Monday, April 29, 2013
It's a strange place is Middlesbrough. This famous old industrial town certainly has it's rougher element as I discovered many years ago staying there for the weekend as a teenager, yet it's football has always left me charmed. A great community club, they have always managed to attract talented footballers while achieving on the pitch relatively little success.
My first trip was to the wonderful Ayresome Park where I watched Sutton United lose a cup third round replay in extra time. It was, in many ways, far better a performance than the one that beat Coventry the season afterwards. All four sides of the famous old ground clapped Sutton off the pitch after two hard fought games and with that they cemented themselves in my affections.
I've been back twice, both times to the Riverside, or Cellnet as it used to be known. I was there for one of my most memorable away days, the start of the 97-98 campaign. They had the enigmatic Fabrizio Ravenelli, while we gave a competitive debut to new signing Clive Mendonca. We lost 2-1 that day, Boro scoring the winner at the death, while two of my favourite Charlton players made headlines. Steve Jones for scoring our goal and Stuart 'sweaty' Balmer for completing the game with his head wrapped in bandages and blood staining the best Charlton away shirt in living memory. The second visit was of course the much publicised 'Operation Riverside'.
The 650 Charlton fans there this weekend for our final away game dressed themselves accordingly with Chris Powell masks. I wonder where the idea for dressing up for the last away day comes from? Speaking of which, Hartlepool had to find a new destination for their delightfully creative theme this season as for the past two seasons it's been The Valley faithful (and Daily Mirror readers) that have welcomed them. My local league side Crawley Town had the honour this year and the Broadfield Stadium hosted a large number of monkey hanging penguins. If those from the North East had added leggings and Ugg boots to their attire they would I suspect have looked like locals decked out in those dreadful 'onesies'.
Bradley Pritchard gave us the perfect start, a quarter of an hour later we had doubled the lead and the dream was still alive. Kermorgant crossed the ball across the face of goal and it was an unfortunate Boro captain, Rhys Williams, that turned the ball into his own net.
With Johnnie Jackson and Andy Hughes both missing after taking knocks against Wolves last week, Mark Gower found himself in the starting line up alongside long forgotten Danny Hollands, his first appearance in a Charlton shirt since returning from a loan spell at Swindon. Things were looking good, the heart of our solid midfield in recent weeks were absent and those stepping into the breach were doing so admirably.
Results elsewhere in the division would eventually kill off any realistic hope of that top six finish anyway, Middlesbrough's comeback made it definite. Marvin Emnes had looked dangerous all afternoon, almost winning a penalty in the first half after a good long solo run into the box, then midway through the second half he gave the Boro fans hope of saving face when he did finally see the ball hit the back of the net. Ricardo Fuller would see an effort ruled out for off side before Scott McDonald headed home from a corner in the last minute of the game to cruelly snatch two points from the visitors.
We really were almost there, both in the game and the table. We're almost there for the season as we are now left with one last outing before the summer break. A game against bottom club Bristol City and as good an opportunity as you'll get to consolidate a highly respectable ninth place at the first time of asking back at this level. A chance to show our admiration to Chris Powell and this squad of players that have, I believe, over achieved a little this season while most definitely maturing as a squad on a very tight budget.
I won't even be 'almost there' though. I'm at a wedding (who gets married on such a crucial weekend of the football calendar?). All I can say is thank goodness there isn't anything resting on the match, I'd have hated to disappoint someone.
Well done Charlton Athletic on all you have achieved this season and for one last time for now, come on you reds!