A group of supporters, united by disillusion towards the way the club they love is being treated, rose as a collective. The posters they held reading “we are the 2%”, accompanied by a chant of “stand up for the 2%”.
Katrien Merie had suggested that it was just a tiny proportion of Charlton fans who were displeased with the way she and Roland Duchatelet controlled the club. The number on their feet in the second minute, combined with the amount of unoccupied seats in the home areas, suggesting her belief was misguided. A point made, by committed supporters taking part in a superbly organised protest.
And by the time Meire stood up to leave her seat at full-time, the percentage of supporters against the regime she is part of would have only increased. At the very least, the unrest made clearer by the fact the final moments of the three goal defeat to Ipswich Town were played out in front of a near-empty stadium.
Supporters escaping a sombre Valley, and the shambolic efforts of those wearing red. The performance lacking any of the commitment that had earlier been shown in the stands, and in complete contrast to the determination shown by the visitors to capitalise on every Charlton mistake. A cohesive unit, built over many years by an experienced boss to compete successfully in the Championship, ruthlessly punishing a side that showed none of the organisation those who supported it possessed.
The catalyst for such an embarrassing capitulation – if not the overall running of the club – the withdrawal of Johnnie Jackson in the 13th minute. A hamstring injury forcing the side’s leader off the pitch, and leaving Karel Fraeye’s system in tatters. The Addicks in chaos without their captain.
And it was chaos in Charlton’s box that led to the Tractor Boys taking a deserved 28th minute lead. Head tennis played as the Addicks attempted to defend a corner, but opportunities to clear were missed, ultimately allowing Daryl Murphy to nod home.
So too were defensive faults to blame for Ipswich’s second in first-half stoppage-time. The game all but lost as the Addicks stood off Luke Chambers, and Freddie Sears was allowed to run onto the full-back’s ball forward without attention. Sears’ strike deflecting past Stephen Henderson off the boot of Patrick Bauer. The half-time boos predictable.
Nor did it take a physic to suggest Ipswich would punish this sluggish Charlton effort with a third goal after the break. Murphy, doing everything that the struggling Simon Makienok wasn’t, picked out in space to finish coolly beyond Henderson.
In truth, the Addicks were only denied a consolation goal by inspired goalkeeping from Dean Gerken. Ricardo Vaz Te denied on two occasions.
But the focus for supporters was no longer this 2% effort on the pitch. Attention on the 100% shambles, that had not been justified by two successive wins prior to this, those off the pitch were overseeing.
Irrespective of the angst that was going to be expressed two minutes into this lunch-time kick-off, there were few fearing such a disappointing performance.
The side unchanged after the hard fought efforts to secure three points at St Andrew’s last week, with Fraeye avoiding the temptation to bring the fit again Chris Solly back into the starting line-up. At the very least, inspired by Jackson, there was an expectation that effort would not be questionable.
And, as the raising of the 2% posters showed the extent of the unrest among supporters, there was some encouragement to be had on the pitch. Intensive pressing on Ipswich’s back four whenever they had the ball, possession maintained in a relatively comfortable fashion, and Ademola Lookman lively.
But, after protest against the club’s ownership had turned to vocal support for the side’s skipper, it was Ipswich who were able to create the game’s first genuine openings. Brett Pitman not striking the ball cleanly, and allowing Henderson to comfortably keep out his effort from the edge of the box, before the forward hung a cross up for Murphy to head narrowly wide. The first signs of defensive unease from the Addicks.
That unease, however, would not be contained just in Charlton’s back four. Worry as the physio was called to tend to Jackson, and heartbreak for both supporters and the skipper as he hobbled off. Confusion following, with Solly brought onto replace the influential midfielder, Tareiq Holmes-Dennis pushed to left-midfield, and the diamond in midfield abandoned.
Whether it was the absence of Jackson or the change in formation, it almost immediately went flat. The initial spark lost, replaced by sluggishness going forward and a lack of composure at the back as Ipswich began to take relative control of the game. A Fox headed needed to prevent an Ipswich cross being converted.
In fact, were it not for the intervention of Henderson, then the Tractor Boys might well have taken the lead with 19 minutes played. Sarr only succeeding in heading a Town cross to an unmarked Sears at the back post, but the former West Ham man was denied superbly by Charlton’s goalkeeper.
A let off for Charlton, that had to be taken as a wake-up call. Particularly at the back, where Fox was struggling with the pace of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Bauer was showing an uncharacteristic amount of uncertainty, and Sarr was losing every battle with the excellent Murphy. Johann Berg Gudmundsson, taking a wayward Holmes-Dennis effort in a sensitive area, was woken up more literally.
But even those that were still squinting at Gudmundsson’s pain would have had their eyes opened by a dazzling run from Lookman. The youngster arguably the only player injecting some belief into the stands, and life into his side, as he cut in from the left and drilled a shot wide of Gerken’s goal.
Alas, the belief provided was merely false hope. The Addicks so unorganised at the back that they were always likely to be punished by a potent Ipswich side.
It would have been unjust had they not been properly penalised for such a diabolical attempt at dealing with Ipswich’s quickly taken short corner. Henderson providing a temporary reprieve, blocking Sears’ strike after Maitland-Niles’ cross had eventually found its way through to the forward.
Out the ball seemingly went, with Sarr heading away and Makienok flicking on, but Jonathan Douglas was able to knock the ball back into the box. Too dangerous for Henderson to claim, Alou Diarra not winning the duel convincingly enough, and the ball eventually looping to Smith. Shouts for a foul on Solly heard as he brushed the full-back out the way and headed to Murphy, but greater anger was directed at Charlton’s defensive efforts. The Irish striker nodding in with ease. Comical.
A quick response desperately needed, particularly given the way Mick McCarthy’s side’s cling onto leads away from home.
Something a bit more testing than Lookman’s poke at Gerken required, particularly as Charlton defenders were left looking at each other in confusion while an unmarked Douglas cursed being able to only glance a header wide of goal. Jordan Cousins, though on target, producing an equally tame nod at the other end.
It quickly became apparent that the sanctuary of the dressing room was where this mess of a Charlton side needed to be. Attacking threat all but non-existent; defensive flaws existing weightily. Four minutes of additional time hardly ideal.
Particularly not for Sarr, who decided not to track the run of Sears, and allow him a free run on Chambers’ through ball. Bauer stood in his way, and the angle was tight, but the diminutive forward’s strike was powerful, and found its way beyond a motionless Henderson via a nick of the German defender’s boot. Delirious supporters in the away end; disillusioned occupiers of the home.
The anger only increasing as two of the half’s villains made a final impact before half-time. Makienok, who had not won a header in the opening 45, taking too long on the ball inside the box when a chance appeared to be on, and Fox gifting possession to Maitland-Niles before having to haul him down. A few more than 2% of the crowd booing at the break.
Confidence sucked from a fragile side, and not much hope existing in the stands, even with Fox withdrawn and Vaz Te appearing for the second half. Excellent crosses not being attacked doing little to ease the tension around The Valley beyond the 45.
And while Holmes-Dennis was crossing to forwards intent on not moving for the ball, Murphy was continuing to deliver an almost perfect centre forward performance. His first-time strike vicious, but thankfully crashing against the stanchion. Vaz Te responding with a tame effort, and Makienok responding by just being tame in general.
In fact, the only aggression seen from the Dane all afternoon came as he swiped at Christophe Berra when attempting, and failing, to win a header. Makienok by Ipswich’s centre-back pairing, and he had seemingly given up trying to overcome the challenge.
So too had his teammates, outclassed by an Ipswich side showing they possessed some style in addition to their resoluteness, determination and grit. Their third goal a wonderful flowing move of one touch football, with Douglas ultimately cleverly feeding Murphy to finish via the post.
They probably appreciated it with great delight on Sky Sports, and the away end certainly did. But all Charlton supporters could offer in response were boos.
“You Belgian wankers, get out of our club” heard as Smith rose highest to head a corner off-target. The only intensity in the stands; the Addicks downbeat and beaten, and Ipswich, despite the margin of their lead, doing all they could to slow the game.
It’s probably a good job Ipswich were happy to settle for three, however, as they remained a threat whenever the opportunity arose to break. Pitman should have done better when presented with an opening, but tamely struck at Henderson.
Both the nature of the game and the mood of the supporters overall meant little emotion was shown as Bauer’s header was saved at point-blank range from Gerken. Little positive impact, merely heightening the sense of resignation.
But, around 80 minutes too late, suddenly the Addicks found something that resembled a bit of life. Lookman’s cross marvellous, Vaz Te bravely meeting it, and Gerken pulling off a stunning reflex save. The goalkeeper following that up with a one-handed stop to deny the Portuguese forward’s volley from distance.
Maybe if that energy was found at 2-0, there would have been a more impassioned response from supporters. Instead, they began to leave. The Valley as empty in the final minutes of the game as it has ever been, and those that remained released their anger towards the hierarchy. At least they rewarded with a hilariously wide diving header from Reza Ghoochannejhad.
So the boos at full-time were not emphatic. The players that trudged off were not told that they weren’t fit enough to wear the shirt. The atmosphere did feel poisonous.
Instead, it was apathy that overwhelmed The Valley. The number of red seats emphatic, and the few that stayed until the very last whistle were largely stunned into a depressive silence. The supporters that had been so defiant, and done themselves proud, during the second now crippled by what they had seen.
This ownership crippling a club that has defied so many obstacles, and was once one that you could be proud of. A crippling mix of anger and apathy.
And so too was there some jealously felt at full-time. Especially as a near sold-out away end celebrated their side’s victory, with some rather emphatic celebrations from those wearing blue.
A moment that they most certainly deserved. McCarthy’s side are always excellent at getting the job done when they come to The Valley, and that was no different today. The cohesion, work ethic and understanding of the manager’s mantra strongly shared by the side.
That complemented by some fine individual talent. Smith and Berra as dependable as any centre-back pairing in this division, Douglas metronomic, and Murphy the sort of forward that I dream will one day wear a Charlton shirt when we’re done with this awful experiment. They’ll overachieve once again.
Meanwhile, Charlton’s group of players appeared disorganised without their captain’s presence, and Fraeye’s formation change was bizarre. Confidence so weak that any moment of adversity cannot be dealt with, work ethic extremely low, and the head coach unable to instil a mantra as the players still don’t know if he’ll be here next week or month.
That all not helped by some individual performances that were almost insulting. The contrast between Makeinok’s efforts against Sheffield Wednesday and those seen today was incredible, and summed up the overall lack of intensity and quality. Few headers won, rarely were Ipswich’s defence genuinely tested, and his attitude appalling.
Bauer and particularly Sarr lacking any sort of composure, with the latter bullied by Murphy. Fox in desperate need of a break from the side. Cousins and Diarra second best in midfield, with Gudmundsson unable to provide any sort of spark. Weak and lifeless.
There isn’t even much solace to be taken from the very few positives. Lookman lively, Holmes-Dennis assured, and Vaz Te providing a late impact. But the manner of the defeat makes it hard to feel enthused.
In fact, the biggest positive to take is the protest, which I’m incredibly proud of. Not the flashiest of protests – literally black and white – but a simple and effective one, that took no support away from the side whatsoever.
Those involved did a marvellous job, and the number of Charlton fans that took part in it has delivered a clear message.
Either that, or the performance has. Change at this club, if it wasn’t obvious already, is needed.