It's been 20 long months since we won back-to-back league matches in the same campaign, so it was a strange feeling to watch Charlton Athletic breeze past Hartlepool on a sunny day in the north-east yesterday to make it six points from six.
It really was a perfect day. A fairly straightforward run up the M1 got us to the ground shortly after 1pm and it was just a case of finding the other expectant Addicks who were drinking in a variety of working men's clubs that dot Victoria Park. A quick one in the quaint Corner Pin bar and then around the ground to Raglan Quoit Club where we met up with a dozen or so of the first train brigade who had arrived 11.15am. Beer at less than £2 a pint in the company of real football fans who made us welcome in their club which doubles as a snooker hall. No sign that the ancient game of quoits survives (a north-east favourite) other than some sepia photographs of a lost generation of members.
Into the ground then and there was a real atmosphere of a 30 year school reunion. I shan't name names here, but there were at least a dozen faces I used to see week-in week-out. The six hundred visiting fans spread out across the long low Rink End and awaited the action. The pitch was perfect and an unchanged league side of Elliot, Youga, Llera, Dailly, Richardson, Bailey, Semedo, Racon, Sam, Shelvey and Burton started the game.
Hartlepool had the first chance when Elliot was tested from 25 yards with a routine shot that he parried way. After that we settled quickly an began to take the game to the hosts. As hoped for, our midfield got a grip of the game and Semedo and Racon paired superbly in the middle. Lloyd Sam was playing inside offering a lot of support as Semedo held the centre allowing Racon to slide gracefully back and forth dictating the play. It really was good to see and our early pressure was rewarded after 24 minutes when the strong breeze held up a lofty goal-kick and put the Pools back-line under pressure. A fluffed back-header let Deon Burton in on goal and he produced an excellent lob from inside the box which beat ex-Palace keeper Flinders and took a big bounce before entering the goal behind which we were standing/sitting.
It was a perfect start and it got better several minutes later when a superb touch and go movement saw the Addicks work their way into the box and Therry Racon skipped to the line before clipping a delicious cross. The ball beat Flinders and all eyes moved to the far post where Nicholas Francis Bailey was arriving at speed. The roar of "goal" went up almost before he nodded firmly past the helpless Flinders. Unbridled joy and a real sense that the game had been won. Therry Racon had a shot cleared off the line before half-time as if to emphasise our control of the game.
Charlton went down a gear in the second half and Llera and Dailly saw more of the ball but it just served to show that we can defend as well as attack. Hartlepool huffed and puffed but it wasn't until late on that they had a real goal-scoring opportunity when Sweeney got on the end of decent move into the box but his snapshot from ten yards was brilliantly saved by Rob Elliot at the near post. Jon-Andre Freidriksen caught the eye for the home side but the result was beyond doubt and the home fans knew it. Time for a few fickle chants of "Parky, Parky give us a wave" before the final whistle and the happy trek back to the Smoke. One of the locals told me on the way back to the car that "you'll have no problem this season" adding that we'd come second - I should have asked him would come first, but I was pleased enough with the thought of second place.
Miguel Llera played the match with a bandaged head and his wound was clearly re-opened before the end which will be a concern with our lack of experienced cover. We managed to run the game from midfield without Jonjo Shelvey having a productive match and that's two on the spin for him. Hopefully this is just one of those things rather than any hangover to the big-money transfer rumours that have followed him all pre-season.
What we really need now is to take 3,000 supporters to a London derby and underline our intentions for this season by making it three wins in-a-row and installing ourselves at the top of the table. It is looking increasingly like we are getting off to the start we all prayed for and the all-important confidence is building. If we can beat the O's on Tuesday, we should get another decent crowd for the Walsall home game and might even establish a lead at the top of the table.
Up the Addicks!