There was a feeling of sorrow felt throughout the 90 minutes by those sat in the away end of the John Smith’s Stadium.
Were this small collective of Addicks to be found huddled together anywhere else but a football ground, you would have assumed they had turned up for a funeral in inappropriate dress. A chilling silence, only broken by cries of despair and the goading from the army of Huddersfield Town supporters on the other half of the stand, and body language that belonged to the grieving.
But the tactical naivety of a clueless ‘interim’ head coach was not the main cause of this sadness. For the umpteenth time under the so-called leadership of Karel Fraeye, there was no organisation, no cohesion and no strategy.
The play too slow, the limited possession pointless, and a defensive structure non-existent. A side with any sort of competence would have exploited such faults, let alone one with such a commendable philosophy. David Wagner’s Huddersfield collectively in tune with his energetic pressing game, exceptionally organised, and supplementing it with an attacking flair too good for Fraeye’s shambles.
A two goal deficit at half-time, the consequence of a thumping Mark Hudson header and Nahki Wells being allowed to bundle the ball over the line following a horrendously defended corner, was effectively irrelevant. Charlton much further behind beyond the scoreline – this was already no contest.
Nor was the chief reason for such despair the pathetic, embarrassing and insulting individual efforts of those wearing red. They may not be the enemy, but they were neither fighting for themselves, the club or the supporters.
Passes misplaced without care, players dispossessed with such regularity by the Huddersfield pressing machine that building attacks was simply impossible, and those who claim to have a degree of individual attacking quality showing almost none of it.
The body language a disgrace long before Jamie Paterson drove forward unchallenged to finish coolly and Duane Holmes’ deflected effort wrong-footed Stephen Henderson, but there was not even an attempt to fight for some pride thereafter. Reza Ghoochannejhad epitomising the lack of character, guts and effort, unnecessarily getting himself sent off.
And it wasn’t even the fact a fifth was added in stoppage-time that made this night so bleak. Harry Bunn gliding past Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, and Jason Davidson doing enough to divert his driven cross over the line at the near post.
A five-nil defeat, that made the same result at Vicarage Road last season seem pleasant. That contained such a lack of structure there would not be a former Charlton manager who isn’t currently embarrassed. That featured such a lack of effort that more is taken by this poisonous regime in searching and appointing a head coach.
But above all that, the sadness in the away end was the result of a feeling that this was now it. That this is now what our club is. Disgraceful ‘interim’ head coaches, leading shambolic sides to disastrous defeats that hardly feel like a great surprise.
That our efforts as supporters were only going to be mocked by this regime, and these performances. That the disease Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire have infected this club with has spread to a point where the damage, at least in the short-term, is irreversible. That the failing of their strategy will continue to be ignored, with replacement head coaches predictable and additions of poor quality.
A feeling that this was going to get worse, much worse, unless they go. The sadness and grieving for the destruction of a once great football club.
In fairness, it was probably misguided to expect anything less than disaster when making the trip to Yorkshire. It not difficult to predict the outcome of a contest between a side without confidence, without a win in nine and going into the game on the back of a harrowing defeat to Colchester United in the FA Cup, and another rejuvenated and buoyant under their German boss.
That a perception that became even stronger on the basis of Fraeye’s selection. The absence of Naby Sarr and the return of Henderson and Chris Solly welcome, but that Roger Johnson, Harry Lennon and Morgan Fox completed the defensive unit was not.
Nor was it particularly pleasing to see three very similar players picked together in the middle. Rhys Williams making his full debut, Diego Poyet making his first league appearance since his return, and Johnnie Jackson returning from injury – sit deep and hope for the best seemingly the tactic.
At the least, with Callum Harriott and Johann Berg Gudmundsson returning to the starting XI, there appeared a degree of attacking flair. Even that, with Ricardo Vaz Te picked to lead the line when he suits running the channels, was tainted.
And the early proceedings of the game did little to spread hope among the handful of Addicks in the away end. Not even a minute passing before Tommy Smith warned the visitors of what was to come, taking advantage of some less than convincing Charlton defending and slamming an effort wide.
The main source of the early worry, however, was not Huddersfield threat but Charlton being inept. Slow, sideways and lacking any sort of attacking quality, the Addicks were also hindered by Vaz Te’s half-hearted efforts to chase after the hopeless punts up field.
By contrast, the Terriers were energetic when out of possession, and slick with it. So too were the very noise contingent of home supporters allowed to be excited by the clever footwork of Joe Lolley and Paterson, regardless of chances not being created.
So it wasn’t a case that the goal had been coming when Wagner’s side took the lead with 17 minutes played, but it was certainly with the pattern play.
Particularly as it involved Fox being left for dead. Paterson the recipient of a short corner, beating the left-back with relative ease, before picking out Hudson would have a delightful cross. The former Addick’s header as emphatic as Charlton’s defensive efforts were emphatically poor. A collective of sigh of resignation filling the away end.
Followed by laughter. A rare Charlton corner played to Johnson at the near post, who somehow managed to deflect the ball in the general direction of back where it came from instead of towards goal. A bit of class that reaffirmed his position as our saviour, obviously.
But maybe that moment should have been savoured. About as close as the Addicks got to testing Jed Steer as frustrations among supporters and players began to grow. Groans from the away end, and some rather unnecessary tackles, from Williams, Solly and Fox, with the visitors unable to make any sort of impression on their opponents.
At least Huddersfield, though composed in defence, pressing with intensity and controlled in possession, were struggling to provide the punishment this horrendous Charlton performance deserved. Bunn’s low drive, saved well by Henderson, the only real occasion that the visiting goalkeeper was called into action after picking the ball out of the net.
It meant, in that parallel universe where they aren’t a complete shambles, the Addicks weren’t completely out of the game. Undeservedly maintaining a one goal deficit during the interval at least gave them sort of hope and getting something out of a game they only deserved embarrassment from.
Handy, therefore, that Henderson’s rush of blood to the head helped to make sure any unrealistic talk of coming back into the game would be replaced by total despair. The goalkeeping coming, and not claiming, a corner a minute before half-time, allowing the far-post directed delivery to be put back across goal and bundled in by Wells.
This defensive disaster a much more fitting end to the half that having some sort of belief that a small deficit could be overturned. This the punishment that the Addicks, as clueless and effortless in the first minute as they were in the 45th, deserved. Not even Wells’ ‘strike’, so wayward it troubled the assistant referee on the far side, enough to provide a brief interlude to the gloom.
Such was the gloom, in fact, that there was barely a boo as the half-time whistle blew. Anger in the away end limited, with it instead overwhelmed by disappointment, despair and embarrassment. This a new kind of bleak.
Bleaker still, there remained 45 minutes of this to endure. There could be no hope of a comeback, particularly with Henderson bizarrely struggling to deal with a corner again. His weak attempt to claim causing a goal mouth scramble, but Wells unable to punish the goalkeeper on this occasion.
Few were predicting Henderson’s counterpart to have much work to do, but at least the shine was taken off his gloves. Steer collecting Poyet’s tame effort, resulting in sarcastic cheers from the visiting supporters.
Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t the catalyst for a siege on Huddersfield’s goal. If anything, there was one starting at the other end, as Jason Davidson’s delightful early cross was volleyed powerfully by Wells, but straight into the hands of Henderson.
And Wells found himself in a glorious position a few moments later, as Paterson drove forward and teed up the Bermudan forward. His effort, however, was hit horribly off-target.
But Wells’ wastefulness wasn’t much of a reprieve for the disillusioned Addicks in the away end. The effort and fight from their side was decreasing by the minute, and still there was absolutely no cohesive attacking play whatsoever. None. None at all.
Gudmundsson anonymous. Harriott trying, but it not nearly enough. Vaz Te probably dreaming about that goal he scored for West Ham that time. The attackers poor, and their chances of making something happen made worse by the fact that Huddersfield were still completely dominating the midfield. Every challenge won by a man in blue and white, pressing with an unrelenting intensity.
And even when Fraeye’s side, if it can be called that, did venture into the opposition’s final third, the results remained unpleasant. “That’s why you’re going down,” sung the Huddersfield supporters as Harriott’s volley troubled the top tier. The visiting supporters responding with “that’s why we’re going down”. Rochdale, Bury and Shrewsbury most certainly await.
The pencilled in trips to League One stalwarts overwritten in pen with 15 minutes to play, as the Addicks stood motionless and allowed Paterson to power through them. Several bodies in red passed without a challenge being made, and a shot drilled into the bottom corner.
While Huddersfield celebrated, those in red briefly looked around at each other in confusion, before deciding it was best to just stick their heads down and pretend this wasn’t happening. An attitude that those in the away end were entitled to take, but not those that needed to fight and show some pride for this club.
In truth, it was just a more obvious visual representation of the lack of character that had been obvious for the entirety of the game. No surprise then that yet more shoddy defending allowed Holmes to get into a position from which to shoot five minutes later and, via a deflection, score his first goal for Huddersfield.
Four goals to nil. Four-nil. 4-0. Some left, some remained silent, some shrieked their displeasure at the performance, the head coach and the regime. The players cutting even more desperate figures, and little sympathy existing for them.
Even less as Ghoochannejhad, a second half substitute, decided he didn’t much fancy staying out for the final three minutes. Two yellow cards, for a reckless foul on Davidson and a horribly high boot on Bunn, in the space of two minutes seeing him sent off. Such was the lack of fight and backbone, you imagined most of those wearing Charlton red wished they could get away with doing similar.
If they had, at least they would have been in the shower and oblivious to the fact their teammates had conspired to concede a fifth two minutes into stoppage-time. Substitute Holmes-Dennis doing his best Fox impression, and being left as Bunn beat him with relative ease, before Davidson scrambled the ball over the line at the near post.
A scoreline to reflect this pathetic, embarrassing and insulting display from a group of players lacking any sort of effort and quality, and a horrendous “interim” head coach employed by a regime intent of bringing this club to its knees.
Not even Harriott’s drive forward and resulting shot, saved by Steer and taking the shots on target tally to a mammoth two, could stop this from being a night that reflected the disastrous state this football is in. The bleakest of bleak nights.
Bleak to be a part of it. To be there. To feel like what was occurring before me was an on-the-pitch reflection of the disease that this regime has injected into the club.
At the very least, those who had travelled to Huddersfield to watch this monstrosity unfold deserved a degree of respect. Those in red having no right to head straight down the tunnel, as Simon Makienok did most notably. On the pitch for less than 20 minutes, and floating around aimlessly for all of it.
And they deserved some explanation. Some leadership. Someone to take accountability. A further insult to those that travelled, and all Addicks who spent their evenings in more pleasant surroundings, that Fraeye decided to hide come full-time.
There is no justification for such an inept performance. For one that lacked any sort of organisation, structure and strategy. That was without quality, creativity and pace. That had no resolve, resilience or fight. That was missing character, determination and spirit.
Nor is there any justification for Fraeye’s cowardly and spineless decision to avoid talking to the media. It was apparent before, from his direct criticism of them and his lack of responsibility taken for the dire nature of his side’s performances, but this an act that has made it unquestionable that Fraeye has no respect for the supporters of this football club.
No respect for the supporters of this football club, just like his bosses. The actions of Duchatelet, the words of Meire and the half-hearted statement of Murray.
Heartwarming, at least, that there remain some individuals within the club that care. Henderson fronting up and apologising with genuine meaning, while Jackson has promised to reimburse those that travelled. You expect nothing less from the skipper – a true Charlton hero, who will be hurting as much as us.
But many around him will not feel the same guilt from letting down their supporters so emphatically, and the same pain over the state the club is in.
As such, it’s hard to imagine the sort of change that is needed occurring if Fraeye does depart.
He has to. He simply has to. This cannot go on. But his replacement will be another head coach who sides with this regime, whose task will be to fulfil the needs of Duchatelet and Meire first, and win games second.
Fraeye and the players who give so little are simply symptoms of this disease. This disease that has left this football club trapped in terminal care.
Well, trapped in a terminal position. There’s not much care going on.
It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by sadness.