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.