You would not want to have walked away from Floyd Road wearing a Bolton Wanderers shirt. Knowing the club you support still linger at the bottom of the Championship. Knowing administration and liquidation aren’t just threats, but genuine possibilities.
But to have spent your time inside The Valley among the visiting Trotters in the Jimmy Seed Stand would have surely been a far more pleasant location to occupy for 90 minutes than the Covered End. A Covered End heartbreakingly empty.
For while those representing Bolton did so with commitment and determination, to the extent that their supporters would have been able to feel pride in their club at a time when all pure and positive emotions feel poisoned by uncertainty, the Addicks once again showed a mental and physical weakness that only drew home fans deeper into an identity and emotional crisis.
This a Bolton side, presumably possessing all the confidence of one that hasn’t been paid or won in 14, that should have been crushed. No excuses for their fragility not being heavily exploited from the 26th second. The visitors’ backline out of position, allowing Ricardo Vaz Te to send Ademola Lookman through to finish.
Instead, Karel Fraeye’s side responded with all the nervousness of a side led by an interim head coach plucked from the Belgian third tier. Bolton finding holes in a Charlton back four lacking any sort of cohesion, and would have levelled with any sort of potency.
Lookman’s 26th minute second, therefore, more a moment of relief than one worth celebrating. Vaz Te again the provider, as his ball across the face of goal was turned in by the 18-year-old after Harry Lennon failed to convert.
Game over. Or at least it would have been game over had the Addicks not already shown Neil Lennon’s men it was possible to embarrass their back four, and provide motivation for them to override their confidence crisis. The defence stationary as Emile Heskey, peeling off his man and tapping in Liam Feeney’s cross, pulled a goal back 13 minutes before the break.
And a barely believable capitulation was complete just ten minutes later. Josh Vela, via a handful of deflections, lashing in a loose ball from distance. Heads in red immediately sinking, unable to deal with the adverse situation they found themselves in. Celebrations from those in white that showed how much this meant to them, and how much they had left to give.
Enough to battle through the second period in commendable fashion. A half played by two teams lacking the quality to win the game, but only one that lacked commitment. The unpaid Jay Spearing fighting tremendously; the overpaid Simon Makienok floating around the pitch without a willingness to fight.
While Bolton showed a spirit that means their club must find a way out of their predicament, it was a night for the home supporters at The Valley that displayed all the damage Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire have done to a once uncrushable fight.
A tactically naïve performance. The half-hearted effort. The combination of apathy and disillusionment in the stands, not to ignore the empty seats. Charlton as low on identity as Bolton are on funds.
There could only be belief before kick-off. Belief that the Addicks, unchanged from the draw with Leeds United despite doubts over whether the influential Vaz Te and Johnnie Jackson would start, would record victory. The bear minimum; barely worth celebrating.
For this a Bolton side entering games not believing they can compete, and simply fearing defeat. Not even the return of Zach Clough enough to inject any serious sort of hope into visiting supporters.
And it took just 26 seconds for the visiting supporters to fear the worst. 26 seconds for home supporters to believe their side were on course to achieve the only result that would be accepted.
A sharpness and potency in Charlton’s break that didn’t belong to a side with their relegation worries, assisted by an indecisiveness and lack of organisation among Bolton’s back line fitting of the club sat at the basement of the division.
Reza Ghoochannejhad allowed to bomb forward, Vaz Te left in far too much, and Lookman even more. The youngster played through, and finishing through the body of Ben Amos. Anxiety very quickly decreasing.
But as quickly as it vanished, a level of concern among Charlton supporters returned. A simple pass from Feeney would have sent Clough through, with the winger instead dragging an effort horribly wide, before the combination reversed and the young forward couldn’t quite pick out Feeney following a probing run.
Expectation and a degree of excitement still existing whenever the Addicks pressed forward, but panic increasing each they were asked to defend. A desperate block from Tareiq Holmes-Dennis required to deny Feeney after he’d initially been played in behind Charlton’s backline.
And there was yet more unconvincing defending from the resulting corner, as Stephen Henderson just about managed to get his body in the way of Prince’s far post header. Bolton certainly pressing, and a wayward effort from Johann Berg Gudmundsson on the counter not sufficient in reintroducing a feeling that the hosts were on top.
More reassuring, however, was the sight of Lookman wheeling away in celebration for a second time as the Addicks doubled their advantage.
With Fraeye’s side still possessing something of a forward threat, this was not a goal that came completely against the run of play. Lookman’s resounding finish, the result of a clever Ghoochannejhad flick and a threatening Vaz Te driven delivery, not coming completely out of the blue.
But it was certainly most cruel on the Trotters, crushing the momentum they had started to build towards equalising. Not that there was any sympathy felt among the home supporters, now considerably more confident that the points were theirs. A response from this downbeat Bolton side seemingly unlikely.
And as that degree of positivity swept through the home areas of The Valley, with a decent amount of noise being made by those who populated them, it was easy to disregard the events that were occurring on the pitch now the game had resumed.
David Wheater dominant, Spearing combative, and Heskey proving a constant nuisance to the struggling Alou Diarra. Bolton were meant to have simply crumbled after conceding a second goal, but they were still fighting.
Fight that could still be rewarded given the defensive woes that the Addicks were suffering from. Holmes-Dennis losing track of Feeney, and the winger delivering a ball that only Heskey reacted to. Defence and goalkeeper left throwing confused glances at each other, as Bolton raced back to their own half with renewed vigour.
A degree of confusion in the Covered End, too. A perplexed silence, briefly interrupted by defiant cries of encouragement, as Charlton got the game back underway.
And when they rediscovered their voices, it was to show their gratitude to their goalkeeper. Clough, getting the better of Diarra, latching onto Spearing’s through ball, and only denied by a superb stop from Henderson. Charlton’s advantage almost taken away from them in little more than a minute.
There was no way the Addicks could simply sit back and accept a Bolton barrage. Confidence among the Trotters increasing with every move, and the organisation of Charlton’s back line increasing perplexing. A third needed.
At least a degree of cohesion existed going forward. A wonderfully worked corner routine, emulating one used by Bournemouth at the weekend, resulting in Vaz Te’s strike being blocked when it appeared goal-bound. Jackson heading into Amos’ hands after the ball was recycled back into the box.
Bolton, however, continued to look the most likely, and most competent, side. Feeney not always effective, cutting inside and curling an effort well wide, but his liveliness keeping the Addicks on their toes.
Charlton could not argue that they hadn’t been given enough warnings. Enough opportunities to address the chaos amongst their backline. Panic reigning again as Jackson just about blocked off Prince, and got the ball clear.
But only as far as Vela, who stood unmarked and with a clear sight of goal from 25 yards. His shot struck powerfully, taking at least two deflections on its way through, and zipping up off the surface just before it reached Henderson. A somewhat fortuitous leveller, but one that this spirited Bolton effort deserved against a tame and chaotic Charlton.
Heads down, boos and groans heard, the cries of encouragement as half-hearted as Charlton’s performance. Vela climbing off the ground in celebration, flanked by his teammates, and Lennon expressing himself on the touchline. The difference in emotion emphatic.
The boos growing louder as the half-time whistle blew, and the downbeat Addicks trudged in at the break having capitulated in emphatic fashion. This the sort of characterless and gutless response to adversity expected from Bolton, but they were evidently made of sterner stuff. The Trotters emerging well before the Addicks to resume, and embracing each other in a lengthy huddle.
A strong start to the second half desperately needed from the Fraeye’s side. Gudmundsson firing over and Jackson’s driven effort deflected into Amos’ hands, but the half chances were not reflective of the more sluggish overall play. Only Lookman, driving down the left, able to provide any cause for genuine encouragement.
So it is therefore unsurprising that the decision to withdraw him with an hour played incited more rage from the home supporters. The frustrated Valley crowd in no mood to appreciate the young player’s exhaustion, particularly when he was still providing a threat. Makienok, his replacement, introducing himself to the game with a signature mistimed jumped.
Bolton, however, still had their exciting young forward on the pitch. Clough forcing a save out of Henderson, with the Trotters still more than doing themselves justice.
That particularly true in midfield, where though Jackson continued to exert the energy of three men for Charlton, Jordan Cousins was offering very little. The scrappy exchanges in a low quality affair so often won by Bolton, nullifying the Addicks’ chances of causing a threat on the break.
And with set-pieces providing very little for Charlton, with Gudmundsson’s firing wide after his free-kick bounced back off the wall, you began to question where the much needed winning goal was going to come from. The energy and quality required to produce dramatically lacking, even more so with the Iceland international replaced with El Hadji-Ba.
But Bolton, too, were dealt a blow when the excellent Vela was carried off with his leg heavily strapped. Not only a blow to lose his combative presence in midfield, but also because it seemed to distract the Trotters from defending the corner that was taken immediately after he was replaced.
Lennon rising highest at the near post, only for his glancing header to scrape the crossbar and glide harmlessly across goal. The closest either side had come to snatching a winner.
Fraeye, however, still evidently had desires of taking all three points. Jackson replaced by Karlan Ahearne-Grant, giving the Addicks a horribly disorganised formation that featured four men in attack. As untidy as Vaz Te’s volley, that bounced well wide.
In fact, if anything, the change in formation only hindered Charlton. Bolton able to move the ball forward more quickly, winning a corner than substitute Gary Madine headed into Henderson’s hands, before Clough fired across the face of goal.
Charlton possibly fortunate that, with stoppage time approaching, Bolton had all but settled for their point. Their efforts in the prior 89 minutes meaning they had every attempt to slow the game down, and keep a hold of a point they very much deserved.
And those efforts were helped by the Addicks, who lacked energy and intensity in the six minutes of additional time awarded despite the wealth of attacking options on the pitch. Tentative sideways passing, followed by a hopeless punt up to Makienok, and repeat.
The frustration and anger, therefore, increasing just in time for the reaction to the full-time whistle. While Bolton applauded the efforts of their fans, and their fans applauded the efforts of their players, another chorus of boos filled the home ends.
At their loudest when Fraeye trudged off down the tunnel. Merely the puppet, but the only accessible figure with a strong connection to this regime.
Besides, his side were pathetic in performance, their effort substandard, and his decision making questionable. Fraeye and the regime he works for contributing to another grim night at The Valley.
It must first of all be said that this was far from a grim night in SE7 for Bolton. To place myself in the shoes of a Trotter, there fight and application would have been genuinely heart-warming, and there might have even been a sense of frustration that such character was not rewarded with all three points.
That particular true given how poor the Addicks were. This a performance in defensive application and overall effort that would have been punished sufficiently by a side of any sort of reasonable quality.
It is staggering how disorganised Charlton were at the back. Staggering that such a level of disorganisation existed for the duration of the game, without any obvious attempt made to address it. The same mistakes repeated, the same simple runs and balls causing confusion, and the same concern every time Bolton attacked.
Staggering, too, how mentally weak so many individuals are in this side. As was the case at Brighton, there is no desire to fight in moments of adversity. To respond positively in difficult circumstances. Half-heartedness overwhelms instead.
Staggering that players evidently not good enough, nor up for the fight, continue to be replied upon. Jackson and Lookman, the unquestionable leader and the exciting youngster who is far too young to be relied upon, the only players who come out of the game with complete credit. The rest guilty of either being half-hearted, making too many errors, or tiring after positive starts.
Staggering that the interim head coach remains in charge, and remains underqualified. His tactical changes absolutely laughable – the side a mess come full-time.
Staggering that Duchatelet and Meire continue to rid the club of its identity and character with their misguided and stubborn actions. The apathy and the empty seats more depressing than the anger.
But then, is it really staggering? Does anything surprise you any more? More and more disaster expected with each week.
Bleak, once again.