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.