Sunday, October 18, 2009

Terriers Plot Foiled

Charlton Athletic 2
Huddersfield Town 1

A terrific win for Charlton at The Valley yesterday as the team dug deep and went top of the League for the first time in a month. Headed goals early in each half from Sam Sodje and Izale McLeod - who both started the game - were just enough to beat the Yorkshiremen. Huddersfield attacked for most of the match and gave a very good account of themselves; it would be no surprise to see them in the play-off mix up come next May.

I do think that manager Phil Parkinson should warrant a lot of credit for this victory; not only did he bring back Sodje for Miguel Llera at centre half, he also dropped Jonjo Shelvey in place of McLeod, even though Izale took a lot of stick for missing chances last weekend. In addition to that, he also made the obvious required change at half-time where he removed the yellow-carded Matt Spring for the more solid and defensively minded Jose Semedo. Our Portu-geezer had a storming half, reminding us all of what has been lacking over the past five games which he has missed, and ensured that Charlton remained solid under intense pressure as the game wore on. This is no way reflects badly on Spring, who actually had a very decent first 45 minutes – possibly his best half since he came into the side when Semedo was injured.

In fact, nearly all the team came off as heroes in a very physical encounter. Deon Burton led the line and won a fair share of aerial ball too, and with McLeod being up alongside or in front of him, eased some of the pressure that he has carried over the first dozen games of the season. The pair linked well, if not perfectly, and McLeod’s running ability enabled him to get deep into the channels and cause a constant worry for the Terriers defence. On several occasions McLeod went to ground, and if the referee had been as interested in giving Charlton free-kicks as he had our opponents then the Addicks may have had many more shots on goal than they did. McLeod’s goal came from a free-kick that was headed back across the area by Sodje just four minutes into the second half, and though very well received, he did stupidly remove his shirt during the celebrations and pick up his fourth yellow card of the season as a result (top pic).

The midfield four competed in each half, but with Huddersfield playing the ball over the top of them for much of the first half, Spring and Racon regularly found themselves facing the wrong direction and having to retreat to catch play up. When they did get the ball down and play both made good passes, and Racon in particular made some very intelligent runs into space and was always trying to find cracks in a somewhat creaky opposition defence. Nicky Bailey was the subject of a couple of very hefty tackles which went unpunished by anything more than a free-kick to the home side, and hopefully he will shrug off the bruises as he has done for much of this season and be OK for next week. Lloyd Sam made good headway down the right wing but did fail to get crosses in when well placed on more than one occasion. He is still constantly double-marked though, and that seemed to allow McLeod to exploit the space behind him sometimes to good effect.

The defence had plenty to cope with, as the ball came straight to them bypassing the midfield protection. Facing an attack that was much bigger than any of them, they all did very admirably to cope with the succession of high crosses or long throw-ins that came their way with Sodje providing some spectacular headed clearances. Christian Dailly acted calm as always, and cleared his lines accurately, while Frazer Richardson had another competent game and got forward whenever he could. The star of the back line once more though was Kelly Youga, who, after a couple of stray first half passes, put on a master-class in tackling, clearing his lines, and attacking wing play. Youga was simply awesome in his efforts, and at no stage was he that untowardly troubled. Sodje had opened the scoring with a thunderous header (above) direct from a Spring corner in the seventh minute; for a team full of large players and aerial ability, Huddersfield will be upset at conceding two headed goals to Charlton.

The defence did have some help, especially in the second half from the immense presence of substitute Semedo, who once more broke up play and gave the simple pass.

In goal, Rob Elliot was once more assured, and he again did well with the many crosses that came his way, punching or catching as the situation demanded. Elliot made one great stop with his legs to keep the score at 2-1, and though beaten by a headed corner midway through the second half, there had been a foul committed well before the ball went into the net. The one legitimate goal he conceded, five minutes before half-time, was a thunderous free-kick from 25 yards by Pilkington that went in off the post, after Spring was adjudged to have fouled and subsequently booked for dissent.

Substitutes Scott Wagstaff (for Sam) and Dave Mooney (for McLeod) came on during the last fifteen minutes for cameo appearances, and both did what they needed to during those last few tense minutes.

So overall, the whole team contributed to the win, and just about deserved the three valuable points that take them to the top of the table once more.

The one concern to come out of this game is the battering that some of the Charlton team took – both Richardson and Dailly suffered cuts to their heads, with the right back playing on with a large daub of vaseline stemming the blood seeping from the side of his head, while Dailly needed to change his shorts late on after suffering a cut near his eye. With Bailey also receiving on field treatment twice, I hope all the players are fit for next weekends Kent derby game.

Charlton may not top the table for long, with Leeds playing on Monday night, but the effort and skill that won this victory does go to show that the team is capable of beating pretty much anyone in this league on their day. A gap is now becoming visible in the league table, with six real contenders for the two automatic promotion places, and any teams outside of this mini-league have to be seen as cannon-fodder and ripe for three points. With Gillingham, Yeovil, and Carlisle all outside this elite group, consecutive victories in these forthcoming games must be sought, and if won, will cement Charlton’s rightful pace as one of the favourites to return to the Championship in May.

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