BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Chris Solly knows that Charlton’s League One play-off final is too tight to call – but reckons there is one thing that is guaranteed.
The right-back, in his testimonial year, is the only player left from the Addicks team that motored to the title in 2011-12.
Now Championship football could be just 90 minutes away for the
28-year-old, who only missed two matches when Charlton last sealed promotion.
And Solly says Lee Bowyer’s side will put it all on the line on Sunday against Sunderland at Wembley.
“The one thing you can’t question from us this season is the effort side of it,” he said. “We have given our all, no matter what. And we’ll be doing our 100 per cent best to win this weekend.
“I’ve never been involved in a play-off final before. I’m looking forward to it. It’s a massive occasion and something the fans deserve. Hopefully it all goes to plan on Sunday.
“I’ve been lucky enough to play at Wembley once before. You walk out the tunnel and realise the size of the stadium.
“We visited Thursday and that is a big help. The lads can take their photos and get all that side out of the way. It means then that Sunday is business as normal, just another game.
“I played at Wembley for England U17s, it had just re-opened at the time [after being rebuilt]. The U21s played there on a Friday and we played there Saturday against Spain and won 1-0. The biggest name in their side was Thiago [Alcantara], he’s gone on to have an unbelievable career. There was only 30,000 fans there. It sounds a lot, but because it is such a big stadium it was only a third full. It will be a totally different experience playing at a packed house.”
And it will be sold out on Sunday, both sets of fans have made sure of that.
The demands will be mental and physical on the two sets of players – especially if the sun is shining and the temperature at pitch level rises.
“We’re one of the fittest sides in the league but when you are involved in a big occasion then there is a mental aspect as well – it zaps it out of you,” said Solly.
“It is two fairly evenly-matched sides on Sunday. It literally is 50-50 – who manages the conditions and the whole thing of it being a final will come out winners. We’ve done everything to prepare professionally.”
Solly missed the run-in to the season and the first leg of the play-offs as he served a four-game ban for his dismissal at Oxford United, getting an extra match due to it being his second red of the campaign.
But he came on 10 minutes from the end of extra-time against Doncaster and stuck away the first penalty.
“We took a few in the build-up and I’d always said if I was on the pitch then I would take one,” said Solly. “Looking around at the end and Johnnie [Jackson] and Bows [Lee Bowyer] were asking who fancied one.
“We got to five and then I think we were struggling after that if it went any further. I felt better than I imagined I would do. I was confident where I was going to go – I didn’t change my mind. Thankfully I put it away.
“Hopefully it doesn’t come to that [on Sunday] and we can win in the 90 minutes. If it does though then I’m happy to step up, if I’m out there.
“It is one of those things – people are always going to miss. They’ll always be a hero and a villain. But I’m confident I can score and I’m one of the experienced lads, it’s only right I step up if there are not five who really want to take one.”
Solly’s absence has seen Anfernee Dijksteel get a sustained run at right-back, the Dutchman previously used as a back-up option.
“Once I’d been sent off I was in the dressing room, sat down and worked out that I would miss four games and that would also mean I hadn’t played in four weeks,” said Solly. “It came at the worst time.
“But I trained right and supported the lads – I did exactly the same whether I was playing or not.”
Charlton’s three-year stay in League One means that Solly’s appearances at that level – 157 – now outnumber his Championship outings – 130.
On 298 career appearances for the SE7 outfit, he can make the next big milestone back in English football’s second tier.
“The Championship is probably the most exciting league in the world,” he said. “Especially now with the money that has come into it.
“As a full-back you enjoy the battles because of the quality of the wingers – it is a massive step up from League One. I’d love that challenge of the one-v-one battle.
“The biggest comparison I can make between this team and the one that won the league is probably off the pitch – it is tight-knit.
“The bond between the lads is the best since that group in 2011, 2012 and 2013. That can do wonders on the pitch, you run that little bit harder for a mate and push yourself that little bit further. That shows in our performances.
“That chemistry starts with bringing in the right players – people who want to be successful. But it also starts from the top with the manager and then spills down to the dressing room through the senior lads.
“Everyone is fighting for the same cause and we’ve got the perfect mix of youngsters who have never played in the Championship but want to experience playing higher and senior lads still massively keen to push on in their career. It is the perfect balance and everything has worked out well.”