The sound of cracks being papered over were heard alongside the cheers that celebrated Charlton’s first league goal since Boxing Day. Jordan Cousins’ 83rd minute strike, a scrappy goal fitting of a dire affair with Rotherham, looked to have given the Addicks three points their lacklustre performance did not warrant.
Alas, there were few too bothered about whether what appeared to be Charlton’s winner was deserved. It would have been their first win in twelve, and recent confidence-lacking displays suggested this was the only sort of victory Guy Luzon’s side could hope for.
In fact, such a victory might well have provided cause for further hope. At the very least, achieving a win so desperately needed to keep Charlton out of danger would increase a level of self-belief in the side that couldn’t possibly have sunk any lower.
But come full-time, the paper over the cracks had fallen through; those cracks made 100 feet wider, and the abyss below as deep as the depths of despair The Valley crowd were left in. The softest of goals, with Adam Hammill’s cross converted by regular Charlton tormentor Danny Ward, drew the Millers level in stoppage time.
The response to going ahead – nervy, cautious and one fitting to a side clueless as to how to achieve victory – meant an equaliser was predictable, and a share of the spoils a more adequate reflection of the nature of the contest, but such logic could provide no solace.
If anything, it made the situation worse. That there could be no argument of poor luck, and no suggestion that such a moment wasn’t self-inflicted, meant anger, hurt and frustration filled the volatile SE7 atmosphere.
The stunned silence that followed as deafening and as telling as the boos that met the full-time whistle. The late goal taken in isolation depressing enough, but when considered in conjunction with the heart shattering events of recent weeks and months, it’s just another unfair punishment for those Addicks desperately attempting to overcome apathy to support their side.
The club they love now a source of little more than pain. The cracks in hearts just as big as those in Charlton’s side.
At a time when it is hard to feel confidence in a positive result, the team news offered little inspiration.
While the battling spirit among those who played against Wolves was commendable, there remained a desperate need to improve in attacking areas, especially given Luzon’s more direct approach.
Alas, the sub-six foot partnership of Igor Vetokele and Callum Harriott again started in attack; Tony Watt’s apparent inability to start a game reaching a worrying stage.
In fact, the only change from the encouraging defensive display at Molineux saw Rhoys Wiggins come in for Morgan Fox. A defence seemingly finding its feet again boosted further.
But Charlton, and Wiggins, started the game in such a horrendous manner that it was if the resolute efforts of seven days ago had not occurred. The Welshman’s numerous mistakes bordering on embarrassing, while communication, organisation and composure across the entire back four was completely non-existent.
Confusion was rife, and accusery glances were made in all directions as Rotherham came agonisingly close to taking the lead. Ben Pringle’s crisp delivery met by the unmarked Connor Newton, but his first time effort, looping over a stranded Marko Dmitrovic, came back off the inside of the post.
It was enough to get The Valley crowd going, the Covered End appreciating support was needed, but Charlton’s defensive efforts continued to be full of faults. The impressive Connor Sammon supplied Matt Derbyshire, who could only stab wide from an unkind position.
But as the spark from the Millers’ opening spell died down, the Addicks began to respond. A clever corner routine saw Chris Solly’s cut-back fired over by Vetokele, but it was a suggestion this was not going to be a completely toothless performance in front of goal.
And such a claim was only supported in Charlton’s next move forward, as the hosts themselves came agonisingly close to grabbing a lead they so desperately required.
As the Addicks broke, it looked as if Vetokele had played the wrong ball, sending Harriott free down the right while the unmarked Johann Berg Gudmundsson had a direct path to goal.
Gudmundsson, however, continued his run, and was there at the back post to collect an overhit cross. Providing a touch of class so often missing throughout this Charlton side, the Iceland international’s subsequent chip over Rotherham goalkeeper Adam Colin was exquisite, but not quite accurate enough. Colin gleeful to claim the ball after it came back off the inside of the post.
The anguish the horrendous start provided now replaced by something resembling hope. At the very least, there was an expectation that such an opening would give Charlton the confidence to persistently get at an uncomfortable Rotherham back four.
Instead, the attacking intent that had briefly appeared vanished without a trace. There would have been rewards for running at the away side’s back four, but cautious passing, when Charlton weren’t aimlessly pumping the ball forward or carelessly giving it away, and minimal pressure applied to the Millers when in possession meant they were allowed to go about their business largely untested.
Even when the occasional passage of passing play worked the Addicks into a decent position, the final ball was so derisory that the negative, backwards passes actually seemed comparatively productive. A wayward Harriott strike and an acrobatic Andre Bikey effort that cleared the bar by a fair margin the only additional efforts Charlton could muster before the break.
The only saving grace come the half-time whistle was that this dire 45 minutes was over. Rotherham slightly more composed than the Addicks, but as toothless and unimaginative as their opponents. A half of football that didn’t deserve to be played at Championship level.
In fact, there was more energy and entertainment on display inside Guy Luzon’s technical area. One moment emulating Andre Villas-Boas’ trademark crouch, the next leaping up and seemingly chasing the ball as it travelled up the pitch; such liveliness needed to be injected into his side.
And while it still required effort to keep yourself awake, there was at least a marginal increase in the likelihood of Charlton scoring after the interval.
Interrupted by a tame Paul Green effort, easily collected by Dmitrovic, there was seemingly a greater desire to get forward, culminating in some desperate Rotherham defending blocking away successive efforts from Cousins.
But still it wasn’t working. The intent there, but neither the organisation nor execution to turn that intent into something more tangible. The midfield too slow in possession, the wide men lacking the self-belief to beat their opponent and the front pair simply not functioning.
Change was needed, with Watt warming up, but Luzon remained unflustered, possibly encouraged by Milos Velkovic’s drive wide and the fantastic work from Vetokele to tee up Gudmundsson, whose fierce strike was deflected wide.
“Roland, make a sub” the cynical cries from the Covered End as the hour mark approached, but there was yet more frustration when the change they demanded arrived.
Vetokele, just starting to click into gear and one of few whose effort could not be questioned, replaced by Watt. I find it hard to believe a new head coach has been told he doesn’t know what he’s doing 63 minutes into his home debut before.
Unsurprisingly, with Harriott anonymous, the introduction of Watt didn’t have the impact it should have done.
Instead, Rotherham grew back into the game and were left furious after Sammon’s effort appeared to be blocked by the arm of Bikey. Despite surrounding the referee in unison, their claims were somewhat dubiously waved away.
But so too was there a strong shout for a penalty for the Addicks, with Watt finally coming alive with a little over 15 minutes to play. His turn to break into the box was excellent, but the ball just got away from him at the vital moment, meaning he could only stab towards goal. Not only did the ball appear to be blocked by a hand, but the Scot was taken down as he shot. Referee Duncan seemingly in no mood to award a spot-kick.
Thankfully for the Addicks, his assistant was in the mood to raise his flag, denying the offside Derbyshire after Ward had capitalised on some dreadful defending to play him through. The gaps in Charlton’s defence, however, were again worrying.
And with the lively Ward forcing the first real save of Dmitrovic, parried and held at the second attempt, there was a fear that Rotherham were prime to steal all three points late on.
Instead, out of nothing, Charlton found the fortunate and scrappy goal they had been craving for weeks.
The gangly debutant Christophe Lepoint, not long off the bench, did well to hold up the ball up inside the box, and just about forced it to an unmarked Cousins. It was the simplest of finishes, but the academy graduate made sure there was to be no mistake, rifling the ball past a motionless Colin.
But while the celebrations were passionate, and the Covered End found its voice again, there remained a feeling of fear. Charlton’s defensive frailties and the little bit of spark in Rotherham’s attacking play meant this was far from over.
And those fears only increased as the timeliest intervention from Solly prevented Hammill from heading in at the back post, and Dmitrovic was called upon to deny Green in emphatic fashion from the following corner. Deep breaths.
Still Rotherham pressed forward, with Charlton, not helped by Lepoint’s struggles in the middle, seemingly unable to get a hold of the ball. Kari Arnason and Craig Morgan headed harmlessly off-target, but Hammill’s curling strike flashed agonisingly wide of the post.
Such pressure meant there was a collective groan as four minutes of stoppage time were signalled, and it took just an eighth of that time for the Millers to draw level. Hammill unpressured as he crossed, Ward unmarked as he finished; a goal gifted to the opposition that summed up the inept nature of Charlton’s overall performance.
There was to be no response thereafter, just groans as the half-hearted attempts from the Addicks to get forward resulted in something less than nothing. A poor display, saved by a much needed win, had become an abysmal afternoon, made worse by a crushing equaliser that has dented confidence among the players and belief in the club further.
The boos at full-time justifiable for a side whose winless run has left them just six points from the bottom three.
And to take that goal in isolation, it is a desperately poor one of the Addicks to concede. Not just the nature of it, but the fact a win would have given them both an element of breathing space to the bottom three and the momentum to push on.
In truth, it was an equaliser worthy of the performance from Charlton. Luzon seemingly believed his two banks of four approach would again work well, but this sort of game required anything but, and wasn’t helped by the fact those banks weren’t organised.
Passes sideways, backwards, or misplaced, next to know creativity and an error-filled effort at the back that allowed Connor Sammon to dominate. Yep. Connor Sammon.
So too was there seemingly the return of a poor attitude among the players. Fight and effort lacking, particularly from Yoni Buyens, whose performance belonged to a man whose interest in playing for Charlton is limited.
This coming against a Rotherham side who, to their credit, performed tirelessly and fought well, but one who were below the Addicks in the table before kick-off. There is no excuse for such a display, both in terms of footballing ability and mentality, against a relatively lowly side.
It’s now reached the point where you fear that even quality signings in the required positions will not have a sizable impact on Charlton’s performances.
Firstly, because the environment the squad are in won’t be solved by new additions. They too will quickly become engulfed in the lack of confidence among the squad. That it remains unsolved so many weeks after it was a clear issue is telling.
And secondly, it’s hard to trust those at the top of the club to bring the right players in. While it’s unfair to judge on one performance, and he did prove the assist for the goal, Lepoint looked absolutely horrendous, and nothing like the sort of player that’s needed.
In fact, that such a performance occurred today is fitting.
One year on from the sale of Yann Kermorgant, an incident that hindered the trust many had in the ownership and their transfer policy, trust has only decreased to a level lower than the players’ confidence.
There is now no spine, no leadership and no indication that the experienced Championship players the Addicks require to get out of the situation they’re in will be purchased. Johnnie Jackson the lone leader, but even his return is unlikely to make a difference.
The network signings and the players from Europe are all well and good, but only well and good if they’re aiding a spine. This side has no backbone; the fleeting appearances which suggest there is one simply deceiving.
Nor does it appear Luzon is the man to lift Charlton away from danger, but we all knew that. The only man he was ignorant enough to believe he was was the man who employed him.
Until that stubbornness and ignorance changes, improvements on today’s performance will only provide false hope.
Misery upon misery.