If Charlton’s win over Wigan was the perfect demonstration that a new, potent attacking threat had been added to the side, this was the perfect demonstration that the old resilience and fight is supplementing it superbly.
If Charlton’s win over Wigan was a confidence boost for those inside The Valley, this had Addicks believing they’ll be real force this season.
If Charlton’s win over Wigan was largely ignored by the rest of the division, the Championship are now taking notice.
Because you don’t beat Derby County without putting in an excellent team performance; you don’t beat Derby County if you’re not an excellent team. This was an excellent all-round team performance.
There were three moments of real quality going forward, countless times when extraordinary effort at the back kept the Rams at bay and even a good old fashioned heart in mouth scrap when the visitors found a way back into the game – it wouldn’t be Charlton if they didn’t make it hard for themselves.
But, even when Nick Pope let Jamie Ward’s soft shot through his legs to leave the hosts needing to cling onto a 3-2 lead for five minutes, this just felt like Charlton’s night. The young goalkeeper may have been shaky on debut, more full of holes than holy, but the sheer determination to maintain their lead meant the Addicks would still be holding off Derby’s threat if they were doing battle on The Valley’s luscious turf as you read this.
One of those special Tuesday evenings where the atmosphere, the effort and the performance could only ever warrant a positive result. A positive result that has left Addicks positive that they’ll enjoy more nights like this in the coming months.
It was with fear that those supporting the Reds approached this contest. Most expected very little from Bob Peeters’ men and there was no demand for anything but for a bit of fight to be shown against Steve McClaren’s fantastic side.
Fear that was only extended with the absence of Chris Solly, his knee unable to handle two games in quick succession, and Stephen Henderson, injured in Saturday’s win over Wigan. It meant first Charlton league starts for Pope and 17-year-old Joe Gomez. A tough test for the pair against arguably the division’s best forward line.
But it was the Rams, unchanged from their goalless draw with Sheffield Wednesday, who found themselves pulling expressions of shock and anguish in the opening minutes.
When Derby did have possession, the Addicks pressed with a purpose that Europe’s best wouldn’t have been displeased with. The visitors didn’t have the ball much in the early stages, however.
There were extended passages of play where they couldn’t get near their opponents, such was the pace at which Charlton started the game. There was a zip to the home side’s passing, a clever nature to their movement and only some solid defending from Derby prevented their final product counting for more.
But, after an early effort from Johann Berg Gudmundsson that was comfortably stopped by Lee Grant, one such ferocious passing move gave the Addicks an 11th minute lead that didn’t flatter them.
Tal Ben Haim carried the ball forward and picked out Gudmundsson, who turned his marker with incredibly quick feet and drove into the space ahead of him. The Iceland international’s now signature cross-field ball to Jordan Cousins picked out the youngster perfectly, and Saturday’s goal scorer drove forward with similar menace to that shown against Wigan.
It got him into a fantastic position to lay in George Tucudean, the previously criticised forward who was yet to impress in a Charlton shirt. But the Romanian’s touch and swivel belonged to a forward of greater reputation; his finish clinical.
Those in the Covered End had been as much in full flow as their side had been on the pitch, but now there was a genuine roar from the famous stand. Incredibly, the Addicks were ahead against last season’s play-off finalists.
But, as losing play-off finalists, Derby were always going to come back into the game. Within in a minute of conceding, they were down the other end warming the palms of Nick Pope. Jeff Hendrick’s effort was tame, but had Ward got the initial ball into Charlton’s box under control, they might well have pulled level.
Despite having half-a-season’s worth of experience in League Two under his belt, the step up to the Championship was clearly a daunting one for Pope. His kicking was woeful, and he almost played himself into trouble when attempting to round Simon Dawkins.
But the ‘keeper needed to settle quickly with Charlton unable to maintain the pace of their frantic opening and Derby beginning to enter their ball retention orientated stride. One of their many moves forward, in what was becoming a pulsating contest, saw the lively Dawkins flash an effort just wide of both diving goalkeeper and the far post.
Pope desperately needed to make his first real save in order to settle those nerves, and he did just that when Chris Martin, as troublesome to Charlton’s back four as ever, fond a pocket of space and forced the ‘keeper into a smart save.
But Pope’s parry was picked up by Craig Bryson, who set the ball back to Ward in space. The forward’s 30th minute strike was emphatic, there absolutely nothing Pope or any stopper could have done about it, lashing into the top corner from the edge of the area and drawing Derby level.
It was arguably no less than Derby deserved for the way they had responded to going a goal down, but it was a kick in the teeth, nonetheless, for Peeters’ side who had started so brightly.
The equaliser only strengthened the grip the Rams had on the game, with Charlton’s back four having to withstand a spell of serious pressure, and most inside The Valley were watching the big screen’s clock, praying the 45th minute would come quickly.
So when an additional four minutes were announced, the Covered End collective groaned in worry. But, by the end of those four minutes, they were collectively celebrating their side retaking the lead.
In the final minute of stoppage time, Tucudean raced into the box, swaying one way and then the other has he looked to find space to shoot with Rams ahead of him. But his clever movement was too good for Richard Keogh, carelessly diving in on the big Romanian and giving referee Bull no choice but to award a penalty.
Seemingly, Bull also had no choice but to send the Derby captain off. But, incredibly, not even a yellow was awarded for an action that was surely denying a goal scoring opportunity. Bull…something or ever, you might say.
Few were complaining, however, once Yoni Buyens had effortless stroked the spot kick into an unsavable position, even if Grant had dived the right way. Against the run of play in the latter stages of the first half, the Addicks had regained their lead with the final kick of it.
But a monumental effort was going to be needed to maintain that lead, especially with Derby back into their stride from the opening passage of play in the second period. An early corner headed over by Jake Buxton.
However, for all of Derby’s possession and purposeful moves forward, it was Charlton who had the best chances in opening 15 minutes of the second half, and the hosts might well have put the game to bed had a finishing touch not deserted them.
It was Charlton’s determination to press, not least from the impressive Johnnie Jackson, which gave them these chances. The first saw substitute Franck Moussa, on for the injured Tucudean, collect a cross from the inspirational skipper and scuff an effort wide when it seemed easier to score.
The second saw Derby’s on loan Real Madrid midfielder, Omar Mascarell, pressed into submission, sending a back pass straight into the path of Igor Vetokele. The forward still had work to do, and he powered passed Keogh and Buxton before unleashing an effort that seemed to be heading for the bottom corner. Only an outstanding stop from Grant denied the Angolan from scoring his first goal at The Valley and sealing the points for his new club.
And while the Addicks fluffed their lines in the final third, it meant Derby were far from out of the game. Even with the defence holding firm, not least Gomez, who was dealing superbly with Dawkins’ considerable threat, there were still chances for the visitors.
Only the faintest of deflections off Jackson, seemingly covering every blade of grass all at once, denied Bryson, while the unlikely source of Keogh blasted a vicious volley over the bar by the narrowest of margins.
In fact, with Lawrie Wilson on to offer support at both ends of the pitch, the Addicks were limited to little more than half chances on the break as their attentions turned to holding onto their lead. Gudmunsson’s ambitious effort and Jackson’s free-kick were never likely to double Charltoin’s advantage.
But it would seem Peeters’ side know exactly how to prevent a side from turning possession into chances. For every new way the Rams found to get the ball forward, Charlton’s back line had the answer. In fact, the increasingly incredible Jackson often cut out attacks before they had a chance to trouble the back four.
And it was the skipper, answering his critics and then some, who played a huge part in seemingly sealing Charlton’s victory with 12 minutes to play. From the right by-line, Jackson crossed to Wilson, who flicked on perfectly for Vetokele to nod in from close range. Cue pandemonium, and that was just on the pitch. The players enjoying it as much as the fans.
The summer signing from Copenhagen might well have added to his and Charlton’s total five minutes later, but Wilson’s through ball got stuck in his feet and he could only poke tamely into the arms of Grant.
That wasted opportunity meant the Addicks had some worrying to do as, almost immediately, Derby attacked and finally broke Charlton’s resolve. It was oh so cruel on the Addicks and an unsighted Pope, who let Ward’s seemingly unthreatening shot through his legs, that such a goal had tainted a stunning effort at the back, but now they had to find another level and dig deeper for five more minutes.
You would think, having experienced these kind of situations many a time before, hanging on in the final moments would get easier. It doesn’t. A nervy few minutes followed, with Derby maintaining constant possession of the ball.
However, they couldn’t do anything with it. One wayward shot from Bryson and a cross plucked out the air from Pope to loud cheers was all they could muster; Charlton’s impressive defence standing firm.
And it was they who probably celebrated the loudest on the inside as the final whistle blew, even if they didn’t express it was passionately as those in the stands. Sure, there was an element of luck, but my god had the Addicks worked hard for such a stunning result and both those on the pitch and in the home ends deserved every bit of elation they felt.
Derby are a good side. A bloody good side. They were incredible impressive tonight; their snappy passing a potent forward play an important part in an outrageously entertaining game. Regardless of the result, the Rams will be right up there this season. In fact, I’m still backing them to win the league.
But this Charlton side has the quality to match with the very best in this division. Tonight, Peeters’ side were as perfect as they could possibly be.
Don’t let the possession stats fool you. Derby may have had 63% of the ball, but their threat in the final third was limited by a sensational defensive display. Bikey and Ben Haim, if not always winning the battle with Martin straight away, rarely let him have a second touch, while Rhoys Wiggins and Joe Gomez dealt with the pace and threat Derby possess down each flank perfectly. Gomez, at just 17, is some player.
And when the Addicks did get forward, there was a real threat. That opening ten minutes was absolutely incredible; an even better ten minute spell than the one that Charlton ended with on Saturday. Rarely has a Charlton side passed and pressed with such pace and potency. Rarely has a Charlton side contained players such as Gudmundsson, Buyens and Vetokele, who have genuine quality. Even Tucudean was lively in his time on the pitch, finally showing some sort of ability.
But, with Peeters’ new look side impressing, it was a stalwart who must surely take a great deal of the praise. Jackson, by now, has earned the tag ‘Mr Charlton’, and his determined display shows exactly why.
No one will work harder to get a result for this club, and the way he pressed throughout the 90 minutes was the perfect example of that. His tackling, also, was exceptional, and on numerous occasions were attacks started by the skipper picking out a pass.
An inspirational figure who, despite what some might think, is more than worth his place in the side.
It would, of course, be oh so very Charlton if we lost heavily to Huddersfield Town on Saturday, but I’m not going to worry about that. Instead, I’m off for an extended lie down to recover from an incredibly exciting, but draining contest.
We’ve got something here, ya know.