THERE are times when only the best is good enough.
Wednesday failed to reach the heights on Saturday.
But they were playing the best team in League One.
Charlton refused to let them have it their own way and pulled off their first league win at Hillsborough since 1953 as well as ending the Owls’ unbeaten home record.
There was no disgrace for Gary Megson’s men in losing to a side who also became the first to beat Huddersfield in 43 matches.
Charlton’s huge and expensively assembled squad look
on course for the League One title.
And yet the fact that there is almost half the season left nurtures hope that they can be caught.
One bit of quality was ultimately all that separated the teams on Saturday: Johnnie Jackson’s free-kick in the 28th minute.
Even if it seemed obvious where he was going to put it, when he was shaping to shoot with his left foot, there was nothing anybody could do about it - a sublime curler into Nicky Weaver’s top left-hand corner.
Wednesday were not likely to get a multitude of opportunites. What they had, they missed. The dividing line between success and failure was not huge.
For example, they were desperately close to an equaliser in the fifth minute of stoppage time when a header by Clinton Morrison was cleared off the line.
Wednesday also had the edge in the first half. A double chance in the 17th minute saw a cross by Chris O’Grady missed by Mike Jones then struck by Chris Lines and saved by Ben Hamer.
Reda Johnson sent a header straight at the keeper, and Gary Madine had a well-taken effort rubbed out for offside after chesting down a Lines cross and drilling home a shot on the turn.
In the second half, though, Charlton looked a good side. Not only did they pass the ball well, they also had the steel to withstand the sort of bombardment to which Wednesday subjected them at times too.
The Addicks constructed opportunities: Weaver saved twice from Bradley Wright-Phillips and once, in injury time, from sub Darel Russell.
Wednesday nevertherless could have got back in the game. From a Ben Marshall corner, Rob Jones or Reda Johnson between them might have forced home an equaliser, the ball being knocked over the bar, and Jones headed another Marshall corner over the top from six yards.
Charlton knew all about the threat from Marshall; as soon as ball reached him in open play, they had two men on him whenever possible.
Hopes of a final flourish from the winger in the last game of his half-season loan were undone.
Weaver did his bit with the saves, but I thought it was hard to pick out a Wednesday outfield player who had a really good game.
Debut-making right-winger Mike Jones showed some pace and energy in the early stages, but it was always going to be a tough baptism for someone who had only
just joined the club, was playing with new teammates for the first time and was thrust in against the division’s top side.
Madine’s return boded well for the future. He must be short of match fitness after a two-month lay-off, and predictably was taken off near the end, but he added presence to the frontline. Megson pointed out that he was the only one who put the ball in the net, even if it was disallowed, in first-half stoppage time.
By then the Owls were trailing and their manager felt that, as ever, it was important they took the lead, for once Charlton had scored it gave them something to hang on to.
Megson did his
best to try something different in the second half, making substitutions and switching first to 3-5-2, then 4-3-3.
But in the end he was left to reflect on shortcomings and the Owls’ failure to score for only the third time in the league this season:
“There are lots of different issues,” he said. One, he believes, was Marshall being affected by the saga over his future. “Ben was nowhere near what I would normally expect from him,” he said.
“Jose Semedo was playing against his old team; I don’t think he was anything like he normally would be.
“A lot of players were probably 10 to 15 per cent down on what I would expect.
“Gary Madine did okay. The only reason I brought him off was that he was bound to run out of steam and we needed to get Ryan Lowe and, eventually, Clinton Morrison on.”
Megson accepted that he asked a lot of Mike Jones: “Probably it was a bit too much [for him], on reflection. He’s come from Bury. it’s a crowd of nearly 28,000, and a top-of-the table game. He can do better.”
Charlton boss Chris Powell said he was proud of his players for the way they came through “a tough, tough game against good opposition”.
Powell admitted that emotions ran high at times. There was a spat involving staff of both clubs, at one point, and Powell implied that Megson had sworn at him and Michael Morrison. He also rated the ex-Owls defender’s performance as outstanding.
Megson, on the other hand, questioned some of Charlton’s antics before kick-off.
“When the referee presses the buzzer for us to go out, then we’re all supposed to go out, not have one team stand in the tunnel for four minutes waiting for the opposition,” he claimed.
He charged Addicks keeper Ben Hamer with time-wasting, and Charlton staff of shouting and waving imaginary cards to try to get Wednesday players sent off.
The fall-out was unimportant, in the grand scheme of things, as Charlton stretched the gap between them and the Owls to eight points.