Iain Liddle reports from Bloomfield Road
They say that you can start to judge a table in any division after 10 games of the season. If you based it solely on the 10th fixture then Charlton would be on course to eclipse their amazing haul of 2011/12.
The 2-0 victory over Blackpool had something to put a smile on the face of even the most cynical Addicks supporters.
An away win at a promotion hopeful, a clean sheet, fine performances from front-to-back and a deciding goal from a popular home grown academy product. As a display, it was a perfect 10.
Built on a foundation of assured handling from goalkeeper Ben Hamer and a rock-solid display from the back four in front of him, Charlton put recent disappointments behind and show they have the quality to compete with anyone in the Championship.
Manager Chris Powell made big decisions before, and during the game, but the result provided vindication for all of them.
It was a hugely entertaining game for any neutral at Bloomfield Road, until the 49th minute when Leon Cort opened the scoring. From then on Charlton switched from exchanging punched to controlling with their hosts with the jab, and Championship heavyweights Blackpool could not find a way through the Addicks’ guard.
Chris Solly’s 20-yard thunderbolt, only his second ever goal as a professional, settled the contest and guaranteed every visiting supporter would sport a smile for the duration of the long trip back to London.
Powell first big decision was to make one change from the side which were beaten by 10-man Watford on Tuesday evening, with Abdul Razak coming into the side to replace Bradley Wright-Phillips, who dropped to the substitutes’ bench.
The change meant Ricardo Fuller started the game as a lone striker, with the Ivory Coast international Razak playing at the front of a three-man central midfield alongside the composed Dale Stephens and dog of war Danny Hollands.
While it looked a more defensive selection, and the first half produced no goals, few would have argued had the Addicks gone into the break ahead after fashioning the better opportunities.
They were given early encouragement when Blackpool number one Matthew Gilks’ first attempted punt up field was scuffed behind for a corner, but the Tangerines also showed off some of the football which has earned them a reputation as one of the most entertaining sides in the Football League.
Ian Holloway’s men started the better of the two teams with Stephen Crainey and Gary Taylor-Fletcher linking up well down the left, while only a fine clearing header from Cort denied Aston Villa loanee Nathan Delfouneso from powering Gomes’ corner towards goal.
Set-pieces were proving equally dangerous at the other end though, with Michael Morrison heading over from a corner, which debutant Razak did well to win.
Trading blow for blow, the hosts responded well. Crainey’s dink over the top found Taylor-Fletcher, who pulled back for Matt Phillips to shoot, before Morrison blocked bravely.
Seconds later, Crainey was once again the provider as he crossed to Delfouneso whose acrobatic effort flew wide of goal.
Powell was forced into an early change, and another big decision, when a tackle from Isaiah Osbourne – which was not even given as a foul by the official - ended Danny Green’s day prematurely through injury.
Bradley Pritchard, chosen ahead of Scott Wagstaff and Bradley Wright-Phillips, replaced Green on the right and his first contribution nearly led to an Addicks goal.
After winning a corner, Salim Kerkar’s inviting ball to the near post picked out Danny Hollands, who slightly deflected effort cannoned off the crossbar and rebounded to safety.
With chances at both ends, Taylor-Fletcher nearly made the breakthrough with a wonder-strike when, after Razak lost possession and the forward showed great vision to try and chip Hamer from 45 yards, but the ball flew narrowly as the goalkeeper back-pedalled frantically.
With his pace and trickery, Matt Phillips was a constant threat and he forced another fine save out of Hamer after running away from Solly and drilling a powerful low effort from the edge of the penalty area. Delfouneso was poised to smash home the rebound only to be thwarted by the offside flag.
It was the start of 60 seconds which symbolised the game as a whole. End-to-end, with barely a moment to catch your breath.
Charlton broke with pace and Razak crossed to the on-rushing Pritchard, whose eyes lit up at the prospect of a sure-fire opener, only for Crainey to prove his worth with a superb saving challenge.
The two leading lights for either side, Taylor-Fletcher and Fuller, each had further shots saved before the half-time whistle, with the Jamaican’s almost catching out Gilks at his near post after a sharp turn inside the penalty area.
After numerous efforts on goal in the first period, when one side finally managed to make the breakthrough it changed the course of match for the remainder.
Kerkar, a constant tormentor of Neal Eardley, bamboozled the right-back once again to win a corner. Dale Stephens' pinpoint delivery picked out Cort at the back post and the giant central defender rose majestically to beat his marker in the air and power a goal-bound header into the turf and past Gilks.
Charlton never looked back from that point on.
The goal instantly prompted the introduction of Thomas Ince, who would surely be a favourite to win Championship player of the season, if they were to vote now.
The winger did get a snap-shot away, which was held well by Hamer, and won a corner soon afterwards which was headed over by Alex Baptiste, but the talented youngster was well marshalled by the ever-improving Lawrie Wilson for the most part.
Leaving nothing to chance, Holloway made all three of his changes by three-quarter mark of the contest, and while he introduced attacking quality in Ince, Kevin Phillips and Nouha Dicko, Blackpool rarely troubled Hamer after the break.
Imposing midfielder Osbourne blasted over, before the game was settled by a moment of magic which sent the healthy number of visiting fans into raptures.
Hamer gathered a ball aimed into his area confidently, before quickly and accurately feeding Kerkar on the left. Driving forward, he played a one-two with Razak before crossing to Stephens whose cross was blocked.
As everyone looked around for where the ball would land, it fell to the edge of the area and to the feet of Solly.
Urged on by every Addicks fan in attendance, who had proudly sung his name throughout the afternoon, he sweetly struck across the ball to send it spinning away from Gilks’ reach and flying into the top corner.
As Charlton’s players began to celebrate, while looking at each other as if to confirm what they had just seen, Solly sprinted towards the away end, with his arm in the air to resemble like a shortened version of Alan Shearer, to celebrate with the supporters who voted him player of the year last season.
Blackpool controlled possession afterwards but despite sending on the cavalry to save them, the cutting edge was still nowhere to be found. A turn-and-shot from Dicko in injury time flew past the Charlton goal, but seeing the game out proved almost unnervingly comfortable task.
From a sports psychology perspective, a win before the upcoming international break will ensure a positive mood in the camp for the duration of the 14-day until the next match against Barsnley.
However the memory of the display, and the manner in which the result was achieved, will provoke smiles from those involved for a lot longer than that.
Charlton Athletic: Hamer, Solly, Morrison, Cort, Wilson, Hollands, Razak (Dervite 80), Stephens, Kerkar, Fuller (Hulse 84), Green (Pritchard 20).
Subs not used: Button, Evina, Wagstaff, Wright-Phillips.
Goals: Cort 49, Solly 73.
Blackpool: Gilks, Crainey, Eardley, Evatt, M Phillips, Gomes (Ince 53), Taylor-Fletcher, Baptiste, Ferguson, Osbourne (Dicko 67), Delfouneso (K Phillips 62).
Subs not used: Halstead, Cathcart, Sykvestre, Angel.
Booking: Gomes 52 (foul on Fuller).
Referee: Geoff Eltringham