Stockport defeat dents play-off hopes

It was twenty years ago this week that Alan Curbishley's promotion-chasing team travelled up to Edgeley Park to take on sixth place Stockport County. Yes, Stockport County - now of the National League North and preparing for their home fixture with Brackley Town this Saturday - were in the play-off places for promotion to The Premier League in February 1998.

Charlton were beaten 3-0 in a display which, according to Voice of the Valley "left the fifth-placed Addicks' ability to maintain even a play-off challenge in growing doubt". The team were booed off "after giving away three goals to play-off rivals Stockport who barely needed to get out of second gear to claim the points"

The defeat meant that Charlton had gone seven games without a win and had scored just one goal in the previous five games. Curbishley kept the players in the dressing room "for some time" after the game. It was apparently "a constructive meeting" in which  the manager stressed that "if we were going to get beaten it should be down to the other side giving a better performance, which had not been the case". I think I know what he meant.

Four days later the squad were on their way up to the Britannia Stadium to take on relegation threatened Stoke City. Given the team's form and the history of the fixture (it had been thirty eight years since a Charlton side had prevailed at Stoke) there was not a great deal of optimism among travelling supporters. Curbishley made a number of changes to the team which had been so abject at Stockport. There was a debut for "giant Serbian keeper Sasa Ilic" and a first start of the season for Kevin Lisbie. Anthony Barness and Stuart Balmer were recalled. Bradley Allen and Shaun Newton were dropped down to the bench where they were joined by Scott Parker.

In front of a sparse crowd of 10,027 John Robinson gave Charlton the lead in the 17th minute and we seemed to be in control until Graham Kavanagh equalised shortly before half time. Mark Kinsella was playing an increasingly influential role but it was Robinson who set up the winner. VOTV reported that "his clever chip forward picked out Barness in ample space on an unexpected raid to the right edge of the box. The full back controlled well and fired off a good shot which Muggleton could only parry, the recalled defender pursuing the loose ball and slotting home for his first goal of a disappointing season and only the fifth of his career".

With Sheffield United only drawing at QPR the result was enough to lift Charlton back into fourth place - 9 points behind leaders Middlesbrough and 6 behind Nottingham Forest.

Next week - two home games against Huddersfield and WBA. Can the team capitalise ?