Travelling to the Valley today didn't carry with it the pressure of a big game, given that Championship statist had been secured, and the playoffs were out of reach. It was replaced by a happy optimism, not too dissimilar to that of the Hartlepool game at the end of last season. Also, a certain Yann Kermorgant has said he usually gets one stunning goal every season, meaning there were murmurings at the possibility of a wonder-strike to come...
An injury to Ben Hamer meant that David Button came in to the side, and Obika started instead of Ricardo Fuller, also presumably carrying a knock. Johnnie Jackson was fit to return in central midfield, pairing up with Mark Gower, and the Addicks were otherwise unchanged.
The first half came, and went. Nothing of note happened. Well, apart from a superb full-stretch challenge by Jackson on the edge of the box, and a nifty backheel best his own area from Kermorgant, before he played a 50 yard pass to open up a counter-attack. Rhoys Wiggins was unfortunately forced off with what looked like a hamstring injury after 10 minutes. Neither keeper was tested. Jackson hit a right-footed volley over towards the corner flag. As I said, nothing of note happened, so I'll move on.
The second half was infinitely better than the first. Around five minutes in, Obika was released by a through ball, and he waited patiently before giving the ball to the overlapping Mark Gower. He struck a flat cross towards the edge of the area, where Kermorgant had raced into the box...
Kermorgant had hit it first time on the volley, and the ball thundered into the net. It was struck with sublime sweetness, brutal power and deadly accuracy. Technical perfection. What. A. Goal.
There was Yann's wondergoal for the season, and in all honesty, he was unlucky not to score another.
Soon after though, the Addicks doubled their lead. Some excellent play down the left resulted in a left-footed Chris Solly cross from the by-line. It was struck with the perfect weight, the trajectory taking it towards the back post, begging for someone to head it in. Pritchard scrambled but it cleared his head, before Kermorgant made a towering leap at the back post, rising to head the ball powerfully into the net. Glorious. Arms spread wide in celebration, he was thrilled, and so were we! Jackson ran over to him to have a go for catching up with him as top scorer! Later the skipper would make amends.
2-0. Yann was nailed on for a hat-trick. Surely?
As the hour mark approached Bristol City (who were the opposition, by the way...) were handed a way back into the game. A series of calamitous passes between Morrison and Wilson ended with a failed backpass, freeing the attacker one-on-one with Button. A lovely lob nestled in the back of the net. Button's despairing dive eventually forced him off injured, as it looked like he landed very awkwardly on his shoulder.
Bristol had a few more attacking forays into the Charlton half, and there was a risk that for all their excellent play since the half began, they would concede again as they had done at Middlesbrough a week earlier. Thankfully, that was not to be the case.
Kermorgant found himself in space towards the right hand side of penalty area, well outside. He took a touch wide, looked up at goal fleetingly, and chipped the ball into the box. It was an absolutely outrageous attempt on goal. The keeper scrambled backwards, failing to get a hand to it. Time slowed. The ball crashed into the crossbar - Yann was cruelly denied. The ball bounced out towards the six-yard box where Obika was waiting, and he coolly headed the ball into the goal to make it 3-1. Most of the players celebrated with Obika, who has deserved his goals after the effort he has put in with the club, but a couple went over to Kermorgant. He sported a wry smile, knowing that he had just been inches away from a quite outstanding hat-trick. After that, it was clear the footballing gods were not on his side, as that third proved agonisingly elusive to him.
A fourth followed after 80 minutes. An excellent th rough ball released Pritchard into acres of space left open by an absent-minded left-back. He galloped forward, reaching the box. Jackson was free running towards the far post, whilst Kermorgant was busting a gut to get in position for his third. Pritchard chose the back post option, where Jackson stretched to turn in a fourth. Happy days! Yann is apparently still fuming with Bradley for his choice of pass...
One last effort for that hat-trick. The ball bounced clear from the box after a corner, and Yann attempted a left-footed scissor-kick in mid-air. It looped harmlessly wide, but to even get something like that vaguely close to the goal is beyond most mere mortals.
As the end approached, the Covered End began to sing a song. This caught on, and quickly the whole crowd had risen as one. "Stand up, for Chrissy Powell". Such adoration couldn't be ignored, and CP waved to acknowledge this. A man who deserves so much credit for the work he has done and continues to do for our football club.
Full time came, and a wave of appreciation greeted the players. 8 games unbeaten - a fitting way to end what has been a season that exceeded the expectations of everyone. Almost everyone...
Man of the Match: Who do you think? Yann Kermorgant was at his skilful, outrageous best today. When he wasn't scoring, hitting the bar or attempting logic-defying acrobatic efforts on goal, he was creating chances for others. He terrorised the Bristol backline in the air, and deserved a hat-trick despite being cruelly denied by the bar (and Pritchard...) It was great to see mini-Yann out on the pitch at the end again. He'll grow up to discover just how good his dad was at football.
The players did their lap of honour, met with the expected adulation from the crowd. Chris Powell looked absolutely delighted, hanging towards the back where he could rightly receive appreciation for his own efforts. He came round to the Covered End and jokingly stopped on the edge of the area, not willing to break the superstition of remaining outside of the box. But in he went. And the crowd continued to applaud. At the end of the lap, he gave a speech. He sounded genuinely overcome with emotion after the support everyone had shown, and spoke of his desire to keep moving this football club forward. Every second, every word of that speech proved why the man is loved by everyone at the club. Chris Powell, we salute you.
A League One squad, prevented from having any significant additions due to financial constraints, have punched well and truly above their weight to achieve a total of 65 points in our first season back in the Championship. If that doesn't make you proud of our club, I don't know what will. For all the absences of quality in some areas, these players have more than made up for it in fight, spirit and desire. Though not quite as good as the promotion season last year, 2012/13 has been a brilliant season. Some lows, yes, but they made the highs higher. And that's why supporting a club like Charlton is infinitely better than one of the big four. The fact we have a brilliant bunch of players who engage with the fans makes it all the more special.
Here's to a great year next season. Who knows what Chris Powell can achieve with the right financial backing.
How will we cope without football... Enjoy the summer, and Up the Addicks!