Monday, 29 December 2014

Charlton Athletic 1 v 1 Cardiff City

Friday 26th December 2014
Football League Championship
The Valley, Charlton
Admission: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Attendance: 17,543 (874 away fans)
Match Rating: 3

As has seemed to happen a lot more often than not over recent years, Charlton were handed a home game for this year's Boxing Day, and although one had to sympathise with Cardiff and their fans for a long away day with extremely limited public transport running, today's opposition certainly added some spice for me. Having studied at university in West Wales, during which time I attended many Swansea City home games at their wonderfully old and ramshackle ground, The Vetch, I developed a dislike of Cardiff City. Furthermore, today's fixture conjured up memories of a remarkable game the last time the two teams met at The Valley two seasons ago, when Charlton came from 0-2 down to lead 5-2, only to concede two late goals to leave the home fans on tenterhooks during added on time.

Despite Cardiff being relegated from the Premiership last season, and Charlton only just avoiding relegation to League One, there was little to separate the two clubs in the league table going into this game, tied on 30 points from 22 games and with the same goal difference of +1, although Cardiff had won two more and drawn six fewer games than Charlton, and Cardiff a place higher than Charlton having scored six more goals. Following their disappointing home draw with bottom placed Blackpool, Charlton lost 0-2 at Blackburn, and manager Bob Peeters seemed to have responded with a shake up of the team for today's game. After a number of errors leading to conceding goals in recent games, young goalkeeper Nick Pope was dropped for Phillipine international Neil Etheridge, Chris Solly switched to left back to oust Morgan Fox from the team, Igor Vetokele made way for George Tucudean, whilst club captain Johnnie Jackson returned to the team after two games out through injury.

On a bright, sunny afternoon, this was another game very much of two halves, with Cardiff dominating at least the first half hour. The first ten minutes were fairly unremarkable though, until Cardiff took the lead on 12 minutes. A throw-in from the left by Aron Gunnarsson into the box was flicked on, allowing Tom Adeyemi to plant his header into the bottom left corner, with Etheridge stranded flat-footed. Cardiff really pushed on from their, and could easily have increased their advantage, and the game appeared to turn even more in the visitors' favour on  33 minutes, when Charlton were reduced to ten men, following Callum Harriott's late, high tackle on Craig Noone. It was one of the very rare decisions that the referee got correct, as generally he had as poor a game as I can remember a referee having at The Valley, with quite baffling inconsistency and seeming to strongly favour Cardiff in awarding fouls in similar scenarios. As often happens, Charlton seemed to up their game a little, although the visitors remained very comfortable as they went into the half-time interval a goal to the good.

Into the second half and Charlton were truly a team transformed, the ten men really taking the game to Cardiff, and the more the half progressed, the much more likely it looked the Charlton would score an equaliser. Tucudean connected with a corner with an overhead kick, but the ball hit the post, although a defender on the line probably would have blocked the ball had it been on target. Around the hour mark, Charlton manager Bob Peeters sent on Vetokele and played three at the back. On 65 minutes, Cardiff should have been reduced to ten men when Tucudean sprinted towards goal, but Sean Morrison fouled him, denying a clear goalscoring opportunity but the referee awarded just a yellow card. Justice was almost done from the resultant free-kick, but although Johann Berg Gudmundsson's bending free-kick beat the keeper, the ball came back off the same right hand post as Tucudean's earlier shot. Tucudean again came close with a shot that beat the keeper but was cleared off the line, and Charlton were denied a clear penalty when another Tucudean shot was blocked by an arm, but the referee gave nothing. One always wishes to hope that referees do not favour either team in a game, but it really was hard to cling to this as Mick Russell had no problem at all with the visiting players wasting so much time, to the point of really taking liberties. Happily, justice was finally done two minutes from time when Charlton equalised with a real goal of the season contender. Gudmundsson won the ball back with a sliding tackle in midfield, took a few paces to create space for himself before thumping a shot from fully 30 yards which flew into the top left hand corner, giving the keeper no chance. However, it could and really should have been even better for Charlton, as right at the end of added on time, Vetokele, the one man Charlton fans would wish for a golden chance to fall to, sprinted clear of the defence and ran towards goal, but inexplicably, with just the keeper to beat, he placed his shot high over the goal. A couple of months ago and it would have been a certain goal, however Vetokele has struggled for form in recent weeks since returning from injury.

Having had to play with ten men for almost an hour after falling behind, a point has to be considered a good outcome for Charlton, but it was difficult not to feel disappointed that all three points were not claimed following a very strong second half performance, but having to contend with an incredibly poor refereeing performance and lady luck not going their way.

Video highlights of this game can be found here

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