Charlton Athletic secured their first league win of 2014 with a goal in the dying seconds to sink out-of-form QPR on what was a fine day for the division’s strugglers.
Each club in the bottom three won to pile on the pressure of those immediately above them, to the extent that even bottom club Yeovil are now in striking distance of 21st-placed Millwall, who were beaten by second-bottom Barnsley.
It’s been a torrid time for Charlton since the club’s previous Championship victory on Boxing Day over Brighton, with the wet weather taking advantage of the Valley’s problematic pitch drainage system to force numerous postponements, including to FA Cup fixtures.
Following a trip to Hillsborough to face Sheffield Wednesday in the latter competition on Monday, Chris Powell’s side then visit leaders Leicester next weekend, so Saturday’s win has come at a vital time.
Powell’s celebrations at the final whistle, followed by a pensive sit down on his own in the home dugout afterwards, demonstrated the pressure cooker world of football management within the space of moments. “This is the benchmark for what is to come over the next 17 games, I will make sure of that,” Powell said after gathering his thoughts. Charlton remain in the bottom three but are now a single point below Millwall with three games in hand.
Like the Addicks, Bolton hadn’t won a league game in 2014 before Saturday so a 2-0 victory over Watford was also welcome timing, maintaining their six-point cushion over the relegation zone. Intriguingly, manager Dougie Freedman switched to a more expansive 4-4-2 system on Saturday, a week after Millwall boss Ian Holloway claimed to be “bored senseless” by Bolton’s style of play.
“I thought we played very well and entertained the crowd and I felt the margin of the victory was the least we deserved,” said Freedman afterwards. It was tough to tell whether his words were aimed as a dig at Holloway, or whether Holloway’s comments had genuinely given him food for thought.
Defeat at the Valley was a huge blow to QPR’s automatic promotion hopes. It was the club’s third loss in a row, leaving the Hoops fourth and seven points behind Burnley. The Clarets impressively saw off Nottingham Forest in what looked a very tricky fixture on paper, and their main challengers are now Derby County, whose record under Steve McClaren becomes more impressive with every week.
Several eyebrows were raised when Nigel Clough became the first managerial casualty of the season back in September, but the decision has proven sound, with home form in particular under McClaren dramatically improving. The former England boss has cited the need to play to the team’s attacking strengths at Pride Park, and admitted he had to stretch this philosophy to its limit on Saturday after a somewhat lacklustre performance against Bournemouth.
“We took a risk to win the game; other days it won’t work but today it did. It depends what kind of team you’ve got and with this team we can open it right up. This team is attacking and scores goals and sometimes you have to let them loose,” McClaren said after his side grabbed a late win.
He will be hoping for the same outcome next weekend away from Pride Park when Derby travel to Burnley for what could prove a defining moment in the race for automatic promotion. Of course, both still have to strain their respective necks to catch a glimpse at Leicester, who returned to winning ways on Saturday and still hold an eight-point lead at the summit.
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