2017. Another testing calendar year for Charlton Athletic, and those that follow them. Even when they appeared to have themselves in a positive position, a run of seven winless games at the end of the year put pay to that.
But there have been moments to enjoy. Wins, heroic efforts and emotional scenes. Games, days and events to appreciate and remember, amid the difficulties.
Marvellous Magennis’ hat-trick (v Bristol Rovers, 02/01/2017)
Charlton’s 2017 began by achieving their joint-highest winning margin of the calendar year.
Bristol Rovers beaten 4-1 at The Valley, and that coming after the visitors had taken the lead. An advantage gifted to the visitors. Patrick Bauer slipping, allowing Jermaine Easter through on goal, and the striker, who infamously scored for League Two Wycombe Wanderers to deny Premier League Charlton a place in the League Cup semi-final, rounded Dillon Phillips to score.
Karl Robinson’s side not responding well to falling behind in such a fashion with only 12 minutes played, and there little suggestion that the deficit would be overturned. But there improvement as half-time neared, and the Addicks were able to go in at the break level. Josh Magennis heading home from Joe Aribo’s free-kick.
A vital goal, for it set the foundations from which the hosts would emerge for the second period with much greater intensity and confidence. Five second-half minutes all that were required to put the Addicks ahead. Magennis again heading home from an Aribo free-kick to put Robinson’s side in control of the contest.
And, quite incredibly given how much they struggled after falling behind, the points appeared to be theirs with a little less than half-an-hour to play. A third assist from Aribo, as Teixeira turned in his low cross. A position that the vastly improved Addicks deserved to be in.
So too did the excellent Magennis warrant the hat-trick that was to follow. And the Northern Ireland international claiming it in style. A long ball over the top from Andrew Crofts brought down well, before the ball was curled beautifully beyond Rovers goalkeeper Will Puddy.
Not a bad little way to begin the year.
Battling to overcome Bolton (28/01/2017)
Charlton’s victory at Bolton Wanderers in January is certainly one of their most impressive wins of the calendar year, and quite possibly the most unlikely.
For total humiliation appeared to be on the cards just 12 minutes into the contest at the Macron Stadium. Lewis Page dismissed for stopping Josh Vela’s run on goal, and the promotion-chasing Trotters, who ultimately finish second, scoring through Zach Clough from the resulting free-kick. A heavy defeat surely on the cards.
But ten minutes later, the Addicks had levelled. Patrick Bauer converting from Jake Forster-Caskey’s free-kick. No real faith that it would mean much, but at least Karl Robinson’s men weren’t lying down and accepting their fate.
Incredibly, though, the visitors took the lead in first-half stoppage-time. Possession almost entirely belonging to Bolton, Charlton’s goal had been peppered, and only good fortune had prevented the score-line returning to what seemed inevitable. But, with their next shot after drawing level, Nathan Byrne took Forster-Caskey’s through ball in his stride, and finished superbly.
Disbelief that the Addicks had pulled in front, but the celebrations were made with the knowledge that there remained 45 minutes to keep Bolton’s 11 men at bay.
The extent of Bolton’s domination reaffirmed in the statistics. The Addicks managing just three shots and a single corner, while the Trotters had 15 attempts on goal and eight corners. And yet, Robinson’s side managed to stand firm.
Each man in red gave more energy and determination that they had to give, Bauer and Konsa were immense at centre-back, and as full-time drew near Bolton’s control of the contest turned to a frustrated lack of threat.
A belief created, though ultimately misguided, that this side could fight for something in the remainder of the 2016/17 campaign under Robinson’s stewardship.
Robinson’s 40% (v Shrewsbury, 28/02/2017)
Right, give me a moment. I’ve not lost the remaining marbles I had, or at least yet. I don’t enjoy hilarious failure, unless it’s Leon Best scoring an own goal three minutes after coming on against a club who despises him.
Robinson’s rant at the end of the ridiculous 4-3 defeat to Shrewsbury Town, in which Charlton came a distant third behind Ricky Holmes FC, almost has something of an iconic status. Reflecting the state team, in addition to club, were in at the end of last season. Reaffirming that relegation was a real possibility.
Players not fit to wear the shirt, 40% not caring, and an event pre-game that Robinson had never seen before at any club. A rallying cry would have hidden certain details. This was the brutal truth.
But it was a brutal truth, fairly obvious to the eyes of most Addicks in recent seasons, that needed to be said. In the words of Robinson, “for too long too many people have dodged bullets”. No other boss has had the bollocks to say anything like that under Roland Duchatelet’s reign.
Bob Peeters seemed like he wanted to bemoan what was occurring in certain times, but never quite managed. Russell Slade, despite being outside the network, lacked the strength of character to make such a statement. Jose Riga, Guy Luzon and Karel Fraeye abiding by the rules they were given.
At the time, it only increased the pressure on Robinson, failing as the side slumped towards the bottom four. But, on reflection, it showed Robinson was going to fight. Fight for what he wanted, for his own squad, and to at least remove the poison from the pitch, if not the club.
He’s not necessarily had perfect results, but he’s gone further to getting what he wanted than any other Charlton manager in recent times. A reasonably strong side, with what appears a good team spirit, that have managed to win games. His determination the sort of attitude required to work under this regime.
I don’t always like the nonsense Robinson comes out with, and I would suggest that some degree of disliking to his words in certain moments isn’t uncommon. The AFC Wimbledon stuff was pathetic, like a teenager looking for a response on Twitter, and his assessments of games can sometimes be confusing. Living in Milton Keynes, my mum drinks in the same pub as him, and his rather boisterous words aren’t reserved to press conferences, although my mum might have just been pissed and made it up.
But he stands up for himself. For the club. And offers some fight.
Tony Watt (Watt, Watt, Watt) (v Scunthorpe, 07/03/2017)
Talented and committed players have upheld the connection between supporters and club, and many with questionable attitudes and ability have been ridiculed, but few have proved as divisive in such a black or white period as Tony Watt.
The glimpses of individual skill and quality meant he had many backers hopefully he could display his talents consistently, others felt his heart and head weren’t in it. A number felt constant loan spells and fortunate injury meant he didn’t get enough chances, others assumed he was lazy. Some believe his interests away from football make him human, others want to bizarrely waste time sending him abuse on Twitter knowing full well he’ll have a response.
But there no doubt the frustrating Scot united The Valley when Scunthorpe United visited in March, converting a last-minute penalty in front of the Covered End to earn the Addicks a first win in nine games.
Robinson’s side performing in pathetic fashion – the 40% speech following the defeat at Shrewsbury Town occurring just a week prior to this contest – and another defeat anticipated against second place Scunthorpe. But the Addicks competed against the Iron, and a change of fortune anticipated when Johnnie Jackson volleyed home from close range with 33 minutes played. A Johnnie Jackson so often inspires in desperate times.
But the visitors, as a consequence of a horror error, were able to equalise through Kevin van Veen with 15 minutes to play. A draw against a side competing for promotion, in Charlton’s state, would have been a commendable result, and at least ended a run of four consecutive defeats. But not winning the game would have been crushing to a side who already had nil confidence.
The draw, and the consequence it might have, anticipated until the final minute. Jorge Teixeira dragged down inside the box, and a penalty award. Soft, but certainly enough in Murray Wallace’s contact for the decision to be made, and the prematurely celebrating supporters didn’t care regardless.
Jackson, with an inconsistent penalty record but someone you would certainly trust in such a circumstance to convert, still on the pitch, but Watt claiming the ball and placing it on the spot despite not scoring for the Addicks since returning from Hearts in January.
The Valley not convinced the Scot would convert, but the ball confidently fired into the bottom corner, and impressive celebrations following. More ones of relief for both parties, given Watt’s run without scoring and Charlton’s form. But a goal and a moment so desperately needed.
PC Keith Palmer (v MK Dons, 04/04/2017)
Pride in Charlton Athletic Football club had on few occasions in 2017. But it was certainly there as the Addicks honoured PC Keith Palmer. The season ticket holder killed in the Westminster terrorist attack.
His red seat changed to a white one, inscribed with his warrant number. His brother, effectively held by Johnnie Jackson, and 22 members of the police force, on the pitch as wreaths were laid and a minute’s silence had. “PC Palmer, he’s one of our own,” sung by his fellow supporters.
A fantastic tribute to a hero. One that saw emotion spread around the ground. Hard not to feel on the verge of tears as he was honoured.
Some contrast between the respect offered to PC Palmer, and the Charlton performance that followed that left supporters singing “you’re not fit to wear the shirt”.
The season saving Southend win and the efforts that followed (08/04/2017)
The intense worry suffered at the start of April that the Addicks were set for a second successive relegation were not irrational or hysteric. One win in 14 games had left Robinson’s side in 16th, just four points above the relegation zone with five to play. Pathetic defeats to Peterborough United and MK Dons, in which Charlton’s performances were so poor hostile chanting of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” were produced, stripping supporters of all confidence.
So that the Addicks were able to comfortably pull away from the bottom four was an achievement in its self. To do so with four victories in five games, given that another victory all season seemed unlikely, was mightily impressive. A run beginning with an unlikely victory against Southend United four days after the MK Dons humiliation.
Adam Thompson turning Nathan Byrne’s delivery into his own net with 16 minutes to play to give Robinson’s side their first victory in seven, after the Shrimpers had previously responded to Ricky Holmes’ opener with an equaliser from the head of John White. Though the real match-winner was former Charlton loanee Franck Nouble. An open goal missed in the dying moments to confirm victory for the Addicks.
It followed by a draw away at Coventry City, which relegated the Sky Blues, and three successive wins, with Gillingham, Chesterfield and Swindon Town the victims. As many wins achieved in five games as Robinson had managed in his previous 22 league games in charge.
The final four results achieved against teams who would finish in the bottom five, but the Addicks were in such a state prior to the Southend victory that defeats to teams of that standard appeared likely. The win over the Shrimpers the catalyst for avoiding being drawn into the bottom four. A relatively comfortable, though still horrendous, 13th-place finish achieved.
Bauer’s opening day ‘goal’ (v Bristol Rovers, 05/08/2017)
A new season. Encouraging signings made over the summer. A desperate need for a positive start after the season before.
So Lee Novak receiving a red card six minutes into the campaign wasn’t exactly ideal. The forward, who would leave the club before the end of August, dismissed for a heavy challenge on Bristol Rovers’ Stuart Sinclair. Victory unlikely.
However, 38 minutes into the game, Patrick Bauer headed the Addicks in front. A ‘goal’ more dubious than Novak’s dismissal. The ball probably not crossing the line.
But whether it did or not was of no interest to the Charlton supporters inside The Valley. The first goal of the season to celebrate, and now 52 minutes for these ten men to hold on. Victory still seeming unlikely, but the Addicks had given themselves a chance.
The response determined and resolute. Bristol Rovers applying pressure throughout the second half, and Ben Amos appearing uncomfortable in the Charlton goal, but those in red stood firm. The ten men defending superbly, and the character of Robinson’s fresh side indicated for the first time.
An ugly start to the season, but a hard-working performance earning the Addicks an unlikely win.
Fosu’s form-inspiring hat-trick (v Fleetwood Town, 30/09/2017)
Heading to Fleetwood Town in September, the Addicks were without a win in four. Not just without a win in four, but without an encouraging performance in that time. Having thrown away victory at Walsall in the midweek that preceded the game at Highbury, there little confidence that a positive result would be achieved.
Confidence crushed when, with their first shot of the game, Fleetwood’s Bobby Grant was allowed through on goal to finish with 25 minutes played, and cancel out Tariqe Fosu’s opener. A set-back for a side that had lacked resolve in recent weeks. A worry that such a moment would be crushing.
But this was an excellent Charlton performance, one of the best of the year, not to be interrupted by the Trawlermen’s equaliser. They pressed, they attacked with intensity, and they controlled the game. Fosu scoring an excellent second to restore the visitors’ lead five minutes before half-time.
The Addicks, however, having thrown away two advantages at Walsall, would not feel confident until a third was struck. A third struck by Fosu, breaking through and finishing coolly beyond Alex Cairns. A marvellous hat-trick from the winger, playing the lead role in an outstanding collective performance.
It would inspire a run of nine games without defeat, pushing the Addicks towards the top. We’ll simply disregard that it was immediately followed by seven winless game to end the year, and that positive work was undone.
Amos’ stunning saves (v Bradford City, 21/10/2017)
Charlton supporters were, justifiably, not convinced by Ben Amos during the opening games of the season. Not only had he flapped to allow Plymouth Argyle’s Jake Jervis score a second at Home Park in August, but the on loan goalkeeper’s overall efforts did not inspire confidence. Little control of his penalty area, poor distribution, and early calls for Dillon Phillips to be made number one.
By the end of the calendar year, however, Amos had most certainly earned the trust of Addicks. A consistent performer, claiming crosses with considerable resolves and making many vital saves, as well as becoming the first Charlton stopper to save a penalty denying Portsmouth’s Brett Pitmam, since Stephen Henderson against Leeds United’s Billy Sharp in 2015. But it his efforts in the victory over Bradford City that not only cemented faith in the Bolton loanee, but confirmed to supporters they had a quality goalkeeper.
Protecting a single-goal advantage at Valley Parade, given to them by Jake Forster-Caskey’s goal, the Addicks found themselves the subject of a late Bantams siege. Charlie Wyke first drawing a fine save out of Charlton’s goalkeeper, diving to his left to keep out the effort as the striker slid in to connect at the near post, but it dwarfed by an extraordinary double save from a corner that soon followed. Matt Kilgallon’s header destined for the top corner, before Amos somehow clawed it away, and then managed to pick himself up to deflect the defender’s follow-up over the bar.
A sensational piece of goalkeeping, assuring victory over a promotion rival. Seemingly a statement of intent, and celebrated by all under windy and wet conditions. Certainly no longer any animosity towards Amos.
Holmes match-winning free-kick (v AFC Wimbledon, 28/10/2017)
Such was its occurrence throughout the month of October, winning while not play well might have actually been a planned tactic.
The majority, during the run, not fearing that the Addicks would ultimately be found out. Instead believing that this was a platform, with points gained and confidence built, from which a talented side would begin to dominate games. The platform for promotion.
But some of the games were a difficult watch. Turgid encounters in which both sides lacked quality. Gritty defending required for 90 minutes, the game not controlled even when in the lead, and a tame attacking threat that meant sealing victory wasn’t possible.
And against AFC Wimbledon, such was Charlton’s attacking threat, it appeared they were going to put in a below-par performance that would result in a below-par performance. Barely a chance created as the game entered its final 15 minutes. In fact, the visitors had had the better openings, with Lyle Taylor exploiting some uncertainty in defence in the early stages, and Deji Oshilaja not long missing a golden opportunity after a corner wasn’t properly dealt with.
But the Addicks have a match-winner. The sort that a club like AFC Wimbledon lack, who can’t turn a slight overall advantage into an actual advantage. The sort that can make a difference, even when the side are offering little to no threat.
A free-kick awarded in a tight angle, hugging the edge of the area so closely that supporters were frustrated the ball hadn’t been placed on the spot. Instead, Ricky Holmes placed the ball into the far top corner. A wicked strike, over Simon Moore in the Dons goal and firing in from a position that seemed impossible to score from, that decided the contest.
Having a player of Holmes’ quality, a match-winner of the standard that few other teams in this division can match, is undoubtedly worth several points a season. A frustrating run of individual form towards the end of the calendar year, but that not putting the impact he’ll have at the start of 2018 in doubt. The winger might well prove the difference between stagnation and promotion.
An excellent academy
Calling an event that occurred with little immediate connection the Addicks a Moment of the Year may, for some, sum up 2017. But a man of the match display on Joe Gomez’s full England debut was not only an individual award, nor one for Liverpool to enjoy. It a reflection of the success of Charlton’s academy.
A debut against Germany from the bench, followed by a start against Brazil in November. An up and coming talent called Neymar kept in Gomez’s back pocket, and the 20-year-old certainly not overwhelmed by the experience, as he’s not been while performing consistently in an unreliable Liverpool defence throughout the campaign. A real moment of pride for Gomez, and for the Addicks.
Success of the club’s academy, and its ability to develop players, celebrated both in and away from SE7 during 2017. Rob Elliot Newcastle United’s number one, and quickly reclaiming a starting place after Karl Darlow’s return to fitness, Ademola Lookman’s making an increasing impression at Everton, and Jonjo Shelvey, when he’s not getting himself sent off, has had pundits purring over his passing abilities. While Nick Pope, though signed from Bury Town as a youngster, feels like one of ours, and has been crucial in Burnley’s successes.
Back in Charlton’s present, and discounting what are effectively U23 sides in the Checkatrade Trophy, 11 academy graduates have played for the Addicks in the calendar year, making a combined total of 129 appearances. Joe Aribo, signed from Stains Town at the age of 19 after 22 appearances for the non-league club, developed into a professional player by the club but not technically academy graduate number 12. Either way, those are mightily impressive numbers.
There the undertone that young players are being forced into first team action as a consequence of Duchatelet leaving the squad short on numbers. So too the frustration caused by the rate in which they are sold, with Ezri Konsa appearing to be the next in that category. But it doesn’t take away from the fact, with talent consistently churned out, the strength of Charlton’s academy produce.
Chris Solly’s 250
A player’s longevity at a single club is almost always celebrated. A player’s longevity through times of strife appreciated further. A player’s longevity when he’s one of your own cements his place as an iconic Addick.
Chris Solly made his 250th appearance in Charlton colours during the defeat to Scunthorpe United in November. From making his debut as an 18-year-old in 2009, with his diminutive figure and youthful face not giving the impression of someone ready for first-team football, to a consistent full-back who has claimed the captain’s armband. The world ‘legend’ is thrown around too easily in modern times, but the academy graduate might well be one.
Reaching such a number of appearances, and performing consistently over such a length of time, is made more remarkable when his injury issues are considered. A knee injury meaning he missed most of the 2013/14 season, and the nature of the issue meaning he’s rarely played two games in a week since. But he remains one of the first names on the team sheet.
And possibly more remarkable still in the context of the Duchatelet era. Players appreciated by supporters, not least those that were part of the 2011/12 title-winning squad, quickly moved, or at least replaced by bizarre recruitments deemed to be better. The 26-year-old has stood his ground.
This Solly’s tenth season in the first-team, having made his debut during the final game of the 2008/09 season. But more frequent appearances followed in the next two campaigns, before becoming a regular during the title-winning season. A testimonial due?
The stoppage-time comeback (v Peterborough United, 28/11/2017)
Charlton were dire for 89 minutes against Peterborough United in November. Decimated on the break by a lively Peterborough front three, struggling to maintain possession, and offering little attacking threat. The two-goal defeat they were set to suffer deserved punishment.
A penalty being awarded to the Addicks, after goal-scorer Gwion Edwards hauled down Jake Forster-Caskey in the box, seemed little more than consolation. Ricky Holmes converting. Defeat still imminent.
But there was energy and intensity, for the first time all night, as play resumed. The players believed, and their belief inspiring the crowd. The Covered End spreading noise around The Valley.
And in the fourth minute of stoppage-time, incredibly, the Addicks drew level in a game that had seemingly been lost. Naby Sarr flicking, on Karlan Ahearne-Grant bundling in at the far post. Incredible scenes of celebration following.
Back to The Valley (v Portsmouth, 09/12/2017)
Appreciation for supporters has largely been a token gesture under the Duchatelet regime, with its consistent efforts to leave fans isolated. The classic “we appreciate the support” from player or coach after a 7-0 defeat on a Tuesday night in front of 238 occupants of the away end. But it was much more meaningful as 25 years back at The Valley were celebrated.
A celebration not only of the anniversary of the first game played back in SE7 after seven years of exile, but of the efforts of supporters to get the club back home. The Valley Party’s success admired and appreciated. A day for Addicks to remember the special role supporters have played in this football club’s history, whether young or old.
Just a shame the players didn’t respond to the occasion. The performance poor, and Portsmouth able to win 1-0. A reverse of the scoreline that occurred 25 years ago.
Continued efforts against Duchatelet, that are reaching a conclusion
While the second part of the calendar year saw protests cease inside the ground, in order to focus attentions solely over the course of 90 minutes on Robinson’s men, opposition to the Duchatelet regime has remained as strong ever.
And for those who protested, who boycotted, or even held opposing positions, reward for them is finally coming. A club that has instigated a disconnection from its supporters about to lose the figures that have caused. An opportunity for change on the horizon.
Katrie Meire leaving her position as CEO in the final week of the year, with takeover talks confirmed. Years of insults off on the pitch, and insulting failure on it, about to reach an end. The relief substantial.
We are, it would seem, getting our Charlton back in 2018.