In times gone by, putting a centre-back in an unfamiliar position was a sign Charlton were closing in on some sort of success.
While such conservative tactics frustrated some supporters, the introduction of Dorian Dervite in a deep midfield role meant the attacking efforts for the day were done. A structured, organised and defensive approach from Chris Powell taken to cling onto what was already theirs.
Alas, when a centre-back is moved into an unnatural role with the gaming nearing its close under Bob Peeters, there is no thought that a point or three are about to come the way of the Addicks. Nor is there frustration that negative tactics could cost them something they had seemingly secured.
For the movement of Andre Bikey into attack is not a signal of attacking intent from Peeters, but a desperate and depressing attempt to put right the wrongs that have been committed for the previous 85 minutes.
And those wrongs are unbearably familiar. Summed up in 60 seconds as Igor Vetokele failed to tap in a rebound after Chris Solly’s effort cannoned off the bar, before a woeful attempt to defend a set-piece allowed Rohan Ince to head home what proved to be Brighton’s winner.
But possibly more concerning is that the Addicks, so heavily reliant on a determination, spirit and fight to collect points in previous years, look painfully devoid of it. You would expect a lack of confidence after just one win in thirteen, but so too can you demand effort and energy to address it.
Lifeless, lacklustre and toothless. In a game that wasn’t necessarily must win, but a game that offered the chance for Charlton to get the win they so desperately needed. Brighton no world beaters, but rarely were they made to be anything less than comfortable.
You walk away from The Valley disappointed with the result, but more concerned going forward. Such uninspiring performances leave you seriously puzzled as to where the next win is coming from.
To compound Charlton’s misery, there was an element of positivity before kick-off. Not the sort of wild positivity one has after several games unbeaten, but a cautious optimism that fresh faces might galvanise a confidence-lacking side.
The return of Rhoys Wiggins, replacing Morgan Fox at left-back having missed over two months through injury, offered hope to the Addicks. Fox struggling as much as anyone during the recent run of results; Wiggins so important to Charlton playing to their full potential.
There was also a start for Lawrie Wilson, a regular tormentor of Brighton, who replaced the suspended Yoni Buyens, while Vetokele, having sat out the FA Cup defeat to Blackburn, came back into the side in place of Simon Church.
And with Tony Watt, a recent signing with at least some sort of potential, on the bench, everything seemed to be set-up perfectly for Peeters to lead his side to their first win since November.
But despite a seemingly stronger XI, the cracks within the Charlton side were still visible. Having failed to properly collect a cross, a breakdown in communication meant Neil Etheridge challenged for the same ball as Andre Bikey. Only a courageous block from the Cameroonian prevented Solly March from slotting into an empty net.
Going forward, the Addicks were equally frustrating as George Tucudean failed to hold the ball up and his touch deserted him when played into promising positions. A wayward volley from Wilson all Charlton had to show for their rather questionable efforts in the opening ten minutes.
In fact, it was Brighton who quickly began to control the tempo of the game. With Ince dominate in midfield, the Seagulls were given the time and space to pass and play how they wished.
So too were they given space from their first corner. An unmarked Jake Forster-Caskey picking out an equally alone Sam Baldock, only for the former Bristol City forward to head straight at Etheridge. To defend efficiently from set-pieces isn’t asking for much, but it remained an impossible task for the Addicks.
Thankfully for Charlton, if not for those wishing to enjoy their afternoon at The Valley, the lull the game soon entered suited the hosts.
Both sides allowed promising attacking moves to break down with slow, cautious and backwards passing largely to blame. And while there was audible frustration from the Covered End as Wilson, seemingly lacking self-belief, failed to take on his full-back and instead sent the ball back into defence, the period provided a window from which the Addicks could settle and regroup.
And for those who had not yet fallen asleep in SE7, it was evident Charlton were at least somewhat more composed by the time they mustered their first real opening. A free-kick finding its way through to Bikey at the back post, but his strike on goal lacking the power needed to beat David Stockdale.
With two further half chances coming Charlton’s way, Vetokele heading wide and Wilson flicking an effort over after some lovely build-up play from Wiggins and Jackson, there was at least some evidence that the Addicks had it in them to break down Brighton’s resolute back four.
But so too were Brighton not without the firepower to cause Charlton problems. Forster-Caskey’s vicious effort bouncing just in front of Etheridge and forcing him into a tidy save.
Nonetheless, even with a Jackson header blocked away close to the goal line and a strong shout for handball against Lewis Dunk inside Brighton’s box, this was a half that lacked spark, creativity and energy from either side. A dour showing that was exactly the opposite needed as an antidote to the cold and blustery conditions in SE7.
It did, however, mean Charlton went in at the break with something of a platform. The vast majority of the opening period may have been spent misplacing passes and watching Brighton keep the ball, but an injection of life into the side would have given the Addicks a decent chance of claiming three points.
Alas, their hopes were dented when Jackson failed to return after the interval. Hobbling towards the end of the first period, the skipper was forced off and replaced by Joe Gomez, with Chris Solly moving into an unnatural centre-midfield position.
Immediately it was apparent the shape of the side had taken a huge, disfiguring dent, and the Seagulls took advantage.
In fact, the visitors should have pulled ahead, but Forster-Caskey hesitated slightly when played through on goal, allowing Etheridge to narrow the lively midfielder’s angle and block the effort away.
But the Addicks, after Tal Ben Haim had ambitiously tried his luck from distance, responded with a promising effort of their own.
Watt, who had only just come on to replace the injured and ineffective Tucudean, was played into a fantastic position via Wiggins’ through ball and his own quick, strong and direct play.
From a tight angle, it would have been wise to tee-up the unmarked Vetokele in the centre, but the Covered End chanting his name possibly gave the debutant the misguided confidence to shoot. His effort blocked behind by Stockdale, much to the clear frustration of those in red inside the box.
The introduction of the former Standard Liege man had at least helped to give the contest more energy; not at all a difficult challenge, but the start of the second half a more entertaining experience than the first. His ability on the ball providing some life to the Addicks going forward, while testing Brighton deliveries down the other end saw Joe Bennett head straight at Etheridge before Dunk nodded over the bar.
But the game’s real injection of life was to come from the right boot of a man without a track record in front of goal.
Although given the space to do so, seeing Solly shape to strike goalwards from 25 yards surprised many inside The Valley; those surprised expressions increased as his stunning effort bounced back off the crossbar.
And before the Covered End contingent could fully appreciate what they had just witnessed, the rebound had fallen perfectly to Vetokele, only for the out-of-form striker to delay getting a shot away and given the Albion defence a chance to get the ball clear. For all the frustration that moment provided, it at least brought about some noise and encouragement around the ground.
That, however, did not last long. A restlessness returned just a minute later as Brighton were the beneficiaries of the game’s increased liveliness and some generous Charlton defending to go ahead.
March’s free-kick, as superbly delivered as it might have been, was first not dealt with by Etheridge, who failed to connect with the ball by quite some margin, and then not defended by those in front of him, with Ince unmarked at the back post and able to convert the simplest of headers.
It’s true to say there was an element of misfortune about the manner in which the Addicks conceded, but that element is a weak one given how many times similar situations have occurred this campaign.
Alas, 28 minutes remained for Charlton to grab an equaliser; confidence about to be crippled further or given something of a season-turning lift.
But self-belief among this group of Addicks is already so low that from the moment Ince’s header found the back of the net, you feared the game was over. Judging by some of the lacklustre and lifeless responses to the goal, so did some of those on the pitch.
That, however, was not something you could accuse Watt and Church, who replaced the horrendous Wilson, of. The pair both spirited, chasing after every loose ball and at the very least attempting to make something happen, but chances remained at a premium.
So Charlton could hardly afford for Watt, having been teed up by Vetokele, to volley wide from a glorious position. His miscued strike as good as it got for the Addicks, summing up a response to going behind that desperately lacked fight.
In fact, Chris Hughton’s efficient and effective side offered as much going forward as Charlton did in the closing stages. The space offered after Bikey had pushed forward allowed Baldock and March half-chances, but more importantly helped to run the clock down for the Seagulls.
Shots fired in all directions without composure, passes as misplaced as they were in the first half and alarming lack of creativity meant the game’s final few minutes were almost meaningless. That there was genuine excitement as Bikey slammed an unnecessary acrobatic attempt into the back of Gordon Greer spoke volumes.
So too did the boos that greeted the full-time whistle. Booing not my favourite hobby, and something I didn’t join in with, but here it was not an irrational response. A performance of a side with just one win in 13. A performance of a side lacking tactical discipline, self-belief and the necessary determination to win in the Championship. Another performance that makes for anxious worry.
Brighton, to their credit, did a very professional job. They were not special, and not the best team to come to The Valley this season, but there is a togetherness, an inner-steel and, above all, a little bit of quality in their ranks that will mean relegation fears will soon be a thing of the past.
In other words, everything that is currently missing from Charlton’s side.
The most worrying aspect of this current predicament is that there are numerous problems, and that those numerous problems cannot be solved with one quick fix.
Previously, I had convinced myself that one win, however fortunate or undeserved, would get us back on some sort of track. A dull London Midland line rather than a plush and exciting Virgin one, but a track nonetheless.
The confidence boost a win brings was all that was needed to sort this side of talented players out. Because, as they have proven at times this season, this squad contains enough quality to beat the division’s best.
Alas, I’m beginning to question whether that is the case. Had we somehow managed to find a way to score two goals after falling behind, there’s no doubt that The Valley would have been buzzing and confidence would have been lifted, but I’d question the long term effects of that.
In fact, the second-half performance against Cardiff should have galvanised our season. Instead, the Addicks have gone on to lose three out of three, playing without effort, energy or determination.
Or, for that matter, ability. Having come so far, Wilson appears to have seriously regressed, Jordan Cousins struggled to make the simplest of passes and Vetokele hasn’t reached the high standards he set himself at the start of the season for a number of weeks.
So too is it a concern that Peeters has been unable to organise this side without Jackson present. On the ball, the skipper is not quite the player he once was, but without him in the side, it all just seems to collapse in on itself. Defending set-pieces, of course, as equally concerning. It’s just all fallen apart a bit.
It’s also frustrating that the Belgian boss hasn’t injected any sort of endeavour and attacking intent into his side. While Brighton pass the ball at the worst of times, standing off them and allowing them to do so was criminal. Sticking Bikey up top soul-destroyingly painful.
A part of that is, of course, confidence. As much as the players must lift themselves, Peeters must also play a part in getting them going again.
While this squad is clearly full of technically gifted players, and Watt would appear to be a decent addition to that, that it has been unable to respond positively or passionately to end this horrendous run is depressing and inexcusable.
Supporting Charlton, I expect not to be celebrating each week. In fact, I had to remind myself to calm down after seeing the team sheet, fully aware that despite the positive outlook it was only misguided hope.
But what I do expect to see from the Addicks is some fight, some effort and some determination. Those qualities have made bad results, runs and periods manageable, knowing that there’s still life in the team and they’re still willing to give their all.
Wins will come when they do, and they’re celebrated with vigour each time, but spirit is my bread and butter when supporting a relatively average side.
It’s what made us stand out in previous seasons. It’s all I ask for.
At the moment, I’m not getting anything like that.