If the efforts of those numerous Charlton supporters who protested post-match were a committed, cohesive and passionate antidote to the cancer that Roland Duchatelet’s regime has inflicted upon this football club, the efforts of those on-the-pitch were equivalent to sending a tamely worded email of concern in the direction of Katrien Meire’s dust-covered inbox.
For, to the credit of the Addicks, there was a response to three embarrassing and gutless defeats prior to Blackburn Rovers’ visit to The Valley. A willingness to fight, and genuinely correct the wrongs of previous weeks, rather than apathetically accepting another crushing defeat. The very least demanded.
A much more composed and determined defence withstanding the pressure applied by the visitors. Individual performances of those who had recently struggled greatly improved. A genuine roar of excitement, missing since the first game of January, as Igor Vetokele and Tony Watt drove towards goal.
And while a neutral, had they maintained consciousness, would have suggested the relative low quality of this encounter meant neither side deserved to go in at the break ahead, you could argue the lead Charlton took 15 minutes before half-time was just reward for the improvement made in testing circumstances.
Even if good fortune contributed more than 2% towards the ball the crossing line. Harry Lennon’s stab towards goal taking a wicked deflection, wrong-footing Jason Steele in the Rovers net and spinning in.
But such is the inherent weakness of this Charlton side, so often capitulating under pressure, Blackburn’s equaliser on the stroke off half-time was as predictable as Meire responding to supporter concern with contempt.
Adam Henley played in down the right, and his first-time cross picking out regular Charlton tormentor Jordan Rhodes. The fingertips of a furious Stephen Henderson not enough to keep the forward’s header out.
And like Meire can so easily lose messages of complaint sent her way, if not ignore an emphatic protest, it appeared a Charlton side that had given more than just consideration to the desires of supporters in the opening 45 misplaced that level of fight in the second period.
The football slower, the mistakes increasing, and the attacking flair, if not intent, all but vanishing. Though not helped by a referee rather keen on the sound of his own whistle, with the game unable to develop any sort of flow but for the one of groans between the two sets of supporters, a Blackburn side of minimal quality unable to be punished in the manner they might have been.
The performance respected and the point not mocked, but emotions mixed before they became overwhelmed by those associated with protests.
Better, certainly. But better in the same way Charlton offering some form of misguided communication is better than none. There’s still a need for much more.
Mixed emotions, too, in response to Riga’s first team selection for a Valley encounter since his return to SE7.
The pairing of Vetokele and Watt, starting after Cardiff’s transfer embargo prevented his loan deal from being made permanent, gave the Addicks energy and potency in attack, while the commanding figure of Jorge Teixeira, making his debut for the club having joined from Standard Liege, provided more confidence than either Rhys Williams or Roger Johnson.
But there was understandable displeasure with Zakarya Bergdich being picked to start, despite failing to impress throughout the season and seemingly being on the verge of departing the club. With Morgan Fox and his crippled confidence behind him, the left side seemed weak.
Nonetheless, it immediately became apparent that there was a much greater resolve to this Charlton side than there had been in the defeats to Huddersfield and Hull. They looked more confident and composed, and didn’t appear an incredibly obvious second best.
Teixeira and his centre-back partner Lennon, if both constantly flirting with the referee’s whistle, were intercepting Blackburn’s punts up field in commanding fashion. Passing quicker and slicker, and clever movement replacing static figures. Watt, like he’d never been away, working his way into space that seemingly wasn’t there.
In fact, had the Scot been on the same wavelength as his strike partner in the opening stages, Riga’s side might well have found themselves in front. Watt wiggling past Henley, but his low delivery just avoiding the run of Vetokele in the middle.
That brief glimmer of intent all that was required to get the home supporters, called upon by Johnnie Jackson and Riga in the week, on side. A sparsely populated, and predominately black and white, Valley certainly backing the team as Gudmundsson’s ambitious effort cleared the bar.
The regime, however, less so. The removal of an inoffensive banner and innocent supporter in the Covered End the catalyst for rendition of “stand up if you want them out”, universally partaken in. Timely that, having linked up with the lively Craig Conway, Corry Evans almost brought Charlton fans to their knees, striking across the face of goal.
But this was a rare moment when Blackburn had looked even the slightest bit threatening. Conway’s attempts to produce down the left aside, Rovers were flat and predictable.
The service for Rhodes and debutant Danny Graham, known for their ability inside the box, continued to call upon them to hold the ball up against defiant Charlton defenders. The look of frustration on Rhodes’ face as Henderson claimed a long ball that bounced into the forward’s path telling.
Telling, too, of the overall lack of quality on show. While Teixeira battled, Watt worked the ball into space and Vetokele chased after every lost cause, the Addicks continued to enjoy the more positive moments, but neither side could turn possession into anything potent.
With Rovers continuing to lump the ball forward in the general direction of their forwards, and the trickery of Charlton’s attackers earning set-piece after set-piece, it became increasingly likely that this would be a game decided not necessarily by a moment of quality but by defensive error. Or misfortune.
Blackburn’s efforts to deal with the umpteenth free-kick delivered into their box by Gudmundsson were less than convincing, but neither was Lennon’s hopeful stab towards goal with a sea of bodies ahead of him. It appeared the sort of goal mouth scramble that ultimately results in little.
But the academy graduate’s strike, via that sea of bodies, somehow found itself slowly spinning towards the far corner while Steele stood rooted to the spot. The ball taking an age to finally cross the line, but the considerable deflection and Lennon’s diligence amidst the scramble enough to put the Addicks ahead.
Having conceded 11 without reply in the previous two games, it mattered not to the home supporters how their side had taken the lead. Relief not only that Charlton had the advantage, but that those wearing red had delivered on their promise to respond to the humiliating defeats.
As the game recommenced, however, that relief was very quickly replaced by a sense of nervousness. Vetokele, flicking an improved Fox’s delivery over, attempted to ease such feelings, but knowing the habit this side has for emphatic capitulation meant half-time could not come soon enough.
A habit of capitulating that apparently still existed regardless of the increase in fight and resolve among this Charlton side.
For with their half-time lead seemingly secure, those in red gave their opponents too much space. An initial forward move, ending with Chris Taylor’s effort blocked by Lennon, recycled, with Taylor able to send Henley down the right.
His cross perfect for Rhodes, who found space in between Charlton’s centre-backs and only the fingertips of Henderson’s gloves with his header. The goalkeeper’s water bottle bearing the full brunt of his frustration as he succeeded only in tipping the ball over his line.
But, having been booed off on countless occasions so far this season, there remained encouragement for the Addicks as they left the pitch at half-time. Supporters aware that, irrespective of that momentary lapse, this had been a much improved performance, and further support was justified.
There had most certainly been a response to the previous few weeks from those in red. Now a response to conceding, so often crippling for this, was required.
Disappointing, therefore, that it was Blackburn who made the stronger start to the half. Substitute Elliott Bennett injecting some life into the visitors’ stale attacks, with his delivery picking out Graham and the forward heading into the hands of Henderson.
Tommy Spurr’s long throws, most of which had been plucked out the air by Henderson in the first half, were also beginning to cause more concern, as Hope Akpan blasted wide after one was only half cleared. At least, with Shane Duffy heading over, Rovers were unable to make the most of Charlton’s slow start to the half.
But this, given the positive periods of attacking play in the first half, was frustrating. Vetokele tiring, Watt’s decision making infuriating and not fitting of his superb runs prior to having to offload the ball, and Bergdich anonymous. Teixeira may have flicked a Gudmundsson free-kick wide in response to Blackburn’s tame efforts on Charlton’s goal, but the hosts were now on the back foot.
It appeared that changes were needed. An injection of Callum Harriott-shaped energy into the side, for example.
Riga, however, avoided the temptation to introduce fresh legs in place of those who had seemingly lost their spark. A decision that caused frustration, but one that so nearly came off. Vetokele getting in behind Duffy, only to take his run slightly wide of goal and fire from an angle that meant Steele was always favourite to save.
At the very least, the first genuine Charlton chance of this less than entertaining half, 65 minutes into it, brought fresh belief. This Blackburn side remained unimpressive, and there was surely a greater chance of reward than punishment should the Addicks attempt to play the final period of the game on the front foot.
Alas, even if they were attempting to do, the whistle of referee Robert Lewis was preventing a serious charge in the closing stages of the encounter.
Frustration not only existing towards the nature of his decisions, with red-shirted players surrounding the referee after a Chris Solly cross appeared to strike Grant Hanley’s outstretched hand but no Charlton penalty was awarded, but also his control of the game. The official intent on stopping the game as often as possible, contributing heavily towards this rather unwatchable half of football.
There would, undoubtedly, have been even further criticism sent the way of the whistle-happy referee had Rovers taken one of their glorious late chances. Particularly glorious with Rhodes on the end of both. First of all only narrowly missing Akpan’s driven cross before being denied when one-on-one with Henderson.
And maybe the post-match protests would have turned their focus to referee Lewis were the calls he made as his final blow of his most treasured possession drew closer. Ghoochannejhad, in a 50-50 race with Steele to win a loose ball, bizarrely penalised for being head-butted by the goalkeeper, before substitute Simeon Jackson was hauled down inside Charlton’s box only for the Addicks to be awarded a free-kick for an apparent hand ball against the forward.
Much like the amount of hatred among both sets of supporters for referee Lewis, therefore, the level split between the two sides was arguably the fairest of conclusions. A game that neither did enough to win.
The feeling of victory, and a deserved one at that, reserved for those who protested outside the West Stand.
Not an immediate one, of course, with those they attempt to oust still occupying their thrones. But with such numbers, passion and momentum behind these protests, it is undoubted that we will eventually win what will be a rather prolonged battle.
The emphatic nature of the protest particularly pleasing given that there were signs of improvement over the course of the 90 minutes. The increased anger created by recent events not calming as a result of a few promising moments.
For there was greater strength in a defence led superbly by Teixeira. Not always completely in control with his feet, but his dominance in the air such that he only really needs them to jump. Commanding and confident at a time when such qualities are desperately needing.
So too was there greater composure and assurance in the middle. Jackson and Jordan Cousins doing a fantastic job of breaking down Blackburn’s rare attacks that came through the middle, while maintaining a decent pace about their own. Attacks that were often frustrating, with Vetokele and Watt constantly so close to producing brilliance, but always promising.
It is, therefore, some relief that such a promising start did not ultimately become a complete capitulation. Something it might well have been had Charlton’s rather flat second half effort been suitably punished.
Granted, Blackburn became more effective with their battling forward efforts, meaning a more meaningful test was applied to Charlton’s back four, and the referee’s control of the game, infuriating for both sides, prevented momentum from being built. But it does not detract from the fact there is more than a degree of frustration about this result and performance.
Particularly because as shown when their backline was tested in the first half, Blackburn had their weakness. Even when Ghoochannejhad and Harriott were introduced, there remained an awful sluggishness that meant the Addicks were almost as limited in their forward moves as they were at Hull and Huddersfield.
It’s certainly not wrong, while also seeing the merits of this point, to feel maybe more could have been achieved.
Because there are certainly merits. If it only because the promising aspects of the performance, particularly in the opening 45, show there is something more to this side than conceding 11 without reply.
But we have shown signs of improvement previously, it was even done in Karel Fraeye’s final home game against Nottingham Forest, and immediately regressed. The winless run stretches to 11, and we remain four points from safety.
Words such as promising cannot be used at Rotherham next week. It’s three points or nothing.