Saturday, 25 January 2014

Huddersfield Town 0-1 Charlton: Third Time Lucky

A completely forgettable game of football, but a great result for the Addicks, whose fighting spirit saw them weather the Huddersfield storms and progress to the Fifth Round for the first time since 2006.

Huddersfield away. Third time lucky, surely? A defeat in the Capital One Cup in August, followed by a loss in the league in September, left the Addicks with bitter memories of the John Smith Stadium. A cruel twist of fate saw Charlton drawn to play Huddersfield once again in a cup competition, much to the displeasure of both sets of fans. The FA Cup has an ability to produce exciting ties that capture the imagination. Huddersfield against Charlton is pretty much the antithesis of this.

Despite the mutual apathy about the fixture, I was quite excited. A chance to get to the 5th Round; a chance to see my heroes battle it out; a chance to travel to a distant Northern outpost to watch football. It's the FA Cup - what's not to like?

The sense of anticipation built gradually as the morning progressed, as various trains carried me North.

Arriving in Huddersfield ridiculously early meant there was time to kill - more time than could be spent looking at the fine statue of Harold Wilson. Having sampled the delights of the town centre very briefly, I made my way to the John Smith Stadium.

All sorts of famous faces arrived, with the home players trickling in dressed in sharp suits. FA Chairman Greg Dyke was equally as excited about the fixture as I, so was in attendance. Alan Wiley, ex-referee, also made his way into the club entrance, presumably there to see just how bad a referee Stuart Attwell is.

Just as a huge raincloud approached the ground, the Addicks arrived. They streamed off the team coach in club hoodies, with Chris Powell passing just yards away from me. Ajdarević was rocking a hipster hat, Jackson seemed jovial, but most importantly, Yann was there.

After the Addicks had disappeared, it rained. A lot. The wind whipped around as well, adding to the deserved stereotype that it's grim Up North.

Eventually we found shelter inside the ground. Then the team news arrived. Yann had been rested. Disaster.

An instant feeling of devastation passed through me. All that way to Huddersfield and no Yann!

The starting XI was actually encouraging enough. Ajdarević got his first start for the club in central midfield, alongside Dale Stephens and captain Johnnie Jackson. Harriott was on the left, with Church deployed wide right and Marvin Sordell alone up front. The back four of Wilson, Morrison, Dervite and Evina was not the strongest given the absence of Solly and Wiggins, but it was hoped that they'd do a job.

As the game got underway, it became quickly evident that the absence of three key players was severely impacting on the quality of Charlton's football, particularly going forward. We were suffering from not having the two full backs getting forward and delivering quality crosses. Equally, holding the ball up was proving too difficult without Kermorgant's skill and calm.

A couple of attacks were launched, but the first 15 minutes was more notable for the sense of reality that struck this delirious Addick. For all the build-up, hope and expectation, I'd forgotten that matches between these two sides tend to lack a significant amount of quality. The games are always close, but only because neither side ever seems capable of stitching together a polished 90-minute performance. The magic of the cup couldn't even inspire these two teams to cast aside their inhibitions and frailties in favour of a free-flowing, attacking style.

A quick break down the right flank saw Wilson flash a cross to the near post, but Sordell's stabbed effort went comfortably over the bar. After that early cause for optimism, Charlton struggled, and were lucky not to be behind at the break.

The Terriers threatened regularly, capitalising on Charlton's inability to hold on to possession when past the halfway line. Particularly worrying was Evina's positional play - he was often caught too far infield, unable to close down the wide player when he was fed the ball. A number of crosses flashed across goal, with Alnwick, Morrison and Dervite just about dealing with most of them. When the ball did fall to a Huddersfield player, Norwood headed over. Nervous times.

Vaughan looked to have worked an opportunity on goal, but just as he was about to shoot, Michael Morrison made a crucial intervention, clearing the danger with a well-timed standing tackle.

The defensive frailties continued when Huddersfield broke through the middle. A simple through ball cut Dervite out of the play, whilst Evina struggled to track his man. Clean through on goal, the shot from Danny Ward was superbly stopped by Alnwick, making himself big by diving to his left, and he was quickly up onto his feet to collect the loose ball before a home player could slot it home.

It was a pretty poor showing from Evina. He made a clumsy tackle and appeared to pick up a dead leg after colliding with a Huddersfield player. Inexplicably referee Attwell awarded Charlton a free-kick. It wasn't the only time his decision making favoured the Addicks...

Stephens was fortunate to stay on the pitch
Having failed to tackle one player, Dale Stephens chased the ball determined to make amends. He left his feet and launched an extremely robust challenge on Adam Hammill, following through with his second leg and appearing to clatter the Huddersfield player. He got some of the ball, but it was an ugly tackle, and the home crowd was increased. Huddersfield lobbied Attwell to produce a red following an unsavoury mini-brawl between a few of the more heated players. Fortunately for Charlton, Stephens escaped with a yellow. When he made a similar challenge five minutes later, this one less violent but still a foul, it was clear that Powell either needed to have stern words with him at half-time, or withdraw him from play altogether. Hammill was forced off injured minutes later, clearly showing that the challenge had been a nasty one. Adam Clayton managed to catch Stephens with a tackle of his own, sparking more anger from both sets of players.

Another couple of chances came for the home side, with one shot blazed over the bar and a header flying wide.

Evina was forced off after half an hour, having put in a performance only Djimi Traore would've been proud of. His replacement - making his first-team debut - was young centre-back Harry Lennon. "He's better than John" sang a pocket of vocal away fans. Lennon faced a tough task dealing with Huddersfield's wide threat, especially as he was playing in an unfamiliar position at a level never experienced before. But he acquitted himself very well indeed, performing far better than the man he'd replaced.

The issues Charlton had experienced early in the game continued through to half time. Jackson had done his bit defensively, but he's have been disappointed with the way his side were playing in attack. Harriott and Wilson crossed too deep when forward. Ajdarević skewed a shot so badly that it went out for a throw. The problem was the inability to hold on to possession. Sordell deserved his chance after a couple of cameos, but he didn't help himself by being too soft in possession - he tried to skin past the right-back but ended up running straight into him. The lack of a target for aerial balls was evident, but so was the quality in wide areas that we've become reliant upon when Solly and Wiggins play. Ajdarević looked a little lethargic in possession despite his calm head and clinical passing.

Half-time arrived, the visiting side relieved not to be behind, or indeed down to ten men. Surprisingly, Stephens emerged for the second period with the rest of the side, despite Jordan Cousins warming up at half time.

Charlton were brighter after the restart, able to put together more confident passing moves round the back and into midfield.

From Harriott on the left, the ball was played into Sordell, who passed with his back to goal to Stephens near the halfway line. He fed the ball across to Ajdarević, who moved it on to Wilson on the right flank. Instead of trying to beat his man on the outside, Wilson cut inside and found space. He slotted a straight ball in behind the defence along the right hand line of the six-yard box, where Church ran to meet it. He waited, took the ball closer to goal before slotting the ball past Smithies in the Huddersfield goal. The ball trickled towards the far post, where it nestled in the corner of the net. A goal!

Scenes of jubilation were sparked in the away end, coupled with a lovely feeling of surprise. It was the first shot on target registered by the Addicks. For once, we'd been clinical when the opportunity presented itself.

A jubilant Astrit Ajdarević celebrates with Simon Church
Huddersfield once again showed they could create chances, but they were now up against a Charlton side with something tangible to defend, and they'd redoubled their efforts. Alnwick did well to cling on to a stinging shot from the right hand side soon after the goal.

Mark Robins decided to introduce the lively Sean Scannell, making Lennon's task at left-back even more challenging. The debutant did his best but was twisted and turned, before Scannell teed up Norwood close to the penalty spot. He tried to sidefoot home coolly, but inexplicably aimed wide. He should've levelled the match due to his proximity to goal, even though Wilson had managed to get back inside the post in an attempt to block a shot.

Another glaring opportunity missed came when Stephens lost the ball in midfield, allowing Scannell to break forward again. He beat a defender to give himself a clear sighting of goal, but dragged his shot wide. Alnwick was advancing, but should at least have been forced into making a save.

Despite these occasional moments of panic, Charlton were far more confident and comfortable in defence and on the ball than they had been in the first half. Ajdarević had settled into the pace of the game and made very calm and composed passes, allowing the Addicks to keep hold of possession. Jackson was doing a fantastic job of disrupting the play, whilst making clinical passes and generally being a hero like he always is. Stephens had calmed down and contributed to this passing play. Church had done a fine industrious job once again, and continued to work well down the right hand side.

With 70 minutes gone, Sordell was replaced to cheers from the away fans - a little harsh, but hadn't helped his cause with the poor quality of his play. Green's introduction saw Church moved to the centre, where he was far more successful in winning the ball and feeding it back into midfield. Ajdarević was withdrawn too, replaced by Cousins to help sure up the defence.

A rare Charlton attack down the left saw Harriott find Church, whose mazy run into the area gave him the perfect opportunity to lay the ball off to the edge of the area, but he chose to shoot on his left foot from an angle, scuffing tamely wide.

The weather had closed in, with torrential rain and a strong swirling wind making conditions difficult. Huddersfield were growing increasingly frustrated, with long diagonal balls drifting out of play instead of finding their man. Charlton were weathering the storm.

Its Grim Up North

One final period of Huddersfield pressure resulted in Holmes poking wide with the goal at his mercy. For a corner soon after, Smithies joined his 10 outfield friends in the Charlton penalty area. Alnwick initially punched clear, but Smithies remained as the ball was twice recycled and thrown back into the mixer. Eventually, Charlton cleared. Don't panic.

Four minutes of injury time eventually elapsed after Harriott had irritated the crowd by going down with a soft injury. A clearance by Alnwick allowed Attwell to blow his whistle and end the game, to the delight, joy and relief of the away supporters. 'We've bloody won!'

Not only that, but we'd actually beaten Huddersfield in a cup competition.

A blurred picture, but who cares
There was much happiness in the away end, with the heroic Johnnie Jackson leading the players' celebrations and thanking those fans that had travelled. I bloody love that man, and I'm probably not alone...

Powell gave a very generous and heartfelt tribute of applause before traipsing down the tunnel. The travelling Addicks filtered out of the ground, happy.

The Union tap up their reports
The Bloggers Union walked back to the station, ready to share our views of the day. My comrade was so eager to do so that he ended up talking to Ian Payne on LBC. Only a tweeted response from captain fantastic Johnnie Jackson could top that - and it did. He wants his beloved Arsenal away when tomorrow's draw is made.

Then things actually sunk in. We're in the Fifth Round!


In truth, it was a pretty poor game of football between two sides that seem to inspire incompetence from each other. We've played far better than that this season and lost. With a bit of good fortune, and a huge amount of hard work, we'd manufactured a winning performance.

So often we talk of the fighting spirit of this group of players, and once again it shone through. Given our relative lack of quality, we often have to rely on industry, and today was another fine example of that.

One man typifies this fighting spirit more than anyone else, and that's Johnnie Jackson. The people's captain. Today his organisation was sound, and his effort unrelenting. He's not going to win awards for being a technically brilliant player, but he's the perfect man to lead this side. He embodies the fighting spirit we need and want in order to stay up.

Simon Church is another whose industry often goes unnoticed and unrewarded. Today he was asked to play out wide, and he did so without a fuss. When he did find himself with a chance to score, he took it superbly. He struggled in front of goal before losing his place in the side over the Christmas period, so it's great to see him score a tough chance. Hopefully it'll restore some confidence in his finishing ability.

Morrison, Dervite and Alnwick performed superbly as the crucible in defence. In the first half, Morrison especially was to be thanked for keeping the scores level, having made two vital interventions just as it looked like a Huddersfield player might get a shot away. Dervite too was dominant in the air, and even went on the odd foray forward. Alnwick saved well when required, ensuring that it was tough for the Terriers to break down the Charlton side.

Inevitably, attentions will turn back to the league, and more specifically how this performance relates to our attempt to avoid relegation. The signs are once again positive.

This season has been a struggle; a story of what might have been. Rarely have Charlton been outclassed, but key moments, big decisions and ultimately results have gone against us. We've forever been set to turn a corner, without ever quite managing to do so. The takeover, combined with the last two results and the possibility of quality additions to the squad, might finally make that hope a reality.

Without arguably our best three players, we found a way to grind out a victory in difficult circumstances. Huddersfield aren't a top quality side but they are doing well in the Championship, so are hard to beat. Add quality to our industry and results will improve further. More importantly, goals will come.

Today, we learnt a few things:
1) This Chris Powell side is capable of grinding out results.
2) Ajdarević promises to dictate play, and could well form a vital link with Yann Kermorgant.
3) We haven't heard the last of Harry Lennon.
4) Johnnie Jackson remains a Charlton legend and everyday hero.
5) We are actually capable of going on a Cup run.

A great away day which promised a lot of good to come. Doncaster on Tuesday is a huge game, and represents the renewal of our efforts to turn this season around.

Chris Powell once again proved that he is the right man for that task. Give him a contract, sharpish.

And the best thing about being in the Fifth Round draw? We can't be made to play Huddersfield again.

Up The Addicks.

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