It was a chance for the players, somewhat disconnected from the events of the previous week, to provide hurting and dispirited supporters with a reason to care again. A reward for the Addicks who had sold out the Vicarage Road away end and dug deep to override their feelings of apathy with love for their club.
Instead, it was a performance that mirrored the embarrassing off-the-pitch activities since Sunday. The lack of ability, effort and fight on show sinking to such a low that it felt like this was the visual display of the shambles our club is seemingly becoming.
At the very least, this hurt just as the behaviour from those at the top of the club has done. At worst, this disgusting performance, the worst from a Charlton side in some time, made a poor week a devastating one.
Watford’s five goals assisted by horrendous defending. The palms and fingertips of Neil Etheridge preventing a much larger scoreline that wouldn’t have been at all unjust on the Addicks. Forward play of any real threat or intensity almost non-existent. That the distraught supporters in the away end continued to amplify their voices until the final minute the only small glimmer of pride to take.
But so too was there anger. The volume suggests more supporters than not joined in with anti-Roland Duchatelet chants, while the booing that met the full-time whistle was ferocious. There’s no real argument to suggest such reactions are irrational or not with legitimate reason.
That there are no signs to suggest the mood, nor performances, are about to change only makes those enraged, disillusioned and depressed feel a substantial amount worse. Those emotionally attached to the club hurting.
We’ve been through some tough times as Charlton fans, but no perspective or past experience can make this moment feel more bearable.
Rarely have we been so low. Rarely have we felt so hopeless going forward. Not for some time have we felt so disconnected, dispirited and apathetic.
The hurt is amplified further by the fact that Friday night’s events had persuaded some Addicks to believe there would be some sort of response from the players. A further embarrassment that a failure to secure Guy Luzon’s work permit meant he wouldn’t be taking charge, but an opportunity for Ben Roberts and Damian Matthew to inspire the players.
While not a long-term answer, you felt having Charlton stalwarts at the helm in the circumstances was the ideal way to get a showing of fight from a side that lacked confidence and heart.
For similar reasons, it was incredibly disappointing not to see Johnnie Jackson’s name on the teamsheet. The inspirational skipper, who excels in these moments, had not yet recovered from an injury sustained in last Saturday’s defeat to Brighton.
It meant Yoni Buyens came into midfield and Chris Solly took the armband, while Callum Harriott replaced George Tucudean in attack.
But, regardless of who was wearing the red of Charlton, it was apparent they were going to get the strongest possible support from the away end. Chants of “we want our Charlton back” were always going to be heard, but they did not take away from the positive noise from the visiting Addicks.
And such support was almost rewarded in the opening stages. Lawrie Wilson a final ball away from threatening, and Igor Vetokele a better touch away from seriously testing Heurelho Gomes in the Watford goal.
Nonetheless, these were promising signs. Few anticipated even a point, but the early suggestions were that Charlton supporters were at least going to see their side play with desire and intensity.
Alas, such hopes were quelled as a pacey and expansive Watford side ventured forward for the first time. Six-foot-two forward Odion Ighalo left unmarked in the box, and his header from Daniel Tozser’s cross only narrowly flashed wide.
In fact, were it not for Etheridge’s cat-like reflexes, then the Hornets would have pulled ahead inside the opening ten minutes. The back four offering little support as Ighalo glided through and teed-up Troy Deeney, only for the prolific forward to see his shot superbly stopped by Charlton’s goalkeeper.
And with Watford winning a corner, Etheridge was called upon again. His save to deny Gabriele Angella simply stunning, before Rhoys Wiggins blocked Gianni Munari’s effort on the line and gave Charlton supporters a chance to catch their breath.
It also gave the Addicks a chance to settle, and get back into the positive flow they had previously been in. Gomes quick off his line to block Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s shot after the winger had been played through superbly by the lively Vetokele.
But, as has been the case so often in recent weeks, the hope sprung from a decent opening being created soon turned to despair at our inability to convert chances.
Our inability to defend against the simplest of crosses, too, a source of despair, with the efforts to cut off Miguel Layun’s cross catastrophic. It gave Craig Cathcart the simplest of chances, possibly a chance not even an Addick would fail to take, to put the hosts ahead with 15 minutes played. Hope immediately crushed, heads dropping at a rate of knots and the mood in the away end quickly turning sour.
A response was desperately needed to calm emotions, but it didn’t appear forthcoming. Charlton increasingly despondent and lacklustre as Layun forced Etheridge into another stop and a familiar failure to deal with a corner allowed Angella to head wide.
You could predict a second goal was on the horizon, but that did little to make the manner in which the 25th minute strike came seem any better. Deeney beating Andre Bikey to a simple ball over the top, before racing through with hardly any attention to slot past Etheridge. Booing from the away end an accurate portrayal of the frustrations Charlton fans were suffering.
And soon those frustrations turned to chants of “we want Roland out”. Animosity in the cries, which angered those who felt attentions should be fully focused on supporting a confidence deprived group of players.
In truth, such protestation did not take away from the support given to the Addicks, but the tempers were rising in the away end.
Those tempers not calmed by Charlton’s continued failure to compete. With possession rarely being gained, and passes frequently going astray once it had been, Watford’s confidence and panache in their play was allowed to multiply. Etheridge tipping Ighalo’s fierce shot wide before the fearless Juan Carlos Paredes fired fractionally over from distance.
Even when the Addicks got into promising positions, the despondency increased. A woeful touch from Gudmundsson, having been played through by Harriott, saw a rare attacking move of any substance come to nothing.
By contrast, each time Watford came forward, persistently running at a shambolic back line, you felt in fear another goal would be conceded.
And, on the stroke of half-time, a third was added. Paredes, given the freedom of Charlton’s left hand side, drove past Wiggins before picking out Ighalo with a well-directed low cross. The forward’s goal well taken and warranted for his first half efforts; Charlton’s first half efforts warranting such an emphatic scoreline.
Even the chorus of “we’re gonna win 4-3” was half-hearted as Gudmundsson stood over a free-kick in stoppage time. His strike, hit horrendously off-target, ending the half in fitting fashion.
Boos followed; the performance simply not good enough. Regardless of the circumstances in the lead up to the game, you expect effort, endeavour and some sort of on-the-pitch organisation. It simply wasn’t there at all.
Those devastated in the away end, however, would have at least felt motivated by a showing of fight in the second period. Calls for a comeback unrealistic, but an improvement desperately needed.
The introduction of Tony Watt, replacing Wilson, brought about some positivity, but it was apparent from the half’s opening moments that hopes of a stronger second half showing were misguided.
For, following 13 minutes where almost all the possession, energy and threat remained with the hosts, Charlton gifted Watford a fourth.
To call this another attempted failure to deal with a corner would be incorrect, as no attempts were made to cut out Tozser’s delivery. Those in red inside Charlton’s box flatfooted and static as Ighalo got in between two defenders and headed home without so much as an Addick being aware of his presence. Pub teams would have been embarrassed by such defensive ineptitude.
Alas, regardless of the fact many were probably struggling to hold in both their anger and tears, the support from the away end remained unrelenting. Of course, there were cries against Duchatelet and desperate pleas for our Charlton to return, but few, if any, had turned against the players.
And that despite the best efforts of those representing the Addicks to make this the worst Charlton performance in living memory. Still catastrophic at the back, still unable to retain possession in midfield and still lacking any sort of threat in attack.
Your money was on the fifth, rather than the first, made especially true with Watford’s continued desire to exploit this battered and bruised Charlton side. Etheridge alive to deny Deeney in typically stunning fashion, before the goalkeeper could only watch on as a cross deflected off Tal Ben Haim and spun agonisingly close to crossing the line.
At least if Ben Haim had provided the fifth, there would have been something to laugh about in an away end just about possessing the motivation to support their side to the death.
Alas, Watford’s final goal summed up their performance more than it did Charlton’s. Tozser’s free-kick may have exposed yet more woeful defensive organisation, but there was a touch of quality about it that helped to emphasize the difference between the two sides.
Watford sensational; Charlton simply shocking.
The boos that met the full-time whistle louder and more expressive than the ones that had been heard previously. A release of frustrations that, but for the chants against Duchatelet and despondency after errors and mistakes, had largely been kept in check while supporting the side throughout the 90 minutes. Not even applause from Jackson, whose leadership even without being on the pitch was once again unquestionable, failed to relieve any of the pain and anger felt from those trudging out of the away end.
For this performance must surely be as bad is gets. That the scoreline is not the most depressing factor, but the manner in which not a single member of the side played with intensity or determination, speaks volumes.
For years I witnessed Charlton sides play without spirit; any chances of that sucked out by Alan Pardew. But the efforts of Chris Powell brought one. A superb spirit that was continued by Jose Riga and briefly carried on by Bob Peeters.
But, you now fear that all of the previous efforts to inject some sort of spirit into Charlton Athletic have been wasted; Duchatelet’s actions destroying it. There is no way a club can compete without fight, drive and desire, and to see a club that has been so reliant on factors like that in recent years completely lacking is utterly, utterly depressing.
And it’s from that point that I have some degree of sympathy with players.
In truth, they looked as broken as those who had been supporting them. It’s possible they had given everything, but their everything right now isn’t a lot. Never have I seen a side seem so bereft of confidence; players who have previously shown themselves to have ability simply not performing. Etheridge aside, no player in red was anything better than dire.
To expect Roberts and Matthew to instil the needed confidence into them was probably expecting far too much.
To some extent, it’s comparable with the performance at Sheffield United last season. While players and coaches deserve all the criticism they get, the performance was a product of the actions of those at the top of this club. They may not be directly interfering, but you certainly can’t expect players to have turned a blind eye to this week’s events.
At the very least, they appreciate us a lot more than those at the top of this club.
And we deserve so much better. We deserve more than to have been treated with such contempt that apathy was rife before today, and we deserve to see a side that fights and rewards our continued support.
But are we going to get it?
The indications would be that the chances of Luzon turning this sinking ship around are slim. So too, after the previous week, do you lack confidence that Duchatelet and co will bring the right players in not only to improve the quality within the squad but also improve the atmosphere.
Right now, I can only fear the worst. This performance, and this week, might well not be as bad as it gets.
It’s all just a bit depressing, isn’t it?