Thursday, December 17, 2009

Worst 10 Defeats of the Decade

Despite the difficulties experienced since relegation from the Premiership, on balance this decade was a successful one for Charlton Athletic.

However, the team experienced the bitter taste of defeat on 156 occasions in League play alone, whilst by definition we exited the Cups each season (often in embarrassing circumstances).

Hence compiling a list of the worst ten defeats of the decade was not easy. Rather than just list the heaviest defeats out of context, I have focused on those where the post-match pain and anger felt the strongest.

1. 19 Dec 2006 – Charlton 0, Wycombe 1 (League Cup 6th Rnd)

The club was in the midst of a painful transition following 15 years of near linear success under Alan Curbishley, but if there was one thing Curbs never delivered it was a modicum of Cup success.

So when home wins over Carlisle and Bolton, were followed by a penalties win at Chesterfield, we began to dream of Wembley not least when the club was handed a gift in the shape of a home tie against League Two opposition. A semi-final spot surely awaited.

In the days leading up to the tie, Charlton had been humiliated by both Spurs and Liverpool, and the tenure of Les Reed was under severe threat. Nonetheless a perfectly timed opportunity to put things right presented itself that chilly December night.

An impressive crowd of over 18,000 instead saw Reed select a strong Charlton side that included the likes of Scott Carson, Dennis Rommedahl and Darren Bent

The Addicks were rocked on 25 minutes when £3.7m defender Souleymayne Diawara was beaten for pace by Jermaine Easter, who unleashed a powerful shot past Carson.

Whether hamstrung by fear, ineptitude or some combination of both, the Premiership retreated into their shells and rarely threatened to avert a humiliating shock.

Reed refused to face the media after the game, or more likely was advised not to by a Board ruing his bizarre appointment as permanent manager. He was gone within a week.

2. 7 Feb 2001 – Charlton 2, Tottenham 4 (FA Cup 4th Rnd)

Fixtures against Spurs were always eagerly awaited given I was brought up firmly in their catchment area, had several close friends who followed them, and at the time was living no more than four miles from White Hart Lane.

Charlton had already won the equivalent Premiership fixture 1-0 the previous September, whilst just three days earlier we had secured a point in a goalless draw in the away meeting.

With George Graham under severe pressure, and given the high priority Spurs always give the Cup competitions, this tie presented an ideal chance for me to secure some local bragging rights. Moreover, a straightforward looking home tie with Stockport awaited in the 5th Round.

The unlikely figure of Chris Powell got the evening off to a flying start with just 11 minutes played, stealing in to head home after a defensive mix-up.

Then shortly after half-time, Swedish striker Mathias Svensson swept home a second goal, ensuring the Jimmy Seed stand was filled with chants of ”Graham out.”

I was on cloud nine, and there appeared to be no way back for Spurs. But then the game completely turned on a random piece of bad luck, galvanising visiting players and fans alike. Within five minutes, the score would be 2-3.

The lumbering Irish striker Gary Doherty saw his shot-cum-cross deflected past Sasa Ilic by the unfortunate Richard Rufus, and suddenly the visitors had hope.

Four minutes later Ilic failed to deal with a Darren Anderton free-kick, and almost immediately from the restart Norwegian winger Oyvind Leonhardsen found space to fire home a third.

For perhaps the first time at a football match, I felt so physically sick that I was convinced I might retch.

The turnaround had occurred so abruptly, and the psychology had altered to such a degree, that you knew there was no way back for Charlton despite 27 minutes still remaining.

When Sergei Rebrov scored the fourth with a few minutes left, it merely compounded my abject misery. I doubt I have ever felt so bad leaving a stadium.

3. 26 Dec 2000 – West Ham 5, Charlton 0

Boxing Day fixtures always seem to throw up unusual results, whether due to the unusually early lunchtime kick-offs or too much Xmas spirit.

Harry Redknapp’s side had achieved three consecutive top ten finishes, and for this local derby contained the impressive likes of Carrick, Lampard, Di Canio and Kanoute.

However by the season’s end, the Hammers had stumbled to a 15th position whilst the Addicks were 9th, with ten more points. Hence the events of this festive fixture were even more surprising given the benefit of hindsight.

Wearing unfamiliar white shirts and red shorts, the Addicks were a shambles virtually from kick-off to final whistle, not least in defence where the mercurial Di Canio must have thought next Christmas had come very early.

The Italian’s cheeky 13th minute back heeled flick set the ball rolling via a Richard Rufus deflection, then five minutes later Kanoute pounced on a Mark Kinsella error to make it two.

On the stroke of half-time, Graham Stuart failed to clear a corner which eventually led to a third from Lampard.

After the break, the Hammers relaxed and added two more through a spectacular Trevor Sinclair drive, and Kanoute’s second.

It was a shameful performance which actually obliged Stuart (notably) to hold his hands up to the travelling Addicks, and mouth an apology.

After the game, Curbs said, ”I wish we hadn’t turned up.” Most Charlton fans present felt the same way.

4. 22 Nov 2008 – Charlton 2, Sheffield United 5

Alan Pardew’s spell as Charlton manager got the ending it deserved, after a home performance and result that left his position untenable. He was gone before the day was even out.

The Addicks had failed to win since 4th October, and the previous home game had seen a mediocre but organised Barnsley side take a 3-0 half-time lead.

Fans scented blood, and they weren’t left wanting even before kick-off when Pardew began a must-win home game with just a single striker (Andy Gray).

When Linvoy Primus cancelled out James Beattie’s early opener, the momentum should have been with Charlton but confidence was low and they couldn’t get any traction.

Instead four goals in 26 minutes either side of half-time saw the Blades move into a 5-1 lead, and the club’s HR department was filling out a P45 before referee Steve Tanner had even blown up for the end of the game.

After the game Pardew stated, ”My ego isn’t that big but I still believe in what I can do.” Charlton fans would beg to disagree.

5. 2 Oct 2004 – Arsenal 4, Charlton 0

Losing 4-0 to one of the so-called ‘big four’ is no disgrace, but I do not recall another Premiership match where we were so comprehensively outclassed.

Given we had just finished 7th in the Premiership, it emphasised just how large the gap remained although in fairness their hosts were peerless at that time, unbeaten in Premiership play for 17 months.

The game is best remembered for Thierry Henry’s audacious back-heeled goal just after half-time which ended the game as a contest, but the overall quality of Arsenal’s play bamboozled all afternoon.

Ironically the Addicks had contained the Gunners fairly well for over a half-hour until Freddie Ljungberg’s opener, but as is often the case once an opening goal is scored, the visitors are forced forward and new gaps emerge.

Wearing all yellow in this type of situation might signal cowardice, but a fully-armed militia may have struggled to contain Arsenal in this form.

When Henry and Jose Antonio Reyes doubled the scoreline inside a second-half minute, it threatened to become embarrassing given how rarely Charlton had possession, but they escaped with just a 4-0 scoreline.

As Curbs rightly put it after the game, ”We know it could have been even worse.”

6. 5 Apr 2003 – Charlton 1, Leeds 6

This was the weekend of my sister’s wedding, and to this day I’m not entirely sure who my Dad was shedding tears for when he walked her down the aisle.

The momentum of Charlton’s season was reversing fast, after a five-match winning run beginning in late-January that had seen fans expectantly dusting down their Rough Guide to Europe books.

Leeds (led by caretaker boss Peter Reid) were fighting for their Premiership lives, and without a win in 2003. This was despite showcasing a team on this spring afternoon that contained the likes of Robinson, Mills, Radebe, Kewell, Smith and Viduka.

But if there is one thing that a struggling team desperate for points wants, then surely it’s to face Charlton Athletic in the Premiership during the month of April. Our late-season collapses were stuff of legend.

Leeds were 5-1 up before the hour mark, half the goals in the game so far scored from the penalty spot (one by Charlton’s Jason Euell).

Things were so bad that Curbs was forced to resort to damage limitation, putting on a third central defender (Tahar El Khalej) to bolster the shellshocked pair of Richard Rufus and Mark Fish.

Kewell scored the sixth on 76 minutes, and Viduka hit the bar as he sought his fourth and his team’s seventh goal on a crazy afternoon.

”Are you watching Venables?” sang the visiting fans in a dig at their recently departed boss, but their joy was shortlived…..they were relegated the following season.

7. 26 Jan 2002 – Charlton 1, Walsall 2 (FA Cup 4th Rnd)

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Charlton’s poor Cup form during the decade, has been the fact that we could certainly not blame it upon the luck of the draw.

With seemingly unerring regularity, we would be drawn at home against lowly opposition yet often contrive to either lose, or just about escape with pride intact (think Dagenham & Redbridge the previous season).

Walsall had won promotion to the second-tier, but should have presented mere cannon fodder to a side comfortably sat in the Premiership midtable.

Colin Lee had been appointed as the visiting side’s manager just two days earlier, and with expectations low for this fixture, he could afford to tell his players to relax and enjoy their football.

And within just five minutes they could relax even more, because Portuguese playmaker Jorge Leitao had put them ahead with a delightful opener.

In a highly conservative act of tactical tinkering, Curbs switched from his original 4-5-1 to match Walsall’s 4-4-2, handing the underdogs a signal that we were even more fearful than might be expected with 85 minutes still on the clock.

Walsall retained control of the game against their nervy hosts, and deserved to double their lead in the 59th minute when Leitao beat the offside trap to slide the ball past Dean Kiely.

Curbs reacted with a double substitution, finally throwing caution to the wind with the ‘little and large’ pair of Mathias Svensson and Kevin Lisbie.

Within minutes Charlton had wrested back control, earning a (missed) penalty before Graham Stuart made amends with a goal from open play.

However with over 20 minutes left to find an equaliser, keeper Jimmy Walker was not beaten again and the Saddlers had secured the shock of the round.

8. 11 Mar 2000 – Charlton 0, Swindon 1

A rampant Charlton side were seemingly a cut above the rest of Division One, having put together a 12-match winning run which had begun way back on Boxing Day with a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace. The all-time record was only two wins away.

Indeed the inevitable phrase ‘unlucky thirteen’ was barely uttered as a packed Valley crowd made their way to their seats, such was their understandable confidence.

Swindon meanwhile were bottom of the table, a position they would finish the season in registering just eight wins. Unfortunately one of them included this most unlikely of victories.

When a rare Dean Kiely mistake gifted Swindon’s Steve Cowe a 5th minute lead, there was surely sufficient time for a buoyant Addicks side containing the attacking likes of Hunt, Svensson, Newton, Robinson, and Stuart.

But for some reason, it simply didn’t happen and the home side delivered an uncharacteristically flat performance that reminded us that it is football’s inherent unpredictability that holds so much appeal to purists.

9. 9 Dec 2006 – Tottenham 5, Charlton 1

Until this debacle our record at White Hart Lane had been outstanding, registering three wins and two draws during the previous six matches earlier in the decade.

And with a Les Reed-led Charlton side smarting from a late winner at home to Blackburn four days earlier, there was a degree of optimism that the good run could continue.

However in reality the fixture would herald one of the worst ten day periods in the history of the club, culminating in the defeat at Wycombe above. The 3-0 home defeat to Liverpool sandwiched in between was also a close contender for inclusion on this top ten list.

Charlton started reasonably well, but once Dimitar Berbatov opened the scoring on 31 minutes, heads dropped and the floodgates opened.

The Bulgarian would score Tottenham’s final goal just 35 minutes later, Charlton’s only reply being a Michael Dawson own goal just before half-time.

With the scoreline reading 5-1, Reed finally gave Darren Bent some forward line company by bringing on Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink but the game was already up for Charlton.

”We know exactly where we have to go from here,” said Reed after the game. For his Addicks side it was the Championship, and for him it was the job centre and based on this performance, rightly so.

10. 23 Feb 2008 – Blackpool 5, Charlton 3

The scoreline from a gusty day on the Lancashire coastline suggests a ding-dong battle that the Tangerines narrowly edged, but it was much worse in truth.

It was a vital game too, with Alan Pardew’s men desperately seeking to keep their promotion hopes alive. Indeed following recent vital home wins over Crystal Palace and Stoke, there was some hope that all was not yet lost.

However the Addicks were blown away in a devastating ten minute spell midway through the second half, in which they committed defensive hara-kiri.

Having fallen 2-0 behind inside 26 minutes, the Addicks actually battled back in impressive style with two quickfire Darren Ambrose strikes.

But instead of pushing on and maintaining the momentum after half-time, defensive lapses allowed Gary Taylor-Fletcher (twice) and on-loan veteran Paul Dickov to make the score 5-2, and put the Addicks out of sight.

Pardew however was determined not to single out any individuals for blame. ”No disrespect to Grant Basey,” he emphasised, ”…but we really missed Kelly Youga.”


At 7:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, what a painful read! One or two other complete capitulations come to mind (the Barnsley game you mention for instance), but that's a hard top ten to beat. Good stuff NYA.


At 9:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's put me in a bad mood for the rest of the evening.

Merry Christmas!

At 11:52 PM, Blogger Kings Hill Addick said...

I might have included the FA Cup Quarter Final defeat to Middlesborough. Not only because we had West Ham waiting in the Semi, but because we took so many to the game. Including two planes full.

We could have beaten West Ham in the Semi Final and a Cup Final apperance could have been ours.

At 7:21 AM, Blogger Dave said...

NYA - Yep, I remember all of these. Several others immediately jumped out at me but on checking they were pre-2000 which just goes to show how much more painful defeat can be. I look forward to your assessment of the draw but the winner is no doubt :)

At 9:41 AM, Anonymous Herek Dales said...

With much therapy and over use of prescription drugs I had managed to put most of these depressing memories in context. However, all that hard work has been blown away by this very comprehensive and well written list of debacles.
The Wycombe game was truly dreadful. It must have taken a full five minutes for our 'team' to wander out of the tunnel for the second half. Truly abject and abysmal. My worst experience as an Addict since I first stood on the terraces in '64.
I agree with KHA that the FA Cup loss to boro would have made it in my list. All the hope and dreams of cup glory dashed in such a short spell.
Lets just hope the snow doesn't stop us trouncing the Spanners tomorrow, I definitely need cheering up now!

At 10:18 AM, Blogger StoneMuse said...

Blimey ... that we tough reading!

Due to a business oversaes trip I missed the Wycombe game which pissed me off at the time. After receiving texts from my son at the game, I was sooo glad I didn't go.

At 10:48 AM, Blogger Mike Woodhouse said...

My immediate thought was for that Leeds game, but the most painful was the 0-3 defeat to Man Utd under Dowie. Not because we lost, that was understandable, but because the team was utterly gutless. In over 30 years I'd seen plenty of poor Charlton teams (and a fair few decent ones) lose and lose badly, but I'd rarely seen a team that didn't even try.

At 5:44 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

Being in the states and Charlton not being on t.v anymore I was excited to see us against Northwich Victoria. I knew things had changed since I wast last able to watch the team regularly but holy crap we were bad! Worst Charlton performance I've ever seen for sure. Not a shot on target against non-league.

At 7:12 PM, Blogger ChicagoAddick said...

I remember all of those. Barnsley at home may have made my list as I was at the game. And Northwich is certainly a good call but certainly Wycombe took the biscuit.

At 9:15 PM, Anonymous newyorkaddick said...

I considered including the Northwich game, but in the wider scheme of things it was an irrelevant defeat, emphasised by our League form since.

The 'Boro Cup game was a disappointment but we never threatened to win the game, and losing away to a fellow Premiership side can never be termed a huge surprise.

At 12:21 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Agree with Chicago- the Barnsley game was the low point under Pardew. At least Sheffield United were a good side.

Although not a defeat, for pure heartbreak over the last few seasons, the 2-2 home draw against Derby takes some beating.

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