Following the encouraging draw at Bolton, Chris Powell's men were able to successfully defeat a strong Brighton side thanks to a heroic team performance.
On the long journey home from Bolton following Saturday's draw, my thoughts rarely deviated from the performance of Yann Kermorgant. The combative Frenchman - such a rare commodity - had put in an archetypal performance, hinting that he could reach and surpass the heights of his exploits last season. This obsessive focus was partly as a consequence of my love of the man, but that was not all. The dynamism that a fit-and-firing Kermorgant brings to the side gave real reason for optimism. The pieces were falling in to place on Saturday, and whilst we'd rather have returned south with three points instead of one, Yann's performance in that role gave hope of better things to come.
Fast forward to Boxing Day, skipping out the ritual festivities, and that hope remained. Brighton promised to pose a stern test for this Charlton side, but one that they were capable of passing should the performance be of the required standard.
An early kick-off gave the Addicks a chance to secure points before fellow strugglers had the chance, perhaps instilling a bit of worry into their subsequent performance. Rarely should another team's score factor into match preparation, but you can't rule it out. Far from focussing on others, though, the Addicks had to concentrate on the task at hand. Two home games in four days provided a great chance to ease those relegation fears.
Chris Powell retained the same players that started the game at Bolton, meaning Chris Solly was making his first home appearance since his injury lay-off. Alnwick continued in Hamer's absence, whilst Richard Wood was back at the heart of defence with Michael Morrison. Wilson's more advanced role would give him more freedom to venture forward, whilst Kermorgant partnered Church up top once again.
A strong contingent had travelled up from the south coast, ready to cheer on a side which had won three of their last four away games.
The Valley surface was heavy, meaning many of the early passes were a little short of pace. Once the sides adjusted, the contest began in earnest...
Brighton looked a strong side. Close control of the ball enabled them to put together a few clinical passes to shift the ball out of areas of danger and into space. Ulloa's return up front gave their attack a focal point, and a few swift moves enabled them to trouble the Charlton back line. He threatened to set up an opener, but his cut-back was too far away for the oncoming attacker to connect with.
A dangerous Brighton move down the left saw a Will Buckley shot blocked on the edge of the area. The rebounding ball fell towards Stephens, who was nudged in the back by Crofts, but no foul was given. The header fell to Ulloa, who twisted, turned and struck a low shot into the right corner of the net. Alnwick was unable to adjust and dive in the muddy goalmouth. Goal for the Seagulls.
Far from feeling sorry for themselves after the goal, Charlton were energised, and sought an immediate response. Cameron Stewart cut inside and fired a shot towards goal, but it kept on rising and was comfortably over the bar by the time it reached the goal.
An incisive pass from Stephens found Kermorgant, moving towards his own goal away from his marker. He controlled, turned and fed through Church, who was slightly too far away from goal, his curled effort blocked.
A couple of half-chances followed, one for each side. Crofts had a shot comfortably held by Alnwick, whilst Stephens arrowed a long range free-kick over the bar and into the crowd.
Cousins and Stephens in the middle weren't sitting as deep as they had been at Bolton, and their industry combined with heart saw many Brighton moves thwarted. Wood and Morrison were winning the contest in the air, whilst Solly and Wiggins were standing firm against the threat of Buckley and Lopez.
Another promising attack was created down the left hand side thanks to some positive play by Rhoys Wiggins. His cross into the box didn't quite fall for Kermorgant, deflecting off the defender close by. Yann instinctively stabbed the ball through into space on the right side of the area, where Lawrie Wilson had advanced. The right-midfielder had a free shot, which he powered past Brezovan in the Brighton goal, hauling the Addicks level.
It was a deserved goal. After going behind, the response had been positive. Charlton were looking to put together moves using Kermorgant aerial strength, as well as by overlapping down the flanks.
"He used to be shite, but now he's alright" sang the Upper North contingent. I was confused by the implied criticism of Wilson, who's done a great job every time he's been asked to by Powell. After adjusting to the demands of the Championship, he's been a strong and versatile player down the right for us. He deserves a bit more than being labelled 'alright'!
Few clear-cut chances were created before the break. Wilson broke down the left but Church couldn't divert the cross on target. Bridcutt fired a powerful shot narrowly wide for the visitors. Wiggins charged down the left, but his cross came to nothing.
The interval arrived, greeted by applause from the home fans. A chance for Powell to refocus the players' minds and renew their purpose.
What followed was one of the best spells of high-intensity football I've seen this side play since that blitz against Cardiff 13 months ago. The midfield pressed with more conviction; unrelenting Addicks pressure followed. Stewart broke down the left and reched the by-line, but Upson rose to prevent Kermorgant heading towards goal.
A counter-attack resulted in Kermorgant sprinting clear from the half-way line. He looked to continue the run beyond El-Abd, shifting his angle of attack towards the corner flag. A cynical challenge from El-Abd denied the Frenchman any chance of moving towards goal. Despite the clear absence of any intent to play the ball, referee Russell deemed that only a yellow was required. By the letter of the law, a correct call, but too often players can make professional fouls and escape with a yellow. From the free-kick, the ball was played wide to Solly in space, who crossed into a flock of Seagulls defenders, and the ball was cleared.
After yet more pressing, and yet more pressure, Charlton put together another great attack. Stewart crossed towards the edge of the box, behind Kermorgant. He tried an acrobatic shot to divert the ball into the net, but it was mis-kicked. Wilson had again advanced into the box, and he collected the ball, knocked it out wider into a bit of space, before firing high into the net once again. For the second time, Brezovan was beaten by power, and for the second time Wilson stood with hands behind his ears, a sign that he had answered those critics.
Charlton attacked again. Church and Kermorgant broke from half-way, with the former charging down the left wing. Only a defensive leap could prevent Kermorgant from heading at goal once again.
Brighton calmed the game down with some slow passing around the back, which enabled them to regain a foothold. A few pot-shots failed to trouble Alnwick in the Charlton goal, but the threat of a few well-placed passes releasing Ulloa had not disappeared.
Church once again covered a lot of ground to take the ball down the left. He knocked the ball past El-Abd and attempted to run beyond him, only to be pushed to ground cynically once again. Surely another foul worthy of a yellow, and a deserved sending off. Referee Russell, however, baffled the home crowd by waving away protests for a free-kick. Shambles.
Barnes, brought on to give Brighton some impetus up top, and immediately found himself unmarked at a corner, but couldn't adjust to the flight of the ball and headed over. Soon after, Ulloa gave the Addicks cause for alarm, heading a Brodcutt corner past Alnwick towards the front post. Fortunately, Dale Stephens was positioned to nod the ball clear, and preserve the home side's lead.
Down the other end, in front of the North Upper, Wiggins beat two players and shaped to cut inside. His run took him across the edge of the area, where he was scythed down by El-Abd in the process of passing to Wilson on the right. After an advantage, the referee awarded the free kick to Charlton.
The ball was a few yards to the left of the D, just outside the line of the post. The referee failed to move the wall back ten yards, so just gave up. Yann was standing over the ball, narrowing his eyes to focus on finding the top left corner. The wall encroached gradually as Kermrogant waited for the whistle. It was blown and a hush fell over the Valley.
Yann stepped up to the ball and struck the ball over the wall. It curved, it dipped. Brezovan stood motionless. The crowd stared. Whilst the ball was in the air, time seemed to slow. The ball was destined for the top corner. It found the target. A goal for Kermorgant!
Pure unbridled joy in the Covered End. It was as cleanly struck as they come. The perfect free-kick from a man who had battled hard all day to create and deny at both ends of the pitch. His first set-piece goal since scoring against Wycombe in the game where the League One title was secured. A fitting finish from a man capable of footballing perfection.
With 15 minutes still to play, Powell looked to secure the three points that were there for the taking. But Brighton were able to apply some pressure, and came very close to scoring with 10 to go. A shot hit one post, before another hit the other. Narrow escapes for the home side.
Stewart was replaced by Evina to strengthen the defences down the left hand side, whilst the hard-working Church was replaced by Dervite. Once again he'd run himself into the ground up front, chasing scraps. An important role but an under-appreciated one.
Charlton dug deep, with Solly, Wilson and Kermorgant combining admirably with little support in an attempt to keep the ball away from their own goal. Solly had been superb, displaying strength in defence and energy in attack. But there was only so much they could do before Brighton stole the ball and launched another offensive.
90 minutes had elapsed before the seemingly inevitable goal came about. Stephens made a rash challenge that could've conceded a penalty, but Brighton played on, with the ball crossed to Barnes. His first shot was blocked, but a second bounced through to Ulloa, who tapped home despite a hint of offside.
Charlton clung on thanks to some unsubtle time-wasting, but the job was done. Three points!
Yann was covered in mud, showing just how good his performance had been. He was applauded off the park a hero, along with all the other players. To witness Powell's tunnel jump once more was a welcome moment of happiness after a tough season up to this point. The man himself was thrilled as well.
That was a proper Charlton performance. One we can all be proud of.
Wilson will rightly win many plaudits for his performance, one that was undoubtedly among his best for Charlton. The two goals will grab the headlines, but it was not the only aspect of his play that impressed. Both goals were taken clinically, struck with power and accuracy that strikers would be proud of. He was a threat on the right as well, often combining with Solly to piece together dangerous attacks. The song does him a disservice, as he's settled into the club extremely well. Another 'Powell player' who makes up for any potential shortcomings with energy and desire.
Solly also caught the eye, with his defending strong and that darting attacking instinct back on display. On one occasion he span past a player and cut inside to set up a chance, delighting the crowd. The sight of him charging down the flank is an inspiring one. A true Charlton lad, his heart well and truly devoted to the cause.
Morrison and Wood were excellent at the back, with the latter particularly strong. He adds an extra organisational element to the backline, and whilst he might not be the polished ball-player like Dervite, he adds solidity at the back. The first goal will have frustrated, but otherwise the pair were strong and repelled a lot of danger.
Wiggins had a superb game. He is a real threat going forward down the left, combining with Stewart, swinging crosses in and sometimes even cutting inside on his own individual run. Powell's flat 4-4-2 system requires strong full-back assistance going forward, and that's exactly what Wiggins provides. Earning the free-kick for Yann to score was among his best moments.
Stephens showed a marked improvement on his Bolton display, accurately feeding the ball to Kermorgant on occasion. A lot of his best work was done in defence, alongside Cousins, who once again covered a lot of ground and protected the back four on numerous occasions. We are benefitting not only from a settled midfield pairing, but also the contrasting roles the two play. Stephens can involve himself more in attack thanks to the defensive cover that Cousins provides. The latter is growing in confidence and skill with every game.
Stewart had one of his quieter games, but he still caused trouble down the right hand side. He forced Salter to concede foul and collect a yellow card for a cynical shirt pull after he'd been beaten. A couple of crosses caused alarm, and a couple of shots almost found their way towards goal.
Church's role was one that could easily go unnoticed, but his tireless efforts up front are vital to Charlton's attacking play. He had to chase a few balls over the top and into the channels, and did so with success. He couldn't always find his man with the crosses, but his industry allows Charlton to win the ball high up the pitch, and commit men forward. He is starting to click in his partnership with Kermorgant, which is hugely encouraging.
Now, on to Yann himself. The Gallic genius was back to his heroic best. His battling, warrior-like display was characterised by his muddied shirt and shorts at full time. He had thrown himself around in both attack and defence to win the game for his side. His headers in defence were almost as important as his headers in attack. He dropped deep, played others in, took the running up himself at times, looked to score when he could. Everything. Oh, and that free kick. It was as well struck as is humanly possibly. Perfection. He was everywhere for the team today. Back to his best. A vital component of this Charlton side, and one who can win us games on days like this.
Chris Powell rightly kept faith in those that played at Bolton, as they rewarded him with three points. A fantastic team performance which showed real cohesion, particularly after half time in that spell leading up to the second goal. Given the lack of resources we have, the team spirit has become a priceless commodity, as it is strong enough to lift all involved to play as well as they did today. Kermorgant typified the brilliance of the Addicks. Brighton were no pushovers, and it needed a collective effort to overcome them.
The win eases the pressure in this relegation scrap. Furthermore, results went Charlton's way in the subsequent kick-offs, meaning a gap of four points has been opened up.
Games like that live long in the memory. In the words of Powell himself, "it just felt like Charlton today". A team of heroes pull together to put in a superb collective performance and take all three points. It helps when those Charlton players show their quality. It wasn't just Yann who did that today. You could make a case to suggest that everyone was at the top of their game. Long may it continue.
With the encouragement of the Bolton performance, and now the uplifting success of the Brighton effort, attention now turns to Sheffield Wednesday on Sunday. If we can maintain the same level of intensity and spirit, then we have a great chance of picking up another victory, and further easing the fears of relegation.
Once again, Powell shows he's capable of turning things around with a settled group of players. We don't have the ability to splash the cash on Premier League players, so his hands are tied. When you consider the contract situation, his efforts appear nothing short of miraculous. He makes up for perceived tactically conservativeness by instilling the players with enough self-belief and confidence to play as they did today. The man is worth his weight in gold.
Powell's delight was reflected by the Valley faithful. A fantastic Christmas present after a tough few weeks and months. His job now is to harness this feeling and keep up the momentum. He has dispelled the doubters once again, but much remains to be done.
A great victory. Chris Powell is a hero. And I bloody love Yann Kermorgant.