Saturday, 2 April 2016

Charlton Athletic 2 v Birmingham City 1

Never a bad day when you win at home. Never a bad day when you shut up a large away following who have been disrespectful. The win keeps us in touch with MK Dons but they lost at Fulham who maintain a six point (seven with goal difference) lead over us.

Birmingham City are notoriously poor travellers but today, buoyed by an unlikely last tilt at the play-offs, they brought 3000 to the Valley. In years gone by, their away support has been as poor as ours, often barely bringing 500, a pitifully small percentage of their home gate. They are not favourite fans of mine (play-off finals v Leeds at St. Andrews in particular) and they showed their class by chanting "going down, going down" when we kicked off our stress ball protest shortly after kick-off.

The home attendance was again poor but those present gave it plenty early on with sustained singing of "we want Roland out" as 3,000 stress balls rained downed. The match was stopped for several minutes as the players and staff ran to clear the debris before the match restarted.

Point made and time to settle down and try to beat the Blues. We looked pretty solid along the back. Pope was still in goal and in front of him he had Suk-Young, Texeira, Fanni and Fox. Diarra (man-of-the-match by a mile) played so close to the back four, he often stepped in and Cousins was superb alongside him. Johan Berg Gudmundsson had another game where he  got stuck in and earned his wages. Marco Motta played his part on the other side giving us an outlet and stepping in to break up Brum attacks. I thought we looked lighter up front with Vetokele and Harriott. Igor's first touch is good but his second lets him down too often. Harriott, by contrast, has a dreadful first touch but can often recover using his pace but he's simply not good enough overall for the Championship. He may be one player to benefit from relegation.

It was a fairly cagey first-half with both sides keen to build and get men forward without troubling the respective keepers. Birmingham opened the scoring after the half-hour when another raid of theirs down our left side saw Paul Caddis find an overlap to fire in a cross which looked like it took a deflection to clear the covering central defenders and fall for Jon Toral to divert home past Pope at the far post. After that the highlight was a ball going into the low rows of the East Stand where a Charlton fan took a deliberately long time to carry it out from his isle and down the steps to hand to over the the ball-boy so he couldn't be accused by the club of throwing anything onto the playing surface. It was a poignant moment and one met with a round of appreciative applause from all of those who got the joke.

Five minutes later, a Charlton ball out of defence found Johan Berg Gudmundson along on the right wing and he tore inside. With precious few options he put his head down and straightened up 25 yards out before unleashing a fierce low shot which may have taken a slight deflection off a sliding defender but which ultimately beat Kuszczak with something to spare. At half-time that felt fair.

Into the second-half and Charlton put on more pressure. Diarra got on the end of a delightful right-wing cross from JBG but headed over from the back post when anything on target would probably have given us the lead. Ademola Lookman was on at half-time and he brought some guile as well as pace to our attacking play. With Vetokele, and Harriott, the trio began to trouble the Blues at the back with their pace and inter-passing but the final ball wasn't right. Lookman might have scored when he finally broke through on goal from the left but his rising cross-shot was superbly tipped over by a diving Kuszczak. Kuszczak then became the pantomime villain after a prolonged injury which looked feigned. He limped like a war veteran back from the resulting goal-kick but still managed to thump it 60 yards downfield. 

The last laugh was Charlton's as an injury time corner was dropped at the back post for Jorge Texeira to meet it with a deft header that squeezed in at Kuszczak's post to the delight of the home support.

The win keeps us in touch but I fear the next two away games this week at Ipswich on Tuesday and QPR on Saturday will effectively seal our fate. Both of them are going well and neither are happy hunting grounds for the Addicks. 

The prospect of relegation at home looms and we may also suffer the recurring humiliation of watching other sides promoted at the Valley. Brighton may well come on the cusp of promotion in a few weeks time and Burnley will almost certainly be celebrating on the last day of the season. Oblivious to the irony and salt-in-the-wounds, Katrien Meire will already be planning to inconvenience home customers to accommodate more money-spinning visitors, just like Bournemouth last year who royally took the piss out of us. 

At least a repeat is unlikely in League One, partly because there aren't many clubs who could outsell the away allocation even in the event of a promotion game and also because I reckon they may well close the upper West and North next season due to lack of interest. The match-day food and drink boycott may also be biting because one of the two main outlets behind the East was closed today. Those numbers are looking decidedly weak Katrien. Hope you have a book down your pants for your end of year report - Roly doesn't do failure does he?

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