Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Wham Bang Thank You Sam!

Charlton Athletic 1 Stoke City 0

This was a fabulous result for Charlton, and one that they thoroughly deserved. The late winner came courtesy of Lloyd Sam’s header (left) from close range, which also won a friend a nice little return on his 18-1 bet!

Both teams played very well, and though Stoke may be sore at losing, they really only created a couple of chances whereas the Addicks could have scored on a number of occasions. In fact, I’m not sure I can think of a game where so many efforts seemed to be cleared off the line! The tempo was incessant, and quality of play very good for the Championship. This game did have a feel of the Premiership about it, as Charlton tried to control the play and pass there way skilfully through the massed defensive ranks of the visitors; Stoke meanwhile, lumped it forward but had the best forward on display in Ricardo Fuller, who more than twice almost broke the deadlock single-handedly.

Andy Gray made his debut as widely predicted, but he started with Chris Iwelumo in an effort to fight fire with fire (or brawn with brawn?) – have Charlton had an all-Scottish forward line previously? Not for many years I suspect? Gray tried hard and held the ball well, but his first half flicks seemed to bamboozle his own team mates. He did show he is a good addition to the squad though, and his inclusion seems to have added confidence to the team.

The defence looked pretty solid, with Madjid Bougherra winning almost everything, and Paddy McCarthy also looking very solid. The full backs bombed forward, but also did ample defensive duties.

In midfield, Zheng Zhi was a little overwhelmed by the aerial bombardment, but showed his skill in patches, and Matt Holland drove the team on and on and on; what a leader he is! The wide players did OK, with Darren Ambrose using his shooting boots whenever he got the chance, and Lloyd Sam showing his full step-over repertoire. Sadly, many crosses by these two and the full backs fell short – something to work on there, Pards!

Iwelumo, sadly, had one of his poorest games in a Charlton shirt. He wasn’t helped by hurting his leg very early in the second half, and spent another twenty minutes limping around, missing (literally) one absolutely gilt-edged chance from about a yard after a cross by Gray, before being hauled off in favour of the much more mobile Luke Varney.

But I guess, the biggest, most welcome, mention must go to man of the match Nicky Weaver. Our goalie hasn’t seemed to “win” many points for the club since he joined, which in many cases cannot be blamed on him. It is merely circumstance that if he is called to make match winning saves then he either does or doesn’t. This game saw him make one fantastic save, very early in the second half when Fuller burst free and shot early. The shot was so early it would have beaten many keepers but Weaver got down quickly to push it aside. Late on, with Charlton in front, and during a goalmouth scramble, I think Weaver also made a crucial contribution too, but I was unsighted as every Stoke player was forward to attack and every Charlton player back to defend. Sam may get the headlines, but without Weaver, the Addicks wouldn’t have won this match.

The goal itself (left), seven minutes from time was a strange affair. Yet another Charlton attack was built, and this time the ball was laid back and a shot was deflected to Luke Varney eight yards in front of goal. As the ball was semi-controlled, Varney spun to shoot but mis-hit it badly. It looked to all and sundry that it would drift well wide for a goal kick, but Varney was quickest to react and got the ball before it went behind. A few minutes previously, he had deliberately pulled a ball back from the bye-line for ZiZi who was crowded out, so this time Varney decided to chance his arm and go for goal. His shot was blocked but bounced up kindly for Lloyd Sam who gleefully headed in from two yards.

We all saw pictures of Chris Dickson’s celebration after scoring late in the West Brom away cup tie, and Lloyd’s exuberance was not quite a match for that effort, but he didn’t hold back and from looking tired, he found bundles of energy to go off on a celebratory run waving his arms about! Lloyd’s first home league goal of the season, and it was an important winner.

A couple more chances came, but the main excitement toward the end came with Stoke getting physical - Griffin lucky to stay on the pitch after a horrible foul on Youga, and the usual pushing and shoving that ensued – and Charlton resorting to the time-wasting tactics so beautifully performed previously by Simonson in the Stoke goal.

This was a crucial win, and with other results going in our favour, leaves the Addicks very well placed going into the winnable away game at Scunthorpe on Saturday.

Other things to note - the referee had a reasonable game, trying to let the play flow; and when Lloyd Sam scores, we don’t lose!

I’d like to dedicate this win to my mother, who is recuperating in hospital with a broken leg. Get well soon!

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Good summary Pedro.

Best wishes to your mother for a good and quick as possible recovery.
Likewise Pedro
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