Saturday, 6 April 2013

Incredible finale rewards superb Addicks performance

Charlton Athletic    2-1    Leeds United
Jackson (47)                      Varney (81)
Obika (90+5)

Jonathan Obika's stoppage time header won the game for the Addicks, sending both the fans and Chris Powell absolutely mad with joy. A competitive game in which Charlton held their own, competed throughout, and deserved their victory.

The same XI that beat Bolton lined up for Charlton against a Leeds side struggling for points, and finally rid of everyone's favourite Colin, Neil Warnock. The game was a vital one for both sides, given they were poised 4 and 5 points above the dreaded drop zone before kick off. Despite the prospect of a cagey affair, Charlton played some of their most fluent football of the season. Leeds, given Warnock had drilled the outfit, were very physical, often pushing off opponents when going for headers. But the home side stood up to the test and created a number of chances throughout.

Leeds started the better side, with a cute backheel opening up the back four, but the shot came to nothing. Further pressure caused pockets of restlessness among the crowd, but the general tone of encouragement could be heard, and fortunes picked up for the home side. The chief outlet of opportunity for Charlton was Yann Kermorgant, so often the talismanic fighter leading the line, fighting for the ball. He won so many headers, but the most impressive aspect was his technical ability in controlling the ball in the air and laying it off. He threatened to release Fuller and Harriott with his sublime play, and although things didn't quite click, the free-flowing nature of Charlton's play once he'd won the ball was a joy to watch. On one occasion, he won the ball, escaped from the challenge, and skilled up a midfielder with a quick left right double tap. On another, he brought down a cross and attempted a mid-air left footed scissor-kick from the edge of the box, which wasn't quite powerful enough and was saved. Quite simply, I bloody love the man.

Two attacks stood out as the best chances hat fell to the home side. From a melee in the box from a set piece, Dervite hit a 12-yard left footed volley low towards the bottom left corner, which was seemingly well saved onto the post, and Michael Morrison spurned a glorious chance, blazing his close range left footer effort over the bar. The other chance was Harriott's, whose attacking skill worked himself some space before he drilled a fearsome shot, which at first, given I was sat directly in line with it, looked like it was flying into the top corner. But the ball swerved late and presumably decapitated an unfortunate Leeds supporter.

Half time was greeted with a welcoming, warm applause for the home side, who had impressed without being rewarded. Fuller was working well up front with Kermorgant, who continually won the ball to kick-start attacks.

Shortly after the break came a decisive moment in the game. Charlton worked the ball down the right, but it was defended, cleared as far as Hughes, 30-yards out. He lined up a shot, hitting it hard and low towards the left corner. It was a great effort, but the ball was blocked. Yet the ball looped to a totally unmarked Jackson, who controlled it, sized up his shot, checked if he was offside, sized the shot up again, and finally fired the ball gloriously home, over Paddy Kenny. The net bulged. Happiness.

I will admit, I thought he was offside. Whether he was from the moment of Hughes' shot, which matters, remains to be seen, but the linesman had an age to raise his flag, but didn't. Jackson seized his opportunity, scoring his 10th goal of the season. His finishing this season has been excellent.

Somewhat understandably, from the 50-odd-th minute when that goal went in, Charlton invested less players in attack, defending with more miners to preserve the lead. Few chances came at the Covered End, but a huge let-off came when Dervite completely missed his kick, allowing Steve Morison clean through on goal. Fortunately his rasping effort clipped the outside of the post and went wide.

The free-flowing attacking play of the first half was shelved as time progressed, replaced by the frantic defending we have grown so familiar with. I meet hasten to criticise Powell, but it did seem too early to call off the assault on the Leeds goal, given how many chances had been created. The change on 75 minutes seemed worse than it actually was. Kerkar was introduced in place of Ricardo Fuller, back to his troublesome best up front, but clearly tiring. You thought immediately that Powell had decided on 4-5-1, but actually Harriott had been sent up front to play ahead of Kermorgant. Still, shortly after the substitution, Leeds scored a somewhat predictable goal. The ball pinged around the box, and with the Addicks unable to decisively clear the ball, substitute Luke Varney shot, which dipped below the bar having taken a deflection off Andy Hughes of all people, landing in the far corner of the net. To be fair to him, he celebrated initially but ceased quickly, respecting the home crowd that had welcomed him on (largely) positively. But 1-1 with little time left in the game. Nerves returned, badly.

Harriott was quickly withdrawn and replaced by Jonathan Obika, who'd had a frustrating time since joining on loan from Spurs. Inexplicably, and somewhat ironically, a small pocket of 'supporters' behind booed him. Sensible.

Charlton reignited their attacking desire, suddenly creating fresh chances. Leeds seemed to have accepted the point, bringing Michael Brown on to kick people in midfield. He was booked inside 30 seconds for a dreadful lunge on Kermorgant. Chances came: Kermorgant headed a Kerkar cross wide. Another cross saw Yann hauled to the ground, as defenders resort to doing given his aerial prowess, with the ball eventually finding its was to Chris Solly, who fired a shot from the edge of the box agonisingly across goal, and wide. Not long after, he had another shot from a similar area, this time slightly closer to the goal, which he really should have scored. It was agony. Obika had worked well down the right and got into a position on the byline to cut the ball back, but the defence cleared up and defied the home side again.

4 additional minutes were declared, but this coincided with an injury to Lee Peltier, and an ensuing substitution, delaying the start of the injury time by about 2 minutes. All hope seemed lost, but Charlton didn't give up. They worked the ball into the left hand corner of the pitch, winning a throw-in. Wiggins flicked the ball to Kerker from the throw, who immediately gave the ball back. Wiggins looked up at his options in the box, before looking down again and swinging across a powerful but perfectly weighted right footed cross. Obika rose to meet the ball, which flicked his head when at maximum height, before slamming into the back of the net, top right corner. A late winner! WHAT A GOAL! 


The whole Valley went absolutely bezerk. Utter joy, everywhere. I haven't celebrated a goal like that for a long time, a solid half-minute of going bonkers. Charlton rarely score late goals, which was why that frustrated feeling of an opportunity lost had crept in come stoppage time. But, as they have done all season, Charlton did not stop fighting, and the result was a testament to the desire to play for the shirt that has typified this season. 

Full time arrived soon after, with a tidal wave of relief and joy spreading across the Valley. You cannot beat late winners. Sublime.

Andy Hughes, being the gentleman and legend that he is, went to the Leeds fans to show his appreciation of them, given his cult hero status at the club. And yet he was still cheering with the Addicks fine, a broad grin on his face. Obika offered a worship gesture to the fans. Hamer came over and did his usual pumped-up celebration. The whole squad were celebrating. The moment lasted a good while as the players gradually made their way off the pitch. 

Last of all to leave, of course, was Chris Powell. I absolutely love the man. He tactically shakes hands with everyone before making sure he's the last off. He applauded the crowd in response to the adulation he was receiving. It was incredible how all the doubts about going defensive had ceased, to be replaced with such a pure feeling of happiness. You could see how much the result meant to him. Previously, his tunnel jump has been reserved, but today, it was sublime. He charged out, leapt into the air, to the roar of the crowd, and stayed out clapping them, as a gloriously noisy chant of "Chrissy Powell's Red Army" rung around the ground. He eventually went back down the tunnel, only to reappear once again. Special moments shared with a great man. His man-management above anything was demonstrated today. Motivating Obika to come on and play well after a frustrating time is a true testament to the greatness of our manager. 

Individual Performances:
Hamer was solid if unspectacular. His goalkick to the opposite side of the field for Wiggins, who set up Harriott's fierce shot, was excellent, and he collected everything that he needed to. Very solid.
Solly probably should've been the man we are all praising for scoring the winner late on, but he was still at his belligerent best, fighting for the ball and often coming out on top. Nothing typified his efforts more than him charging down the goalkeeper in the Leeds penalty area after running 80-yards to try and force a mistake. 
Wiggins was also solid, he struggled to get into the game, but was good in releasing the talented Harriott. But that cross at the end was absolutely sublime. I really like him at left-back.
Morrison was excellent in the air, dealing with pretty much all that was thrown at him. As was Dervite, who was far better than he was in the first half against Bolton, although he was fortunate to get away with that one glaring error that almost allowed Leeds to score.
Pritchard was at his energetic best, although I reckon he gets too excited when in the opposition penalty box, hence the lack of end product. He won headers and put in some good balls, despite at times struggling for control. His work rate is just fantastic.
Harriott was also superb, creating chances  and causing problems for the Leeds defence. His first-half shot was spectacular, but inaccurate. He fully deserves to carry on playing left-midfield for the season as he's learning every game.
Andy Hughes is a legend. He didn't have his best game today as a few clearances were sliced and he - unfortunately - deflected Varney's shot over Hamer and in. But would I have wanted somebody else playing instead? No. His brilliance was demonstrated by his diving header, under pressure, to get the ball back to Hamer. Even the Leeds fans sung "Hughesy" after he shepherded the ball off for a goal kick late on. He motivates, leads by example, and tidies up the play extremely well in the middle. A great asset for our club. As is Johnnie Jackson, who took his goal incredibly well, and despite his poor challenge that brought the yellow card, he worked really well with Hughes centrally once again. After a shaky start in the Championship he has become one of our better players, and he is a superb leader. Love the central duo, they were great today.
Fuller worked very well today, threatening to create chances throughout, and getting onto knockdowns from Kermorgant superbly. He was unlucky not to get a chance on goal, but with him playing like that, we look a constant threat in attack.
Lastly of the starters, we come to Yann Kermorgant. Quite simply, he is a brilliant footballer. He won so many headers, and as I mentioned earlier, his technique in playing the ball from awkward positions is sublime. He was unlucky not to score, with a header saved and another denied by a blatant foul, but as the man who created so many opportunities today, he was great. I know I'm biased because I love the man, but I think he deserves Man of the Match for his efforts today. Heroic. 

Of the substitutes, Obika made the greatest impression, with an excellent run to create a chance, and of course that perfect injury time headed winner. Powell's ability to keep the morale of players up is one of the reasons he is indispensable as a manager. Kerkar came on and you can also see why Powell is once again considering him for the first team. Involved in the goal, but worked hard and kept the play going. Both show the value of maintaining a good squad, and crucially, keeping morale high. 

A brief point, which is that Stuart Attwell was terrible. He missed countless handballs and refused to give free-kicks for pushing and pulling when players challenged for headers. Yet he gave a foul for Kermorgant's attempted challenge which led to the Leeds goal. An incompetent performance, which thankfully didn't prove costly for us.

The tactics between the Charlton goal and the Leeds equaliser were a tad suspect, but I don't think that should reflect badly on Chris Powell. He went defensive too early, but still inspired his side to a second home victory in as many game - quite frankly a miraculous achievement the way this season has gone. He continues to bring the best out of his players, and in motivating the whole squad to keep at it, his side are deservedly moving away from the relegation places. 12th place is a fine effort, even if the season is not yet over, and safety not mathematically secured. Results favoured Charlton today, and whilst that is to be cheered, there is still work to do. Have I got faith in Powell and the team to win more games though? Of course. 

A great afternoon at the Valley, despite the gloom when the game was seemingly headed for a draw. You don't need to look further than Chris Powell's post-match celebrations to work out how much the result means for our football club. I felt earlier that 54 points would be enough for safety, and whilst that is obviously by no means a factual statement, the team is well positioned to keep picking up points and move away from the drop zone.

A famous victory in SE7. Up the Addicks.

1 comment:

  1. A good write up - agree with much of what you say.

    From where I sit, Jacko was offside for his goal, but I'll take it.

    Kermorgant was superb today - which to a certain extent is a reflection on how relatively poor the Leeds defence was. In most games this season, he's won nothing like the number of headers he did today, simply because he's been up against better defenders than last season. Today, not so much. His work-rate was immense - tracking back, clearing the ball out from our box.

    Personally I didn't think we did defend anything like as deep as we usually do after going in front. At least not until further on in the half.

    Lastly, no comment on the ridiculous number of handballs not given? I counted nine, seven by Leeds players in various positions. I'm quite happy that some of them were "ball to hand" but all of them? And given that a good majority of the ones by Leeds players gave them a significant advantage, I'm amazed Atwell didn't blow up for some and there were huge appeals by the Charlton players of handball for the Leeds goal although I couldn't see it myself.