Last night's play-off semi-final at The Valley was poetic

charlton
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What a belter

Though football has been sporadic this week, with the end of the domestic season in England coming last Sunday, the quality on show has been absolutely tremendous. We've seen Mike Dean doing his best impression of David Brent on the terraces at Forest Green Rovers, celebrating his beloved Tranmere Rovers making it through to next weekend's League Two play-off final at Wembley. He's a character, our Mike, bet he's a fucking great laugh at a wedding after a bottle of plonk. Tuesday saw Aston Villa prevail in the West Midlands, as Dean Smith's men dumped rivals West Brom out of the play-offs in the cruelest of ways - penalties.

Wednesday arrived and we're only just getting out of first gear, it's Leeds' time to bottle it.. again. An enthralling game at Elland Road resulted in Frank Lampard gaining the last laugh in West Yorkshire, crying his eyes out, but with tears of happiness as the Rams bulldozed their way to a Wembley final thanks to goals from Jack Marriott (2), Mason Mount and Harry Wilson. Leeds helped, of course, yet again crumbling under pressure to remain outside the first tier of English football for a sixteenth consecutive season.

Thursday came and we were treated to a freak show at Fratton Park, where although the game was as shit as it could have possibly been, at least the circus were in town to watch from the stands. We thought the Elephant man died years ago; it would appear not, he is in fact a Portsmouth fan who enjoys kicking innocent Sunderland footballers as they accidentally topple over the advertising boards placed directly in front of what is presumably a specially adapted seat. We also had no idea Mick Hucknall was a fan of the south coast club, but I guess every day's a school day. They won't be in the Championship next season anyway, as Sunderland cruised through to the final after a goalless stalemate at Fratton Park saw them win the tie 1-0 on aggregate.

Late drama at The Valley sees Charlton's Championship challenge remain intact

With one last play-off semi-final remaining, we all had high hopes for last night's clash between Charlton Athletic and Doncaster Rovers. The Addicks entered the game with a one goal advantage thanks to a 2-1 win at the Keepmoat on Sunday afternoon, and last night took the lead inside the first two minutes through Arsenal loanee Krystian Bielik. By this point, with the game only minutes old, we were all left thinking the tie was dead in the water; surely it's out of Doncaster's reach now.

Many would have turned over the channel, stuck on The Graham Norton show or whatever other drivel was being churned out to the public on terrestrial television. The die hard neutral's remained, though, maybe because they had absolutely nothing better to do with their evening (yes I am talking in third person here), or maybe because this week's football has proven why you should never, ever give up on a game of football, regardless of the score.

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I was cooking a chilli, myself. Whipping up what can only be described as a watery monstrosity in the kitchen, bopping ever so questionably to some 90's R&B, just like the kids do. My back was turned to the TV which was cemented on channel 403, and nine minutes later the R Kelly was paused, for good, as Donny have scored a leveller, and what a leveller it was. A bullet strike from Rovers skipper Tommy Rowe arrowed past a helpless Dillon Phillips in the Charlton net. 1-1, game on.

A frantic 70 minutes proceeds Rowe's equaliser, but both goals remain unharmed. Nobody from either side has managed a breakthrough or clear goalscoring opportunity. It's heading towards a draw, which would see the hosts make it through to Wembley, 3-2 on aggregate. That is until, just like the first leg, Doncaster win a corner in the dying stages of the match and it's swung in delightfully by Alistair Crawford, who finds the head of Andy Butler, unmarked at the back stick. Butler's job is simple and he doesn't fluff his lines, nodding home from close range to take the tie to extra-time. We've got a game on our hands here, lads.

Buckle up, we're going to extra-time

For the third time this week, a play-off semi-final is going the distance. Ten minutes deep into the added 30, and a glorious counter attack is capitalised on by Doncaster. Charlton are dispossessed on the edge of the visitors box and Alfie May breaks forward at blistering pace, someone ate their Weetabix yesterday. May passes it wide to Mallik Wilks who has been a nuisance all game, twisting and turning more than Mike Dean on the dancefloor at a Funk and Soul event at a Birkenhead social club.

Wilks breezes past an extremely tired looking Mouhamadou-Naby Sarr like he wasn't there, his change of pace so beautifully devastating, before drilling it across the face of goal to the unmarked John Marquis, who heads the ball into an open net. Marquis has been one of League One's standout performers this season, scoring 21 goals for Donny, but was kept quiet over two legs up until the 190th minute. Doncaster fans are buzzing, Grant McCann desperately trying to contain himself on the sidelines. Lee Bowyer looks upset, really upset, and angry, really fucking angry.

25 minutes remain, though, "there's still goals in this", I tell the mrs, who isn't actually there because she left me months ago due to my obsession with lower league football. And I was right, so who's laughing now (still her), as Charlton immediately claw back level through veteran midfielder Darren Pratley, thanks to an inch-perfect cross from Addicks player of the season Lyle Taylor which forced Donny keeper Marko Marosi into a save he really didn't want to make, which resulted in the Slovakian shot-stopper palming the ball into the path of the oncoming 34-year-old who slide tackled the ball home from close range.

Penalties

Bowyer has now calmed down, his scrunched up face becomes slightly less scrunched on the touchline, happy that his side are instantly back in the game, but still so annoyed that they're making such hard work of it. No more goals are scored and penalties are introduced, for the third time this week. The atmosphere pulsating through The Valley is more like a European Cup night under the lights, rather than a League One play-off semi-final on a Friday evening.

Due to safety concerns, police advise the shootout is conducted in front of the Charlton faithful, who are doing their upmost to ensure their guests feel as unwelcome as humanly possible. Booing and whistling is prevalent as the Yorkshiremen step up to individually try and silence the sea of red shirts behind the goal, and that's exactly what they do, until the unlikeliest of suspects squanders his golden opportunity. John Marquis sees his tame effort easily saved by Phillips and all Charlton defender Mouhamadou-Naby Sarr has to do is tuck his away and the tie is over, the South Londoners are through.

The Frenchman doesn't look confident stepping up to the spot though, and why would he? He's a centre half with the weight of The Valley baring down on him, he's probably only taken about three pen's in his entire life and all of those were either in training or in his back garden during a lighthearted BBQ. Sarr's spot kick wasn't bad, in truth - it was hard, low and near the corner but the keeper guessed the right way and was able to palm it clear of the post. Doncaster's Tommy Rowe, the scorer of their only goal in normal time, is up next.

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This is a man who belted the ball home with such venom inside eleven minutes, surely he'll have enough about him to find the net from 12 yards and keep this exhilarating shootout going. The 30-year-old steps up and lashes it with that trusty left peg, he's got some spin on this, nice.. shit, too much spin, power and aggression, not enough accuracy. The ball floats, in the words of Martin Tyler on FIFA 11: high, wide and not at all handsome and Doncaster's hopes of a Wembley final are shattered.

Jubilation rings out around The Valley, the fans are on the pitch, the players are swamped, Lyle Tyler's perfectly curled blond locks are being ruffled by every Tom, Dick & Harry. Lee Bowyer is over the moon, he really is, like a proud dad that's just found out that his son got his end away for the first time, aged 21. It's glorious, this, proper old school scenes. Fans on the crossbar, filming themselves with footage which will only get better with age.

The spectator watching on from their armchair momentarily becomes a Charlton fan because what they're watching is fuelled with so much passion that it is simply impossible not to become embroiled in the moment. Football did it again this week, just like it's done it all season. Whatever you determine to be 'it' is up to you, it's just a feeling that can't be explained, but something we all just get on different levels.

Last night was poetic. Same again next week, please.

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