|Jackson led from the front, and showed just how much |
his goals meant to him.
The worst possible start. Corner to Cardiff three minutes in, Jackson awaits the ball at the front post but Helguson nipped in front, glanced the ball goalwards and put the Blues one up. Not much was going for Charlton, starting with a 4-4-1-1 formation, Jackson playing in behind Hulse. It was proving fruitless in attack; Hulse was isolated and whilst Haynes had pace, his crosses were ineffective. Cardiff doubled there lead from a similar corner - whilst the flick-on was saved, a scramble ensued. The ball kissed the bar, was hooked back across goal, when Hamer flew out to save it, but the clearance fell to Mason who powered home. 0-2.
A subtle change made by Powell saw Jackson drop into a midfield four and Haynes join Hulse up front. Cardiff still looked comfortable, but the move gave their defence a problem, as the centre backs could no longer double-up on Hulse. The midfield created space and a break resulted in Hulse challenging Marshall - the blues' keeper - for the ball. It fell to ground, and after a poor clearance it rolled to Jackson to slot home coolly into the top corner, pulling one back. That was a vital goal before the break, but things got even better just before the 45 was up. A Salim Kerkar corner was met by an unmarked Jackson who headed down, hard, into the corner. Two all. Game on.
Cardiff looked stunned as they walked off. The home crowd were overjoyed, singing the players off with a rendition of Chrissy Powell's Red Army that had gone on for much of the first half, aside from at 0-2 when everyone feared the worst.
The second half. What a half. Early on, a free kick near the left touchline was taken by Stephens. I hopefully muttered 'goal' as he went to pick it, expecting the curled effort to be met with a strong header. But no, it lifted as it rotated, curved toward the top corner. It had sucked Marshall under it, and he was helpless to prevent it flying into the back of the net. Three two! Stephens looked incredibly sheepish - finally our luck seemed to have changed.
Stephens was running the game. Cardiff seemed to give Charlton vastly more space than Middlesbrough had just days earlier, and paid the price. Solly played a superb diagonal ball, which was pulled down well by Pritchard level with the far post, and his centre was met by another unmarked player, Danny Haynes, who nodded in. Four!
This extra space as well as the huge lift in confidence stemming from the first half fightback allowed Charlton to flourish. Again the ball was worked down the left, utilising the free space. Kerkar had time to pick out his ball, and despite cries from the crowd warning of an approaching player from behind, he dispatched his cross into the middle. It was inch perfect, splitting the centre backs, and Hulse was in position to glance it past Marshall. FIVE!
Pandemonium. Delirium. Shock. What on earth was going on? Where had this come from? Two down to a team top of the league, missing key players and having to play others out of position, on a run of four winless games, no home victory since August, and yet we had just seen five unanswered goals fly in. Absolutely unbelievable. And only 67 minutes gone.
For the rest of the allotted 90 it was fairly comfortable for Charlton. The luck seemed to have changed. Second balls were falling to red shirts not blue, loose balls as well, and attacks had occurred with a clinical cutting edge. But then the ref seemed to decide Charlton were time-wasting and added SIX minutes. Cardiff pulled one back, the defence had gotten sloppy, the midfield knackered. Then three minutes later a fourth. No. Just no. Surely not. The renewed, panicked energy meant defending became more frenetic. A free kick on the edge of the box probably caused numerous fans to have a heart attack. The attack was absorbed, nullified. The torturous added time expired. The game was won.
Relief was the primary emotion at full time, but that quickly turned to ecstasy. As the players left the field they were cheered, applauded like heroes. And quite right too. It was a herculean comeback. Too many players had great games to single out a man of the match. Pritchard ran himself into the ground, won balls all night, energised attacks and assisted the fourth. Stephens ran the show, scoring and providing killer passes. Hulse fought hard and linked up well with Haynes, who himself showed how useful pace is - though concerningly he was forced off with cramp. Dervite dealt with everything, putting in a solid shift at centre back - although conceding four was perhaps not ideal. Solly coped superbly at left back, and played an exquisite diagonal for Pritchard in the run up to that fourth. And Jackson led by example, scoring twice, winning tackles and orchestrating the fightback. A quite remarkable team effort.
After they exited the field, there was the brief pause for the ritual booing of the ref - once again richly deserved - before the man himself came into view. Chris Powell. A lot had been said after Saturday. A lot had begun to question his position. A completely illogical knee-jerk reaction, and the home supporters were out to prove their point. Chris Powell's name was sung regularly. There was a refusal to be negative - though the goal to make it 1-2 was key in preventing many from turning on the players. But it was Powell who once again showed he's successfully instilled that never-say-die attitude in this squad. In those circumstances, going five two up was close to taking the mickey. Powell approached the tunnel. Yet again his name was sung. He reluctantly appeared for his victory tunnel-jump salute, but we all knew how much it meant to him. This will act as a lift - a huge and crucial lift - not just to the squad, the fans, but him as well. Unfairly his job was put under pressure from certain individuals, and these three valuable points were the perfect answer to banish the nay-sayers. He walked down the tunnel, triumphant, a win that meant so much.
The Evening Standard contained an article which had Chris Powell quoted in the heading: "We've got too much fight to go down". And where does that fight, desire and determination stem from? Chris Powell himself. Be thankful he's our manager, and doubt him at your peril.
Five four. Wow.
Three vital points. Up The Addicks!