It began with a villain, without understanding of what Charlton Athletic means to its supporters, mocking those who were beginning the fight to protect their club’s future. Katrien Meire, hiding behind a window several stories above the protesters, laughing as she captured a photo of the Addicks demanding change.
It ended with a hero, whose bond with the club’s supporters is so strong that he feels their every emotion, bowing in appreciation as they applauded his efforts. Johnnie Jackson, having helped turn the anger into positive energy with an inspired performance, celebrating his side’s first win in 13 games.
A day in SE7 that, after many miserable ones, could arguably have not gone any better. An excellent protest, with those at the top of the club reaffirming their ignorance, but the Addicks who wore the club’s shirt sublime.
A win, irrespective of the fact that Sheffield Wednesday came into the game unbeaten in 11, which was fully deserved. A side that had performed without effort, energy and quality for several months showed heartening determination, pressing unrelentingly, and finding a touch of class in the final third. The sort of performance belonging to a time before Roland Duchatelet’s disease had crippled the club.
Fitting, therefore, that, after a surprisingly positive start, it was Jackson who gave the hosts the lead with 26 minutes played. An intelligent run to connect with Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s corner, a booming header, and a goal celebrated for the first time in five and a half games.
With Wednesday pressed into submission throughout the opening 45, the dominant Addicks could celebrate another before half-time. Simon Makienok turning in Gudmundsson’s driven cross at the near post.
Fear of a capitulation still existed. Fear that one Wednesday goal after the break would unearth the real Charlton. Fear a poisonous atmosphere would return.
Fear that was calmed with a third goal ten minutes after the break. Reza Ghoochannejhad, who worked uncharacteristically hard throughout the game, converting from Morgan Fox’s ball across the face of goal.
Though this would not have been one of those memorable Valley afternoons without some sort of panic. Naby Sarr slipping, and Fernando Forestieri capitalising. A nervy 17 minutes to see out, which was done successfully via assistance from wasteful Wednesday finishing.
The full-time celebrations brilliant expressions of joy and relief, with a final anti-Duchatelet chant for good measure.
A brilliant day, undoubtedly, but still the opposition against this ownership needs to be maintained. A day of fight from supporters off the pitch, and fight from the players on it.
Despite the outrage that Meire’s behaviour had caused, it was apparent that the protest prior to kick-off had had a positive impact on The Valley atmosphere.
In front of the West Stand, a very healthy crowd of disillusioned supporters made their feelings known. Calls for Duchatelet to go, Meire informed she hasn’t got a clue, and a plea for a Charlton that feels like theirs to return.
And with emotions still high as those supporters took to their seats, those wearing red were greeted with loud and passionate encouragement. The acceptance that Fraeye would oversee another defeat momentarily ignored.
Such acceptance existing irrespective of the changes made to his side following the pathetic effort in defeat at MK Dons in midweek. Sarr in at centre-back to allow Alou Diarra to move to the base of a midfield diamond, El Hadji-Ba in for the injured Jordan Cousins, and Simon Makienok replacing the absent Tony Watt.
It was, therefore, absolutely vital that the Addicks got off to a positive start. The anger and apathy that hid underneath the positivity would soon appear should the heart being shown in the stands not be replicated on the pitch. Makienok heading Ghoochannejhad’s cross wide encouraging.
More encouraging, however, was the manner in which those in red pressed the opposition. The Owls, possibly not expecting such an energetic effort from Charlton, left looking startled as they were pressed high, with intensity, and collectively. Wednesday restricted to sideways passes, and panicked punts.
Enough for the fired up home crowd, while not totally ignoring their anti-Duchatelet crusade, to invest their own energy into the side. The Covered End vocal as the hosts, particularly through Gudmundsson and Ghoochannejhad, attacked with spark. A marvellous tackle from Sam Hutchinson needed to halt the Iceland international, playing at the top of the diamond.
But to ignore the threat Wednesday possess would have been incredibly naïve. The Owls issuing a reminder as Fox found himself stuck between Ross Wallace and Forestieri, and the on-loan Watford forward was played through. His shot, however, failing to provide a real test to Stephen Henderson.
And there was further cause for concern as the 20th minute approach with Chris Solly, not normally one to spend unnecessary time on the floor, needing treatment. Ghoochannejhad provided a brief distraction, as he headed Gudmundsson’s corner wide, but it soon became evident that the vice-skipper would not be able to continue.
This a huge blow, particularly with such a key player replaced by Tareiq Holmes-Dennis – a young left-back forced to play on the right. Moments like this had crushed the fragile Addicks in previous weeks, and capitulations had followed. At the very least, it looked like something that would halt Charlton’s momentum.
That script, however, one that Holmes-Dennis had not bothered to read. His low cross dangerous, and requiring a Wednesday body to head it behind for a corner. The Covered End again able to roar in hope, if not expectation.
But if their roar was one of expectation, they would not have been left disappointed. For Jackson, whose intelligence when attacking a corner is one of his most underrated attributes, was intent on answering their calls.
Floating in from the edge of the box, away from blue and white shirts, the skipper timed his run to perfection, and celebrations had started from the moment he jumped to connect with Gudmundsson’s perfect delivery.
The roar of joy substantial. One appreciative of the heroic nature of the goalscorer, and the delight of scoring for the first time since before the previous international break. The first time, too, that supporters had been able to enjoy being in the lead since the Cardiff game at the end of September. Glorious.
Slightly less glorious, however, was Hutchinson’s rather nasty challenge on Holmes-Dennis. Whether a sign of Wednesday frustration, given that Charlton’s pressing was still preventing them from playing, or merely a horrendously mistimed tackle, the midfielder was somewhat fortunate to get away with just a yellow.
But there was nothing fortunate about the continued dominance the Addicks were enjoying. No let-up in the intensity of the pressing, Diarra marvellous in his mopping up when Wednesday, particularly Barry Bannan, attempted to find a way through midfield, and Gudmundsson, with a succession of wild shots, still providing some attacking intent.
That isn’t to say that half-time wasn’t begged for as it drew closer. A few sloppy errors beginning to creep in, with Fox and Ba misplacing passes, and the break seemingly coming at the perfect time for Charlton.
So it was some surprise to see Fox find space down the left, and feed Gudmundsson. Even more surprising that Wednesday failed to apply any pressure to the Iceland international, and his ball to the near post was easily prodded goalwards by Makienok. The ball deflecting off Keiren Westwood on its way to nestling in the goal, and disbelieving celebrations followed.
Having expected their struggling side to be crushed by the growing force of Wednesday, who would have got in behind in stoppage-time were it not for Fox’s crucial interception, the home supporters were able to give a standing ovation as the Addicks went in at half-time two goals to the good. Incredible.
Incredible, but certainly not game over. Not least with the worry that, given the intensity of their pressing, Charlton would surely tire, and Carlos Carvalhal’s call to immediately throw on Lucas Joao, along with Vincent Sasso, at the start of the second half. Work still to be done, although not much of it if all of Wednesday’s efforts were to be as wayward as Forestieri’s at the conclusion of their first attack.
In fact, the Owls did not start the second half with the sort of intensity that many feared. They remained lacklustre, too often needing to pass backwards, and without an out ball. Patrick Bauer and Sarr reading the game too well for any of their balls forward to reach a Wednesday shirt. The opening to the half relatively slow – perfect for the Addicks.
Perfect, too, was the sight of Fox popping up in space on the left. Just as Charlton seemed to be sitting on their two goal advantage, thee Welshman drove forward, and cut across to an unmarked Ghoochannejhad. A chance that not even a striker who has struggled in the past could miss.
The Addicks delirious. Wednesday crushed. The formbook ripped up, the remains fed to a lion, and the waste burnt. Game over.
The feeling that victory had been secured, as the Covered End roared, extended by Wednesday’s wastefulness in front of goal. Forestieri dancing through, but taking one touch too many and allowing his effort to be blocked behind, and Joao furious with himself as he headed over from Wallace’s cross after the resulting corner was initially cleared.
And while you could accuse Wednesday of wastefulness in such a situation, Charlton’s narrow misses were merely providing further encouragement, and enhancing the overall performance. Gudmundsson’s free-kick delicious, but striking the crossbar.
However, though the atmosphere was more party than poisonous, there remained a danger that Charlton were getting a little ahead of themselves. Joao starting to come alive, as he danced passed Holmes-Dennis and flashed an effort across the face of goal, Fox forced to haul the breaking forward down and took a booking for his troubles, and a better ball from Kieran Lee would have given him the simplest of scoring chances.
So while the Portuguese forward was not involved in Wednesday’s goal, his efforts in unsettling Charlton’s defence surely helped. Sarr slipping as he attempted to intercept a ball played forward, Lee getting in behind, and teeing up Forestieri to finish. Encouragement immediately from the Covered End, but nerves creeping in.
Not helped by Sarr, superb prior to his slip, needlessly fouling Joao in an excellent position for Wednesday. An intervention from Jackson as the ball came into the box vital, and Joao again left annoyed with himself as he headed the returning delivery over.
Without defensive options on the bench, Fraeye’s only option was attempt to take some pressure off the Addicks with an injection of attacking pace. Ademola Lookman brought on, and immediately dancing round Wednesday’s defence before seeing a shot blocked into the path of Makienok. The forward firing straight at Westwood. The game still just about alive.
Still it maintained a pulse as Lookman crossed for Makienok, but the forward tried to be too clever, flicking back to no one in particular when the better option appeared to shoot. Far too much stress inside The Valley for a 3-1 lead with a handful of minutes to play.
Lewis McGugan, however, did his best to relieve it. After Forestieri’s run had been halted, the ball sat perfectly for the substitute, but he could only blast high and wide. The ball kept among supporters, with Henderson in no rush to claim it off them. Panic beginning to be replaced by party.
And it was McGugan, after Bannan had been taken off injured, who signed off Wednesday’s afternoon in fitting fashion. The final ‘wahay’ from the Covered End, as he blasted a free-kick well off-target, and summed up a rather lacklustre effort from the Owls.
But Wednesday’s disappointing (or “fucking shit” in the words of those in the home ends) display, not belonging to a side unbeaten in 11 and having no answer to Charlton’s pressing, took nothing away from the home side’s efforts. Nor their celebrations.
A brilliant roar of joy as the full-time whistle blew, before Jackson and his teammates were given the ovations their efforts deserved. A quite marvellous display of fight and determination, from a side that had previously seemed beaten mentally to a point of no return.
This, however, was a performance of a side that showed they do possess some mental toughness. An ability to perform in difficult circumstances, to respond to disappointment, and to show some character and quality.
For there was not a player who did not perform. Not a player who did not fight. Not a player who did not give the crowd reason to get behind the team, and keep the atmosphere positive.
Henderson having little to do, but cool and calm. Bauer dominant, and Sarr only struggling after his slip. Fox and Holmes-Dennis, especially given the former’s recent struggles and the latter’s inexperience, superb at the back and going forward.
Diarra sublime in his deep midfield role, cutting everything off, and Ba’s performance was much improved. Gudmundsson and Ghoochannejhad constant threats, while Makienok won most of the balls that came his way and took his goal well.
And Jackson, the inspirational leader of this football club whose presence is more important than those who are structurally above him, was outstanding. A true captain’s performance. His goal the catalyst for this marvellous performance, and his overall performance containing an infectious amount of energy and effort. A true Charlton legend.
Alas, irrespective of the efforts of those on the pitch, it takes nothing away from the criticism that must be directed at those off it. If you are in any doubt, simply remember Meire mocking the protest. Laughing at disillusioned fans/customers.
It does seem that that is a view universally shared. Even during the game, it was Jason Euell who had his name sung, and not Fraeye, while a cry of “we want Roland out” was heard at full-time. The anger, rightly so, not relenting.
You’re letting Duchatelet and Meire have their way, and continue to view us with contempt, if you allow this win to weaken your opposition.
This regime, and this philosophy, does not deserve anything but criticism. It certainly doesn’t deserve another chance.
For now though, it’s worth celebrating this win, and this wonderful winning feeling.
But the fight must continue on the pitch, as well as off it.