Monday 25 September 2017

Remembering a key victory at Walsall

Charlton were away at Walsall on 7th March 2000. A fan recalls, 'That was a great game in the championship. Charlton on the way to promotion under Curbs. How different the atmosphere around the club is now.'

So many Charlton legends played. My match report was as follows: 'Sack the Board.This was the final ironic chant of jubilant Addicks at the Bescot Stadium after a 4-2 win over Walsall gave Charlton 12 league wins in a row and put them 12 points clear at the top of the table. Indeed, around four hundred Walsall fans demonstrated afterwards using the same chant with real feeling.

Charlton had gone 1-0 down after Graham Stuart had conceded a penalty which Dean Kiely was unable to save. However, two goals from Andy Hunt and one from Mark Kinsella put them 3-1 ahead by half time. The Saddlers came out determined to be reseated in the second half and eventually made it 3-2. But Mark Kinsella replied almost immediately to make the final score 4-2.

I have rarely heard the Addickted in such good voice as they were at Walsall. Waiting for our train in the concrete wastes of Birmingham New Street, we suddenly heard a spirited and loud rendition of Valley Floyd Road. On arriving at the ground, we were astonished to learn from the programme that in fact Grimsby were playing Walsall, but a hastily xeroxed insert apologised for the mistake. We were equally astonished to find that the home of Rushden and Diamonds at Nene Park is more luxurious and has larger stands.

We found ourselves among a group from the Covered End, Block E who quickly launched into a whole range of Charlton songs dedicated to different players such as 'Stevie Brown, he won't let you down.' Later, a row did break out between (male and female) Covered Enders about whether the 'South London' song was sexist. However, a great barrage of noise was kept up throughout the match. There were some hilarious moments such as when a very horizontally challenged lady St.John's Ambulance worker went past who was embraced by a bare chested and also horizontally challenged Addick to a chorus of 'who ate all the pies?'

It was all too much for the Saddlers: one cloth capped local gesticulated in despair. I have never seen home fans leave a match so early. The Walsall area used to be known for its skill in the old craft of pattern making and it was Walsall rather than Charlton who imposed a pattern on the early part of the game as the visitors had to remind themselves that the nature of the stadium did not mean that they were playing in the San Siro at Welling. Robbo got down the wing on six minutes and put in a cross that went straight into the hands of the vertically challenged keeper. Ricketts was the nearest thing Walsall had to a danger man and made up in determination for what he lacked in skill and Deano had to save from him on ten minutes. Robbo decided to have a run on goal, but it predictably came to nothing.

The Saddlers showed that they meant business with a shot from Wrack that went just wide on seventeen minutes. Charlton then conceded an odd corner as a result of a long clearance by the somewhat unsettled Kinsella who had already given the ball away once. Kiely had no difficult in collecting the ball straight from the corner kick. Then disaster struck. Stuart put in a tackle on a ball which was either going out of play or at worst would have produced a corner. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and it has to be said that he was right to do so. Robins took the kick for the Saddlers and although Deano managed to touch the ball with his foot it ended up in the back of the net. Looking rueful, he was probably wishing that the Evening Standard had not chosen to focus on his chance of a club clean sheet record.

Charlton were soon back in it, however. A minute later Robbo put in a cross to the man up front Andy Hunt who out jumped Viveash to put the ball in the back of the net. Eight minutes later Robbo did a repeat with another cross for a Hunt header unchallenged by the porous Walsall defence. Then in time added on Newts put in a great ball to Kinsella which he drove into the back of the net. 3-1 to the Londoners.

Walsall won an early corner in the second half and drew a good save from Dean Kiely. Then a few minutes into the half they had a goal ruled offside. They were certainly looking determined, however, while Charlton seemed to be prepared to sit back more. Shaun Newton did, however, burst through and tried a shot for once. Unfortunately, it went straight at the keeper who was not able to keep hold of it but then save for a second time. Walsall continued to push forward and were given plenty of space by an unusually lax Addicks defence. Kiely had to punch one ball out, thankfully forcefully. Matias shot wide after a rare error by Steve Brown had allowed him to advance. Ricketts got in a one-on-one with Kiely on 59 minutes, but Warwick's finest diverted the shot on to the post and then scrambled to save it. A Walsall free kick was headed off the line, apparently by Barness.

However, a goal for the home side was looking increasingly likely and it came after two Walsall corners in succession. From the second on 65 minutes Vlachos used the ball from Matias to put in a downward heaver. Resilient as ever, Charlton swept down the other end from the re-start. Kinsella picked up a loose ball in the area and put it decisively into the back of the net.

At 4-2 to the Londoners, it looked unlikely that the Saddlers could gallop back in, but Tiler was brought on in place of Stuart to strengthen the defence. Murmurs of 'Pringle' began to be heard from the faithful and shortly before the half hour he was brought on in place of Svensson. Inevitably, he missed a chance to score from a few yards out, having been played in by Newts. There have been contrasting accounts of what happened, but it looked to me as if the keeper made some kind of interception before the ball hit the post. There was one final scare when Walsall were given a free kick within shooting distance, but the ball was easily cleared. The ref wanted to keep play going for as long as possible, but we eventually made the train. While waiting on the platform, a great cheer went up when it was learnt that the Spanners had lost at home to Scunthorpe, prompting a chorus of 'We hate Millwall' to the bemusement of the good folk of the Black Country.

It was an exciting and enjoyable game, although certainly not Charlton at their best. Walsall were given too much space to exercise their admittedly limited skills. But a win is a win, even in a Conference style stadium nestling under a motorway. I was surprised to read on the list that our supporters have been quiet. They were certainly noisy where I was and people seemed to be in a mood to relax and enjoy our continuing progress. I found that I was still hoarse when I started to lecture at 9 the next morning.

Controversial match analyst Bob the Dog felt it necessary to take a walk while he cogitated on the choice of the award of the Silver Bone. John Robinson was one possible candidate, but he had already got the official Man of the Match award. Much improved Anthony Barness was also a possibility. In the end, the wily canine decided to award the Silver Bone to manager Alan Curbishley. Tuesday night was another great team effort by Charlton and it is a team assembled and coached by Curbs. As the usually modest and cautious Curbishley said after the match, 'twelve wins on the spin is a fantastic achievement.' One person on the list has started a 'Curbs must go' campaign which seems incredible when the team is twelve points ahead at the top of the division. Curbs has his faults, we all do, but the time had come to recognise his achievements.

Dean Kiely did not keep a clean sheet, but apart from one rush out of goal, he had another good game. He is on Bob's short list for Player of the Year. Chris Powell had another excellent game and was a contender for the Silver Bone. Incredibly, my notes contain remarks as 'good header by Barness to Kinsella' and 'Barness cleared off the line'. Credit where credit is due, Barney has made great strides since rejoining the team. Rufus made some key interventions once again. Steve Brown was as dependable as ever. Newts provided a superb assist for Kinsella to score, although he could have made more of his own chance to score. Stuart did not have his best game before conceding the penalty and seemed unsettled afterwards. My notes for the first half contain a couple of references to Kinsella losing possession in potentially dangerous situations, often by failing to take the safe option rather than the clever one, but all that is cancelled out by his two goals.

There had been fears that Robbo might not play because of an ankle injury, but there he was fizzing away and providing two great assists for Andy Hunt to score. Another two goals from the league's leading scorer Andy Hunt . What more can one say? I thought that Svensson gave his all again, but he lacks that something special one finds in a player like Clive Mendonca. Curiously enough, I think that Martin Pringle has something special. The anti-Pringle camp's views will have been reinforced by another failure to score, but he causes havoc among opposition defences. And before any one compares him with Carl Leaburn, let me say that the lanky Swede is a far more skilled if unpredictable player. Tiler did a solid job when he came on and will be a worthy replacement for Rufus at Maine Road.

Juneau the Soccer Cat has given her Hiss of the Match for the first time ever to the stadium which she regards as unfit for a pedigree puss to frequent.

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