Tuesday, 19 August 2014

One last Ramble

Football is a shared experience, and yet the feelings it creates are deeply personal. Sometimes these feelings can be explained with facts and stats; at other times they seem irrational. Arguments can be had over statistics, and whether they accurately portray what you believe to be true, but you can't argue about how an individual feels deep inside.

There used to be a time when I was completely and utterly absorbed by every aspect of Charlton Athletic. Everything mattered. I was hooked. The club drew me in, made me care, gave me something I could believe in - a common goal which we were pursuing together.

I had complete and utter faith in what Charlton were building. But then everything changed. The faith was broken; my resolve was smashed.

The result of this change was bitterness and cynicism. Watching Charlton became bereft of enjoyment. The passion that had once run deep had been stolen.

I tried to accept change, I tried to rekindle the passion which I once felt. I failed.

My crime was that I cared too much. I was so bound up in what we stood for that as soon as it was challenged and destroyed, it felt personal. I felt alienated by the decisions that had been made, and condemned for what I had stood for. People I cared for and loved had been emotionlessly discarded without warning. A lot of what had made Charlton feel so special had gone, and it had altered my frame of mind irreversibly.

I didn't take it well, and I still haven't recovered.

My enthusiasm for football hasn't disappeared, but my ability to feel consumed by it has disappeared. Watching football at the Valley now leaves me feeling detached. I don't feel a part of it anymore. No matter how hard I try, I can't change that.

I'm still a Charlton supporter; I'm still attending games. But that personal vision of what Charlton is and what it stands for is no longer what I see out on the pitch. My crime is that I don't share the ideology of those in charge these days. The Charlton I cared for appears to me to have been lost.

Most will be able to read between these lines and understand what I'm referring to. This isn't an invitation to criticise why I feel the way I do, but equally not an attack questioning why people feel the way they do about the current state of affairs. Football is a personal experience - each to their own.

I have lots of questions, lots of criticisms, and lots of bitterness. I no longer feel that they are welcome. People have moved on, but I haven't. What I believe in and what I stood for belongs in a history book, already consigned to a shelf to gather dust. So be it.

It feels right, therefore, to retire this blog. It is a part of that history book - the time that I was consumed by Charlton Athletic. Who knows, that time might come again. But presently it seems a long, long way away.

Thank you to everyone who has read what I've had to say over the years. Maybe one day you'll read my thoughts again.

Don't let anyone tell you how you should feel about football. View the facts, stick to your principles, and feel the emotions for yourself.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Failing To Rediscover That Passion For Our Club

The shock-wave that was felt by Charlton supporters following the sacking of Chris Powell made for an uncomfortable night when Huddersfield visited the Valley barely 24 hours later. Since then, some have rediscovered the passion of supporting Charlton, as they get wrapped up in the battle to avoid relegation. But for others, its been hard to rediscover that special feeling you get when following your football club. The events were taken by many to simply have been made for footballing reasons - but from the club statement it was clear that it went much deeper. The way Charlton is currently being run jeopardises our independence - by placing us in the middle of a businessman's network our primacy as a club is diminished. It is a complex and as yet unexplained network, but enough signs have emerged to induce a feeling of fear, rather than excitement.

Debates have raged about events on the field, whether the sacking was right in footballing terms or not, but as the justification for it was given as a difference in "footballing vision", it is clear that the decision's significance transcends the playing field. Calls to "move on" have been misplaced in a number of ways. Some find it easy to take the moral high ground; to call those critical of past actions disloyal. They forget that we all still care about the football club, but instead this is couched in a concerned voice rather than excited one. My struggle to rediscover that passion for the game is not because I'm disloyal and planning a desertion, but because I care about what is being done to Charlton. When you step back and assess what's been done, not even events on the pitch prove a sufficient distraction because they are inextricably linked with what the future appears to hold.

Before making these broad arguments, its important to look at the chain of events this season.

The Impact of the Takeover:

It's been a difficult year for Charlton. Lack of investment meant we entered the season having lost four strikers who played important roles in 2012/13. The weaker playing squad meant results were a struggle, but the odd victories scattered through the winter months demonstrated that Powell's side still had that fighting spirit. Few expected relegation, despite some fearing it. A victory over Brighton at home on Boxing Day was superb, with it looking like things had finally clicked into place. Then January came.

Roland Duchâtelet's takeover was greeted with optimism in it's initial stages. Contracts needed sorting out to ensure that uncertainty no longer affected the players on the pitch, as well as the manager himself. A few players were sent from Standard Liege to boost our survival chances - but what was really needed was a couple of strong, dependable Championship players. In the final week of the transfer window, startling truths became clear. Ben Alnwick, Dale Stephens and Yann Kermorgant were all sold without being adequately replaced. These were not decisions Chris Powell would have sanctioned - three players who had played pivotal roles, with Stephens and Kermorgant clearly two of the side's most important players. But they'd been sold, justified as "good business" with their contracts running to a close. You only need to read Kermorgant's take on the issue to see the cold-hearted conviction with which the ownership made these moves happen.

Those are not the actions of a man with the interests of Charlton as a Championship club at heart. Kermorgant was not only a brilliant player, but a man who had an emotional bond with the crowd. It was a dreadful decision to move him out of the club given his importance to fighting relegation. A quick buck in January might look like financial sense in the short term, but if it costs us Championship status then long-term it will have been disastrous. It wasn't beneficial to our survival bid, but as counter-productive as it's possible to be. Not a decision that would've been made with the best interests of Charlton at heart.

It's not just a financial point of view from which the decision made waves. It struck at the heart of what Charlton means to us. "Football is a business" cry those defending the sale. Who wants to support a business? Football is enhanced by the emotional attachments people form, and a club is nothing without heroes to support on the pitch. "No man is bigger than the club", they say. Granted, but supporting a team with faceless players wouldn't be anywhere near as enjoyable or engaging as it would be with great men like Kermorgant on the field. It wasn't as if he was unimportant to us, especially in a season where we've failed to score goals.

Duchâtelet had successfully removed one of the pillars of our football club, and just over a month later he made sure a second central pillar was demolished.

Chris Powell was a brilliant manager, and a fantastic man to have as the face of our football club. Prior to Charlton beating a star-studded QPR team at home, and Sheffield Wednesday away in the FA Cup 5th Round, Roland spoke of Powell's qualities as a manager and a coach.

“We are discussing right now to renew his contract for the coming years,” Duchâtelet said, “I hope we can reach an agreement soon. There is no doubt in my mind that he is an extremely good coach, there is certainly a desire to continue to work with Chris. It’s important for the fans that Powell is a club legend, but for me it’s not the most important matter. The most important matter is just that he’s a very good coach.”

On the 11th of March, less than three weeks later, Powell was sacked.

“We have been working with Chris Powell and his representatives for a couple of weeks to try and agree a contract extension which would have seen us continue to work together. There was good progress, but we could not reach an agreement over the club’s football strategy going forward. The situation put a strain on the working relationship between Chris and the board. Therefore I think it is best for all parties that we part ways at this stage."

And people think he was sacked for footballing reasons.

“Given the club’s position in the league and the number of important fixtures upcoming, I felt this difficult decision was unavoidable at this time. I can assure supporters this was not an easy decision, but it has been made with the club’s future in mind. Time will tell if it is the right decision."

Hardly words of conviction. The position in the table was merely a secondary reference by Duchâtelet. Vague statements referring to the club's future did nothing to ease the pain of losing the club's greatest remaining asset. He'd been kicked out because he would not cede control of transfers to Roland and his fabled "network" of scouts. Powell quite rightly wanted to be able to identify and sign players himself, as he would have to coach them and make sure they fit into the side. When Duchâtelet would not allow this, he removed him. His replacement was shepherded in rapidly, Jose Riga having worked for him before. It was all planned in advance. It's hard to look at the timing and not be cynical. With a run of friendly fixtures upcoming, it would be as easy a start as possible for the new "Head Coach".

We were bottom of the league, but with four games in hand. People will gloss over that second piece of information. Significantly, Powell faced large gaps between league fixtures, which exaggerated the importance of victories as well as defeats, given others were gaining more ground due to their more regular league fixtures. Furthermore, Riga has had the benefit of a lot of winnable games in and amongst the more difficult fixtures, which means the impact of defeats has been limited somewhat.

The Perils of the Network:

Riga has done a decent enough job, and he deserves credit for not disrupting the team spirit that was such a valuable asset during the tenure of Chris Powell. But after the sacking, nothing has felt the same. Results have improved somewhat, but its been a struggle to enjoy football the way I did before, knowing how the club is being run.

Some have embraced the decision as if it was based solely on the performance in the league this season - due to their happiness, they've been willing to falsely perceive a radical change in style, hailing "better football", re-writing the past and suggesting it was dire under Powell. Others have been more circumspect, willing to continue in support of the players on the pitch, whilst maintaining their dislike for what is happening in the boardroom. But for me, the sacking was the final event that shattered any trust I was willing to place in the new ownership. As a result, I've become horribly disillusioned. 

Whatever happens on the pitch, knowing that we're being run this way means I can't enjoy it. Riga can do as good a job as he likes, but what use is that if the owner's priority isn't our club? We're in an experimental network, with players changing hands in order to make more profit for the central owner. Football is secondary for Duchâtelet. 

Powell was an obstacle to Roland and his network - you only need to look at the wording of the club statement to see that - but his removal meant that the club no longer has anybody in a position of power who hasn't previously been involved with Standard Liege. Isn't this quite a concerning development? Their actions to date don't suggest that they are trustworthy at all.

To demonstrate the fantasy of this network, and how in reality it is impractical, we already have a case study. Yohan Thuram was drafted in by Duchâtelet, despite Charlton possessing two quality keepers in the form of Alnwick and Hamer. Thuram started matches in February due to Hamer being injured, and Alnwick being sold against the wishes of Powell. His performances were characterised by indecision, with poor handling and a desire to save everything with his feet inspiring little confidence in him. Reports surfacing last week were that he refused to travel to Leeds with the team, protesting about his lack of first team football. His case shows that he was sent here by Duchâtelet for the benefit of the player, not the club, in his attempt to raise his profile and his transfer price. The return of Thuram in the squad just one week later was a disgrace - a player refusing to play for a club should be sacked, not merely forgiven. It was a serious breach of trust - something we're getting used to these days.

Similarly, Piotr Parzyszek was signed at the end of the January transfer window, but is clearly not ready for first team football. Was this signing made with the interests of Championship safety; to replace the huge hole left by the wilful sale of Kermorgant? Again, it's a ploy to develop a young player before he's sold on for profit. Some even suggest that it is to develop the player until he's ready to join Liege. Any benefit Charlton might receive won't last long.

It's not a network that will serve our club's interest. It's for the benefit of Duchâtelet. England is a place where players get noticed, and Charlton will become a nice feeder club for him, not in the sense that all our young players will be sent to a Standard Liege, but in the sense that we'll just be a conveyor belt for his talent. Players will come and go, without the understanding of what Charlton means to us all. Thuram clearly isn't interested. His rebellion is potentially a sign of things to come if we don't throw all these players we're handed into the first team.

Our greatest strength in the past few seasons has been our team spirit. With significant transfer activity in the summer, we might see better players come in, but also a number of players leaving. Exciting European talent on the pitch sounds great - but its not enough on its own to improve the side. You need a backbone. You need that fighting spirit. If we become a conveyor belt in this network, who can confidently say that apathy towards the cause won't become an issue? Thuram has already demonstrated as much. 

It feels like we could become a hollowed-out shell of a football club. "But Charlton will always be Charlton", they'll say. Such a vague statement. The Charlton I supported isn't the Charlton I see out on the pitch any more. There came a line in the sand. I don't have it in me to draw such clear distinctions between the pitch and the boardroom. Charlton as a football club is threatened by this new order, and I can't help but fear for it. Try enjoying football when that's all you can think about.

Charlton has always been an independent football club. Its always been the priority. We're merely a cog in a rich businessman's new experiment. I have no appetite for supporting something like that. 

Maintaining unconditional support in something you no longer believe in is impossible.

Failing to Rediscover the Passion:

What's been most disheartening is the fickle nature of many football supporters. The Valley Party did such incredible work to return Charlton to our home, but you wonder if we were exiled this summer, how many would simply say that it doesn't matter. In this day and age, a lot tend to perceive football as being all about results. It is frowned upon by many to develop strong emotional attachments to players and managers that mean we are sad when they leave - cries of many to simply 'move on' as if nothing had happened miss the importance of these emotional attachments in football. Less than a month after a hero was fired, hearing the Covered End singing Jose Riga's Red Army was like a knife through the heart. Its not his squad. He may be a nice enough guy, but his position and his appointment are a sign of what's wrong. A "Head Coach" doesn't have any control of recruitment, and he might not even stay beyond the summer. The singing of his name less than a month after the sacking of someone we all had faith in demonstrates that football fans would sing the name of any old bugger if he won them a game or two. You want people in a club who understand what its all about, but a month in South-East London won't teach Jose that. 

The fans of today that only care about results feel the need to vocalise their importance. That's all that matters to them. If we import a completely alien set of players from Europe, they have no attachment to the club at all, but we win more games, they'll see it as an improvement. We'll be expected to enjoy supporting our club more based on simply results, rather than by feeling encapsulated in the process of achieving them. Results mean nothing if you feel no connection to the victorious team. The greatest achievement of Powell was that he built a side we could identify with once again, full of players fully committed to the cause, who knew what the club was all about. That is what Charlton Athletic is really about. Ultimately, if results are all you care about, you can support any club and little would change. But at Charlton, we've always felt there was that little bit extra special about our own club, and that's what brought out that passion. 

Following on from the clear demonstration that team spirit is vital, its worrying to think what might happen in future withing this network of interchangeable talent. How can players be convinced of the club's ambitions when Duchâtelet keeps his plans such a secret? Football is rarely suited to rapid change, and grand ideas are rarely translated into great success without huge injections of capital. It took Powell two and a half years to get Charlton back to where it belongs in the Championship. Risking destabilisation for the sake of a network jeopardises the club, and with the kind of short-termism characterised by the singing of Riga's name, people will sleep-walk into the trap and only realise when its too late. "He's saving our season" misses the point - he's not in charge of our club. The destiny of Charlton rests with Duchâtelet, not a manager any more. He's shown that he'll put profit before points - just look at January.

Assessing the various actions during the tenure of Duchâtelet, its clear enough that his intentions are not based solely in our interest. I won't be fobbed off by a cynically timed contract extension, or the installation of stadium Wi-Fi, and made to think that everything is actually fine.

Powell was the best thing about our football club. We've got nobody left in a position of power that really understands what we're about. We've lost that, but we are expected to accept the new order as if it's enhancing our club. For me, it's ruining it. The passion I had still hasn't returned. It can't, not with so many fears unanswered regarding the way the club is run. 

I've failed to rediscover the love of Charlton. A victory against a relegation rival is supposed to fill you with happiness, but instead it was just mild satisfaction. Hearing the Covered End sing the name of a man they'd never heard of a month ago was painful. It was a demonstration of just how passive supporters can be to real changes; how blind they can be to the real issues. Hull City season ticket holders barely rejected the name change that struck at the heart of their club's history; Cardiff City have seen an increasing number of fans simply accept Vincent Tan's changing of their identity. People are coming into football clubs and making huge changes, which put at risk the identity which we all became so wrapped up in supporting. The willingness to simply accept and move on is alarming, and deeply saddening. You'd hope that people would be willing to stand up for their club and defend it if the time for action came - given recent events, though, you fear people won't bother.

People who say football is a business, spoken as if they think they're a clever detective, miss the point entirely. We don't support football because of it's likeness to a business. Justifying actions that undermine the club with the words "it's a business" strike at the very heart of what a football club means to people. I don't care solely about profit. I don't care solely about results, either. I'd hate to be a supporter of a team that wins every week, because it would be boring, and you'd be surrounded by glory hunters who demand a win every match. That's not what makes Charlton so great as a club. We've experienced the highs and the lows many times, but above all else the players we identify with have done so as well. It was a shared ethos, a community, an understanding that Charlton Athletic always seems to be punching above it's weight. Players like Jackson and Kermorgant, and men like Chris Powell knew that. They understood Charlton. They understand what values the club represents, and why it means so much to so many. It's a community, not a brand. But now there's nobody left in a position of power who sees Charlton in the same way. In this network, we are not the priority. We've lost our independence. We've lost our identity. And that is not something you can just forget about. Results mean nothing if you lose the passion you had for a club you could identify strongly with.

Even then, who says this network is going to be a success anyway?

If you trust Roland based on his actions to date, then you'll trust anyone...

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Thanks For Everything, Chris

Football is a results business, but even with Charlton at the bottom of the Championship, this decision is a terrible one. Powell's sacking is down to disgraceful boardroom decision-making, in which he's been the fall guy paying the price for being given an inadequate squad. He was a man who embodied the fighting spirit and integrity of this football club, and defied the odds to keep the side competitive despite a woeful lack of investment. Merely accepting his dismissal due to our recent results misses the point entirely. He enhanced that emotional attachment with our football club, and without it, you wonder if it'll ever feel the same. 

Powell was brought in by the previous owners after Phil Parkinson's reign was cut short. Typically, there were those who thought that he would tarnish his great legacy as a player, but Powell said himself that he wanted to enhance it. His first few months in charge were a struggle, but they were important. He tried to get the remnants of that squad which had fallen from the Championship to play better football, instead of the dreadful, aimless style Parkinson had operated. He realised that hardly any of them were up to it. More importantly, he identified that there were hardly any players who truly cared about the club. Mercenaries like Thierry Racon who were on high wages and hardly gave a toss about the fortunes of the club.

Chris Powell understood that success on the football field is not simply a case of having quality players. Its about having men who are all fully behind the manager and the football club, who'll run through brick walls for each other, who will fight until the very end. He built one of the greatest Charlton sides we've seen for a long time, simply because every one of them cared.

That 2011/12 season was one of the greatest this club has had in years. Powell brought in a bunch of players who all knew the league, and he managed to do an incredible job to gel them straight away. His faith in Johnnie Jackson helped create a true leader on the pitch, another player who showed that football isn't just about having skill, but a determination and desire. He gave Chris Solly a chance at right back, which he grabbed with both hands, becoming player of the season two years running. He signed solid, dependable players such as Matt Taylor, Ben Hamer, Rhoys Wiggins, Dale Stephens. Most importantly, though, he found a man called Yann Kermorgant, brought him into the side, and gave him the confidence to succeed. Kermorgant and Powell was one of the great success stories - a man cast into the wilderness due to one penalty miss, brought in by a man who had every faith in his ability; faith that was rewarded with some wonderful performances and vital goals. Both men were vitally important to each other, as well as this football club. Both are now gone...

The final few games of the promotion season were the most joyous I've witnessed at Charlton. Being there are Carlisle to see what it meant not only to the squad, but to Chris Powell as well was something that I'll always remember. He walked out onto the pitch alone, in tears as to what he had achieved. The man had succeeded in lifting the club that he loved out of the division it badly needed to escape, and he knew exactly the magnitude of the achievement. At the Wycombe home game, again he demonstrated his attachment to the club, before that wonderful day against Hartlepool when we rounded off the season in style, and he gave his fantastic speech after the match. 101 points, and Champions. An achievement he can always be proud of.

It wasn't just the results that endeared Powell to us, but the fact that he seemed to share every emotion that the fans did. He gave us reason to love our football club again, after years in the wilderness being ruined by cowboys like Alan Pardew. He made us proud to support our football club again. He was the perfect ambassador, a great man with a fighting spirit that was embodied in the team that took to the field. He may not be a fancy tactician, but he more than made up for it with the drive he gave that side in red.

The following summer, things started to go wrong in the boardroom. The abrasive nature of Tony Jimenez meant that the financial backing of the club was no more, and Powell was forced to make do with minimal additions to his squad. He found Ricardo Fuller and Lawrie Wilson, but apart from that the success was built on the foundations of the title-winning squad from the season before.

The first year back in the Championship was a volatile one, with a number of good runs checked by some poor results, particularly at home. Leicester were beaten early on, with Kermorgant scoring against his former tormentors; from 0-2 down to Cardiff, we scored 5 (five) unanswered goals and won the game 5-4; we beat Watford 4-3 away from home; Leicester were beaten again, thanks to Kermorgant and Haynes. There were some stunning results, but the real delight came in the final season-ending run, in which we looked untouchable. Everything clicked. Chris Powell's Charlton were on fire.

From being 2-0 down to Bolton at home, the season turned around. A Kermorgant-inspired comeback saw a fine 3-2 victory, and it was followed by some incredible results. Barnsley were trounced 6-0 at Oakwell; two last minute winners saw home victories against Leeds and Wolves; Cardiff and Brighton were held to goalless draws at their own stadiums; Bristol City were hammered 4-1 on the final day of the season, which saw Charlton finish in 9th position. It was an incredible run, with the players galvanised by a manager desperate for the club to succeed. His emotional speech after the game showed everyone just what this meant to him, 12 months on from promotion. "We've got our Charlton back" was the cry. I filmed the whole thing - it was one of the proudest memories of that season, aside from all the obvious heroism on the pitch. There was such emotion in his voice. Such pride at what he and his players had achieved. It was a pride shared by everyone in the ground. You can't buy togetherness like that.

Further financial problems meant Fuller couldn't be re-signed; Haynes and Wright-Phillips left the club, replaced at the 11th hour by Simon Church and Marvin Sordell (on loan). Importantly, the contract situation went unresolved, with the owners unwilling to fork out any more of their precious money to give the football club stability. Powell was forced to blood the youngsters, with Jordan Cousins, Joe Pigott, Harry Lennon and Diego Poyet all playing first-team games despite their teenage years. We continued to defy the odds, but the under-investment was taking its toll. Powell was the glue holding us together, giving the team confidence to win at home to Leicester again, away games at Blackburn and Birmingham. Times were tough, but Boxing Day gave us real hope. Kermorgant was back to his very best in a 3-2 victory over Brighton. Luck finally seemed to be turning our way.

January came. Slater and Jimenez finally sold the club to a man they trusted. Roland Duchatalet. There was hope of those extra additions to the foundations of our squad. Instead, Roland sanctioned the sale of Stephens, Alnwick, and inexplicably Yann Kermorgant. The latter spoke of how he felt like he was forced out of the club. The assurances of Powell's future safety weren't given to him, and he was sold to Bournemouth. Its hard to hold anything against him for making that decision, especially in light of recent circumstances.

We were thrown some players from the Roland network of clubs, with his expectation that they would play immediately and not need time to adapt to English football. Only Astrit Ajdarevic was good enough to play a regular part, in Powell's view.

Powell inspired two incredible victories within the space of three days - wins that we thought would kick-start our season. QPR's dream team was beaten by a Johnnie Jackson header which sent the Valley into meltdown, and on the Monday night a heroic, battling performance saw us overcome Sheffield Wednesday in front of a partisan northern crowd. The delight on Powell's face was wonderful. Undoubtedly the best weekend in his managerial career.

Powell and Duchatalet did not agree on footballing issues, which is a clear indication that Powell would not be willing to cede authority on player recruitment. Roland was waiting for an excuse to fire him, and the defeat at Sheffield United gave him just that, especially as Powell did not field a single player that Duchatalet had provided him with. Following a disheartening performance, the players trudged off. Powell remained stood in his technical area, looking like a broken man. I was equally crushed, but there was more to Powell's emotional state than at first met the eye. He looked as if it was all over.

On Tuesday morning, it was announced that Powell had been sacked. Immediately, news of a Belgian replacement lined up emerged, indicating that this had been planned well in advance. The reaction was unified. Every single Charlton fan was hurt by the news. It was like the soul had been ripped out of our club.

Merely citing the table as justification for the decision, and arguing that Powell did a bad job, totally and utterly misses the point. He did fantastically well to keep this side competitive when times were tough. He was the glue holding everything together, as contracts were running out and rumours continued to circulate about the off-field situation. He kept us fighting. Even after the friction caused by the takeover, he kept going, inspiring two of the greatest wins of his career against QPR and Sheffield Wednesday. But because he wasn't a "yes man", Roland has disposed of him. He clearly isn't intelligent enough to recognise what an important man Chris Powell was to our football club.

I am not someone willing to accept that football is just about results. If you can't develop an emotional attachment to your club, then what's the point in going every week? Chris Powell made me proud to support my football club. He embodied everything good about it. Passion, desire, faith and loyalty. He was someone who we loved watching succeed, someone we had faith in to turn things around. He really did make us proud of our football club.

The club lives on, but its going to prove extremely difficult to rebuild that love. The Charlton Athletic that I cared for when Chris Powell was managing players like Johnnie Jackson and Yann Kermorgant has gone. Supporting a side run by a foreign manager, merely showcasing talent from Roland's network before selling it on to the highest bidder, is not something I'd enjoy. Selling a club's soul in the name of 'success' is not something I'm comfortable with.

Sacking Powell won't bring success. The team spirit will have been shattered. At least 10 players out of contract at the end of the season suddenly have less to play for. The foreign imports will all start games, despite being unprepared for Championship football. Its hard to convince yourself of anything other than relegation. And I'm currently feeling that it would be the right punishment for the ludicrous decisions made thus far by Duchatalet.

Chris Powell understood the club perfectly. He embodied the spirit, the passion, and the desire. He had the fans onside, even in times of adversity. It was clear that he was being undermined off the field, but he kept doing his job with dignity. He was too honourable to resign, even in the dire circumstances created by Duchatalet following the sale of his best players in January, without adequate replacements. He restored our faith in our football club, and gave us some absolutely brilliant memories. For that alone I am proud to have been a small part of Chris Powell's Charlton. Knowing that its over is not something that is easy to accept.

Powell was Charlton. We'll never get someone else quite like him.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Leicester 3-0 Charlton: You Can't Win Them All...

Today was never going to be easy. Following the greatest weekend of Powell's tenure at Charlton, we were tasked with forgetting about the delirium of the FA Cup and focussing on an away trip to the league's runaway leaders. With the fatigue evident both physically and mentally, the result was no surprise. That said, a couple of the deficiencies that Powell has done so well to disguise of late made themselves known again. Yann Kermorgant scoring a hat-trick for Bournemouth was an apt if heartbreaking demonstration of that.

Powell's success at Charlton has come from his ability to get every ounce of quality and effort out of every single player at his disposal. It's resulted in some of the most unlikely victories we've ever seen, often at times when we've hit our lowest ebb. Unfortunately, overcoming Leicester after the exhaustion of last weekend was too tough an ask.

Wiggins started in place of Fox as the only change from the victory at Sheffield Wednesday, but by the end of the game his fitness level showed that the exertions of last week had taken their toll. He wasn't fully fit. But by the end of the game, he wasn't the only player showing they were knackered.

Leicester were clearly a very good side, with quality running all the way from defence to attack. On nine minutes, they demonstrated this in the most devastating way possible, by opening the scoring. The ball broke forward for Leicester, with Richard Wood putting in a clumsy but robust challenge. The ball bounced kindly for Nugent, who did well to beat Wiggins and find Vardy in the box. He shaped to shoot before cutting back and firing his shot past the helpless Hamer.

The goal didn't kill the game, but it flattened it. Leicester were very comfortable on the ball, occasionally taking it forward and creating chances in dangerous areas. Charlton looked tired already, with hopeful passes to the wide outlets almost always unsuccessful. Given we are forced to make things happen going forward, and can't rely on  an incosive passing game to open teams up, hopeful balls forward tended to be the order of the day. It meant Charlton struggled to get in the game for most of the half, as when they finally stole possession it was quickly lost again.

Ajdarević dropped deep just to get himself in the game, but with only Church to aim at it was a forlorn task. He had a pot shot from 35-yards in frustration, which was close but Schmeichel could comfortably watch it sail over the bar.

Leicester opened up Charlton with ease during the second half. Morrison had been forced off injured early in the game, meaning Wood and Dervite played alongside each other for the first time. They were pulled open a number of times by the strike duo of Nugent and Vardy. Hamer made a great save from close range before the rebound fell to Drinkwater to smash home. Two minutes into the half and the result was all but sealed.

Hughes replaced Cousins, who looked like he'd picked up a knock, whilst Marcus Tudgay came on for Ajdarević. Although he'd struggled to get into the game, he was the one creative outlet we had, so taking him off seemed odd.

Despite the substitutions, the game didn't change course. Wiggins must've been unfit because the left wing was more exposed than usual, allowing De Laet a free reign. Nugent took the ball from 40 yards out and ran pretty much a straight line before firing home into the far corner from the edge of the area.

The midfield pair of Jackson and Poyet looked tired, pulled out of position by the variety of attacking threats they had to cope with. Leicester could easily have scored a couple more, but the excellent reflexes of Ben Hamer prevented them from doing so. He was our best player on the pitch, probably by quite some distance. /Wood had a poor game, as did Wiggins although he didn't look fit at all. Harriott was often giving the ball away, frustratingly doing so after a couple of promising openings had been carved.

The game died, with both sets of fans seeming to accept that it had been inevitable since before kick-off. Leicester saw the ninety minutes out with ease, and walked off deserving winners.

Jackson walked over to thank the travelling support, who hadn't shown any anger towards their side all game. Poyet raised both hands in an apologetic gesture. He's got nothing to be ashamed of when he has to play against a team of Leicester's quality.

Powell applauded too, receiving a generous ovation from the home fans as well as the away end. He's a great man, but was unfortunately not able to muster another logic-defying victory with his side today.

The first problem was that even early in the game we were visibly tired. We don't have a big squad as it is, but crucially there isn't much strength in the little depth we do have. You could perhaps sense a touch of an FA Cup hangover about us. It's hard to pick yourself up for a game you've no expectation of winning, especially with Wembley on the line next weekend.

Secondly, conceding early stuffed our usual game plan, which is to hold firm, play on their frustration and nick a goal. Heads didn't go down, but Leicester gained a strong foothold so early in the game, which proved to be decisive.  Equally, our limited quality going forward meant we struggled badly trying to get ourselves back into the game.

I'll make no secret of the fact that I'm a huge Yann Kermorgant fan. He meant a great deal to a huge number of fans at this football club, not to mention the things he achieved on the pitch. Whilst the result probably wouldn't have been much different, it was clear today just how much Yann was missed. We had no aerial outlet. We'd lost that advanced playmaker role which he did so well. We had nobody capable of holding the ball up. Yann didn't do all of these things in every game he played in, but he was often capable of them. We've lost a dynamic forward - our best player - without adequately replacing him. It may come to hurt us in future when struggling to break a team down. We no longer have that quality player behind the main striker to make things happen. Roland took a huge risk in selling him - one that I think a club in our position should never be taking. Seeing him score a hat-trick in another match when you are desperately crying out for someone like him to change the game felt really tough to take. I hope his absence doesn't hurt our finishing position as much as it's hurts our hearts.

Ajdarević has a similar set of skills to Kermorgant on the floor, but doesn't have that physical presence which Yann used so well. Ajdarević will undoubtedly play an important role throughout the rest of the season as one of our few creative players, but today he got very isolated. That was in part down to the excellent pressing game of Leicester which didn't allow him any time on the ball, but also because we played to many hopeful balls in his vague direction. We didn't manage to emulate Monday night when he was able to exploit space going forward and create opportunities. Leicester didn't have a Miguel Llera playing...

Morrison is a key player for us at the back, the rock at the heart of defence. Losing him would disrupt the defensive partnerships he's built. Wood and Dervite looked shaky together, though admittedly this was against the league's strongest side.

Wilson has done a fantastic job at right back, but we are really missing Chris Solly. His absence prevents Wilson from playing that midfield role he's had a lot of success in. Cousins tried his best but didn't get going. Harriott was too sporadic, unreliable on the ball and rarely of use in defence. Jackson looked very leggy, which he's sometimes prone to do.

Hopefully Hamer is fit enough to stay in the side for the rest of the season. Not only is he our best shot-stopper but also very confident on crosses and distribution. He made an excellent strong clearing punch from a dangerous corner in the second half.

Powell must make use of the extra day of rest this week before another run of games following the Sheffield United match. He'll undoubtedly lift his side once again. Despite the deficiencies which were evident today, he's done a fantastic job against the weaker sides in the division of setting us up in positions where we can win games. Individual errors have at times cost us points, but we've rarely been stuffed. That competitive spirit and team unity will become so important in the coming weeks. Powell is the master of extracting the maximum from his side. We don't have a strong squad by any means, but we've got a strong will, a togetherness. Leicester away was never a game we expected to win. We'll learn from mistakes and continue to plug away at our Championship campaign.

Open criticism at this point of the players would be unhelpful. They were tired today. Would you give up the last two results just so we could've lost to the leaders by a narrower margin? No. That's not to say we weren't without faults, but tiredness and fatigue exacerbates errors. We weren't quite at the races today. It happens sometimes. Powell isn't a man who'll let it happen again. We won't have to travel to the league champions again, either, so that'll help.

Only Yeovil of the bottom six picked up a point today, which is positive. Although it hurt, Kermorgant's hat-trick has done us a big favour by demoralising Doncaster. Yann will be happy to have helped us out - he never wanted to leave. We need to make our extra games count, especially at home. There are bigger games to come.

We've a chance to make something special happen next Sunday. After two of the best wins we've achieved in recent years in one weekend, sometimes you have to just accept that you can't win them all.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Sheffield Wednesday 1-2 Charlton: Wembley Beckons For Heroic Addicks

In the space of 72 hours, this group of players have achieved far more than a bunch of academy players and castaways ever should. In the process of winning two of the biggest games of the season, they have demonstrated just what the club means to them, embodying the drive, the passion and the desire of their manager. The fight they've shown is a clear indication of how unified that dressing room is under Chris Powell. This is still very much Our Charlton.

"Everyone wants a Sheffield derby" in the quarter-final. How dare little old Charlton even think about spoiling such an occasion by grabbing that spot in the quarters for themselves.

Five change had been made by Chris Powell following the victory over QPR just two days previous. Ben Hamer made a welcome return between the posts, whilst Richard Wood replaced Dervite at the heart of defence. Wiggins was left out having played 90 minutes on Saturday following his return from injury, with Morgan Fox installed at left back to make his Charlton debut - this was no easy game to make your debut. Callum Harriott was brought in to replace Danny Green, with Cousins moving to the right of midfield. Astrit Ajdarević formed the link between the midfield duo of Poyet and Jackson, and Church on his own up front. Four recent academy graduates and a bunch of misfits who nobody else wanted to sign. A a team, though, we manage to exceed the sum of our parts. Chris Powell sees to that.

A strong Wednesday following created an intimidating atmosphere, but a good thousand or two Addicks had defied logic and work commitments to make the journey north on a Monday night. The away fans were in good voice throughout, fully behind their side. On top of that, Charlton's start to the game managed to silence the home crowd.

Wednesday played some rather unimaginative long-ball football, with Ha,era able to gather on the edge of his box on numerous occasions. Charlton did often look to kick long for Church in the channels, but the most effective play came through Ajdarević. Cool and calm passing from the likes of Jackson, Cousins and Poyet built the play up nicely, but when Ajdarević got on the ball he had that extra touch of class. His skill and composure combined to allow him space and time to pick out passes. Whilst not all of them worked, he was always looking to release either Church through the middle, or Cousins and Harriott down the flanks.

Harriott was lively, willing to take on his man and put crosses into the box. He created the first good chance of the game, dancing down the left flank before finding Ajdarević who only just shot wide. Cousins too was looking to beat his man, whilst Church had the beating of Miguel Llera. To say the ex-Charlton defender had a torrid night would be incredibly kind. He was a total liability.

Poyet did a good job all night off collecting the scraps in midfield and spreading the play, and on 20 minutes he found Cousins on the right. His cross to Ajdarević was met with a shot, blocked by a Wednesday defender. After a frantic scramble the ball fell kindly to Harriott, who lashed the ball home from 12 yards out, the ball curving into the top corner and sending the away fans bonkers. It was a fully deserved goal as Charlton had been playing some absolutely superb football, with crisp passing and dangerous wide play creating openings in the Wednesday defence.

Although Church had a harmless shot from distance soon after the goal, the momentum swing in the direction of the home team. Hamer had to catch a powerful shot and deal with a few more long balls towards his area, as Charlton sat a couple of yards deeper to protect their lead. Clearances often went back to Wednesday, whereas earlier they had been more accurate and composed. Ajdarević didn't see the ball as often, and as a result we had some more defending to do. Poyet almost played Best in with a weak back pass, but fortunately Hamer was quick enough to clear the ball. Diego shows that he is human after all...

A huge moment of potential controversy came just before half time. Ajdarević got the ball, and sensing Church could get the better of 'Liability Llera', he played the ball over the top beyond the pair. Llera was the wrong side and appeared to clip Church, sending the forward to ground when it looked like he would get on the end of the ball and have a goalscoring opportunity. Referee Mark Clattenburg was having none of it, and waved away the protests. When the half time whistle came, Charlton players surrounded the ref, and although this is inadvisable, they seemed to have a legitimate case. Jackson hauled the players away from Clattenburg, before walking off alongside him debating the incident.

My view was that it was clumsy, probably not deliberate, but a foul. However, I felt that we were better with Llera on the pitch than without him, such was his incompetence.

Despite that, half time arrived with the Addicks still in front.

The early stages of the second half followed the pattern of the period before the break, as Wednesday went even more direct with some success. Giles Coke managed to get a shot off but it went harmlessly wide of Hamer's goal. At the other end, Jackson had an ambitious shot from 25-yard which skidded across the turf but was the wrong side of the post.

Wednesday then drew level just before the hour mark. Following a long ball into the box, Charlton failed to win the header - with so many of them over the course of the game, it was a hugely difficult task constantly repelling them. The knock-down landed perfectly for Leon Best, who shot powerfully into the too corner despite what looked like a small deflection off an Addick attempting a heroic block. Hillsborough erupted, a powerful wave of noise hitting the away fan. It gave me a sinking feeling in the stomach. It would need a monumental effort to retake the initiative, and also silence the increasingly boisterous home crowd.

Much like at the Valley on Saturday, each renewed Wednesday attack brought roars from the crowd, lifting their side. Charlton dug deep. Another long ball was cleared following a desperate scramble. But the visitors managed to weather the storm, and on 65 minutes Church found himself with the ball facing only Llera between him and the goal. He tapped the ball past him and I deuces another clumsy foul from the Spaniard, who was booked. I knew it was a good thing he'd stayed on.

Johnnie Jackson stood over the free kick. The ball was in a similar position to that which he scored at Hillsborough in 2012, but slightly too wide and deep for a shot. I still had that image of Nicky Weaver diving in vain in my head. Could we be about to see an equally glorious moment?

Jackson crossed, the ball curling towards goal. Church had managed to get goal-side of he defensive line, and made for the ball. Indecisive goalkeeping allowed Church to get there first, and he managed to bundle the ball past the helpless Martinez in goal. GET IN!

Pandemonium. Blissful pandemonium.

Church was delighted, and the rest of the side charged over to celebrate with him in front of the away end. It was joyous carnage. Everyone was going spare. Charlton had silenced the hostile crowd and had out themselves back in the lead.

From that moment, it was about clinging on. Charlton fought like lions.

Wednesday continued to pepper the Charlton defence with long balls, and from a resulting corner they almost levelled for a second time. Substitute Nuhui rose to meet the cross, and his header had beaten Hamer and looked like it was going into the top corner. I couldn't tell if the man on the line or the post combined to divert it, but Hamer scrambled back to gather the ball, with the home crowd celebrating. No goal was given. I cannot tell you if it went in as I was well over 100 yards away. It was not the most pleasant experience, however. Charlton continued to cling on.

Wednesday once tried a different route to goal, getting a cross in from the right flank. Hamer dived out to gather, but couldn't quite reach cleanly, and the ball looked to be falling for Best. Hamer and about three defenders threw themselves at the ball, and somehow prevented the ball from reaching the goal. It was another horrifying moment,but again we had survived it.

Charlton forays forward had become more sporadic and infrequent, but Harriott won a free kick in a dangerous position after a horror scissored challenge from Loovens, for which he was booked. Jackson's free kick had a little too much weight on it, but only Morrison had been sent up, with the majority of the side committed to defensive duties.

I am usually quite a nervous watcher of football. The first half was fine. But the enormity of the occasion hit home hard in the second half, and emotions were heightened to a greater extent than ever before. If was behind-the-sofa stuff, the fear of conceding and being hit by that wall of noise was a constant threat. But we managed to roar the Addicks on as stoppage time approached. Channelling nerves into chanting didn't ease the pain, but it at least gave the impression that it did, and also lifted the team.

Richard Wood was caught out in similar fashion to Llera in the first half, with Nuhui looking to break into the box. Wood pulled him down cynically, and immediately we feared a red card. Only a yellow emerged. A moment of fortune. Llera looked to take the free-kick, but it was blocked by the wall and eventually cleared.

Church was replaced by Reza following an incredible shift. Dervite later replaced Wood and then Hughes replaced the classy Ajdarević in stoppage time. But there was time for one last moment of blind panic.

After a long ball, Chris Maguire was in the ideal position to collect the rebound, and he drilled a shot towards the left corner of the goal. Morrison deflected it up with his thigh, and for a brief moment we feared it would cruelly lob over Hamer and break the Charlton resistance. But the bearded wonder rose spectacularly and clawed the ball away for a corner, sealing the victory. It was an absolutely outstanding save that would have had the away end cheering if they weren't already shredded with nerves.

The five minutes of stoppage time came to an end, and Clattenburg blew his whistle got the final time. We'd done it!

Once again the scenes in the away end were incredible, as the fear of losing what we were so close to achieving had finally disappeared. The relief, happiness and joy exploded out, vocalised in numerous wonderful chants devoted to the brilliant team of players. They came over towards the away end, closer and closer to the goal. Still we cheered. Jackson, Wilson, Poyet, Cousins, Church, Ajdatevic, Harriott, Morrison, Hughes - everyone was visibly thrilled by what they had just achieved. Sharing that moment of joy with that group of players was priceless.

After he'd hugged every single one of his players and support staff, and Andy Hughes had lifted him up like a saint, Chris Powell finally turned to the away end for his exclusive moment. He roared with delight, and we reciprocated. He was so thrilled that he charged towards the crossbar and lifted himself up onto it, which reflected the outrageous joy everyone was feeling at the time. He couldn't stop enjoying the moment, and we must have made him do at least five of his tunnel-jumps before he finally disappeared, and the away end finally emptied.

What a night.

Taken in isolation, that was special. But given the situation - two days after a gutsy and vital victory against QPR, up against a long-ball team and a hostile crowd - that was one of the greatest performances a Chris Powell side has ever produced. Every single player put everything into that game, and their efforts ensured that Charlton fans can continue to dream of Wembley, and glory.

The first 20 minutes saw our best period, as we regularly cut Wednesday open with accurate and simple passing football. The goal was fully deserved. After that the situation dictated out play, and we were forced onto the back foot by the relentless long-ball game of Wednesday. After their goal, there was a chance that the home side could capitalise on their momentum and go ahead. It is a testament to the resilience of this Charlton side that they held out, and retook the lead. Clinging on to the result was down to Jackson's organisation, the willingness of our defenders to constantly battle in the air, some heroic blocking and an outstanding goalkeeping performance. Everything came together, and we held out to secure a fabulous result.

It would be unfair to single out an individual as man of the match, as so many players made vital contributions in different areas of the pitch. But among the top performers was Simon Church. He is often maligned for not being a goal scorer, and admittedly his return this season has been slightly underwhelming. However, he offers the team so much more than goals, and that was clear for all to see last night. He was confident in taking on Liability Llera, and spent large parts of the game charging down the Wednesday defenders. His work rate is one of the highest I've seen from a striker at Charlton. He even took the chance when it came, putting Charlton back in the lead. He was given a huge ovation when he went off, the crowd recognising how important he had been. He defended from the front, and when opportunities arose he looked dangerous in attack. An inspired performance.

At times in recent weeks it appeared that Ajdarević as not the most willing runner in football but in his role as deep-lying forward, false 9, attacking midfield or whatever he put himself about almost as much as Church. Not only that, but his class on the ball made a real difference, opening up opportunities in attack and bringing a combination of calm and conviction to Charlton's play. He almost scored, too. He's a player with class, but importantly he has immediately grasped what 'Charlton' is all about. His heart is in it with the rest of them, and we are starting to realise it. He'll be a very important player for the rest of the campaign.

Ben Hamer was outstanding. Not only did he sweep his box with confidence, but he made a couple of instinctive decisions that prevented goals, before rounding off the night with one of the greatest reaction saves you'll ever see. He was moving towards he corner, but Morrison's deflection appeared to be taking the ball over him. To react as quickly as he did to tip it round the post shows just how good a player he is. The decision to replace Thuram was definitely the correct one. Hamer's performance caught the eye even the FA, who have nominated him as one of the players of the round. It was a performance of stubborn defiance, where he did everything he could to avoid conceding. We have definitely missed him.

Michael Morrison was excellent, winning numerous headers and clearing the danger when necessary. Richard Wood was more frenetic, sometimes too panicky in his clearances, but he made a number of good blocks and tackles along with Morrison to keep Wednesday at bat. Laurie Wilson put in the kind of shift we have come to expect from him, looking to get forward down the right, but also very solid in defence. Morgan Fox did extremely well given it was his Charlton debut. Caught out positionally a couple of times in the air, but he stood firm, made tackles and was calm enough on the ball to pass infield and build up attacks. He rose to the occasion superbly.

Diego Poyet looks like he's been playing for years, which is a similar impression to the one that Jordan Cousins gave when he came into the side earlier this season. Poyet played the deeper midfield role with the composure that sometimes eludes even experienced players in a game as important as this. He was often found to be controlling the ball, knocking it wide into the channels for the full back or midfielder, and although he made one error with a back pass, he looked like a professional. Jordan Cousins has also developed with supreme ease, slotting in on the right of midfield and making it look like familiar territory. He might not possess the skills of an attacking winger, but he's got a great work rate and an eye for a run, which took him into a number of dangerous positions during the game. Callum Harriott was also impressive, not just showing promise but an end product as well. He took his goal very well indeed, and although slightly naive diving in defensively he worked hard all game, waiting for his chance to run at Wednesday.

Johnnie Jackson might not stand out on a football pitch, but once again he demonstrated that when the key moment comes, he is there. His cross for the second goal was inch perfect, even though goalkeeping indecision assisted Church's scoring efforts. He was constantly seen to be organising his side positionally, ensuring we had the right shape to defend from the front. He was even throwing himself in the way of shots to block them. His commitment to the cause is faultless. Having played a full 90 just two days previous, to do the same again in a game of that magnitude, and to play so well too, shows his class.

As for Chris Powell? The past two results are without question the greatest he's achieved as Charlton manager. In the we've won big games, but with more quality available and more experience. To beat QPR's dream team at home, and then Sheffield Wednesday in the 5th Round of the FA Cup away, with players aged 18-20 and a collection of players it seemed no other club wanted, takes an incredible effort. Chris Powell has managed, against all the odds, to maintain his fantastic team spirit - perhaps even to enhance it. He has been unfairly criticised for his tactics, but in keeping it simple he ensures all the players know what they are doing. Roles are clearly defined, and players are given such brilliant motivation that they are willing to put everything into their performances. The celebrations at full time showed how much this squad of players means to him, what the FA Cup means to him, and also what is football club means to him. You would be insane to suggest any other man could have done the job he has done with such limited resources, and such adversity facing him at almost every turn. The two victories in three days is the perfect reward for his dedication, desire and commitment, which was embodied in the efforts of every man in red on the pitch.

An unbelievable result thanks to a gritty, determined and heroic performance. Every player deserved our adoration at the end, but it was a mutual feeling. The result and the support combined to create the happiest celebrations since that promotion day in Carlisle. His club is a really tight community, and we absolutely love it.

90 minutes between Charlton Athletic and Wembley. This means just as much for Powell and the players as it does to us fans.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Charlton 1-0 QPR: Jackson Wins Thriller

Its been a tough season for Charlton. Only five league wins, and plenty of performances where luck hasn't been on our side. Its felt like we've been about to turn the corner for months, without ever quite managing to do so. The visit of QPR to the Valley didn't promise much for the Addicks, who were coming up against the league's strongest squad. To take a point from the game would require resilience, fight and desire. But this Charlton side showed that there is far more to football than throwing big names together to make an eleven - hunger, heart and passion make a team what it is. Charlton Athletic possesses all of those traits, and more. It was a defiant and brilliant performance capped off by a moment of pure delirium, as Johnnie Jackson headed home the winner. His goal sent the Valley into pandemonium, and, against all the odds, gave Charlton a fully deserved three points.

Initially, it was the visiting side that looked the most fluent of the two. QPR possess some quality individuals in their squad even without the recent addition of loan signed Ravel Morrison. He looked to have a certain arrogance and flair about him, floating around at the top of the midfield and looking to create chances. A few counter-attacks saw chances fall for QPR, but none of them found the target, and Kevin Doyle cut a lone figure up front at times.

Despite starting slightly slower, Charlton had the best chance(s) of the half. Jordan Cousins found space on the edge of the box, firing a shot past Robert Green which cannoned back off the post. The ball fell to an unmarked Reza Ghoochanejhad (just 'Reza'...) who only had to side-foot the simple chance into the empty net, what with Green still on the floor. His effort found the left post, bounced back out and was cleared, despite many home fans thinking it had gone in. It left me with a feeling that we'd regret missing a chance as golden as that against a side as good as QPR.

Reza fought hard, but struggled to make an impact against the imposing Richard Dunne in the Rangers defence. Church ran himself into the ground, but found few openings to exploit. Despite the solid defensive and midfield performance in the first half, we still looked quite weak in attack, with no crosses coming from Danny Green on the right, and nobody in the box able to win headers. I won't name the player we were missing, but you can probably work it out.

The second half saw Charlton grow into the game to the extent that they dominated the last twenty minutes of play. QPR still threatened, with Morrison playing a central role in the play, but he was twice only able to slice wide when he should have done better.

The match was transformed when Powell made a double substitution, withdrawing the eager but tiring Reza, and the ineffective Danny Green, and replacing them with debutant Marcus Tudgay and midfield maestro Astrit Ajdarevic. They gave the team renewed impetus, and the clever and canny play of Ajdarevic was instrumental in pushing the Addicks forward.

Charlton's industry was being rewarded, with chances became more frequent. Cousins and Poyet had controlled the central areas, allowing the skipper to roam down the left flank. Jackson looked to fire a shot across goal after a nice move down the left, but he could only skew it wide. The skipper was at the heart of the attacking play down the left, but also vital in defence. He was doing all that you could ask of a captain, and his side responded to the encouragement from the Valley crowd.

Sensing that QPR were not at the races, and that the game was there to be won, with 20 minutes to go the home crowd urged Charlton on every time they took possession. There was unity in the stands, with everyone fully behind the players in red on the pitch. The players fed off the atmosphere, and showed great heart in the final quarter of the match. The game was building to a crescendo - a goal would have set the place alight.

A huge moment of panic at the back almost gifted QPR a goal. Yohan Thuram, who had looked far from composed throughout the game despite not being forced into a save, received a back-pass from Dervite with Maiga running towards him. Instead of hoofing clear, the keeper tried to play the ball back past the onrushing striker, but only succeeded in giving it straight to him. Maiga, fortunately, ran out of space trying to go round Thuram, and the on-loan keeper was reprieved.

Minutes later, the ball was bouncing around the Charlton area, with Will Keane looking to fire off a shot. The ball found its way towards the back post where Maiga had the chance to control and finish, but his touch let him down. Thuram leapt across goal to catch the ball, and succeeded. It was met with fervent scenes in the crowd, as many jumped to their feet to celebrate the keeper demonstrating for the first time that he actually had a safe pair of hands.

Charlton's best spell came towards the end of 90 minutes, with Dunne, Hill and Onuoha repelling frequent forays forward. A scramble in the box resulted in the ball breaking free on the edge of the area, with Onuoha racing after it. Diego Poyet put in a thumping slide tackle, winning the ball and sending it to Ajdarevic on the right-hand side of the area. He curled a shot that was creeping inside the post, but a fantastic full-stretch save from Robert Green tipped it around the post.

Ajdarevic came over to take the corner, with the Covered End roaring the home side on. His ball curved over the area towards the back post, where Johnnie Jackson looked to have the better of his man. He soared into the air, met the ball with a strong header down into the ground. The ball beat Green, bounced up and glanced a defender on its way across goal. It hit the back of the net. GOAL!

Cue wild scenes of some of the most incredible joy I've seen at the Valley. The crowd went absolutely bonkers, a delirious explosion which was just perfect. Jackson charged over to the front of the North Stand, jumping into the crowd and being mobbed by fans and team-mates alike. Still the crowd celebrated. It was absolute carnage! The most satisfying, deserved and important late goal we've seen for a very long time.

It makes me smile just thinking about how good that moment was. Those memories last for years.

The stuffing had been well and truly knocked out of QPR, and Charlton were able to cling on for the final couple of minutes of added time. The final whistle sparked further celebration, with most of the crowd staying to cheer off their heroes. Chris Powell was so delighted, he shook the hands of every single person on the field, including random ground staff. He embraced his captain; Johnnie Jackson - the matchwinner - had sealed his hero status with the Valley faithful, although in the eyes of many, he'd done that a long time ago. The players were visibly emotional, with hugs happening all over the place. It was a truly wonderful time to be at the Valley.


There is still work to be done, particularly in attack, but the performance today showed that you can't put a price on team spirit. Chris Powell's value to this club has been difficult for a minority to see, but not even they could deny how pivotal a role he played in lifting this team to the heights they reached. To start with two teenagers in central midfield, against the likes of Jermaine Jenas and Ravel Morrison, shows how much faith he has in his players, and their performance reflected their pride in wearing the red shirt. Poyet and Cousins were superb, making tackles but also spreading the play to wider areas. Wilson and Wiggins ran the touchlines superbly, and defended with their typical solidity. Morrison and Dervite were stout at the back, repelling attacks with increasing conviction as the game went on.

Astrit Ajdarevic might not run as much as we want, but my goodness does he have something about him. His introduction breathed new life into the side. He has a clever footballing brain, making a long diagonal pass to Cousins which almost came off, but resulted in a throw high up the pitch. He played a clever one-two with Jackson down the left soon after coming on, and although it came to nothing, it showed that he could make things happen. His shot pushed a former England goalkeeper to his limits in order to keep the score level, and his corner provided the assist for one of the great Valley goals in terms of importance and meaning. Add to that the fact that he's a bit of a hero, tweeting lines such as: "Massive games ahead of us. We need all help we can get, and we need to stick together." He certainly has that quality which will be vital if we want to score goals, and remain in the Championship.

Embedded image permalink
Jackson: "Forget the goal though,best part of the day was trying
to high jump the railing behind the goal and getting stuck!!
As for Johnnie Jackson, well, he's a hero. Chris Powell mentioned that a lot of the work he does goes unnoticed, with it involving defensive positioning, organisation and hard work-rate. Today, in his role on the left, we saw what had been missing a few times this season, which was the attacking ability of Jackson. He was a key player on the left-hand side, teaming up with Wiggins and later Ajdarevic to cause QPR problems. But what singles Jackson out is his ability to score important goals for the club. He pulled the side back into the game when 2-0 down to Cardiff last season; again, when 2-0 to Bolton, he came up with a goal; who could forget his winner at Watford in that incredible 4-3 victory. And when it mattered, he was there at the back post to head home the winner against QPR, with the threat of relegation looming. Its not just his goals, but his obvious passion for the club that makes him a vital asset. He's singled out for criticism for not playing an influential enough role in games, but this is just wrong. Jackson embodies the heart and passion of this football club. Just look at the way that goal was celebrated. Him and Powell are two vitally important people in our battle to avoid the drop, and today was the perfect demonstration of that. What a hero.

Powell spoke of Jackson's importance. “He led from the front. People always look at the manager and the captain to lead the team and he does it in a different way. He does it with a lot of unseen work and moments of quality and normally with John that's with his goals. He put in such a terrific shift, the fans want that and the fans can see that. 

“It's a terrific day for this football club."

"It's a great day for my players, they were immense today. It was a terrific performance. They got their just reward.”

How can you read those words and not be bursting with pride? Chris Powell might not be a tactician, but his ability to motivate a side is exceptional. The eleven on the field today did not include many quality players, but Powell has this ability to make a side exceed the sum of its parts. To beat a team of QPR's quality shows what a vital asset he is to our football club. Admittedly, there seemed to be a lot of mercenaries in that Rangers side, but it reflects the way the manager has put it together. Redknapp's reputation exceeds the qualities of the man. Powell is the opposite. He is under-rated even by a number of Charlton fans. I struggle to see how anybody else could've held things together over the past season or so, with such turmoil off the field and a lack of resources to add quality to the side. Powell has been the glue holding us together, instilling such a wonderful team spirit in the side. We've suffered a number of setbacks, but every time we've come out fighting in the next game. Rarely have the players let the manager down. To have a man so adept at creating a strong dressing room is one thing; to have a man able to do that as well as having such a passion for the club is another. Chris Powell is Charlton's great asset, and he needs to stay for many years to come.

A wonderful afternoon of football thanks to the heart and passion shown by Charlton's players. They want this as much as we do. The vibe is so different to that of the previous Championship relegation battle, where players cracked under pressure and shirked responsibility. We've got a side that will fight to the very end here. The reason for that is the team spirit we've got. That spirit flows from Johnnie Jackson, and Chris Powell. We are far stronger with them than without them.

Friday, 31 January 2014

A Valley Hero Departs

Its been a long, long time since Charlton Athletic has owned a player as skilful, passionate and well-loved as Yann Kermorgant. His footballing ability has made him a Valley legend over the course of the past two seasons, but we've seen his final appearance in the red shirt. Inexplicably, he's been sold.

The Charlton career

On a Tuesday night in September back in 2011, Charlton lost a Carling Cup match at home to Preston. Fans were greeted with the announcement on the official website after the game that a player called Yann Kermorgant had been signed on a free transfer. Despite the traditional apathy with which news of this nature is greeted with, it signalled the start of a very special relationship.

Yann made his debut for Charlton coming off the bench against Chesterfield, with the home side 2-1 up in the second half. Its a debut that many might not recall, instead remembering his first goal for the club to equalise late in the game three days later against the MK Dons, but his first intervention was hugely encouraging. The ball was played to him in the air, with his back to goal, where Yann chested the ball, controlled it, and spread it out wide to the right, where a cross was put in to the back post for Bradley Wright-Phillips to score. It was a piece of play that demonstrated Kermorgant's class for the first time, and almost certainly not for the last.

The aforementioned goal to salvage a point in Milton Keynes was a powerful header, and similarly, just a few days later, another header helped the Addicks win away at Sheffield United. After a tricky couple of matches, the team started trouncing their opponents regularly, with Kermorgant notching two goals in a demolition of Carlisle. A header against Huddersfield ended their 43-game unbeaten run, and confirmed to Charlton fans that promotion had become more than just a distant hope.

As the season progressed, Yann kept popping up with vital goals. But he was far more than just a goalscorer. His aerial ability was important in defence, and his strength and skill meant he was instrumental in creating as many goals as he scored.

At Yeovil, and later at home against Rochdale and Wycombe, he demonstrated his phenomenal set-piece skills, scoring three free-kicks. So not only was he a warrior, but a technician capable of fantastic individual brilliance.

His winning goal in the Oldham away game, helping defend with 9 men thanks to Trevor Kettle's card-happy performance, was one of his most heroic, securing a vital three points against the odds. He has a knack of putting in brave performances when the going gets tough.

At the Carlisle game, the joy on his face at promotion was clear for all to see. The whole squad was together as one, and seeing him become an integral part of that squad was wonderful. In the game that sealed the title, he scored an exquisite free-kick, and then he rounded off a perfect first season with an outrageous volleyed goal from the by-line against Hartlepool. Despite strong suggestions that it was a fluke, we weren't having any of it. The technical ability of the man was far greater than any player to have pulled on the red shirt for a number of years.

The happiness of those celebrations after lifting the trophy will stick with us for a long time. It was clear that Kermorgant owed his resurgence to the faith of Chris Powell, who himself had a huge willingness to see Yann succeed. It seemed like the perfect, unbreakable relationship between a player and a manager, and it flourished the following season during the side's first year back in the Championship.

With largely the same squad, and the addition of a couple of new faces including Ricardo Fuller, Charlton came through a tough campaign to finish an incredible 9th position, a testament to the team spirit Chris Powell had created. Kermorgant's initial role was limited due to injury, but that came after one memorable night in SE7 during the game against Leicester.

Kermorgant had been vilified, and cast into the wilderness by Leicester following a chipped penalty that went wrong in a playoff semi-final shoot-out. He unfairly became the scapegoat due to the limited role he'd been given with the side. Two years after that fateful day, following a spell abroad and a glorious renaissance with Charlton, Kermorgant buried the ghosts of the past. Pouncing on a ball into the box, he fired home a powerful shot, and turned to run towards the Leicester fans with his finger on his lips. Most were going to crazy in the crowd to notice, but it was the perfect way to silence all of those doubters.

Kermorgant ended his Charlton career (it still sounds painful saying that) with a perfect record against Leicester. Three 2-1 victories, with Yann scoring in each one. Magnifique. He chipped for a laugh.

He returned to action after injury in late November, sliding in at the back post to poke home and ensure victory over Peterborough. The team suffered a poor run of form, until Yann teamed up with Ricardo Fuller once more to tear Watford to shreds at Vicarage Road. New Year's Day of 2013 was one of the finest I've had as a Charlton fan, and it was largely down to two outstanding performances from Kermorgant and Fuller, who were dominant in the air and technically brilliant on the floor. Yann scored twice, the second of which levelled the game at 3-3 just seconds after Watford had retaken the lead. Johnnie Jackson headed home the winning goal to make it 4-3, and send the travelling Addicks wild. As with so many other games, Yann had proven instrumental in victory, and his celebrations along with the rest of the side showed once again how brilliant Powell's team spirit had become.

Kermorgant continued to endear himself even further with the Charlton faithful, heading home to win the away game at Blackburn a couple of weeks later. He celebrated with such a joyous rage that it was clear for all to see how much it meant to him.

The Birmigham home game was the greatest demonstration of why we all love Yann. With the game locked at 0-0, but with the home side knocking on the door, a ball to the back post was emphatically headed home by Kermorgant, sending the crowd into raptures. The joy of his celebration was contrasted by his despair at the full-time whistle, as the defence had leaked a goal and thus dropped two points. Kermorgant sat on the ground looking devastated. Having almost single-handedly hauled Charlton into a winning position, the win had been taken when it was agonisingly close. His passion for the side was clear. Not winning had hurt him.

Soon after, he was to enjoy another instance of revenge, scoring one and assisting the other in Charlton's second 2-1 victory against Leicester of the season, this time in front of the fans who had blamed him for their sides playoff failure. A thoroughly satisfying result. A tough run of games followed, and with the side 2-0 down at home to Bolton, a relegation battle seemed an unpleasant but real prospect, until Jackson hauled his side back into it. From a free-kick, Kermorgant hit the post, with the rebound slotted home by Dervite. Soon after, the Addicks had a penalty. To the shock of the crowd, it was Yann himself placing the ball on the spot. His first penalty since That Day. The nerves inside the ground were heightened. Up strode Yann, thumping a powerful shot into the bottom corner to put the Addicks ahead. He'd well and truly banished those demons in emphatic style.

A fantastic run of results ensued, a testament to the way Powell had kept the squad together. Yann scored the third in a six goal hammering of Barnsley at Oakwell, a result that shocked every single one of us. Arguably he hadn't scored a 'great goal' all season - he'd said so himself. That was until the final day of the campaign, when he fired a thunderous volley into the roof of the net from the edge of the area, to help round of Charlton's season in emphatic style. It would be churlish to suggest the team's success was entirely down to him, because it wasn't. Powell had built a fantastic team spirit, and the attitude of the players to keep going in adversity helped them to maintain belief and eventually achieve consistent results. You would, however, be foolish to suggest that Yann was not an integral member of the side. He may not have done it all the time, but he had an ability to score important goals, as well as put in brave, heroic performances when the team needed him. Furthermore, it was once again a pleasure to see the happiness of a man who has not always been lucky in life. We were certainly lucky to have both him and Chris Powell at our club.

This season has been more of a struggle, and once again Kermorgant suffered an autumn injury setback, but that has not meant we've not seen any of Yann's magic on the pitch. Far from it, as he's been the club's top scorer. On the opening day of the season at Bournemouth, he adjusted himself well to fire home a scissor-kick volley into the bottom corner, although it proved insufficient and couldn't prevent eventual defeat. He headed home from a corner against Leicester to complete the Triple Crown of victories against his former side, providing those at the Valley with another fantastic reason to sing the Frenchman's name. At Watford, he once again stepped up to take a penalty, showing great composure to fire the ball high into the roof of the net to put the Addicks in front. He received a knock to his leg early in the second half, and despite valiant attempts to continue playing, he was eventually withdrawn. He had to wait over a month until his return at home to Wigan, where he seemed to suffer a recurrence of the injury, further delaying his return. 

He made his return in the 2-0 win against Doncaster, but had to wait until mid-December before scoring again, this time away at Bolton early in the game. Watching from that away end, it was a majestic sight, as Wiggins skipped past two players on the left hand side before delivering a fine ball, which Yann swept home with a lovely side-footed shot. The game would be drawn, but in my view, Kermorgant had been the best player in red that day, thanks to his constant ability to win the ball in the air, control it, and spread the play. This is one aspect of his game that we'll really struggle to replace.

In what will now be regarded as his swansong in effect, Yann had one last magical day at the Valley. Brighton were the visitors on Boxing Day, and took the lead after 20 minutes. Two goals from Lawrie Wilson either side of half-time put the Addicks back in front, but it was Kermorgant stealing the hearts and minds of the crowd. Often he lays the ball for others to run on to, but this time we were greeted to the sight of Yann sprinting with the ball from half-way, only to be scythed down by a defender. Soon after, another free-kick was awarded, this time much closer to the edge of the box. Yann eyed the goal, before curling a perfect strike into the top corner, with the goalkeeper absolutely motionless. I'll never forget the hush felt in the stadium as that ball was sent on its way. Time seemed to slow before it nestled perfectly in the top corner. I've not celebrated a goal that much for a long time. It was a truly special moment.

It was not the last time Yann was to grace the Valley turf in a Charlton shirt, but he had one more goal to offer. He was once again the scorer of a scissor-kick volley, to draw Charlton level in the FA Cup against Oxford United after a nightmare first half. In the subsequent replay, he struck a magnificent free-kick into the top corner with more pace and power than he had done against Brighton. It will remain his final goal for Charlton.

The Departure

The bad team performance at Doncaster left many feeling down, but Yann was to approach the away fans following the full-time whistle in order to wave goodbye. The finality of the gesture was said to have been evident. If I'd been there, I may well have broken down in tears. That night was a horrible one, fearing the departure of an all-time favourite player. 

The situation, as I view it, was thus: following the disastrous final year of the Slater and Jimenez era, a large proportion of first-team players were coming up to the final months of their contracts. With Roland Duchatelet's takeover, there came hope that the situation would be sorted out, but only Rhoys Wiggins has signed an extension. Kermorgant had stated that he wished to know the future of Powell before deciding his own, given the manager's deal expired in the summer as well. These assurances were not given to him. Furthermore, Kermorgant was offered reduced terms, despite not being an expensive player at all by Championship standards. With bids from Bournemouth and Celtic arriving, it was decided by the hierarchy that the best financial decision would be to sell him. This would make perfect "business sense", getting around £400,000 for a 32-year-old striker coming to the end of his contract. But he was Charlton's top goalscorer, and most influential attacking player, in a season where goals had been hard to come by and the team were in the relegation zone. Offloading your best player in January, with relegation threatening, is not a wise move. How can you guarantee that the replacements will settle? Can you even afford to offload a prized striking asset? The situation facing Kermorgant was one where he was being pushed out of the door. He'd wished to stay at Charlton for the rest of his career and his family was nicely settled in the Greenwich area. And yet, he was forced to move on, thanks to the derisory terms offered by Duchatelet forcing his hand. With a limited career, footballers sometimes have to be pragmatic. As much as he wanted to stay, I cannot hold it against him for moving on to more secure terms, especially with the fate of Chris Powell still shrouded in doubt.

Accusations that he deserted us are wide of the mark. He didn't want to leave, but he was forced to. The new owners have brought in replacements unfamiliar with English football, at the expense of a man who was one of our best players, and at a time when we need his fighting spirit on the pitch more than ever. Relegation is likely to be avoided despite his departure. But that does not mean his presence would have negative connotations - far from it. His skill, fighting spirit and close relationship with Chris Powell acted as a key pillar in the tight dressing room dynamic that was built up. His performances, as well as the support he gets from the crowd, would have been hugely useful in difficult times such as these. 

Sadly, we are helpless to intervene. Despite phenomenal support for Yann on twitter, with hordes of Charlton fans begging the club not to sell him, he has moved on. A very sad day, that leaves a lot of people feeling inconsolable. 

The Man Himself

Yann Kermorgant had to beat the odds to even become a professional footballer. At the age of 14, he was diagnosed with leukemia, and told he wouldn't be able to play football in future. Despite that, he came through the disease, and rose tom prominence in France, scoring some wonderful goals in the process. The story of his career seems to have been one in which he's had to overcome obstacles. Charlton seemed like a club at which he'd finally found a home. With a fantastic friend in the form of the manager, who really trusted his abilities and gave him his chance of redemption in England, as well as a fan-base who clearly loved the man to pieces. Many will react differently to the transfer news, but its been a long, long time since there's been such an outpouring of emotion about the loss of a single player.

What made us love him? The flair. The passion. The quality. The desire. He had the lot. A true fighter, rarely ending games with a clean shirt. One of his early games saw him fight on through a head wound and a nosebleed, looking more like an Arab sheikh than a footballer by full-time. That sort of heroism doesn't go unnoticed at clubs like Charlton, where we seem to take to players who have a lot of heart and show passion for the team. Kermorgant had all of those, but above all else, it was his wonderful technique that caught the eye, and resulted in the love for him.

Yann has scored some truly wonderful goals, which will be remembered for years to come. But it wasn't always just those special goals that meant so much. Seeing him roam the pitch for 90 minutes against Birmingham before heading home what we thought was the winning goal was such a satisfying moment. His industry and build-up play won't have been recorded statistically, but won't be forgotten. His aerial strength combined with that technical brilliance on the floor made him a fantastic player to watch. The downside to his strong build-up play was that it meant he wasn't on the end of the eventual cross into the box, because he'd had to create the opportunity for it to be played in the first place.

To me, he formed one of the three key pillars of the Chris Powell era, with the manager himself being one, and Johnnie Jackson the other. The trio have such a passion for the club, and seeing them happy will have filled many Charlton fans with the same feeling. From a personal perspective, and I probably speak for others here, seeing these people doing so well for our club has helped drag me through difficult times. They truly have been inspirational individuals. One of the key pillars of our club has been lost.

The loss of Yann, and the potential departure of Chris Powell and Johnnie Jackson in the summer, means that the Powell era might be coming to a close before it had a chance to fully develop. Yann was a hero to me, and watching him perform every week for the team was joyous. Without him, and potentially the other two, I won't be able to help avoiding the thought that things just aren't quite the same without him. 'Our Charlton' was developing into something special with Powell in charge, before the financial struggles made themselves felt on the pitch this season. Watching this generation of player has been special over the past two and a half years, and hopefully this does not represent the end. That said, it will be very hard to come to terms with losing a genuine Valley legend from the club. We love Yann, and he loves us. That we are now separated will take a long time to accept.

Times change, but they don't have to do so with the urgency and lack of remorse that the board have shown. Far from being past it, we've lost a truly great man who loved this club. The fact that he's said as much himself in an interview with Bournemouth upon signing shows just how heart-broken he must have felt to call time on his Charlton career.

Kermorgant: "I'm a Charlton fan as well. I had a very, very good relationship with the fans and I love them. The club have been taken over by a new owner, and he maybe wants to do something which I'm not involved in."

That interview was incredibly difficult to listen to. This transfer has felt incredibly saddening, given the way its developed and the importance of the player in question. It'll remain hard to stomach for some time.

Kermorgant is comfortably my favourite player ever. We've enjoyed two years of heroic, outstanding performances from a man who'll always be a Charlton legend. Its cruel that we've been denied the years of 'Yann magic' to come.

Super Yann is gone, but not forgotten.