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It means self-mocking and relegation fears have been replaced by belief and something resembling optimism towards on-the-pitch events in the stands.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

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