Charlton 0 Pompey 1 '“ Neil Allen's match report
Back to the beginning, yet forward-thinking Pompey continue to drive onwards.
It was upon this very spot 33 days ago when Kenny Jackett’s men were challenged to avert a fifth consecutive defeat.
When they departed The Valley on Saturday night following their return, the newly-christened party wreckers were proudly parading a sixth win in seven encounters.
The Blues have now triumphed twice in SE7 this season – League One leaders Wigan the only other side to also have claimed victory so far,
Jackett’s side have developed into an irresistible force of nature, a team possessing a winning momentum despite riddled with injuries.
Saturday was set for a romantic home triumph on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Charlton’s playing return to The Valley.
Alan Knight and Guy Whittingham, these days fixtures in the commentary box, were part of the Pompey side which lost 1-0 on that grand occasion in the 1992-93 campaign.
Those Addicks players from that day were reunited and the scoreline re-enacted in front of a 16,361 crowd – their latest attendance by some considerable distance.
Unfortunately for those anticipating a fitting outcome, it was actually the spoilsport visitors who left clutching victory to stifle the home cheers.
Not that any disrespect was intended, of course. Charlton are a fine club blessed with a Premier League ground and facilities certainly out of place in the Football League’s third tier.
Their willingness to increase the away capacity to ensure 3,870 Pompey fans could be present for a league return after an 11-year absence was also to be applauded.
In turn, the match served up an excellent atmosphere, both sets of supporters contributing magnificently in the bitter December weather.
Yet Jackett has finally uncovered consistency within his Pompey side – as Charlton found to their untimely cost.
Had it not been for Brett Pitman’s missed penalty, the passageway to three points would have been considerably more comfortable.
Ben Amos flung himself to his left on 65 minutes to keep out the returning top scorer’s attempt, brilliantly tipping it away for a corner.
That moment lifted the spirits of the flagging crowd and rejuvenated the faded Charlton players, cranking up the fight for the remainder of the match.
Pompey, though, so outstanding in defence with Matt Clarke and Christian Burgess at the axis, maintained their one-goal advantage to see the scoreline home.
Then there was Luke McGee, with a match-securing save in the 89th minute to deny substitute Leon Best a dramatic leveller.
The former Southampton striker met a cross from the right with a header which appeared destined for the net, only for the Blues’ keeper to superbly save low down at his post.
The agony from the home support was palpable, it wasn’t meant to end this way.
On a day of festivities, a batala band performed before kick-off, followed by Manchester tenor Martin Toal, whose repertoire included the atmospheric Nessun Dorma.
At half-time, the heroes from 25 years ago were introduced to the crowd, amid warm applause, as an afternoon dripping with nostalgia continued.
All that was missing was a favourable result – with Pompey having other ideas as they coldheartedly hijacked the show.
And it was the travelling support whose voices could be heard as The Valley emptied, many staying behind to celebrate before moved on by the stewards.
It had become Pompey’s day as their players demonstrated why this team should be eyeing a top-half finish during their maiden campaign back in League One.
Perhaps play-offs may be expectations too far, certainly that should be Charlton’s playground considering their own progress during the campaign.
Yet Jackett’s troops warranted victory over the Addicks, particularly after kicking into life following a testing opening half-an-hour.
With Dion Donohue, Kal Naismith, Oli Hawkins and Ben Close still sidelined through injury, the Blues were in the position to make one change to the side which defeated Northampton in the Checkatrade Trophy.
That was Pitman, replacing Curtis Main in attack, an obvious alteration to a winning side.
It meant Danny Rose and Gareth Evans continuing in a starting line-up they couldn’t break into until last month’s trip to The Valley.
Rose’s immense form has been a mainstay of Pompey in recent weeks, while Evans produced his best display of the season in a more natural right-sided midfield role.
Nathan Thompson has taken over the right-back slot, deservedly so considering the impressive performances which have positioned him behind only Pitman in terms of Jackett’s best signings to date.
At present, Evans is instead occupying a place further up the right flank and was instrumental on Saturday. Not merely in the game’s key moments, but also defensively helping Thompson shackle Ricky Holmes.
The former Fleetwood player won a foul on 47 minutes down the right flank – and it was his delivery from the free-kick which created the decisive goal.
The ball flicked off Stuart O’Keefe and then struck Josh Magennis stood alongside him to ricochet into Amos’ net.
O’Keefe afterwards championed his claim for the match winner, although it appeared to be an undisputed own goal from the Charlton striker.
Evans was also involved in the penalty decision which earnt Pitman the opportunity to put the match beyond the hosts’ reach.
Another right-sided delivery picked out Pitman at the far post, only for Addicks skipper Chris Solly to ground his jump with a tug on the shirt at the far post.
Referee Andrew Madley awarded the spot kick – yet Amos denied Pompey’s captain another goal during his prolific campaign.
Still, Pompey held out without the necessity of a two-goal advantage, thanks to McGee and his defence who kept a lively late surge at arm’s length.
It leaves Jackett’s side in seventh place, now three points off Charlton in the position ahead, as the encouraging momentum continues.
For Charlton, they’ll be other games to win. But there won’t be other 25th anniversary occasions.