By Tim Hodges from the Amex
Brighton & Hove Albion 3 Charlton Athletic 2
Albion staged the comeback of the season after falling behind to Charlton and trailing 2-0 after just five minutes.
A clever back heel from Alou Diarra caught Albion flatfooted. Johann Berg Gudmundsson raced clear and fed Ademola Lookman who blasted a shot past David Stockdale from a seemingly impossible angle to put Charlton in front.
Three minutes later Charlton were at it again – a similar sweeping move saw Beram Kayal initially win the ball only for Gudmundsson to win it back and play in Reza Ghoochannejhad who swept the ball past Stockdale to put Charlton 2-0 up and leave the majority in the Amex stunned.
It was clear that all was not well in Albion’s defence as captain Gordon Greer and manager Chris Hughton bellowed at each other on the touchline.
Everything Albion did was going wrong – Jamie Murphy miskicked, Bobby Zamora miscontrolled and Dale Stephens fired hopelessly over the bar.
Then Solly March clashed heads with Harry Lennon. Lengthy treatment for both players followed and Lennon had to be replaced.
Charlton had another clear chance. Ricardo Vaz Te crossed for Ghoochannejhad and Stockdale made the first of three vital first-half saves, clawing the header out from his far post.
The Seagulls just weren’t in it. A few crosses from March and Murphy and the occasional foray from Bruno Saltor were all the Albion could muster.
Then the turning point in the match – Gudmundsson bundling into the Albion penalty area tried to walk the ball in but the outstretched leg of Stockdale denied the striker in the six-yard box at pointblank range.
As the astonishing eight minutes of first half stoppage time were being played, Lookman again broke clear, forcing Stockdale to make another crucial save with his legs.
The Seagulls still looked lacklustre as the second half began but, five minutes in, James Wilson ploughed through the Charlton defence to poke the ball past Stephen Henderson to halve the arrears.
Albion had their tails up and, as Zamora strode forward, Patrick Bauer got his timings mixed up and tried to swap shirts with the Albion striker. Keith Stroud, a regular Amex visitor, gave the Charlton defender a straight red card.
Albion were now piling the pressure on Charlton but the visitors were holding firm. March had a great strike tipped on to the post by Henderson.
Albion brought on Tomer Hemed for Jamie Murphy, crucially leaving Zamora on the pitch.
Then, just as it looked as though Albion would be frustrated, more good work from March saw the ball fall inside the six-yard box for Zamora. He slammed home his fifth of the season and third in successive matches. Albion were level.
Charlton keeper Henderson appeared to turn his ankle in the melee leading to Zamora’s goal and was grounded as the Seagulls legend picked his spot. It could almost have been 2001 as Zamora simply rolled back the years.
Albion were now sensing a winner was inevitable and it came almost in bizarre circumstances.
A great cross from substitute Rajiv Van La Parra was met by fellow replacement Hemed – his header was tipped upwards by Henderson but the momentum of the ball and Henderson’s lack of mobility saw it backspin into the net as the keeper lay helpless. The Amex erupted again and Hemed showed his delight and relief as he scored his first goal since September.
Van La Parra had a chance to make the scoreline more flattering before the end and frustrated Addicks boss Karel Fraeye appeared to aim a kick at March as the winger reacted badly to a tackle.
At 3.15pm Ladbrokes were offering a skinny 7/2 on an Albion win and a less inviting 8/1 on a correct score of 3-2 to the home team.
But the Seagulls ground out a win few could have expected at 315pm. It shows character, determination and tenacity – and to not make the play-offs at the very least, one team has to overcome a deficit of 13 points to overhaul the Albion.
There is a long way to go. But Albion at times were awful today and yet sill managed to win.
That is promotion form. Next week the toughest test yet – Derby County away. Avoid defeat there and QPR’s 2010 record is gone.