Back in August, that wonderful time before we were all crippled with the stress of this season, there was genuine excitement when a multi-million pound forward arrived at The Valley on loan from Bolton Wanderers. Marvin Sordell; the 20-goal-a-season striker Charlton were missing.
But it’s not quite worked out that way. In fact, seeing Sordell’s name in the starting XI sparks a considerable stream of Twitter moans and shared looks of disgust from those making their way to ground. Like most others, with faith long since lost in his goal scoring abilities, I’m guilty of those reactions.
So when Sordell, along with the out of form Callum Harriott, was picked to start against Sheffield Wednesday, with Reza Ghoochannejhad and Astrit Ajdarevic then men to miss out, there was utter bemusement. If fan reactions counted for anything, the Addicks would be starting the game several goals down.
Whilst fan reactions mean little, defensive errors count for a lot. In this Easter Bank Holiday fixture, Charlton’s shell was cracked open and Wednesday were gifted a two goal lead in the opening eight minutes. Worry turned to resignation; there was little hope of the Addicks getting back into this, especially with the players responsible for driving Charlton forward, and relegation to League One drew ever closer.
But, with Charlton seemingly crucified, a lifeline came their way after Wednesday sacrificed possession. Two men who many wished were banished combined, with a superb Harriott ball sending Sordell clear to score. Suddenly, the pair had confidence.
Nonetheless, the visitors could have gone in at half-time any number of goals behind; at least two clear cut chances fell the way of the Owls before the break.
But one fell the way of Charlton, and that’s all they needed to draw level. Again Wednesday gave the ball away, again Harriott found Sordell and again the former Olympian converted. Charlton, and Sordell, were taking their chances; another Easter resurrection.
And with the hosts unable to find the level of their first half performance in the second, a miracle occurred. The Owls cut out the middle man, with a misplaced pass sending Sordell through on goal, and the forward completed his hat-trick with a finish as classy as the first two.
There was character, there was fight, and there was quality; every player in red was outstanding in the second half and there was only one winner from the moment Sordell’s third bounced in off the post. Few could argue the Addicks didn’t deserve their crucial win come full-time.
Finally, Sordell had lived up to that pre-season excitement at the time when his touch of quality was needed the most. Never had being proved wrong felt so good; never had Charlton’s character and fight been so crucial.
But, as the players took to the famous Hillsborough turf before kick-off, a win seemed the world away. Jose Riga’s side, although lacking that touch of quality in the final third, had performed well enough in Friday’s goalless draw with Bolton; vastly improved upon Tuesday’s defeat to Barnsley.
So Riga’s decision to field an XI without Ghoochannejhad and Ajdarevic, the players at the heart of Charlton’s best attacking moves three days previously, there was rational concern. In fact, the XI wasn’t too dissimilar to the one that failed to impress against the Tykes, with Sordell and Harriott in the side, whilst many were left frustrated as Jordan Cousins started out of position on the right hand side of midfield despite Lawrie Wilson being available to play in his natural position.
Wilson’s absence at least meant there was a return for Chris Solly, and it was of paramount importance Charlton’s back four stood firm against a Wednesday side that had scored freely of late, especially with the Addicks seemingly lacking any real attacking threat of their own.
And the 5’3 full-back did his job early on, getting to the ball ahead of Chris Maguire to clear, but his teammates didn’t.
Solly’s clearance was hoofed back forward by Miguel Llera (some things never change), and Maguire’s offside position left Michael Morrison complacent. Charlton’s vice-captain let the ball bounce, allowing Atdhe Nuhiu to steal in behind, outmuscling Morrison and unleashing a vicious volley past Ben Hamer, who was predictably furious.
That fury was replicated in the away end, with the previously supportive Addicks forced into anger and frustration just three minutes in. The list of goals gifted to the opposition by truly shambolic defending had another addition.
The small, but hearty, Charlton following picked themselves up, encouraging if not demanding an immediate response after the embarrassment of conceding such a goal, but it failed to materialise. In fact, more abysmal defending allowed Wednesday to help themselves to another five minutes later.
The mightily impressive Nuhiu again outmuscled Morrison, this time with the ball at his feet, and the Austrian found himself inside the box with several players awaiting his cut back. He opted to tee up Maguire, but the Scot slipped as the ball came his way, surely ending his chance to double Wednesday’s lead.
But, with Solly not tight enough to his man, Maguire was allowed to go about his business at his own pace. Lifting himself up, the winger-cum-forward took a touch before curling an effort past a faultless Hamer. As the net of the goal he did so on rippled for a second time, memories of Chris Powell swinging on the crossbar after Charlton’s last visit to Hillsborough couldn’t have been more distant.
There was resignation and anger in the away end above that goal, and not much belief that they would see the ball put in the net at the other end before half-time. This was shaping up to be an afternoon full of hurt in a poisonous atmosphere which would, ultimately, near enough condemn the Addicks to League One.
So, with Charlton’s supporters turning, the goal that came their side’s way with ten minutes played was triply important. First, it got the voices of the Addicks going again, second, it gave Charlton hope of avoiding defeat, and third, the manner of the goal was a huge confidence boost.
A misplaced pass fell to Harriott, and his ball into the path of Sordell was sublime. Nonetheless, the forward still had a lot to do, showing superb strength to hold off Owls defender Onyewu and finishing with the style of a man who once commanded a large fee for his services. Through their efforts, and a set of supporters now keen to show their appreciation, Harriott and Sordell had the belief in their own ability to come out of their shells.
Charlton’s defence, however, hadn’t quite worked out their forwards were attempting to change the game. They continued to be carved open, with Michail Antonio and Maguire’s pace on the break too much for the Addicks. One break from the Maguire’s left saw Nuihu scuff an effort wide; another from Antonio’s right couldn’t be turned in by Kieran Lee. These were guilt edge chances for the hosts, and Charlton’s hopes hung in the balance.
However, amidst the chaos around him, Dorian Dervite stood firm. His stunning tackle kept Maguire at bay, and his crucial block from the following corner prevented Nuhiu from heading home.
Thankfully, not least for an enraged Hamer who probably would have burst a blood vessel had his defence been opened up again, the game entered a lull. There was a half chance for Sordell, tamely struck straight at Kirkland, and Cousins blasted an effort well over the bar as half-time drew near, but Charlton couldn’t quite find their way through as Wednesday took their foot off the pedal.
Just as the half looked to end with the Addicks just behind, their opponents’ complacency presented them with an excellent chance to find that way through they couldn’t previously. Antonio gifted possession to Harriott, and the winger drove forward before picking out Sordell, who finished with the confidence a man who was not only scoring his second of the afternoon, but seemingly his 22nd of the season.
With only two minutes remaining until half-time, there was little opportunity for the Addicks to capitalise on their momentum, but already you could sense they were on the front foot and the Owls had lost their grip on the game, not helped when Antonio was forced off, replaced by Jermaine Johnson.
And those passionate Addicks, who previously thought they were in for an afternoon worse than the last time they were in Sheffield, roared their side off at the interval, expecting something a little more like the last time they came to the blue half of Sheffield.
The early signs in the second half were promising; Sordell had two chances to complete his hat-trick but couldn’t find the finishing touch that had got him his first two goals, and a Jackson corner effectively hit Morgan Fox, who had performed admirably despite his side’s car crash defending, on the head and only just missed the target.
Ajdarevic, who had been readied in the first half, came on for the quiet, but certainly not lacking in effort, Church and he immediately impressed with some clever passes and the occasional trick. The confidence amongst the players, and in the away end, was polls apart from the start of the first-half.
There was space for the confidence-filled Addicks to exploit, and Cousins fired wide after being teed up by Ajdarevic, but, unlike in previous weeks, these missed chances wouldn’t cost the Addicks, especially with Wednesday so helpful.
In a moment of madness, the impressive Nuhiu completely lost his head and, instead of making any number of simple forward passes, decided to play the ball back to Llera. Unfortunately for the Austrian, his ‘pass’ ended up being a superb through ball for Sordell to race on to.
Before today, no one would have even thought about celebrating as Sordell raced through on goal, but there were already arms aloft as he went to strike the ball goalwards. His effort, via the help of the post, was a third clinical finish and it sparked pandemonium in Hillsborough’s away end.
“Marvin Sordell, he scores when he wants,” was sung almost sarcastically as he notched his second; now it was belted out with real force. All it took was the formality of a game changing hat-trick for Sordell to win his supporters over.
But the three points were far from Charlton’s, especially with Wednesday still providing something of a threat and the Addicks not quite right defensively. Jeremy Helan and Nuhiu fired over from promising positions, but no longer were they carving the visitors apart with ease.
In fact, it was Charlton who were making their opponents look a little silly. Ajdarevic roasted his full-back, before cutting the ball back to Cousins, who saw his goal bound effort blocked superbly (no, really) by Miguel Llera. From the following corner, Jackson’s delivery again found its way through to Fox, but the off-balance full-back couldn’t finish.
The fourth would have been ideal; instead those hardy souls in the away had to endure a gut wrenching final 15 minutes for their side to cling onto their lead. Maguire’s crafty free-kick was comfortably saved, Nuhiu continued to cause problems for Charlton’s centre-backs, and Johnson’s pace was a worry for the Addicks, but they stood firm. In fact, Diego Poyet and Jackson were hardly letting a Wednesday move develop into anything serious in the centre of midfield.
But, as the game entered stoppage time and Sordell was replaced by Obika to an ovation that even the striker himself surely couldn’t have imagined before kick-off, there was one last chance of the hosts. However, Giles Coke’s wayward overhead kick summed up the desperate nature of Wednesday’s forward play in the second half; there was no way through for the Owls.
Moments later, what seemed like the most prayed for final whistle in sporting history blew. Somehow, whether through fight, luck or quality, the Addicks had overturned their two goal deficit and clung on; the elation and relief in the away end was only matched by the emotion of the players in red.
There was sheer delight as the players applauded their supporters, with Jackson celebrating as if he were a fan, as ever. What character his players have, and what a vital, vital victory in Charlton’s quest to stay up.
Nothing will ever get to close to the emotion felt on Charlton’s last visit to Hillsborough; as one of the best nights of my life, that won’t be beaten. But today isn’t that far off it; I still have the same buzz I did at full-time right now, several hours on.
Some will scorn, maybe accuse me of not being a true Charlton fan, but I’ve found watching the Addicks a chore since Powell’s departure and Duchatelet’s had his way. I’ve had to force myself to feel anything like the enthusiasm I once did, and not taken anywhere near as much pleasure as I would have liked from victories.
But today was the first game I’ve managed to enjoy and properly celebrate since that last trip to Hillsborough. How could I feel any different when those players showed such character and fight for our club.
That fight had been missing recently. Of course, we’d shown elements of it to grind out results, but too easily had we capitulated after conceding. There was almost a sense, especially in the 3-0 defeat to Brighton, that there was no fight left.
But it was all there today; the classic Charlton fight. You could have the Grim Reaper hunting down this bunch of players, and they’d still find a way to avoid a near certain death.
Some will call today lucky, and there was certainly an element of luck involved in the goals the Addicks scored. But, after recovering so well from that disastrous start, victory was no less than we deserved.
Victories and defeats of late have often resulted in petty debates around who should be managing this club, but those sorts of discussions can be forgotten about tonight, I’ll even put my overall concerns to one side for a few hours. Riga’s rather shy wave to the away end from the halfway line as the players had finished applauding their supporters said it all; this was a performance and result that can be completely attributed to the players.
That’s not to avoid giving praise to Riga, because his selection was brave and there was little he could do about the defensive errors that gave Wednesday their two goal lead.
But the players, by lifting themselves and finding some confidence, turned the game around almost on their own. That was optimised by the displays from Harriott and Sordell. The pair have had desperate seasons, but to find that little bit of spark when it was most needed was an unbelievable show of character. We may well talk in years to come of that day Marvin Sordell’s hat-trick kept us in the Championship. Now isn’t the time to ask where that’s been hiding all campaign…
Another excellent, and hard fought, display was also put in by Poyet, who remains a pleasure to watch. If this is the only half a season I get to see of Poyet in a Charlton shirt, I’ll be thankful just for that. His fellow academy graduates, Fox and Solly were also excellent and, along with Morrison and Dervite, recovered well after that awful opening period; a show of character in itself.
And days like today are a reminder that we have the best captain anyone could ask for. I’m so proud to have Johnnie Jackson as the captain of my football club. His performance was calm, helping to steady the ship, and his passion was powerful.
Now, that was slightly more enjoyable than a 0-0.
And now you’re gonna believe us, the Reds are staying up.