the player would have received had they been officiating at the time, are involved was outrageous for ‘Tommo’.
In Thompson’s eyes, former managers and players should be involved in the appeal and retrospective punishment system. Former Premier League referees shouldn’t be anywhere near it.
Not only did those in the studio seem to agree with the former Liverpool defender’s wild concept, but I imagine it’s a view held by several others. However many that several are, it’s too many.
Managers, players and, to some extent, fans do have a clear understanding of most of the laws of the game; it’s not as if football’s manual is full of complex and quirky regulations.
But, despite working in football for their entire lives, managers and players won’t be able to apply the laws as successfully, knowledgably and objectively as qualified and experienced officials.
The best officials can take into account the atmosphere and context of a game, something that was mocked on Match of the Day 2 by Mark Lawrenson several months ago, to oversee an exciting spectacle whilst still sticking to the letter of the law. The most important part of a referee’s armoury is the common sense that allows them to decide when and how a law should be enforced.
Even those who have retired will have that judgement, and will appreciate that certain games, and ever certain players, will require a stricter brand of officiating. It’s no wonder that an incident, which appeared fuelled by anger, occurring in a South Wales Derby has been retrospectively punished, whilst a rather needless kick in a less heated game has gone unpunished.
When considering the Carroll incident, his strike on Cicho doesn’t look pretty. For me, as a rather dubiously qualified referee, I can see why a red card has been given and why it hasn’t been rescinded. There’s nothing to conclusively say it should be overturned; Carroll clearly strikes Cicho in an aggressive manner.
Many have spent too much time looking at the Swansea defender’s reaction, and not enough at Carroll’s actions. Had Cicho reacted in a rational way, I think more would have been of the belief that the dismissal, and subsequent ban, was and is fair.
As a partisan fan or pundit, it’s hard to disconnect yourself from Cicho’s actions, whilst any excuse to lambast officiating is taken up with glee. Referees are rodents, providing no good and plenty of bad.
If players and managers had been involved in those decision making processes, the outcomes would have been different. Toure and Bellamy would have both been banned, in the name of this bizarre concept of consistency which suggests every game and every incident should be officiated in the same manner, whilst Carroll’s red would have been overturned with the fascination on Cicho’s actions clouding judgments.
There’s also clearly a conflict of interests. A former player may well be forced to decide the fate of a former team mate, a friend or a rival. A ‘former’ manager may have ties to several clubs and players, swaying his decision one way or another.
A former, or current, official, who not only has that ability to apply the laws effectively, will view each incident with the objectivity their profession demands.
By no means am I suggesting the appeal process is perfect, and I’m certainly not suggesting referees have been faultless this season.
For starters, that a decision made by Howard Webb wasn’t overturned in a World Cup year is of no surprise. Politics of that nature are rife in the FA’s disciplinary procedures, the nature of which is explained in Mark Halsey’s excellent autobiography, ‘Added Time’. Some referees are given extra support, others are not.
However, I do think that referees, whether former or current, should have power, presence and responsibility in every stage of officiating and discipline. They are the objective controllers of our game. Giving more power to managers and players, whether former or current, would cause chaos.
Whether or not you choose to believe this is a tough time to support Charlton Athletic, most will agree there’s a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the Addicks at the moment.
What are Roland Duchatelet’s true intentions? Will Chris Powell be managing the club next year, next month or even next week? Will The Valley be hosting Championship football next season?
But, even in the lowest ebbs of the Charlton’s recent history, one thing has always been certain. The club’s academy will always produce high quality talent.
The enthusiasm with which Duchatelet recently spoke of the academy, siting it as a major factor in his decision to purchase the club, and the U18s’ recent success in the FA Youth Cup, with a number of players receiving international call-ups as a result, goes to show it’s currently the healthiest sector of the club.
In fact, such is the quantity and diversity of the talent that has come through Charlton’s academy, a full matchday squad of 18 past graduates and products can be named.
The academy XI lines-up in a 4-5-1 formation, whilst the bench contains adequate replacements in almost every position.
Less than ten years ago, contests between Charlton Athletic and Birmingham City were part of the ingredients to any Premier League campaign. A traditional mid-table game, the Stoke City Vs Aston Villa of 2014, between two clubs who had stability in both league position and ownership.
If anything, Charlton were the club viewed as the better of the two; often beating the Blues, pressing for Europe in a season in which Birmingham were relegated and seen as the model club for those in the lower tiers to look up to.
Fast forward to today’s visit of Birmingham to The Valley, and two clubs with ownership concerns were facing each other in something of a six-pointer in England’s second tier.
Roland Duchatelet’s takeover of the Addicks hasn’t quite had the impact many had expected; Chris Powell remains without a new contract, two of Charlton’s star men have been sold and a number of dubious signings have been made. Last weekend’s heart-breaking defeat to Wigan did little to cool the angst.
The Blues will soon be facing a new dawn of their own, with owner Carson Yeoung resigning in the week, something that the City fans had been craving for quite some time.
And both sides went into the game craving points; the Addicks languishing in the bottom three and Birmingham not too far above.
A must not lose for Birmingham; a must win, if only to bring calm around SE7, for Charlton.
The hosts did more than enough to secure a valuable victory, looking composed in possession, passing the ball patiently and opening up the visitors on several occasions. You could almost go as far to say the Addicks, for much of the game, were dominant.
But that dominance wasn’t turned into goals; chances were wasted and confidence in front of goal, and the rest of the pitch, was fading with each missed opportunity.
The away side, camped in their own half more often than not, didn’t look as comfortable on the ball as the Addicks, nor did they create anywhere near as many openings. But they didn’t need to.
In this contest to reignite a former top flight club’s campaign in The Championship, a Premier League loanee, Federico Macheda, had two chances and could do little but score from both of them. A 2-0 win that rounds off a promising week for the Blues as they look to recover from the mess left by Yeoung.
Another undeserved and hard to take defeat for Powell’s side; a defeat that sums up Charlton’s season and the situation they find themselves. A world away from top flight stability.
There was some degree of optimism before kick-off as Powell made just two changes to the side that fought and performed so valiantly at the DW Stadium.
Lawrie Wilson, in for Loic Nego, and Cedric Evina, replacing the injured Rhoys Wiggins, both came into the side, whilst Yohann Thuram, Astrit Ajdaveric, Diego Poyet and Reza all made their home debuts.
Despite the loss of Dale Stephens and Yann Kermorgant, not to mention Ben Alnwick, there’s always a sense of excitement in seeing new players with your own eyes for the first time, which many inside The Valley were doing. Those who had already seen the new boys knew there was plenty to be positive about. This was their chance to convince every Addick that there was no reason to mourn the departing players.
And the home side started well enough. Ajdaveric immediately looked classy playing wide left, Poyet continued from where he left off last week by looking composed in the holding role, whilst Reza was making a nuisance of himself up top.
An early break into Birmingham’s box produced half-hearted appeals for a penalty as Marvin Sordell went down with the ball at his feet, but there was nothing in it for referee Adcock.
The Covered End was again up in arms minutes later as Reza chased a long ball and found himself blocked off by Will Packwood. Adcock was quicker to signal no penalty would be awarded then Reza was to plead.
Despite the ball spending much of its time in the away side’s half in the opening stages, it was the Blues who had the game’s first effort on goal. An Emyr Huws corner was met at the near post by Lee Novak, but the forward’s flick could only find the side netting.
The Addicks immediately went down the other end and created their first real opening of the afternoon; an opening that more should have been made from.
A long ball was brought down by Sordell into the path of Ajdaveric, who had a clear run on goal. But the Swede opted to poke the ball goal wards first time, sending it sailing over the bar. It was promising play nonetheless, and The Valley faithful, who had previously been very subdued, sounded their appreciation.
Their support was almost rewarded in Charlton’s next attack, as Ajdarevic was presented with an even better chance to open the scoring.
A Wilson free-kick was met by Richard Wood at the back post, in a fashion Kermorgant would have been proud of, and sent across goal into the direction of the Standard Liege loanee. Unmarked, Ajdarevic had a free header, but he could only tamely direct the ball straight at former Addick Darren Randolph.
But, despite the early Charlton pressure, frustration and fear was already growing. The Valley already three parts silent; you would have thought the Addicks were behind.
Chances were exchanged, with Ajdaveric’s long range effort comfortable held by Randolph and Macheda meeting a Chris Burke cross but sending the ball wide of goal, in the eerie and somewhat depressingly quiet Valley, but little was there to suggest Charlton were about to fall behind. They looked comfortable and patient in possession, just lacking an end product to put themselves ahead.
However, that has been a persistent problem in Charlton’s season; matching, even bettering, teams but not putting them to the sword.
And when the excellent Huws delivered a glorious out-swinging free-kick into the box with 22 minutes played, there was a sense of déjà vu. As good a delivery as it was, Macheda was allowed to get away from his marker and the faintest of touches off of his head was enough to direct the ball out of Thuram’s reach. Charlton didn’t deserve to be behind, but missed chances and a defensive mishap had combined, once again, for them to be so.
In a carbon copy of the moments after falling behind to Middlesbrough last month, the goal kicked the stuffing out of the Addicks and they momentarily fell flat. Burke was played through on goal just moments after his side had scored, and only an excellent save from Thruam, racing off his line to deny the Scot, prevented Birmingham from doubling their lead.
Sordell’s volley hit so horribly wide that you hoped it had taken a huge deflection was the only source of hope for Charlton fans in a ten minute period of Blues domination.
Despite a characteristic nervy punch from Thuram, several Birmingham efforts blocked and the away side surging forward down either flank, the Addicks came out the other side of the spell with still just a one goal deficit. That deficit should have been wiped out in the ensuing 15 minutes before half-time.
The first of several Charlton chances in the final third of the first period was the best of the lot. Reza held the ball up superbly, showing great strength, and laid the ball back to influential Ajdaveric. He picked out the run of Jordan Cousins perfectly, and the youngster was through on goal with only Randolph to beat.
But Cousins’ effort was tame, blocked away by his fellow Charlton academy graduate, and no player in a red shirt responded quickly enough to the loose ball. It did enough to lift the bitter tension in the Covered End, but it should have sent the home fans into celebration.
With guilt edge chances missed, it would have been ironic if an incredible strike had pulled the Addicks level. Ajdarevic’s sensational overhead kick from just inside the area forced Randolph into a smart stop low down. Had the effort been just an inch or two away from the Irishman, the scores would have been level.
The momentum was firmly with Charlton but, with half-time just over five minutes away, the home side needed to capitalise on their dominance before the break. But Randolph, keen to show his former employers what they were missing, had other ideas.
A goal mouth scramble following a corner eventually saw the ball fall to Johnnie Jackson, and his volley looked destined for the back of the net. And it would have been, had it not been for Randolph’s superb reaction stop that deflected the ball away from goal.
And, after Jackson’s free-kick couldn’t breach the wall and Sordell’s effort was blocked, there was one final first half chance for Charlton to draw level.
Cousins was again picked out with acres of space to himself on the right, and his ball across goal was threatening, so threatening that Birmingham couldn’t deal with it at all. All it needed was the faintest of touches from Reza and the Addicks would have equalised. The ball narrowly evaded his dive as it flashed across the face of goal. A faint touch had put Charlton behind; a lack of one had stopped them from getting the parity they so clearly deserved.
A few undeserved boos met the half-time whistle, but many were rational enough to realise Charlton had performed well and showed appreciation for their efforts. However, Powell’s side needed to be more potent in the second half if they were to get back into the game.
The second 45 started as the first ended, with Charlton well on top, but the Addicks still couldn’t turn their possession, and chances, into goals. Another mirror had been smashed in Charlton’s dressing room, and no one had bothered to move the ladder in front of the dressing room door.
A superb turn by Reza opened up a path for him towards goal, but the forward’s effort was blocked by a Birmingham defender. Even so, the ball looked to be looping over Randolph in the visitors’ goal, but the stopper got back and tipped the ball over the bar.
A Charlton free-kick was then cleared and sent back in twice, with the ball finally falling to the feet of Michael Morrison. Arguably not the man you want in those situations, but his decision to shoot was mystifying with better options all around. Adjaveric cut a frustrated figure as the ball flew well off target and Morrison held his hand up in apology.
With chances being wasted, there was always a danger that Birmingham would cruelly grab a second and put the game beyond doubt. In a rare move forward, Tom Adeyemi flashed a shot just wide of goal to remind the Addicks what they were capable of.
But Charlton kept carving out chances to draw level, and excellent chances at that.
Reza beat Randolph to Wilson’s through ball and knocked it past the ‘keeper, but he was too wide to draw the Addicks level. Caught in two minds as to shoot or cross, the Iranian trickled a ball across goal that was easily cleared.
Randolph had a more affirmative say in Charlton’s next attack, as he saved well from a long range Sordell effort that was hit with venom; the strike of a man who was growing frustrated with heckling from the crowd and his own level of performance.
Bu the moans and groans, not just towards Sordell, in the stands had picked up once again. They grew louder as the struggling Evina hashed a clearance and Burke capitalised, picking up the loose ball and driving towards goal. Thuram, once again, was on hand to race off his line and save well.
After a beautiful piece of Jackson trickery, a free-kick from Ajdarevic was hit well, but Randolph saved well and got down to collect his parry; the frustration growing and grew further when Huws only received a yellow for a high kick on Poyet.
Powell threw on Simon Church, with cheers unfairly greeting the decision to withdraw Sordell, and Danny Green for Jackson in attempt to add some width and find that much needed equaliser with less than 20 minutes to play.
A long ball just evaded the stretching Church before Reza broke into the box and, once again, hit the deck. There could be few complaints as referee Adcock pulled him up for diving and produced a yellow card. However, Paul Caddis’ intervention, probably informing Reza that we don’t do things like that over here, wasn’t needed.
Football purists will argue, after Reza’s act of deception, what happened in Birmingham’s next attack was just deserts. However, few could argue the Addicks really deserved to be two goals done.
Charlton had committed too many men forward and when Green lost the ball in midfield, Adeyemi’s run on goal couldn’t be stopped. He squared the ball to Macheda who had the easiest of tasks to tap home for his and Birmingham’s second. The away side had taken their chances; Charlton had not.
The remaining ten minutes were little more than a procession played out in front of a silent Valley, but the Addicks should have pulled one back immediately. A corner caused chaos in Birmingham’s box, with Wood’s header saved before a goal mouth scramble couldn’t poke the ball over the line. If the Addicks couldn’t score from that opening, they were never going to.
Not even the introduction of highly rated Piotr Parzyszek (Polish Pete to me and you) could make a difference.
Green’s pathetic free-kick and Reza’s hashed shot that flew over the bar were the final acts in a painful afternoon at The Valley; two efforts that summed up how those trying to hold back the tears in the home ends felt.
It hurt. It hurt as much if not more that last week’s defeat to Wigan. It hurt so much because the Addicks had played so well and got no reward for their efforts. On the other hand, Birmingham had done a job; an effective job that wasn’t particularly eye catching but enough to beat this beleaguered Charlton side.
I found myself slumped into my seat as full-time approach, questioning what to believe in. If a performance of domination like that doesn’t get Charlton at least a point, let alone the victory they deserved, how can I expect to see another win this season? What does Chris Powell’s side have to do to pick up the points they deserve?
The obvious answer is, of course, to take the chances they create. Had one of the excellent openings towards the end of the first half been taken, a Charlton victory was surely the only outcome. But a side already low on confidence had it drained further with each opening that failed to produce a goal.
It feels hard to preach positives from another disappointing defeat, and I know many won’t wish to hear them, but there were certainly a lot of promising displays.
Adjaveric was superb, and arguably the best player on the pitch, with Poyet not far behind. Many had been crying out for passing football, and those two were at the centre of an excellent display of patient and composed possession football. Wilson, Jackson and Cousins were also central to that, whilst Reza, if I ignore the pathetic dives, was a real handful in attack.
However, the performances of several players simply weren’t good enough. Sordell, after a hardworking display last weekend, struggled for much of him time on the pitch, whilst Evina looked totally out of his depth. It was blindingly obvious how weak we were on the left, and the sooner Wiggins returns, the better.
But the most disappointing event of the afternoon wasn’t conceding either goal, it wasn’t Evina’s attempts to deal with Burke or come forward, it was the reports of racist abuse that was aimed at a player from a Charlton fan at full-time.
We used to be a club that many looked up to. Now we find ourselves criticised for our transfer policy, languishing in the bottom three of the second tier and having supporters who deem it fit to offer racist abuse.
We have one last thing that many look up to us for; Chris Powell. A man who acts with dignity and, despite the position the Addicks find themselves in, continues to do a good job in tough circumstances. How on earth has he got a makeshift side performing so well? The results will surely come.
Keep the faith, even if it does seem hard.