Saturday, May 08, 2010

Fourth Bridge Finish

Oldham Athletic 0 Charlton Athletic 2

For thirteen minutes, between 4.09 and 4.22pm, it was all looking rosy; Leeds were losing at home, and the game at The New Den was being drawn. Then the goals started to flow, and although the Addicks were winning comfortably, the dream of automatic promotion this season died.

When Nicky Bailey gave Charlton the lead (left), I was stood on a street corner waiting for my wife to pick me up having given in to the constant drizzle and called off the cricket match I was umpiring; unfortunately she had got lost (within a mile of home!) and I had to wait while she rang to tell me how lost she was and what the scores were around the country. By the time I had got in the car, Millwall had equalised an early Swindon goal, and soon after I got home, Leeds had Gradel sent off. At half-time, all the matches were finely balanced, and Charlton still had a chance.

When Bristol Rovers took advantage of their superior numbers shortly after half-time, it was time for some excitement, but I always knew that just a goal could dash that dream, and sure enough, Leeds got one, then another, just as Millwall took the lead. The fact that Miguel Llera had squeezed a free kick through the ‘keeper legs at Boundary Park to take Charlton 2-0 up was irrelevant now. There was another goal apiece at The New Den but that wasn’t enough for either side as Leeds hung on, and they get the promotion they have chased for three years now.

Into the play-offs go Millwall, Charlton, Swindon, and Huddersfield (who lost at Exeter), and there has to be a real possibility of the south-east London pair meeting at Wembley late in the month.

Listening in to both the commentary from Lancashire and Sky Sports Soccer Saturday, it did seem that Charlton were able to coast the match fairly easily. Although Darren Randolph made one good second half save, Charlton had plenty of other chances to extend their lead, with the most obvious being a terrible miss by Bailey after he had rounded the ‘keeper and the goal was gaping. At least Bailey had, by then, broken his scoring duck which went back as far as January, tapping in Lloyd Sam’s low cross in the 23rd minute.

Llera only got into the team after a late injury to Sam Sodje, and I hope his knee-knack, which has been on a knife edge for several months now, doesn’t prevent him being available next weekend for the game in Wiltshire. It was good that Dave Mooney got plenty of match time today, having started in place of Nicky Forster, as he has been short of play while Forster could probably have done with a rest after a long season. Mooney did limp off near the end, but it didn’t seem his injury was problematic.

So a fourth place finish after a very long season, and I am sure that many will wonder about lost points at various stages of the season that could have seen the Addicks finish above Leeds and going straight up; those three points could have come from the two games against Gillingham (who were relegated today) which were drawn, or even the home games versus Tranmere and Oldham which were drawn. Maybe Deon Burton and Sam Sodje should take some blame after games in which they were sent off (Yeovil and Swindon) were also only drawn. It doesn’t matter that much now, but I’m sure many will wonder what might have been, as will fans of Millwall and Swindon themselves.

The play-offs now beckon, and a two-legged affair with Swindon needs to be won; Charlton certainly shouldn’t be overduly worried about the opposition following the two drawn games between the pair this season. The home game at Xmas saw Charlton play most of the match with just nine men, and still scrape a late draw, while the away game – during one of Charlton’s worst runs of the season – saw another last gasp equaliser to claim a point. If the Addicks can keep eleven players on the park, there is no reason why they cannot capitalize on Swindon’s average form during the latter part of the season.

But that’s next week. For now, we should all celebrate the team finishing in fourth place, and congratulate them for putting in a strong final month when at times this year we have wondered if they could still do it at all. Many of us thought that the play-offs would be beyond us, not just prior to the season starting, so to get there quite comfortably is a good result. Well done Parky!

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Well said!
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