Recognition for Riga and one last hurrah for the class of 2012

All’s well that ends well?


The relief and celebration that engulfed The Valley as Charlton ultimately swept aside a combative Watford side to secure their Championship status certainly suggested it.


Now there would be no anxious early-morning expedition to distant Bloomfield Road, hoping to survive by default if things did not work out against Blackpool.


The threat of relegation had hung stubbornly over the club from the opening day, the looming consequence of the club’s failure to strengthen the squad sufficiently following promotion in 2012 and then this season contriving to deplete it further.


Yet it was the players who remained, much maligned collectively, who dug deep and earned the Addicks their survival with no little finesse. 


Just as August loan signing Marvin Sordell had emerged from the doldrums to take centre stage with a hat-trick at Sheffield Wednesday on Easter Monday, so Callum Harriott stepped up to score two sumptuous goals to secure the crucial victory in the final home game.


In between them skipper Johnnie Jackson, so often the talisman, restored the home side’s advantage after Troy Deeney had scored a spectacular second-half equaliser.


It was a conclusive, if much delayed, answer to the charge that the team was not good enough to stay up.


The squad was seriously unbalanced, certainly, and further undermined by departures last summer and again in January. There were frequent poor performances and alarmingly few goals, but still the remaining players had the last word.


Despite enduring the most demanding fixture schedule of Charlton’s entire Football League history, with nine consecutive midweek matches, they finished with a flourish and restored the crowd’s belief in them as a consequence.


If Chris Powell’s dismissal and its circumstances in March had soured the mood for some, his head-coach replacement Jose Riga’s eventual triumph in securing 21 points from the following 15 games is undeniable.


The debate about what may have happened had Powell remained is a sterile one, since it can never be proven either way. He revived the team in similar style last year and two of the crucial wins this time, over Watford and Leeds United, came in games held in hand over relegation rivals when he left. 


But you don’t have to endorse the way this Charlton icon was treated to recognise the achievement of his successor.


Neither is it in any way appropriate to trash Powell’s own contribution. His assistant, Alex Dyer, and first-team coach Damian Matthew remained part of the management team to the end. 


Every single man who delivered the coup de grace was a Powell player, with no place in the starting line-up either at Hillsborough or against Watford for even one of the controversial January signings of new owner Roland Duchâtelet.


Five of the 13 who featured against Watford formed part of the squad that won promotion from League One, two were Powell signings in 2012/13, two were men he first introduced on loan, and the remaining four importantly were academy graduates to whom he gave a debut.


Blackpool on Saturday potentially apart, this was the last time Charlton are likely to field a side entirely chosen by Powell. 


The cheers that rang round The Valley may not have been intended as a last hurrah for the former manager, therefore, but his stamp was squarely on the team that inspired them nonetheless. Being the man he is, we can guess he will have shared the satisfaction.


Riga, on the other hand, received acclaim and deservedly so. Thrown into the relegation dogfight with no experience of English football and some evident naivety above him about the challenges it entailed, he has delivered all that was asked of him.


It was telling of the weakness in the squad that he often did the same things that had drawn criticism of Powell and frustrating that he seemed to need to learn what wouldn’t work by repeating experiments conducted earlier in the season.


Yet he - and those around him - organised and galvanised a squad that might have been demoralised and divided by the loss of its leader, and ultimately they succeeded in keeping Powell’s achievement in escaping League One intact.


If some of the respect Riga earned was grudging because of the context in which he arrived, it was all the more deserved for that. 


As for Duchâtelet, he can take credit for installing someone who kept the team up, as well as blame for some of the other developments that threatened to send it down.


Whatever his ambitions for Charlton, they would have been dramatically undermined by a return to League One, even if some of the responsibility lay elsewhere. 


Now he has the opportunity to own the future and fans can judge the new era on its merits. 


Ultimately it may make no difference how this was achieved, but the fans will still relish the fact that this set of players swept, not crawled, over the line - and in doing so they showed that the team deserved to survive.





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