Charlton’s seasonal renaissance continued on Saturday afternoon as they recorded a more-than-deserved victory at Birmingham City.
Dale Stephens’ 56th-minute goal proved the difference on the day and, in truth, it could have been more as the Addicks bettered their opponents in every department, before leapfrogging them in the Championship at 4.45pm.
The effort on the pitch was unrelenting, as was the support from the 855 fans in Charlton red in the stands who made their voices heard all afternoon.
Of course, a similar introduction could have been written after last year’s game at St Andrews had there only been three minutes of added time, as there was on Saturday afternoon.
On that occasion Nikola Zigic struck a 94th-minute equaliser – as the Blues did again at The Valley later in the season.
However, Saturday’s shut-out means it is now seven hours and 27 minutes since Charlton conceded a goal in the league, and the visitors’ goal was rarely threatened on this occasion.
Prior to the match Chris Powell was forced into two changes with the main news being the return of influential skipper Jackson, replacing the injured Yann Kermorgant, who made his first start since the home defeat to Millwall in September.
Meanwhile, in defence, Dorian Dervite returned to the side in place of Richard Wood, who did not recover in time from a dead leg made worse against Wigan Athletic last weekend.
This meant a first place in the matchday 18 for central defender Harry Lennon, another graduate from the esteemed Addicks academy set-up, who started among the substitutes.
Charlton showed their intent from the first minute of the game with Cameron Stewart attacking down the left and crossing towards the penalty area where the ball took a fortunate bounce and fell to the visiting skipper.
Under pressure from the Blues' defence, Jackson managed to get a header off towards goal, but could only aim it straight at goalkeeper, and another former Addicks academy graduate, Darren Randolph.
Birmingham started in a 4-5-1 formation with Nikola Zigic leading the line and Lee Novak, who saw a powerful early effort bounce off Michael Morrison and away to safety, playing just off him in front of the midfield.
It was the imposing duo who combined to have the ball in Charlton’s net within the opening quarter of an hour as Chris Burke’s corner floated to the near post, Novak bustled Ben Hamer out of the way to flick towards Zigic, who headed home.
However, as Birmingham celebrated, the referee waved the effort off after ruling than the Charlton goalkeeper had been fouled in the second stage.
Birmingham enjoyed the better of the game in the first quarter with full-back Paul Caddis enjoying particular joy down the right-hand side of the pitch.
The former Swindon Town loanee twice got beyond Stewart and Rhoys Wiggins in quick succession, first crossing dangerously before going himself the second time, cutting inside, and blazing a shot over Hamer’s bar.
While Jackson tried to support him, Church was often ploughing a lone furrow in the final third in the first half, but – typically – did not lack for effort or endeavour.
When half-chances did come his way the Wales international looked alert and alive to opportunities, first glancing a header wide from Stewart’s cross, before being involved in the best chance of the half to that point.
As Jackson found space inside the left edge of the Blues’ penalty area, he drilled a ball into the path of the frontman who ran onto it keenly, only for defender Dan Burn to intercept clumsily at the decisive moment and clear his lines.
Charlton’s bench appealed for a penalty after Church ended up on the ground under the challenge from behind, but a decision from referee Scott Mathieson was not forthcoming.
It was, however, the cue for the Addicks to up the ante as Powell’s men finished the half on a high.
A Randolph slip moments later presented a half-chance to Jackson but the skipper’s technically-pure strike was blocked by the desperate stopper as it headed towards goal.
The chance was the cue for home fans to voice their disapproval and it would have grown louder had Stephens converted an opportunity before the break.
Birmingham once again played themselves into trouble on the left of their defence and the ball to the cultured midfielder, but his half-volley flew straight to Randolph before he admonished himself for his wastefulness.
Despite their dominance, Charlton were given a wake-up call as Novak tried his luck from 20 yards and forced Hamer into a sprawling low save at full stretch to repel it before the half-time whistle went.
The elements provided the half-time entertainment as strong winds took hold of St Andrews, wreaking havoc with advertising boards and precariously hanging signs near to the press box.
Conditions did not improve when the action resumed and Charlton began the second period playing into a gale, affecting their forward momentum.
With Stewart, a right-footed player, operating on the left and preferring to cut in, Charlton’s midfield was congested at times with three central player also vying for space with the right-sided Pritchard.
However, after several thwarted forays, it was Charlton’s left side which combined to produce the game’s opening goal.
The overlapping Wiggins caused problems with a run into the Birmingham penalty box, before Stewart picked up the ball and, yes, cut inside before unleashing a vicious shot at goal which Randolph could not hold.
The rebound fell to the well-placed Jackson, who saw his close-range effort blocked, before Stephens pounced to place into an open goal and give Charlton a deserved lead.
For all their good work, a defensive lapse nearly presented Birmingham with an equaliser straight away.
The energetic Tom Adeyemi, a lively presence in midfield all afternoon, ran unchecked into the Addicks penalty area, was found with a through-ball and shot past Hamer – although Morrison was the hero of the hour as he hooked clear off the line.
If Church, as a focal point of the attack symbolised Charlton’s work ethic on the day, Lawrie Wilson was not far behind in the energy stakes.
Another lung-busting run forward should have resulted in a penalty after 68 minutes and presented Charlton with an opportunity which may well have sealed the contest.
As he burst into the penalty area, a despairing Robinson appeared to barge him in the back and push him over.
It seemed a clear-cut spot-kick, but referee Mathieson and his assistant on that side were unmoved. The decision rightly angered Powell and assistant Alex Dyer – and they were infuriated when Kyle Bartley's body-check of Church also went unpunished.
Undeterred, Charlton pressed on and Church came agonisingly close to a second when Wiggins teed him up eight yards out, only for his second touch to let him down before he could uncork an effort at Randolph’s goal.
Regular watchers of this fixture know to expect late goals and, for one agonising moment, it looked as though the Blues would once again snatch a late leveller in the 90h minute.
The Addicks failed to clear their lines after a direct ball was played forward, and it fell to substitute Peter Lovenkrands who blazed over from six yards out and allowed the 855 travelling fans to breathe again.
There was just time for one final scare as again Birmingham went long and found the head of Zigic, who nodded into the chest of Stephens – where there was more than a hint off handball – but, thankfully on this occasion, the referee continued his aversion to pointing towards the penalty spot.
The final whistle blew soon after. To reiterate, it is now seven hours and 27 minutes since Charlton conceded a goal. And counting…
Charlton Athletic: Hamer; Wilson, Wiggins, Dervite, Morrison; Pritchard, Stephens, Cousins, Jackson (Cook 90), Stewart; Church.
Subs (not used): Alnwick, Hughes, Evina, Sordell, Harriott, Lennon.
Goals: Stephens 56.
Birmingham City: Randolph; Caddis, Bartley, Burn, Robinson; Reilly, Adeyemi; Burke, Novak (Ferguson 62), Gray (Lovenkrands 62); Zigic.
Subs (not used): Doyle, Mullins, Lee, Shinnie, Brown.
Referee: Mr Scott Mathieson
Att: 14,070 (855 Charlton)