A treasured Frenchman received applause and cheers throughout the night. He even had a hero’s welcome as he entered from the bench onto The Valley turf he used to call his own. As he left the pitch after full-time, his former teammates hang back to allow him to lead them off, despite wearing the colours of his new club.
It was always going to take a lot to push Yann Kermorgant’s return to SE7 off the top of the agenda; a near impossibility that he would be the second most important man on the night born across the channel.
But, despite the fanfare and genuine outpouring of emotion that is often hard for football fans to give to an enemy, those emotions were felt doubly towards a fellow Frenchman who spent the best part of the second half marking the Charlton Atheltic legend.
The dual had been a competitive one, but Kermorgant could only look on and watch as Dorian Dervite rose the highest to nod home with power and style that would have pleased the number 18 had it left his head. He might have appreciated the effort more, had it not come in the 90th minute and condemned his new side to defeat.
A smile appeared on Dervite’s face the moment he made contact with Johnnie Jackson’s inviting corner; something that had been missing from all Addicks in the past ten days. As he wheeled away, Jackson, joined by Simon Church, celebrated in front of the Covered End with passion and vigour Charlton’s most dedicated fans could only dream of.
For some, this was sheer unconditional joy. For others, it was a moment of relief like no other. For all, it was a moment to reconnect with a club that had left its fans disenchanted and hurt.
A goal that may well go down in the annals of Charlton history much in the same way Kermorgant or Chris Powell, a man who has left such a mark on his players that Jackson and Ben Hamer recreated his tunnel jump, will. A goal that, if only for the next few days, will bring a divided fan base together in celebration. A goal that lifts the Addicks out of the bottom three and makes safety look a probability rather than a possibility.
Jubilant scenes seemed a world away in the first 45 minutes, as Jose Riga’s side were error prone, struggling to get forward and unable to answer a style of passing football that has been so successful for Eddie Howe’s men.
Jordan Cousins, replacing the injured Astrit Ajdaveric in one of three changes made by Charlton’s new coach following the scoreless draw with Millwall, gave the ball away in midfield and allowed Marc Pugh to cruise forward unchallenged.
But Pugh, a winger who was once linked with a move to Chris Powell’s Charlton, blasted well over Hamer’s goal from range with less than 30 seconds played.
The other two men brought into Riga’s starting XI, Church and, for what records show was his 422nd chance to impress, Danny Green, didn’t see a great deal of the ball in the opening stages as the Cherries held possession well and looked to be a threat in the final third.
And Hamer’s hands were the first ‘keeper’s to be stung as a cleared corner fell to former Brighton defender Steve Cook. An unlikely man to unleash such a powerfully struck volley, but Charlton’s number one prevented a wonder goal, saving well and clutching it safely at the second attempt.
The pressure failed to relent as Rhoys Wiggins, booed to a man by the respectable number of Bournemouth fans in the Jimmy Seed, did well to block off the pacey Ryan Fraser, but conceded a corner in the process. The following set-piece was smartly cut back to Lewis Grabban, but the south coast side’s top scorer horribly skewed his effort off-target. A let off for the home side, who had left two men unmarked on the edge of the box.
With ten minutes yet to appear on The Valley’s big screen, a fourth shot was racked up by the visitors as Harry Arter, one of many centre midfielders churned out by Charlton’s academy in recent years, called Hamer into action from range, but the stopper once again got the ball under his control at the second attempt.
Given the start, you couldn’t really blame them, but the Covered End Choir were a little disgruntled. The electric atmosphere, born out of the raw emotions of the time, that accompanied the excellent start to last Tuesday’s draw with Huddersfield was nowhere to be seen.
In its place were half hearted attempts at chants that weren’t universally sung and a consistent tut and moan with every mistake. A spark needed to be shown if another low turnout at The Valley was to be inspired.
The Addicks tried to get forward thereafter, but Lee Camp rarely had to position himself to deal with a potential threat, let alone actually get a feel for the ball. Long balls were all too often won by a Bournemouth head or sailed beyond anyone’s control, there was plenty of huff from Jackson and his midfield companions but their passes created little and both Green and Callum Harriott were struggling desperately on either flank.
Those groans grew louder as Charlton flop Simon Francis outmuscled Wiggins to win yet another corner for the visitors. That came to nothing, as did the move that saw Grabban round Hamer, only for the ball to run out of play to the backdrop of a collective sigh of relief.
And soon, in another moment or rest bite, the hosts had a corner of their own. Green’s delivery was cleared, but Poyet picked out the winger coming in from the left and his shot was well saved by Camp.
Poyet, impressing as ever despite the frustratingly poor performance, was then forced to mop up at the back as Harriott’s luckless night continued, losing possession to Francis and watching on as the Cherries countered. With Wiggins and Poyet dealing with the threat and Charlton looking to get forward again, Harriott looked reluctant to.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Obika, who had re-joined the club on loan on Monday, was warming up on the touchline, alongside another player making a return to The Valley. Kermorgant received the applause he deserved as he jogged down past the West Stand. Stretches and jogs seemed of secondary importance to the Frenchman, as he shared a quick word with Obika, had a rather large chat with Bradley Pritchard and spoke briefly to Richard Wood before returning to the bench.
Back on the pitch, the Addicks had improved somewhat as first-half entered its final ten minutes, and excellent kick long from Hamer sent Church into space, with the Welshman winning a corner for the home side. Jackson’s delivery was headed not far off target by Dervite; it wouldn’t be the last time that pair would combine.
And with six minutes of the opening 45 remaining, the optimist might say Charlton came closest to taking the lead. Green’s characteristically mishit cross almost indivertibly found its way past Camp, with the ‘keeper looking a little uncomfortable as the ball rebounded back off the post and behind.
In truth, it was never going in, but at least the Addicks had a little bit more about them in the closing stages. That was helped as Harriott, struggling to make an impression and apparently injured, was replaced by Obika and Riga’s men reshuffled into a 4-4-2 formation for the final few minutes of the half.
Charlton’s official Twitter feed deemed it Obika time; homage to his knack of scoring late goals. The graphic and phrase appears to have upset that sort who expect nothing but masculine expression from club Twitter feeds, but those inside The Valley cared little as the Tottenham loanee made an immediate impression.
The forward made himself a threat in the air, becoming the first Charlton striker to win a header since 2013, held up the ball well and linked up nicely with Jackson down the left. He even tested Camp with a decent effort as the half came to a close, but, with stoppage time still a minute away, the laws of football stipulated he wasn’t allowed to score.
The final ten minutes had done a lot to prevent another half-time booathon at The Valley, and the players received a fair round of applause as they left the pitch. It was hard to suggest a goal was coming, but you couldn’t help but feel a further ten minutes would have been beneficial to a Charlton side that had grown into the game.
Either way, the Addicks were slightly fortunate to go in at the break on level terms, and needed to continue their improvement from the off in the second period.
Riga reshuffled his side again, setting them up in one of those 4-5-1s that becomes a 4-3-3 when going forward with Obika heading out wide, but the opening exchanges of the second half were a little dull.
In fact, a Valley crowd that had responded to the improvement in the first half fell somewhat silent again; frustration and nerves were in attendance, not to mention those still finding it difficult to motivate themselves to changes in SE7.
But the quiet start was probably what Charlton wanted; Bournemouth were no longer in control and the Addicks were able to maintain possession with greater ease than in the first-half. With the youngster increasingly dominant in the middle, this was much to do with the excellent work of Poyet, who, in addition to some superb challenges, interceptions and passes, had the half’s first shot, firing just over from the edge of the box.
Such was the pressure, a possessional threat if not an attacking one, the Cherries now found themselves under, Howe saw it fit to make a change. With Bournemouth’s technical area a fair distance away from my Upper North seat, I wanted to believe that my eyes were teasing me. With the scores still level, Kermorgant entering the fray was part of the script that concluded with a late winning goal from the Frenchman. Alas, it was Charlton’s former talisman waiting to come on.
For the first time, with some viewing competition above all, Kermorgant received a smattering of boos, but they were drowned out by a four-stand wide applause. It was odd to see such a heroic figure of mine in a shirt that wasn’t Charlton’s, but there was certainly something of a buzz out of seeing him back playing at The Valley.
I kept those thoughts to myself as the game continued, with Bournemouth coming close through Pugh once more. His curling effort from a wide position had Hamer scrambling, but the ball narrowly sailed over the bar, dipping just too late to make the net ripple.
You hoped this would be an inferior version of Kermorgant, but it wasn’t. He immediately got to work, winning headers in both halves and seemingly popping up everywhere. His side, however, remained a little off the pace.
With 25 minutes to play, Green, who had a torrid second half, was replaced by Marvin Sordell, and the Addicks were now visibly set-up in a 4-3-3 formation. A gamble, but neither side were looking particularly threatening, and a change was needed if Charlton were to score for the first time in five games.
But worry filled The Valley that they might concede for the first time under Riga as Kermorgant stood over a free-kick in a promising position for the visitors. Thankfully, he peeled away and Ian Harte’s off-target effort left a lot to be desired.
The supporters of the South East London side who have suffered so much recently when then made to panic some more as South African international Tokelo Rantie replaced the off colour Grabban. He immediately tested Hamer, after the ‘keeper had been left stranded after leaving his line to collect a ball Fraser beat him too, but he recovered well to save.
Two Charlton academy graduates, in the shape of Arter and Cousins, exchanged wild long range efforts, but there was no sense a goal was on the horizon as the game entered its final 15 minutes.
But a defence splitting pass from Cousins sent Church in with ten minutes to play, and it seemed like for all the world the Addicks would have the lead. That hush of anticipation that fills a stadium before a goal was there; Church’s finish was not. In fairness, Camp did well to save the effort, but when Jackson’s follow up was blocked away, a sickening feeling that suggested Bournemouth would nick this couldn’t be prevented.
However, where previous misses have crushed Charlton’s confidence in previous games this season, the Addicks remained on the front foot. The impressive Sordell, looking a natural on the right flank, teed up Poyet, whose effort was palmed away unconvincingly by Camp, and a throw not long after saw excellent work from Jackson wasted by a wild finish; you hopped against hope there would be just one more chance to score in the dying moments.
The fourth official held up four minutes of Obika time, and the forward, who had an indifferent half, won a free-kick on the edge of the area 30 seconds into it. Jackson stood over it, Church ran over the ball, Cousins slipped down below, but eventually the skipper was able to get his shot away. It looked a good one, and only Camp’s finger tips prevented Charlton from taking the lead.
But Bournemouth still had the corner to deal with. Jackson raced over to take it; his resulting delivery a beautiful inswinging cross that was crying out for someone to make a connection. Dervite, beating his best friend Kermorgant to the ball, dully obliged, sending The Valley into shocked celebrations.
This wasn’t the roar and sheer euphoria of Jackson’s last minute header against QPR; there was a greater sense of relief about this one. The decibels levels were certainly lower, but it mattered little. However it was expressed, every Addick knew how important this goal was to their club.
It wasn’t quite full-time yet, however, and a Bournemouth corner followed. Harte’s delivery was met by Kermorgant, but this Frenchman could only head straight at the opposition ‘keeper.
Seconds were left, and the roar, this time a deafening one, came with the full-whistle. This wasn’t a beautiful, free-flowing, tika-taka style victory, and the Addicks might have rode their luck a little at times, but try telling that to the jubilant supporters and their heroes down below.
The players, each one of them Powell’s, channelled that spirit he instilled in them; the determination and never give up attitude that has won Charlton countless points in recent years.
But, as had been occurring for a great deal of the second half, Jose Riga’s name was sung. I didn’t join in, and nor shall I for the foreseeable future owing to what he represents, but that doesn’t stop me giving him credit for his role in the victory.
Whether forced or not, Obika’s introduction made a very positive impact on the game. He was far from perfect, with the occasional miss-placed pass and the odd bit of terrible control, but his willingness to get forward and his work with Wiggins down the left made a real difference.
It was also the case that throwing Sordell on helped to give the Addicks a real chance of snatching all three points against a Bournemouth side who fell away after a dominant first-half performance. I’m all for seeing Sordell on the wing again, and having two attack-minded wingers was crucial as Charlton pressed forward in the closing stages.
There were also outstanding performances from Dervite, who was first to almost every ball and battled well with Kermorgant, Poyet, who too managed to outmuscle the Frenchman and put in an unreal performance for someone so young, once again, and Jackson, who led his side with pride once more. In fact, the goal probably meant more to the skipper than anyone else inside The Valley.
But, as I may have hinted at recently, there are moments that football gives you that are just as special as victory. They may come as a result of it, like Jackson’s celebrations and the tunnel jump shared with Hamer, but the Charlton players’ decision to hang back and allow Kermorgant to leave the field alone was classy. It was heart-warming to see a hero of mine once more, and the emotional two-way reception was something that’ll stick long in the memory.
But, tonight, the only Frenchman in most Charlton fans’ minds is Dorian Dervite.
We are staying up, say we are staying up.