If Christmas Day is a time of giving and receiving in a peaceful setting, then snatching whatever you can amongst chaos is the mantra for Boxing Day.
For while shoppers were coming to the end of their hunt through the sales, unwilling to give up hope of finding a bargain when logic suggested it was a lost cause, Charlton were coming away from Ashton Gate with a point claimed so desperately that not even the Addicks themselves had any belief of finding the equaliser that their efforts did not deserve.
In fact, Karel Fraeye’s disorganised and error-prone side were more like a casual passer-by of a shopping centre, taking a quick peek inside just one shop and finding a hidden gem. The persistent and penetrative Bristol City searching with intent for the full duration, but unable to find the rewards they deserved.
In most cases, there would be minimal sympathy with the hosts. An argument existing that they could only blame themselves as they lay devastated while the Addicks celebrated Harry Lennon’s stoppage time leveller.
For they should have taken one of the numerous chances created to add to the lead they took through Nathan Baker’s late first-half header. That Marlon Pack’s penalty miss, awarded after the lively Jonathan Kodjia was pulled back by Lennon, was not the best opportunity wasted speaks volumes of City’s struggles in front of goal.
But so too does it indicate the ineptitude of Charlton’s performance. Fraeye’s tactics and decision making laughable, eleven individuals wearing purple rather than a cohesive unit, and the lack of quality depressing for those that had travelled to the West Country.
As such, it would be naïve not to have the largest amount of sympathy possible for Steve Cotterill’s men. Their performance good enough to punish the Addicks by five or six. The Addicks so disgustingly poor that a defeat by that margin would have been suitable punishment.
Equally, there is not a feeling of delirious joy among Charlton supporters, and only a smidgen of relief. A release of emotion as the net rippled from Lennon’s volley, but disappointment the overriding feeling once the dust had settled.
A head coach simply not good enough, a performance that cannot be justified at all by the leveller, and a point that, regardless of the manner it was gained in, isn’t worth celebrating unless you believe Charlton’s current position is reflective of what our ambitions should be.
A gem seemingly snatched, but picked up in the wrong size with no replacement available. Charlton need to find something other than this, or this point will only be an academic figure for a side who finish in the bottom three.
There were concerns that the Addicks would be in for something of a torrid afternoon from the moment Fraeye’s bizarre XI was revealed.
Though there was little the ‘interim’ head coach could do about the absence of the injured Patrick Bauer, with Alou Diarra dropping into the backline to replace him, it was hard to make sense of his unenforced decisions.
Morgan Fox, without form or confidence, picked ahead of Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, and a fragile side that required structure in midfield containing none of it.
Ademola Lookman, in for Bauer, returning from injury and lining up alongside three other forwards – Ricardo Vaz Te, Simon Makienok and Reza Goochannejhad. The 18-year-old and Vaz Te appeared to be occupying wide positions as the game got underway, but still a formation that appeared more bonkers than brave, irrespective of Ghoochannejhad’s strike forcing an early save out of City goalkeeper Frank Fielding.
That, however, was a rare foray into the opposition’s box during the first half. Charlton too slow in possession, static without it, and regularly having predictable passes intercepted by the lively individuals wearing the red of the Robins.
By contrast, there was a sharpness about the way the hosts attacked. Their passing crisp and quick, often picking out their pacey widemen to carry the ball forward with intent. Elliott Bennett bombing down the right, and crossing for Kodjia to head over at the far post.
A certain amount of directness existing in City’s play, and a confidence that would have helped to heal the Addicks’ indecisiveness. Henderson’s excellent diving stop denying full-back Joe Bryan completing his drive forward with a goal.
All Charlton could respond with was a testing delivery from the left, that Makienok opted not to attempt to attack. A sense of restlessness in the away end with just 15 minutes played.
Restlessness would grow in the home ends of Ashton Gate if their side didn’t show a touch more composure in front of goal. Henderson out of position after Bennett’s cross had beaten those in the middle and skipped through to the far post, but Bryan only able to loop the ball over the bar.
And, in truth, this wasn’t Henderson’s finest half hour or so in a Charlton shirt. Support lacking from his teammates, lacklustre in their efforts to halt City’s forward moves, but dropping a delivery onto Aaron Wilbraham’s feet was inexcusable. Thankfully, the former Palace striker hurriedly poked wide.
Some reassurance provided moments later, as Charlton’s number one pulled off a stunning reaction save to keep out Wilbraham’s header irrespective of the linesman’s flag being up, but quickly taken away. Diarra, long hobbling around like myself after a second serving of Christmas dinner, finally caving in. The stand-in centre-back replaced by the struggling Naby Sarr.
Unsurprisingly, the Robins continued to exploit the Addicks. Particularly on their right, with Bennett and Luke Ayling combining again and again to embarrass Fox. The overall organisation and defensive composure becoming increasingly poor.
Though you could do little but admire Pack’s pinpoint cross-field ball that sent Kodjia through. The Frenchman’s finish, however, did not match the quality of the pass. His strike sliced and wayward.
It was then time for Kodjia to turn provider, dancing round Fox and driving into the box, before cutting back to the unmarked Wilbraham. But, with those in the home ends beginning to celebrate such was the manner of the opening, the experienced forward leant back as he made contact with the ball and somehow managed to blast over. Half-time could not soon enough for this muddled group of Addicks.
So the announcement of six minutes of additional time, the result of Diarra’s injury struggles, was hardly ideal. Not for Charlton, and not for referee Oliver Langford, whose decisions were invoking a hostile response from the City supporters. The sort of performance that suggested he got a new whistle for Christmas.
But that anger soon turned to celebration, as the Robins won a corner deep into the additional six minutes. Henderson came to claim Luke Freeman’s delivery, but found himself stranded, allowing Nathan Baker to nod in at the far post.
The punishment that the Addicks deserved for such a dire first half display. No sense of injustice that the goal came so late, only anger and resentment at the performance their side had given.
And those emotions were increased as the second half was about to get underway, combined with a bit of confusion, as those in the away end struggled to make sense of Fraeye’s decision to replace the unfit Cousins with Holmes-Dennis. Johnnie Jackson, though fighting valiantly, alone in the middle, and the side would surely capitulate as a result.
Charlton uncomfortable each time City gained possession, with the Ashton Gate crowd roaring with expectancy as their side pressed forward. The second goal seemingly coming, as Kodjia turned Ayling’s cross wide.
The visiting supporters behind the goal the Robins were attacking only able to take brief moments of enjoyment from the hosts’ struggles to finish. Laughter filling the away end as Kodjia, latching onto Wilbraham’s blocked shot, somehow managed to head over when effectively underneath the bar.
These misses not reflective of Kodjia’s overall play. His movement, strength and ability on the ball all excellent, but the Frenchman enjoyed no luck in front of goal whatsoever. The forward teed up again moments later, but unable to keep his strike down.
Wilbraham, too, seemed cursed. A corner somehow finding its way to him at the back post, but the forward only able to push the ball back across the face of goal. Agonising for City supporters, and for those Addicks who knew possessing faint hope was dangerous.
At least those in purple were making sure that faint hope didn’t get out of hand. Makienok, in a rare attack, firing straight at Fielding, and Sarr bizarrely giving the ball to Freeman on the edge of his own box, only for the winger to slice his strike wide.
And it seemed that that hope was finally being killed off when Kodjia’s quick feet were too good for Lennon, and the young defender desperately tugged at his shirt inside the box. A naïve foul to give away, and the decision to award the spot kick could not be argued with.
But with Charlton supporters already resigning themselves to defeat, the sweet sound of the ball crashing against the crossbar was heard. Pack’s penalty rebounding back off of Henderson’s goal frame, and away.
Sheer disbelief, and some genuine belief in the away end. A roar of encouragement, in the hope that the miss could deflate City, and push the Addicks on.
Such consequences did not appear likely straight away, though, as Fox took far too long on the ball and allowed Bennett to dispossess him. The lively winger firing narrowly over from the edge of the box.
However, it became apparent that, with 20 minutes to play, the Robins were beginning to sit deeper. Continuing to exploit a fragile Charlton side too risky, and it safer to hold off their toothless front line for the remainder of the game.
Such an attitude was questionable, particularly given the amount of time left in the game, and made more so with Fielding called upon to save well from a Lennon volley.
But Charlton’s faults meant it appeared City would be successful with any tactic used. The Addicks without any sort of creativity or threat, merely pumping balls in the general direction of Makienok in the desperate hope he’d win it. Confidence and organisation nil.
A tactic that, surprisingly, almost worked as full-time approached. The giant Dane nodding down for Ghoochannejhad, only for a crucial block from goalscorer Baker to deny the Iranian. The mood that had been created by the manner of the performance meant such chances were being created in the hope of a consolation goal, but the Addicks still had hope of an equaliser as four minutes of additional time were signalled.
Not much hope, particularly not with Kodjia continuing to cause a nuisance when the Robins broke during four minutes of additional time, but some. No expectation, and defeat almost accepted, but a point not as far away as it felt.
It was just a 93rd minute Lennon volley away. Out of nothing, a blocked shot sat up perfectly for the defender, and he finished with all the class and composure that City could not muster.
As hard to explain where the celebrations came from as the goal. An away end that had been dejected, and understandably so, for so long suddenly finding some energy. For all the anger and frustration, few were turning down the chance to celebrate a stoppage-time equaliser.
That is, few of a Charlton persuasion. Those in red crestfallen on conceding the goal, and at the sound of the full-time whistle which blew shortly after. They deserved nothing less than a win, something that even the Addicks, once they had calmed down, couldn’t disagree with. A point undeservedly snatched from Ashton Gate.
For there is no getting away from the just how embarrassing and insulting a performance this was. A dysfunctional unit, with absolutely no quality whatsoever, completely outplayed by a decent enough side, but one that were made to look like promotion chasers.
City are, of course, fellow relegation strugglers. Their inability to finish possibly a key reason why they are where they are, but an overall performance like the one they provided today would surely prove to ultimately be enough.
By contrast, the outlooks look bleak while the Addicks continue to perform to such a low standard. Only Chris Solly, diligent and persistent, and Jackson, unrelenting and often throwing his body on the line, come away from the West County with any sort of credit.
The defence a complete shambles. Lennon and Sarr unable to cope with Wilbraham and Kodjia, while Fox’s efforts were abysmal. Rarely have I seen any Championship side defend so poorly.
That not helped by the complete lack of structure given to the side. The four in attack meant there was no support for the full-backs, and both Lookman and Vaz Te provided very little going forward anyway. Fraeye’s decision making and tactics amateurish – this job not for him.
As such, the point changes nothing.
The point not good enough to be celebrated beyond the actual celebration of the goal. We should not be in a relegation battle, and should not be accepting it. We should not be suggesting that these points might keep us up, as if that’s an acceptable situation to be in.
Nothing changes, and the same things will continue. Fraeye will continue to fail as head coach, and his side, lacking in almost every quality you could think of, will continue to struggle. It’s very hard to see where this something else will come from.
In truth, there is hope of an increase in confidence. At the very least, maybe conceding a goal won’t completely destroy the Addicks from this moment forth.
But to suggest Lennon’s goal is season changing is delusional. It does not cover up the concerns, and the faults of this horrendous performance.
Either way, a performance as poor as this against Wolves on Monday, and we’ll get the heavy defeat we deserved today. The equaliser cannot be used as a justification to turn a blind eye to just how poor it was.