There were worrying signs before kick-off that suggested this could be the last time ‘Chris Powell’s Charlton’ took to the field. The symbolic construct might not have taken to the field at all.
That’s not to say Powell would be leaving, but several men who embodied the determination and grit of Chris Powell’s Charlton, not to mention playing crucial roles in three years of relative success, were the subject of bids.
The futures of the talismanic Yann Kermorgant, the creative Dale Stephens and the flying full-back Rhoys Wiggins were in the balance. Kermorgant and Wiggins wanted by Bournemouth, Stephens rumoured to be advanced talks with Brighton.
The end of era? Maybe not. With Wiggins suspended, he was always going to be absent, but Kermorgant and Stephens were both named by Powell in his starting XI for the trip to Doncaster Rovers; a crucial clash in the fight for survival.
Even so, worries remained that this would be the final time Kermorgant and Stephens would be seen in an Addicks shirt; the final time Chris Powell’s Charlton would be showing their trademark fight.
Charlton had slipped into the bottom three, Doncaster sat just one place above them; the perfect setting for one more show of guts, determination and winning with backs against the walls.
But the Addicks didn’t show guts. They didn’t show determination. The wall came down and, instead of fighting back, Charlton let it come crashing down upon them.
This wasn’t a Chris Powell inspired performance that left you proud to be an Addick; it was an Alan Pardew-like performance that left you hurting. This could have easily been the 47th game of the 2008/09 season.
The players were nervous from the start and quickly became void of ideas. The first sent heads down, the second sent the Addicks down to ten and left them beaten, the third went in long after they’d given up. The fourth, fifth and sixth should have followed; 3-0 didn’t do justice to how inept and lacklustre Charlton were.
Stephens cut the figure of a man departing; Kermorgant held back the tears as he waved goodbye. There’s been some tough nights supporting this club; this is right up there.
The end of an era that didn’t deserve to finish like this.
It seems hard to believe there was positivity before kick-off. A bold selection from Powell, not to mention the inclusion of Kermorgant and Stephens, had fans purring.
What appeared to be a 3-5-2 formation saw Harry Lennon make his first start for the club, with Michael Morrison and Dorian Dervite alongside him at the back. Astrit Ajdaveric dropped to the bench to accommodate Lennon, as did Marvin Sordell, making way for Kermorgant. The only other change from Saturday’s confidence boosting FA Cup win against Huddersfield saw Jordan Cousins replace Callum Harriott.
But it was clear from kick-off that the Addicks were operating under a 4-4-2 system. Lennon was at left back, Cedric Evina at left midfield and Jordan Cousins playing in an unfamiliar wide right role; a sign of how depleted Powell’s resources remain despite Roland Duchatelet’s takeover.
The Addicks competed well enough in the opening stages. Doncaster, as they would for the entirety of the bitingly cold evening in Yorkshire, had more of the ball early on, but only had Gabriel Tamas’ optimistic long range drive to show for it.
Charlton responded with a long range shot of their own; Johnnie Jackson’s speculative strike that cleared the crossbar. It might not have tested Ross Turnball in the Doncaster goal, but the passing play before the effort was promising, and the 400-odd travelling Addicks were in fine voice.
Another spell of possession concluded in Simon Church breaking into the box and attempting to lay the ball back to Kermorgant, with the Frenchman in clear sight of goal. But the deflected pass proved a challenge for the cult hero to control, meaning a Doncaster body was in place by the time the ball had been sent goalwards.
The travelling fans were right in the middle of a rather long rendition of ‘Since I was Young’; it had all the hallmarks of a special night to be a Charlton fan. However, that was as good as it got for Charlton. The away end would soon fall flat, before coming hostile, and only one more shot would be fired in the general direction of the Doncaster goal.
The Addicks had passed the ball around well up until the 12th minute of the game, but an under hit knock back from Jackson was intercepted by the prolific Billy Sharp; not the sort of player you gift chances too. The Captain’s blushes were spared by an excellent block from Morrison as Sharp got his shot away.
The resulting corner was claimed by Ben Alnwick, and the Addicks ‘keeper would pluck several deliveries out of the air over the course of the next ten minutes, calming the ever increasing nerves in the away end as Charlton struggled to get forward.
And when they did, it quickly broke down. A lovely piece of Kermorgant trickery and a chip over the top sent Lennon through, but the youngster mis-controlled, and a Jackson free-kick evaded everyone despite opening up the Doncaster defence; this didn’t appear to be a night for Charlton heroics.
But a heroic piece of defending from the least experienced player on the pitch kept the scores level.
James Husband’s teasing delivery from a free-kick was nodded on by the impressive Bongani Khumalo and left Alnwick stone dead. With Doncaster fans already up in celebration, it appeared as if the Addicks were falling behind, but Lennon dived in to clear the ball off the line. A stunning effort that would surely act as a catalyst to the change the course of the game.
But Doncaster clearly hadn’t read the script marked ‘Charlton backs to the wall performance’, as they punished the Addicks from the following corner.
The initial delivery led to chaos in the Charlton penalty area, with Alnwick eventually saving from Marc Duffy, only for Abdouoaye Meite to react quickest and tap home the rebound.
The previously electric away end immediately lost its spark, as did the Addicks on the pitch. Meite and Khumalo were dominant at the back, Richie Wellens was pulling the strings in midfield whilst Duffy was causing all sorts of problems to Charlton with his trickery down the flank.
Billy Sharp, however, had been rather quiet. Too quiet. It was surely only a matter of time before the returning hero burst into life, as he so often does. A defence splitting ball sent the former Southampton man through on goal; he would surely score.
A desperate lunge from Lawrie Wilson prevented that eventually, but it didn’t do so legally. Fearful silence fell upon the away end as referee Tierney blew his whistle and made for his pocket. There could be no complaints with the red card, but it didn’t make the situation any less painful.
Alnwick stood in the way of Doncaster taking a two goal lead, but he couldn’t repeat his penalty heroics of New Year’s Day. Chris Brown rolling the ball calmly into the net as Alnwick divided in the opposite direction. Despair.
The Addicks had been two goals down, and been as poor, in ‘must win’ games before, but never had the win been needed so much, and never had they been down to ten men. There was no hope of a turnaround; the players couldn’t respond.
They appeared void of energy, lacking the determination to chase balls and close down their opponents and unable to have any impact on the game. They were statues watching Rovers players knock the ball about however they pleased.
With Doncaster having the freedom to play like Barcelona, James Coppinger broke into the box as the half reached its conclusion, but Alnwick saved well, and a tame Sharp effort was gobbled up, but it felt insignificant. The game was already gone.
The players left the pitch at half-time with an away end too stunned to react.
Powell’s job was unenviable as he faced the impossible task of turning his side’s fortunes around, and he would have been criticised whatever decision he made.
However, taking off the shambolic Evina for the reliable Richard Wood seemed sensible; not the attacking substitution many were crying out for, but the Addicks had no hope of getting forward if they couldn’t contend with Doncaster’s attacking threat.
It proved meaningless. Doncaster continued to have the freedom of the Keepmoat pitch, and a succession of corners eventually resulted in the exceptional Duffy sending an effort just wide.
Charlton, to the dismay of everyone inside the ground, went down the other end and mustered a shot of their own. Cousins’ ball into the box was perfect for Church, but the forward blasted the ball harmlessly over the bar. No other effort on goal could be mustered from the Addicks in the remaining 37 minutes.
It was just a matter of how many Doncaster would score as the Charlton fans were left to watch on in pain with their side embarrassed and outplayed.
Sharp met a cross but could only divert the effort wide, whilst Tamas’ vicious volley crashed into the side netting, but it wasn’t to be long before the home side had their third.
Match of the Day would have pressed the fast forward button and added a counter to the side of the screen as what felt like an age of Doncaster passing eventually resulted in Duffy firing a shot from the edge of the box into the net.
The Doncaster players involved in the build-up were left unopposed, not to mention Duffy, whilst Alnwick’s effort to save the shot seemed a little half-hearted. Such capitulation was sickening to behold.
With the Addicks unable to string a pass together, and Alwnick’s kicking desperately poor, there was little hope of them even notching up a consolation goal. Several fans had left the moment the third had gone in; they were the sensible ones.
Doncaster really should have grabbed a fourth, but Alnwick pulled off a superb save from Sharp when one-on-one, giving the hurting Addicks something to cheer. Sort of.
Stephens decided he’d had enough of the shambles, and attempted to get himself sent off by kicking anything that moved in red and white, and was eventually taken off by Powell, replaced by Ajdaveric. Not the best way to end a successful career at Charlton.
And, after substitute David Cottrell curled two shots wide, Richie Wellens’ dipping volley crashed against the crossbar, and the initial boos and aggression towards their side passed, a hero got to say goodbye in a dignified manner.
Walking over alone, Yann Kermorgant waved goodbye for one final time. He looked tearful, regretful and frustrated.
There had been talk in recent weeks as to whether he’s an icon or a legend. In my eyes, he’s a legend, and that was the goodbye of a legend.
If it wasn’t a goodbye, it was Kermorgant showing he was hurting as much as us. He’s a Charlton fan as much as he is a Charlton player.
Doncaster were everything Charlton weren’t. Sharp (not just Billy), determined and dominant. They passed the ball around with ease, and should have had more to their name than three goals. Playing like that will keep them well clear of trouble.
The Charlton performance is one not worth dwelling on. It simply wasn’t good enough. Even with eleven men, it was nothing short of hopeless. The red card didn’t change the course of the game; the Addicks were already struggling to cope with their opponents.
There were no positives and every player should be ashamed of their performance; from Kermorgant to Evina.
What’s important now is to look ahead. One Chris Powell side is being torn apart, but he has to be allowed to take another one on. He’s got an incredibly hard job, but it would be an impossible job to any other man.
Duchatelet must back him, we have to back him, and the players he has available must perform. A performance like this cannot happen again. The ghost of Alan Pardew was haunting me throughout the 90 minutes at the Keepmoat. Powell will know that wasn’t good enough, and Powell will put it right. Of course, you can argue his selection wasn’t right, but equally he doesn’t have much to choose from and what he picked didn’t perform for him.
One performance of such a disgustingly low standard does not mean the magic is fading.
Another tough trip to Wigan follows on Saturday, and we, as fans, have to get behind Powell and whatever side he puts out. Whether Kermorgant starts, or Joe Piggot. Whether Wiggins, or Cedric Evina. Whether Stephens, or Ajdaveric. It’s still Charlton Athletic, it’s still our club.
Results went our way elsewhere, and the Addicks are by no means cut a drift at the bottom. A few wins and suddenly we’re out of immediate danger. All is not lost.
We’ve come back from tough times before, and I’m so glad we have a man like Powell, not to mention a captain like Jackson, to guide us through this period.
Keep the faith. Please, the last thing we need right now is the fans to turn their back on Powell and his players.