While it is accepted that Charlton have nothing left to play for this season, performing in a manner that suggests they are lacking the motivation to perform is not.
Such accusations against professionals may well be unfair, but for the Addicks to offer such a half-hearted effort in their draw with Fulham was extremely disappointing, not least with a response demanded after the capitulation at The Den.
With energy absent, pressing minimal and sloppy errors regularly made, a better side than the struggling Cottagers would have taken advantage more than once. A lack of communication and awareness at the back allowing Ross McCormack to head the visitors in front early on.
And while Guy Luzon’s side briefly rallied, culminating in Johann Berg Gudmundsson scoring a contentious equaliser with Frederic Bulot appearing to be offside in the build-up, the burst of life was not permanent.
After Gudmundsson wasted a glorious chance to put the Addicks ahead, Fulham were allowed to dictate, if not dominate. With Charlton’s performance increasingly tired and lethargic, sitting deep and attempting to soak up the pressure, they were often left thankful that Kit Symons’ men had not an ounce of cutting edge between them.
Wastefulness from the Cottagers meant there were chances for the hosts to break, but even during the rare moments in which they moved forward without misplacing a pass, a finishing touch was absent. Tony Watt close in the second period, but it provided more anguish than hope.
Anguish might well have turned to despair if Matt Smith had shown some composure in the game’s dying moments. Instead, the target man blasted over from close range, epitomising the poor standard on show throughout the 90 minutes from both teams.
And that the opposition, given their final-third efforts and occasional slip-ups at the back, were there for the taken makes the flat Charlton performance even more frustrating. The Addicks did not do themselves justice.
A great deal more drive than this is required to prevent a forgettable and uninspiring conclusion to this campaign.
Such a flat attacking performance was not predicted before kick-off, with the forward four at the heart of Charlton’s recent excellent run of form all starting for the first time in four games. Bulot replacing Chris Eagles, with Gudmundsson on the opposite flank and Watt and Igor Vetokele together up top.
There were, however, some concerns over how the Addicks would cope defensively. The absence of the suspended Chris Solly forced Joe Gomez to right-back, and meant Tal Ben Haim and Roger Johnson partnered each other at centre-back. A combination that had previously shown signs it wasn’t workable.
Regardless, there was still shock and disgust with the way in which Fulham were gifted their opener eight minutes into the contest.
An innocuous long ball appeared to compliment the game’s low key start, but Stephen Henderson, Ben Haim and Johnson were caught out by the punt forward. Neither of the centre-backs reacted to the movement of Smith and McCormack, allowing the former to nod on for the latter, who headed past an out of position Henderson. A catastrophic start that was completely avoidable.
If a positive was to be taken out of conceding in such a manner, it was not that a Fulham victory hindered Millwall’s chances of survival as the Covered End hinted, but that it would surely make Charlton’s backline more aware and resolute.
Alas, their struggles continued as the visitors looked to double their lead. Johnson caught flat-footed, allowing McCormack to race onto to Danny Guthrie’s through ball and fire an effort goalwards that was desperately blocked away by a combination of Ben Haim and Henderson.
And Charlton’s goalkeeper, heroic in defeat at The Den on Friday, was forced into action again from the resulting corner. The hosts’ efforts to clear tame, and the ball eventually falling to Tim Hoogland, but the stand-in skipper got down well to prevent the Cottagers pulling further ahead.
It proved a vital save as the Addicks, arguably against the run of play, levelled with their first meaningful effort on goal just three minutes later, much to the annoyance of the enraged visitors.
So they might have been, as an offside Bulot made a failed attempt to connect with Morgan Fox’s low delivery. But the assistant’s flag stayed down, and Gudmundsson, shockingly scoring a goal that wasn’t from distance, was able to steal in at the far post and convert.
It may have been an underserved equaliser, in more ways than one, but such good fortune was exactly what Charlton required to settle.
In fact, Luzon’s side began to play with the fizz and spark they are capable of, and they should have gone ahead seven minutes later. Only Gudmundsson will know how he failed to finish into what was effectively an empty net after Vetokele, who looked as offside as Bulot did for the equaliser, was fed through and in turn squared to the unmarked Icelander.
While the Addicks scratched their heads and attempted to work out how they hadn’t gone in front, Fulham began to regroup. Scott Parker, booed each time he touched the ball with supporters still bitter over the way in which he departed SE7 eleven years ago, did a fantastic job of slowing the game down in midfield, before his side began to press forward once more.
And with Charlton’s backline still looking on the verge of disaster each time it was placed under any sort of pressure, a comedy of errors presented a glorious chance to Smith. The forward, however, could only slice wide after several players in red did their own slicing as they attempted to clear.
Such a passage of play summed up the overall quality of the contest, poor if not non-existent, so Watt’s delightful turn on the stroke of half-time was an uncharacteristic piece of brilliance. The Scot’s resulting through ball for Vetokele, however, was more fitting of the evening – horrendously over hit.
Fulham, too, had at least some sort of quality to enjoy before the break. But Henderson was equal to McCormack’s well-executed free-kick, flinging himself through the air and beating the effort away.
It proved to be the final action of a largely uninspiring first half, with a ten minute positive period preventing the Addicks from going in behind. But that they had shown some glimpses of quality, while Fulham had looked sometimes suspect at the back, meant there was genuine hope of Luzon’s words leading to an improved second half display.
Instead, Charlton immediately put themselves under pressure. Space gifted to the Cottagers down the right, with McCormack picked out inside the box and allowed to cut back to the unmarked Smith, but a handily placed Gomez was able to hack the headed effort away.
And it wasn’t just a case of a slow start from the Addicks. That response that had been hoped for was nowhere to be seen, with the hosts instead opting to drop off their opposition, and allow them to control possession.
This wasn’t a case of Fulham forcing Charlton back. It was a case of the Addicks penning themselves in, inviting pressure and not showing the drive required to take the game to a side that had clearly shown they had some faults of their own at the back.
But even when the hosts looked to break, it was lazy. Punts up field to a struggling Vetokele almost always intercepted by Dan Burn; a centre-back impressing while others floundered.
Nonetheless, the Cottagers were having their own issues creating chances. Parker metronomic in the middle, but neither he nor his teammates had the creativity to supply Smith and McCormack. A rather unappealing stalemate.
Or, at least, the game had entered a stalemate until Watt suddenly burst into life. Quiet by his standards for much of the half, the Scot capitalised on sloppy play in possession from Fulham, and, with the assistance of Bulot, drove towards goal in the commanding way that he does. His finish, however, meant the work in the build-up went unwarranted, with the ball flashing wide of the far post.
Another chance out of nothing fell to Watt moments later, but again he could only flash wide, while Gudmundsson created space for himself and forced Marcus Bettinelli into what was a comfortable save. Better, if not brilliance, from the Addicks.
However, Symons was evidently aware Charlton were building some momentum, and responded by removing the stale Sean Kavanagh and Danny Guthrie, replacing them with the flair Bryan Ruiz and Alexander Kacaniklic. It had an immediate impact, as tidy Fulham build-up play resulted in Henderson denying McCormack with another fine stop.
Finally there was some substance to the Cottagers’ forward play, and yet more questionable efforts at the back from the Addicks had seemed to allow an opportunity for Smith. And even though the robust forward couldn’t get the ball out of his feet, Ruiz took over, lashing a first-time strike that curled agonisingly away from goal.
With just over ten minutes to play, Charlton were clinging on, and showing little signs of winning the midfield battle or offering comfortable resilience at the back.
But, to their credit, each time you began to worry Luzon’s men were about to cave in throughout the course of the game, they responded with something on the break. Excellent play from Gudmundsson, still attempting to drive forward, and Eagles eventually resulted in Watt’s low effort tipped behind by Bettinelli, who had seen the strike late.
Despite lifting The Valley crowd, diligent in their attempts to get their side going despite the uninspiring events they had witnessed, a testing effort and their chants could not change the overall pattern of the game.
For the Addicks were now as deep as they possibly could be; if Luzon’s two banks of four had got any closer, then they would have been standing on each other’s toes. It meant there was seemingly an acceptance that Fulham would not be closed down until they had entered the final third, as there had been for much of the night.
A side with more confidence in their abilities would surely have ripped through Charlton’s rather bizarre set-up, and capitalised upon the lack of intensity shown from individuals, but still the Cottagers were too tentative. Many seemingly afraid to shoot or cross.
In fact, you could understand why if Smith’s 89th minute effort was anything to go by. A free-kick gifted to Fulham after Charlton had played themselves into trouble caused havoc in the hosts’ box, with the ball eventually falling to an unmarked Smith. It was seemingly easier to score, but instead he recklessly sent his effort high over Henderson’s bar.
There may have been mocking from the Covered End, but those cries were merely used to cover up the worry they felt.
And there was yet more panic as, needlessly so, the loose leg of Alou Diarra brought down Kacaniklic in the final minute of three added on. The dangerous McCormack stepped up, with previous of scoring late free-kicks at The Valley, but could only curl wide.
With that, a game that neither side had deserved to win drew to its close. The muted acknowledgement of the full-time whistle probably summed it up – a bit of a nothing game that will take some effort to recall in years to come.
But for Fulham, it acts as a decent point and, in some ways, an okay performance. It’s easy to see where their problems lie, good players are playing without themselves and don’t have the confidence to make something happen, but their ball retention was impressive in the second period, and it’s a point that drags them closer to assured safety.
While for the Addicks, it’s all rather disappointing. A performance lacking so many qualities that have been on show in recent weeks and opportunity to bounce back from derby depression with a win not taken.
Of course, the biggest problem came centrally. Jordan Cousins was not at his best and, alongside a pretty disappointing Diarra, lost the midfield battle, while Ben Haim and Johnson just seemed to have a complete lack of awareness over what the other was doing.
But, overall, it’s hard to feel motivated for the remainder of the season myself is such lifeless displays are going to be on show. Where was the fight, drive and determination that has proved so vital in our winning run?
I appreciate that some individuals may be tired, but this is where some rotation can come in to play, especially in terms of getting a few fired up youngsters into the side.
And if Luzon has instructed them to sit deep and invite Fulham pressure, then I’m very confused. That doesn’t appear to be his way, and there was no justifiable reason to do that.
To end the season with performances similar to the previous two games would not only be a disappointment but would not do justice to the qualities this side possesses.
In some ways, they were fortunate to perform like they did against a side lacking self-belief and dynamism, but a repeat performance against an opposition with any sort of reasonable threat and similar luck is unlikely to be repeated.
While there may be nothing to play for, motivation must be found to keep showing energy and effort, and improve upon this display, in the season’s remaining five games.