Let the agony begin

Just as the season was beginning to drift serenely into meaninglessness and apathy along comes Lee Bowyer and propels us into the agony of the play-offs.

What does Charlton's record in play-off semi-finals tell us?

It all started in May 1987. After a 38 year wait, the club under Lennie Lawrence had at last made it back to the top division for the 86/87 season. By winning their last two games (3-0 at Newcastle and 2-1 v QPR) the team had managed to avoid automatic relegation but were required under the new rules to compete in a play-off against teams from division two. They travelled to Ipswich on 14th May and secured a 0-0 draw despite Colin Walsh having a penalty saved by penalty saving expert Paul Cooper. Three days later - on a Sunday morning at Selhurst Park - two Jim Melrose goals in the first twenty minutes put Charlton in a commanding position only for a Stuart McCall strike in the 85th minute to condemn our fans to nearly ten minutes of agony. The 2-1 aggregate victory qualified us for a two-legged final against Leeds but that is another story.

Eight years later Charlton just about secured a play-off place by stumbling into sixth place in what was then called the first division. It hadn't been a particularly convincing season even though it contained the 5-4 League Cup win at Wimbledon, the Leaburn hat trick at Ipswich and the rarity of a win at The Den. We took on third place Crystal Palace and Shaun Newton put us ahead after 55 seconds at The Valley but it was all downhill after that. Two second half goals won the game for Palace and, when Ray Houghton scored in the fourth minute of the second leg it was all over. Lee Bowyer played in both games so he knows how agonising it feels but at least there was the compensation of Steve Claridge's last minute goal at Wembley depriving Palace of promotion.

In 1997/98 the 88 points the team achieved would have secured automatic promotion in any of the previous ten years, but Charlton only finished fourth behind Forest, Middlesbrough and Sunderland. Once again it was Ipswich in the play-off semi final. A Jamie Clapham own goal secured victory at Portman Road despite Danny Mills being sent off in the 74th minute and, after Newton scored a stunning left footer three days later at The Valley, it was all pretty comfortable. Sasa Ilic equalled the 74 year old club record of nine consecutive clean sheets and we were off to Wembley where there was to be plenty of agony (and ecstasy).

No-one wants to be reminded of the 2009/10 season play-off semi final. 3-2 up on aggregate against ten man Swindon with twenty four minutes to go. An hour later Nicky Bailey steps up to take his turn in the penalty shoot out. The last sighting of the ball was by astronaut Major Tim Peake when he became the first Britain to undertake a space walk on 15th January 2016. The best that can be said is that it saved us the agony of inevitable defeat at Wembley by Millwall who had thrashed us 4-0 at The Den two months previously.

So, there is a pattern of semi-final results: win, lose, win, lose...

And Shrewsbury are surely nothing to fear. The play-offs are often about momentum and The Shrews don't exactly go into Thursday's game on the crest of a wave. Since losing the EFL Trophy final to Lincoln on April 8th they have won only one of six fixtures. They have failed to beat Bury, Blackpool and Milton Keynes. And, most importantly of course, we beat them at their place just a few weeks ago.

We look forward to Wembley. We do, of course, also have a pattern of results at Wembley but that can wait for another day...