Monday, April 1, 2013


You didn't see that coming did you? As the Football League show on the BBC were happy to point out late on Saturday night, we had the worst home record in the league and as Bolton Wanderers scored their second after twenty minutes you were left in no doubt as to why.

Changes were aplenty within Chris Powell's starting eleven after the teams dismal last outing against neighbours Millwall two weeks ago (never has an international break been more welcomed). Button and Taylor were outed from the defence opening a return for Ben Hamer in goal and Dervite in a central berth. Fuller was preferred to Danny Haynes up top whilst their was a very welcomed return for Andy Hughes in the middle.

Last season Danny Hollands was a regular in midfield for Charlton, and during the season he got through partners and quite a rate. From my perspective Hughes was the best of the bunch and we never looked more solid as a unit than we did with him battling away at our heart. Injury however has kept him out of the side for far too long but hard work pays off and the 35 year old returned when many others may have hung their boots up for good.

Hamer unfortunately was the first of the returning Addicks to hit any headlines as his report card was blackened only five minutes into the match. Marvin Sordell twisted Dervite inside out before beating a rather out of position Ben Hamer. Albeit through a little grace, Charlton could have been in much deeper trouble by then, it was the third good effort by the visitors as they played the ball around the pitch beautifully, Charlton really were chasing shadows. This would continue further and you could sense the unrest around the ground. Those of us who had already renewed our season tickets were seriously contemplating the rashness of the decision. How often can you say "it's been coming" to a goal scored in the fifth minute? Only at Charlton.

One chap in the second row of the Lower North stand directly behind Hamer's goal had seen enough already, rather than leave early he'd come prepared and got his newspaper out to read. For me that was a first, I've seen papers read at half time but never during a game. He didn't even fold it in half, he just sat as bold as brass with the paper opened fully just like you would on the sofa at home!

Sure enough Bolton doubled their lead with a goal from Medo Kamara, a  Sierra Leone international I'd never heard of before. It was a nice goal, it had a little help from the woodwork but you don't mind conceding from a well struck effort like that too much. Unless you're now two down and not in the game at all of course. The boos rang out loudly, I for one could have quite happily made my excuses and made a hasty retreat to a warm drinking establishment for the remainder of the match to hear of our seven goal pasting in more comfortable surroundings. This is Charlton though and quite frankly the unexpected can be upon you when it's most, well, unexpected.

For five minutes after their second Charlton realised the gravity of the situation and rallied, Fuller coming close to finding the net prior to Johnnie Jackson (remember the start of the season when we felt he found it harder than anyone to make the step up?) leading  like a lion and darting through a packed penalty area before striking low through two pairs of Bolton legs and into the bottom corner. We were back in it, I looked and sure enough even newspaper man had returned his reading material to his bag feeling the on pitch activities could be more entertaining.

To go into the break level would have been wonderful but despite continued Charlton pressure, Bolton remained ahead. We had enough positives though. Hughes had been magnificent, young Callum Harriott had caused Bolton nightmares with his trickery and speed (although youthful exuberance could have caused us a headache or two) and Bradley Pritchard was popping up everywhere, I'm not his biggest plaudit but he was having his best game for us for a long time.

The second half started with the same gusto and it wasn't long before things started hotting up. Last season a certain Trevor Kettle gained notoriety in SE7 for his refereeing 'skills'. Well this season we'd only encountered him once before, a favourable day in Watford and on Saturday he continued to seek forgiveness from the Charlton supporters for last season's misdemeanors. Ricardo Fuller surged forwards and upwards only to be brought back down again (rather softly) by Sam Ricketts, the Bolton lad receiving a second yellow and his marching orders. You know Charlton though, we've found it hard against eleven all season, even harder against ten.

Bolton manager Dougie Freedman made what myself and my good friend Jim McGinty believed to be a fatal mistake at this point. Almost out of habit, duty or expectancy, he made a change before the resulting free kick was taken. Off went the dangerous Sordell and on came the defensive Danny Butterfield, on loan from Southampton and good friends with the gaffer from their Palace days.

Yann Kermorgant and Johnnie Jackson both fancied their chances from this distance but it was the big Frenchman who sent in a fierce strike from the set piece. The keeper got a diving hand to it knocking the ball back into the area for Dorian Dervite to guide home. The French connection. It was a run of the mill formality finish but being a centre half Dervite could have just as easily put it over the roof.

At two all we the the momentum, the numerical advantage and an attacking formation whilst Bolton were light up front. We'd have settled for a point before kick off and certainly twenty minutes in, yet there was half an hour to play and we could smell success.

Two minutes later Fuller was again assaulting their penalty area, dashing in from the left before being caught and theatrically and almost gracefully landing on the still atrocious turf. Trevor Kettle pointed to the spot whilst (in my imagination I hasten to add) winking to the North Stand.

Yann Kermorgant stepped up and placed it sweetly past their keeper even though he'd guessed correctly which side to dive. The place erupted. Not since the likes of the Cardiff match in early November had we seen such character and such passion from our team on home turf. We were now sitting on 21 points at home from a possible 60. More than that, we are one little step nearer to safety. We're not quite there but with others around us still picking points up, this weekend was more vital than ever to ensure victory.

If you thought that was that however you'd be mistaken, remember, here at Charlton we can undo all our good work just as quickly and we still had another twenty five on the clock. Andy Hughes was tiring and made way for debutant Mark Gower. the experienced midfielder continued where Hughes left off and impressed me with a solid no nonsense display, his passing impeccable, he was always there to 'mop up' and keep the ball moving.

Bolton finished with a flurry though and for fifteen minutes Charlton once again in typical fashion had us holding on to the edge of our seats as they struggled to put the game to bed. The visitors were lucky to survive until they did with ten men as Chris Solly was taken out by Craig Dawson in a manner more accustomed to grappling fans rather than football fans. I believe those in the ring call it a clothesline.

Seven minutes of injury time ensued, due mainly to a substitution of the linesman, and it was during this period that Kettle once again brandished his red card. Moments after booking Kermorgant for time wasting at one end he then had just cause to book Craig Davies for a very high frustrated lunge on Rhoys Wiggins at the other. It was a second yellow and Davies was the second Bolton player to endure the walk of shame.

Walking out of The Valley, we all had that extra little spring in our step. We don't expect to be challenging for silverware, the majority of us don't expect to be pushing for promotion but it's moments like these that renew our pride and remind us of why this football club holds such a dear part of our hearts.

We travel to Brighton tomorrow night, another performance like this and I think safety could be ensured. Don't count on it though, expect the unexpected.

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