Chris Powell's Flat Cap

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Huddersfield Powell-axed by Ruthless Charlton

The ideal had long been bleated out by Charlton supporters on social media, forums and in pubs. While giving the returning Chris Powell the reception he deserved was a must, there could be no distraction from the need to record victory against his Huddersfield Town side.

But even those desperately hoping for the right mix of appreciation for a former great and support for the current crop could not have anticipated the brilliance of the afternoon. To call the events that took place at The Valley simply ideal would be unjust.

For Powell’s initial reception was astonishing. The man who had given The Valley so many unforgettable moments was rewarded with one of his own. A deafening outpour of emotion and admiration for Powell from the sold-out home ends.

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It would be matched during the third minute, an applause from almost all inside the ground not distracting from their support of the Addicks as many had suggested it would, and again at full-time. Powell classy enough to acknowledge the worship he was receiving despite the fact his new club had just suffered the most convincing of defeats.

That defeat, however, was not caused by Huddersfield’s ineptitude. To suffer such a convincing defeat was somewhat unfair on the diligent Terriers.

But to win by three goals, for the third time in four, was a reflection of just how devastatingly brilliant Charlton were.

Pressing with energy and determination, passing with class and constantly threatening in the final third, this was an outstanding attacking performance. Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s delicious free-kick before the break the moment needed to turn promise into tangible success.

And with the unplayable Watt reducing Huddersfield’s defence to quivering wrecks each time he drove forward, in addition to an overall threat on the break, a second was always likely. Igor Vetokele forcing the ball to the Scot, who converted coolly.

Even when the Addicks slipped up at the back, a recovering defender, good fortune or the fingertips of Stephen Henderson prevented the Terriers from pouncing.

In fact, Henderson had made a remarkable save to prevent Charlton’s lead being halved before Watt lashed in a third. Huddersfield’s very real hope of getting back into the game killed in an instant.

A day where everything went the way of the Addicks, and largely went their way through their own marvellous efforts.

It was not an ideal afternoon in SE7. It was perfect.

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There was, of course, attention on the game in hand before kick-off. Not least the promising return of Jordan Cousins, replacing Lawrie Wilson in midfield, and the worrying absence of Tal Ben Haim, with Joe Gomez deputising for the injured Israeli.

But there could be no getting away from the fact there was strong excitement for the return of Powell. The opposition manager he may have been, but the wearing of a blue tie does not dent the legendary status his efforts for this club built.

The appearance of Alex Dyer, predictably bearing knees, produced a ripple of applause. But before Powell’s right-hand man could even acknowledge them, the man himself appeared.

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If there was a supporter not standing, clapping and chanting “Chrissy Powell”, they were hiding better than Yoni Buyens normally does. The noise incredible; the moment one those involved will not forget.

Powell responded with a signature modest wave or five in all directions. Appreciative of the welcome as those offering the welcoming were appreciative of him. Simply brilliant.

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As was the start Guy Luzon’s side made to the game. The composure, energy and drive of the side visible as a third minute applause for Charlton’s former number three got underway.

It was apparent from the opening moments just how susceptible Huddersfield’s back three, featuring one-time Addick Mark Hudson, were to the pace up against them. Only some pretty desperate defending prevented Watt going through, and the Scot’s directness carved out an opening for Vetokele, who blasted over from the edge of the box.

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But after Charlton’s Angolan forward had headed a decent opening straight at Alex Smithies in the opposition goal, the game settled. The Terriers beginning to enjoy more possession in midfield, and tightening up somewhat defensively.

In fact, Huddersfield worked themselves two excellent openings just beyond the twenty minute mark. Some woeful defending from Roger Johnson was forgiven as the centre-back recovered to superbly block James Vaughan’s drive, and the same man received the ball in space after a long throw wasn’t dealt with, but could only fire over.

An open and enjoyable game for the neutrals who had taken up the offer of a five pound ticket, but quite an anxious one for the supporters of either side.

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And heads were in hands in both the Covered End and the Jimmy Seed as Watt waltzed past David Edgar and teed up Vetokele. The Charlton supporters in frustration, with the top scorer hesitating and producing a tame effort; the Huddersfield supporters in relief, with the ball safely in Smithies’ clutches.

Those feelings were reversed as the ball entered Henderson’s goal, only for the referee to penalise Ishmael Miller. The robust forward able to ‘score’ having backed into Charlton’s stopper illegally. While the Addicks remained marginally on top, such scares, especially with Miller constantly causing problems, suggested their pressure needed to produce reward quickly.

So Watt’s burst through Huddersfield’s defensive line that could only be stopped by Edgar hauling him down was timely. A Gudmundsson territory free-kick awarded.

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As soon as the Iceland international made contact with the ball, there were murmurs of ‘goal’ in the Covered End, and probably another four letter word from Smithies. The strike sublime, giving the Terriers’ stopper no chance, and turning those murmurs into whole-hearted celebration.

Alas, there remained twelve minutes before the interval. Ample time for Powell’s men to draw level.

And they probably should have done. Jack Robinson’s ball picking out Miller, who created space for himself, only to drag his effort wide with Henderson beaten. All of a sudden, things were very much going Charlton’s way.

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At least that seemed to be the case, but final third floundering as the half came to a close suggested otherwise. Vetokele again wasteful, a vital interception prevented Gudmundsson scoring a second and Watt found the side netting after powering through in stoppage-time.

It meant that, while the confidence they possessed gave them a strong upper hand, there remained plenty of work for the Addicks to do if they were to hang onto their lead. A Sean Scannell scissor-kick and Jacob Butterfield’s drive from distance either side of the interval keeping Charlton on their toes.

The Addicks, however, were not just on their toes, but continuing to dance with style through the Terriers’ defence.

They simply had no answer as Vetokele collected a ball played forward and drove ahead. The Angolan worked space for himself, and unselfishly fed the ball across to his strike partner after he’d sucked Huddersfield’s remaining defenders towards him.

It gave Watt a clear sight of goal. There was simply no chance he was going to waste such an opening, finishing with all the composure of a seasoned striker, and giving his side what seemed like an unassailable lead with just three second half minutes played.

But, as was to be expected from a Powell side, Huddersfield did not simply roll over and accept defeat. Gomez and Johnson were continuously called upon, while Butterfield and Miller’s driven efforts forced Henderson into two tidy saves.

Nonetheless, the fizz from Charlton’s attacking play showed no signs of letting up. Vetokele connecting with Watt’s cross, but just slicing wide, before Watt decided to do things on his own again, driving into space and bringing the best out of Smithies low down to his right.

And the Huddersfield academy graduate, who had signed a new deal for the club in the week, was called upon again shortly after to keep the deficit to just two. Substitute Wilson connecting superbly with Frederic Bulot’s corner, only for the palms of Smithies to beat the effort away.

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That they were on the brink of seeing any chance of making a comeback disappear did not deter Powell’s men, and the Terriers were beginning to build the momentum needed for a late fight. Various shots flashing wide of Henderson’s posts, with Charlton looking a little uncomfortable at the back.

A goal was needed, however, if the thought of a fight back was to be anything more than fleeting. Were it not for Henderson, then Huddersfield would have certainly got it.

The ball fell perfectly for Murray Wallace ten yards from goal, and there was little wrong with the defender’s strike. But Charlton’s number one flew through the air to tip the effort around the post, earning a Powell-like standing ovation from the home ends.

And the brilliance of such a save was only increased when the home side’s next attack showed just how important a fingertip it was.

For if the Terries had pulled one back, it wouldn’t have been an overreaction to suggest Charlton would have to endure a testing final twenty minutes. Instead, the genius of Watt allowed the Addicks to see out the game in enjoyable fashion.

Having already beaten a few men, there was still some distance between the Scot and the Huddersfield goal, but instead of carrying on with his energy-sapping run, Watt decided he’d simply lash the ball into the top corner. Effortless. Class. Brilliant.

Having attempted with some persistence to get back into the game, it was only then that heads dropped among the Huddersfield’s side. You didn’t want the Addicks to give them a sniff, but you felt there was now no chance of the Terriers scoring one.

In fact, it was Charlton who almost added another goal or two to entertain the bumper crowd. Substitute Chris Eagles forcing Smithies into a tidy save before completely deceiving him with an over hit cross that crashed against the bar deep into stoppage-time.

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Alas, that the Addicks could not add a fourth mattered little. It certainly took nothing away from the performance, which was professional during the moments it wasn’t pure quality.

But the cherry on a delicious Victoria Sponge of a day was still to come. Evidently downbeat after such disappointment, and after appreciating the efforts of his own supporters (who were utterly brilliant, I should add), Powell still had the class to acknowledge the Charlton fans as he left the pitch.

He didn’t need to. Not after such a defeat for his side. But this is Chris Powell, and you should probably expect nothing less. Huddersfield fans won’t be pleased to hear such a comment, but his receptiveness to the home supporters playing a part in a special afternoon at The Valley.

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But it was the performance that provided the most joy to the packed out Valley crowd. But for those brief moments were Huddersfield came mightily close to scoring, it was a sublime effort from effectively every player in red.

Gomez and Johnson were frequently troubled, but only on a handful of occasions were Miller and Vaughan able to get the better of them. Solly and Fox, too, largely solid and impressive going forward, while Henderson’s saves were key.

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The energy of Cousins is so crucial to this side, and his pressing forced Huddersfield backwards and sideways again and again, while the brilliance of Gudmundsson can never be understated. Cousins the blood and guts of this side while Jackson remains out, Gudmundsson the stylish outfit that wins admirers, and points.

Vetokele, although frustratingly wasteful in front of goal, didn’t give a Huddersfield defender a moments rest whether in possession of the ball or not, which can also be said of Bulot and, after he came on, Wilson.

But the key man in red was Watt. Brave, direct and skilful, the Scot was simply unplayable. Huddersfield didn’t know what to do, and I wasn’t quite sure how he was doing it. His goals just reward for a performance that arguably showed the difference between the two sides. The Terriers toothless; the Addicks potent.

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Such a turn around, not only in general but following Tuesday’s disappointing performance, is remarkable.

A large part of it is confidence. There’s always been a sense of quality in this side’s strongest XI, but character and fight has been lacking. The attitude poor. When this group have some confidence, performances like today’s effort occurs.

Then there’s the return and introduction of players. Henderson’s influence cannot be overstated, while an on-song Watt, although a very simplistic thing to say, has been the difference going forward. He scares defenders and allows the rest of the side to capitalise, if not himself.

And, of course, it would be amiss of me not to credit Luzon again. While his decision to head straight down the tunnel once again means my attachment to him remains at zero, his simplified and organised approach once again proved ideal for this group of players.

Combined, it’s an absolutely excellent effort. Relegation fears, you would think, now a thing of the past.

It means there is no fear over Tuesday’s game against in-form Nottingham Forest. A repeat performance too much to ask for?

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Welcoming Back the Flat-Capped One

My face carries a look of disappointment whenever a new acquaintance tells me they’re not into sport. It probably looks similar to how it would if I’d just seen I was one number away from winning the lottery.

For not only are my options limited in terms of what I can discuss with sportophobes, but I feel genuinely sorry that they have not embraced the wonderful feelings sport can provide.

The unforgettable moments, the life-changing experiences and the pure enjoyment and entertainment it gives are arguably unmatchable, at least for those whose lives are completely engrossed by sport.

And it is football that provides the most powerful examples of such incredible emotions, in addition with a few feelings that are exclusive, at least in their scale, to football.

One of those is that sense of belonging all supporters have to their club; a shared identity that moulds fans and the notion of the ‘club’ together. Charlton supporters have experienced the extremes of such feelings over the years, especially seen in the campaign to get the Addicks back to The Valley. Unity and pride.

It can also be experienced in the stands. Take that much talked about Cardiff comeback game in 2012 as an example, with supporters unified in the face of adversity, and the players responding with a performance that matched the passion from those offering their support.

And those feelings expressed inside a ground lead to another factor that makes football so special. For Football, to an extent that other sports cannot match, is partisan. Vigorous support is constantly demanded for your club, with questions constantly raised about what makes a ‘real fan’, while rivalries make the game all the more special.

It’s probably football’s partisan nature that means some Charlton fans are reluctant, if not aggressively against, welcoming Chris Powell back to The Valley on Saturday when he returns with his Huddersfield side. Showing appreciation to Powell, some suggest, means supporters are not performing their duty; to support Charlton Athletic.

There has been no issues with welcoming back other legends to the club, so I don’t particularly understand this. Darren Bent was applauded before the game against Derby on Tuesday, and even had his name sung by the travelling Addicks come full-time, despite Bent helping the opposition to victory.

So those very few who argue he is not worthy of a good reception are not worth listening to. But, in an attempt to make sense of why a very small minority are so against giving Powell a reception, the argument that showing recognition in some way detracts from supporting the Addicks, and by association will have a negative impact on their performance, is one that must be considered.

That consideration, however, is minimal. Or at least minimal from my perspective as the type of football fan I am.

I want to make it very clear that I am not attempting to be provocative in anyway. I just feel there is a need to explain why I will be showing as much appreciation as possible to Powell on Saturday, when others have suggested they won’t be.

For me, those unforgettable moments, a sense of belonging and the partisan feel football provides are matched by the connections you develop with players and managers.

I have no shame in admitting I have grown as attached to some who have represented the club as the club itself. It would appear doing so is frowned upon by some supporters, but it is Darren Bent, Johnnie Jackson and Yann Kermorgant who have given me unforgettable experiences as much as it is Charlton Athletic Football Club.

Without the actors, there would be no films. And without the people, there would be no Charlton.

And Chris Powell, as a player and manager, has provided me with more moments than anyone else. I don’t need to list them, as I have done so several times before (largely here and here), but when a man is at the centre of some of the best days of your life, it would be wrong not to respect and worship him. Undoubtedly a Charlton legend.

He, and his side, also provided some much needed sanity to my life. I have admitted this before, so again have no shame in writing it again, but I have long put up with a nagging sort of depression that comes and goes when it feels necessary.

To have something I was engrossed in, led by a figure I believed in, with a side that embodied his spirit and gave me hope, optimism and positivity, was so often vitally needed.

Even in those desperate final months, where Roland Duchatelet’s actions were making his job impossible, he still managed to instil belief and respond with arguably the best few days of my life at a time when I was at a very personal low.

That he did so in such conditions, the nature of them reaffirmed today, only increases my respect for him.

It goes without saying that my appreciation for Powell is extreme. Probably too extreme. But I don’t apologise.

I support Charlton Athletic. I don’t, as I have been accused of several times since Powell’s sacking eleven months ago, believe any individual, including the flat-capped one, is bigger than the club. Charlton existed before Powell, and continues to exist after him.

But certain individuals, including Powell, have played such a substantial part in the recent history of this football club, and the recent history of my life, that withholding my feelings towards them isn’t something I wish to do. Nor do I wish to ‘move on’ and forget about how Powell’s Charlton made me feel.

The man who will stand in the away dugout on Saturday gave his absolutely all for the club, both as a player and manager. He played with professionalism, a determination that showed an unrelenting desire to help the club succeed, and quality. He managed with such class that he was the perfect representative of the club, he built a team that played with the determination he showed on the pitch and gave us so many unforgettable moments.

The very least I believe you can do is give up just a moment or two of your energies that would normally be devoted to supporting the players wearing Charlton red to appreciate what a man so committed to this club did for it. A man that still feels strongly about the club, if not its owners.

It will not distract me from supporting the Addicks. Personally, I would be absolutely devastated if Powell rocked up in SE7 and went back up north with three points, so there will be no split loyalties.

But Powell has played a massive part in my Charlton supporting life, and I know the vast majority of you who will read this will feel the same. I would feel a sense of guilt if I didn’t thank him for that when the chance was there.

Preview: Charlton Athletic Vs Huddersfield Town

Whatever happens on Saturday, something won’t be quite right at The Valley. And it’s not that the normally half-empty home of the Addicks will have a bum on almost every seat.

For a man who previously patrolled the home technical area with such class, dignity and to great success will pass it as if it were an alien environment. Instead, he will take homage in the away dugout.

He played 270 times for the Addicks over three spells, and gained five England caps as a result of his outstanding performances in Charlton red. He not only won a League One title with 101 points, but provided magical moments for two following seasons despite circumstances making success almost impossible. He injected a squad that will take some beating as my favourite Charlton side with fighting qualities and a simply sensational spirit.

He just got this football club. As a player and as a manager, Chris Powell submerged himself in the club’s ethos. Constantly expressing his love for it, and standing up for what he felt right for Charlton Athletic until his final days.

Some will say this isn’t about Powell at all, and they are correct to the extent that this remains a game of football with three points on offer. He is the Huddersfield Town manager and nothing more, apparently.

But the return of such a legendary figure to SE7, adored by so many, means the game itself will always be something of an afterthought. Excitement to welcome back Powell, and pay the gratitude that wasn’t allowed at the time of his departure, existing in abundance.

But he will be the enemy on Saturday. He will be hoping his Huddersfield side rock up at The Valley and come away victorious. Charlton supporters, some for the first time in their time as an Addick, will be hoping Powell is unhappy come full-time. There won’t be split loyalties, but it will certainly be odd.

(@PlentyOfShots)

LAST MEETING – HUDDERSFIELD TOWN 1-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC

Shithousing of the highest order allowed an out-of-sorts Charlton side to steal a point at the John Smiths Stadium in August.

It looked like being a completely different afternoon for the Addicks when Murray Wallace denied Igor Vetokele a goalscoring opportunity and was dismissed accordingly.

But the ten men of Huddersfield took the lead just after the break when Nahki Wells converted Tommy Smith’s cross.

And Bob Peeters’ side, who had lacked fluency and rarely looked like scoring throughout the game, looked set to go two behind when Tal Ben Haim shoved James Vaughan to the floor inside the box late on. But referee Robinson, bizarrely, waved for play to continue.

It meant Charlton remained in the game when Andre Bikey’s flick on was met by Vetokele. The forward finished coolly deep into stoppage time to salvage a largely underserved point for the visitors.

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FORM

Huddersfield: WDDLWL

With impressive wins being followed up by disappointing defeats, inconsistency has prevented Powell’s side from moving up the table.

But Tuesday’s 3-0 victory over Reading, their third game unbeaten and fourth league win of 2015, has moved the Terriers into the division’s top half.

And no longer do Huddersfield appear to be pushovers away from home. Having not won in eight away trips, Powell’s men have picked up two wins and an impressive point against Bournemouth from their last three games away from the John Smiths Stadium.

It means that the Terries will provide a strong test for the Addicks, and that’s without even taking into consideration the extra motivation Powell will have to get his side fired up for this one.

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Charlton: LWWLLD

Having capitalised, and capitalised impressively, on two out-of-sorts sides, the midweek defeat to Derby raised concerns about the mentality of this Charlton side.

For heads dropped the moment the Rams helped themselves to an opener. The organisation that had stood the Addicks so well completely lacking. Quality going forward complexly lacking.

Of course, to compete against a side like Derby was always going to a tough ask, so it is not the defeat itself that has worried supporters. It is the manner in which that defeat occurred.

Were the wins over Brentford and Wigan fortunate, or was Tuesday just a minor blip in Charlton’s recovery? Playing against a Huddersfield side, arguably on the same level and in relatively decent form, will provide the answer to that.

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THE OPPOSITION

Huddersfield should be able to call upon top scorer Wells despite the Bermudan being forced off with a shoulder injury during Tuesday’s win over Reading.

The forward, who scored his 12th goal of the season while a replacement was being readied on the touchline, was involved in a collision with Royals ‘keeper Adam Federici, but appears to have suffered no long-term damage.

Powell should also be able to call upon winger Sean Scannell and midfielder Conor Coady, who missed the midweek action through a hamstring injury and illness respectively.

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THE ADDICKS

Charlton will be sweating over the fitness of Jordan Cousins after the key figure missed Tuesday’s defeat to Derby through injury.

Cousins, who was given his debut by Powell, has been mightily impressive in recent weeks, and his continued absence could leave the Addicks desperately short in the centre of midfield.

Johnnie Jackson remains injured, Christophe Lepoint has seemingly been deemed not good enough and Yoni Buyens deserves to be deemed similar.

And despite an impressive debut off the bench in midweek, Alou Diarra is unlikely to be ready for his first start for the Addicks.

The former French international replaced an out-of-position Lawrie Wilson at Derby and provided the composure that was lacking from Charlton’s performance, but a lack of game time in recent months means Saturday’s game may come too soon for the recent signing to play from the off.

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KEY BATTLE: CUTTING OFF THE SUPPLY   

Even in those convincing victories, Charlton couldn’t manage to hit 40% possession.

They were, however, resilient at the back and relentless midfield running from Cousins meant the opposition regularly had to pass backwards.

It meant possession was just a meaningless stat, with Charlton able to show the potency in attack their opposition could not.

But, without Cousins, Charlton’s midfield looks incredibly weak. Derby were allowed the freedom of the centre of the pitch in midweek, and suitably punished the Addicks.

And with Huddersfield’s midfield, containing Jacob Butterfield as its main creative influence, relatively strong, the same half-heartedness in the middle will surely be punished again.

That especially true with the pace the Terriers have in attack. While Tal Ben Haim and Roger Johnson can read the game superbly, players like Nahki Wells and James Vaughan are capable of capitalising on their lack of pace.

Everything is crossed for the return of Cousins, or at least some heart to be shown in the middle.

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PREDICTION

The first goal is evidently important. Huddersfield score it, and heads will drop among Charlton players. The Addicks score it, and 25,000 home supporters will encourage confidence to spread throughout the side.

Either way, it’s going to be an evenly matched and quite tight affair. But, I’ll settle for a 70-0 defeat if Powell wear his flat-cap. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Huddersfield Town

 

Rams Record Victory Over Sheepish Addicks

It was the result many expected, and there is certainly no shame in losing to arguably the division’s most fearsome side, but there were expectations for a better performance.

For Charlton, despite coming into the game with the confidence two dominant victories provides, were unable to make Derby County work for their two goal victory at the iPro.

In fact, the Rams had been gifted their three points before the 17 minute mark had been reached. The shape, organisation and determination that had stood the Addicks so well in their wins over Brentford and Wigan completely lacking as the hosts carved them open with an unnerving ease.

The first saw Derby waltz past Charlton’s non-existent midfield, before former Addick Darren Bent squared to Jeff Hendrick to tap in. The second equally tame from a Charlton point of view, with Hendrick able to play a simple ball through the heart of the back four for Jesse Lingard to convert.

Resilience was needed against such a strong attacking force, and a painfully poor side were unable to offer it. If the Rams had gone in at the break three or four to the good, it wouldn’t have been unjust.

And while there was an improvement from Guy Luzon’s side in the second half, helped by the composure Alou Diarra provided in midfield and Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s spirited efforts to make something happen, there was hardly a moment where Steve McClaren’s men were not in complete control of proceedings.

Derby able to knock the ball around without the need to be dynamic in the game’s final period, with the Addicks, whose attitude was seemingly in the right place but the execution far from it, unable to exploit their opponents’ casual play.

A score line that is neither alarming nor disgraceful, but the way in which the faults that remain in this Charlton side were exploited with such ease is a cause for concern.

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There was a cause for concern for the visiting Addicks before the fixture had even got underway at the ground formerly known as Pride Park.

For a player who had shown pride all season was absent from the team sheet. The injured Jordan Cousins, who had been particularly impressive in recent weeks, missing his first Charlton league game since September 2013.

It meant the horrendously out-of-form Yoni Buyens, only on nine yellow cards despite some reports suggesting he was on ten, kept his place in the centre of midfield, with Luzon opting to play Lawrie Wilson out of position instead of replacing Cousins with Christophe Lepoint or new signing Diarra.

With Derby’s midfield boasting Will Hughes, George Thorne and Hendrick, what was already likely to be a tough night for the Addicks had seemingly become an impossible one.

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But the opening minutes were relatively promising. Derby, as you might expect, moving the ball around at a pace, but Luzon’s two banks of four and defiant defence were holding firm. There was a sense the Rams would need patience and perseverance to break down Charlton.

That notion, however, lasted just nine minutes. As did Luzon’s game plan, seemingly to frustrate and fight hard for a point, with Derby taking an early lead.

With neither Buyens nor Wilson pressing Hughes in possession, the fair-haired playmaker was able to slide through Bent with alarming ease. So too was the Valley great able to do as he pleased, driving to the goal line before drilling a ball across the face of goal that Hendrick was only too happy to slide in and meet.

The Rams’ attacking threat meant they were always likely to score, but to allow them such a soft goal in the opening stages was a cause of great frustration for the travelling Addicks.

So too was Charlton’s response to going behind. You hoped for an obvious attempt to prohibit Derby’s forward passing play, a regroup at the back and some intent going forward. Instead, heads dropped, the Addicks looked more disfigured and the Rams’ own pressing meant those in black frequently panicked in possession.

In fact, such was Derby’s dominance and Charlton’s incompetence, the Rams had two chances to double their lead before a quarter of an hour was played.

No one shut down the in-form Tom Ince, and the Hull loanee curled an effort agonisingly wide of Stephen Henderson’s post, while Bent, evidently out of respect for the club who gave him his Premier League chance, failed to connect properly after a pull-back from the right.

But Charlton, behaving like rabbits in the glare of Derby’s forward play, couldn’t keep their deficit to one for much longer.

The midfield again conspicuous by its absence, allowing Hendrick to drive forward and slot a ball through a hole in Charlton’s back four so big even Buyens could have directed a pass through it.

With Tal Ben Haim and Roger Johnson desperately back-tracking, it prevented Lingard with an excellent opening, and the Manchester United loanee finished with all the class and composure the Addicks were lacking.

While Derby were impressive, this was a level of ineptitude from Charlton that had seemingly been lost in recent weeks. Uncertainty and a lack of communication at the back, passes picking out the advertising hoardings with regularity and even Tony Watt was struggling.

So much so that when a Charlton corner was awarded just before the half hour, a section of the away support celebrated it like a goal. Buyens brought them back down to earth by poking the half-cleared set-piece somewhere in the general direction of the goal, but at such a pace that meant the ball didn’t quite reach its intended target.

Derby, however, were more forceful in their efforts. Will Hughes’ self-assisted volley hit with such power that Henderson would have stood no chance had it been an inch the other side of his far post. The Addicks again fortunate not to concede.

But it was at that moment that some fight seemed to be injected into a weary Charlton side. Chris Solly, in an unfamiliar patch of the pitch, found some space in the box and forced Lee Grant into his first bit of work of the evening.

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And with the visiting supporters encouraged, further hope was offered when a free-kick was awarded on the edge of Derby’s box. Gudmundsson’s effort could not have been stuck any sweeter, but Grant was again equal, pulling off a sensational save.

The resulting corner saw Igor Vetokele’s header blocked, and Solly’s over hit ball into the box almost caught Grant out, but almost wasn’t really enough. A goal was needed before half-time if the Addicks were to have any chance of salvaging something.

However, itt was Derby, seemingly intent on making sure Charlton couldn’t even salvage their pride, who came closest to scoring the game’s next goal just before the interval. Another passing move that the Addicks had no answer to concluded with Hendrick curling an effort against the bar.

That the Rams were still easing their way through left Luzon with little choice but to make a half-time change. Wilson, evidently unable to play in the centre of midfield (although no worse than Buyens), replaced by debutant Diarra.

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The Frenchman immediately got amongst it, sticking his boot in were others in black were afraid to and able to do the simple things his teammates were seemingly not. .

Derby, however, remained in complete control. Hughes shot wide and only a telling final ball prevented further chances as Ince and Lingard continued to get in behind Charlton’s back four.

But that lacklustre nature to the hosts’ forward play soon spread throughout their side. It became increasingly evident they were more than happy to settle for a two goal lead, and stopped taking the risks that you might when you play an expansive passing game.

It gave the Addicks a chance to breathe, and then to settle. While passes were rarely anything more than aimless punts up field, the visitors were having more of the ball and being put under less pressure.

A handful of attacking moves were attempted, but without success; a meaningful effort in goal remained elusive in the second half.

That was until just before the hour, when a set-piece almost got the Addicks back into the game. Gudmundsson’s delivery was nodded across goal to Johnson, falling to Diarra. He could seemingly do little but score, or at least he might have done had he shot first time, but the midfielder’s touch gave a Derby defender the chance to block the strike, and the deficit remained at two.

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If Diarra had converted, then the remaining half hour would have been interesting. Alas, it was more of a meaningless procession. Derby playing keep ball, never looking like they weren’t in control of their own destiny, and Charlton lacking the creativity and flare to find a way through the hosts’ stubborn defence.

And even when the Addicks found a way in behind, as they did through Buyens late on, there was to be no reward. The midfielder’s hopeless display rounded off by mishitting the ball as he attempted to cross, giving the Rams the chance to clear.

Such a moment summed up Charlton’s second half display. There was something resembling positive intent on show, but so often a rushed or panicked decision making meant their efforts to get forward came to nothing.

Derby, meanwhile, despite frustrated calls from their supporters to show a bit more adventure going forward, remained calm throughout.

In fact, all the travelling Addicks had to cheer about as the full-time whistle blew was the presence of Bent. The goal scoring great coming over to the away end and applauding, which was greeted by a cry of “Darren Bent Bent Bent” about as good as it got for the frustrated Charlton supporters in the away end.

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And I think frustrated is probably the best way of describing the feeling having witnessed such a performance. For I’m not disappointed to have lost to Derby, who were exceptional in the first half and professional in the second, nor am I angered or outraged by the performance.

But I do feel the Addicks could have shown a bit more throughout the game, especially having come into the game in such fine form.

It was if those wins, built on solid foundations and containing swift forward play on the break, didn’t occur.

The first half was littered with defensive errors, while the second, if offering some fight, saw the Addicks so timid and tame in their attempts to get forward against a side happy to sit deep. As excellent as Derby were, we didn’t help ourselves at all.

There were issues individually, too, with Buyens performing as if he were deliberately attempting to parody a professional footballer. Ben Haim lacked the composure he so often has, Fox struggled against pacey wingers while those in attack were completely anonymous.

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And Luzon’s error of judgement in his team selection was hardly helpful. While the impressive Diarra wouldn’t have been able to start, he must have known starting with a right-back-cum-winger in the centre of midfield with seemingly the most out-of-form footballer in the country was a suicidal move.

The weakness in midfield allowed the Rams to steam roll their way through early on, and adds further doubts to the signing of Lepoint. It can only be assumed that he is simply not up to it.

The most frustrating factor, however, was the response to going behind. Lifeless, lacklustre and disorganised, the game was not lost when Derby took the lead, but in the manner in which the Addicks played following it.

Our biggest problems are seemingly hiding away inside the heads of the players. The quality within this side when players are full of confidence is undoubted. But when quality is lacking, or when we go behind, performances are alarmingly poor.

Of course, we won’t come up against a side as strong as Derby each week. Nor will we, hopefully, have such a makeshift midfield for many more games.

But neither will we catch many sides playing as poorly as Brentford and Wigan did. Nor will we win many more games if our response to adversity is as it was tonight.

There remains plenty to work on.

 

Preview: Derby County Vs Charlton Athletic

Charlton have a wonderful habit of clawing you back in just as you’re falling into an irreparable state of disillusionment and apathy.

For while there remains the same uncertainty and resentment towards off-the-field activities as there did two weeks ago, the on-the-pitch turnaround has seemingly removed the chore-like feeling that watching the Addicks was becoming.

In fact, following the impressive three goal victories over Brentford and Wigan Athletic, there is a considerable lack of fear among supporters as the Reds head to the iPro to take on top of the table Derby County on Tuesday night.

The expectation, of course, is for Charlton to suffer defeat. But fear, and fear of humiliation, has been replaced by belief that their side will fight as hard as possible, and even some irrational optimism that a positive result can be achieved.

Given the nature of the tests the Addicks were provided by their previous two opponents, there is a danger of getting carried away; the scoreline at the iPro likely to make sure that doesn’t happen.

But the return of some sort of irrational hope, in whatever form it is in, is most welcome.

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LAST MEETING – DERBY COUNTY 1-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC

An unfortunate error from Nick Pope allowed substitute Ivan Calero to grab a late winner in August’s League Cup encounter at the iPro.

Charlton’s young goalkeeper was deemed to have clung onto the ball for too long, resulting in an indirect free-kick being awarded to the Rams inside the box.

And with the Addicks, who had been on the back foot for most of the game, unable to properly deal with the set piece, Calero was eventually able to crash the ball into the back of the net from close range.

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FORM

Derby: WDLDWW

Despite only winning one of their previous three league games, a relative slump, the goals of former Charlton hero Darren Bent have helped lift the Rams to the summit of the Championship.

Bent, who will be playing against the club for who he scored 46 goals in two seasons for the first time since leaving in 2007, has notched seven times since joining Derby in January, including five strikes in the league.

But while going forward Steve McClaren’s men have been impressive, scoring nine in their last three league encounters, there are some concerns at the back. Eight conceded over that same period, with a 4-4 draw with Rotherham disappointing and death diced with before Bent’s winner against Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday.

Alas, like all great title winning sides, Derby have found a way to collect points, especially at home, where the Rams have not suffered a league defeat since October.

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Charlton: WWLLDD

While the opposition have done their best to assist Charlton’s rebirth, little can be taken away from the impressive nature of the performances from Guy Luzon’s side that have seen two consecutive 3-0 wins.

Coming after a run of 14 without a victory, the results against Brentford and Wigan have shown a resilient quality in this group of Addicks that had seemingly vanished, topped with a genuine threat on the break.

It therefore means that there is an argument both for and against this being the best time for the Addicks to play Derby.

On the one hand, the only way possible to beat a Derby side who have lost just twice at home in the league all season is to play with organisation, determination and confidence. Charlton have shown those qualities in abundance in recent weeks, so there chances of winning are not as miniscule as some might think.

On the other, it’s more than likely that the Rams will claim three points off the Addicks with minimal fuss, destroying the rather fragile confidence built up in the process.

Either way, a repeat of the lifeless performance the last time the Addicks travelled to a top two side, the 3-1 defeat to Middlesbrough, seems unlikely.

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THE OPPOSITION

Derby could welcome back forward Johnny Russell on Tuesday, with the Scottish forward having recovered from a hamstring injury.

Russell, who has missed the previous seven games, will provide another dimension to the Rams’ attack, but the form of Tom Ince, Jamie Ward and Bent means he might have to settle for a place on the bench.

But McClaren remains without Chris Martin and John Eustace, with the pair still a few weeks away from recovering from their injury problems.

THE ADDICKS

Charlton will be without Yoni Buyens after the horrendously out-of-form midfielder picked up his tenth booking of the season at Wigan on Friday.

With Johnnie Jackson injured and no replacement found for Milos Veljkovic at the time of writing, it would appear that Christophe Lepoint, who has failed to impress in two substitute appearances, will be making his first start for the Addicks.

Another option for Luzon is to deploy Chris Eagles, who scored on his debut after coming off the bench at the DW, in a central role just off the front two, but doing so against a side of Derby’s nature would surely be suicidal.

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KEY BATTLE – DEALING WITH A GENUINE FORWARD THREAT

Brentford were lifeless, seemingly affected by the speculation surrounding their boss Mark Warburton at the time. Wigan were wasteful, blowing a number of fantastic early chances before growing toothless. Derby, however, will provide much more of a threat to Charlton’s back four.

McClaren’s 4-3-3 formation, boasting Ince and Ward either side of Bent, has been almost unstoppable recently, with all three chipping in with their fair share of goals and assists.

And the biggest worry for Luzon is that Derby’s forward line possess pace in abundance; something his back line have struggled to deal with. Roger Johnson was caught out a few times at the DW when Marc Antoine-Fortune was able to run at him, while Tal Ben Haim and Morgan Fox have been exposed when facing quicker men on several occasions this season.

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With options in the centre of midfield limited, and weak aside from Jordan Cousins, there is unlikely to be much support for the back four. Nor does it look likely that the Addicks will be able to stem the forward’s supply, with Derby’s midfield impressive. The task of Charlton’s back line a daunting one.

Alas, with Chris Solly thrown into the equation, all three have shown they can mix it with the division’s best attackers on their day. Charlton’s back four are going to need to have a day and a half to stop Derby’s forward threat.

PREDICTION

A bonus game, and the sort of bonus game where ‘losing well’ would be a relatively successful result. Despite recent results, suggesting the Addicks have a realistic chance of getting anything from the game is going too far, but I’m not sensing a complete walkover. Derby County 2-1 Charlton Athletic

Eagles Helps Charlton Soar

A unified group of players huddled together in celebration for the third time during the course of the game. Tal Ben Haim broke away from the group to double fist-pump the jubilant away supporters. The Addicks responded with a tongue-in-cheek chant of “we’re gonna win the league”.

Such joyous scenes, the sort that provide overwhelming amounts of pride and enjoyment, were impossible to daydream about less than two weeks ago. But a resurgent Charlton have made them a reality twice in six days.

Inept performances from a side riddled with attitude issues have become professional displays made outstanding by moments of brilliance only players possessing confidence could possibly be capable of.

It means self-mocking and relegation fears have been replaced by belief and something resembling optimism towards on-the-pitch events in the stands.

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And while Wigan, much like Brentford, did their utmost to assist Guy Luzon’s side on their crusade towards victory, it takes nothing away from the heartening manner of the performance at the DW Stadium.

Having been so wasteful in front of goal during the 14-game winless run, the two goal advantage the Addicks owned at half-time was the result of clinical finishing. Frederic Bulot’s stunning effort and Igor Vetokele’s header the only chances created, and both taken.

And while the back four had been extremely suspect in the first period, with Bulot’s opener coming against the run of play and Latics continuing to create chances they probably shouldn’t have been allowed to, their resoluteness in the second prevented a nervy finish.

There was organisation in the back line, unrelenting effort from all bar one Addick in midfield and the drive of Charlton’s forwards meant Wigan were so often pressured into mistakes deep inside their own half. Qualities painfully missed in recent weeks.

So too was there something of a spark during the moments the visitors were allowed to break, finally capitalised upon by Chris Eagles after his teammates had missed a spate of chances. The debutants goal rounding of a near-perfect night for Charlton that, for a few hours at least, lifts them into the top half of the division and nine points clear of the drop.

An unpredictable, scarcely believable but incredibly enjoyable turnaround of fortunes.


 

One thing that wasn’t unpredictable, however, was the XI that would be representing the Addicks in Lancashire.

With the side having performed so admirably, the only changes from Saturday’s victory over Brentford were enforced. The absence of skipper Johnnie Jackson, replaced by Yoni Buyens, and Rhoys Wiggins, with Morgan Fox filling in, tainting the confidence gained from the Bees bashing slightly.

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And that confidence was tainted further by the concerning start the Addicks made to proceedings. In fact, it appeared as if Vetokele’s ambitious effort from distance, swerving well off-target, was going to be as good as it got for the visitors.

For Wigan, confident themselves after a midweek victory over Reading increased their chances of survival, were comfortable in possession, and frequently able to find cracks in Charlton’s back four. Roger Johnson bullied by Marc Antoine-Fortune, and only an excellent save by Stephen Henderson prevented the forward from scoring.

Fortune, a rumoured target of the Addicks in January, was causing all sorts of problems to Charlton’s backline, and was somehow afforded the time to pick out a cross from inside the box after cutting in from the left.

The Frenchman, however, might have spent a touch too long on the ball, with players in red able to desperately through their bodies on the line to block a series of Wigan headers and shots.

It was not just the robust Fortune causing problems for the Addicks early on, with Sheyi Ojo continuously racing past Fox, and Wigan’s main threats combined with ten minutes played, but Fortune could only head Ojo’s cross wide it looked easier to score.

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Inquests were being held in the stands, as the vocal Charlton supporters began to question where the side they saw on Saturday was hiding, and how a bottom three club were so dominant. But they needn’t have bothered.

For having been frustrated by some solid Wigan defending in their efforts to break previously, Luzon’s side finally found a way through with 17 gone.

It appeared as if the move forward have broken down again after some good work by Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Tony Watt, but the ball found its way over to Bulot on the left. Although with a route to goal, he still had plenty to do, bamboozling Wigan’s defenders with a stepover or too before lashing an unstoppable drive beyond Ali Al-Habsi.

Arguably undeserved and against the run of play, it did not stop the visiting supporters celebrating with some vigour. The 500 or so Addicks delirious in the away end.

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Not only was the goal important at face value, but it also offered a chance for Charlton’s backline to re-group after their dubious early efforts.

And while a serious injury to Leon Clarke, who received eight minutes of treatment while the visiting supporters requested that almost every player in red give them a wave one-by-one, threatened to destroy the moment built from the goal, there was certainly an all-round improvement from the Addicks after going ahead.

That especially the case in Johnson, who was now getting the better of Fortune on a regular basis. Joined by Tal Ben Haim, in one of his unflappable moods, and an exceedingly driven Chris Solly, the continued possession Wigan had was prevented from being anything more than a statistic.

Alas, the Addicks will still struggling to get a hold of the ball, not helped by Buyens’ error-prone display in the middle, and Al-Habsi’s gloves were gathering dust.

It meant that Charlton’s second goal also came against the run of play. Another break had seemingly broken down, but Bulot picked up the pieces on the left. Creating space to cross, the Gabon international’s delivery picked out Vetokele perfectly, who had the simplest of tasks to head home two minutes into ten minutes of stoppage time. .

Two chances, two goals, two celebrations that accounted little for the questionable overall deservedness of the strikes.

But while there were dubious elements of Charlton’s performance, their potency in front of goal put Wigan’s to shame. The difference between the two sides made more obvious as James McClean sent a header soaring over the bar before the half-time whistle was blown.

Nonetheless, there was still a need for the Addicks to build upon the resilience shown at the back towards the end of the first period. Few confident enough to feel victory had already been secured as the second half got underway.

A third goal, however, and the points would have certainly been wrapped up. So there were some agonised expressions on the faces of players and supporters alike as Charlton wasted two glorious chances on the break to seal their victory early on in the second period.

Pace and strength from Vetokele allowed him to latch onto Fox’s punt up field, but excellent goalkeeping from Al-Habsi prevented the Angolan from scoring his second of the evening, before the forward turned provide, with his clever flick sending Watt through on goal, only for the Scot to drag his effort wide.

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While it may have been frustrating that the Addicks couldn’t quite put the game to bed, it was arguably more important that they were continuing to stand firm at the back. That despite Buyens’ best efforts to create Wigan’s chances for them, with the midfielder misplacing passes and backing out of challenges persistently.

And when Wigan finally managed to carve out a meaningful opening, an outstanding ‘keeper frustrated them. Henderson, having seen the ball late, pulled off a stunning reaction save to stop Harry Maguire’s header and keep Charlton comfortable.

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As for all Wigan’s possession, and Buyens’ alarming lack of it, there was no sense of panic in the away end. Partly because efforts like McClean’s, fired from distance and sent thirty rows back, were all Latics could muster, and partly because Johnson and Solly were taking in upon themselves to claim every ball played into Charlton’s final third.

On top of that, the Addicks were still having some joy on the break. After the ball fell kindly to to him, Gudmundsson could not have struck his drive any sweeter, but the ball flew past the wrong side of the post by the narrowest of margins.

Alas, such relative wastefulness may have proved a touch more costly were it not for Cousins. His overall performance full of unrelenting effort, but his block to deny Chris McCann, after Ojo and McClean have been given far too much space to create the opening, was stunning. The strike goal-bound, Cousins flung himself at the ball like an eagle pouncing on its pray to keep Charlton’s clean sheet intact.

And any remaining fears that the Addicks could possibly conspire to throw away their victory were quelled as another Eagle(s) pounced with three minutes to play. The debutant winger picked out at the back stick by Gudmundsson’s unselfish pass, and his subsequent finish creating fantastic scenes of celebration on the pitch and in the away end.

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The visiting supporters had been in fine voice all night, but the closing stages were particularly loud. After all the suffering of recent weeks, an away trip that just felt like a ‘proper’ Charlton occasion was a fantastic experience.

The players, who have largely suffered with us, were also more than worthy of their celebrations come the full-time whistle. With gleeful smiles across their faces, despite their energy sapping performances, even those who had hid from supporters in recent weeks came across to enjoy the moment.


 

For this was a moment of celebration that an outstanding performance had provided. Not outstanding in a blistering, flashy and exciting play sort of sense, regardless of what the margin of victory suggests, but outstanding in the determined manner in which the display brought about such a win.

The key element to it was the character and fight so obviously absent in recent weeks, with the back line having it in abundance. It was first needed to recover from a worrying start, and then required to be shown as Wigan continued to attempt to break the Addicks down.

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But through Henderson’s shot stopping, the centre-back’s dominance in the air and Solly’s faultless performance at full-back, Charlton stood firm. Even Fox, who was given the run around by Ojo, persisted as much as he could to prevent the rampant wide-man from delivering.

So too were similar fighting qualities seen in Cousins, who seemed to cover every blade of grass simultaneously. While I was less critical of him as a winger in comparison to others, coming inside has meant his unrelenting effort has had a much larger affect. A part of the heart of this football club is in that young man.

But it was not simply gritty hard work won Charlton their points. Gudmundsson and Bulot provided some real flair for the Addicks down the flanks, with the latter’s upturn in form as remarkable as Charlton’s in general, while Watt and Vetokele complement each other superbly.

In fact, with Eagles tidy on the ball in addition to scoring, it was only Buyens’ performance that was disappointing. To dwell on it for too long is unnecessary, given the result, but it was staggering quite how poor he was. It belonged to that terrible Saturday at Vicarage Road, and not this night.

Where in recent weeks it has been the effort of one player that has brought some solace to beleaguered supporters, it was the effort of all bar one that left those Addicks at the DW feeling a sense of pride.

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And credit must also be sent the way of Luzon. While the process behind it means his appointment can never be justified, and his decision to head down the tunnel without acknowledging the fans suggest he’s in no mood to build bridges, he has provided a simplified and organised approach desperately needed.

It will be interesting to see how he and his players perform against opposition who will provide a genuine test, with Derby to play on Tuesday.

Of course, there will be those who now feel they can begin to trust in Roland Duchatelet’s Charlton again, but I would certainly advise caution against that, and I would imagine so would most other Addicks.

But results and performances like tonight provide welcome relief from the ongoing anxiety over the state the football club as a whole is in. Maybe they even mean a little bit more, owing to the fact the worry can be replaced by jubilation for a short period at least.

Or maybe they mean even more because of how painful the previous few weeks and months have been. I’ve missed this uncontrollable feeling of joy Charlton, although rarely, are capable of providing.

You Reds.

Preview: Wigan Athletic Vs Charlton Athletic

If this match was played just a week ago, then you couldn’t have ruled out both sides finding a way to lose.

For it appeared both Charlton and Wigan were doomed. Latics more so, trapped in the relegation zone following a run of just one win in 17 games, but the Addicks were seemingly doing their upmost to join them having not won in 13 league attempts.

However, what exists in the present is a feeling of genuine hope.

While a six point gap exists between Wigan and safety, their hard-thought victory over Reading in midweek has given supporters the belief that their side could achieve safety.

Likewise, genuine fears of Charlton supporters have been quelled by an outstanding display in the 3-0 victory over Brentford. Qualities missing for months once again seen at The Valley, and a six point buffer now protecting the Addicks from the bottom three.

It sets up an intriguing contest, with both sets of supporters feeling a previously unnatural sense of confidence and belief.

For the winner, the prize will not only be three points in their battle against the drop, but also a sense that momentum is being built. The loser, however, will return to the desperate mood felt a week ago.

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LAST MEETING: CHARLTON ATHLETIC 2-1 WIGAN ATHLETIC

Franck Moussa’s last minute goal gave the Addicks their first win of the season, and a win their attacking intent deserved.

Having been level with Wigan going into the game’s final ten minutes, Callum McManaman’s goal cancelling out Jordan Cousins’ impressive opener, Bob Peeters might well have set his side up to settle for a point.

But, instead, Charlton upped the intensity in the closing stages, and only a fine save from Scott Carson denied Igor Vetokele when one-on-one.

It meant that forward thinking looked to have been in vein. But Vetokele and Moussa combined in stoppage time for the latter to volley towards goal, and his deflected effort wrong-footed Carson before nestling into the back of the net.

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FORM

Wigan: WLLDLD

With the club in a state of dismay and despair that matched if not bettered Charlton’s, Tuesday’s hard-thought victory over Reading was an unexpected reward for those Wigan fans who have suffered so much in the previous weeks and months.

They have not only had to endure decline on the pitch, the club a shadow of the well-respected Premier League outfit that also achieved FA Cup success, but also intolerable actions by those at the top of the club. Dave Whelan’s comments, and subsequent suspension, over his hiring of Malky MacKay well documented and surely embarrassing to committed Latics.

And with a depleted squad struggling for results under MacKay, it seemed as if that appointment had backfired in more ways than one. But the win over Reading, at the very least, has provided some much needed confidence and given the controversial boss a stay of execution.

Much like their opponents, however, one win has not solved all.

Charlton: WLLDDL

Having played for weeks without any notion of character, organisation or ability, not even the most optimistic of Addicks could have predicted the nature of the performance shown in Saturday’s victory over Brentford.

And in the same way the scorelines lost their importance to the manner in which the defeats occurred during Charlton’s 14 game winless run, the way in which the Addicks achieved their 3-0 victory was arguably more pleasing than the victory itself.

The organisation shown at the back suggested Luzon’s side have it within themselves to grind out results, the intensity in midfield, for much of the game at least, crucial to Charlton’s control of the game and the partnership between Igor Vetokele and the outstanding Tony Watt a more than promising one.

Alas, there is no Addick naïve enough to believe one victory has addressed all the club’s problems, both on and off the pitch.

In terms of those on the pitch issues, it’s absolutely vital that a repeat performance is seen at the DW, or the sizable amounts of confidence and momentum that has seemingly been gained will be lost.

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THE OPPOSITION

Wigan will be without Chris Heard after the midfielder was forced off in the midweek victory over Reading.

Heard, who had only recently joined on loan from Aston Villa, will now return to his parent club, with the nature of his knee injury likely to keep him out for the duration of the season.

It leaves Latics desperately short in the centre of midfield, with Emyr Huws, Chris McCann and Don Cowie also expected to absent for Friday’s game. Kim Bo-Kyung, a naturally wide player, filled in in the centre on Tuesday, and he may have to do so again.

THE ADDICKS

Charlton look set to have new signing Chris Eagles available for the trip to the DW, after the winger was snapped up on a short-term deal on Thursday.

But the Addicks will be without Johnnie Jackson after the skipper picked up an injury in Saturday’s victory over Brentford.

The inspiration skipper, whose words and fired-up performance helped to inspire The Valley crowd, will be a huge loss to the Addicks, especially with adequate replacements limited. The out-of-form Yoni Buyens the most likely man to come in.

Rhoys Wiggins is another who will be absent for the Addicks, with Morgan Fox again set to deputise for his fellow Welshman at left-back.

There may also be a need for someone to deputise for Roger Johnson, with the centre-back forced to take a pain-killing injection at half-time on Saturday having suffered a cracked rib. Should he be unable to play, then the horribly out-of-sorts Andre Bikey could come back into the side.

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KEY BATTLE: NULLIFYING WIGAN’S CONFIDENCE

While he may have only been on the pitch just shy of 45 minutes, Jackson’s role in the level of intensity shown by the Addicks cannot be understated. From his pre-game hand gestures to his whole-hearted battling in midfield, his effort was injected into the rest of the side.

It was something his replacement, Buyens, couldn’t replicate. He was slow, tame and error prone. Thankfully, the desire did not diminish from Luzon’s side as a whole, and Brentford, despite bossing possession, failed to show any sense of direction.

Alas, there is a concern that should it be Buyens who starts ahead of Jackson at the DW, the Addicks will not only be without an uplifting figure, but be with one who negatively affects the entire side.

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With Wigan experiencing midfield issues of their own, the Standard Liege loanee will possibly be afforded some slack, but if Charlton are to repeat the intense pressing play seen in the first half against Brentford and not allow Wigan a chance to get into the game, then Buyens must show strong signs of improvement.

That especially true with how quickly self-belief departs from this side if they go a goal behind, which will only be made more of an issue by the fact Wigan will further enhance their confidence and the DW crowd, however sparse, will be behind them.

PREDICTION               

A genuinely tough one to call. There’s new found confidence in both sides, tainted by injuries to key players. Alas, it is the hosts who require the three points more desperately, so preventing them from achieving victory will be a relative success for the Addicks.

Either way, at least I’ll get a decent pie out of it. Wigan Athletic 1-1 Charlton Athletic