Before the game we’d all have taken a win of any kind; after that, having conceded seven in two, a win with a clean sheet. So no room for anything other than delight – at both the result and a performance which, if it lacked some quality and precision, left nothing to be desired in terms of effort and commitment. After what happened last time at The Valley it was pleasing to see that the players were well aware that a determined display was required. In the post-Brighton debate over Parkinson, it must count that in key areas players ran their socks off. This time we did have something to hang on to, and if the second half was more about stopping them equalising than getting a second (can’t say making it safe, having blown a three-goal lead last Saturday) this was an example of the ends justifying the means.
Overall, Racon and Semedo put in the best combined performance I’ve seen from them this season; indeed, what stood out for me was Racon’s tackling as much as his distribution. Doherty and Dailly both had the occasional iffy moment, but broke up attacks and headed the ball away countless times. Benson’s play outside the box was the best to date and he nearly rounded off the day with a flick that went just over after some superb trickery down the line by Martin late in the day. Anyinsah was a threat all afternoon, while Wagstaff scored the goal and was the main outlet when we needed to relieve the pressure (although his choice of pass when in good positions in the second half especially let him down). Let’s not go overboard. Sheff Wed proved to be strong but surprisingly limited and rather sluggish opposition, at least until they brought on Johnson in the second half. And the game turned on us scoring a rather fortunate goal (albeit deserved on the balance of play in the first half). Far from perfect, but we know the circumstances and the season at the moment is still about improvement. After Brighton, two wins, back into the top six (and only six places below Palace now). I think we’d have all taken that.
The team was unchanged from Carlisle, with Parkinson opting not to alter the defence, bring in McCormack, and to retain Jackson wide left. A change of ends after the toss-up meant the chance for the Covered End to welcome back Nicky Weaver, but the mix of boos and applause probably summed it up. There’s no hard feelings really. We didn’t like him before he came to us, cheered him when he did, and it’s not his fault that the time he was here was a horrible period for the club. Good luck to him. In fact Weaver was to feature prominently in the first half, for good and bad. He reminded us that as a shot-stopper he is one of the best, turning away a couple of decent strikes. But his inability to command an area, or indeed come off his line, meant that any good cross caused them problems. A couple of repeats of the corner that saw Benson score at the death against Carlisle nearly produced a similar outcome.
We did have the better of the first half, in terms of possession and chances. Wednesday had their moments, but aside from one Elliot save, turning a shot round the post, and one wicked shot which curled just wide everything was blocked before it got through. At the other end Benson and Anyinsah were winning balls in the air they had no right and looked menacing, crosses were narrowly not converted, although clear-cut chances were hard to come by. However, we took the lead when a corner was half-cleared and someone put in a lousy shot which bounced back off a Charlton shirt invitingly for Wagstaff around the edge of the box. His shot was true, giving Weaver no chance. The only sour point of the first half was how the referee could have a long chat with one of theirs after he’d deliberately pulled back Jackson in a dangerous position and not produce a card, only to pull one out when Semedo clipped someone breaking out.
Wednesday came out a little more purposeful in the second half and as the game wore on it not surprisingly became increasingly about whether we would hold out. Their substitutions were with attacking intent as they had to chase the game, and Johnson in particular made a difference. We became less intent on supporting the forwards from midfield and were, quite frankly, quite happy for the game to be over. There were some dangerous moments. One header should have been buried, there were a few goalmouth scrambles, and substitute Morrison (formerly of the team a few places above us) almost got through but poked it wide of Elliot. Nevertheless, there have been much sweatier final 20 minutes and most of the time the defence coped very well. Martin came on for Anyinsah and again almost rounded the game off by completely trumping their guy down the line and delivering it for Benson, while also picking up a booking for having to jump over a tackle which if he’d stayed on his feet may well have produced a penalty. I also thought we should have had a penalty before then when Anyinsah turned his man and was pulled back just enough to stop him getting to the ball before the next defender.
Racon gave way to McCormack at the death, but by then all we wanted was the final whistle. Cue some relief and some quiet satisfaction over a display which was very good in the context of what had gone before. It’s a game of margins and while others may disagree we played as well against Brighton in the first half. That time everything went against us. Subsequently we’ve snatched a last-second winner away and won at home with a clean sheet. So it’s something better than Australian or Beaujolais for me tonight (and everyone else I hope). Let’s hope we feel the same way after Swindon on Tuesday (personally I’ll be in Amsterdam drinking whatever is put in front of me).
Elliot: 7/10. Only really called on once, when he made a decent save, which is testament to those in front of him and very welcome after the recent goals against tally.
Francis: 7/10. Decent game, contributed going forward in the first half in particular.
Doherty: 8/10. Made a couple of errors, but overall was a rock and neutered their long-throw threat.
Dailly: 8/10. As for Doherty. Wednesday didn’t have the pace to test us on that front. Must be relieved not to be asked to play full-back any more.
Fry: 7/10. Gave away a few needless free-kicks but otherwise solid.
Jackson: 6/10. Seemed a little off the pace sometimes but added solidity and nearly scored in the first half with a decent shot.
Semedo: 8/10. Excellent game. Sensibly managed to avoid getting sent off after the early booking, despite their antics.
Racon: 8/10. My man of the match. Excellent distribution and exceptional tackling. He and Semedo ran the game in the first half at least.
Wagstaff: 7/10. Could have been a 6 or a 9. Scored, did many things well, just loses a mark for not making the most of some very good positions in the second half, choosing the wrong pass.
Anyinsah: 7/10. Put himself about and almost got through on a number of occasions. Stayed on his feet when tugged back having turned the defender.
Benson: 7/10. Much better all-round contribution, just a pity that flick or any of the first-half headers didn’t go in.
Subs: Martin (7/10 – played centrally, coming on instead of Sodje or Abbott, and almost laid on a second); McCormack (only on for a couple of minutes).