BY LEWIS CATT
Championship football was welcomed back to SE7 at the weekend for the first time since our 3-0 defeat to Burnley in May 2016 – and my word have we missed it.
This season has got off to a flyer.
The Addicks took on a Stoke City side that remind me a lot of a 2007-08 Charlton, recovering from relegation from the top-flight, with big name players but still struggling to come to terms with what is a ruthless Championship.
City, under a former Addicks coach in Nathan Jones, will want to kick on this season before the parachute payments stop and the task to get into the Premier League becomes more of a mountain to climb than an uphill task.
Lee Bowyer would bite your hand off if you offered him even a fraction of the financial backing that Stoke are blessed with but the Addicks completed some remarkable business before the deadline, given the cards Bowyer and head of recruitment Steve Gallen have been dealt.
The impressive deadline day business and boost in season ticket sales off the back of promotion had the Valley rocking with an attendance of more than 17,000.
There is always something special about the first home game of the season, returning to your place of worship after the summer break and coming into a higher division with completely different expectations to last season made the whole occasion even more exciting.
Bowyer – now blessed with reinforcements in the shape of Jonathan Leko, Sam Field, Beram Kayal and the returning Josh Cullen – came into this game in a considerably better position in terms of bodies than the season’s curtain raiser at Ewood Park.
Leko and Cullen found themselves thrown straight in to the starting 11 along with 19-year-old Chelsea loanee Conor Gallagher, handed his first start after an impressive cameo last weekend.
Bowyer mentioned this week on Valley Pass that Leko is a raw talent who will have supporters out of their seats and he wasn’t wrong.
Leko was a thorn in side of Stoke’s defence all afternoon, always looking to take on his man and leave them for dead with his blistering pace. He was heavily involved in the Addicks’ opening goal of the afternoon picking out in-demand star striker Lyle Taylor to fire the ball past Butland, a goal the England international keeper will feel he should have done better with.
Charlton’s performance dropped slightly in the closing stages of the first half after Tom Ince thundered a shot past Dillon Phillips at his near post, a goal the Addicks keeper will feel maybe he could have done better with.
Bar former Millwall man Lee Gregory missing a sitter for the visitors in the second half, Charlton looked fairly comfortable. It wasn’t long until the Addicks took the lead with another Charlton debutant Chuks Aneke tucking the ball in the bottom right corner, cue rapturous celebrations from the Valley faithful.
There was time for another.
Gallagher scored his first senior goal and made it 3-1 after a clever corner from Josh Cullen fell to Taylor, who flicked the ball in to the path of the Chelsea loanee. The celebrations again made the hairs on your neck stand up – you could see just how much that goal meant to the youngster.
The overall performance of Taylor in this game just highlights exactly why Charlton were so keen to keep him at the club. It isn’t just the class he brings on to the pitch but also the importance of a character like him off of it. As the full time whistle blew and the Covered End choir celebrated securing our first back-to-back victories in the second tier since November 2015.
The Addicks will turn their attentions now to a tonight’s League Cup clash with Forest Green Rovers in SE7. Bowyer will make wholesale changes and we may see the likes of Ben Amos, Brendan Wiredu, Aneke and deadline day signing Field get 90 minutes.
Then on to a trip to fellow promoted side Barnsley this weekend.
The Addicks have landed back in to the second tier with a bang and the early predictions of relegation favourites seem a tad wide of the mark now.
There is a long way to go and there will be some difficult times ahead but for now let’s enjoy this moment. Our journey continues…