It was a Callum Harriott brace that sealed Charlton’s Championship status the last time they endured a relegation battle, and a Callum Harriott brace has kept Charlton’s faint hopes of avoiding the drop to League One alive on this occasion.
For without the academy graduate’s goals at Griffin Park, celebrated with similar vigour to how supporters responded to his crucial strikes in the win over Watford in 2014, the Addicks would surely be dead.
They are not goals, nor this a Charlton victory, that moves Jose Riga’s side any closer to safety. In fact, the gap between the Addicks and survival remains as it was before the game against Brentford. Eight points once goal difference is equated for, and the psychological gap even bigger.
But victories elsewhere for both MK Dons and Rotherham United meant that gap would have got substantially larger without a Charlton win. Too large for even the most optimistic of supporter to not start planning for the third tier.
Instead, as was the case in West London, there can be hope that showing character and fight may well be rewarded. Harriott rewarded for being in the right place at the right time as he popped up to convert a loose ball 30 seconds into the game.
The early lead, however, was not the catalyst for a pulsating and dominant performance from the Addicks. Scrappy defending, good fortune the excellence of deputy goalkeeper Nick Pope preventing Brentford from equalising before Yoann Barbet was allowed to head home with ease at the far post following yet another poorly defended corner.
And nor did the Bees equalising inject the sort of wakeup call many hoped it might. Dean Smith’s side guilty of wastefulness and toothlessness, as Charlton lost momentum going forward and grew increasingly uncomfortable at the back.
So it was against the run of play, and from their first meaningful attack of the second period, that Harriott put his side back in front. Former Addick David Button, under pressure from Yaya Sanogo, spilling Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s cross and unable to prevent his one-time teammate lashing the ball into a near-empty net. The celebrations in the terraced away end belonging to a set of supporters who had seen their side score a relegation-saving goal.
But those celebrations were ignoring the reality of Charlton’s situation, and that the Bees still had 21 minutes in which to grab an equaliser. Nervousness as the hosts constantly found themselves in behind, only for a desperate block or a dreadful final ball to bring joy to the visiting supporters.
It meant that Addicks, filled with relief and joy, were ultimately allowed to experience the wonderful feeling victory brings. Savouring every moment, with post-game celebrations minimal this season.
And though the wonderful celebratory scenes, shared between players and supporters, were not tainted by the situation at the bottom of the division remaining almost unchanged, there could be no escape from reality as supporters departed Griffin Park.
Harriott has kept Charlton’s heart beating, but it remains in a critical condition. This victory, with the full picture considered, will ultimately be meaningless in the attempts to make a full recovery if it is not built upon.
That that heart still beats is particularly pleasing given the team Riga cobbled together appeared to be the final nail in the coffin.
The absence of Stephen Henderson meant Pope, fluctuating between the sublime and the suicidal when called upon previously, was forced to start, a return for Morgan Fox in order allow Yun Suk-Young to start on the left-hand side of midfield seemed odd, and dropping Simon Makienok in order to accommodate Harriott seemed harsh.
At least Jordan Cousins, replacing El-Hadji Ba and taking on armband-wearing duties, was fit enough to start, and the Addicks had returned to a four-at-the-back formation. A degree of structure in a seemingly misshapen side.
But those that were concerned with the make-up of their side, and equally fearful of it being exposed in the opening stages of the game, need not have worried.
For the sight of Fox bombing down the left wing following kick-off was encouraging. His cross testing, with Yaya Sanogo doing enough to prevent Brentford’s defence from properly dealing with it, and Harriott alive to confidently finish. A moment’s pause to confirm that the Addicks had indeed taken the lead with 19 seconds on the clock, and unexpected celebrations ensued.
Particularly against a side whose form has been as poor and confidence as low as Charlton’s, this was the perfect start. An opportunity to cripple the Bees, and prevent them from being able to get back into the match.
Alas, as the game began to settle after the early excitement, there was a scrappiness and a sluggishness in the visitors’ play. Gudmundsson running into dead-ends, Cousins guilty of misplacing passes, and unnecessary fouls given away in midfield. Brentford allowed to find their feet.
It was, however, when the head of a Bee was found that they first threatened. The already influential Alan Judge delivering a ball from a free-kick that even the most competent of backlines would have struggled to deal with, and John Swift nodding wide at the far post. The lead already being held precariously.
And though the pace and determination of those in Charlton’s wide areas, with Harriott lively and Fox always looking to get forward down the left, was at least providing some solace for those anxious Addick, wasting an opportunity to go two in front appeared a huge moment. Gudmundsson’s corner flicked on, but an unmarked Jorge Teixeira unable to make a proper connection at the back post.
For the Bees appeared more threatening with each attack, and the Addicks more uncomfortable. Marco Motta struggling to deal with the dual threat of Judge and Swift, as the latter broke into the box only to be denied by Pope.
But the goalkeeper could do little but stand motionless as Brentford next attacked down the left, with Motta comfortably beaten by Judge, and the winger’s excellent driven cross beating all inside the box. The Irishman furious that Marco Djuricin couldn’t get the faintest of touches to turn it in.
In fact, as he had been at The Valley in October, Judge was rampant. Motta slipping as he attempted to halt his run, allowing the winger to cut inside and curl an effort at goal that Pope just about managed to beat away. A more alert Djuricin might have pounced on the rebound.
And a more potent Djuricin would have surely put the Bees ahead moments later. That not to take any credit away from Pope, however, as the goalkeeper raced off his line to deny the forward after he’d been played through by Sergi Canos.
Alas, Djuricin’s blushes were spared from the resulting corner. Two players in red and white peeling off their men at the back post, the delivery sailing over the cluster in the middle, and an unmarked Barbet converting the simplest of headers. A Brentford equaliser had certainly been coming, but there was no excused for conceding yet another soft goal from a corner.
An immediate response, therefore, required. Though the visiting support remained defiant, switching between Charlton chants and anti-Roland Duchatelet swipes, further frustration would surely see them turn. Sanogo heading a Harriott cross narrowly wide, and Teixeira nodding a Gudmundsson corner into Button’s hands promising enough.
Less promising, however, was the sight of Alou Diarra limping off the pitch with 34 minutes played, just after Swift had been allowed to dance round several of his teammates and only halted by a last-ditch Cousins intervention. The Frenchman replayed by Diego Poyet.
It meant that, with the Addicks still struggling defensively and something of regroup needed, the half-time whistle was the second most pleasant sound of the afternoon behind the roar that met Charlton’s opener. The first half concluding with the Bees seemingly the more likely to end the game victorious.
And the second half beginning in much the same fashion. Brentford constantly able to get in behind Charlton’s backline, and the hosts incredibly fortunate that Canos could only fire across the face of goal having been played in by Josh McEachran. The momentary silence in the away end suggesting many were preparing to endure opposition celebrations.
A similar hush with an hour played, as Swift found himself with a clear sight of goal on the edge of the box following a half-cleared corner. The Chelsea loanee’s effort was, however, little more than a tame prod into the gleeful hands of Pope.
Tame also a fitting way to describe the game overall with less than 30 minutes to play. The Addicks struggling to mount any sort of attack, the battle in midfield horribly scrappy, and the advantage that the likes of Judge and Swift were giving Brentford tainted by the lack of any sort of end product. Someone without any knowledge of the Championship could tell these were two out of form sides.
It was, therefore, a surprise even to see a Charlton player with possession in the opposition’s final third. Gudmundsson finding the space required on the left flank to deliver an inviting ball, with Button spilled under pressure from Sanogo. The loose ball dropping to Harriott, the winger rounding him, a second’s thought taken and the ball lashed beyond Brentford bodies on the line.
Out of nothing and out of nowhere, there was carnage. The goalscorer celebrating in front of the away terrace, expressing joy that they had been saving away for weeks. Stunning.
And though Brentford had previously looked threatening, you hoped their fragile confidence would have taken such a knock that they would be unable to get back into the game with 21 minutes to play. Harlee Dean heading horribly wide, and Judge rounding Motta only to fire a cross straight into Pope’s hands hardly helping.
Nor were further errors of judgement from Button. The goalkeeper seemingly well in control of the situation as Sanogo chased a long ball, but the former Addick turned his clearance against the Arsenal loanee, and was fortunate that it bounced off his legs in such a manner that the Bees could clear. The energy of Sanogo unrelenting.
The same could be said about Judge, however, with he still the game’s most influential player. Pope claiming a well-struck shot from the Irishman, and Charlton’s defence doing just enough to deal with his deliveries as he constantly gained space on both wings.
But he could not do it alone. His teammates clearly lacking in self-belief, and growing frustrated with themselves and each other. A corner falling to substitute Lasse Vibe, but the forward taking far too long to get his shot away, and a body of Charlton purple able to get the ball away. It was all very desperate, but it was enough.
Frustration, too, getting to Judge as stoppage-time approached. A horrible hack on Cousins as he broke away earning him a yellow, with forward Addicks outnumbering Brentford defenders. The Bees lacking the quality, composure and confidence to earn anything from this game.
In fact, with Sanogo still working tirelessly and now joined in attack by Simon Makienok, their defeat could have been confirmed before the full-time whistle was blown. The Frenchman teeing up the big Dane, and his strike from the edge of the area rattling the crossbar with some force.
Alas, there was still nervousness among Charlton supporters. A voice in the away end recalled how costly a strike against the bar proved at Griffin Park last season, and you could not help but feel fearful that it would prove costly again.
That especially the case as Judge worked space for himself cutting in from the right. His first shot blocked, before the rebounded volley, struck with a clear sight of goal, flew comfortably over.
Time needed to regain breath and composure before celebrations of relief and joy could begin, but it was not given as the final whistle blew before Pope had finished the follow through of his goal kick. It was not pretty, but with the gritty and fighting qualities so often absent this season, the Addicks had recorded a sixth victory.
A sixth victory celebrated with the combined passion of six separate wins. The away end chaotic, and those who had worked hard for the victory savouring every moment. Harriott and Sanogo, lapping up the praise and appreciation, in moods that summed up this wonderful feeling.
A wonderful feeling that can’t be underestimated, or overlooked. Regardless of what has occurred, and what may occur, this will be remembered as a bloody fun day.
And yet, the mistake made after Charlton’s last victory cannot be made again – we cannot get ahead of ourselves.
For Brentford were poor. A team with greater confidence and any sort of reasonable end product would have capitalised on the period between Harriott’s first and second goal, where the Addicks were very sloppy. Motta horrendous, Teixeira error-prone, and absolutely nothing to offer going forward.
But nor should we take anything away from the efforts, for the most part, of those in Charlton colours. The fight that followed the second goal was as committed an effort as there has been this season, with the newly composed Teixeira winning everything, Fox battling hard, and Sanogo’s efforts up top unquestionably deserving of his post-match reception.
So too must Pope be singled out, for the calm manner in which he dealt with Brentford’s balls into the box and his handful of excellent saves, and, of course, Harriott, who took his goals superbly and played with the confidence of a player who hasn’t been frustrated by a lack of first team football in recent weeks.
Alas, for the time being at least, it all remains almost meaningless. The gap still effectively eight points, and the confidence gained from this victory will be lost and then some should the Addicks fail to beat MK Dons on Tuesday.
One final chance.