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.