Monsieur Salut writes: back in January, before one of those games against Charlton we probably should have won but didn’t, our Addicks ‘Who are You?’ interviewee, Richard Justham, told us: ‘I think you will win the league. You have a squad not just a team and would have more pulling power than the rest of us in the January window .. if you wanted to sign – let’s say – Tom Eaves from Gillingham to help you over the line I am sure you would have both the finances and prestige to do so. Partly for this reason I suspect you will brush away Barnsley, Luton and Portsmouth’.
Well, we know what happened instead. Here is Richard’s Charlton perspective on the playoff final, what went wrong for Sunderland and what will happen next …
Sequels never quite live up to the hype in my experience and this one wasn’t as memorable as the 1998 playoff final for the neutral. However, it did have high drama and a touch of farce provided by Naby Sarr’s own goal.
The League One season literally ended as it began. A 2-1 score line between Charlton and Sunderland with a last-minute winner thrown in for good measure. Only this time it was Charlton who scored. Lynden Gooch’s winner against a side that couldn’t field a full bench at the Stadium of Light is a distant memory.
Lee Bowyer deserves total credit. We came into that game in August with only two summer signings, Darren Pratley and Lyle Taylor.
I had been critical that day that he had not built a bigger squad in time for the opener. For example, veteran centre back Elliott Ward was training with us pre-season and hadn’t signed. Strikers like Darren Bent were available. Surely, we could have at least filled a bench with a couple of free agents?
Lee insisted that the fans should be patient and that it was only one game of 46. More importantly along with our astute head of recruitment Steve Gallen he had a plan. He wanted to sign quality and not quantity. The loan window still had not closed.
Although Steer went back to play a role in Villa’s promotion and Forest refused to subsidise Ward’s wages a second time in January, both played a valuable role in the first half of the season.
Over the whole season despite injuries to both of them at various times Bielik and Cullen were a different class.
The reason their loans had been delayed was because Arsenal and West Ham were trying to attract Championship interest for them. They were worth waiting for. I would love them to return to Charlton in the Championship if Arsenal and West Ham loan them out again.
The winter window brought a very unexpected addition, Jonny Williams.
He made his debut against you as a sub in January. Our local rivals Crystal Palace paid his contract up which meant that we could sign him cheaply on a six-month deal. This suited both parties. Jonny had a chance to play regularly and we signed a quality player who under normal circumstances we couldn’t afford.
Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that he will return as we will not be able to come anywhere near his Eagles salary and other clubs will be able to make a more lucrative offer.
Additionally we signed Ben Purrington from Rotherham. A proper no-frills left back. This gave our side balance in the run-in. Steer’s replacement was Chris Maxwell (Preston). He never featured, such was the pre-playoff gaffe form of our keeper Dillon Phillips. Our last signing in the winter window was another striker Josh Parker from Gillingham on a six-month contract to replace Karlan Grant.
Although he didn’t score he provided a useful foil for Taylor in the playoff games. I really believe had we signed another striker we might have made a late bid for the top two.
Charlton is best as an underdog team, a cause. In a funny way Roland’s ownership may galvanise us in a similar way to the Selhurst Park years. That is why we found the semi-final against Doncaster so difficult. We were the bigger club, the favourites. Sunday we were back to where we felt comfortable.
There is an old saying that “the more things change the more they remain the same”. So how is this relevant in relation to the two playoff finals 21 years apart?
In Sky’s excellent documentary about the 1998 Final Alan Curbishley says that he turned to Peter Reid at the end of the penalty shoot out and said that Charlton probably needed this win more than Sunderland. You can go again, whereas our team will have broken up.
Sunday was the same in my view. Although Bowyer’s side will still break up. Bielik, Cullen and Purrington have already returned to their parent clubs and half the squad are out of contract as is Bowyer. Parker and Reeves have already been released.
There would have been absolutely no chance of Aribo or Bauer signing on again in L1. Williams might even decide that money isn’t everything if a bigger club does not come calling. His injury record does constitute a big risk though he was happy at the Valley and has been recalled by Wales.
Bowyer has created a team spirit and a feel-good factor which these players bought into.
Had we lost my fear is that we could have been stuck in League One for a very long time. Roland would not have invested in a promotion push next season and new investors are not as keen on teams the size of Charlton when they are in League One.
Youngsters are more likely to join our academy at this level which is a major factor in our future. Ex-Addick Academy graduate Joe Gomez featured as a late sub in the Champions League Final for Liverpool. So we have produced players who play at the very top and they would get a first team chance earlier than at some of our rivals.
There is a new unity amongst the fans and some interested parties must have been impressed watching 40,0000 Addicks descending on Wembley.
You on the other hand with your big home crowds and capacity will always be able to go again at this level especially now you are debt free and have one last year of parachute payments.
What needs to happen?
It looks like Jack Ross is staying. I said previously that he was a good appointment because the Scottish League is similar in standard many ways to L1. Now I am not so sure. You had too many draws . Bowyer was a manager who took risks late in games which is why there were so many late goals in our games both for and against. He never accepted a draw.
I reread my article from January. I got the 1-1 score line correct that day. What I got wrong was your situation. I thought then that you were going to be Champions. I also got the name of your transfer window striker wrong. It was Will Grigg not Tom Eaves who arrived. I suspect Grigg will come good for you and in time be seen as a good signing. He has a good pedigree in L1 .
You should avoid getting tied up with unnecessary cup runs. The Checkatrade Cup ultimately gave you more Wembley heartbreak and meant that you had a fixture pile up.
Whilst I am not saying Bowyer deliberately got beaten in the cups, he didn’t prioritise them. We were hammered by MK Dons in the Carabao Cup with eight players making their debuts. We were knocked out of the Checkatrade at group stage despite an 8-0 win at Stevenage. He played an understrength team against Doncaster in the Second Round of the FA Cup. Although hated by our fans at the time, it did ensure that we didn’t play two games a week much during the second half of the season. This meant our squad remained fresh.
In both our recent spells in League One our wage bill was initially a problem. We had overpaid underperforming so called stars who blocked the ability to bring in fresh blood and meant we had an unbalanced squad.
In the summer of 2011 Chris Powell assembled a team on a budget after the legacy contracts had expired. He brought many of the best players in League One. We soared to over 100 points the following season. I expect that you will do likewise next season.
After all that is what you did the last time we met in the playoffs.
Richard describes himself thus:
I work in the railway industry as an employee relations manager .
I have completed the current 92. I have been to 85 of these with Charlton over a 40 year period. When I got to 80 I chose neutral games to complete my set. I am particularly proud that I managed to visit Morecambe and Macclesfield in one day on Good Friday in 2012. When you add the likes of Roker Park I have seen the Addicks at over 120 venues including Brescia in the Anglo Italian Cup .
Your 1973 FA Cup win is one of the first Finals that I remember seeing. I used to go to my nan’s every year because she had a colour TV and we only had black and white .
The first match I attended involving Sunderland was a couple of years later in 1975. You beat us 2-1 with Mel Holden coming on as a sub and scoring twice. Later that season your ex Northern Irish International Tom Finney became a hate figure for Addicks when he ended the career of our promising young goalkeeper Graham Tutt by kicking him in the face when he tried to collect the ball. To your credit as a club you played the testimonial match for Tutt 18 months later.