Through the boos that met the half-time whistle came a roar. The Addicks may have been 1-0 down to relegation rivals Barnsley, but there was certainly no sign that anyone inside The Valley of a Charlton persuasion was giving up. The skipper, Johnnie Jackson, called for the crowd to up the volume as he jogged off; the players were far from beaten.
The Covered End, who had already been in fine voice throughout the first half, certainly performed throughout the best part of the second period. They were loud, passionate and, despite their side continuing to frustrate, supportive.
But those players they were supporting didn’t respond. Against a poor Barnsley side, there were mistakes to capitalise on and openings to take advantage of, but none of them were. The second goal for the visitors, a deflected strike from Tom Kennedy, ended the game as a contest.
The stats will tell you Charlton dominated, but a two goal defeat was no less than the Addicks deserved. The hosts were shambolic, not helped by a bemusing team selection and strange substitutions.
But, after conceding five goals in two games without offering an ounce of fight, Charlton did offer their hurting fans a glimmer of hope in the first minute of stoppage time. A free-kick was eventually turned in by Astrit Ajdaveric and, with four minutes remaining, another roar filled The Valley.
The Addicks huffed in those final few minutes, but it was a case of too little, too late. Nonetheless, had a point been salvaged, there would have been few bigger injustices.
From that half-time hope came the pain of full-time. The Valley turned cold. The mood suited the situation perfectly; falling to two desperately depressing defeats in four days, relegation fears more alive than ever before and the other concerns that so many Addicks have. A night that couldn’t have been any less pleasant.
Charlton supporters were expecting the worst from the moment Jose Riga’s team selection was announced.
Riga’s odd subs in Saturday’s 3-0 defeat to Brighton were justified by the hope that the players taken off were being rested for the more important fixture four days later. But only one of the players withdrawn early at the AMEX, Jackson, started in the crucial six pointer. Out went Ajdaveric and Ghoochannejhad, in came Jonathan Obika, lining up on the left, and Callum Harriott, starting out of position on the right.
It seemed doubly odd that Harriott was on the right of midfield when Lawrie Wilson was once again available to push further on with the return of Chris Solly. The 5’3 full-back was making his first start since New Year’s Day, in place of his masked deputy.
Whilst seeing Solly’s name on the team sheet was a shock, it was only his ninth appearance, Michael Morrison’s name not in the starting XI was equally as surprising. The reliable vice-captain had to settle for a place on the bench, with Richard Wood coming in.
Whether these were deliberate tactical tweaks or players being rested, it was hard to justify the changes either way. But, against bottom of the table Barnsley, who were skippered by former Addick Martin Cranie and gave a start to former Bayern Munich man Dale Jennings, there was hope the XI would be good enough to secure a vital three points. There had to be.
And in the opening half hour, that hope didn’t look misplaced. The Addicks certainly settled quickly and looked nothing like the disjointed outfit that were ripped apart at the weekend; the side were cohesive and, especially through the threat Obika provided on the left, there were positive early signs.
All that was missing was an opportunity, and it took eleven minutes until the first effort was fired towards goals. Jordan Cousins, already looking lively, collected the ball with his back to goal, turned his man and fired an effort that wasn’t too far wide of Luke Steele’s right hand post.
The Tykes responded with an effort of their own, but Ryan McLaughlin’s strike veered way off target to the enjoyment of the vocal Addicks, encouraged by their side’s start to the game. Barnsley’s start to the game was also rather encouraging from a Charlton perspective; Danny Wilson’s side struggled to get out of their half and were left down by dire passing and even worse control when they did.
The visitors surely couldn’t be so poor for the entirety of the game, so Charlton desperately needed to capitalise whilst their opponents seemed incapable of stringing a pass together. But there wasn’t a great deal from the hosts going forward; that final ball was as absent as ever.
It was appropriate that Charlton’s next chance fell their way through a touch of good fortune. Barnsley failed to clear their lines and the ball fell kindly to Jackson, but his effort was superbly charged down by the towering figure of Jean-Yves Mvoto and sent behind for a corner.
“You’ll never get past Mvoto,” sang the 900 or so supporters in the Jimmy Seed Stand, but the Addicks did from the resulting set-piece. Jackson’s delivery picked out an unmarked Wood at the back post, but the centre-back couldn’t direct his header towards goal; a glorious opportunity not taken by the hosts.
It was a case of whatever you can do, we can do worse as McLaughlin headed softly into Hamer’s hands from Kennedy’s cross down the other end, and the Tykes still looked somewhat disjointed.
Not only were they struggling to create a route forward, but their defence was at sixes and sevens when the Addicks attacked. Great work from Marvin Sordell saw him get away from his marker and deliver an excellent cross to an unmarked Harriott at the far post.
But Harriott was having a horrid night, struggling to maintain possession when given the ball and finding it near enough impossible to make a successful pass. It was written in the script that the young winger would miss, and so he did, skewing his header horribly off target to the outrage of The Valley. Meanwhile, Wilson was sat twiddling his thumbs on the bench.
Of course, that these opportunities were being created was promising, but as Barnsley again failed to clear their lines and Jackson curled an effort over the bar, there was a familiar feel to it all.
“This will be just like Huddersfield if we don’t take one of these chances,” suggested a fellow supporter, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. Charlton’s poor finishing wasn’t punished when the Terriers came to The Valley; Charlton’s poor finishing was punished with the Tykes’ first real opportunity.
It was oh so simple. The visitors’ first corner of the night was swung in by Jennings, and immediately you could sense danger. Mvoto had left his marker and was making an untracked move towards the delivery. He connected and headed powerfully into Charlton’s goal to give his side a 32nd minute lead. Deserved? Probably not. Predictable? We’ve been here so many times before this season.
Like a goal would do, Mvoto’s header had given Barnsley the confidence boost they needed to settle. They now looked much more of a threat, and Liam Lawrence’s deflected effort almost crept over Hamer. In truth, the deflection may have proved fortunate for the Addicks, with the initial strike well hit and goal bound.
There was one final chance for the Addicks as half-time approached, with the excellent Rhoys Wiggins leaving men for dead, before cutting back to Jackson. But, from a tight angle, the skipper’s drive was blocked behind.
But that wasn’t the last action of the half as, in his desperation to take a throw quickly, Cousins sparked a brawl that resulted in himself and Stephen Dawson receiving yellows. Dawson might well have felt fortunate that he wasn’t walking off at half-time not to return for the second half, with the midfielder appearing to throw a punch at Cousins.
The guilty pair, along with their teammates, trudged off at half-time initially to the sound of boos from the home fans. To an outsider, that would have seemed harsh, but to fans who had witnessed this sort of display all season, it was justified. It was the classic play-okay-waste-a-few-chances-concede-and-turn-into-a-shambles sort of performance that has marred this campaign.
Nonetheless, a response was needed in the second period. Diego Poyet, putting his poor performance on Saturday behind him and returning to his excellent self, drove forward and fired an effort not far wide. It was a positive start, at least.
But, for all the possession and apparent dominance the Addicks had, there simply wasn’t enough threat in the final third. A change was needed, and off came the luckless Harriott, sarcastically cheered as he left the pitch, to be replaced by Ghoochannejhad.
The Iranian was lively, immediately picking out Cousins, who scuffed a shot wide of goal, but Charlton’s best chance of the opening 15 minutes of the second half was gifted to them by a Barnsley man.
Dawson’s back pass was horribly misjudged, and Sordell latched onto the loose ball. But the forward’s effort was ballooned over, and the home fans were beginning to get a little restless. This was far from good enough.
That restlessness turned to outrage as, seemingly out of nothing, the Tykes doubled their lead with 63 minutes played. Where Charlton couldn’t apply a finish at the end of their regular attacking moves, Barnsley finished from an impossible angle; Kennedy’s deflected effort from out wide left Hamer flat-footed and flew past him into the far top corner. The points as good as gone, once again handed to the opposition with barely a whimper from the Addicks.
A supportive and positive atmosphere quickly turned poisonous. It only got worse and Sordell was played through on goal, but the striker’s reluctance to shoot saw Mvoto get back and make an excellent tackle.
So the sign of Wilson being readied on the touchline was a hugely positive one. Surely Sordell would come off, and Ghoochannejhad or Obika would head up top. But the Bolton loanee remained on the pitch, with Solly hauled off to make way for Wilson; a like for like swap that added little to Charlton’s cause. Solly might well have not been fit enough to last for 90 minutes, but he certainly looked okay in his final few moments.
There was a rare effort on target for the increasingly lacklustre Addicks, as Obika flicked on and Ghoochannejhad’s first time effort was unconvincingly palmed away by Steele. It was the first save Steele had to make all night, having had to pick the ball out of the net six times at Oakwell just over a year ago.
And as if that afternoon couldn’t be any further away from this evening, an injury to Wiggins compounded Charlton’s misery and left them with ten men with all their subs already used after, bizarrely, the excellent Poyet had been taken off and replaced by Ajdaveric.
However, the seemingly beaten ten men forced a goal as five minutes of stoppage time were signalled. Jackson’s free-kick was flicked on and volleyed goalwards by Ghoochannejhad, but the Iranians effort was blocked, only for the ball to fall kindly to Ajdaveric. He had to wait for the assistant referee to give the goal after the ball was once again blocked, but the Swede’s effort was well over the line. Game on?
It certainly gave the Addicks some spark, and a cross from Wilson forced Steele into action, but it just wasn’t enough. Those dying embers of hope were finally put out when Cousins, steaming towards goal, was seemingly fouled on the edge of the box, but no foul was awarded.
The final whistle, met with a chorus of boos, followed soon after. The Addicks might have performed poorly for a number of weeks, but a battling quality had seen them grind out a number of crucial results. Tonight, both the quality and the fight, although not by all, were largely absent. Those boos, although not to encourage them, were not misplaced.
As a team and as individuals, the Addicks simply weren’t good enough, especially against a side who really weren’t that impressive. Nonetheless, it was the sort of classic away performance; nick a goal or two, show a bit of resilience and cling on for dear life. The time wasting wasn’t great, but I applaud Barnsley for their dogged display. It’s what’s been winning us points recently, but tonight a determined resilience was missing from Charlton, as was any sort of quality in front of goal.
They may have spent a great deal of time in Barnsley’s final third, but their execution in that area of the pitch was dire. Long gone has a time when these sort of okay performances that are let down by poor work going forward can be excused.
But, during the second half especially, it wasn’t an okay performance, it really was very poor. The consolation goal aside, there was no time where the Addicks looked a real threat going forward, and their disjointed nature, with passes misplaced continuously, returned. Watching the hard work of Cousins and Poyet, arguably the only two players in red who performed, go to waste was frustrating and agonising in equal measure.
But booing the players might well have been a touch harsh. What can you expect from a depleted squad, weakened further by the actions of their manager? Riga must take the brunt of the blame.
Nowhere is that more obvious in the case of Harriott. Booed and heckled all night, the youngster’s withdrawal was celebrated, but should he really have been starting? Should an out of form left winger been picked to play on the right when three players more than capable of playing in that position sat on the bench? Surely having Wilson available to finally play on the right should have been utilised? Unjustifiable decisions.
And taking out the ever present vice-captain and replacing him with an error prone centre-back is also hard to explain. The defence certainly looked weaker without Morrison, and it was Wood who lost Mvoto for Barnsley’s first goal.
On top of that, leaving Sordell on the pitch and instead taking off both Solly and Poyet was incredibly frustrating. On Saturday, Riga’s bizarre subs were justified as resting players for tonight, with the game already lost. If that’s how they’re justified tonight, then it would appear Riga gives up far too easily.
I don’t believe that to be the case, and I think Riga shares the fight the players have, but it is incredibly hard to explain his substitutions in the previous two fixtures.
Now Riga has five games to keep us up; a statement that many won’t like, especially with Charlton still out of the bottom three. But the displays in the previous two games, combined with the remaining fixtures, leave me struggling to confidently predict points from any of them apart from the final trip of the season to Blackpool.
And the situation isn’t helped by the injury to Wiggins, who will miss the rest of the season with a broken foot. Solly over to the left and Wilson back to full-back; Solly’s return suddenly isn’t as exciting as it once was.
Nonetheless, the performance has to improve from the first of those five games, Bolton’s trip to The Valley on Friday, or relegation concerns will become a reality.