The very best of League One, 2009-2012 (part two)

Between my memory not being what it used to be when it comes to recalling events from more than 12 months ago, and the recurring theme of disappointment rearing its ugly head through two seasons in the third tier, part one of this look back in search of bright lights during dark times for Charlton Athletic was a lot more difficult than this concluding part was to compile.

That said, as we now embark on the Chris Powell era of League One football for the Addicks, the overwhelming tidal wave of contending moments would take its time arriving as the club legend fought to change things for the better…

Welcome home, Chris… Anyone who thought Peacock was a popular choice in charge would go into overdrive days later, when it was confirmed that another legendary ex-player in Chris Powell would be the next permanent coach.

With the club still in serious contention to go up at the halfway stage, a win in his bow at home to Plymouth and three further results in a row – including another Peterborough thriller – made it appear at least for a while that the euphoria in the Addicks community at present was already here.

Orient Express… Alas, it wasn’t to be. The honeymoon period expired, and the clash of styles between Parkinson’s underdog grafters and Powell’s proud, confident and majestic philosophy would lead to a lengthy spell without a win and few other moments of true cheer that season.

The one final highlight would end that very streak, after former Addick and professional bane of the club Scott McGleish put Leyton Orient in front at The Valley, a mirror image of their depressing 1-0 win on the very same pitch the previous year.

Two instances of true striker opportunism from Benson and Bradley Wright-Phillips would spark a revival from the Reds, who began to dominate the game and finally sealed a long-elusive three points when Jose Semedo of all people nipped up at the far post to head home what would be his only ever home goal for the club.

He cried, my commentary colleague Terry Smith cried, and I’m sure a few other fans were caught up in the emotion as well. For once that season, the tears were joyful ones.

2011/12: season three. Final league position: 1st

Start as you mean to go on… A phrase used by commentary debutant Olly Groome at least half a dozen times while summarising my first real crack at play-by-play for the league opener at home to Bournemouth, with only the Den Haag friendly as means of practise. It turned out to be a line which summed up the title-winning campaign perfectly.

Dale Stephens got the ball rolling in the first half before Wagstaff wasted zero time in his application for goal of the season to double the advantage, before Johnnie Jackson crowned his appointment as captain with the clincher from the spot.

With ex-Cherries Rhoys Wiggins and Danny Hollands lining up against the former employers they helped get into the play-offs three months prior, it was evident that Charlton’s days as cash-strapped also-rans with a target on their back were over.

Reserves? Pah! You know that Reading side who won promotion to the Premier League with a superb run of form? Yeah, our second string beat them in September in the League Cup. And how.

With the game postponed due to the London riots, Powell opted to avoid early fatigue by changing the entire squad for the Royals’ visit, and goals from the under-utilised Benson and old hero Jason Euell – back for one last hurrah in SE7 – led to a 2-1 win and a feeling which rivalled that of the highs of the league campaign.

Blunting the Blades… Promotion sides always look back fondly at that point in the season when their advantage over the chasing pack becomes greater than three points, giving them at least a two-game spell in the ascendency. For Charlton, this came way back on October 1st. It came away to our biggest threats for the League One crown. And the lads never looked back.

The performance was almost nothing like what the fans had come to expect from the dominant first two months of the campaign: United were all over the Addicks, and a combination of incredibly disciplined defending and riding a fair bit of luck eventually enabled the visitors to snatch a quick two-goal lead through more classic BWP carpetbaggery and Yann Kermorant’s first touch of the ball after coming on as a sub.

The lead at the top became five points, something the chasing pack would have killed for throughout the second half of the season.

You don’t want to make Chris angry… No football manager nor player is naïve enough to believe an unbeaten run would last an entire season – those feats are as rare as they are incredible, and after such a good run to consolidate top spot, Charlton could even afford that first defeat.

However, of all the teams and of all the managers, Chris Powell was praying it wouldn’t be to Graham Westley’s Stevenage. It was – from a deflected goal by Charlton graduate Stacy Long, no less – but the psychological impact this bitter defeat had on the entire side was phenomenal.

In the days following the loss, Reds players and staff alike spoke of their determination to avenge that loss on Twitter, a far cry from the usual philosophical reactions to defeat. More importantly, both Carlisle and Hartlepool were thumped 4-0 in vicious fashion as Charlton went on another unconquered streak all the way up to the very end of 2011.

Flying high… Said run took in a particularly big fixture with further undefeated permutations, as Huddersfield brought their 40-plus league record unblemished streak to The Valley in hopes of a win which would tighten up the top of the table once more.

Despite losing skipper Jackson to injury at Brentford, Powell had other plans and drafted in Darel Russell and Hogan Ephraim as cover, and the latter would find the back of the net in an assured 2-0 victory over the team who, inexplicably, were receiving more praise and coverage than the club who were actually at the League One summit.

Huddersfield would stay in the running for automatic promotion until a collapse at the run-in forced them to settle for another gamble in the play-offs, and finally forced clueless television shows to portray them as champions-elect.

Happy hunting ground… What is a Boxing Day without insane drama on the pitch, eh?

Charlton remained at the top despite stutters at Walsall and at home to Oldham, but really needed a fresh taste of victory to shake off fears of having peaked too soon.

But despite goals from Kermorgant and Hollands, it appeared to be another draw on the cards at Yeovil’s Huish Park, scene of Akpo Sodje’s screamer in front of rain-soaked Addicks and Wright-Phillips’ winner during Powell’s initial run of wins.

But Danny Green, now featuring regularly on the right after losing out to Wagstaff early doors, had other ideas when he scored at the death to send the uncovered end into overdrive for a third straight season, his first of two winners in the West Country with another important goal a month later at Exeter.

Jackson 2, Sheffield 0… Despite defeating Sheffield United at Bramall Lane and feeling as if three points really should have been the yield from Wednesday’s visit to SE7 back in September, it was generally agreed amongst Charlton fans that there would not be much in the two return fixtures, held on consecutive Saturdays in January.

They would be right: there wasn’t much between them, just Johnnie Jackson and his knack for direct free-kicks.

Two draws against two title rivals would have been more than satisfying, but Jackson’s pair of first-half peaches turned a comfortable lead at the top into a potentially insurmountable chasm.

Stevenage redemption: When the time for Stevenage to play Charlton once again finally rolled around in late February, the aforementioned bitterness at losing to the wholly unlikeable Westley and his Stevenage side’s unattractive style of play left a thirst for redemption. But that wasn’t the only front that thirst came on – there were three.

In addition to just wanting to thump the League One new boys, the club wanted to perform for the sold-out Valley after another ‘football for a fiver’ campaign. Though this scheme was a success against Chesterfield, there was always the underlying fear of another ‘Exeter’, when Charlton went 3-0 down at home for the project’s inauguration in 2010/11.

Finally, Wright-Phillips had inexplicably failed to score since Brentford in November after a great return in the opening few months. He and his team-mates were desperate for that to be rectified, and in a 2-0 win which saw BWP double the lead created by Morrison’s supreme volley, all three boxes were ticked and a jubilant atmosphere ensued.

“Traditional” collapse? Guessan again… The significance of the likes of Reid and Forster coming in on loan at the business end of the campaign two years prior would be absolutely eclipsed in the title-winning season, and leading the charge of all people was a Millwall striker, Dany N’Guessan.

When the Addicks’ unblemished home record was pierced by Colchester and then completely ripped apart by Notts County, long-time supporters had fearful flashbacks to the club’s knack of falling by the wayside when it mattered over the course of a season. But four goals (as at April 30th) from N’Guessan and strong support from left-wing cover Lee Cook helped Charlton on their way to the finish line.

Not only that, but the moves offered redemption for N’Guessan, who was eager to shake off a harsh label as being unprolific in front of goal, and Cook, who had previously seen his name join the sizeable list of failed loanees during his first spell at The Valley in 2008.

Carlisle three times… The moment it looked as if Charlton were strong candidates to escape League One at the third time of asking, fans who were aware of the club’s past began immediately pointing to April 14th, 2012 as the likely day that promotion would be secured. After all, that was the day the Reds would head up to Carlisle, home of two previous elevations in 1981 and 1985.

And with third-placed Sheffield Wednesday, in hot form under new manager Dave Jones, were being held by Colchester, it was almost inevitable that the visitors would break the deadlock at Brunton Park – and who else to snatch the winner but top scorer Wright-Phillips?

Cue pitch invasions, champagne soakings and camera-hogging all around: Charlton were returning to the second tier.

Full circle to the throne… In August 2009, Charlton began their spell in the third level of English football with a home fixture against Wycombe. The Wanderers would not return to SE7 until April 21st, 2012, in the first game after the tenure had been officially ended.

To make the day even better, goals from Kermorgant and Stephens combined with defeat for Sheffield United at MK Dons to guarantee that Powell’s heroes would finish top: Charlton were the champions of League One.

Centurions…? It looked as though Charlton would make it three glorious achievements in as many Saturdays when they raced into a two-goal lead at Preston in the penultimate game of the season, knowing full well that three points would put them on a season total of 100 – a feat only attained by truly dominant league winners.

Alas, for once it was a weekend for someone else. Graham Alexander scored with his last kick as a professional footballer to provide North End with a stoppage-time equaliser after Nicky Hunt had pulled one back for the home side, and the 1000+ game veteran, at the grand old age of 40, more than deserved his moment.

But Charlton return to The Valley for the final game of the season on Saturday against Hartlepool, and once again a win will secure that three-figure total the players and coaching staff have earned at the climax of a magnificent campaign. The area will be one giant promotion party, and the trophy will be paraded by the champions. Can they make the day even sweeter with just one more memorable League One moment?

Charlton Live are curious to know which of these moments were fondest for you: leave a comment or drop a tweet to @liamhappe or @charltonlive with your top 3, 5, 10, perhaps your pick from each season, or even suggestions of moments Liam may have left out, in your mind.

Charlton end their League One tenure tomorrow at home to Hartlepool (kick-off 3pm) in front of a sold-out Valley crowd. Tune into Charlton Live from 8pm this evening for a special Champions broadcast as well as on Sunday at the usual time for our annual Player of the Year live special.

About Paul Glover