Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Charlton 2-1 Reading

Carling Cup Round 1, 7:45pm, The Valley.
Attendance 6,668

Tonight was my first chance to see the new Charlton side play a competitive game. The game was initially called off due to 'civil unrest', and was rearranged at the same time as the second round games.

It was a drizzly evening, cold enough to require jeans and a jumper. Depressing for mid-August, really. The traditional pre-match walk over the level-crossing, past the rather sparsely populated pub, and round the corner into Harvey Gardens, at which point the stadium appears. A very reasonable ticket price for the game means I am only required to hand over £10 for entrance. Through the turnstiles and up to the East stand. Into the ground itself, affording me a sight of the Charlton side warming-up. It took a few minutes to put names to faces, and then work out their positions. Powell chose a 4-4-2 with Hamer in goal, a back 4 of Francis, Mambo, Doherty and Evina, Midfield of Green, Pritchard, Hughes (captain) and Bover, with Jason Euell and Paul Benson up top. 11 changes from the side that has played all 3 league games so far. Reading also made changes, but still had quality players such as Tabb, Harte, Church, Manset, McAnuff and Howard. I was not feeling to optimistic about our chances, and duly predicted a 3-2 defeat, with Benson and Green to score for the Addicks. Some of that was right...

The atmosphere built as some fairly decent music was played before kick-off, until the teams finally emerged to the ritual applause, in time with the Red Red Robin song that has become a traditional curtain raiser. After the usual 5 minute faff, the game finally kicked off.

Paul Benson celebrates his opening goal
Paul Benson scored first.
Happiness around (most of) the ground.
The game
The first half was extremely lively. End to end football with good build-up play provided the entertainment. Early chances fell to Manset for Reading, and Benson for Charlton, both efforts the wrong side of the post. Charlton then had a great chance to open the scoring. A great passing move, which was to become a familiar sight for the rest of the game, saw Pritchard find Benson, who set up Danny Green inside the area. His shot seemed destined for the bottom left corner, but his right footed shot curled wide. A good chance missed.

Following a goal-line clearance from Francis at one end, Tabb nearly gifted Charlton a goal at the other, as his poor header allowed Euell a run at goal. The shot was disappointing, but well saved nevertheless. Chances continued to be created, with 8 in the first 10 minutes of the game. Charlton again broke, with Green putting Bover through from halfway, but his shot was blocked by the retreating defence. Reading then went close when a cross was met by Church, forcing a good stop from Hamer. 25 minutes in, and finally the deadlock was broken. Danny Green had the ball on the right hand side of the area, and his cross was headed across the face of goal by Euell. From where I was sat, it was difficult to tell what Benson had done, but the ball hit the back of the net. Benson was really pleased to score, as he is trying his utmost to get into the starting eleven in the league. His performance should have pleased Chris Powell, as he knows he has a quality striker in reserve.
Hamer saves from Church

Soon after the goal, Pritchard had a shot cleared off the line, acrobatically by Cummings, almost defying the laws of physics to reach the ball. Pritchard was understandably amazed that his neat chip of the keeper had not doubled the lead. Another chance went begging when a mis-hit shot from Bover went across the face of goal, and Francis missed his kick, having been in a great position to score. Just before half time, Brian Howard took a shot from outside the box, forcing an excellent save from Hamer, who got his fingertips to a ball destined for the top corner. Charlton went in at half time a goal ahead. We all knew the game had more goals in it.

The second half begun with an extremely disappointing injury to Paul Benson. He won a header and then must have either landed badly or been trodden on, because he went off to receive treatment for a hand injury. It turns out that he had a possible dislocated finger, and had to go off. Powell put Wagstaff on, to play off lone striker Euell. Church again went close for Reading, and as a punishment for his misdirected header, he clattered into the advertising hoardings.

The Next 10 minutes proved to be one of the most scintillating passages of play I have seen for years at the Valley. Charlton launched four or five sublime counter attacks, with wonderful quick passing. Pritchard, Green and Wagstaff were involved, Bover and Evina too down the left. Wagstaff had a shot saved when he worked his way into the corner of the area. Bover also had a shot deflected for a corner. From these two corners, Danny Green whipped in two dangerous balls to the front post. The first was cleared by a defender, but keeper McCarthy had to scramble to his post, and ended up lying in the back of the net. The second corner crashed off the post, again forcing McCarthy to tangle himself up inside his own goal. Green also had a long-range shot well saved. Charlton finally capitalised on their dominant spell, as a great cross from Simon Francis was met by Jason Euell, whose header down went through the keeper's legs and into the back of the net. 2-0. Much happiness. Euell's first goal for the club since scoring against Norwich back in 2004 (though obviously, he has not had much of a chance to score since then).

Sean Morrison scores following an error from namesake
Michael, seen sprawled on the floor above...
The visitors pulled one back in the 73rd minute, the same time as Scunthorpe had scored on Saturday, and worry was etched into the faces of us Charlton fans. A corner was not delt with very well, and the loose ball was not cleared by recent substitute Michael Morrison. His failed clearance Reading debutant Sean Morrison to poke the ball into the back of the net, through a crowd of players. Charlton had begun to tire, and the rest of the game was more about hanging on to the lead instead of pressing for further goals. It was at this stage when the referee decided he wanted to make the game closer, and attract more attention to himself. He started making bizarre and inconsistent decisions, handing Reading a couple of ffree kicks in dangerous positions despite minimal contact. One player was booked for complaining to the ref, and a fan behind summed up the mood, crying "Did he call you a w*nker ref? Let him off, he's right!" (See below for further lines from this entertaining fan). Manset had a header cleared off the line by Scott Wagstaff, following another corner. Reading created few clear-cut chances, and it was Charlton who came closest to scoring in the final few minutes. Ruben Bover's mazy run into the box resulted in a shot that hit the crossbar. This proved to be the final action as the whistle blew. Charlton were deserved winners.

Charlton 2-1 Reading (Benson, Euell; Morrison)

Chris Powell celebrates with Alex Dyer
Chris Powell celebrates with
Alex Dyer.
The players were appreciative of the crowd again following the final whistle. The feeling was mutual, as the players disappeared down the tunnel to much applause. I think it was Powell who was last off (he has a habit of this, which is most pleasing), as he did one of his traditional tunnel 'jumps' where he re-emerges. I left the ground noting that significant defeats had been experienced by Premier League sides, especially Norwich. These ties had taken place in round 2, which we had just earned our place in. Preston at home lies in wait, a more winnable game than tonight's fixture was. Unfortunately, the BBC website decided to make it sound like Charlton were lucky to win. No mention of the higher number of shots on target Charlton had then...

Man of the Match
The player that stood out for me were Pritchard. He was heavily involved every time Charlton went forward, with skilful passes as well as important challenges when tracking back. He looks really lively and a great signing from the non-League. Benson also had a very good game, but his contribution was unfortunately cut short due to his injury. Hamer in goal was also very solid, as were the two full-backs Francis and Evina. Euell grew into the game as it progressed, and Danny Green looks like a class act on the right wing. But Pritchard was the man who stood out. He will be knocking on the door for the team that starts against Bury on Saturday.

Considered Opinion
Chris Powell: "Some people were a bit worried about me making wholesale changes, but I've said all along it's about the squad this year. After the start we've had in the league, the players that are on the fringes were looking and thinking 'will I ever get my chance? Tonight they got it, and they absolutely took it."
Bryan McDermott: "Credit to Charlton, I thought they played really well. But I look after Reading and the shape of our side.
@ReadingFC: Full time whistle goes at the Valley stadium. Charlton Athletic 2-1 Reading! The Addicks deserved the win.
@johnnie_jackson: No one told me Brazil were playing at The Valley tonight!

Fan of the Match (content warning - foul language)
A hugely entertaining evening thanks to an angry fan sat behind me in the East Stand. His anger combined with a funny voice meant that after a couple of outbursts many fans were in fits of laughter. First of all, following a marginal handball appeal, he shouted "Its not f*cking basketball ref!" Later on in the game, following a couple of lines that escape me, his anger at the ref boiled over: "Are you watching this game ref?" seemed sufficient, but then a wonderful pause gave way to "you tosser!" I noticed an older couple struggling to contain themselves following this masterfully constructed outburst. Finally, as seen above, following a booking for dissent, he shouted "Did he call you a w*nker ref? Let him off, he's right!" Superb.

Ref rating: 3/10 for Dean Whitestone.
A poor performance from the ref. Very inconsistent, poor knowledge of the advantage rule, as well as a late attempt to draw maximum attention to himself. He tried to give Reading a good chance to level the scores by awarding them free-kicks outside the box following innocuous, or even made-up fouls. To be fair to him, there have been many worse performances by referees at the Valley. Thankfully this had little bearing on the final result.

Match Rating: 9/10
My ratings keep rising. It was a super game with end to end passing football, goals, angry fans, poor referee, desired outcome. Usually I wouldn't expect to see a better game this season, but with the squad Powell has assembled  and the quality of the football played, you would be foolish not to expect more.

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