One of my favourite moments as a Charlton fan came during arguably the most depressing season I have endured.
Having slogged through 18 league games without victory, most of which were gutless defeats, an unexpected display of character and fight gave the Addicks a victory over Crystal Palace.
But it was not the enjoyment of Matt Spring’s goal that sticks in my mind. Instead, it was Rob Elliot’s release of emotion at full-time.
He threw himself into his net, fists raised and bellowing in celebration towards the Covered End. As a Charlton fan himself, he got it. He got just how much a derby victory meant, especially after such a torrid spell, and felt the same incredible feeling that those in The Valley crowd did.
Alas, it is the last time I or any other Addick has celebrated a derby victory of any sort. It will be no win over Crystal Palace in 2,257 days and, more importantly, no win over Millwall in a disgusting 6,961 days when Charlton’s game at the Den gets underway on Friday.
The list of woe is a long and sorry one. Each game looked forward to with anticipation and expectation; each ending in misfortune or disgrace.
However, in those recent meetings, the two sides have gone into the games reasonably matched. Favourites not always completely clear, with both in similar league positions.
It means that not for some time has the gap between the two in terms of league position and form been quite so large. Millwall facing the very real threat of relegation to League One and without a win in ten; Charlton in the top half having won seven of their last nine.
Never will we have such a fantastic opportunity to regain a bit of derby pride. Surely we’ll take it. Surely this is where the hoodoo ends. Surely the Lions won’t find a way to avoid defeat yet again.
Come Friday evening, that Elliot celebration might well have been bettered.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0-0 MILLWALL
In truth, Friday isn’t the best chance Charlton have had to beat their local rivals. Their best chance game in stoppage time at The Valley in November.
Played through on goal by Igor Vetokele, George Tucudean was presented with a glorious opening to win the game for the Addicks.
The Covered End had already risen in expectation. This was it. The Millwall hoodoo was about to come to an end.
Alas, Tucudean, instead of taking the sensible option of absolutely walloping the ball beyond David Forde, decided to lift the ball over the Irish ‘keeper. Not lob the ball into the net, but take the ball over the ‘keeper and tap the ball into the subsequent empty net.
But the execution of the effort suggested the Romanian had had second thoughts at the last minute. A half lift-half chip landed too far away from Tucudean to run onto and too far away from the line for the ball to cross it. The simplest of chances wasted in barely believable fashion.
And still the hunt for an elusive victory over the Lions continues.
On paper, coming away from Griffin Park with a point is commendable, especially for a side struggling at the wrong end of the table.
But Millwall’s 2-2 draw with Brentford before the international break might well be the final nail in their coffin.
For the Lions had led by two goals with five minutes remaining, and looked set for their first win in ten. A win that would have put them within five points of safety, and provided some momentum for the remaining seven fixtures.
But a barely believable capitulation saw the Bees gifted two goals, denying Neil Harris’ side a crucial three points and destroying the confidence that would have been gained from their first win since the former Millwall striker took charge.
However, the optimistic will suggest that two points from the previous two games, as well as the first 85 minutes against Brentford, have laid something resembling a platform from which a push for Championship safety can be achieved.
For some time, it appeared as if this clash was going to be a massive six pointer. A 13-game winless run in the league leaving the Addicks desperately close to the bottom three.
But an outstanding run of 21 points from a possible 27 has moved Charlton 21 points clear of their rivals. Wins involving pure class, gritty fight and the character needed to perform comebacks have made the last few weeks incredibly enjoyable for supporters.
And with the campaign effectively over for Guy Luzon’s side, this is the last real important afternoon of the season. Another failure in a derby fixture and that impressive run will be somewhat tainted.
Millwall are set to welcome back Nicky Bailey after the former Charlton captained returned to full training.
The midfielder, who has endured a torrid season due to calf and back problems, could make just his fourth appearance of the season on Friday.
Harris may also be able to call upon another former Addick in the shape of Lee Martin, as well as January signing Paris Cowan-Hall, who have both recovered from injury.
Charlton will be without Yoni Buyens after the midfielder picked up his tenth yellow card of the season in the victory over Reading.
But the loss of Buyens, whose form has been questionable regardless of his exploits from the penalty spot, will be minimised by the return of Johnnie Jackson. The skipper is set for his appearance since 14 February.
There should also be returns for Chris Solly, who missed the game against the Royals after picking up an injury during the warm-up, and Igor Vetokele, who was rested for Charlton’s two games prior to the international break.
KEY BATTLE – OVERCOMING THE HOODOO
More often not, the story of Charlton’s woe against Millwall has revolved around wasted opportunities and comical individual errors.
For, one obvious exclusion aside, rarely have the Addicks been outplayed or outclassed in fixtures with the Lions. A succession of Charlton sides have merely melted at a number of vital moments in closely contested games.
Before Tucudean, there was Grant Basey’s slip, Lawrie Wilson’s equally horrendous miss and Bradley Pritchard’s, erm, general disaster. Victory snatched away, the course of a game turned in an instant and a winning goal in a scrappy encounter presented.
Some of it is, of course, bad luck. But this run without a victory has largely been Charlton’s own doing. Big moments bottled on derby day.
Nonetheless, should the Addicks play to the standard they have shown in recent weeks, then they will almost certainly leave the Den with that much sought after derby win.
All that is required, you would think, is some composure in attack and at the back. A sensible performance, that one plagued by nerves, misfortune and criminal mistakes, and the hoodoo will be no more.
Logic suggests a comfortable victory; past experience suggests it would be naïve to predict that. Even so, on this occasion, I cannot see even us finding a way to mess this up. Millwall 0-2 Charlton Athletic