There was a spirited second-half performance from those in red, enough to earn Charlton a draw with Nottingham Forest, but it mattered little.
Partly because it wasn’t the sort of spirited performance that suggested the Addicks would be pulling away from the relegation zone in the coming weeks. The feeling still one of relative disappointment come full-time for ten-man Charlton, irrespective of Simon Makienok turning in Callum Harriott’s delicious delivery to cancel Ben Osborn’s first-half strike. No euphoric feeling of pride to be had in events on the pitch.
But there was pride, and a greater focus, in events that took place away from The Valley’s turf. Two excellent protests, in addition to chants of opposition during the 90 minutes, against a failing regime showing the strength and commitment of a disillusioned and constantly insulted set of supporters.
Roland Duchatelet and Karien Meire, who would have undoubtedly found it “weird” that her “customers” were behaving in such a manner, told to leave. The Charlton that the unified supporters have a connection to, our Charlton, and the return of Peter Varney pleaded for. An unrelenting love for the club, in between angry cries in the direction of the boardroom, reaffirmed during the pre-match demonstration and the huge post-match protest.
Both were high on numbers, volume, and passion. A tone of resentment and anger in the chants, but never overstepping the mark. The shutters of the boardroom pulled down, as the delusional within attempted to pretend that this wasn’t happening, and their actions hadn’t caused it.
It could not have gone any better. You could not have felt any more proud in the supporters that represent this club in a way this regime will never do, or understand.
They may well continue to ignore it. Duchatelet and Meire may continue to inject their brand of poison into the veins of this football club. Those committed supporters, that deserve so much better, may continue to be insulted by both the performances of Karel Fraeye’s side and the words and decisions of the ownership.
But those that need to listen cannot simply turn a blind eye to the voice of thousands. A voice that is spreading beyond cries towards the boardroom, and being heard by supporters all over the country and the national press. The pressure is mounting.
At the very least, the protests are a more important in the history of Charlton Athletic than an average Championship fixture. The protests more important in providing the change required than any result. The protests more important in healing the wounds that cover the bond between supporters and their club than anything Duchatelet or Meire could do.
A victory for us.
That, of course, isn’t to say a victory wasn’t demanded on-the-pitch. Attentions turning to supporting the team the moment the pre-game protest had concluded.
A team that welcomed back Harriott, thrown straight into the starting XI in place of the injured Ademola Lookman after completing his successful loan spell at Colchester United. A chance to impress, with the academy graduate’s future in SE7 uncertain.
So too did the team welcome back some sort of structure. Jordan Cousins, replacing Reza Ghoochannejhad, sitting deep as part of a five-man midfield. Protection provided to the centre-back pairing of Harry Lennon and Naby Sarr, who maintained their places ahead of new loan signing Rhys Williams.
But it became apparent in the opening moments that any sort of snappiness and pace in Charlton’s forward play had been sacrificed in order to field a more resilient-looking line-up. Harriott, frustratingly played on the right where he has traditionally struggled, doing his best to provide some spark, but his overhit passes and runs into dead ends not providing enough encouragement to mask the lack of energy throughout the rest of the side. Fraeye’s football far too slow.
In fact, the same could be said about the game in general. A little more intent in Forest’s play, with Ricardo Vaz Te’s body required to block Chris Burke’s strike from a cleverly worked free-kick and Chris Solly constantly battling with Ryan Mendes, but rarely was the ball fed into the path of a Nelson Oliveira run. The Portuguese forward getting into decent positions beyond Sarr and Lennon, but not being supplied quickly enough.
That a particular frustration for Forest given the impact Oliveira had on the rare occasions he found himself in possession of the ball in the final third. Passes exchanged with Burke, before the Scottish winger jinked into space inside the box. His resulting shot, however, nothing more than a tame chip into Stephen Henderson’s hands. A moment that rather summed up this dull affair.
But you could not fault the continued effort from Harriott in his attempts to liven up the game. Certainly not always coming off, but there was a drive and directness that only a player with a degree of confidence would possess. The returning youngster, via a deflection off a yellow-shirted Forest player that sent the ball narrowly wide of goal, having Charlton’s first meaningful strike of the game.
And from the resulting corner, the Addicks probably should have pulled ahead. Jack Hobbs’ poor clearing header, sending the ball across the face of goal, not capitalised upon by Makienok, who slipped as he tried to scramble it over the line.
In a game of few chances, that seemed like a big miss, particularly with Forest growing into some sort of stride as the half progressed. Mendes ambitiously flashing across the face of goal following a quickly taken corner, Henri Lansbury’s strike well held by Henderson after it bounced up in front of the goalkeeper, and Oliveira was left furious with himself after firing wide from the edge of the box.
So though this was a game lacking in quality and tempo, and would have been better reflected by stalemate at half-time, you could argue that the lead Forest took before the break was not undeserved.
At the very least, the Addicks could not feel a sense of injustice as they conceded their regular goal on the stroke of half-time. An avoidable one, as Makienok cleared a Forest corner, but no one in red reacted quickly enough once Osborn had the ball under control on the edge of the box. His finish emphatic.
The strike only confirming that Fraeye would head down the tunnel to a chorus of boos, rising in anger and volume from the ones directed at the first-half performance once the half-time whistle was blown. Under normal circumstances, such a reaction would have been unwarranted, but this was no normal circumstance. The Addicks well within their right to voice their disapproval.
It was thankful for Fraeye and Charlton, therefore, that the interim head coach had Gudmundsson available to him in reserve. The Iceland international replacing the anonymous El-Hadji Ba, and hopefully providing some more attacking intent.
Although even his ability to change a game would have little impact if another was conceded. Henderson’s stop preventing Lennon from turning an opposition corner into his own net for the second time a week.
But with the deficit still at one, the presence of Gudmundsson increased the chances of Charlton getting back into the game. Makienok playing the ball into his path, and the winger’s resulting strike deflecting wide via the body of Hobbs.
And though the Gudmundsson-shaped injection of life into the Addicks had made them much more of a threat, Harriott’s drive remained just as important. A direct run concluding with vicious effort from distance, bouncing just wide of Dorus de Vries’ goal. The beleaguered home crowd suddenly provided with some belief.
In fact, they found themselves up in premature celebration just before the hour, only for de Vries to make the most stunning of reaction stops. Makienok latching onto Cousins’ looping header, but the Dutch stopper somehow able to turn the Dane’s stab towards goal wide. The Valley’s turf receiving a pounding in frustration.
Hearts of Charlton supporters then left to pound as Forest, offering little attacking intent beyond the break, suddenly found themselves through on goal. Sarr brushed off by Mendes, and only a marvellous last-ditch tackle from Lennon prevented the forward from doubling his side’s lead. The momentum that the Addicks had desperately needed to be capitalised upon.
But it took a further dent with 25 minutes to play as injured skipper Johnnie Jackson was taken off, to be replaced by Tareiq Holmes-Dennis. The shape of Charlton’s side taking a batter, and a cry of “you don’t know what you’re doing” heard not long before Oliveira collected the ball inside the box and forced a superb save out of Henderson.
At least the change in shape meant that Harriott was now on the left, able to drive forward in his natural position.
And one such move forward, shrugging off yellow shirts as he did, allowed him to get into a position from which he could produce the most stunning of early crosses. The delivery catching out Forest’s back line, but not Makienok, who had begun to move away from his marker before the ball came into the box, and was able to turn the ball in.
Particularly given the sarcastic cheers he receives, there was a sense that big Dane enjoyed the equaliser as much as anyone else inside the ground. Which isn’t to say it wasn’t celebrated by those in the stands – the team supported, the regime not.
With 20 minutes still to play, however, there was still plenty of time for the Addicks to capitulate in traditional fashion. Forest fans certainly hopeful that would the case, as the sold out away end awarded upon their side winning a corner.
And that hope was only increased when Holmes-Dennis, having received a yellow card already for tugging back Osborn as he drove towards goal, immaturely and needlessly pulled back the same man just five minutes later. A second yellow awarded, and Fraeye’s side needing to hold on with ten men for 14 minutes.
The interim boss responded by giving Williams his debut, replacing the quiet Vaz Te, but it did little to prevent Forest from taking control of what remained of the game. The Addicks fortunate that Lansbury could only poke wide from close range after Oliveira’s blocked shot fell straight to him.
Forest’s surge of momentum growing as Chris Cohen, having been out for 18 months, replaced Jack Hobbs. Cheers from the away end loud enough to be celebrating a goal each time he touched the ball, and they should have been celebrating one in stoppage-time.
The horrendous Naby Sarr, struggling in one-on-one battles all game, somehow allowing Oliveira to break through on goal, only for a combination of Solly’s persistence and Henderson’s save denying the Portuguese forward. Certain defeat somehow avoided.
And somehow, there was a player in Charlton red racing towards goal with a minute of additional time still to play. Out of nothing, with Forest pushing men forward in search of a winner, Makienok had been able to slide through Harriott. His strike from a narrow angle tipped over by de Vries, and a corner won.
A corner that was cleared only as far as the academy strike, who unleashed a strike so vicious that the save required to keep it out was a spectacular. Having seen the ball late as it passed through a sea of bodies, de Vries managed to get a hand across to deny Harriott what would have been a dream return to SE7.
Alas, he and his side were forced to settle for a draw. A draw that could have as easily become defeat as it could have been victory. A draw that, irrespective of some promise in the performance, leaves the Addicks without a win in eight and in the relegation zone.
Disappointment and appreciation expressed in equal measure at full-time.
Frustration that a dire first half had probably prevented the Addicks from beating a Forest that also lacked a touch of quality. Dougie Freedman’s side possessing energy in the final third, but little genuine threat. Their best openings the result of Sarr being unable to control his feet.
An annoyance, too, that Forest’s decision to sit back at the start of the second was not properly capitalised upon. Despite the equaliser, and Harriott’s efforts at the end, it was the visitors who had the best chances to win the game.
Boos for Fraeye, and chants of “we want a manager” as the interim head coach retreated to the safety of the tunnel. More demanded, and not unreasonably.
But so too was their applause for a number of his hardworking players. Particularly Harriott, sensational in parts, and Solly, unrelenting as ever. There could, at least, be no accusation that effort was lacking on this occasion.
Something you couldn’t accuse supporters of, either. A dedicated group, fighting for the future of their club in a passionate and commendable fashion. The protest that followed the game a huge success.
A success not in the sense that overnight change will now occur, but that a protest like that was possible. That supporters of this club came together to voice their concerns, and to demonstrate against a regime that has failed and insulted them.
Today was all about us. The result insignificant when compared to what we’ve done. The result of what we’ve done could be huge.
We’ll keep fighting.