Putting it simply, there is no place on this entire planet I'd rather be than at The Valley when Charlton are putting on a performance as they did on Saturday. The Covered End lead relentlessly throughout in what was a fantastic, upbeat atmosphere. The returning soles lost to darker times made up an encouraging 17,500 gate, and if they came wanting entertainment, they got far more than they could ever have expected. If you're a regular at the Valley on matchdays then you will be able to sense the change in mood building up nicely as each game passes. Chris Powell's infectious enthusiasm resonates around The Valley and the nervous tension has given way to confident optimism.
Collectively and individually this is a Charlton team that is improving with each match. Perhaps most importantly, we finally appear to have a group of players that we can believe in. Without exception, they look like Charlton players: and by the fact that you're reading this, I know you'll know exactly what I mean by that. The Manager and his players have set the standard, and given our points tally and league position to date, I now expect us to stay the distance and challenge for promotion...perhaps I could even dare to dream of us winning the title. To let the wheels fall off now would perhaps be the biggest and most hardest blow of all in recent years.
I thought Preston started quite brightly on Saturday, albeit without creating anything too threatening. Perhaps they are suffering the same hang-up that we had when we came down from the Championship. It could be that their players are making all the right sounds publicly, but inwardly they are not particularly up for the sizable battle to get out of this less-than-glamorous league (some will think they are too good for League 1, I suppose). I can't stand Phil Brown, either. I used to think he was one of the most exciting managers in the game when he took Hull to the Premiership, but I lost all respect for him when he made the worst decision he will ever make throughout his entire managerial career when he gave his players a teamtalk on the pitch at the City of Manchester Stadium in December 2008. I literally can't look at him now without laughing.
Isn't it nice to have a warm feeling inside rather than the gut-wrenching sense of despair? There has been so many times down the years that I have genuinely wished it all never meant so much to me: that I could care when I wanted. Even my missus has noticed an improvement in my mood (bless her, she's even started asking how we got on again). There will be set backs, and we should guard against complacency (I don't think this will be an issue, mind), but as was proved post-Stevenage, this Charlton side can respond. For now though, at least, the naysayer's remain quiet.