Sunday, December 09, 2007

Fireworks at The Valley

Charlton Athletic 3 Ipswich Town 1

A great scoreline for Charlton fans but, sadly, a number of problems came out of this game that may compromise future matches and hurt the Addicks.

Without really getting into top gear, unchanged Charlton found themselves 3-0 up at half-time. Darren Ambrose finished a great move in the fifth minute to put the team one up; then Chris Iwelumo continued his scoring streak; and finally, Ambrose thumped home his second just before the interval (left). Ipswich had offered little. The second half was a complete contrast, possibly due to the wind and rain, and also due to Ipswich’s gung-ho approach and substitutions.

The first goal was a gem. Lloyd Sam won a header on the half-way line, and this was returned in his direction by Iwelumo. Sam was first on to the ball, held off his marker (Harding, whom Sam gave a torrid time all afternoon), and slipped the ball to the overlapping Matt Holland. His excellent fist time cross fell beautifully onto Ambrose’s head, and the ball was in the net. Ambrose was playing centrally more alongside big Chris in this match, with Andy Reid pushed out wide left, and the switch did work in Charlton’s favour. It gave Charlton more pace through the middle, and Reid saw plenty of the ball, and used it well.

Charlton went further ahead after half an hour, when a Reid corner was swung in under the cross-bar, missed by the keeper and it hit Iwelumo on the shoulder and bounced in. This was obviously a ploy to test the keeper in very damp conditions, and was the second such corner kick; many more of similar vein followed. It may also have been some up-front practice for another well-known ex-Addicks keeper who doesn’t come off his line much, and who Charlton may face next weekend (if he is fit).

Just before half-time, an offside looking Reid controlled a long pass forward, and moved centrally before laying the ball off for ex-Tractor boy Ambrose to thump in his second – the first time he has scored twice in a match.

At the start of the second half, Ipswich completed their substitutions and the heavens opened. The whistle also signalled the start of a firework celebration (from Charlton Park?), and as the rockets exploded and bangs and flashes rung out, the concentration seemed to ebb from the Addicks players.

Ex-Charlton youngster Danny Haynes had come on and he was giving Chris Powell a torrid time down the flank as Ipswich played 4-2-4. Just a couple of minutes into the half, a grounded Powell and Jonathan Fortune contested a ball with an Ipswich forward who fell over, and the linesmen signalled a penalty, though exactly what for was very unclear through the downpour. Luckily, Steve Gritt’s penalty kick work paid dividends once more, and Weaver dived left to block an average kick, with the ball scrambled away.

Soon after, when the off-field fireworks had stopped, Haynes headed against the bar when it should have been easier to score, after some sloppy defending. Holland then burst through to shoot against the post, before a Lee cross then hit the top of the bar. It was all action, with Ipswich prepared to throw everything forward and Charlton content to try to hit them on the break.

Charlton were awarded a penalty, then had it chalked off after the referee consulted with the linesmen as Ambrose’s cross was deemed to have hit Wilnis’s chest and not his arm as the ref thought. Eventually, after 70 minutes, a cross came to substitute Counago, and he delightfully back-heeled the ball into the corner of the net from 12 yards.

Charlton slowly re-grouped, and Semedo came on for Sam. Slowly it dawned that Charlton would be able to hang on, and the tense atmosphere lifted off the pitch, but then the problems started to rise on the field of play. First, Mills was booked for a trip, and he is now suspended for next weekend’s game at West Brom (as is Sam, who reached five bookings in midweek); then, Chris Powell was felled in the box by a clash of heads. Chrissy was slowly helped to his feet but as he was led away down the touchline (with Bougherra coming on as sub) he looked in far worse condition than Ricky Hatton did after his knockout earlier this morning. He must be a doubt for next weekends game too if he is concussed, as it looked.

As the game drifted into five minutes of additional time, tempers started to fray, and finally they snapped as the final whistle went. Fortune (left) was obviously upset by something that Lee had said or done, and he too took in the weekends boxing spirit and swung at Lee, and decked him. Chaos ensued as players and officials from both teams entered the pitch and tried to calm matters. Semedo and Sodje had one-on-one pushing matches with opposition players, while Weaver, Mills and others tried to act as peacemakers. As things died down and the crowd finally slipped away, Fortune received a deserved red card which means he misses the next three games.

This run of suspensions and injuries could not come at a worse time and will mean a complete overhaul of the Charlton defence against a free-scoring team, which is not what Charlton will be looking for. No doubt Moutaouakil will come in at right back for Mills, and Bougherra in the centre for Fortune, but Charlton may have to rely on Semedo playing at left back if Powell is not fit as there are very few other fit options (Aswad Thomas or ZiZi?).

The win means Charlton now have 37 points, and need just 13 more to be fairly safe from relegation, with 25 games still to play.

The big squad that Alan Pardew assembled at the start of the season is starting to look like a good ploy, as injuries and suspensions start to take a grip. Hopefully the reserves can step up to the plate and keep Charlton on track near the top of this league.

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