By Alex Stedman – http://theendofthedayfootball.blogspot.co.uk/
A remarkable night at The Valley saw Charlton beat Cardiff 5-4 in a pulsating game. After going two goals down inside the first 25 minutes, the home side rallied to put themselves 5-2 ahead, before Cardiff gave them a scare late on with two further goals in the dying moments.
With Charlton not having won at home since August, the fans could have been forgiven for feeling sceptical about facing the league leaders. Before the game the Londoners would have snapped your hand off for a routine win, as it turned out the game was anything but, and the match was one that will live long in the memory.
Chris Powell went with the 4-5-1 formation that he’d begun utilising in recent weeks. Michel Morrison was named at right back as Chris Solly moved over to the left full back position. There was a central midfield trio of Johnnie Jackson, Dale Stephens and Bradley Pritchard, with Salim Kerkar and Danny Haynes flanking them – the latter was handed his first start of the season on the right side of midfield, leaving Rob Hulse to lead the line on his own for the home side.
A game plan seemingly built around solidity and resilience soon went out of the window three minutes into the match. After Craig Noone had seen his shot tipped wide by Ben Hamer, the Bluebirds took the lead from the resulting corner. Set piece specialist Peter Whittingham dealt an inviting delivery , and Helguson ghosted into space at the near post to glance the ball home.
The early setback was the worst possible scenario for a team that were surely low on confidence following Saturday’s heavy 4-1 defeat at home to Middlesbrough. It soon got worse. After another superb delivery by Whittingham, Mark Hudson rose highest to head the ball towards goal, and centre back partner Ben Turner turned the ball goalwards onto the crossbar. Hamer and the defence were unable to clear, and Joe Mason swept the loose ball home for 2-0.
The North Stand continued to get behind their team, with the relentless ‘Chrissy Powell’s Red and White Army’ ever present against the back drop of Cardiff celebrations from the South end of the ground.
The sustained passion from the crowd clearly rubbed off on the players, and Charlton got themselves back into the game ten minutes before half time. The Addicks pumped the ball into the box, and as Hulse challenged Cardiff keeper David Marshall, the ball was spilled to the feet of Kerkar, who unselfishly laid it on to Jackson who curled the ball home to draw his side back into the game.
The goal galvanised the team, who suddenly started to play the sort of football that the fans support deserved. More pressure from the home side rewarded them with a corner over on the right , and as Leon Cort met the ball it looked certain to draw Charlton level, but the effort was well saved by Marshall.
The Addicks were beginning to look increasingly dangerous going forward, and Hulse had his effort cleared off the line by Turner after a wonderful through ball from Kerkar had set the striker (on loan from QPR) in on goal. From the resulting corner Charlton got their equaliser. Stephens whipped in a delightful set piece of his own and skipper Jackson powered into the box to meet the ball with a thumping header that nestled in the bottom corner of the net.
The timing of the two goals – minutes before the interval, left the fans buoyant and delighted with the way their team had fought back so admirably. The half time whistle was greeted with cheers from three sides of the ground, the remaining side stood stunned at what they’d witnessed after it had looked like their team was in cruise control.
The second half started in the same way as the first, with the visitors on the front foot. It was Whittingham once again at the heart of the Welsh side’s midfield who was pulling the strings, and his effort was inches wide of the post as The Valley breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Defensively Cardiff were looking alarmingly shaky for a side at the top of the division, and they conceded again minutes later. Chris Solly was brought down on the left hand touch line, and as Dale Stephens stood over the ball the Charlton defenders trudged forward for what looked like a customary set piece into the box. But the midfielder stepped up to swerve an astonishing effort over the Cardiff keeper from all of 40 yards into the top right hand corner of the net – much to the bewilderment of fans and players alike – the turn around was complete.
The Valley was rocking and it got even better for the hosts on the hour mark. The outstanding Bradley Pritchard created himself space down the right and provided a cross that was met by the impressive Haynes who beat the defender to the ball to nod back across goal for 4-2.
An unbelievable sequence of events was made even more superb for the home side after Kerkar got the better of his man after some neat footwork out wide, and centred for Hulse to net his second goal in as many games at The Valley to send the stadium into delirium.
In the away dugout, Malkay Mackay made two changes bringing on Kim Bo-Kyung and Aron Gunnarsson in an attempt to liven up his midfield in what was beginning to look like a weary side.
Another dangerous set piece from the skipper Johnnie Jackson was cleared off the line, before Cort went close again with a smart volley on the swivel as the Addicks looked to close the game out.
But Cardiff threatened to spoil the party in injury time as the fourth official signalled that there was to be a minimum of six added minutes. When Noone chased down a hopeful long ball to round Hamer and prod the ball home the Valley suddenly began to get edgy.
It was the Addicks who were now on the ropes in this incredible encounter, and Cardiff grabbed themselves a fourth goal in the fifth minute of the allotted six. This time substitute Gunnarsson curled a shot up into the top corner out of the reach of Hamer as the fans who’d stayed until the end in the Jimmy Seed Stand sensed that they could be about to witness something spectacular from their side.
Thankfully Charlton held on, and a once in a lifetime game was brought to a close. Chris Powell and the players looked exhausted, as did the fans with three vital points added to the Addicks total. The Valley has now witnessed 14 goals in just two games, and those heading down to Bristol on Sunday would be more than happy with a routine 1-0 win – but for now the game will be one where fans will be able to say ‘I was there’.