Under normal circumstances, a late winner for the opposition after seemingly completing a miraculous comeback would have been crushing. The pride in the side’s efforts to respond to going two goals down replaced by heartbreak that those efforts were not enough.
Alas, the crushed feeling was not provided by Cameron Jerome’s header which gave Norwich their victory, but by a performance and night at The Valley scarcely made any less soul-destroying by Charlton’s fight back from two goals down.
Of course, it was a source of relief that character, which had been absent for such a period it was seemingly dead, was shown to score those second half goals. Not least because the first half performance was one of the worst seen at The Valley in recent memory.
The poisonous atmosphere under which it was played a product of Charlton’s unorganised, clueless and gutless display that allowed Johnny Howson and Lewis Grabban to score. Players seemingly unaware of their roles, drive lacking from so many and Guy Luzon’s ineptitude not ignored by a Valley crowd watching the visual representation of the depressing state their club is in.
Chants of “you’re getting sacked in the morning” said with no conviction, as Roland Duchatelet’s half-hearted network players littered the pitch. In selecting Yoni Buyens, Frederic Bulot and Marko Dmitrovic, Luzon was doing his job.
But the fightback, inspired by the genuine efforts of Jordan Cousins, one of our own, and the goals of Tony Watt and Igor Vetokele, two of his that seem to have got this club, was not enough to rid those feelings of utter despair. The goals hardly deserved, the performance still dreadful and the determination shown by some made worthless by the inexcusable efforts of others.
It meant Jerome’s winner, capitalising upon some woeful Charlton defending to head home unchallenged, simply prevented the large and numerous cracks within the side being papered over. Those cracks nowhere near as big as the ones attached to the club as a whole.
For it is not the defeats that are causing this level of hurt. It is not that a 13th league game has passed without the feeling of victory being celebrated. It is not that the Addicks now sit just three points above the bottom three.
It’s the manner in which those defeats are occurring. It’s the cancerous environment Duchatelet’s ownership model has created, where supporters can no longer find enjoyment in something, and a club, they once loved. It’s the crippling realisation that not even some of the beleaguered Addicks finding the heart to fight is enough to make the situation at our football club any less heart-breaking.
We don’t ask for a winning Charlton. We don’t ask for a great Charlton. We ask for a Charlton we can feel a connection to; that we know is ours. This isn’t it.
The scene was set from the moment the team news was announced. Norwich, while performing inconsistently this season, a side packed with Premier League experience; Charlton a side packed with players either lacking confidence, lacking heart or lacking footballing ability altogether.
All three of those probably applies to Bulot, who made his first appearance since coming back from the Africa Cup of Nations. Accommodating him in the side meant Vetokele, also coming into the side, was deployed up top on his own with Watt benched and Simon Church removed completely.
There were, at least, the returns of Johnnie Jackson and Rhoys Wiggins, replacing the injured Milos Veljkovic and struggling Morgan Fox, to provide hope, while Andre Bikey would have to go some to perform worse than Oguchi Onyewu did during the defeat to Middlesbrough.
And, in truth, there was at least a level of intensity shown from the Addicks in the early stages. Vetokele’s pressing forced Ruddy into a skewed clearance and got the Covered End on side.
But the home support, as beleaguered as the players, soon grew frustrated as that early pressure was not maintained. The Addicks playing without composure and allowing Norwich too much time on the ball, culminating in Bradley Johnson flashing an effort narrowly wide.
And that frustration turned to anguish with just 14 minutes played as the visitors took the lead.
As they have so regularly been this season, Charlton were the victims of their own downfall. The normally reliable Chris Solly dispossessed by Grabban, allowing the forward to break down the flank and cut the ball back to Howson, who finished coolly.
Those suicidal errors can be forgiven if there is a response, but there so rarely is. Instead, self-belief drops further and drive all but disappears. Hopeless punts forward and lethargic backwards passing only adding to the discontent inside The Valley.
In fact, only Norwich’s wastefulness stopped them going further ahead, with the Canaries taking advantage of the non-existent Charlton shape and Addicks seemingly clueless as to what their duty was.
Nathan Redmond was given plenty of space at the far-post, but could only fire straight at Dmitrovic, while the tamest of efforts to prevent Norwich getting forward eventually saw the ball fall to Johnson, who horribly blasted over when it seemed easier to score.
But such reprieves did not lower the anger in the Covered End as Charlton’s level of performance only grew worse. “You’re not Mourinho” sent Luzon’s way as he pranced around his technical area, portraying a man who knew what he was doing.
And nor were his players world class. Rhoys Wiggins’ decision to stop, believing the ball had gone out of play, almost proving costly as Grabban strolled past the motionless left-back and delivered a cross with just too much on it for Johnson to connect. The boos growing louder, the atmosphere increasingly poisonous.
Alas, at least Norwich’s toothlessness provided the hosts with some hope, even if the countless misplaced passes suggested there absolutely was none.
Such hope, however, seemingly vanished just before the break as Norwich scored a second goal that summarised every on-pitch problem the Addicks currently have.
Buyens too slow in possession, and showing no desire to win it back. Bikey and Tal Ben Haim not organised and not communicating. Dmitrovic ill-disciplined and reckless. Having won the ball in the middle, Johnson delivered a ball that cut through Charlton’s centre-backs, and allowed Grabban to lob over a goalkeeper who had raced off his line without thought.
Under previous managers, with previous squads, going two goals down was never an excuse to give up, but here it seemed impossible to believe. “You don’t know what you’re doing” was followed by “you’re getting sacked in the morning”, with Luzon seemingly out of his depth.
So too were there calls for Duchatelet to be removed, and desperate pleas for the Charlton of old to return. It was necessary and justifiable, but so depressing to be involved in an atmosphere that emphasised the lowly state of this football club.
The loudest of boos met Luzon as he walked, head bowed, down the tunnel, and the head coach responded by replacing the horrendous Bulot with Watt. It seemed a case of too little, too late.
And that might have been confirmed when Steven Whittaker’s cross picked out an unmarked Johnson, but he could only head wide. The space Charlton were handing to Norwich’s wide men and those waiting inside the box still inexcusable.
There also remained a lack of composure, let alone creativity, which prevented the Addicks getting forward. There was effort, not least from Cousins and Jackson, but the ball pinged off their feet at all angles and opportunities to pass were rarely available.
Further cause for anger was provided when Jackson was replaced by Callum Harriott, while Buyens continued to uninterestedly dawdle around the centre of the pitch. In truth, the skipper was evidently not fit, but even a 50% fit Jackson was putting in 2000% more effort than Buyens. The chances of Charlton winning the ball in the middle now seemingly below zero.
So it came as a shock when, out of nothing, Watt put the Addicks back into the game with 61 minutes gone. Played through by Vetokele, the Scot finished with the composure the rest of Charlton’s game was lacking.
But it didn’t particularly feel like game on. The goal not celebrated with any real vigour in the stands, and the Addicks continuing to look a complete mess in the centre of midfield and at the back.
In fact, it should have been game over when Norwich carved out their next opening. Redmond too good for Wiggins, but his cut back was fired well over by Grabban from the edge of the box.
But the Canaries were seemingly intent on capitulating. Having been in complete control, Alex Neil must have been perplexed as to how his side’s performance had declined so dramatically.
There was sloppiness, with passes misplaced and composure lacking, and the Addicks capitalised once more with 68 played.
Again, it was a goal that almost caught you off guard, with Harriott driving forward and combining with Watt for the former to fire at goal. His effort, however, was saved by Ruddy, but Vetokele was the quickest to react, hammering home the rebound and scoring his first goal since Charlton’s last victory three months ago.
It wasn’t pure jubilation in SE7, but the poisonous atmosphere had been replaced by one of genuine hope. If you’d been transported to The Valley from the past, you’d be forgiven for believing you’d appeared in the middle of a famous night under the floodlights.
And, with momentum now with the Addicks, there was some momentum, not least provided by Cousins’ determined effort in the middle. Had his teammates displayed such attributes, the fight of this Charlton side could not be questioned.
But too many were still half-hearted in their performance. Bikey seemingly unable to stay balanced and spending most of his time smashing balls out of play, while Buyens’ attempts to avoid the ball, or chasing after a Norwich man, at all costs were commendable.
It meant the point was by no means safe, not least with the Addicks continuing to struggle to defend from corners and crosses. Grabban couldn’t quite get enough on his header straight after Charlton’s equaliser, Dmitrovic’s decision to emulate Yohann Thuram, flapping unnecessarily at a corner, almost allowed the Canaries the chance to regain their lead, and a completely unmarked Russell Martin could only head over from a corner.
But those reprieves weren’t enough for Charlton to realise that greater organisation was required. Wes Hoolahan was gifted the space to cross to Jerome, who left Bikey with ease, and the forward’s header picked out the corner of the net perfectly. There may have been seven minutes to play, but there was no coming back from this.
The despair that the fight back had momentarily covered up returned; the poisonous and uncomfortable feel inside The Valley again overwhelming.
Embarrassment spared by the character shown to draw level, earning applause for some at full-time, but there was no getting away from just how dreadful this performance was, how tamely Norwich were allowed to regain their lead and how desperate the current situation is at Charlton.
It was a night belonging to a club in a state of disrepair. A night where the fight of few was made meaningless by the gutless efforts of several. A night where, once again, our love for this club was tested.
For even when we are shown some fight, it’s tempered by a horrendous overall performance and a feeling around the ground that is simply painful.
These poisonous atmospheres will remain for as long as this cancer spreads around our club, but something I once loved has become a chore. I will be there, I always will, but it’s so hard to take that supporting Charlton is no longer providing me with joy nor escapism.
From a very basic football side of things, the only escaping Charlton will be doing at this rate is from the Championship and into League One. For all but around 15 minutes, the displays was utterly woeful.
As a collective, the biggest issue was that there was no organisation. Opposition players continuously in space and unmarked, the Addicks frequently out of position and there seemingly no structure to the side. Luzon completely clueless.
A complete contrast from the reverse fixture; Norwich stifled at Carrow Road but allowed to play their passing game here. Only when, for whatever reason, the Canaries regressed somewhat, were Charlton brave enough to have a go, and they were rewarded with two goals.
Of course, the character shown to respond deserves credit, and I can’t praise the fight shown by Cousins, Watt and Vetokele enough. But almost immediately, the Addicks re-entered their horribly nervy state. The lack of composure in this side is scarcely believable.
That also being one of the biggest concerns among individuals. It’s lacking in Solly and Wiggins, whose error-prone displays unnatural to players of such quality.
But they were not the worst. That honour, with fight from the completely out of sorts Bikey and the painfully poor Bulot, belongs to Buyens.
I’m struggling to think of a performance in my time as a Charlton fan that lacked effort as much as Buyens’ did. For the entire second half he applied no effort whatsoever, and was completely careless whenever the ball came his way. I’d go as far to say that he was a disgrace, and it would be such if he started against Brentford on Saturday. You feel, however, he probably will.
And while Luzon continues to pick such players, deploy such tactics and lead a side unware of their roles, there will be no on-the-pitch success to divert from the troubles off it.
We’re in relegation trouble, but the more troubling concern is that the love is slowly fading.