Sunday, 19 April 2015

Charlton Athletic 2 v 1 Leeds United

Saturday 18th April 2015
Football League Championship
The Valley, Charlton
Admission: Season Ticket
Programme: £3.00
Attendance: 18,053 (3,140 away fans)
Match Rating: 3

For my penultimate Charlton game of the season, and as a season ticket holder for a while, as I have decided not to renew for next season - although admittedly this decision could well be reversed in the intervening four months - I was looking forward to one of the biggest games of the season, with "dirty Leeds" coming to town.

Since my last visit to The Valley, for the 3-2 win against Reading four weeks ago, Charlton have picked up three 1-1 draws in the four games since, including a 1-1 home draw against Fulham, following 1-2 defeat at Millwall. And so Charlton came into this game in twelfth place in the table, with 57 points from 43 games, three places and five points ahead of today's visitors, Leeds. They came into this match in terrible form, losing their last four games, three of which were at home. Their task today was made even harder when six of their players pulled out yesterday claiming injury, despite the club's physio team being unaware of the injuries.

On a sunny afternoon tempered by a chilly breeze, this was another game of two halves, following a similar pattern to most Charlton games this season, putting in a generally poor, laboured performance in the first half but with a much improved one after the break. The sudden late withdrawals did not appear to affect Leeds too much, as they dominated the first half for the most part and had the first clear chance of the match, when a Leeds cross was flicked on to the back post, finding an unmarked Luke Murphy, but he skied his shot over the bar from a slight angle. A couple of minutes later, Charlton keeper Stephen Henderson, dallied too long with a back pass and his eventual clearance was blocked at close range by Steve Morison, and fortunately for Charlton, the ball ricocheted just wide of the post. A rare Charlton attack presented the closest either team had come to scoring, Tal Ben Haim shooting low from outside the area, and Igor Vetokele got a deflection on the ball but it came back off the post. On 35 minutes, Leeds were awarded a penalty when Ben Haim mistimed his sliding tackle as the Leeds player strode into the area. Henderson pulled off a great save to his left though, palming Billy Sharp's shot onto the post and away. The reprieve was to be shortlived though, as Leeds did take the lead on 40 minutes. After another good save low down by Henderson, from the resulting corner, Morison volleyed into the top left corner despite Henderson getting a hand to the ball. 

It was a lead that Leeds certainly deserved at half time, but Charlton came out after the break with much more intent, having plenty of sights on goal, and by the time the equaliser arrived on 74 minutes, it was well deserved. Half time subsitute Johann Berg Gudmundsson crossed the ball to the far post, and Tony Watt showed great technique to volley the ball superbly into the net. Three minutes later, and Gudmundsson went on a great run from his own half down the right wing before cutting inside along the penalty area, eventually getting a shot in from the edge of the area which keeper Stuart Taylor saved but couldn't hold on to and when Vetokele nipped in to get the ball, Taylor brought him down for a clear penalty. Yoni Buyens kept his incredibly reliable record from the spot, converting his eighth out of eight to the keeper's right. That settled the match, as Leeds did not threaten for the remainder of the match, as Charlton probably deserved the three points for their second half performance, but Leeds will rue only opening up a one goal lead during the first half whilst they were on top. Certainly, the future looks brighter for Charlton than it does at the moment for Leeds, with Charlton finishing the season strongly, looking difficult to beat, and with a couple of quality additions could be in the mix for the play-offs next season, whilst who knows what Leeds' future holds, as their fans frequently chanted against their banned Italian owner Massimo Cellino and the Italian influence on their club and team generally. 

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