There might well come a point where it’s easy to move on. Time might heal or we might grow to love the replacement more. But it doesn’t ease the pain.
Better was deserved after years of invaluable service, of unforgettable moments and a respect for supporters that was returned. An unceremonious binning, totally ignoring the evidence that suggested doing so would only hinder the Addicks.
Those who still feel heartbroken and angered by the decision, a decision that meant they lost trust in the ownership, will receive a reminder why they’re so disappointed on Saturday. They’ll see first-hand the brilliance for one final time, and will want to appreciate it, no matter who tells them to move on and get over it.
For the final game of the season against Bournemouth will also be Floyd and Harvey’s final appearance at The Valley. The popular mascots, who have provided joy to young and old, represented the club superbly and consistently shown a better first touch when knocking a ball around than most players in red, are being culled.
Oh, and some bloke called Kermorgant or something is coming back. And he’ll be celebrating a promotion to the Premier League at The Valley, a promotion that he played a huge part in. He could even have a medal around his neck come full-time.
But it isn’t Charlton’s promotion. Depressing, that.
LAST MEETING: BOURNEMOUTH 1-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
A rampant Bournemouth inflicted Charlton’s first defeat of the season at Dean Court in October, with the Addicks fortunate to lose by one.
Callum Wilson’s third minute goal was enough to give the Cherries victory, but the hosts tore through Charlton’s backline on several occasions. Marc Pugh and Matt Ritchie terrorising Chris Solly and Rhoys Wiggins, and Bournemouth unlucky not to double their lead at any point.
While the occasional dip in form and the strength of their challengers means their promotion won’t be confirmed until the final day of the season, the Cherries are fully deserving of their top two finish.
At their best, which is frequently reached, there is no better side to watch in the division. Harry Arter has been one of the outstanding performers of the season, the pace of Pugh, Ritchie and Wilson is a constant threat, while Kermorgant’s brilliance and goals have been so crucial.
Praise, too, has to be given to their backline, with the likes of Artur Boruc, Steve Cook and, unfortunately, Simon Francis consistently solid.
Those qualities have shone through in recent weeks. Eddie Howe’s side are unbeaten in 12, winning eight of those games.
And while the draw with Sheffield Wednesday a fortnight ago appeared a little costly, Middlesbrough’s slip-up at Fulham and their impressive defeat of Bolton has given them the reward they deserve.
But Bournemouth won’t rest now that their promotion is all but confirmed. A win at The Valley could see them crowned champions should Watford fail to beat Wednesday.
Guy Luzon’s assessment of Charlton’s defeat to Birmingham couldn’t have been fairer. If it wasn’t the worst performance of his reign, then it was certainly the worst performance since he taught his side how to win again. A defeat that was certainly deserved.
For the Addicks, as they have for several weeks, looked mentally tired, physically drained, and unwilling to push themselves to their very best with nothing to play for.
It is, of course, a massive shame that the season is ending like this. In fact, you could probably argue it’s tainting the good work done throughout February and March.
I’m not quite sure I agree with that, with a mid-table finish still commendable enough, but Luzon will be desperate to send Charlton supporters away for the summer with a positive final memory.
Bournemouth will welcome back Francis after the full-back missed Monday’s victory over Bolton through suspension.
The 30-year-old, despite failing to impress for the Addicks in League One, has been sensational for the Cherries and is likely to replace Adam Smith in Howe’s starting line-up.
But all the attention will be another former Addick. Kermorgant, who has been outstanding this season to the surprise of only Roland Duchatelet, is sure to get a fantastic welcome back from The Valley crowd.
That isn’t to say home supporters will be hoping the Frenchman pulls off a signature piece of magic on the final day of the season.
Charlton could give a start to Joe Gomez after the 17-year-old centre-back was rested for last weekend’s defeat to Birmingham.
Gomez will come in for either Tal Ben Haim or Roger Johnson, but all three could be in an Addicks squad for the last time against Bournemouth. The experienced duo are both out-of-contract, while Gomez has been attracted interest from the Premier League’s powerhouses.
It might also be a final Valley appearance for Simon Church, who is unlikely to have his contract renewed, and Chris Eagles, who is yet to sign an extension to his short-term deal. But both are likely to start on the bench.
Also set to be on the bench will be former Bournemouth man Rhoys Wiggins, who remains an unpopular figure among Cherries supporters following the manner in which he departed the club in 2011. The Welshman impressed in his one appearance since returning from injury at Bolton, but Luzon has stuck by Morgan Fox otherwise.
KEY BATTLE – STOPPING BOURNEMOUTH’S ATTACKING THREAT
Let’s be honest – Bournemouth are brutally brilliant. It was seen first-hand at Dean Court in October, and was witnessed on Sky Sports on Monday night. Both the Addicks and the Trotters decimated by a rampant attacking force.
And if Charlton are to have any chance of spoiling the Cherries’ party, they must offer a great deal more defensive resilience than they did against the same opposition earlier on in the season. Simple balls over the top were sending Wilson through on goal, with Ben Haim and Andre Bikey stranded, while Pugh and Ritchie kept dragging Solly and Wiggins out of position before leaving them for dead.
In fact, a serious improvement is needed on recent defensive efforts, with frailties at the back exposed in this disappointing run of results since the international break.
Replacing Johnson for Gomez would be a good start, with the young defender’s agility, awareness and strength our best bet to combat Wilson, while Ben Haim will at least provide some sort of aerial challenge for Kermorgant.
In the case of the wide men, it’s vital that Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Frederic Bulot do their fair share of tracking back to offer support for Solly and Fox.
Unfortunately, it means the Addicks will have to behave like the away team at The Valley on Saturday, dropping deep and relying on their prowess on the break to cause a threat. But anything else will see Luzon’s men face embarrassment.
We might as well give Floyd and Harvey a run out. We’d stand just as much chance as winning as we would with a full strength XI. Bournemouth will be fired up, and Howe will make sure that doesn’t result in complacency. Charlton Athletic 0-3 Bournemouth
As the season reaches its conclusion, Charlton supporters can be thankful that their side found some energetic, enthusiastic and dominant displays when they were needed the most.
The inability to reach the performance levels seen throughout the majority of February and March, without necessarily being worrying, is hugely disappointing. While the threat of relegation provided motivation and victories produced the confidence for more, the Addicks have been unable to perform with nothing to play for.
In fact, such was the evident mental and physical tiredness throughout Guy Luzon’s men, it might well have been better for all parties if they hadn’t been forced to fulfil their final away fixture of the campaign.
If that was the case, they would not have been a position to give a half-hearted performance. Their efforts frustrating the visiting supporters at St Andrew’s, and tainting the excellent work done early on in the season.
Nor would have Birmingham centre-back Michael Morrison reminded those away fans what they were missing. The former Addick excellent as part of a back line that stifled Tony Watt and Charlton’s attacking threat in general.
And the Blues would have recorded a scoreline that reflected their dominance. Stephen Henderson’s heroics, in addition to some horrendous finishing from the hosts, looked to have earned the Addicks a rather undeserved point before Lloyd Dyer drilled in a superb winner with eight minutes to play.
Irrespective of the lateness of the goal, there could be no complaints with Gary Rowett’s hardworking side claiming victory. Instead, there could only be complaints that Luzon’s lot did not work hard enough.
It has been the case for some performances in recent weeks, but rotation could not be blamed for this sluggish and disjointed display. The starting line-up more or less the one used throughout the run of seven wins from nine games.
That meant a return to the XI for Johann Berg Gudmundsson, who had transformed last Saturday’s clash with Leeds after coming at half-time, with Chris Eagles missing out.
There was also a start for Jordan Cousins, replacing Alou Diarra, while Roger Johnson, booed throughout by the supporters of his former club, came in for Joe Gomez.
However, it became quickly apparent an XI that had previously produced some stunning performances were not going to be replicating them. The Addicks lacking urgency on the ball, and choosing not to press with energy when the Blues had it.
And the Blues were agonisingly close to punishing such sluggishness. The space awarded to Robert Tesche allowed him to fire at goal from 30-yards, with only a combination of Henderson’s finger-tips and the crossbar denying the German.
It was undoubtedly the case that they were fortunate not to be behind, but it was hoped such a scare would kick the Addicks into life. Gudmundsson, cutting inside and testing Charlton academy graduate Darren Randolph, gave some sort of hint that that would be the case.
But they remained incredibly frail at the back, with Clayton Donaldson frequently getting in behind and the tricky Demarai Gray’s goalbound effort blocked impressive by Johnson.
In fact, had Birmingham possessed even the smallest amount of composure in the final third, Charlton would have surely fallen behind at some point in the opening 15 minutes. The biggest chance falling to Diego Fabbrini, who stabbed wide despite being picked out unmarked by Gray and just six yards from goal.
With Donaldson heading over following one of Birmingham’s many short corners and Fabbrini allowed to drive into the box before skewing an effort off-target, there was no let-up in the pressure the Addicks were being put under.
With possession being handed to the Blues and the back line constantly being caught out of position, it was largely self-inflicted pressure.
They also appeared devoid of ideas going forward, with the Birmingham back four in full control.
So it came as quite a surprise to see the ball fall kindly for Watt inside the opposition’s half with a clear run on goal ahead of him. In normal circumstances, he would have driven forward and brushed off the defenders, but such was their dominance, he opted for an early strike. Only the faintest of finger-tips from Randolph took his fierce strike over the bar.
At the very least, it got a previously subdued away end into full voice, if not changing the overall pattern of play on the pitch. Henderson, evidently in some discomfort having taken some pain killers before kick-off and stretching at every opportunity, pulled off another stunning save to prevent Tesche beating him at his near post.
It led to a well-deserved appreciation for the Charlton stopper as he left the field at half-time, before a former Charlton stopper got a decent reception from his former supporters.
But much more was needed to be shown from the Addicks if they were to find a way past Randolph. Attacking intent limited throughout the first half, and restricted further by Birmingham’s unrelenting desire to capitalise upon Charlton’s sloppiness.
They were everything Luzon’s side were not, and the interval did little to change that. A succession of corners camping the Blues firmly in Charlton’s half, before a succession of David Cotterill efforts had the visiting supporters concerned.
The first strike did not trouble Henderson, although the Welshman’s attempt flashed uncomfortably close to the far post. The second called the goalkeeper into action, but he was untroubled by Cotterill’s low drive. The third left the stopper stranded, with an effort curled onto the inside of the post and Gray unable to react to tap into the rebound.
Even two unlikely faces seen in the away end would have been a little concerned by the pressure their current and former side were being put under.
And so to would Johnnie Jackson and Ben Hamer been delighted as finally, with just over an hour played, something clicked for the Addicks.
Where it came from is anyone’s guess, but there was suddenly some spark in Charlton’s forward play. Watt beat a man, delivered a fantastic through ball to Igor Vetokele, and the Angolan stung the palms of Randolph.
But their best chance to go ahead would come in their next attack. On two occasions a Charlton player had a clear sight of goal inside the box, but on two occasions an effort on goal couldn’t be made. Chris Solly and substitute Chris Eagles swinging and missing like a number 11 batsman.
The crusade on Birmingham’s goal, however, was not yet over. The shackles lifted off of Watt, the roar of expectation has he drove forward heard once more, but Randolph equal to his resulting shot and Vetokele hitting the deck before he could hit the rebound.
It would have been easy for Rowett, regularly appreciated by the home supporters in their final home game of the season, to look to sure up his side in the face of these Charlton attacks. But the former Addick decided an injection of attacking flair was needed, with Dyer onto replace Cotterill.
The change proved a match-winning move. Not only did the substitution itself stifle Charlton’s momentum, but Dyer provided pace and energy that spread throughout his side. The winger slicing an effort just wide as his side began to dominate once more.
Luzon played a card of his own, withdrawing the largely ineffective Vetokele for the energy of Church, who immediately bombed down the right and won his side a useful free-kick. Randolph, however, punched clear before the awaiting Johnson could connect with the delivery.
At the very least, Church and Watt were lively in attack and holding the ball up well enough to suggest the Addicks could limit Birmingham’s forward threat.
And when a burst forward from Watt won his side a corner, there was belief in the away end that their side could steal an unlikely, and undeserved, victory.
Alas, the set-piece proved a disaster. Having taken it short, Eagles’ resulting ball into the box was tame, and allowed the hosts to break.
There were, however, several opportunities for the move to be stopped, not least when sub Wes Thomas somehow managed to beat Cousins to the ball in midfield. He set it back for Tesche, who picked up Dyer’s run superbly, allowing him to take a couple of strides before lashing a quality strike into the bottom corner.
Deserved? Definitely. Avoidable? Certainly. It may not have mattered in the grand scheme of things, but Charlton at least fighting for the final few minutes to cling onto a point would have been nice to see.
Instead, they had to fight the hard way. But the one chance they did create to equalise summed up their afternoon – Watt picked out unmarked at the back post but dragging his shot tamely wide.
In fact, Henderson, arguably the only Charlton player to come out of the afternoon positively, was called upon for the umpteenth time to keep the deficit at one. Paul Caddis’ drive from a narrow angle palmed away by the stopper.
But, by now, attention had turned to events closer to the South East London homes of many supporters in the away end. Not only were they desperate to get home after a dire Charlton display, but Millwall’s late demise against Derby was being celebrated.
If we didn’t laugh at our rivals, we would only have cried at our own performance.
Or maybe we would have cried at Morrison wearing a shirt colour that really didn’t suit him. The Blue came over to the away end at full-time, and spent a prolonged period of time applauding his former supporters.
That he still had the energy to clap for a good few minutes is commendable. The centre-back had worked tirelessly throughout the game, and embodied a determined and fighting quality that Birmingham seemed to have.
It was not a case of them wanting it more, or any tired cliché like that, but they were certainty fully-committed and possessed bundles more energy and effort than the Addicks. If their finishing had not been so dire, and Henderson so brilliant, Charlton would have been crushed.
But the Addicks would have been crushed not because Birmingham put in a performance worthy of four or five goals, but because they were so poor.
At the back, Ben Haim’s second half performance kept Charlton in it, winning almost everything in the air and performing like he did at the start of the campaign, but the rest of the back line were suspect. Solly and Fox caught out a worrying amount of times, while Johnson’s positioning and awareness so often left him looking a little lost.
However, the defence were made to occasionally appear suspect because they were put under so much pressure by Charlton’s sluggish performance in midfield. After a better performance last week, Buyens returned to a slow and laboured display, while Cousins struggled to keep the ball and rarely made an impact. Birmingham’s energy frequently allowing them to win the midfield battle.
And that is the most frustrating thing. The below-par performances don’t need dissecting and immense scrutiny, it’s simply a case that, for whatever reason, the intensity that won the Addicks games has been replaced by sluggish and sloppy displays.
There’s an argument to suggest it matters little. The season is over, and performances are an irrelevance.
But I do feel the players have a duty to perform to their very best regardless of whether we’re marooned in mid-table or not. I don’t believe I’m being unfair to demand a little bit better than what I saw today.
We at least owe it to the other teams in the promotion race not to keel over and accept defeat against Bournemouth next week.
If you have joined Seb Lewis at every Charlton away game so far this season, using The Valley as your starting point, you would have clocked up 6,758.2 miles.
You would have celebrated five wins, questioned whether nine draws were a point gained or two lost, and endured a depressing journey home after nine defeats.
The committed travellers have been treated to 21 goals from the Addicks, but have held their heads in their hands on the 33 occasions that Stephen Henderson, Nick Pope and Neil Etheridge and Marko Dmitrovic have been beaten.
Those hardy souls have one last 280 mile return journey, made in irrational hope rather than expectation, before they can put their feet up for the summer and enjoy their weekends without self-inflicted stress.
Final away games of the season have been jolly occasions in recent times. A Callum Harriott hat-trick, a Bradley Pritchard goal (!!!) and Chris Powell and Alex Dyer engaging in a crossbar challenge delighting the visiting supporters, fancy-dressed or otherwise.
And those in attendance at St Andrew’s, a ground where the Addicks have lost just once since the turn of the century, on Saturday will be hoping for a similar party atmosphere, irrespective of the fact neither side have anything to play for and Birmingham’s impressive home record.
LAST MEETING: CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-1 BIRMINGHAM CITY
David Davis’ second-half strike punished a sloppy Charlton, who were somewhat fortunate to drop just two points at The Valley in October.
The Addicks looked destined for victory when Igor Vetokele’s opener capped off a fantastic opening period of play for the hosts.
But Bob Peeters’ side, instead of building upon their impressive start, chose to sit back and invite Birmingham back into the game.
The Blues looked to have drawn level when Koby Arthur tapped home from Clayton Donaldson’s pull-back, but the latter was wrongly ruled offside, infuriating Lee Clark.
The equaliser they deserved, however, arrived at the start of the second period. Davis drilled beyond Stephen Henderson after a corner was only half-cleared to earn his side a point.
The Blues’ recent indifferent form is reflective of their mid-table position, but Gary Rowett has certainly made a positive impact since taking charge in October.
The former Burton boss has not only lifted Birmingham comfortably away from a relegation zone that they had flirted with for many months before his arrival, but he’s corrected the club’s torrid home form under Lee Clark.
In fact, after two home wins throughout the whole of last season, St Andrew’s has become something of a fortress since Rowett’s appointment. The Blues are seven without defeat at home, and have suffered defeat in the league at St Andrew’s only twice since the crushing 8-0 loss to Bournemouth did for Clark.
Just as it appeared Guy Luzon’s side were going to end the season in disappointing and dull fashion, Johann Berg Gudmundsson provided the exciting spark needed to end a run of four without a win.
Gudmundsson, a half-time substitute in Saturday’s victory, played a vital part in both goals as the Addicks recovered from going behind to Steve Morison’s first-half strike to beat Leeds.
The Iceland international provided the assist for Tony Watt’s excellent equaliser, before his run eventually resulted in Stuart Taylor conceding a penalty, which Yoni Buyens converted.
However, Charlton’s overall performance was still somewhat disappointing – Henderson was required to save a first-half Sharp penalty and it certainly didn’t warrant victory.
They remain someway off their flowing best that was shown during the run of seven wins from nine that has left them comfortably in mid-table.
Michael Morrison will make his first appearance against his former since departing from SE7 in October.
The centre-back, an almost ever-present in his three full seasons at The Valley, was a popular figure while an Addick, and is sure to get a good reception from the visiting supporters at St Andrew’s on Saturday.
But the Blues could be without Diego Fabbrini after the Watford loanee was substituted during the first-half of Wednesday’s win over Reading.
The Italian is alleged to have had a protective face mask broken after Royals midfield Nathaniel Chalobah threw a punch at him and he may now not be risked.
Charlton look set to be without Alou Diarra after the midfielder was forced off with an injury during last weekend’s win over Leeds.
His absence will mean Jordan Cousins, rested for the visit of the Whites, will return to the starting XI, while Gudmundsson, whose second half impact won the Addicks the game, is also likely to come back into the side.
But with Luzon seemingly intent on rotating his side in the final weeks of the season, predicting his starting line-up with confidence is difficult. Rhoys Wiggins, Roger Johnson and Karlan Ahearne-Grant are among those pushing for a place.
KEY BATTLE – EXPLOITING THE BLUES ON THE BREAK
During the impressive winning run that lifted the Addicks clear of trouble, their need not to maintain possession for long periods was part of their armoury.
For Luzon’s side were organised and tight, giving the opposition time on the ball but little space to create anything meaningful, and deadly on the break. Possession rarely above 40%, but the goals scored stat frequently looking rather healthy.
However, in recent away games, Charlton’s inability to hold the ball has been a hindrance. With rotation and the fact the Addicks have nothing to play for partly to blame, not only has the attacking spark on the break lessened, but the energy in midfield has decreased.
It allowed Millwall, Sheffield Wednesday and Bolton to control the tempo of the game, while Fulham and Leeds, at least for a half, did much the same at The Valley. Charlton thankful in most cases that their opposition were tame in front of goal.
And with Birmingham full of confidence, not only given their home form but on the back of a fantastic away win at the Madjeski on Wednesday, a similar pattern will unfold should the Addicks be sluggish once again.
It is therefore vital that the same threat on the break that Gudmundsson showed against Leeds is repeated.
When you have a player performing to such a standard, and creating such a threat, the overall performance need not be brilliant, but the Iceland international will require some support against a Birmingham side more lethal in attack and more organised at the back.
Birmingham have made themselves tough to beat at home this season and, despite Gudmundsson’s match-winning influence last weekend, Charlton still appear to be ending the season in sluggish fashion. A draw would be a decent result. Birmingham City 1-1 Charlton Athletic
It was a performance that did not warrant victory. Unorganised, unimaginative and lifeless; such woes would have been capitalised upon by the opposition under most circumstances.
But when you have a match-winner in your side, you’ve got every chance of claiming three points regardless of whether the overall efforts mean they’re deserved or not.
For the second half impact of Johann Berg Gudmundsson, a half-time substitute, was at the heart of an unlikely turnaround for Charlton.
The Iceland international was ably assisted by Stephen Henderson, who saved a Billy Sharp penalty and made a string of other stops to make sure Leeds United didn’t go in at the break more than a goal up. Steve Morison’s volley putting the visitors ahead as the interval approached.
And for much of the second 45, it looked like the former Millwall man’s goal would be enough. The Addicks too slow, too static, and too cautious in their attempts to get forward in search of an equaliser.
So it was the case that Charltoin’s 75th minute equaliser had not been coming, and came out of nothing. Gudmundsson’s sublime ball to the back post met by Tony Watt and emphatically volleyed beyond a hapless Stuart Taylor.
The goal did not energise the entire side, but it certainly did Gudmundsson. A stunning run resulted in a shot that Taylor could only parry straight to Igor Vetokele, forcing the stand-in goalkeeper to haul the Angolan to the crowd. Yoni Buyens, as ever, making no mistake from the spot.
It wasn’t pretty, and many were totally perplexed as to how the Addicks had managed to pull off such a fightback when disappointment looked a certainty, but the class of Gudmundsson met the full-time whistle was met with celebrations.
The absence of the winger’s name from the starting XI meant Charlton’s below par performance was probably predictable.
The Icelander was benched, along with Jordan Cousins, Roger Johnson and Rhoys Wiggins as Guy Luzon continued his rather random end-of-season rotation policy. Chris Eagles, Joe Gomez, Tal Ben Haim and Morgan Fox coming into the side.
But, minus Rudolph Austin firing an effort just wide for Leeds after capitalising on the space offered to him, the Addicks started the game in bright fashion.
There was more energy and attacking intent than shown in Charlton’s recent dead rubbers, with Eagles and Frederic Bulot lively, and Watt and Vetokele looking to play in a direct fashion. Bulot’s shot-cum-cross narrowly avoiding Red shirts and the far post.
Such intensity, however, could not be maintained. The flow of the hosts disrupted by Alou Diarra jarring his knee in a strong challenge, forcing him off despite a valiant attempt to hobble around and continue.
Losing the Frenchman was by no means a disaster, especially with Cousins onto replace him, but it seemed to be the catalyst for change in the game’s overall pattern.
For Charlton were suddenly sluggish, and Leeds had burst into life. Luke Murphy left unmarked at the back post, but somehow conspiring to volley over, while indecisiveness from Henderson saw Morrison charge down his clearance and knock the ball just wide of goal.
Players in Leeds shirts weren’t being picked up, communication was seemingly non-existent and the gap between midfield and defence was far too big. Henderson called into action to deny Murphy after the midfielder was allowed to drive forward, before Sharp wasted a glorious opening, heading over from Sam Byram’s delivery.
The only silver lining for the Addicks was that Neil Redfearn’s depleted side was not infallible. With first choice goalkeeper Marco Silvestri one of the six players to declare themselves unfit for the game, Taylor was making his first league appearance of the season, and looking rather uncomfortable.
Having already struggled to deal with a number of corners delivered into his six-year box, the experienced benchwarmer flapped at another and sent it straight to Ben Haim on the edge of the box. With Taylor out of position, the Israeli only needed to get his effort on target, but a slight deflection on its way to goal meant the shot bounced back off the post.
And it proved be double frustration for Ben Haim as the defender gave Leeds a wonderful opportunity to take the lead just two minutes later.
Again, the Addicks were too slow and standing off their opponents far too much, resulting in Sam Bryam being picked out with a clear run to goal just inside the box. Ben Haim had to make some kind of intervention, but his challenge was rash, sending the Leeds man crashing to the ground and giving the referee little choice but to point to the spot.
It would have been a lead that Leeds’ efforts, or at least Charlton’s sloppiness, had warranted, but Henderson had other ideas. There was little wrong with Sharp’s penalty, but the goalkeeper dived full-stretch to tip the spot kick onto the post. A truly fantastic save.
It should have lifted the Addicks, or at least awoken to them the very real danger their performance was putting themselves under. It certainly got a previously sombre Valley crowd going.
Alas, those in red could not respond. For before the penalty save celebrations had stopped, Leeds were ahead. Horrendous marking from a corner, awarded after Henderson was forced into another fine stop, allowed Murphy to pick out Morison, who emphatically volleyed home. An effort struck so powerfully that not even Charlton’s number one, who got fingertips to it, could keep it out.
And although Cousins, driving forward in a manner his teammates had not for much of the half, searched for parity before the break, Taylor’s save meant the Addicks went in behind. A position they deserved to be in.
Nonetheless, it was not a case that this game was out of reach for the hosts. Leeds not an unstoppable force; Luzon’s men just not performing to the standards they have shown they are capable of.
So the sight of Gudmundsson, who would replace Eagles, going through a vigorous warm-up at half-time was promising. A player capable of providing the pace, energy and attacking intent that was missing.
His appearance had also seemed to have injected some life into his teammates. Vetokele may have sliced a glorious opening wide after superb play from Watt allowed him to tee up his strike partner, but it was promising.
But, much like in the first period, early promise could not be maintained. It was not for the want of trying, but the Addicks were really struggling to make any sort of impact in the final third. Gudmundsson lacking a final ball, Watt taking too long in possession and absolutely nothing going for Vetokele. The Angolan’s cynical scythe on Charlie Taylor summing up the level of frustration inside The Valley.
The visitors were also struggling, limited to ambitious long range efforts that were never going to trouble Henderson as the game entering an incredibly stale period. You could have fallen asleep were it not for the ever noisy Leeds fans making a racket in the away end.
They had previously sung “who needs the Italians”, and they had the cause to sing that again when Taylor made a good stop after the ball had fallen kindly into a shooting position for Buyens. It wasn’t pretty, but Leeds were doing a decent enough job of clinging onto their lead.
However, affording space to Charlton’s two most dangerous players meant their work was undone with 15 minutes to play.
But to focus on the role Leeds’ backline had in the equaliser would take away from the brilliance of the goal. Gudmundsson’s outstanding cross finished in a fashion such a delivery deserved, with Watt’s volley too good for the English goalkeeper in front of him, and the absent Italian one.
It was undeserved on the balance of play, or it was at least the case that the Addicks had not done enough to warrant an equaliser, but that mattered little as the mood, and noise, increased in the Covered End.
Gudmundsson was seemingly thriving upon it, and there was a roar of expectation as he collected the ball inside his own half and bombed forward. He’d got to the edge of the box before a Leeds man applied any real pressure on him, but he was still able to get a shot away that was difficult for Taylor to deal with. The goalkeeper palming it away and not able to react to collect the loose ball.
Vetokele, however, was. The forward who had frustrated home supporters and been frustrated with himself showed great strength of character to be alive inside the box and touch the ball beyond Taylor just as the ‘keep tried to reclaim the ball. The second stonewall penalty of the afternoon.
And unlike Leeds’ spot-kick, there was never any doubt about Charlton converting theirs. Buyens converting was a formality, and, somehow, the Addicks had managed to record a remarkable turnaround having looked hopeless six minutes earlier.
But with ten minutes remaining, celebrations had a hint of caution about them. The sluggishness in defensive duties throughout the afternoon meant this game was not won. Austin, the bulldozer-type character constantly at the heart of everything for Leeds, drilling another effort goalwards that Henderson saved well.
Heads, however, had seemingly dropped among the visitors. Not at all surprising given their situation, and making Charlton’s task to close out the game a slightly easier one, even with five minutes added on.
In fact, Leeds could not muster a single meaningful opportunity has the game headed towards its conclusion. The Addicks sensible at the back; the Whites without threat or firepower.
It meant those cautionary celebrations could finally become full-blown victory fist-pumps. Not pretty, not one that will last in the memory, but an enjoyable victory nonetheless.
In truth, this was a harsh defeat on Leeds. In the circumstances, their efforts were commendable, and they looked to be dealing with Charlton’s threat very well before Gudmundsson burst into life.
And that was undoubtedly the difference between the two sides come full-time. The visitors depleted and lacking quality; the Addicks able to write off a poor performance with individual brilliance.
For Luzon’s men were, at times, very disappointing, especially against such a troubled opponent. As has been the case in recent weeks, urgency, energy and intensity doesn’t seem to be something that can be mustered up by this side in a state of having nothing to play for.
But there’s more than one way to win a game, and there is absolutely no shame in relying upon the quality of an individual or too to see you over the line. Henderson’s saves, penalty and in open plan, Gudmundsson’s creativity, something that was desperately lacking while he wasn’t on the pitch, and the character of Watt and Vetokele to keep plugging away in a testing afternoon all crucial.
If it was even needed, today was a huge reminder that keeping the quality that exists in this squad into next season is absolutely vital. That quality has pushed the Addicks into 10th, and the platform is now set.
As Charlton entered their penultimate home fixture of last season, their Championship status remained in the balance.
In fact, following the completion of that penultimate home fixture, their Championship status was no closer to being secured. A worrying performance in a 3-1 defeat to Blackburn Rovers had many nervous.
The Addicks went on to secure their safety with a Callum Harriott-inspired victory over Watford three days later, but it remained an incredibly stressful period for supporters.
It means that having something to play for isn’t always worthwhile. Charlton’s sluggish grind to the end of the campaign may be rather dull and a little bit disappointing, but it certainly beats a constant feeling of impending doom.
Nonetheless, a continuation of such below-par performances will see the summer entered with a little bit of a bitter taste in the mouth. The run of seven wins from nine tainted by the half-hearted end to the campaign.
It is therefore vital, if not for league position then future confidence and current enjoyment, that the Addicks take advantage of a Leeds side whose end to the season, despite having nothing to play for, hasn’t quite been so stress free.
LAST MEETING – LEEDS UNITED 2-2 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s brace twice begged back the hosts to earn a share of the spoils for his side at Elland Road in November.
Leeds went in front just after the break through Alex Mowatt, who was given the space to curl an effort beyond the reaches of Stephen Henderson.
And although Gudmundsson, stabbing home from a tight angle, soon equalised for the Addicks, Neil Redfearn’s men were back in front five minutes later when Mowatt crashed in an effort from distance.
But Charlton were given the chance to rescue a point with less than ten minutes to play, with Tal Ben Haim dragged to the floor by Giuseppe Bellusci at a corner.
While Leeds continued to bemoan the rather dubious award of the spot-kick, Gudmundsson stepped up and coolly converted to deny the hosts victory.
Most clubs dabble in being in crisis for a few months or so. A period of utter chaos before an owner gets his act together, the threat of administration is resolved or a manger is binned that can be looked back on with laughter when the club’s on sound footing again.
But Leeds have seemingly been in crisis for 12 years. Their periods out of it merely false dawns, as some initial positivity about Massimo Cellino’s reign has proven to be.
With the owner currently suspended, and doubts remaining over whether he will be allowed to return, assistant boss Steve Thompson suspended for disputed reasons and popular boss Redfearn facing an uncertain future, Leeds supporters have been left confused and angered.
Oh, and they’ve not won in five, which seems like a bit of an irreverence given the nature of their off-the-field issues and their mid-table position.
It was a familiar tale for the Addicks as the full-time whistle blew at the Macron Stadium on Tuesday night.
They had been bright in sparks, and had arguably done enough to win the game, but this remained a comparatively flat performance. A game they would have won had it been played during their winning run instead ended with Guy Luzon’s side clinging on for a point.
For the constant spark in Charlton’s play has vanished since the international break. The Addicks sitting far too deep, no longer pressing with intensity and energy, and lacking a consistent threat on the break.
Their three gritty 1-1 draws in a row reflective of that.
Leeds will welcome back Rudolph Austin after the combative midfielder completed his suspension in midweek.
The Whites could also welcome back 19-year-old Lewis Cook, who has been a revelation in another disappointing season for the Yorkshire club.
But manager Redfearn won’t want to rush back the promising youngster, especially with Leeds having little to play for.
Luzon looks set to continue his end of season rotation policy, with 17-year-old Joe Gomez likely to come back into the side.
He’ll replace Alou Diarra at the back, who could move into midfield are a number of disappointing displays from Yoni Buyens and Jordan Cousins in recent weeks.
There’s also competition for the left-back spot, with Rhoys Wiggins impressing on his return from injury in midweek, but Morgan Fox more than deserving of keeping his place in the side following an excellent few months deputising for his fellow Welshman.
KEY BATTLE – SHOWING ENERGY IN MIDFIELD
For all Leeds’ woes in recent weeks, and throughout the season, their midfield offers something for supporters to be excited about.
With or without the return of Cook, it contains a number of promising players, who had performed with character in the midst of worrying time #356353 at the club.
Alex Mowatt showed his ability in the return fixture, Charlie Taylor scored his first professional goal in the recent defeat to Wolves, while Luke Murphy has been considerable improvement after an indifferent start to his Leeds career.
And with Charlton sluggish in the middle in recent weeks, with Cousins showing signs of fatigue and Buyens continuing to start his months and months of struggles, it’s certainly an area from which Leeds could look to dominate the game.
Nonetheless, without a win in a five, the visitors to The Valley on Saturday will be depleted of confidence and there for the taking.
A return to the pressing play that was so crucial to Charlton’s winning run would give them every chance of controlling the game. Motivation and energy, which has seemingly been lacking since the Fulham game, needed.
Endless binary. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Leeds United
The hardy souls who had travelled to Bolton should have been anticipating victory celebrations as full-time approached. Instead, they were thankful their side’s late implosion had not resulted in defeat.
For had Liam Feeney shown even the smallest amount of composure in the game’s dying moments, then Charlton would have lost a game they had looked like winning for the vast majority of it.
In fact, the Addicks, without being dominant, looked in control of their own destiny from the ninth minute. Frederic Bulot’s excellent volleyed finish giving Guy Luzon’s side a lead with their first chance of the evening.
And while opportunities to double that lead were limited, the visitors were excellent at the back. Even when there was a momentary slip-up, toothless Bolton failed to test Stephen Henderson.
But just as Charlton were beginning to cause a very real threat on the break, Luzon opted to withdraw his main forward outlet. Tony Watt, and Igor Vetokele, replaced as Chris Eagles and Simon Church were introduced.
The mini-crusade on Bolton’s goal ended and the out ball was lost, putting the Addicks under pressure as the game entered its final 15 minutes.
Pressure that eventually told, with the previously faultless Alou Diarra allowing Barry Bannan to get the better of him, before the Scot fed through Adam Le Fondre to finish in typically clinical fashion.
And with the Macron Stadium crowd, on their side’s backs for much of the evening, finally fully behind the Wanderers, the hosts pushed on for a winner. A winner they would have scored, were it not for Feeney blasting over from a fantastic position with a minute to play.
It meant Charlton recorded a third consecutive 1-1 draw as their sluggish, forgettable, and somewhat disappointing end to the season continued.
There was hope of a performance more reminiscent of one seen during the run of seven wins from nine before kick-off, as Luzon brought two of the key men from those victories back into the side.
Watt, rested at Hillsborough on Saturday, came back in for Church, while Bulot replaced former Wanderer Eagles.
Rhoys Wiggins, making his first appearance in two months following injury, also returned in place of Morgan Fox, while it was one game too many for 17-year-old Joe Gomez, who was absent from the 18 altogether with Diarra starting at centre-back.
But Charlton’s half-rotated, half-refreshed side struggled to get going in the game’s opening moments. A slow start from the visitors resulting in Bannan curling an effort over from the edge of the box and Neil Danns lashing a strike that just swerved wide of Henderson’s far post.
So it was somewhat against the run of play that the Addicks took the lead. It was not, however, a goal lacking quality.
Chris Solly did superbly to keep the ball in play out on the right, and the Bolton head that won his resulting delivery could only succeed in knocking down perfectly for Bulot. The Standard Liege loanee wasn’t going to waste such a glorious opening, showing great composure to side-foot volley beyond Bogdan before sprinting off to celebrate with his head coach.
Nonetheless, the goal did little to change the overall pattern of the game. Bolton still having much of the ball, but lacking a real cutting edge. Groans from home ends getting louder as Le Fondre skewed two efforts horribly off-target either side of an important block from Roger Johnson after Danns had been played through.
In fact, the overall defensive efforts were encouraging. Solly and Diarra faultless, Johnson looked a lot more composed than he had in recent weeks, while Wiggins was making a very decent return to first-team action.
And with Charlton, as ever, possessing a threat on the break, it seemed those defensive efforts would be as good as an assist. Watt’s glancing header going just wide after a lovely bit of footwork and even better cross from Bulot.
But as the half drew to a close, there was a growing sense the failure of the Addicks to retain possession would be costly.
After Bannan had finally forced a save out of Henderson, only a crucial intervention from the face of Wiggins prevented Danns from scoring, while Josh Vela somehow conspired to strike over when presented with a glorious chance to score from just inside the box.
It meant the interval came at a fantastic time for the Addicks. Bolton just beginning to offer more of a real threat, and some cracks appearing in Charlton’s backline.
Those cracks, however, were still present after the break. Feeney and Bannan given the space to shoot narrowly off-target in the opening moments of the second half, before Rochina sliced horrendously high and wide – an effort that summed up the tame nature of Wanderers’ attempts to equalise.
Regardless, Charlton had a lot of work to do in order to maintain their lead, and desperately needed to stop affording their opponents so much space on the edge of the box. The Addicks far too slow to close down.
Alternatively, they could have scored a second and put the game to bed without an unnecessary defensive struggle. That seemed likely when fantastic hold play from Watt resulted in the Scot sending Bulot through on goal, only for Bogdan to race off his line and prevent the Gabon international from scoring his second of the game.
It was an opportunity that really should have been taken, but it did seem to give Charlton the self-belief to offer more of a persistent attacking threat. Johann Berg Gudmundsson, who had previously delighted the away supporters with a series of kick-ups that deceived Vela, cutting inside and forcing a good save out of Bogdan.
And Bogdan was called upon again moments later as Watt, in typical fashion, danced into the box and saw his resulting effort blocked away by the feet of the goalkeeper.
The lively Watt, however, was not done there. Another fantastic run, livening up a quiet away end, didn’t quite have the finish to match, with Bogdan well behind the effort from the edge of the box.
With Charlton’s Scottish talisman starting to come into his own, it seemed the worst possible time to withdraw him from the action. Alas, Luzon saw otherwise, taking off Watt and the hardworking Vetokele, replacing them with Eagles, not a striker, and Church, dubiously called one.
Immediately the pace of the visitors’ moves forward were slowed, with Eagles looking a little lost for ideas when receiving the ball on a number of occasions, and Bolton’s backline, including former Addick Dorian Dervite, consistently beating Church to Charlton’s punts forward.
By contrast, Bolton were growing back into the game. Neil Lennon’s substitutions having a much more positive impact, with Emile Heskey putting himself about up top and Mark Davies looking sharp in the middle.
And while Davies’ impact especially settled Bolton down and gave them control of the game in the middle, it was his midfield counterpart that created Bolton’s equaliser.
Bannan had seemingly run into the brick wall Diarra was impersonating, but Charlton’s makeshift centre-back crumbled in disappointing fashion. The ball getting trapped in his feet after blocking off the Crystal Palace loanee, allowing Bannan to regain possession and feed Le Fondre, who took one touch before striking beyond Henderson.
It was an equaliser that had hardly been coming, but one the Addicks had long invited, even before the questionable removal of Watt and Vetokele. Sluggish, slow and comparatively lacklustre once again.
Even with Yoni Bueyns seeing a deflected volley saved by Bogdan, Charlton couldn’t get back into any sort of tempo for the remainder of the match.
In fact, they were made to cling onto their point desperately as full-time approached. More blocks than Lego Land required to thwart Bolton’s unrelenting attacking effort.
But there was no body close to Feeney as Davies picked out the unmarked wide man with seconds left. Taking a touch and opening up his body to finish into the far corner, heads were in hands in the Charlton end, but the former Millwall man, in attempting to place the ball into the top corner, could only lift the ball comfortably over Henderson’s bar.
A huge let off for the Addicks, who were doing their best to throw away the game completely, but defeat would have been very harsh on Luzon’s men. The disappointed groans at full-time quickly replaced by appreciative applause as the players came over to the away end.
For despite the mini-capitulation, and a performance again below the standards Luzon and his side set throughout February and March, the Addicks had put in a decent shift at the Macron.
That especially true of the back line, who had worked extremely hard in the fact of a persistent, if not always truly testing, Bolton threat. Solly fantastic, Johnson offering a relatively error-free display and Diarra brilliant bar what proved to be a crucial, if somewhat unfortunate, error.
But special praise must be reserved for Wiggins, who was exceptional considering this was his first game for two months. Composed at the back, providing at least two vital blocks and offering a threat going forward, it was a Wiggins performance of old, and fantastic to see.
Also worthy of praise, at least on the occasions they were able to get forward, were Charlton’s attacking threats. Gudmundsson constantly beating men in white, Watt driving the Addicks forward and Bulot providing more than just a goal.
The problem, however, is that they were only able to get forward on a few occasions. For whatever reason, the Addicks opted to sit back for much of the game and allow Bolton to come at them, instead of exploiting their main strength and taking the game to them.
That summed up by Luzon’s bizarre call to take off Watt and Vetokele. The pair looked fine, with the Scot just starting to bulldoze his way through, so the ridiculous decision was punished by Bolton’s equaliser.
But if Bolton had any creativity in midfield, and more composure in and around the box, Charlton’s cautiousness would have been capitalised on long before. Jordan Cousins and Yoni Buyens better on the ball than at Hillsborough, but far too slow, and offering too much time and space to the opposition. Pressing absent from the central duo, and their teammates.
Some will suggest that criticism is misplaced, giving our comfortable mid-table position, but this sluggish end to the season is becoming more and more frustrating.
Without wishing to go all Neil Lennon, we could have very easily dominated a poor Bolton side. In fact, much like against Sheffield Wednesday at the weekend, this was a game the Addicks would have bossed if it had been played during their winning run.
I’m probably just being selfish, but it’s disappointing to end the season like this knowing we’re capable of more. Hopefully that is shown at The Valley on Saturday.
Three years to the day that Charlton travelled north and returned with promotion, the Addicks will make another crusade up the country.
But this trip to Bolton has considerably less relevance than the one made to Carlisle in 2012. That full of excitement and expectation; this feeling like something of a chore.
For Guy Luzon’s side, without the motivation of a potential promotion push, have seemingly taken their foot off the pedal. Saturday’s draw with Sheffield Wednesday, not necessarily a poor performance but definitely a below par one, reaffirming that.
So with prior excitement lacking, it is up to those wearing red to provide it over the course of 90 minutes.
With Bolton also having nothing to play for, this game might well be a dead rubber, but reward for one more arduous trip to the deep north this season would be greatly appreciated.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 2-1 BOLTON WANDERERS
A late Bolton rally meant the Addicks were forced to work hard for their victory against the Trotters in October.
It appeared as if Charlton’s night was going to be relatively stress free when Johnnie Jackson doubled their lead just after half-time, adding to George Tucudean’s superbly taken goal midway through the first half.
But Bolton hit back just three minutes later, with Dean Moxey striking into the net through a sea of bodies to give his side hope.
It set up a tense finish to the game, with Neil Lennon’s side peppering Charlton’s back line with long balls and crosses, going close on a number of occasions.
The Addicks, however, ultimately dealt with the threat of their opponents well, and stood firm record a victory that moved into seventh place.
Hampered by injuries, Dougie Freedman, and injuries, Bolton supporters will undoubtedly be delighted that this season is coming to an end.
Having taken over with the club in serious threat of relegation, Neil Lennon has certainly helped to steady the ship.
But the absence of key men and overall inconsistency has meant Lennon hasn’t been able to get the Trotters as high up the table as he probably would have liked. Results needed to be ground out in order avoid entering a relegation scrap towards the end of the campaign.
And their recent form reflects just that. A very good 3-0 win at Cardiff preceded by disappointing draws against Blackpool and Wigan, before a late defeat to Norwich on Saturday.
Sitting comfortable in 17th is obviously a lot better than hovering around the bottom three, but supporters will be expecting more next season.
By going on a run of seven wins from nine, including a number of sensational attacking displays, the Addicks have unintentionally created a bit of a problem for themselves.
For it is now the case that every below par performance, of result that isn’t a victory, is looked at with a feeling that more could have been shown and achieved.
That was the case with Saturday’s draw at Hillsborough. Arguably a decent result, especially given the fact Wednesday should have won it late on, but you left the ground feeling a little underwhelmed.
While nothing will be taken away from that run of victories that has given the Addicks a decent mid-table finish, continuing to stutter over the finish line will prove an annoyance.
An injury crisis at the Macron Stadium means Bolton will be without a host of first team players for the visit of Charlton.
Craig Davies became the latest man to be ruled out, missing Saturday’s defeat to Norwich with a hamstring injury that should also keep him out of Tuesday’s clash, with Max Clayton, Darren Pratley and Zach Clough among those who are also in the treatment room.
But influential midfielder Mark Davies is close to a full return, having been on the bench at the weekend, and could make his first appearance since November against the Addicks.
Tony Watt could return to the starting XI after the striker was rested for Saturday’s draw with Sheffield Wednesday.
The Scot is likely to replace Simon Church, who did himself no favours by storing down the tunnel after being substituted at Hillsborough.
Church’s petulance may mean that Karlan Ahearne-Grant is given an opportunity to impress, at least from the bench. The 17-year-old shown flashes of excellence earlier on in the campaign and, with nothing left to play for, it seems a good opportunity to give a few more minutes to the academy graduate.
Elsewhere, time is running out for Johnnie Jackson to make a return before the end of the season, while another questionable performance from Roger Johnson at the weekend could mean he sits this one out.
KEY BATTLE – TAKING THE GAME TO THE OPPOSITION
There have been many disappointing elements to Charlton’s last three games, and they can be found all over the pitch.
Johnson has been error-prone, gifting opportunities to the opposition. Jordan Cousins somewhat below par, not helped by Yoni Buyens’ efforts at Hillsborough. Igor Vetokele looking tired and out of form once again.
But arguably the biggest factor is that Watt has been subdued. That isn’t to say he’s been poor, not at all, but his direct runs have been stopped, forcing him to occupy wide positions where his threat decreases.
Millwall’s back four dealt with him very well, Fulham kept him under control but for a couple of splendid turns, while he didn’t have enough time to make an impact against Wednesday.
So against a somewhat fragile backline, that has conceded late goals in recent weeks, Watt has the chance to be a game-changer once again.
Instead of being cautious and timid, something that is likely to be punished by forwards Adam Le Fondre, Eidur Gudjohnsen and even Emile Heskey, lead through Watt and take the game to Bolton.
It’s another game that Charlton would win comfortably if they were still in their impressive winning run, and another back line Watt would have terrorised during that time. But it’s hard to ignore the flat nature of recent performances. Bolton Wanderers 1-1 Charlton Athletic