Match reports for 2001-2 at 2001-2 season
(Thanks to Geoff Keys for the headline, as inspiration had deserted me).
After dominating the last home game of the season against Liverpool in the first half, Charlton collapsed to suffer their worst ever Premiership defeat at home in the second half, four goals securing a Champions League place for the visitors. In the first half, Charlton engaged in some fluent passing play, putting the treble winners under considerable progress. Indeed, Liverpool were only saved from going behind by the woodwork and by Graham Barber refusing a penalty for a handball in the area. However, the Addicks failed to convert their chances into a goal. Once Liverpool had gone 1-0 ahead, their confidence trebled, while midfield and defensive errors from an increasingly demoralised Charlton side allowed them to quadruple their lead. It was a disappointing finish to the best season since I started watching Charlton forty-seven years ago.
After gathering at a Rose of Denmark decorated by Tracy and Sue, we made our way early to the ground. A stunned Steve from Sidcup revealed that he had been 'Acworthed' outside the ground by his fellow resident. Indeed, with the roof off the Covered End it was an easy matter to identify the Hapless One standing at the back in a ludicrous brown suit. Watching the officials warming up, something I still find pretentious, I was concerned to see that the referee was equipped with methane breathing apparatus, warning me that we were once again going to receive a visitor from Planet Tring. While I expected the tenor to sing 'You'll never walk alone', I did expect him to sing 'Valley Floyd Road' as well.
Charlton started well with good passing and after five minutes Claus Jensen put in a fierce twenty five yard shot which tested Westerveld. When Bartlett was fouled, the free kick gave the Great Dane another chance to show his mettle, but although his shot was on target, it presented no threat to the Liverpool keeper. There was a moment of danger in front of the Charlton goal at the Uncovered End, but Feesh was able to clear and then Sasa was able to catch the ball. Kinsella put in a twenty yard shot which was deflected for a Charlton corner, but nothing came of that other than a throw in on the West Stand side which was easily cleared. Charlton were playing very well at this stage of the game, showing the estimated audience of two hundred million that they could match the Premiership's form team in terms of quality. Nevertheless, Chris Powell was called on to make an important interception at a dangerous moment. Gerrard released Fowler to advance on the Charlton goal, but Sasa was able to turn it away for a Liverpool corner. Matt Svensson won a Charlton corner, but it only produced a throw in.
What was probably the turning point of the half for Charlton came some twenty minutes into the half. There had been worrying signs that referee Barber had not got his methane mix right with some puzzling free kick decisions. Carragher blatantly handballed a Jensen cross in the area, as was evident from Match of the Day pictures, but Barber saw nothing from inside his bubble of methane. Westerveld saved the follow up from Svensson. The tireless one then put in a header from a Kinsella cross only to see it hit the woodwork. Shaun Bartlett kept up the pressure, winning the Addicks a corner, but it was cleared. Things were not going Liverpool's way and Houllier was seen gesticulating furiously on the edge of his technical area. A good Charlton cross came in, but Svensson somehow managed to miss it while attempting a bicycle kick and Stuart failed to connect as well.
Charlton were very much in the ascendant, but the ball failed to get into the net. The weakenesses of the Liverpool defence were offset by the imposing presence of Hyypia, while Westerveld did his best to deal with suggestions that he is a potentially dodgy keeper. A shot from Bartlett was turned out for a Charlton corner, while he saved a thirty yard shot from Kinsella. There was a succession of Charlton corners, the count between the two sides over the match being ten each. According to the stattos, Charlton had ten shots on target compared with Liverpool's twelve, but this didn't show up in the result. Westerveld tried to relieve the pressure by shooting at Sasa's goal, leading one wag to comment, 'Yes, Holland is that way.' Newts won a corner by forcing a defensive header over the Livrerpool goal and a second corner produced an effort by Steve Brown which was just over. A cross which could have turned into a shot was saved by Sasa.
A great run by Jensen ended with him being fouled. His free kick required all the keeper's skill and he also managed to deal with the follow up at the expense of a Charlton corner which was cleared. There was then a moment of danger at the other end produced by hesitation by Sasa, but Todd was able to clear. Charlton won a final corner, but this was cleared.
Liverpool knew that they needed all three points to qualify for the Champions League and it showed in their second half performance. Immediately after the re-start, Owen gave a hint of what was to come with a break which was halted by a great tackle from Chris Powell. Brilliant work by Jensen in midfield saw him evade two Liverpool players, but Newts managed to lose the ball as he approached the goal. Another run by Owen saw him put in a shot which was deflected for a corner. A Bartlett header cleared the ball, but it was played back in for another Liverpool corner which Sasa saved. Svensson gave the ball away to Owen, allowing him to make another run and earn another corner. It was increasingly looking like one way traffic, but Houllier made what turned out to be the inspired substitution of Murphy in place of Barmby. On 55 minutes a McAlliser corner was ineptly pushed out by Ilic and Fowler put in an overhead kick that sailed over Ilic into the top of the net. Once a team goes behind in the Premiership they usually lose because they are increasingly exposed at the back as they attempt to get back into the game. Moreover, once again the absence of Rufus, whose contribution was restricted to the Valley Gold draw, made itself felt. There was no stopping Liverpool now, but Sasa managed to save from Owen at the expense of a corner. On 59 minutes Svensson was pulled off for JJ. The recent 'flu victim looked below par and one may question whether it was the best of substitutions given Svensson's ability to ask Liverpool questions all over the pitch. A poor Sasa clearance led Todd to head the ball fiercely back in and for a moment it looked like a certain own goal until Sasa saved on the line. On 61 minutes Murphy was given plenty of space on the edge of the area to drill in a low shot that had Sasa well beaten.
The only question now was the size of the rout. My clearest memory of the 1953-4 season is the 6-0 defeat of Liverpool at The Valley. Were we going to see this scoreline reversed. It looked possible when Todd conceded a free kick which was superbly delivered by McAllister. However, this time Sasa showed himself equal to the occasion by diving to save. Newts was pulled off for Parker in an effort to strengthen the midfield. With Stuart through, Westerveld came out and collided with him. With the keeper on the ground, Stuart tried to put the ball in the net and fired it wide. In any case it wouldn't have counted as a free kick was awarded against Stuart. There was then a scramble in front o the Liverpool goal, but the ball was cleared. For Liverpool's third goal, Owen drew in the defenders and then provided a pass to Fowler who provided an excellent left-foot finish which left the keeper with no chance.
Mistake prone Andy Todd was pulled off in favour of Paul Konchesky, but it was an error by an out of his depth Feesh which gave the ball to Owen who had no difficulty in putting it past Ilic on 80 minutes. A demoralised Charlton resorted to hopeful long balls which connected with no one and posed not threat to Liverpool. As Liverpool won another corner, Sasa threw the ball away and, after the referee took an extra whiff of methane, the keeper was given a yellow card. Fowler also received a yellow card after the linesman had summoned Barber over. Heskey was brought on to boos, but by now the game was effectively over.
All that was left was for Liverpool to do a lap of honour, receiving generous applause from the Addickted. At last there is a possibility of a real challenge to Manure and not from the dirty Leeds side. After some delay, the Charlton players came out on the pitch, accompanied by enough young children and babies to provide a flying start to Sweaty Balmer's nursery. One supporter wondered whether the players were getting enough sleep. Brian Cole was able to 'put the question' to Alan Curbishley who repeated his previous statements that he was happy at Charlton and all the talk about West Ham was speculation. He then said, 'I'll be here next season', although doubters suggested that could be as a visiting manager. In the press conference he apparently said 'I envisage being here next season' which was a little less emphatic. Pitchside announcer Brian Cole was able to get an autograph from Michael Owen as he went off, although he reassured the fans, 'It's a contract'.
Juneau the Soccer Cat has given the Hiss of the Match to the Bloke Behind Me who was in full moaning mode, even attracting looks from the Addickted several rows in front. As Steve from Sidcup commented, 'I don't know whether it's worst watching this on the pitch or listening to this lot behind moaning.'
It has been a vintage season. At the beginning of the season, most of us were saying 'I'd settle for 17th', although we were hoping for 14th or 15th. 9th is far better than any of us dared hoped for. We have also seen Chris Powell play for England and a start made on the new stand which will represent a great improvement to the ground. And it looks as if Curbs, the principal architect of our success, is going to stay. My personal footballing pleasure has been enhanced by Rushden and Diamonds winning the championship of the Conference. There are still two matches to go at Harbury Lane, but it looks as if Leamington are going to be champions of the Midland Combination Division Two, their May Day crowd of 1,262 being a Combination record.
We hope to be back next year, although, as always, we are reliant on links to the page to generate the number of hits to make the work involved worthwhile. Finally, a word of thanks to our canine match analysts and Juneau the Soccer Cat for a splendid season's work.
From left to right, senior match analyst Bob the Dog; south coast match analyst Homer the Cherry Hound; and northern match analyst Hooch the Pooch.
There's something to be said for economy of effort as the end of the season approaches. Hence, we thought we would recycle the headline from Sunderland's visit to The Valley earlier in the season. Few Addicks would probably claim that the 3-2 victory for the home side at the Stadium of Light was an injustice. But the question that inevitably arises is: was the glass half full or half empty?
Charlton lost because of a porous defence which gave Sunderland far too much space and a failure to take some good chances. The fact that these chances were created at all shows that there was some merit in Charlton's performance. But the absence of three key players was keenly felt: Shaun Bartlett up front, Scott Parker in midfield and, perhaps above all, Richard Rufus in defence. One cannot help thinking that Rufus would have snuffed out some of the Sunderland attacks which led to goals. Matters were made worse by the fact that a number of the key players who were there had an off day. The usually excellent Todd was below his own high standards and eventually had to be substituted. Chris Powell had an indifferent day. Kinsella seemed to lacked his usual energy and inspiration and often seemed to be out of position. And, up front, JJ saw his goal drought continue.
Perhaps it was a bad omen when I saw a Sunderland shirt in the Parade in Leamington on Friday afternoon. On the way up, we were constantly passing, or being passed by, car loads of Mackems, including a mini bus from Coventry, although one has to admire their good taste. On a bright, sunny day we made good time and made use of the excellent park and ride scheme. We were in the stadium in time to see Brian Cole manoeuvre through the turnstiles and Dangerous Des from Worthing being searched by an amiable police force. There was a friendly welcome from all the Sunderland supporters we met and Maggie voted the stadium the best visited in a year in which she has been to every away match.
The pattern of the game quickly revealed itself with the Addicks vulnerable to attacks by the strong Sunderland left and prone to defensive errors. The first thrust had to be cleared by Chris Powell and then another attack after a free kick awarded aganst Steve Brown had to be dealt with by Feesh. On three minutes Sunderland forced a corner off Chris Powell, but the shot was over hit and ended with a throw in. The first Charlton action came when JJ broke through, winning a throw in by the corner flag. But then Sunderland were back on a break which was cleared by Steve Brown. Then Sunderland broke down the defence of the boys in blue again and Feesh was required to clear off the line after Kilbane had evaded Sasa Ilic. Good work by Robbo led to a shot in the side of the Sunderland netting. But then Kilbane got hold of the ball on the left again and was able to deliver a shot past Sasa Ilic on eleven minutes. Seven minutes later, however, Chris Powell was able to turn provider for Matt Svensson to put the ball in the back of the net. JJ then won a Charlton corner, but it was taken short and cleared.
Two minutes after Charlton scored we saw what was probably the turning point in the match. If Charlton had been able to hold on to thier lead, they might have been able to wear Sunderland down and even get in front. From the far post Quinn was able to make use of a cross from Schwarz and put the ball past the well beaten Ilic. Robbo then had a half chance, but blasted the ball well wide. Stuart then had a better chance with a good pass from Kinsella, but he put the ball over. JJ was brought down by Schwarz who received a yellow card. The ball was then given away to Sunderland again, drawing a save from Sasa. The Addicks won a corner on 28 minutes and Kinsella put in a shot that was not too far wide. On the half hour Sunderland launched yet another threatening attack, but Robbo put in an important block at the expense of a Sunderland corner. Sasa seemed to be completely at sixes and sevens and the shot went just past his post. Charlton's defensive problems were evident again when the usually reliable Todd gave the ball away to the opposition. Good work by Jensen fed the ball into Robbo who drew a save. This led to the inevitable break on the Sunderland left which was stopped by Feesh. This created a chance for JJ who was clean through, but he hesitated and the chance was lost. Svensson put in a good pass to Stuart, but the midfielder was deprived of the ball. With Sunderland on the attack again, Sasa punched the ball out nervously. Kinsella turned provider for JJ, but the attacker, who seemed not to have fully recovered from his illness earlier in the week, lost it. Robbo had a go with a shot which was not too far over. As half time approached, holes appeared in the defence again with a Sunderland shot just past the post. Sasa was then called on to make another save. No wonder that Alan Curbishley was later to complain about Charlton's defending.
If anything, the boys in blue looked worse at the start of the second half. After JJ lost the ball, Sunderland launched an attack which drew a great save from Sasa. On 49 minutes Sunderland showed how it is possible to work a short corner routine, something that the Addicks often resort to, but rarely seem to get right. Hutchison was able to deliver an excellent cross for Phillips to put the ball in the net. There was now real danger of a rout with ragged Charlton play under pressure. Charlton won a couple of corners, but nothing came of them. Then a good series of moves involving Todd, Svensson and Stuart allowed the latter to lay the ball back to Jensen who made no mistake in driving a strong shot past Sorensen.
Charlton decided that the time had come to make use of their strength in depth and Robbo was pulled off for Newton. Quinn was replaced by Kyle for Sunderland. Almost immediately, Newton displayed his propensity for ball watching and created a dangerous situation by losing his man, although it has to be admitted that Charlton's marking was woeful all afternoon. Sunderland won a couple of corners in succession. On 71 minutes Stuart had to clear a header from Phillips off the line. Kinsella had a go, but his shot was saved by the keeper. On 76 minutes Schwarz was replaced by Williams. There had been rumours that MacDonald's recall from Cheltenham was to allow him to be on the bench, but instead it was 'super sub' Kevin Lisbie who was brought in place of JJ. On 82 minutes, Charlton had a golden chance to draw level. A Jensen corner was not properly cleared and Todd hit the post. The ball fell to Feesh who was not well placed and saw it go over the goal with the arc of a leaping salmon. On 84 minutes Todd was replaced by Kishishev. A final chance came a minute from time when Newton turned provider for Lisbie, but his finishing skills let him down again when he headed just wide.
Both Sport First and the Evening Standard had predicted a point for us at the Stadium of Light and it had been my hope as well. A Sunderland supporter told me afterwards that she thought we were going to equalise. I was left pondering just why our away form has been so poor this year. If we can't improve it next year in what looks like being a stronger Premiership, it may give us real problems. One can't blame it on the officials because I have seen more dubious decisions and unfair bookings on the road than I have at The Valley. Can the atmosphere at 'Fortress Valley' really make such a difference?
Northern match analyst Hooch the Pooch with senior match analyst Bob the Dog. Hooch was around early on Sunday morning to finish off this report.
Northern match analyst Hooch the Pooch has awarded the Silver Bone to Claus Jensen. His goal was very well taken and he put himself about throughout the match. Sasa Ilic was not helped very much by his defence in this game, but the problem is that he makes his defence nervous. Still, as one well known supporter commented after the game, 'If we had been told in January that Sasa would be in goal for the rest of the reason, we would have been much more worried than has turned out to be necessary.' Steve Brown was dogged and dependable, but lacks the extra touch of class that Rufus brings. Powell was not at his best. Todd has been a revelation this year, but this was a performance well below his usual standard. Feesh was by far the best of the defenders. Robbo battled away, but one is left asking whether he is good enough at this level. Kinsella has seemed to be below his best for some time now. Stuart made some crucial interventions in attack and in defence. Svensson was not as prominent as he was against Ipswich, but his record of providing a goal in most matches in which he starts is a good one. JJ really did have an off day. Newts has been a great servant of the club in the past. I well remember his crucial goal in the second leg of the play offs against Ipswich or his winning goal in a game against Huddersfield. He was an excellent player for us in Division 1 and I think that is his level. Lisbie showed once again that he is not a Premiership class finisher. Kishishev wasn't on long enough to do very much, but I wondered if this was a match in which he should have started.
Juneau the Soccer Cat has given the Hiss of the Match to Planet Trings's Graham Poll. No, he wasn't the ref, but by unfairly sending off Rufus in the Villa match he changed the balance of this game. Let's hope Arsenal don't come in for Rufus with a huge offer.
The season ended for us with the two final matches played by Leamington, a 2-1 defeat of Kenilworth Wardens and a 6-1 defeat of Barnt Green Spartak in which the Leamington keeper scored the opener from the penalty spot. Leamington won the Midland Combination Division Two with a seven point margin. The pictures show action from the Barnt Green match in front of the North Bank Barmy Army (Leamington in yellow) and a dugout picture of (from left to right), Wyn Grant, Maggie Grant, granddaughter Clarissa Hands and Pete Hands.
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