At most of the other 92 League clubs, a change in head coach or manager is an exciting time. A promising appointment made, to replace the failing former boss, and the hope of an upturn in results. Those that were apathetic now back on board.
Alas, the ineptitude of the ownership at Charlton Athletic means they are not like many other clubs.
For Karel Fraeye’s first game in charge of the Addicks, having replaced the sacked Guy Luzon, at Middlesbrough on Saturday is not looked forward to with enthusiasm or the hope that a run of ten games without a win will end.
Nor is Fraeye’s managerial debut in England, having been plucked from the depths of the Belgian league ladder, particularly dreaded with the result exclusively in mind.
Instead, the appearance of the 37-year-old in The Riverside away dugout will increase the apathy and disillusionment among Charlton supporters, who have every right to feel like they’re being treated in disgusting fashion.
A man appointed without adequate managerial credentials, to merely continue a system that was failing, and has been failing for some time. All to increase the ego of Duchatelet and Katrien Meire, in the stubborn hope their experiment will eventually work while some fans still remain.
And this game of football, against an excellent Boro side likely to inflict further misery upon a demoralised Charlton, is unlikely to provide even the briefest of distractions.
Whether three points, one or none are gained, supporters of the Addicks will continue to lose while Duchatelet remains in control.
LAST MEETING – MIDDLESBROUGH 3-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
In not too dissimilar circumstances, three games into Luzon’s reign after his controversial appointment, Charlton capitulated at The Riverside in a manner which led you to question the effort of several players.
Boro took the lead in relatively simple fashion six minutes into the game. Patrick Bamford peeling away from his marker to nod home Grant Leadbitter’s corner.
But the Addicks, despite being under pressure for the entirety of the first half, were able to pull level against the run of play just before the break. Tony Watt, after a characteristic run, feeding Yoni Buyens, who flicked back to Johann Berg Gudmundsson to finish in stunning fashion.
Luzon’s side, however, could not carry that momentum into the second half. Jelle Vossen, converting after a blocked shot fell kindly to him, completely killing the confidence of an already mentally scared Charlton side three minutes after the break.
And after a half without energy and effort, with the performances of Oguchi Onyewu and Buyens particularly insulting to those that had travelled to The Riverside, Lee Tomlin completed Boro’s victory in stunning fashion. A corner pinged to him on the edge of the box, and volleyed powerfully beyond Marko Dmitrovic.
After something of an indifferent October, with two defeats and draw prior to lost weekend, a Boro side that won all their games throughout September appear to be back on track.
For their 3-1 victory over Wolves, though a side who have been sluggish this season, was impressive, and their penalty shoot-out win over Manchester United in the Capital One Cup an incredible night for the club.
Aitor Karanka’s men, fourth in the Championship, will unsurprisingly be full of confidence on Saturday.
Confidence is something the Addicks have lacked for a considerable amount of time. Ten games, in fact, with their last win coming in the Capital One Cup second round against Peterborough United.
Efforts in the previous three games have been particularly disappointing. Two shots against Reading, and two terrible capitulations against Preston and Brentford. Luzon paying the price.
And though there were calls for Luzon to go, and two very poisonous atmospheres at The Valley in the past week and a half, the extent of that anger was not primarily caused by the departing head coach.
Luzon, though unable to motivate his side and prevent three pathetic performances since the return from the international break, was not the problem. Merely a symptom of the overall cancer that riddles this club.
Head coach Karanka will be without Christian Stuani, scorer of seven goals this season, after the forward picked up a groin injury.
Wingers Albert Adomah and Adam Forshaw are also doubts, having picked up knocks with kept them out of the League Cup tie with Manchester United.
But while just a handful of injuries would cripple Charlton, Boro’s big squad means the absent of the trio will cause minimal concern. None of the three started in the league victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers, and it was a somewhat rotated side that beat Manchester United on penalties.
Charlton will welcome back Alou Diarra after the centre-back, one of few consistent performers this season, missed Saturday’s defeat to Brentford through suspension.
The Frenchman is likely to replace Naby Sarr, irrespective of the fact the summer signing looked as comfortable as he has so far in a Charlton shirt against the Bees. The Bauer/Diarra partnership required if the Addicks are to have any chance of stopping Boro’s impressive strikeforce.
But further changes from the XI that pathetically capitulated to Brentford, irrespective of the change in head coach and the shambolic performance, are unlikely. On paper, and with Ahmed Kashi and Igor Vetokele still injured, that side was as close to Charlton’s strongest XI at this moment in time.
KEY BATTLE: CHARLTON V THEMSELVES (AGAIN)
Some have used the start the Addicks made to the game against Brentford as a positive. That they were able to show some attacking intent, and go close on a number of occasions, suggests that a decent side is still hiding underneath this mess.
But the capitulation that followed, with Charlton dire from the moment Alan Judge crossed to John Swift, highlight their complete inability to deal with adversity. Heads dropping and confidence draining the moment they went behind.
And given the relative strength of Boro, the Addicks are likely to face significant adversity on Saturday. That without even considering the fact they’re being led by a head coach who has lost four of his last five games in the Belgian third tier.
As such, if Charlton are to get anything out of Saturday’s game, they’re going to need to find a bit of mental strength, either to hold off Boro, or respond to the threat they will pose throughout the 90 minutes.
We can’t match Middlesbrough, but it’s even less likely if we’re also fighting to overcome ourselves.
Finding it very hard to care. Middlesbrough 3-0 Charlton Athletic
Chris Powell’s Flat Cap is still deciding whether he’s stupid enough to travel to Middlesbrough on Saturday. I had not planned to prior to this season getting underway, as I’ve been for the last three, but there’s every chance I’ll give in.
The search to find a supporter to sit on the ‘Fan Sofa’, a summer addition celebrated with greater enthusiasm by the club than any other, appears to be more strenuous than Charlton’s search to find a new head coach.
And those who occupy the cream-coloured travesty, ridiculed by opposition supporters and a point of embarrassment for regular attendees at The Valley, appear to be treated better than those who occupy the home dugout.
The focus on the sofa sitters before kick-off. A vantage point from a horrible and low position is apparently the best view in the house. They’re at least in a relatively comfortable position to sleep and pretend the game of football in front of them isn’t happening if it all gets too much.
Meanwhile, the head coach is handed a squad of players too small to be competitive when injuries hit. The head coach is unable to build a group with the characters he wants, and create a collective spirit and unity. The head coach must constantly shoulder the blame whenever a papered over crack in a flawed system reappears.
And when those cracks swallow him, those who have created them merely replace him with someone else from the pool below. They brush him down, attach the transparent strings they think no one else can spot, and continue with their arrogant and misguided belief that their system is one beyond criticism.
But those who sit on the sofa, in reality, are not treated any better. Like the greenness of the pitch, the freshly painted gangways, and the increase in size of the big screen, they exist to gloss over a dire situation.
They are effectively used as a propaganda tool. “Look at us, aren’t we wonderful? Providing such a brilliant experience for our supporters. Creating an attachment. Understanding their needs. Our running of this club is superb”.
That misuse, though, is largely an irrelevance in terms of the mistreatment of supporters of Charlton Athletic. There is not a supporter, whether sat on the sofa, in the cheapest seat in London, or in the Vista Lounge, who is being treated with any respect.
For Roland Duchatelet’s regime, over the 22 months or so that he has owned the football club, has constantly attacked a fan base so regularly celebrated for their achievements as a determined and passionate collective. Their reward should not be this.
Those that have previously fought for the future of their club should not be forced to the point of complete detachment by the actions of an ownership allowed to conduct itself in such a narrow way, without any understanding or acceptance of the emotions of a supporter.
There will be some that suggest such a level of dissatisfaction is unfair. They will point to an investment of sorts, a financial improvement on what preceded this ownership, and point out that Duchatelet is a successful businessman, merely running a business.
A view as misguided as Duchatelet’s about running a football club, so different to a normal business irrespective of what anyone might believe.
A balance sheet is not celebrated. The ego of a man with no attachment to Charlton is not embraced. Some improvements to parts of a football club, while the elements that create attachment disintegrate, effectively an insult to the intelligence of supporters.
In fact, he knows we are intelligent. He knows there is dissatisfaction with the appointment of head coaches, the recruitment process, and the overall structure. But he ignores it. Supporters should not be treated so poorly. They’re disappearing, if not physically then emotionally.
Nor should they have to read Katrien Meire, a CEO more out of her depth than the head coaches employed by her and the man she serves, suggest the history of the club does not matter to her as she attempts to make her ‘achievements’ appear incredible. Her arrogance incredible; her ignorance even worse.
While Guy Luzon deserves better than to be backed by the clueless Meire during the week, by words not with an increase in his slender resources, only to be binned at the next opportunity.
And supporters don’t deserve to experience the toxic atmospheres of Tuesday and Saturday. The anger, disillusionment and growing detachment. It’s impossible to take.
As such, the argument that the call to remove Luzon was right is a strong one. The performances of the previous week, lacking energy and effort, suggest he had lost the dressing room. Change needed.
But so too is the argument that Luzon, like Chris Powell, Jose Riga and Bob Peeters, was treated unfairly incredibly strong.
His appointment laughable, but the job done overall a creditable one. Overcoming the controversy of his appointment, and the scenario of the club in general, to achieve some decent results and momentarily win the fans over is commendable.
And even when he lost the fans, having been told he was going to be sacked by the Covered End and booed as he went down the tunnel, the anger was not exclusively aimed at him. An understanding existing that his squad too small, that he was merely a symptom of a much bigger problem. The boos for Luzon another way to show disconnection, and dissatisfaction with the Duchatelet regime.
In fact, results, and therefore criticism of those whose main contribution is towards on the pitch events, has become secondary. The saddest thing that a run of ten without victory and three disgusting performances in the previous week don’t matter as much as they should. The heart not there, and the focus elsewhere.
The overall state of the club more important to the point that I have barely thought about our 22nd position today. Relegation not as punishing as this lack of attachment.
A large part of ignoring the league position, of course, is the appointment of Karel Fraeye. Another network puppet, presented to supporters without comment from those that matter.
Apparently merely interim boss, but few are falling for that. Why would he leave a permanent job in the Belgian third tier for a temporary role?
Why would he leave that job for this crisis? He’ll have the same resources, and ultimately the same failure. The detachment will only increase.
A voice or two will say we should get behind him, but they’re missing the point. This isn’t about whether he can win games to save us from relegation. It’s about an under qualified head coach being appointed once again, purely on the basis of his relationship with Duchatelet, and willingness to work under him.
Apathy and anger increasing by the minute, but it matters little to Duchatelet.
It matters little that his system is failing again and again. That the last time a manager, an inexperienced one at that, with understanding of the English game was allowed to build his own squad, something very special happened. Powell and his side still so loved; those that remain from it still treasured.
Lead by Johnnie Jackson, those that remain from the time are suffering with similar emotions. The players of quality, such as Johann Berg Gudmundsson, deserve better. Those that have departed, such as Michael Morrison, Yann Kermorgant and Dale Stephens, in a much better place. Even Diego Poyet deserves some understanding for his decision to move on.
But Duchatelet will not change his system. We have reached a point now where that is obvious. Where Fraeye will continue to fulfil a role that isn’t really one of head coach, but propaganda puppet. His job to increase Duchatelet’s ego, and continue his failed experiment that is destroying a club.
You cannot blame these head coaches for taking such a job. Nor can you blame supporters for continuing to attempt to support their team. Several times, myself included, there have been moments where supporters have started to believe Duchatelet and Meire’s attitude had changed. Supporters need to have that hope, in a belief their efforts will be rewarded.
That isn’t supporters being wrong or stupid. It’s natural. To believe something they’ve put so much into in the past, that they love, is still theirs. Still giving them the same feelings it always did.
Alas, it is not. The Valley will be occupied by those that can’t live without football, or are there out of habit. Supporters will still support, and having their club completely taken away from them is cruel. But they will do so supporting their own notion of what Charlton is, not this mess.
Such an emphatic rally against Duchatelet in the previous 24 hours or so providing some solace amid this horrible feeling that a club I was devoted to is no longer anything like the one I fell in love with.
But it is not even a start to change occurring. Duchatelet and Meire have already shown their stubbornness towards Charlton supporters is unflappable. Murray defiant in silence. Opposition seemingly makes them stronger.
There is, however, a breaking point. A point that forced Duchatelet out of Standard Liege. A point where this ownership will stop undoing the work of Powell on the pitch, and dragging the club away from its supporters in general.
That breaking point must be found. Lots of us need a proper Charlton back in our lives. I don’t want to be reduced to sitting on my own sofa each Saturday at 3pm.
The emptying of the ground emphatic. Each supporter escaping The Valley another whose attachment to a club that once felt like theirs now damaged to a point which will take greater repairing than the faults in Charlton’s side.
Those that remained did so in an attempt to get their voices heard. To let those that matter know that their detachment is such that supporting this football club in its current state is now a chore that creates anger, and not an enjoyable experience that produces pleasure.
Seemingly a losing battle. The owner who they asked to leave their club not present. His CEO too stubborn to care or have concerns about what supporters believe. The head coach they want sacked emotionless, and too cowardly to admit the extent of the problems his side, if you can attach it to him, faced after full-time.
However, their voices were heard. Guy Luzon’s defiance not enough to keep him in a job. Sacked, despite receiving the support of those above him during the week.
The catalyst for such chaos was Lasse Vibe’s goal, striking beyond Stephen Henderson after yet another excellent Brentford counter attack. Their third goal of the game without reply, confirming a tenth winless game for the Addicks, and leaving them in the relegation zone.
But it was not the cause. The cause another performance without character, fight or effort. The cause utter disarray at Luzon’s decision making, and inability to lift his side. The cause a feeling that had grown over recent weeks that the head coach had lost the dressing room.
The result complete disillusion, once again, with Roland Duchatelet’s flawed structure.
In just shy of 22 months of this ownership, situations similar have occurred too many times. The brief moments of belief, one even provided today as the hosts started brightly but wasted several excellent openings, quickly overshadowed by utter despair, which soon followed as an unmarked John Swift headed in an unchallenged Judge’s cross with 26 minutes played.
And over that period, you cannot fault the resilience of Charlton supporters. They have often got behind their side in the toughest of circumstances, but this scenario a little too much. The players, so lacklustre and lazy, unwilling to fight adversity as the sensational Judge cut inside and curled beyond Henderson ten minutes after half-time.
That especially true given that more was expected from the Addicks and Luzon, with an almost fully fit pool of players to choose. The slight increase in expectation only contributing to what was ultimately inexpressible anger, as Vibe made it three with four minutes to play.
A defeat reflective of the difference in application and effort between the two sides. A gap as big as the one that now exists between supporters and club.
Change desperately needed. More than just the removal of a head coach whose tools have been as unsatisfactory as those who preceded him.
In truth, change was provided before kick-off. Six of them from the XI that gutlessly capitulated to Preston North End on Tuesday night. Six positive changes.
Stephen Henderson, having recovering from a shoulder injury, replaced Nick Pope in goal, while Patrick Bauer, after serving a one-match suspension, came in for the suspended Alou Diarra.
There were also recalls for skipper Johnnie Jackson and Franck Moussa, in for the hopeless El-Hadji Ba and Zakarya Bergdich respectively, while Johann Berg Gudmundsson returned from a dead leg to start ahead of Tareiq Holmes-Dennis.
And, after a suggestion that he may not be quite ready, there was also a start for Simon Makienok, in for Karlan Ahearne-Grant and forming a potentially threatening forward partnership with Tony Watt. Encouraging.
But a simple team selection was allowing few to get carried away. Energy, effort and determination needed to be seen from a side seemingly devoid of confidence for the rightly cynical Charlton supporters to get behind their side.
So the start, from the first minute fierce tackle by Jackson on opposition skipper and former Addick Alan McCormack, was exactly what was required. A sense existing that this side understood the importance of both the game, and the need to make an impression.
That particularly true of Tony Watt, driving past blue-shirted Brentford defenders with the pace, strength and skill that had not been seen since the start of the season. Only Moussa, having been unmarked just a few yards from goal, will know how he failed to capitalise after one of the Scot’s runs concluded with a flat cross falling to the Belgian’s feet.
Gudmundsson, too, should have done better after being teed up by the fired up forward. An excellent front-to-back move concluding with Watt playing the Iceland international through on goal, only for him to prod relatively tamely at Button.
And before the tenth minute had been reached, Watt himself had a chance to put the Addicks ahead. Driving in from the right, the Scot fizzed an effort agonisingly across the face of goal. The crowd on side, a feeling that Luzon’s side were about to right the wrongs of recent weeks.
But that feeling was tainted slightly by the fact such glorious openings were being wasted. Especially as Brentford grew into the game, with their cleverly worked passing moves and set-piece routines causing problems. James Tarkowski heading over before McCormack blasted off-target from distance.
And it was not long before Henderson, making his first appearance of the season, was seriously tested. The Bees’ passing too quick for a disorientated defensive line, allowing Swift to get in behind and force a strong palm away from the Irish stopper. Charlton fortunate that no one in blue could react quick enough to the loose ball.
Though the Addicks were not exactly penned into their own half, with Makienok’s volley narrowly keeping inside the earth’s atmosphere and Button required to push Moussa’s drive away from goal, it was certainly the case that by the 25th minute, the visitors were on top. Luzon’s side, as if naïve of their opponents’ threat, far too deep, and allowing the Bees plenty of time to pass at their own pace.
No man in red got close enough to Judge on Brentford’s right, and those inside Charlton’s box were left looking at each other in bemusement as Swift stole in to head home without pressure. The argument that the hosts, given their early dominance, were unfortunate to be behind squarely rejected by their supporters, with the first boos of the day heard.
And were it not for Jackson’s intervention, after Swift had got in behind a stationary back four once again, then the Bees could have been almost immediately two goals ahead. Frustration shared by crowd and skipper, as the ball across goal towards Marco Djuricin was intercepted.
The Brentford rampage, however, led largely by Judge and Ryan Woods’ decimation of a struggling Morgan Fox, did not ease up. The defending, though composed from the unflappable Bauer, pretty desperate.
Pretty desperate, however, was a touch better than hopeless. The fourth repeat of a Brentford corner routine still not understood, and Djurcin should have done better having been left unmarked at the back post. The cries of discontent drawing louder.
And were it not for angle-related maths far too complicated for my brain to understand, then that discontent would have multiplied before half-time. McCormack, easily bossing the midfield given that Jordan Cousins’ was uncharacteristically without energy or application, driving a fierce effort against the crossbar and down onto the line.
The end of the opening 45, met by boos before a round of applause that lacked any conviction, desperately needed. The bright start forgotten, with the Addicks flawed, and fortunate to not be further behind. Fox and Chris Solly being beaten again and again, Jackson having to do the work of two men in the middle, and Watt and Makienok not linking at all.
But while they were only one goal down, there remained hope. Hope that Luzon could solve the issues, inspire, and triumph in adversity.
Hope that, based on previous evidence, was always a little misguided. A lacklustre start to the second period, as if there was no interval, hardly encouraging optimism.
And any optimism that remained, only possessed by the delirious, was completely crushed ten minutes into the second half. Lee Carsley’s side breaking at pace, McCormack picking out an unmarked Judge, and the Irishman allowed to cut inside before curling deliciously beyond Henderson. Hopeless.
The reaction to going two behind, as negative as you might expect, only interrupted by movement on the touchline. A release of venomous anger as the hardworking Makienok, not fit for 90 minutes but looking fitter than most, was replaced by Reza Ghoochannejhad, a player who had no desire to remain at the club last summer. “You don’t know what you’re doing” sung by the Covered End.
Conor McAleny, replacing the struggling Moussa, was also thrown on, stinging the palms of Button on two occasions. But positive emotion from The Valley’s home ends had gone. A performance lacking effort and motivation had taken its toll.
The atmosphere too calm to be poisonous, but it was passionless. A group of supporters totally detached from their club, and neither head coach nor player was able to provide something worth getting behind. The attitude from those wearing red close to embarrassing.
It meant a venomous reaction was always likely, though still on hold as Gudmundsson narrowly missed a cross from Jackson, two of few players whose effort you could not question, before the Icelander blasted over. Just dejected moans. The collective ramble of those who had lost hope.
But then came the collective outcry of those who had been driven to despair. The Addicks, with men forward, left open at the back, Judge’s stunning ball forward was taken down well by Vibe, and the substitute finishing beyond Henderson. The boos loud, the clattering of seats deafening, the voices of anger that were to follow unavoidable.
“You Belgian wanker, get out of our club”, “we want Roland out” and “Roland, you’re a cunt” all belted out by the Covered End. All four sides of the ground in unison gave a rendition of “you’re getting sacked in the morning”. Supporters of the Bees then able to sing the name of their owner, Matthew Benham, as an unmarked Harlee Dean headed into the side-netting.
And though both Gudmundsson and McAleny had shots on target during stoppage-time, they were as tame and pathetic as Charlton’s overall performance. The only bite, the sort the players required, coming from the home supporters.
The full-time whistle met with the loudest boo yet, that would only get louder as Luzon walked towards the tunnel for what would be the final time. A club in crisis once again.
First, there is a game of football that must be exclusively focused on, if only so Brentford can be given the praise they deserve.
For the Bees were excellent. Pressing with intent, passing with style, and possessing a potent final ball. This was not the performance of a side who themselves were seemingly on the verge of crisis a few weeks ago.
But, as excellent as the Bees were, it takes absolutely nothing away from yet another atrocious effort from the Addicks.
The promising start is no excuse. There is no case for Charlton being unfortunate. The way this side responds to adversity is absolutely disgusting. No fight, no determination, no character.
And a large part of that, you feel, is Luzon’s inability to inspire. In addition to predictable and slow passing play, a complete lack of pressing, and almost no tactical fluidity.
Does that mean I agree with Luzon’s sacking? That is something I will discuss in more depth in a separate post, but I do feel he had lost the dressing room. A point of no recovery had been reached. Something had to be done, especially with the toxic reaction after the third goal and beyond.
But I do feel incredibly sorry for him. He should not have been appointed in the first place, but did a very decent job in winning supporters over, before falling victim of a regime whose attentions, whatever they might be, are not focused on footballing success.
Additionally, for Katrien Meire, increasingly appearing incapable, to oversee his sacking just a few days after supporting him does not help the lack of trust between board and supporters. The detachment growing.
How is that detachment solved? How do we get our Charlton back?
I cannot see a new head coach simply changing things to the point where all is well again. If they do, it will merely be temporary. The new boss will have the same restrictions, and ultimately the same failures, as the others.
Duchatelet’s flawed structure needs changing. Or, preferably, removed. I do not get excited by a balance sheet or a green pitch.
I need a Charlton I can feel inspired by, and get behind. Not one as pathetic as the one we currently have, both on and off the pitch.
As cringe-worthy as it sounds, I really do want my Charlton back.
If there is to be any solace taken from the events of Tuesday night, it is that it surely cannot get any worse.
For when Brentford visit The Valley on Saturday, they will surely not face the side that Preston North End did. The side lacking any sort of cohesion, quality and determination. The side unwilling to fight, show character and overcome adversity. The side that had seemingly given up from the first minute, and were accused of not being fit enough to wear the shirt.
So too will the Bees surely face a side led by a head coach whose decision making will not be as desperately poor. With players returning from injury and suspension, Guy Luzon’s excuses, used through this nine game winless run, are minimal.
And surely Lee Carsley’s side will play under a Valley atmosphere less poisonous than the one that left you completely disillusioned and depressed with the state of Charlton Athletic. Even if this weekend is to be a repeat of what occurred in the week, it is almost expected, and will surely be a touch more bearable.
Surely it won’t get any worse. Surely?
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 3-0 BRENTFORD
In a similar scenario, with the Addicks winless in 14 and a venomous atmosphere during a Tuesday night defeat to Norwich preceding it, Charlton delivered a superb display of counter-attacking football to beat the Bees in February.
Guy Luzon’s side took the lead midway through the first half, when Igor Vetokele teed up Johann Berg Gudmundsson to finish coolly from a tight angle.
While Brentford, who came into the game on the back of learning Mark Warburton would not be their boss come the end of the season, were constantly pushed forward by Alex Pritchard, they ran into dead ends each time. The game seemingly over when Vetokele, having received an unselfish pass from Tony Watt, doubled Charlton’s ten minutes after the break.
And an impressive performance and deserved victory was wrapped up in stoppage-time, when the revitalised Frederic Bulot broke through on goal and struck beyond the desperate dive of former Addick David Button.
A repeat on Saturday would be most welcome.
The Bees themselves, having finished in the top six last season, have been in a state of relative crisis this campaign.
For the decision by owner Matthew Benham to remodel the club on a statistical ideology, and depart with Warburton, has seemingly backfired. Recruitment, with those that have arrived from Europe largely failing to impress, questionable, the loss of key players, particularly Andre Gray to Burnely, a huge hindrance, and results, so poor that head coach Marinus Dijkhuizen did not reach October, leaving the Bees looking over their shoulder.
But, under Carsley, a foundation for recovery has been laid in the past week, with victories over Rotherham and Wolves, the latter particularly impressive, providing confidence and points.
Some sort of form hit just in time to play the division’s current strugglers.
Nine winless games, many of which have been gutless and pathetic, leaving the Addicks in the bottom three. A head coach whose decision making has grown more and more questionable with each passing week. An ownership and club structure that can once again be accused of failing.
Whether you’re angry with the performance of a side who have shown little effort and managed just two shots on target in 180 minutes of football, apathetic towards a football club that is seemingly do it all it can to lose a connection with its supporters, or depressed by the entire situation and desperate for a quick turnaround, there’s no denying it’s all a bit bleak in SE7.
And should Charlton follow up the defeats to Reading and Preston with another disastrous performances, then the calls for change will only grow.
The problem is the way the club is run, but it does not prevent pressure being applied to the troubled head coach. The suggestion that Luzon has lost the dressing room needs to be challenged or Saturday, or he many not get another chance to do so.
Despite both playing in a development victory over Crystal Palace on Monday, Sam Saunders and Lewis McLeod are unlikely to be named in the squad to face Charlton on Saturday.
The pair, who are beginning to regain full fitness after lengthy spells out through injury, will not be rushed back in case of any recurrence.
And with long-term absentees Jota, Josh McEachran and Andreas Bjelland still out, the Bees could name the same side that impressively beat Wolves on Wednesday.
Charlton’s chances of recording a victory which looks incredibly unlikely are increased by key players returning in both defence and attack.
Patrick Bauer, having been suspended on Tuesday, will need to inject discipline and organisation into a shambolic backline, while Gudmundsson, after recovering from a dead leg, is available to provide some degree of attacking spark to a side lacking any sort of creativity and confidence.
But Naby Sarr, offering little resilience when called upon this season, will again have to start at centre-back. A fifth yellow card of the season for Alou Diarra in midweek means the Frenchman will sit out the Brentford clash through suspension.
And there remains doubt over whether other key players will be fit enough to start on Saturday. Stephen Henderson, having played for the U21s on Monday, is surely close to a return, and Johnnie Jackson should come in ahead of the hopeless El-Hadji Ba, but Simon Makienok, who made some sort of impression off the bench on Tuesday, isn’t yet ready to play a full 90 minutes
Additionally, Ahmed Kashi, Vetokele and Cristian Ceballos remain absent.
KEY BATTLE: OVERCOMING ADVERSITY
The comeback victories over Cardiff City and Bolton Wanderers. The unlikely victory against Brighton and Hove Albion. That Jackson winner against QPR.
In the past, Charlton have emphatically triumphed during times of adversity. They have showed character and fight when it has been needed most, and managed to play some outstanding football and create unforgettable moments.
And The Valley crowd has got behind them, knowing that such moments are possible. It’s why the sight of Jackson coming on against Fulham three weeks ago created optimism, only extended by his immediate goal. A connection existing between those that give their all for the Addicks, and an understanding that they will give their all.
But that is not true of this current Charlton side, and boss. The evidence during this nine game winless run is that they melt under any sort of pressure, and they have no desire to attempt to overcome testing situations.
As such, while a side of the past would have been given support and inspiration from the Covered End, this current crop will need to earn it on Saturday. They will need to show us hurting supporters that they can overcome adversity, and will not simply give up if the situation becomes tougher.
Brentford, particularly on the back of their two victories in the past week, are not a bad side. David Button an excellent goalkeeper, Alan Judge has been in terrific form, and European additions Marco Djuricin and Phillipp Hofmann scoring in midweek is promising.
But Charlton’s biggest battle is not with the opposition. It is with themselves.
Surely this can’t get any worse? It wouldn’t surprise me. Apathy and anger from minute one, until minute 90+4. Charlton Athletic 0-2 Brentford
There is a cancer that runs through this football club. A cancer that, for a period, seemed to be in remission.
The symptoms, at their worst in February, appeared to have lessened. Despair prevented with promising performances. Anger calmed by encouraging additions. Apathy addressed by a controversially appointed head coach working hard to build a connection with supporters.
In fact, there were some giving Charlton the all clear. The treatment unconventional, but results suggesting attachment, expectation and enjoyment could return.
Alas, those results were read naively. The cancer that runs through Charlton Athletic Football Club always remained, and the stage of remission was only brief.
For despair was felt just two minutes into proceedings with Preston North End at The Valley. The Addicks at a disadvantage early on in a game that many had deemed a must win, as a Paul Gallagher free-kick, conceded in sloppy fashion, was placed into Charlton’s net, guarded terribly by wall and goalkeeper.
Anger soon grew. Intensity, character and potency implicitly promised with a strong Valley atmosphere pleaded for, but instead supporters were left insulted by a performance lacking all of those qualities. Defensive organisation that a Sunday League team would have been embarrassed by capitalised on again before the break, as Gallagher finished superbly from a half-cleared corner.
There were boos, strong and poisonous, at half-time, but the mood turned to apathy as it became apparent those representing the Addicks possessed little fight. The already sparse crowd decreasing in size at regular intervals after Daniel Johnson had capitalised on yet more calamitous Charlton defending to curl well beyond a stationary Nick Pope from distance.
And as the final whistle was blown, a combination of all the symptoms of this cancer were felt. Most supporters already well away, hiding, from both it and their club.
But those that remained aggressively told Guy Luzon, who headed down the tunnel without emotion, it was his time to be sacked. The half-hearted claps of a group of players long beaten, mentally and in score line, were turned away with a piercing cry of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt”. The realisation that the Addicks, without a win in nine and having been dragged into the bottom three, were facing a relegation battle devastating.
Those representing the club taking the blame, but they are merely products of the main problem. A club, and ownership, structure infected in so many areas that success on the pitch is impossible. The flaws, briefly hidden in a sea of positivity, again exposed.
And even if there is to be another physical recovery, there is no getting away from the soul-destroying nature of a disastrous night in SE7.
The extent of the misery could not be predicted, but there was hardly a feeling of confidence prior to kick-off under The Valley’s floodlights.
For while Preston, without a win in nine league games and depleted in defence and attack, did not appear an irresistible force, the weakness of Charlton’s starting XI was incredibly concerning.
It was Johnnie Jackson who had been deployed by the club in order to beg for an inspiring atmosphere in the build-up to the game, but Luzon opted to play the so far unimpressive El-Hadji Ba in his place.
A move particularly difficult to understand given the need for leadership in such an important game. That especially true given Patrick Bauer’s suspension, replaced by Naby Sarr, and the Championship debut handed to Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, in place of the injured Johann Berg Gudmundsson. The side without cohesion and quality.
The options on the bench, with the skipper in reserve and Simon Makienok returning, at least provided some solace. A chance of victory if things could be kept tight going into the game’s closing stages.
But the early signs offered no suggestion that such a scenario could be played out. Charlton static and sloppy, as Ba allowed Holmes-Dennis’ pass to run away from him, and Preston with pace and energy, as Adam Reach collected the loose ball and drove forward with real intent. Ba forced to haul back the Middlesbrough loanee, conceding a free-kick on the edge of his own penalty area.
A decent opportunity for the visitors, but not one that should have been taken with relative ease. A real quality kick required to beat a well-structured wall and a perfectly positioned goalkeeper.
Alas, the wall resembled one built by the sort of builders featured on Watchdog, and Pope was so far to the left of his goal even Jeremy Corbyn would have been startled. The calmness with which Gallagher strode up and simply lifted the ball into the unguarded area of Charlton’s net almost insulting to those representing the Addicks. Despair for those in the stands.
They were, however, diligent. Those in the stands, that is, as they quickly replaced stunned silence with supportive chanting. Famous Valley nights briefly crossed your mind – hope of a comeback existing.
But a response from those on the pitch was not forthcoming. Intensity lacking, passing sideways or hopeless punts, and the structure of the side a complete mess. Jordan Hugill played through, and bundled over by Alou Diarra in a position not too dissimilar to the one Gallagher opened the scoring from, with the Addicks fortunate to get the better of a desperate scramble after the Preston skipper’s strike bounced off the wall. Grim.
Tony Watt, back in the side ahead of Franck Moussa, single-handedly provided the spark to keep the crowd from turning, with bustling runs drawing roars of expectation, but the Scot on more than one occasion simply ran himself into a dead end.
The alternative to an aimless Watt run, slow and sideways passing before Sarr punted it upfield or Ba lost it, was hardly any more encouraging. The atmosphere flat, with frustration growing. Sarcasm, the unfair dramatic cheers as Pope comfortably saved a driven strike from the impressive Johnson and the reasonable wahays that followed a Ba pass, required to keep the crowd sane.
Insanity was only a whisker away, though, as Reach, giving the uncharacteristically poor Solly a torrid time, crossed superbly for Alan Browne to glance a header agonisingly wide of Pope’s far post. Confusion among those in red as to how the Preston man had been allowed so much space, and anger building in the Covered End.
At least they were able to celebrate a shot or two, the chants heard at the Madjeski on Saturday repeated, just before the half hour. Watt cutting inside, and drilling an effort straight at Jordan Pickford, before a penetrative run from the Scot resulted in a horribly wayward effort flashing across the face of goal.
And if Ba had any control of his feet, they might well have had another. The midfielder linking up with the equally abysmal Zakarya Bergdich, only to lose the ball behind him when inside the box. The ball then lost as Morgan Fox shot from distance, and fired well wide.
But to have been encouraged by any of the time spent in Preston’s half would have been incredibly naïve. The same problems, particularly in intensity and cohesion, remained as North End were constantly afforded space to attack. Marnick Vermijl’s strike taking a wicked deflection off Jordan Cousins’ head, and only narrowly ending up the other side of Pope’s post.
It was, however, merely delaying further suffering. Gallagher’s corner delicately chipped to the front post, where a sea of bodies challenged under what appeared to be a commanding punch from Pope, but there was nothing delicate about his follow up.
The former Leicester man sweetly striking a volley into the far corner from the tightest of angles. His celebration in front of the Covered End at least meant supporters had the chance to deflect their anger to someone other than their own for five seconds or so.
Then they booed. They booed with more intensity that Charlton had shown for 36 minutes. Their heads dropped, this side beaten
And after one of those bizarre moments when the Addicks had something that resembled a shot, Watt scuffing wide when well placed to test Pickford, the damage might well have been doubled.
Pope earning some applause after denying Gallagher, the freedom of the pitch once again, a hat-trick with a finger-tip save, before horrendous marking from the resulting corner allowed Browne to crash a header against the bar.
A two goal lead did not do justice to how much Preston, with simple composure and occasional class Charlton had no intention of matching or dealing with, were exploiting the almighty cracks. A performance so poor, lacking in effort to such an extent, and with such an abysmal structure that it was insulting to those supporters who had been promised more. A worse 45 minutes not seen in SE7 for some time, and the boos reflective of that.
Thoughts of a comeback delusional, and made even more unlikely with a start to the second half from the Addicks that merely carried on from where the first left off. Pushing and shoving in a melee the only intensity shown, as Preston sat back and comfortable contained the half-hearted attempts of the hosts to get forward.
The final throw of the dice needed to be taken. He had long been called for, which only increased after a particularly embarrassing touch from the incredibly dire Ba, and finally Jackson was introduced just after the hour. His presence would surely eek any fight out of this battered side, and Makienok being brought on would give Luzon’s side some sort of threat up top. Hope.
Hope that lasted less than a minute. Fox, as poor as he has been all season, handing possession straight to Johnson, and Holmes-Dennis slipping as he attempted to close down the midfielder. The horrendous defending, however, took nothing away from the quality of his finish, curling superbly beyond Pope from distance. A dramatic demonstration of the ease at which he floated around the pitch all night.
Admiring an opposition player could be reserved for another day, though, as Charlton supporters had anger and frustration to vent. “You’re getting sacked in the morning” aimed at Luzon, who cut a helpless figure, but really it was a chant born out of anger at the state of the club.
Luzon, though, had evidently buckled under the pressure. There was to be no response, no fight or even the slightest sign of effort from his players for the remainder of the game. He had no control and no impact. The fourth that Preston almost scored, as Johnson got in behind and unsettled the side netting, hardly relevant. It could not get any worse than this.
Makienok jumped to win headers, and berated his teammates for not being in a position to support him. Jackson chased, and chased, and chased some more, but could not have any impact in a side unwilling to fight. The support, getting smaller and smaller by the second, had given up.
Preston played out the final minutes of the game in a manner that suggested they were just one goal up, or fearful of a fightback. But they needn’t have been. Always in control, always confident on the ball and always composed. Always better than the shambles they were up against.
Even with defensive intentions, they were still able to carve open the slow, unstructured and uninterested Charlton defence as the full-time whistle approached. Browne firing across the face of goal, and substitute Will Keane played through only to blast over when he probably could have done better.
And with that, viva a quick warm-up undertaken when four minutes of additional torture were announced, the release of anger following the game’s conclusion could get underway. The ground half empty, but the boos as loud as they have ever been in SE7.
Luzon headed down the tunnel to a chorus of “you’re getting sacked in the morning”. The players were told they were “not fit to wear the shirt” as Jackson attempted to lead them over. The mood an unbearable mix of venomous anger, and utter despair.
This a night that will not be forgotten. Another night instigated by the Roland Duchatelet regime that will not be forgotten. That will not be forgotten for the extent of the misery, the pain, and the disillusion.
That, of course, is not used to deflect any anger and criticism away from those who featured more prominently specifically in this Valley debacle.
For they are deserving of all they have and will receive.
The effort of the players simply not acceptable. Sarr, Ba and Bergdich among those who were particularly woeful, but all showed a complete lack of desire and fight.
The decisions of Luzon inexcusable. A bizarre team selection, substitutions made too late, and a complete inability to impact the game and lift his side.
The use of injuries as an excuse insulting and infuriating. That some players are absent does not justify such a lack of intensity, cohesion and character, as Preston showed with a performance to be proud of despite missing a number of key players.
I had not wanted Luzon to go before tonight, but I’m beginning to fear the dressing room is lost. Such a desperately poor performance suggests that might be the case.
Alas, there is no quick fix. Sacking Luzon, you would think, would simply result in him being replaced by another body from within the network, working within the same limitations, with the same squad.
The problem is not exclusively that the players are not working hard enough, that the side lacks cohesion, and that the head coach has made a shocking number of mistakes in previous weeks. They are problems that come as a result of the way the club is operated.
A squad that is apparently over budget, despite lacking any sort of strength in depth. A squad lacking experience and leadership, and too reliant on just a handful of players. A squad that contains far too many players not good enough, scouted by the club’s flawed recruitment strategy. The focus seemingly elsewhere.
A head coach who has shown in the past he is both passionate and talented, has been left looking clueless and disconnected. For he has been given not enough financial backing, not enough resources to compete, and wilted under the pressure. No head coach would thrive.
The structure is completely flawed, and driving people away from the football club. The naivety and arrogance of Katrien Meire infuriating, and epitomising the problems that are reflected on the pitch.
Supporters are disconnected, disillusioned, and depressed. Only so many more repeats of these scenarios that I, and you, can take.
Six pointers this season were supposed to be fought with those sides hoping to achieve a top six finish come May. The sides that fell just short last season, those that improved over the summer, and those that suffered relegation from the Premier League.
For we were told a bid for the play-offs would be launched. The perceived calibre of those recruited, in addition to the extension of Jordan Cousins and Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s contracts, supported such a statement. The opening four games of the season, three of which were against sides that would consider anything but a top six finish a failure, made it seem something more than a statement.
But the first six pointer of the season, 12 games into it, is upon us, and Charlton are not playing a side who have suggested in the opening fixtures that they have top six ambitions.
In fact, rather than playing a relegated club and looking to compete with them for promotion, the Addicks face Preston North End – a promoted club who they seemingly are fighting with to avoid relegation.
A run of eight games without victory, seven of which have come in the league, giving supporters legitimate fears, after early season optimism, that their side will be facing a campaign of struggle. The quality of performance and amount of effort seen in those winless fixtures, not least in the tedious defeat to Reading on Saturday, only increasing such worries.
Such is the extent to which Charlton are currently underperforming, a victory against the Deepdale club, in need of a win of their own, would not immediately relieve fears and solve the issues faced.
But defeat, which is likely to create an uncomfortable if not poisonous atmosphere around The Valley, would be disastrous. A game the Addicks simply cannot afford to lose.
LAST MEETING – PRESTON NORTH END 2-2 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
Not even Graeme Alexander’s stoppage-time equaliser, on his final game in professional football after a 22-year career, ruined the party atmosphere in the Deepdale away end, as Charlton used their final trip of the 2011/12 season to celebrate being crowned League One champions.
After some rather enjoyable pre-game festivity, including a crossbar challenge between Alex Dyer and Chris Powell, it seemed as if events during the 90 minutes were to provide extra joy for the visiting Addicks. Danny Haynes and Dany N’Guessan giving Powell’s side a two goal lead after 35 minutes.
But Preston hit back 12 minutes after half-time, with Nicky Hunt volleying beyond John Sullivan after a corner was only half-cleared.
And Sullivan was beaten from distance again just beyond the 90th minute, when Alexander struck a dramatic free-kick to spark emotional scenes on the pitch and among the home supporters.
Few of a Preston persuasion were expecting their first season in the Championship since 2010/11 to be anything but a challenge. Few neutrals were not tipping them to be involved in a relegation battle.
And, unfortunately, North End have lived up to those pre-season expectations. No win in all competitions in eight, no win in the league in nine, and just one Championship victory all season. The eight points they’ve gained leaving them in 22nd place.
In truth, they have been somewhat unfortunate. Injuries to key players and conceding late equalisers have been particularly harmful to Simon Grayson’s side, and enough points to keep them away from the bottom three at this stage of this season would have been obtained without them.
But, as Charlton supporters are well aware, those sorts of excuses soon only increase the frustration. Improvement required from Preston, irrespective of any unfortunate circumstances, if they are to keep their necks above water.
There was hope that, irrespective of the fact their winless run continued, their comeback draw with Fulham would be the turning point. A show of character, a boost in confidence, some signs of quality.
Alas, the defeat at Reading at Saturday has completely destroyed the relative optimism created two weeks previously.
A defeat that appeared close in scoreline, with Nick Blackman’s winner coming only after Patrick Bauer had been sent off, but was far from it in performance. Two shots, a bizarre reaction to the red card from Luzon, and a lack of determination that suggested an acceptance of the defeat from the moment the Addicks were reduced to ten men.
Game number eight without victory, leaving Luzon’s side just two points from the bottom three at the point in the season where it is often said the table starts to take shape. At the very least, it’s concerning.
Hope is provided to Charlton with the return of key players from injuries, and two fixtures in the coming weeks against teams in similar positions, but it’s not unreasonable to feel the damage is so substantial that there is no quick fix.
Preston’s chances of ending their winless run are hindered by an injury crisis that is arguably more substantial than Charlton’s.
That particularly true in defence, particularly after skipper Tom Clarke suffered a shoulder injury during Saturday’s draw with Cardiff.
He joins fellow defenders Paul Huntington and former Addick Paddy McCarthy in the treatment room, with Ben Davies recalled from Southport in a bid to ease the injury issues.
So too are North End without several options in forward positions, heightened by the news that winger Chris Humphrey will be out for two months with a stress fracture.
Play-off final hero Jermaine Beckford is a long-term absentee, while the prolific Joe Garner serves the last of a three match ban following his sending off against Wolves.
Charlton will be without defensive talisman Bauer, who sits out the game through suspension following his dismissal against Reading on Saturday.
It leaves the Addicks in a fragile state at the back, with the unconvincing Naby Sarr the only natural option available to replace the German. The return of goalkeeper Stephen Henderson, who was on the bench at the Madjeski, particularly timely.
And so too could there be a forward figure returning, with Simon Makienok having completed a full day of training on Sunday. The 6’7 forward providing the Addicks with something different, and hopefully helping Tony Watt, likely to come back into the starting XI, to return to some sort of form.
KEY BATTLE: QUICKEST OFF THE MARK
At this stage of the season, it could be said that to suggest a game is a must win is hyperbole. With 34 games still to play for both sides after Tuesday night’s clash, three points are not as sacred as they are with four games to play, and there remains plenty of time for issues to be addressed.
But there is no getting away from the feeling that defeat for either side would be extremely damaging. Preston further questioning if they can compete in the Championship, and Charlton entering the state of crisis that they are on the verge of. Player and supporter confidence lowered to a point that would require something emphatic to heal it.
As such, a nervy and cagey affair is likely. Not least giving the fact that North End drew a blank at Cardiff on Saturday, and the Addicks managed two shots at Reading.
So scoring first, given both sides’ nerves and faults, appears crucial. With Grayson’s side taking no points from losing positions this season, and Charlton just two, that first goal appeals particularly important.
Throwing caution to the wind, and attempting to strike first, could be a gamble worth taking.
Incredibly hard to feel positive, irrespective of the quality of the opposition. Not winning doesn’t bare thinking about, though. Charlton Athletic 2-1 Preston North End
There is an argument that you could feel somewhat sympathetic come full-time for the ten solemn figures wearing Charlton red. Their misery inflicted by a 76th minute Nick Blackman header, coming after Patrick Bauer had been dismissed, to give a Reading side that had decimated opposition at the Madjeski Stadium this season the narrowest of winning margins.
For there was a period, a relatively substantial 68 minute one, where it seemed Reading were not going to be successful in their attempts to win the game.
The Royals dominant, undoubtedly, but their clever passing moves were consistently thwarted by a stubborn and structured Charlton. Restricted largely to strikes from distance, most of which failed to threaten Nick Pope.
Maybe, therefore, there’s something to be taken from the resolve seen before Bauer, sent off for a second bookable offence, departed and Blackman, unmarked at the back post, nodded in Lucas Piazon’s cross.
But the argument that this was a performance insulting to those who had travelled to Berkshire is stronger. At the very least, the anger directed at the players as they approached the away end following the game’s conclusion hugely eclipsed the positive acknowledgment.
Such anger existing owing to the desperately dire attacking efforts of Guy Luzon’s side, which far outweighed any positive impact their defensive diligence provided.
Movement non-existence, the ball moved without pace or potency, and the ball too often lumped to a set of forwards too weak to win an aerial duel. So depressingly poor were the Addicks that the two unthreatening shots they mustered in 90 minutes was too high a reward for their efforts.
So too, as an eighth game without victory was confirmed, was their outrage at the way Charlton responded to Bauer’s red card. Defeat, in the eyes of those in red, seemingly confirmed the moment the big German, dominant at the back prior to his sending off, left the pitch.
No energy, no effort and no determination. No structure, shape and composure, either, with Luzon withdrawing Johnnie Jackson and forming a makeshift back four. Such a gutless period that it eclipsed the character shown prior to it; the goal a formality.
Reading allowed to knock the ball around at their own pace in the game’s closing stages as the Addicks drifted around the pitch in half-hearted fashion. Mentally, they were beaten, and by much more than the narrow scoreline suggested.
They deserve little sympathy. Nor do those in the technical area or making the key decisions. Sympathy firmly with Charlton’s supporters, who had once again been let down.
There was at least some hope, if not expectation, that the Addicks would not disappoint to such an extent where their motivation and character could be questioned given the inclusion of an important figure in Luzon’s starting line-up.
Captain Jackson, having inspired the comeback against Fulham two weeks ago, given his first start of the season, replacing El-Hadji Ba. His determination infectious, and a side with the Skipper in it rarely offers anything less than their all.
Concerns, however, were voiced over the rest of Luzon’s line-up prior to kick-off. Zakarya Bergdich in for Morgan Fox at left-back, and Franck Moussa, making his first start since recovering from a long-term injury, replacing Tony Watt were changes not met with universal approval.
It was, therefore, of little surprise to those in the away end that Reading’s first threatening forward move came down Bergdich’s side.
The Moroccan, along with Jordan Cousins, dragged towards Orlando Sa, who cleverly played in the now free Piazon. Pope required to make a good save at his near post.
The goalkeeper was thankful he wasn’t called into action again moments later, as yet more impressive build-up play from the Royals, involving the quick feet and flicks of Blackman and Piazon, resulted in Ola John being played through. The Dutchman, replacing the injured Hal Robson-Kanu in Reading’s starting XI, horribly lashing over.
But there was some surprise, or maybe frustration, with the sort of football the Addicks were attempting play. Possession retained conservatively between defence and midfield, but the forward balls played in a fashion far too direct for those who occupied the attacking positions. Paul McShane and Michael Hector in control.
It meant Reading, with their pace and creativity, were able to continue their early assault on Charlton’s goal. Although Blackman, with a wayward free-kick, assaulted someone in the away end before Sa’s strike from distance was well claimed by a composed Pope.
And composure was beginning to grow throughout the Charlton side. Bauer and Alou Diarra letting little pass, Jackson tidily retaining possession, Cousins’ energetic pressing in the middle drawing the largest appreciation from the visiting supporters.
Still, though, there lacked any sort of attacking threat. Moussa, Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Conor McAleny attempting to make something happen, but constantly running into dead ends.
With the Addicks, minus the odd uncomfortable moment provided by Bergdich, stubbornly holding off the attacks of Reading, and their decision making in the final third questionable, the game effectively entered a state of dull stalemate. A success of sorts for Luzon’s side, but incredibly tough viewing.
It meant the action in the half’s final six minutes could be viewed as relative excitement, even if Oliver Norwood’s effort, unmarked at the edge of the box and with plenty of time to pick his spot, summed up the opening 45 minutes as it tamely sailed over the bar.
For Charlton, in an incident more surprising than a Bradley Pritchard goal, had a shot. A shot on target, too, as Gudmundsson cut inside and curled an effort that was, in truth, comfortable enough for Ali Al-Habsi to claim in the Reading goal.
The goalkeeper’s save did not stop the visiting supporters from enjoying themselves, though. A loud, sarcastic cheer followed by chants of “we’ve had a shot”, “we want two” and “can we have another shot”.
Their side’s flaws embraced, as a passage of sideways passes drew wahays from the away end, and tongue-in-cheek boos after it predictably ended with possession being lost following a forward pass. The half ending in fitting fashion.
But, despite the Addicks being relatively poor and succeeding in boring all those inside the Madjeski to death, the defensive resolve of the first half had at least built a base from which could be built upon. The sight of Watt warming up at half-time encouraging – a game that could, with some improvement, still be won.
Improvement, however, was not to be seen in the second half’s opening moments. The forward play still incredibly lacklustre, and Reading remerging with some additional spark. Bauer’s interventions more important than ever, as Hector kept the pressure on with an effort from distance that just fizzed over the bar.
And with Aaron Tshibola and Nick Blackman, although in relatively unthreatening fashion, also firing over, the sight of Watt being readied was incredibly pleasing. Hopefully a day where the Scot possessed his individual brilliance, desperately needed to peg the Royals back.
His first involvement was certainly encouraging, rounding more men than the rest of his teammates had combined, before calmly picking out Chris Solly’s run, but that creating a bit of space in midfield was to be celebrated summed up Charlton’s continued attacking intent and threat.
That only weakened further, shortly after it had seemingly been increased, by the withdrawal of Gudmundsson. A strange decision by Luzon, with Fox on in his place, and Bergdich pushed forward.
It meant Reading could afford to commit even more men forward, without fear they would be caught out on the break, and there was a greater sense of expectation from the home supporters with each attack. Fear increasing in the away end as Piazon drove forward, and saw an effort deflected narrowly wide.
So the corner, their first of the game, that Charlton won with just less than 25 minutes to play seemingly offered little less than some momentarily relief. Bergdich booked for attempting to make that moment several, before Bauer, volleying so wide that the ball would not have entered a fourth goal, dubiously claimed the second Addick strike of the afternoon.
And though the defender was evidently unimpressed with his effort, there was greater disappointment to come as he returned to a more familiar half of the pitch. The moment that effectively Reading’s victory, as Bauer carelessly took out a rampant Blackman and received a second yellow card.
There could be no complaints, only frustration that the man almost single-handedly keeping Reading at bay had made such a costly error of judgement. His name sung as he departed, and deservedly so irrespective of his sending off.
At least further punishment was briefly withheld, as Piazon’s free-kick, attempting to get the ball to move in a way Cristian Ronaldo does, ended up somewhere towards the back of the stand behind the goal Reading were attacking.
But there was to be an immediate increase in frustration in the away end. Jackson, not visibly tired, still performing well, and whose composure and leadership was desperately needed at this moment, taken off to be replaced by El-Hadji Ba.
Even if Jackson’s legs had gone, it was a call that made little sense. The back four now featuring Fox at centre-back and Bergdich at left-back, attempting to hold off an increasingly determined and dangerous forward line. That the Royals were able to introduce Gareth McCleary hardly helpful.
The energy and effort, therefore, could not be anything less than 100%. Heads could not afford to drop, Charlton bodies could not tamely stand-off Reading as they came forward, and there had to be a real belief that something could still be taken from the game.
Alas, it was quite the opposite. The Addicks visibly without confidence, and not able or willing to put in the effort required.
Reading’s goal, 14 minutes from time, frustratingly simple after attack after attack had been halted. Piazon not pressurised down the left, and his cross headed across a blameless Pope by an unmarked Blackman. Sickening and disgusting in equal measure.
It was not, however, game over. The stats, and body language, said give up and go home, but time remained for the Addicks to snatch something.
But even believing for a second that Charlton had hope was incredibly naïve. As those in red half-heartedly moved themselves around the pitch, without any possibility of threatening when in possession and failing to press in order to win the ball back when without, it was obvious the game was gone.
And though Reading attempted to double their lead, with Hector firing over and substitute Danny Williams prodding towards Pope, they soon realised they were merely wasting energy. Charlton not willing to chase, as the Royals passed the ball around without danger of losing it.
The Addicks more desperate for the final whistle, then they were to snatch an equaliser. Determination, character and intensity non-existent as the game’s conclusion was reached, but anger only increased among the away supporters. A dreadful performance.
A dreadful performance for which there could be several excuses suggested.
Reading a decent side, who were not fortunate to capitalise upon Charlton’s struggles or their lack of men, and certainly deserved their victory. Composed at the back, and often stylish going forward.
But they were also a side who were struggling to break down the Addicks when they applied themselves, and were incredibly wasteful when they attacked. There is no excuse for the way Luzon’s side were completely overawed.
You could then point to the injuries, and suggest Charlton’s chances of getting something from the game would have dramatically increased with a fully fit squad to choose from. Simon Makienok’s strength and ability in the air would have been especially useful in such a game.
But to constantly keep using injuries as an excuse is growing tiresome. The real issue is a lack of squad depth – they should not be harming us to the extent that they are.
You might even suggest that the red card changed the game and, with 11 men on the pitch, the Addicks would have taken something from the game.
Possibly, but it does not excuse such a lacklustre attacking effort, and an embarrassing response to Bauer’s red card.
There are those who escape such criticism. Cousins excellent and energetic, even in the closing moments, Jackson proving he is more than just a talisman with a composed and competent performance, and Diarra, alongside Bauer before his red, resilient.
Pope, too, was calm amidst chaos, claiming almost everything that came into the box. Though it was encouraging to see Stephen Henderson on the bench.
But the remainder deserve all the criticism they receive. Bergdich horrendous, those playing in forward positions weak, and Ba reflecting a lack of effort that spread throughout the whole side as he came on.
Luzon, too, can be questioned. His decision making dreadful, and it was that that was the catalyst for a dire effort after the sending off, and not the sending off itself. He has credit to his name, and sacking him would be ludicrous, but the mistakes are piling up. The effort not improving.
This is not a crisis, but it’s on the verge of one. Preston a vital fixture. A repeat of this, and panic buttons will be pressed.