Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Beating the Bully-Boys

Charlton Athletic 1 Colchester United 0

Well that was certainly an exciting evening where so much happened that I may forget one or two things…

First things first; a headed goal by Nicky Forster after 28 minutes was enough to win the game (left), and then some resolute (if not always fair) defending allowed Charlton to hang on to the lead.

This was a game that Charlton dare not lose, and it was good to see Phil Parkinson – up against his former side – pick a positive formation for a change. Akpo Sodje came in up front to partner Forster, with Kyel Reid dropping down to the bench. Nicky Bailey was shifted out to the left wing once more after one game in the hole.

On a lovely clear evening, Charlton struggled to get the ball in the first ten minutes of the game. An early warning (where Vincent fluffed his shot when well placed) went unheeded and the ball was in the back of the net as early as the third minute. Randolph making a great save low to his left, before an offside striker stroked home the rebound. It was a wake up call for the crowd if not the team, but it still took time for the Addicks to get the ball down and start to play.

One Colchester sub had a bit of fun when the fourth official went to speak with the Charlton bench, stealing the officials chair rather than sit on a cool box that he was having to share. It brought an initial admonishment then a smile for the official which was nice to see.

Thankfully, a terrific run by Lloyd Sam brought Charlton to life, as Sam chose this evening to show that he does still have the passion and desire to play at full potential for Charlton. Picking the ball up on the half-way line, Sam jinked out wide and then cut inside across the face of the penalty box before unleashing as good left-footed shot that luckily for the visitors went straight at the ‘keeper.

Twice more Sam came close to breaking the deadlock as he gave visiting full back Tierney a torrid time. Ex-Addick Lisbie was also finding space, but he lacked early support, with Gillespie woeful all evening.

The goal, when it came, was the result of another twisting run by Sam, and this one left O’Toole in a crumpled heap (some said through embarrassment, though the fact he was carried off and spent most of the second half sitting with crutches and a heavily bandaged knee suggest otherwise). Sam had time, with O’Toole grounded, to pick his spot with the cross, and with Forster unmarked at the far post Sam chose well. Forster didn’t have to jump much, but buried his header past Williams with enough power to nullify the ‘keepers slight touch on the ball. It was a terrific goal and brought the ground to life.

With O’Toole off, and his team losing, Colchester boss Boothroyd brought on lumbering giant Platt to bolster his strike force, with Lisbie shifting wide. Sitting right behind the away dug-out as I do, you see the pressure that the away team excert on officials during games, and Boothroyd and his team were getting quite apoplectic over some decisions which went against them. Colchester were certainly putting it about themselves, and the referee to my mind only gave fouls where there was one. Akpo Sodje needed treatment after a clash of heads, and Jose Semedo and Nicky Bailey both risked kicks on the face when heading balls.

With half-time approaching, Charlton needlessly conceded a free-kick just outside the penalty box near the bye-line, and some desperate defending saw the team hold on to the lead. Christian Dailly is not the quickest any more, but his commitment is second to none, and he blocked several efforts in those dying moments of the first half. Bailey and Semedo were also very conspicuous in their effort, but it was still a relief when the half time whistle blew.

Charlton’s knack of making Parky’s half time talk irrelevant almost worked once more, but more good defending kept Charlton in front early in the second period. Colchester’s long ball tactics – a Boothroyd trademark – won plenty of fouls, corners, and attacking throw ins, but Sam Sodje (left, with younger brother Akpo behind) and Dailly dealt manfully with most of these, while any second balls were cleared up by others.
When Charlton did get out and attack, after several minutes of incessant pressure, Akpo Sodje rifled an angled shot just wide of the post, while Sam continued to do good work in holding up the ball, putting in telling crosses, or feeding his full back. Bailey had a couple of half chances, almost getting on the end of one Sam cross, and then just being beaten to a ball when well placed. Semedo was unluckily booked when Colchester broke, and then Dailly was rightly carded when Lisbie burst forward. Most free kicks were competently dealt with by Darren Randolph, who looked reasonably comfortable all evening, despite the pressure.

The referee was under increasing pressure too, as fouls rained in, and he struggled to control matters on the pitch, while of it, Boothroyd decided to take matters into his own hands and started an ugly bust up with Parkinson in front of the Charlton dug out. What he was whingeing about I am not sure - possibly just another bullying tactic - but it left Parky red faced with anger, and several others including the non-seated fourth official had to step in sharpish to keep the pair apart.

With subs Dave Mooney and Scott Wagstaff on (for Forster and the ineffective Therry Racon), Charlton shifted the formation slightly, with Bailey proving more combative in the centre and supplementing the immense Semedo. Wagstaff had a couple of runs but was smashed into touch by one rough challenge with the full back well beaten. Colchester just got more and more frustrated as the crowd bayed at them, their free kicks went harmlessly through to Randolph, and the referee continued to favour the home side. The one moment of worry was when a hand appeared to flick on a corner, but penalty appeals were waved away by the ref. Dissent was openly apparent now, and one player was booked and lucky to stay on the pitch, then Lisbie’s own mind broke after yet another fluffed attack and he was sent off. I’m not sure if he swore at the referee, or if he kicked or hit someone (possibly Bailey?), but it was an instant red that took the crowd by surprise.

The five minutes of injury time ticked down with Charlton hanging on to possession, and in relative control, and finally the points were won.

Parky and Boothroyd did not do the customary end-of-game handshake as far as I could see, and I suspect that there is little love lost between the pair.

This win, other results, and more importantly the performance suggest that Charlton do still have a chance of promotion this season, and that is the first time that has been able to be said for quite some time. If the team are coming into form it is at the right time, though it may not yet be enough to make it to second in the table. Currently, Charlton sit fourth, just three points behind Leeds, who have yet to visit The Valley. Now nine points clear of seventh placed Colchester, the Addicks would have to implode massively in order to miss out on at least the play-offs from here.

The spirit, passion, and belief all seemed to return to The Valley last night, and it was long overdue. The crowd sang and cheered, and the players effort and commitment was full and single-minded. Four more performances like that, and we could have a special end to the season.

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Re Lisbie's sending off...

He was in Bailey's face and then made as if to headbutt him... just as the referee turned around to see it. I don't believe there was any contact (let's face it, Bailey would have gone down writhing in "agony") if there had been anything close to contact, but it was an aggressive move and was probably deserving of the straight red that it got.
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