This annus horribilis could not have ended in more fitting fashion. One final bleak Valley afternoon in 2015, with a performance from those in red reflecting the overall shambolic state of a football club that has insulted its supporters with increasing offence as the year has progressed.
So much so that it is not these dire displays, unpleasant whether a committed supporter or a casual observer, that sit at the heart of the anger felt by Addicks. Nor that the 2-0 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers means Charlton will enter 2016 in the Championship’s bottom three.
The failure merely a symptom of Roland Duchatelet’s flawed philosophy and Katrien Meire’s ignorance. A result of their desire to run a football club in a manner which puts no focus on footballing success, which recruits players without the quality or heart required, and appoints head coaches on the basis of their likelihood to abide by their ways. That is intent on divorcing supporters, so crucial in this club’s history, from Charlton Athletic.
But having to endure this side, weakened further by injuries and Karel Fraeye’s tactical naivety, perform so poorly is only increasing the disillusion, and the discontent. Encouraged in moments during the first half, against a Wolves side that were solid but unable regularly test Charlton’s resolve, a second-half capitulation inflicted yet more misery.
Seven minutes all that the Addicks could last beyond the break without imploding. Benik Afobe too quick and too strong for Harry Lennon, driving into the box and cutting across the face of goal, via a deflection or two, for Jordan Graham. The youngster making no mistake from close range.
Fight not visible from most of those in red, and a lack of quality meant it would have been hidden if it was. Fraeye, via substitute Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, passed a bit of paper to Johnnie Jackson, but nothing changed. There was an acceptance, a deflated one possessed by the players and an angered acknowledgement from those in the stands, of defeat.
Confirmed when Lennon turned Graham’s corner into his own net with seven minutes to play. The clattering of seats and the emptying of the stands fitting of the apathy that has been instilled in supporters by this regime in 2015.
But this was a performance so poor, so weak and so effortless that such apathy was overridden. Wolves’ first responded to with a chant of “stand up if you want them out”, with almost all inside The Valley participating in a powerful display of collective opposition, and those that remained at full-time vicious in their booing of Fraeye as he walked down the tunnel.
That such a strong and collective opposition exists provides the faintest of hope that change will occur in 2016. For if next year continues from where this one has left off, supporters will continue to split from their club, and Charlton will split from the Championship.
There was little optimism before kick-off, irrespective of the narrative that suggested Lennon’s unlikely equaliser at Bristol City would be a season-changing goal.
For the Addicks were depleted. Alou Diarra joining Patrick Bauer in the treatment room, meaning Lennon and Naby Sarr would have to deal with Afobe, while the absence of Jordan Cousins meant a start for El-Hadji Ba.
Fraeye’s unenforced decisions also appeared a little bizarre. Morgan Fox, despite an error-prone display at Ashton Gate, keeping his place ahead of Holmes-Dennis, while Karlan Ahearne-Grant was preferred to Simon Makienok.
But the tempo of Charlton’s start went against those perceptions that they were simply going to cave in. Not that this was glorious football, with a Reza Ghoochannejhad’s blocked curler and Ricardo Vaz Te’s horribly wayward strike the only consequences of it, but the Addicks were moving the ball much quicker, looking much more composed and pressing with greater intensity than they did on Boxing Day.
Much of that was down to Ademola Lookman. Lively on the ball, and constantly harassing off it, there was at least a small squeal of expectation each time the 18-year-old received the ball in his wide left position.
Lookman, however, probably summed up the frustration of Charlton’s efforts. Some energy, no doubt, but absolutely no end product. Former Addick Carl Ikeme might have finally been tested had Morgan Fox’s long range strike not been blocked.
And without that end product, Wolves were always likely to grow into the game as they regained possession from failed attacks, and panicked Sarr clearances. Not the scintillating attacking force that they were last season, but the visitors still giving Charlton’s backline plenty to do.
Afobe wrestled with Lennon, one-time Charlton target James Henry often led the Wolves counter attacks, while the pace of Graham left and full-back Dominic Iorfa on the right constantly tested Chris Solly and Fox.
As such, the uncomfortable moments for the Addicks increased in severity as the half went on. Henry beating Fox, but no one alive to his superb driven ball across the face of goal, before the winger sent Iorfa free, only for Lennon to crucially hack away the full-back’s delivery. Panic in Wolves’ box restricted to Lookman’s underhit corner bouncing into the middle before it was cleared.
But, reflecting the lack of true quality on show, it took until just shy of the half hour mark for either side to produce a genuine opening.
And even then, it was a genuine opening that was squandered. Afobe with the space just yards from goal to bring down Danny Batth’s headed pass with his chest, but the ball somehow got away with him as he attempted to poke beyond Stephen Henderson. The goalkeeper bravely claiming.
Brave, too, was Lennon’s intervention to deny Graham. The academy graduate blocking what appeared to be a goal-bound strike from the lively Graham with his head. With half-time approaching, there was a though that that would be enough to get the Addicks in at the break without incident.
Alas, with two minutes to play before half-time, Charlton’s main source of hope pulled up as he chased the ball. Lookman seemingly pulling his hamstring, and unable to continue.
The youngster visibly devastated, probably only made worse by a hug from Fraeye, as he left the pitch to a round of applause. You can only hope that won’t be the last time the 18-year-old appears at The Valley in Charlton red.
In the short-term, there were fears that, without Lookman on the pitch, another capitulation from the Addicks would follow. The referee taking an accidental blow to the face from substitute Makienok and falling to the ground as a result, providing some much needed light relief.
But it soon became apparent referee Keith Hill was in a degree of discomfort. Able to finish the half, receiving applause from the Covered End and an apology from Makienok, but not reappearing for the second. My hopes that a qualified official from the stands would be asked for, like myself, not fulfilled.
Nor were my hopes that the Addicks would start the second period with a degree or resolve and composure. Fox’s horrendous corner allowing Wolves to break, with Dave Edwards sending Graham through on goal. A collective sigh of relief expressed as his strike flashed narrowly wide.
And though Henry’s wild strike from the edge of the box, both high and wide, suggested Wolves might not have the potency to capitalise on Charlton’s incredibly uncomfortable start to the second half, that feeling of relief was soon replaced by despair and anger.
Lennon had been struggling to deal with the dangerous Afobe since the game got underway, and the pressure applied by the robust forward finally told. Making the space to beat him on the right, Afobe then shrugged off the academy graduate’s attempts to halt his run, before squaring to Graham. Desperate dives unable to prevent him from thundering home.
Boos immediately ringing out around a much fuller Valley than in recent weeks. The volume of which only increased as Lennon gifted possession to Afobe, and Henderson was forced to make a fine diving save to prevent the forward doubling Wolves’ lead.
This the catalyst for a response from not just the Covered End, but the entire ground. Even those in the Jimmy Seed Stand appearing to join in as almost all rose to the chant of “stand up, if you want them out”. An as vigorous cry of “two percent, you’re having a laugh” following. Poisonous, but powerful.
It should, however, have also been a catalyst for a response from those on the pitch.
And it could have been, had Vaz Te been more alert. Fox doing superbly to dispossess Matt Doherty, and his low cross turned away into the centre of the box by Ikeme, but the former West Ham could only slice a strike wide. In truth, he faced considerable pressure from the Wolves defence, but he should have done better.
Instead, large parts of the Charlton side looked beaten. Too physically tired and mentally deflated to fight. For every Solly and Jackson, continuing to give their all, there was a Vaz Te and Ghoochannejhad. At least Fox, hacking away a Conor Coady cross from another rampant Wolves break, kept the deficit at just one.
But with scuffed Lennon strikes and tame Makienok headers all Charlton could throw at the visitors’ goal, despite Fraeye’s piece of paper interesting Jackson for quite some time, there seemed little hope of that deficit being eclipsed. The Addicks lethargic, lacklustre, and only increasing the loathing felt among supporters.
So too were they guaranteed to be on the losing side with seven minutes to play, as Graham’s corner was met by Batth, and deflected into his own net by Lennon. While the Wolves supporters roared, the home ends emptied. This a moment too bleak and depressing for vicious anger.
Self-pity and misery took over. “How shit must you be, we’re winning away?” the away supporters heckled. “You’re nothing special, we lose every week,” the Addicks responded.
The returning Cristian Ceballos stabbed comfortably wide, and Vaz Te had an ambitious shout for a penalty turned down, but all that really remained was an opportunity to show discontent come full-time. The only reason that home supporters remained inside the ground as the final whistle blew.
Boos meeting it, and anger sent the way of the players who played for the club still 23rd in the Championship, and without a win in seven.
But the largest boo saved for Fraeye. Our main concerns sit above him, but the anger with this performance sent his way, and the interim head coach representing this regime.
This regime that has made 2015 bleak for those disillusioned, depressed and disgusted supporters of Charlton Athletic Football Club. Supporters, not emotionless customers.
For if we were emotionless customers, we would not keep coming back. We would not accept the poor entertainment, dire service and insulting treatment that is currently being offered. And we don’t.
We don’t accept the Addicks failing to once test Ikeme in the Wolves goal. The visitors putting a very commendable away performance, with defensive resolve and utilising their pace on the counter, but this not a performance that warranted a stress free victory.
For once Wolves took the lead, there was little to no fight from Charlton. Once again, heads dropping, the body language all wrong, and a capitulation following the conceding of a goal. There is no desire to dig in for the cause, and Fraeye is so underqualifed that he simply cannot make any sort of impact in such situations.
There are those that escape criticism. Solly, superb once again, visibly devastated come full-time and Jackson, amongst a composed and committed display, never stopped demanding more from his side.
They are hurting as much as us. They certainly don’t accept these performances, and ending the year in the relegation zone. Their continued effort provides a small crumb of comfort in these troubled times.
But it feels relatively meaningless while this horrendous regime continues to fail us. In their running of the club, in their treatment of us, and in these dreadful displays.
This regime that continues to drive our Charlton away from us. Not a winning Charlton necessarily, but one we can have some sort of connection to. This isn’t it.
These emotionless customers, you hope, will be fighting for change in 2016. Fighting to keep their bond with their football club from breaking, regardless of what the regime wants.
It would also be quite nice if the players and management could start fighting a bit more, to keep this club in the second tier.