For the report on the home game against Swindon and subsequent matches please go to Volume 11 .
This was the final ironic chant of jubilant Addicks at the Bescot Stadium after a 4-2 win over Walsall gave Charlton 12 league wins in a row and put them 12 points clear at the top of the table. Indeed, around four hundred Walsall fans demonstrated afterwards using the same chant with real feeling.
Charlton had gone 1-0 down after Graham Stuart had conceded a penalty which Dean Kiely was unable to save. However, two goals from Andy Hunt and one from Mark Kinsella put them 3-1 ahead by half time. The Saddlers came out determined to be reseated in the second half and eventually made it 3-2. But Mark Kinsella replied almost immediately to make the final score 4-2.
I have rarely heard the Addickted in such good voice as they were at Walsall. Waiting for our train in the concrete wastes of Birmingham New Street, we suddenly heard a spirited and loud rendition of Valley Floyd Road. On arriving at the ground, we were astonished to learn from the programme that in fact Grimsby were playing Walsall, but a hastily xeroxed insert apologised for the mistake. We were equally astonished to find that the home of Rushden and Diamonds at Nene Park is more luxurious and has larger stands. We found ourselves among a group from the Covered End, Block E who quickly launched into a whole range of Charlton songs dedicated to different players such as 'Stevie Brown, he won't let you down.' Later, a row did break out between (male and female) Covered Enders about whether the 'South London' song was sexist. However, a great barrage of noise was kept up throughout the match. There were some hilarious moments such as when a very horizontally challenged lady St.John's Ambulance worker went past who was embraced by a bare chested and also horizontally challenged Addick to a chorus of 'who ate all the pies?' It was all too much for the Saddlers: one cloth capped local gesticulated in despair. I have never seen home fans leave a match so early.
The Walsall area used to be known for its skill in the old craft of pattern making and it was Walsall rather than Charlton who imposed a pattern on the early part of the game as the visitors had to remind themselves that the nature of the stadium did not mean that they were playing in the San Siro at Welling. Robbo got down the wing on six minutes and put in a cross that went straight into the hands of the vertically challenged keeper. Ricketts was the nearest thing Walsall had to a danger man and made up in determination for what he lacked in skill and Deano had to save from him on ten minutes. Robbo decided to have a run on goal, but it predictably came to nothing. The Saddlers showed that they meant business with a shot from Wrack that went just wide on seventeen minutes. Charlton then conceded an odd corner as a result of a long clearance by the somewhat unsettled Kinsella who had already given the ball away once. Kiely had no difficult in collecting the ball straight from the corner kick. Then disaster struck. Stuart put in a tackle on a ball which was either going out of play or at worst would have produced a corner. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and it has to be said that he was right to do so. Robins took the kick for the Saddlers and although Deano managed to touch the ball with his foot it ended up in the back of the net. Looking rueful, he was probably wishing that the Evening Standard had not chosen to focus on his chance of a club clean sheet record.Charlton were soon back in it, however. A minute later Robbo put in a cross to the man up front Andy Hunt who out jumped Viveash to put the ball in the back of the net. Eight minutes later Robbo did a repeat with another cross for a Hunt header unchallenged by the porous Walsall defence. Then in time added on Newts put in a great ball to Kinsella which he drove into the back of the net. 3-1 to the Londoners.
Walsall won an early corner in the second half and drew a good save from Dean Kiely. Then a few minutes into the half they had a goal ruled offside. They were certainly looking determined, however, while Charlton seemed to be prepared to sit back more. Shaun Newton did, however, burst through and tried a shot for once. Unfortunately, it went straight at the keeper who was not able to keep hold of it but then save for a second time. Walsall continued to push forward and were given plenty of space by an unusually lax Addicks defence. Kiely had to punch one ball out, thankfully forcefully. Matias shot wide after a rare error by Steve Brown had allowed him to advance. Ricketts got in a one-on-one with Kiely on 59 minutes, but Warwick's finest diverted the shot on to the post and then scrambled to save it. A Walsall free kick was headed off the line, apparently by Barness. However, a goal for the home side was looking increasingly likely and it came after two Walsall corners in succession. From the second on 65 minutes Vlachos used the ball from Matias to put in a downward heaver. Resilient as ever, Charlton swept down the other end from the re-start. Kinsella picked up a loose ball in the area and put it decisively into the back of the net.
At 4-2 to the Londoners, it looked unlikely that the Saddlers could gallop back in, but Tiler was brought on in place of Stuart to strengthen the defence. Murmurs of 'Pringle' began to be heard from the faithful and shortly before the half hour he was brought on in place of Svensson. Inevitably, he missed a chance to score from a few yards out, having been played in by Newts. There have been contrasting accounts of what happened, but it looked to me as if the keeper made some kind of interception before the ball hit the post. There was one final scare when Walsall were given a free kick within shooting distance, but the ball was easily cleared. The ref wanted to keep play going for as long as possible, but we eventually made the train. While waiting on the platform, a great cheer went up when it was learnt that the Spanners had lost at home to Scunthorpe, prompting a chorus of 'We hate Millwall' to the bemusement of the good folk of the Black Country.
It was an exciting and enjoyable game, although certainly not Charlton at their best. Walsall were given too much space to exercise their admittedly limited skills. But a win is a win, even in a Conference style stadium nestling under a motorway. I was surprised to read on the list that our supporters have been quiet. They were certainly noisy where I was and people seemed to be in a mood to relax and enjoy our continuing progress. I found that I was still hoarse when I started to lecture at 9 the next morning.
Controversial match analyst Bob the Dog felt it necessary to take a walk while he cogitated on the choice of the award of the Silver Bone. John Robinson was one possible candidate, but he had already got the official Man of the Match award. Much improved Anthony Barness was also a possibility. In the end, the wily canine decided to award the Silver Bone to manager Alan Curbishley . Tuesday night was another great team effort by Charlton and it is a team assembled and coached by Curbs. As the usually modest and cautious Curbishley said after the match, 'twelve wins on the spin is a fantastic achievement.' One person on the list has started a 'Curbs must go' campaign which seems incredible when the team is twelve points ahead at the top of the division. Curbs has his faults, we all do, but the time had come to recognise his achievements.
Dean Kiely did not keep a clean sheet, but apart from one rush out of goal, he had another good game. He is on Bob's short list for Player of the Year. Chris Powell had another excellent game and was a contender for the Silver Bone. Incredibly, my notes contain remarks as 'good header by Barness to Kinsella' and 'Barness cleared off the line'. Credit where credit is due, Barney has made great strides since rejoining the team. Rufus made some key interventions once again. Steve Brown was as dependable as ever. Newts provided a superb assist for Kinsella to score, although he could have made more of his own chance to score. Stuart did not have his best game before conceding the penalty and seemed unsettled afterwards. My notes for the first half contain a couple of references to Kinsella losing possession in potentially dangerous situations, often by failing to take the safe option rather than the clever one, but all that is cancelled out by his two goals. There had been fears that Robbo might not play because of an ankle injury, but there he was fizzing away and providing two great assists for Andy Hunt to score. Another two goals from the league's leading scorer Andy Hunt . What more can one say? I thought that Svensson gave his all again, but he lacks that something special one finds in a player like Clive Mendonca. Curiously enough, I think that Martin Pringle has something special. The anti-Pringle camp's views will have been reinforced by another failure to score, but he causes havoc among opposition defences. And before any one compares him with Carl Leaburn, let me say that the lanky Swede is a far more skilled if unpredictable player. Tiler did a solid job when he came on and will be a worthy replacement for Rufus at Maine Road.
Juneau the Soccer Cat has given her Hiss of the Match for the first time ever to the stadium which she regards as unfit for a pedigree puss to frequent.
Charlton won their more important away match against Bolton 2-0 to go ten points clear over Manchester City who drew at Palace, Ipswich losing at home to Pompey. Two goals scored within a minute of each other in the last ten minutes of the game by Pringle and Hunt secured victory for the Addicks. 'Thanks for the six points, Bolton' was the parting chant of the Addicks as they said goodbye to the 21st century stadium with its 16th century pitch (to quote Mick Collins), possibly for some years.
We picked up the West Sussex minibus in Warwick and arrived at a bright but cold and windy Reebok Stadium. We made our way round to the players' entrance to see the Charlton squad arrive, the players looking rather tense. A number of players paused for Roland to take photos, while Keith Peacock stopped for a brief word.
The pitch was in as bad a condition as ever: some attempt had been made to patch the area round the goalmouth, but at the expense of a very uneven surface. The first half was a curiously passionless affair with neither team succeeding in stamping its authority on the game. In part, this was because Bolton placed much reliance on the offside trap with Charlton being ready victims. However, instead of Bolton threatening in the opening minute it was Charlton who started brightly with the first of many runs from Newts. On three minutes, however, there was a worrying moment after Robbo lost possession, leading to a Bolton corner. Deano was then forced into a save on the very edge of the line. A foul on Rufus led to a free kick on seven minutes, but the shot was blasted over. The Addicks got another free kick on fifteen minutes after an interception designed to stop the advancing Barness. Charlton got their first corner on sixteen minutes and followed with another two minutes later. The Addicks won a second off this corner, the follow up being taken as a short corner from Kinsella to Robbo, a nice move which unfortunately got nowhere. Rufus has been critcised during the week on the list by a youthful 'expert' as a donkey who should be sold off, but he made a good block a few minutes later. However, apparently the fact that he makes these blocks as last man is a sign of his failure.
A sequence of moves from a Bolton corner on 28 minutes produced one of the most worrying moments of the first half. Robbo was off the pitch receiving treatment for a knock and the corner was followed by a free kick. Bolton put the ball back in and Passi hit the post. Robbie Elliott picked up a yellow card for a foul on Svensson. There was then a yellow card for charm merchant Dean Holdsworth and Rufus as a result of a squaring up between them. The much feared tenth yellow card thus arrived for the preacher man, leading to his suspension at Manchester City. On 37 minutes Newts went on a great run and should have put in a shot, but the ball was laid off and the chance missed. On 41 minutes Deano made a great save at the expense of a corner to deny Bob Taylor what would otherwise have been a goal at a crucial stage of the match. A couple of minutes before the break Newts put in a good cross and Jaaskelainen had to fly through Finn air to make the save.
Two minutes into the second half Robbo had to be pulled off for Konchesky. Although somewhat unorthodox, this turned out to be an inspired move by Curbs whose talents are widely recognised in football, if not by some of the more jaundiced and cynical Charlton supporters. Konchesky operated very effectively in attack down the wing, but could also move speedily back to help the defence if required.
Bolton had a free kick which soared over the goal and then on 51 minutes Bolton made a dangerous break which was blocked by Chris Powell. From the action from the resulting corner Deano (shortly to be commemorated in a special Leamington & Warwick Addicks banner) made another great save. Charlton were, however, starting to step up the pressure a bit, although a Bolton shot went just wide on 59 minutes. But then I thought I would be able to commission Brian Cole to produce the 'I saw Chris Powell score' T shirts after he put in a powerful shot from some twenty-five yards out which went just wide of the post.
Some off the pitch action was provided by the removal by the police and stewards of four Bolton supporters who had been seeking to incite trouble. Svensson went off in favour of his fellow Swede on 68 minutes, but Deano was then called into action to make another great save on 72 minutes, tipping the ball over the bar and providing his own answer to the chants of 'Bury reject' from the home supporters. Then on 80 minutes Pringle was through on goal from an assist by Hunt and although it seemed as if the keeper might make a save, the ball was in the back of the net. A minute later Hunt advanced on goal and with great calm picked his moment and his spot and put the Londoners 2-0 ahead.
After that it was effectively over. Chris Powell was taken off on 85 minutes to great applause from the Addickted and replaced by Carl Tiler. The obnoxious Johansen picked up a yellow card for a foul on Pringle. Then it was all over, a most satisfying result for the team from South-East London. It was already statistically impossible for Charlton to be relegated, but this victory made it look increasingly likely that they will be promoted.
Bob the Dog is pleased to award the Silver Bone to Leamington boy made good, Dean Kiely.
Match analyst Bob the Dog has had no hesitation in awarding the coveted Silver Bone to Dean Kiely who made three vital saves that kept Charlton in the game. Rufus looked reliable to me, but perhaps there are defects there which more knowldegeable commentators can discern. Steve Brown had another good game, making some decisive interceptions. Chris Powell had one of his best games for some time in both attack and defence. Barness was, as always, inclined to get drawn out of position, but mostly he did what was required. Stuart played a very effective role in both attack and defence. Newts had some great runs and also made some important defensive moves. He should try a shot at goal himself sometimes. Kinsella was involved as always, although his corners and free kicks were not his best. Robbo had his participation in the game curtailed by injury even before he was taken off. Question marks remain in my mind about Svensson , although it is too early to make any kind of overall judgement. Hunt was marked heavily for much of the game, but got away from his markers when it counted. Pringle really makes a nuisance of himself to the opposition, hassling the goalkeeper to kick the ball out and outwitting defenders with clever ball play. And his goal was well taken. His joy at scoring (and at Andy Hunt's goal) was a pleasure to behold. Konchesky was combative and effective when he came on and made a positive differenc to Charlton's performance. Tiler was on for only seven minutes.
The Hiss of the Match has been given by Juneau the Soccer Cat to referee Mr P Dowd who was a fusspot who would blow his whistle at the slightest opportunity.
A 47th minute goal by John Robinson gave the Addicks three valuable points in a hard fought match against Sheffield United at The Valley. With Manchester City drawing at home to lowly Walsall, Charlton achieved an eight point lead at the top of the table, pending the outcome of Sunday's clash between Birmingham and Ipswich. A physical Sheffield side had evidently come to build on their recent good form by playing for the draw. They complained afterwards that the combative Robinson should have been sent off for a second bookable offence.
Before the match we joined the zimmer frame boys in the Rose of Denmark who were only slightly merry. Richard Sheppard and Mike and Matthew Robinson had their photos in the programme. Walking to the ground, Robin, who no longer wears his Yorkey's Knob shirt after news of a soccer upheaval in Cairns, was unusually subdued. As he left us to enter the Covered End, he remarked, 'Only at Charlton! Several points clear at the top of the table and we're feeling tense.'
The match was preceded by a minute's silence for the great Sir Stanley Matthews which was scrupulously observed. I was trying to remember with the Bloke in Front of Me when we had seen Matthews play at The Valley.
The danger signals were there after three minutes when a Blades corner led to a far post header by the obnoxious but effective Marcus Bent which had to be cleared off the line by Chris Powell (re-christened Chris Howells by Sport First). . Robbo then nearly got through on a break, but did not have enough support. After another corner had been conceded to the Blades, Stuart had a shot, but it was taken too early and too far out. Stuart then played in Robbo who had a great chance to score, but put his angled shot just wide of the post. A couple of minutes later he had what looked like another great chance to score, but shot straight at Tracey in United's goal. Shortly afterwards, the Woolwich born Tracey handled the ball from a back pass, but this event went unnoticed by the officials from another planet who were so busy inhaling a fresh whiff of methane that they did not hear the jeers of the crowd.
Around the half hour it was then the turn of United to threaten with what has to be admitted was a good low shot from Bent some twenty yards out which struck the post. A minute later Charlton had their first corner of the half. This was followed by a second which was taken short, but ended in an offside decision. Barness was then on target with an effort from 25 yards out which took an unfortunate deflection off Graham Stuart otherwise it could well have been in the back of the net.
Part of the Sheffield scheme was clearly to wind up Charlton's most even tempered player, John Robinson, and Kozluk gave him the boot in the face to earn a yellow card which could have been a different colour. Robbo was then booked a couple of minutes later for retaliating. There was concern when Shaun Newton went down in some apparent pain (United players had been rolling about in agony at the slightest opportunity). It was surprising to find that only two minutes were added on to the half, although perhaps that was just as well as it ended in a Blades corner.
As is so often the case in matches involving Charlton, the key action occurred early in the second half. First, Newton put in one of his fine crosses to Svensson who drew a finger tip save from Tracey (who I had already seen in action against Rushden and Diamonds this season where the terracing gave him a lot of stick for having a girl's name). An excellent cross from Newton was put in the back of the net by Robbo who had scored Wales's winning goal in Qatar earlier in the week. Shaun Derry then received a yellow card for a blatant trip on Stuart on the West Stand side. Kinsella then received a yellow card for bringing down Devlin when he was through on goal: once again the colour could have been a different one. United then had a free kick just outside the area. With the ball played across the area, Deano then made a great save from a cannonball shot by Wayne Quinn which will no doubt be a talking point in the cowsheds of his native Cornwall. The out of sorts Hunt then put a shot wide. This was followed by a break by Shaun Newton and a Charlton corner. There were then a tense few minutes while the West Stand linesman and the referee consulted about an offence by Robbo which could have seen him going off. From where I was, it looked as if Robbo had brushed aside Michael Brown who was trying to get the ball off him, although Sport First argued that he flung his arm in the midfielder's face. In any event, the referee awarded United a free kick and Robbo stayed on the pitch.
The Blades pulled off Alex Notman on 60 minutes and brought on recent signing Laurent d'Jaffo. Whether or not the addition of the former Stockport player made a difference, the match then entered a spell which put Charlton under some pressure (Mick Collins in his excellent report on the club web page takes a different view). The defence were well up to it, however, with Dean Kiely firmly punching one ball out, and some excellent cooperation between Rufus and Powell. Hunt was pulled off for Pringle who proceeded to demonstrate once again his skill at outwitting opposition players. Shaun Newton put in a great volley from distance which was not far wide of the post. United had a free kick, but the shot went just over. United used up their remaining substitutions, first taking off Ford for Ribeiro. On 82 minutes Quinn put in a volley from twenty yards out which went just wide of the post. Sandford was the next Blade to go in the referee's book, and then Tiler who had been brought on for Barness almost scored an own goal with a needless back pass. The Bloke Behind Me was by now screaming with rage at the number of defenders on the pitch.
Pringle had a great chance to make it 2-0 when Shaun Newton put a good cross into him but his header went just over the bar. Robinson was then pulled off for Todd and in the final minutes of the game Shaun Newton put a shot just wide. The three minutes added on time seemed to be interminable, but the points were in the bag. We should remember that one is enough and that Sunderland's championship run included a number of 1-0 victories.
We had a very difficult journey home owing to engineering works on the Chiltern Line and did not reach Leamington until 9.40 p.m. Assistant match analyst Hooch the Pooch had already left for his Saturday night job in the security industry and an indignant Bob the Dog refused to provide any match analysis. Hence, this report was not up on Saturday night as usual.
Having barked his indignation at some length on Saturday night, Bob the Dog has now recoverd sufficiently to name John Robinson as the recipient of the Silver Bone. Dean Kiely had a faultless game and moved nearer taking the club's clean sheet record. It is easy to forget how much we owe him. There was a clear contrast between his performance and Sasa Ilic's debut at Upton Park. At a number of points, my notes refer to 'good work by Rufus' and it was another outstanding performance by Purley's finest who has still managed to avoid collecting the dread tenth yellow card. Chris Powell also had an excellent game, saving our bacon early in the game with his goal line clearance. Steve Brown was perhaps not as prominent as in some recent matches, but as dependable as ever. Before the game I had been worried about Barness but apart from a couple of dodgy balls, he generally played at least competently and had one rocket shot at goal which nearly went in. However, in his excellent report on the club web page, Mick Collins points out that he was responsible for Bent getting in a shot that nearly led to a goal on thirty minutes and compares Barness to a 'poorly piloted barge'. These are strong words from the normally circumspect Collins, but at least Barness's orbit was less eccentric than it was at Bolton when I compared him to an asteroid. Stuart did not contribute as much as he does in some matches, perhaps he was overshadowed by the performances of the other midfielders. Newton was excellent with a number of good assists and a couple of attempts on goal which could have gone in. Kinsella was subdued to start with, but contributed more as the game went on and had one excellent shot on goal which demanded a good save from the keeper. Hunt had something of an off day, although he was quite heavily marked. He was roundly abused by the Bloke Behind Me who is one of the 'hattricks don't count' school and claimed that Hunt wasn't interested once he had collected his awards before the match. Svensson put himself about a lot, mixing it with the Sheffield defence, but was never really in a position to score apart from just after the re-start. But, as Mick Collins points out, he dragged two central defenders with him everywhere. The debate about Pringle is assuming Leaburnesque proportions. His ball skills are tremendous and he can outfox the opposition almost better than anyone, but he is hopeless when it comes to taking scoring opportunities. Given that Barness seemed to be playing better than usual, I am not sure that it was necessary to replace him with Tiler who looked a bit uncertain, not least when he nearly scored an own goal. Todd was on too briefly to merit comment.
Juneau the Soccer Cat has awarded the Hiss of the Match to Premiership reject referee Paul Danson who almost lost control of the game at one point. Mick Collins is hilarious on the subject of the referee. Reading through Jimmy Seed's notes on games in the 1950s, I recall that he described one referee as an 'exhibitionist', a word that came to my mind reflecting on Mr Danson's performance. The East Stand linesman also rivalled him in uselessness.
Having suffered Charlton's 1-0 defeat at Bolton, and a series of taunts from colleagues, we set out for Nene Park on Tuesday evening hoping to see table topping Rushden and Diamonds defeat Hednesford. However, the mid-table 'Pitmen' proved to be even tougher opponents than was anticipated. In part this because we did not realise the extent of the injury and suspension problems that Rushden had. We had good seats behind the dugout in a crowd of 3,700 which was largely silent apart from the chants of 'We are Top of the League' from the terracing behind the goal. The guy continually yelling at the Rushden players in the style of Mervyn Day from in front of the dugouts turned out to Terry Westley, once associated with Charlton. Rushden completely dominated the first half hour and the Pitmen were only kept in the game by the woodwork and some great saves by their unfashionably long haired goalkeeper. On 23 minutes Rushden secured a deserved 1-0 lead from a dead ball situation, Underwood providing a good ball to the scorer Lowe, provoking chants of 'To The Team in White 1-0' from the terraces. However, they were unable to convert their dominance into a 2-0 lead and, according to the Rushden footballers sitting alongside me, this could turn out to be a fatal mistake. And indeed it did. The Pitmen's style of play was very phsyical, but they were only awarded two yellow cards by referee Mr Singh from Middlesex. Hednesford start to take control of the game, with even their corpulent No.7 making some good runs. The inevitable happened on 54 minutes with a good cross producing a header which Turley could not stop going into the back of the net, sending the sixty or so supporters of the Pitmen into hysteria. Rushden then got back into the game, particularly after the talented but easily muscled off the ball de Souza (once, I believe a youth player with Charlton) was replaced by a more physical substitute. Wave after wave of attacks came from Rushden, but the ball failed to go into the back of the net, in part because it was often struck too early. Then the Pitmen got back into the game with a series of menacing counter attacks, and only two great saves in succession by Turley stopped the final result being 1-2. Rushden's game in hand over Kidderminster had been used up with them only being one point ahead at the top of the table. Can Welling do anything at Kiddy on Saturday while Rushden face Marine at home in the FA Trophy (the Rushden radio station stopped just short of calling Marine's home ground a dump, (the club was featured in Four Four Two last season) and implied that the Crosby team had a chip on their shoulder which may well be true). Will all my three teams go up? Charlton, Rushden and Clyde are currently table toppers, but will it stay that way?
Block E, Row Q CV32 6DU
In front of the Bloke Behind Me