Football Commentary: Kinsella's joyous explosion

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The Independent Online
Davids were thin on the ground this FA Cup weekend, just Reading answering the traditional clarion call - and Southampton, at present, are hardly a Goliath.

But there was still romance to be found and none more so than in London SE7. When the draw was made Charlton v Newcastle appeared little more than a potential medium-sized upset with a romantic touch in the return of Robert Lee to The Valley.

Lee, inevitably, responded with a goal in yesterday's enjoyable 1-1 draw but, as well as this obvious link, there were two intertwined tales of hope and achievement which reflect football's value to a community.

Newcastle's tale of revival is well known. St James' Park is both in the heart of the city and the city's heartbeat. To thousands of Geordies Newcastle's international standing rises and falls with United's results. Local barmen are equally interested in the club's success or failure.

Charlton's story is on a smaller scale but it underlines that fans of supposedly smaller teams can demonstrate just as much love for their club as the traditional hotbeds. When Lee last scored at The Valley, in September 1985, it was believed to be the last goal which would ever be scored at the vast but crumbling bowl. After that match the club upped sticks to Selhurst Park, an hour's drive away through the interminable south London traffic.

At the time it seemed a death knell. In retrospect it was, reflected one of the architects of the subsequent supporter protest, the "making of the present club".

The campaign to return to The Valley extended to running candidates in the local elections and voluntary work on a mass scale. The end result is that Charlton can boast arguably the most responsive administration of any club in the country. The fans have a representative on the board and supporters' club initiatives are regularly acted upon. One of these, to increase gates and reach, has resulted in crowds well in excess of before the 1985 move including regular support from as far afield as Taunton.

Money remains tight and the continuing success of the youth system is crucial to the club's future. While Kevin Keegan has lavished more than pounds 60m on players Alan Curbishley relies on a combination of rejuvenated cast-offs and youthful promise. Yet Charlton's achievement is the match of Newcastle's. The club is now viable and able to dream of establishing a platform to return to the top flight.

For those supporters who kept Charlton alive during the dark days of exile, yesterday's match made it all worthwhile. Just playing host to the likes of Alan Shearer and Les Ferdinand was once a dream. Yesterday they were able to play and match them. The explosion of joy that met Mark Kinsella's stunning equaliser was not just to acclaim the shot, it was an affirmation of existence.

That equaliser, with 11 minutes to go, was just reward for a performance which had previously seemed doomed by ill-fortune. After a bright start, during which David Whyte and Richard Rufus had gone close, Newcastle's quick-passing game had gained ascendancy. Lee headed over and squeezed a shot just past a post, Ferdinand wasted two clear headers, John Beresford ran on to a neat lay-off by Shearer and shot just wide.

Then came two incidents which threatened to settle the game. After half an hour a bout of Charlton pressure ended with the ball falling to Shaun Newton. As he shaped to shoot, Beresford clearly pulled him back. Newton fell but the referee, David Allison, waved play on.

Three minutes later Shearer nodded down a cross to Lee. He miskicked but had enough time to try again, this time he mis-hit his shot. It still went in.

As if a warm reception, a presentation by supporters and a goal were not enough Charlton, in the form of Anthony Barness, now attempted to hand Lee another. Given the ball 40 yards out Lee ran 20 and struck a post.

After the break Charlton, for whom Rufus and Newton were outstanding, gained control of midfield. But they failed to create clear openings and, when Newcastle pressed again, it seemed their chance had gone.

A last-gasp tackle by Phil Chapple on Lee, and two fine saves by Andy Petterson from Peter Beardsley, kept them alive. Then Kinsella took possession 30 yards out, eluded Batty's challenge, and drove the ball through Ferdinand's legs and past Shaka Hislop. "He should have saved it," said a disgruntled Keegan.

Shearer, falling theatrically under Petterson's rash but faint challenge, might have had a penalty but, as Keegan conceded, "a draw was a fair result".

The replay means more money for Charlton whose combined TV and gate income from this tie should top pounds 300,000. "But we are bigger than that, we're not some minnow looking to stay in just for financial reasons," Curbishley said.

Indeed. Two Newcastle players, at least, will not undersestimate them. Three years ago Shearer and David Batty were in the Blackburn side which gained a draw at The Valley then lost the replay at Ewood.

So Charlton's fans will travel north with hope. But before then they have another mission. On Wednesday the supporters' club is running several buses to Brighton to offer moral support to another football community in crisis. Unlike many of those involved with their opponents there seems no danger of Charlton losing their sense of perspective.

Goals: Lee (33) 0-1; Kinsella (78) 1-1.

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Petterson; Barness, Rufus, Chapple, Sturgess; Newton, O'Connell (Jones, 79), Kinsella, Robson; Whyte, Leaburn. Substitutes not used: Lisbie, Chandler.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Hislop; Watson, Peacock, Albert, Beresford; Clark, Batty, Lee, Beardsley; Ferdinand, Shearer. Substitutes not used: Barton, Elliott, Kitson.

Referee: D Allison (Lancs).

Booking: Newcastle: Ferdinand.

Man of the match: Rufus. Attendance: 15,000.