Saturday, 14 September 2019

Charlton Athletic 0 v Birmingham City 1 - EFL Championship

Saturday 14th September 2019
SkyBet EFL Championship
At the Valley
Charlton Athletic (0) 0
Birmingham City (0) 1
Jude Bellingham 52
Attendance: 18,752 (inc. 3,139 away fans)
London tourist photos: click HERE
Addicks v Blues photos: click HERE
In which Lee Bowyer's previously unbeaten Charlton Athletic entertained Birmingham City, whom, in spite of a fairly unspectacular and indifferent start to the season, only started the day just outside the Championship play-off berths, by virtue of having an inferior goal difference to the other three clubs who were on ten points, namely: Fulham, Preston North End (who visit St. Andrew's next Saturday) and Queens Park Rangers.
Besides beginning his playing career at Charlton, Bowyer also made eighty one appearances for today's visitors, between 2009 and 2011 (including an initial loan spell from West Ham united), during which time he weighed in with ten goals, and picked up a League Cup winners medal in 2011, when Blues defied the odds to beat favourites Arsenal in the Wembley Final.
He scored on his Blues debut against Cardiff City (an equalising goal in the fourth minute of stoppage time). Mind you, he also found the net for Charlton when they beat Birmingham City 3-1, at the Valley in August 1995.
I don't think that he is actually the real Lee Bowyer.
Both sets of fans sang the praises of Lee Bowyer today, which speaks volume for the high esteem that he is held in by all concerned. But the match referee, Matt Donohue, tore up his invitation  to attend their mutual appreciation society gathering, towards the end of the game, when he red carded the 'Red Robins' (as Charlton are known, as well as the Addicks and the Valiants, if one or two items in their club shop are to be believed) manager, for leaving his technical area to retrieve a stray ball that had headed towards the field of play from the direction of the visitors bench, before throwing it back to them and remonstrating, that somebody, in Bowyer's opinion, was time-wasting, in a bid to run the clock down. Pep Clotet, maintained that the appearance of an extra ball was unintentional, innocent and purely a coincidence. But he was booked too, following the bizarre sending off.
Is that all you take-away!?
In his role as Charlton manager, Bowyer led today's hosts back into the Championship, via a League Two play off final win over Sunderland at the end of last season, following a close run two-legged semi-final victory against  Doncaster Rovers, that was decided on penalties after the aggregate scores were level after extra time at the end of the second leg.
The programme for that aforementioned Addicks home game, against 'Donny' Rovers, cost £5, which I thought must be one off expense, because it was a special end of season bumper edition... I didn't buy one, but this afternoon's issue was a fiver too... I subsequently, didn't buy one today either.
But I happily purchased a copy of 'The Voice of the Valley' instead, the excellent fanzine that is put together by die-hard Charlton fans.
Despite having lost their previous three away games by the same score: 0-3, at Portsmouth in a League Cup tie, and Nottingham Forest & Swansea City in the Championship, the Blues caretaker head coach Pep Clotet arrived in south London, looking for a favourable result, after talking very positively in his pre-match press conference, saying: "We need to be ourselves, be brave and go there knowing it’s going to be a tough game, they are a side that is very strong offensively.
We need go and to try do to the same, go forward and try to score goals. We need to take steps forward in our own football, keep growing and knowing that our goal is always to try and get the three points."
While his opposite number, Lee Bowyer spoke in the build up to the game:"It’s going to different really to what we have faced so far. They’re very solid out of possession, they get into their shape really quickly and we have to break them down. From the games that I’ve watched they’re very solid and they’ve got players that can hurt you going the other way.
They’ve got a striker that is very good and from set pieces they’re good. We have to be patient.
We’re going to have a lot of possession and we’ve got to move the ball quickly because if we don’t, we’ll just play into their hands."
In the event, both mangers had scripted the game that was about to unfold, at the Valley, on a pleasantly warm, sunny Autumnal  afternoon, perfectly.
A tightly contested first half finished goalless, with both sides just about matching each other, while adopting seemingly very similar strategies.
From my perch, high up in the West Stand, I had a perfect panoramic view today, to see exactly how hard Blues work, covering acres of space, closing down opposition sides and sticking rigidly their designated roles, when they don't actually have possession of the ball.
But, though it was never likely to happen overnight, Clotet's Blues are now adding another dimension to the game-plan that they are renowned for; that sees a reinvigorated David Davis, combining with newcomers Ivan Sunjic and Dan Crowley, along with Kerim Mrabti, who was signed towards the end of last season, to link up across a multi-tasking real handful of an attacking midfield.
Their 'first line of defence' doesn't necessarily work in a negative way... though it can do if required, but affords Harlee Dean, Maxime Colin and Kristian Pedersen with the added security and freedom to get forward more. Indeed, it was such a foray, deep into Charlton territory, by Colin, that led to the opening goal of the game.
Added to that, Lee Camp, Blues oft maligned keeper and Marc Roberts, in defence, are displaying their best form since arriving at St. Andrew's and are revelling in shutting their critics up. Alongside the dependable stalwarts og Colin, Dean and Pedersen.
And pivotal to all of the above, the ever reliable Lukas Jutkiewicz, continues to grow in stature, switching between the roles of set piece specialist target-man, hit-man, main striker and unselfish foil for whoever else he finds 'up top' and in tandem alongside him, in and around the opposition goalmouth. He is adept at leading the charge and dropping deep to forage for the ball, while taking his markers away from their comfort zone in the process. Jutkiewicz has a good touch, particularly for a player who is regarded in many quarters, as 'that big awkward bugger of a battler up front'.
The progress that Che Adams made as he kick-started his career playing alongside Blues number ten, cannot be underestimated... but now there is, quite literally, a new kid on the block, who at the tender age of just sixteen years old, as benefited from space created by defenders sticking rigidly to the more experienced Jutkiewicz that he can exploit for himself.
Ladies and Gentlemen (and of course, all of you gender reassigned/neutral people), I give you Jude Bellingham, who scored the winning goal against Stoke City in Blues last game, after coming on as a substitute... and who, of course, netted the only goal of the game at the Valley today, on the occasion of his first start in a league game.
Bowyer's side would've gone to the very top of the Championship if they had won today, but in the event, it was Blues who climbed to a respectable eighth place instead, and... say it in hushed tones, as not to jinx anything, they're now just one point behind today's hosts, who are just two points adrift of the top of the table.
The goal came in the fifty second minute, after Colin powered forward from midfield, and stroked the ball out to his right, towards Mrabti, who advanced into the Charlton area before rolling a square pass to Bellingham, who'd timed his run to perfection and buried his shot to the left of Dillon Phillips.
Phillips had already denied the visitors a goal, just before half time, when he diverted a header from Jutkiewicz just over his bar, but their wasn't very much he could do about the youngsters strike, as he ended up laid on his back in front of 3,139 celebrating Birmingham fans, packed into the Jimmy Seed Stand behind him.
Too many modern footballers want to walk the ball into the net and fanny around with lots of tippy tappy stuff around opposition goalmouths. But young Bellingham hasn't had his instinctive eye for a goal-scoring opportunity coached out of him yet... and when he gets a sniff of a chance with the ball at his feet, he just belts the bloody thing. Long may his refreshing back to basics approach continue.
Blues were on their way to a fourth win in a row the the capital, having previously picked up three points at: Millwall, Queens Park Rangers and Brentford, the latter win having been gained on the opening day of the current season.
Lee Camp still had some work to do, before making the result safe though, pulling off two great saves at full stretch, to deny both Chris Solly and Conor Gallagher. But at the other end, Blues showed that they had no intention of parking the bus and grinding out a 0-1 win today, as Harlee Dean headed the ball against the top of the bar, and Dillon thwarted Jutkiewicz once again.
Tomer Hemed shot narrowly wide, as Blues had a let off late in the day... it was their second slice of good fortune inside a minute, after Davis had stayed on the pitch, after making a clumsy lunge while he was already on a yellow card... but Birmingham don't get much luck very often, so let's end this match overview with a tried and tested cliche: these things are supposed to balance themselves out over the course of a season.
FT: Charlton Athletic 0 v Birmingham City 1
I was asked, if I might like to chip in with a suggestion for a man of the match for the away team.
Jude Bellingham is an obvious contender, for a multitude of reasons, not least of which being that he looked comfortable, along with his strike partner Lukas Jutkiewicz, when they got back in support of their defence. But, y'know what? I reckon I was only asked this question in the first place, because singling anybody out for special individual praise after an overhaul team effort like today's would be both impossible and inappropriate. Football is a team game... and ultimately, that is the ethos that won the day for Birmingham City.
Charlton travel to Wigan Athletic next weekend, where they'll be hoping to take the first steps towards another unbeaten run, before entertaining Leeds United at the Valley seven days later.
While Blues have a tricky home game against fifth placed Preston North End on Saturday and then travel to Pride Park, with another fully sold out away following the week after.