At a stadium where those who occupy the home ends are often considered to have something of a fabricated relationship with their club, incapable of understanding the true feelings of such a bond given that theirs was born out of the demise of another, the connection between Charlton Athletic and its fans continued to grow increasingly distant.
A connection once strong – surviving near oblivion, homelessness, and Alan Pardew – as weak as it has ever been. Torn apart not merely by a 12th consecutive game without victory and a fifth without scoring, but by what those negative results mean beyond a failure to pick up points.
For though Dean Bowditch’s 29th minute goal, coolly converting after a slick passing move from MK Dons, inflicted a defeat upon the Addicks which leaves them four points from safety, the result on its own was not the cause of this once unbreakable relationship between supporter and club entering into a deeper crisis. Suffering a defeat is not a new concept.
But to continually offer such pathetic, spineless and gutless performances is an insult to those who support this side. The effort provided in support, irrespective of the growing feeling of detachment, greater than anything offered on the pitch.
And the depressing nature of the efforts of those representing Charlton in Milton Keynes arguably eclipsed those seen previously. The scoreline may suggest that there was some improvement, or at least some showing of fight, but that is far from the truth.
Dons lacking a certain amount of quality, and yet still able to take complete control of the game. Were it not for Stephen Henderson, avoiding the curse striking down his teammates, the margin of defeat would have been more reflective of the performance.
So too are supporters left insulted by the decision making of the interim head coach. Karel Fraeye quite obviously not qualified for the role.
The lack of structure throughout the game alarming, and became laughable when five strikers were dotted around the pitch. The sixth with a Charlton connection, Simon Church, looking the most likely to score as half-hearted efforts were made by the Addicks to draw level.
And as the final whistle blew, putting the apathetic out of their misery and allowing the angered to aggressively express their displeasure towards those players brave enough to make their way towards the away end, it was apparent another visual representation of the overall state of the club had been witnessed. This the result of Roland Duchatelet’s reign.
The poisonous atmosphere, as soul destroying to be a part of as ever, enhanced by the efforts of those representing the Addicks, but caused by a failing ownership, stubbornly inflicting further misery. While a battle of emotions existed in the away end, there was unity in the cries of “get Roland out”.
And yet, he and his sidekicks would have even less sympathy and understanding of such emotions than the stereotypical Dons supporters. The club he has transformed Charlton into is becoming harder to support each week.
At the very least, his ownership has destroyed all positivity and excitement in relation to supporting the Addicks. The horrible feeling of dread prior to kick-off only enhanced by the appearance of Reza Ghoochannejhad’s name on the teamsheet, replacing Karlan Ahearne-Grant.
El-Hadji Ba being dropped, with Conor McAleny coming in, and Tony Watt returning to the side, ahead of Simon Makienok, not enough to produce any sort of optimism.
That particularly true with Diego Poyet, frustrating booed despite his positive contribution to Charlton and his fully justified departure, starting for the Dons and Church lurking on the bench. Worry that the ex-Addicks could inflict further suffering on their former supporters.
However, somewhat surprisingly, it was the visitors who had the game’s first meaningful shot on goal. Jordan Cousins’ well-struck 25-yard effort, rifled towards the top corner but kept out superbly by Dons goalkeeper David Martin, was met by a chorus of “we’ve had a shot” from the away end.
It soon became apparent that the decision to celebrate that strike was not a misguided one. A horribly unorganised attacking unit, further hampered by terrible individual decision making and the struggles of Watt and Ghoochannejhad, unable to significantly test the hosts’ backline. An optimistic penalty shout from the Iranian, falling to the ground in typically tame fashion, the only brief moment of excitement for those in the away end.
Thankfully, despite the hosts looking much more comfortable on the ball, moments of panic caused by events in Charlton’s box were just as rare in a rather dull opening. That isn’t to say Henderson spilling a delivery, only to jump on the loose ball before a Dons player could react, was welcomed.
And nor was the growing threat that Josh Murphy was providing as Karl Robinson’s side began to turn mundane possession into something more concerning. The winger leaving Chris Solly for dead, but no one in the middle could connect with the inviting delivery that followed.
Though Cousins, attempting to alleviate some of the pressure by emulating his earlier effort, struck horribly wide from distance, it was quite clear to see that a game that had been in a state of stale equality was now being firmly controlled by the Dons.
But that takes little away from the fact that the goal they were soon to score was gifted to them in rather tame fashion.
Those wearing Charlton colours static as Bowditch exchanged passes with Samir Carruthers, and simply rolled the ball beyond the dive of Henderson. A pleasing passing move for those of a Dons’ persuasion, but horrendously poor defending in the eyes of those watching from the away end.
More concerning, however, was the fear a capitulation would follow like it had done when the Addicks had conceded in the previous three defeats. As Morgan Fox played Watt through on goal, there was a brief moment where it seemed such thoughts could be replaced by celebration, but the Scot skewed his effort into the side netting.
At least the interval was reached without complete implosion occurring. Dean Lewington clearing the bar with a free-kick, and Nicky Maynard volleying in the general direction of the corner flag, but the Addicks avoiding further damage.
Alas, there was no indication given before the break that any sort of comeback was possible. The performance already tired and lethargic, interventions from Alou Diarra constantly required to cover for a non-existent midfield, and those out wide and in attack losing the ball before they had even received it.
In fact, the only time Martin was forced into action again before half-time was when slightly over-enthusiastic pass backs from his teammates left him scrambling across his line to hack the ball clear. Questions were asked in the away end if those could be claimed as shots, such was the desperation.
And that desperation would have turned to complete despair just three minutes into the second half, were it not for Henderson’s fingertips.
The excellent Carruthers, driving through midfield with intent and at the heart of every positive Dons move, found himself some space in the chasm that stood where Charlton’s midfield should have been, and slid through Maynard, dropping a shoulder to get the better of Patrick Bauer.
The net was surely going to ripple, but the Irish stopper pulled off an incredible save to keep out what was a relatively well-placed effort from the Dons forward. That away end, apart from the time they had pretended to celebrate a goal, having something to applaud for the first time all evening.
The catalyst for a turnaround, however, it was not. Half-time substitute Karlan Ahearne-Grant, on for the anonymous McAleny, could only run into a dead end when seemingly in a decent position, while Poyet sliced wide and Henderson held a Maynard effort. Charlton still poor; the Dons probing.
And when Maynard turned Bauer on the edge of the box and crashed an effort beyond an almost motionless Henderson, it looked as if their pressure would finally result in their lead being doubled. The Addicks fortunate that the ball cannoned back off the crossbar, and was not an inch or two lower.
So too were they fortunate that Henderson was equal to another effort after the midfield and defence had again parted. The goalkeeper tipping Carruthers’ drive over the bar.
Martin was finally forced into action down the other end, gathering the softest of efforts from Ghoochannejhad, but it was not enough to calm the growing frustration in the away end. Much more than what was being provided demanded and deserved.
But it was not to come. The decision to remove Cousins and replace him with Makienok further weakening Charlton in the middle, and allowing the Dons to increase their control of the game. Maynard kind enough to take sympathy on the Addicks, and block a goalbound effort from Bowditch.
The final roll of the dice from Fraeye followed. 17-year-old Ademola Lookman, replacing Ghoochannejhad, on for his professional debut. And though his first involvement was promising, cutting inside and beating a player in white in one movement before finding the next pass, his introduction was the perfect representation of the limited quality in the squad.
Those more experienced players, or at least those of proven quality, needed to make a difference. Watt threatened to do so as he broke into the box, but his effort, curled straight at Martin, was one of a striker without confidence. A Makienok header also floating into the hands of the goalkeeper, that would have been ruled out for offside had it gone in. Strikers placed all over the pitch in a formation without any sort of organisation, but none of them capable of scoring.
In fact, it continued to be Dons who looked the most likely to score the game’s second goal as they were able to take advantage of the space that Charlton’s bizarre system gifted to them. The still lively Murphy breaking into the box from out wide, and blasting into the side netting.
It had reached a point where many in the away end simply wanted to be put out of their misery. An equaliser not coming.
But while Jackson still skippers the Addicks, completely giving up is somewhat misguided. The captain rose highest from a corner, only for his header to be cleared off the line, and Martin to just about claim the loose ball under pressure from the 6’4 frame of Bauer. Maybe, with 15 minutes and stoppage time still to play, there was some sort of hope.
Alas, such wild thoughts were quickly curtailed. A crunching tackle on Gudmundsson by Poyet, the sort he made regularly in Charlton colours, ended the Icelanders game. This already unorganised side left in further disarray.
And it only encouraged Robinson’s side to get forward and look to kill the game off in its closing moments. The ball squared to substitute Church, but the Welshman’s effort took a deflection off Diarra and somehow went wide.
His fellow former Addick Poyet then drilled not too far off-target, before the Welshman was sent clear through, only to drag his effort across the face of goal. The eight minutes of additional time not providing hope, but extending the suffering of those in the away end.
Those eight minutes seen out in composed fashion by the Dons. The ball kept calmly, and Charlton’s desperate punts up field beaten away. The difference between the two sides far greater than just the one goal.
The boos and anger, with players sent away and a chorus of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” directed at them, that came from the away end following the full-time whistle the reaction to something much greater than a one goal defeat. This much more than just a one goal defeat.
It is a 12th consecutive game without victory, a fifth consecutive defeat and a fifth consecutive game without scoring.
It is the worry that relegation looms, and that pathetic performances will continue to be repeated.
That this Fox, who seemingly cannot do the basics right, as replaced the inform Fox of the first few weeks of the season. That Watt’s confidence will not recover. That Gudmundsson has lost his match winning abilities.
That the defence has lost any sort of composure, that the midfield will continue to be overrun, and the attack will continue to be goalless.
That the squad will not be strengthened, and teenagers who aren’t yet good enough will continue to be relied upon.
That Fraeye, so evidently out of his depth and should be nowhere near the job, will soon lose the interim tag. That this side playing without any fight, determination and now structure will continue to do so.
That Duchatelet will continue on his stubborn path. Ignoring the desperate need to change. Ignoring the calls for him to go. Ignoring the poisonous atmospheres his failed ownership strategy has created.
Ignoring that his ownership is destroying a once great club.
It’s all so very grim. I want my Charlton back.