22 January 2011

Charlton 2 Plymouth Argyle 0

Here's how it works. In five and a bit years' time, Chris Powell's Charlton are back in the Premier League, and strongly in the running for a place in Europe. The stadium capacity has been expanded to 40,000 but there's still a waiting list for season tickets, because the team is playing with ruthless beauty, and more than half the squad are local boys, products of the Academy.

That's when 40,000 people will claim to remember being at the Valley for the first game in the new era.

Maybe ... but in the meantime, what really happened?

The general view was that the first half was a bit flat, and it's true that there were only a few chances at either end, but I thought Charlton were playing better than they usually have at the Valley this season. They had the patience to hold on to the ball, and a bit more than usual competitiveness in the challenge. And they didn't panic when all that possession didn't bring a goal.

The second half saw Plymouth a little more adventurous, and it developed into a quite exciting game. Scott Wagstaff's goal was a gift from Plymouth - an underpowered backpass let him slip the ball neatly past the stranded keeper. From then on Charlton's play grew stronger and more confident, and Nathan Eccleston's last minute goal sealed the points.

The game itself was unimportant in some ways. It was only when I got on the train at Lewisham and saw Plymouth fans that I had realised today was more than just a party. The welcome for Chris Powell was as warm as anyone could expect. I wonder if the Plymouth fans could begin to understand it.

Powell was a dapper figure in his elegant suit, still as fit as ever, it seemed. He looked strangely relaxed as the game went on, standing well back from the edge of his technical area, as if realising that once the players are on the pitch, there isn't much he can do. When he made substitutions, you could see him smiling and encouraging the subs, an arm around their shoulder. Surely that sort of warmth and camaraderie must motivate the players to do well for him.

Of course, we'll see, over the rest of this season and beyond. It was a very promising start, though, and, like most of the 40,000 people who will one day turn out to have been at the match, I came away very happy.

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