Sunday, 3 February 2013

Crystal Palace 2 v 1 Charlton Athletic

Football League Championship
Selhurst Park, South Norwood
Admission: £32.00
Programme: £3.00
Attendance: 17,945
Match Rating: 4

As a Charlton fan, a visit to Selhurst Park has never been an attractive proposition since the club played there in the late eighties, so much so that the only time I have watched a game there was back in 1995, when Wimbledon hosted Charlton in a League Cup tie. However, as my current partner comes from the Croydon area and wanted to visit Selhurst Park, I was sufficiently tempted to make a return visit.

Selhurst Park is located about a 15 minute walk from Norwood Junction train station (as well as from Selhurst and Thornton Heath stations), and the ground is a curious mixture of old and new. Some of the exterior to the ground is extremely old-fashioned, and as I entered the away end, into the Arthur Wait stand, it really was like going back in time, with the turnstiles and interior before entering the stand almost exactly how I remember it from the eighties, and the stand itself does not seem to have had much improvement either. Running along one length of the pitch, about half of the stand has wooden seats, the remainder plastic seats, and there are a couple of obstructing pillars to obscure one’s vision. If one were seated towards the rear of the stand, the low roof would also impede one’s view somewhat. Along the other length is a similarly archaic and single tiered stand. Behind both goals are much more modern stands, constructed in the nineties. Behind one of the goals is a fairly small seating capacity with only 17 rows, but with a couple of rows of corporate boxes above the seating and a Jumbotron scoreboard placed on the roof. Behind the other goal is the only two tiered stand, an impressive structure towering far above the other stands with steeply banked seating and an attractive curved roof to it. Apparently Crystal Palace’s programme was awarded “Championship Programme of the Season 2012/13”, and indeed it is a very impressive publication, consisting of 80 pages, a minimum of advertising, plenty of interest to read, including very copious information about the visitors.

Coming into this game, although Crystal Palace were in fifth place in the league, their recent form has been poor, having picked up just one point in their last three games and have won once and collected eight points from their last nine games. Charlton went into this game in twelfth place but in good recent form in the league, having won three games in a row before throwing away a goal lead to lose at home to Sheffield Wednesday last time out. Crystal Palace would be looking to complete the double over Charlton today, having already won at The Valley 0-1 back in September.

The match started off surprisingly with Charlton in the ascendancy, and should have taken the lead when Leon Cort glanced a header wide from close range. They did take the lead on 15 minutes, when Ricardo Fuller did well to bring down a ball from Chris Solly, before side stepping a defender and slotting home from a tight angle. Charlton had several chances to increase their lead before half time as Crystal Palace were surprisingly poor and struggled to push towards goal, but Charlton had to make do with a slender one goal lead. The support from the Charlton fans was loud and constant, in contrast the home fans were surprisingly silent throughout, save for some booing of their players at half time.

After half time entertainment from the cheerleaders of NFL team the Jacksonville Jaguars – following on from the home club’s Crystal Girls cheerleaders before the match, the second half continued in much the same vein as the first, with Charlton in the ascendancy, and yet another golden chance for Charlton to increase their lead came when Fuller ‘s long range shot was excellently tipped over by the Palace keeper Speroni. One feared that Charlton would be made to pay for not scoring more than once, and so it proved. On 75 minutes, the ball found Glenn Murray, who turned in the box and had all the time and space in the world to place the ball past the keeper and into the net. The turnaround was complete just four minutes later, when the ball found its way to Murray wide of the goal, and he lashed the ball home. Finally the Crystal Palace fans woke up and found their voice, as the tide had turned, and it was only the home side who looked like scoring, as Charlton never looked like getting back on level terms and were left the painful experience of losing both league games to their bitter south London rivals this season, and for the second game in a row, Charlton ended up losing after taking the lead, and fell two places in the league to fourteenth. Crystal Palace stayed in fifth place, but have now built up an eight point gap to the seventh placed team immediately outside of the play-offs.

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