He knocked his clenched fist against his heart, and raised it towards those in the Covered End who had remained long after the final whistle in order to show their appreciation. Broken hearts, at least momentarily, patched together.
He had taken no pleasure in inflicting further suffering upon his former supporters. His professionalism, and the quality of his performance, unquestionable, but his celebrations non-existent and his desire to reaffirm his unity with disillusioned fans of Charlton Athletic apparent.
He was the first man to suffer at the hands of Roland Duchatelet’s regime. The first attempt to insult supporters, and damage a once great football club. The first indication that disconnection between club and supporters would reach such a point that there was no feeling of guilt as a former player was applauded for scoring against the Addicks.
Yann Kermorgant knows that the supporters of this club do not deserve this. The innocent victims in the flawed transformation of their club. They did not deserve to witness the briefest glimpse of fresh hope snatched away from them in the cruellest of fashions.
For a point that once seemed unlikely was now set to be the reward for a rare show of energy, commitment and attacking threat.
A Kermorgant-inspired Reading, contributing a bullet header, a typical classy finish, and an inch-perfect through ball for Ola John, led 3-1 at the interval. The anger and unrest, only momentarily calmed by Yaya Sanogo’s equaliser, continuing beyond the break as the pathetic efforts of Jose Riga’s side meant Kermorgant went desperately close to increasing the Royals’ advantage. The appreciation of the Frenchman providing more pleasure than anything the Addicks were capable of.
The shift in momentum that followed, therefore, sizeable. A Charlton quality going forward, existing in some form throughout the 90 minutes, suddenly allowed the hosts to control the game.
The best efforts of Ali Al-Habsi not enough to prevent Sanogo’s header from crossing the line, while the goalkeeper’s failure to hold Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s shot six minutes from time presented an opportunity for the Arsenal loanee to dramatically equalise. Sanogo’s hat-trick most certainly deserved, and those joyous around The Valley certainly deserving of a rare wonderful moment in this hellish campaign.
Alas, for those contributing to Charlton’s defensive effort and those assisting the crippling efforts of Duchatelet’s regime, this was not a moment of sheer excitement that was warranted. They more worthy of the pain of Reading’s stoppage-time winner.
Rod Fanni conceding an unnecessary free-kick, the delivery into the box not properly dealt with, and Deniss Rakels unchallenged at the far post as he converted. Another nail in Charlton’s already sealed coffin, with disconnection already in place and confirmation of a return to League One not far off.
Sympathy, as such, could not be had for the Addicks. The reason for these sort of defeats the disease that Duchatelet has allowed to run through the club, and the reason for this one in particular a flimsy, gutless and pathetic backline lacking the sort of resolve and character that allowed Kermorgant’s efforts in a Charlton shirt to earn greater reward. Roger Johnson is not Michael Morrison.
They will have little sympathy for us, and certainly not as much as Kermorgant. A cult hero, forced out by a clueless regime, and returning to inflict further damage to its credibility.
The cracks that have attempted to be papered over, from his sale up until Reading’s advantage was doubled, now wider than ever.
The cracks in Charlton’s starting XI also hard to ignore. The absence of Harry Lennon, Chris Solly and Jordan Cousins making the side Riga was forced into naming someone makeshift.
A trio of centre-backs, the competent Jorge Teixeira alongside the untried Fanni and the unimpressive Johnson, flanked by Marco Motta and Yung Suk-Young. All five arriving in SE7 over the past couple of months.
The return of the composed Alou Diarra did at least provide a positive, even if that was tainted by El-Hadji Ba being alongside him, while the long-limbed duo of Simon Makienok and Sanogo promised to be a handful for Reading’s backline to deal with. But it was not enough to provide a reasonable amount of hope.
Particularly with the scrambled together defensive unit beginning the game in the manner that many feared they would. John, rampant down the left, teeing up Stephen Quinn, whose effort from distance was kept out by a combination of Stephen Henderson’s fingertips and the crossbar. That corner that followed picking out an unmarked Hector, who could only head horribly wide.
Alas, these fortunate escapes for the Addicks were not heeded as warnings. For the next time John bombed down the left, he was able to pick out an unmarked Reading player at the back post, with no mistake made on this occasion. Kermorgant never likely to waste such a wonderful opportunity, and making sure he wouldn’t with a powerful header across goal.
The Frenchman’s reaction, if not the clinical nature of his finish, almost apologetic. No desire to celebrate in front of the Covered End, who rose to applaud their former striker’s goal. Bizarre in many situations, to effectively embrace the opposition scoring, but this was a moment that simply felt right.
A momentary connection with our Charlton, soon to be replaced with showings of anger and discontent. The normally apathetic nature of a ‘Football for a Fiver’ crowd not preventing anti-Duchatelet and Katrien Meire chants from gaining momentum from the fourth minute.
Two minutes later, however, and those chants were rudely interrupted by cheers. While many inside The Valley were preparing themselves for a torrid afternoon, Motta had launched his side’s first attack, Sanogo had done superbly to collect his pass and beat McShane, and the Arsenal loanee had finished clinically.
An equaliser, and an enjoyable one at that, but not nearly enough to suggest the two sides were on level terms. Not when Kermorgant was seemingly in an unplayable mood, and Charlton continued to struggle defensively. Only a questionable handball call, having battled with Ba for the ball, denying him the most stunning of long-range goals.
And yet, while there was genuine fear each time Reading were allowed to move forward, there was something about Charlton’s attacks that gave you a degree of hope. More pace and directness that usual, with the Royals not exactly composed. Outstanding work from Gudmundsson allowing him to break into the box and cut back to Sanogo, but Al-Habsi was equal to what was ultimately a rather tame effort.
The game, therefore, rather open. As open as Kermorgant was from yet another poorly defended opposition corner. The Addicks fortunate that Makienok had retreated to the goalline, and was able to hack the Frenchman’s header away.
But the Dane wasn’t quite in the right place at the other end of the pitch, as Suk-Young’s sublime delivery just skipped past his outstretched boot. Any sort of touch would have put the hosts in front.
Reading’s response immediate, with Oliver Norwood given too much space and forcing Henderson into an unconvincing palm away. Both sides in desperate need of some calm and quality at the back.
For the Addicks in particular, there was a need to get tighter to their men. The Royals given far too much space once they entered Charlton’s final third, and the desire to stand off them even more bizarre given the strength that was being shown on the counter. Suk-Young getting into a wonderful position, but his shot too tame.
Too tame. There was the biggest issues. Riga’s side not battling hard enough in defence, and wasting their excellent forward moves with frustratingly soft final efforts. As they have been so many times before this season, they were always likely to be punished.
John allowed to glide forward, unchallenged despite the threat he posed all afternoon, and play the ball into Kermorgant. The former Addick turning Johnson with one classy touch, before curling the most beautiful of efforts into the far top corner. Charlton pathetic, but Kermorgant, appreciated again, a class above.
Impossible not feel a sense of anger and bitterness that the wonderful Frenchman was not wearing Charlton red, and also seemingly impossible for the Addicks to respond to conceding by showing a bit of character. McShane left unmarked at the far-post from a Norwood free-kick, and only narrowly heading wide. The failure to correct simple defensive errors suicidal.
A failure, too, to learn from mistakes made during the course of the afternoon. A snappy Reading passing move ultimately resulting in Kermorgant having the time and space to superbly play John through on goal. The Dutchman finishing coolly beyond the onrushing goalkeeper, and inciting a torrent of angry responses from the home supporters.
You could not blame them. So often they have been asked to back the team, but so often the team have not rewarded them. This flimsy effort, marginally made less depressing by the attacking promise that continued to be shown with Gudmundsson firing wide, an embarrassment. The Addicks, displaying disgusting body language, rightfully booed off as they trudged in at the break.
In a time when Kermorgant was an Addick, hope would have remained of a comeback. Alas, the only feeling as the second half began was a fear of further misery. John skipping past several red shirts before firing an effort that dipped onto the top of the crossbar.
Even that not enough to wake up Charlton’s absent defence. The ever-lively John crossing for Kermorgant, whose volley was perfectly struck but flew just a fraction over that bar. The unstructured Addicks asking questions of each other, but unwilling to show any sort of collective resolve.
Much like in the first half, however, the hopes of those in red were reignited by an arguably undeserved goal.
It was certainly against the run of play, as the Addicks launched their first attack of the half, but substitute Zakarya Bergdich’s cross was worthy of producing a goal. His delivery met by Sanogo, whose header creeped over the line despite the desperate attempts of Al-Habsi to claw it out. Game on.
In fact, from being dead and buried, Charlton now seemed to have some momentum behind them. Motta’s first-time strike after a cross was cleared just wide, while only an uncharacteristically poor touch prevented Gudmundsson from facing up to Al-Habsi one-on-one.
But while the Addicks continued to resemble a Sunday League team in their defensive efforts, hope of a comeback being completed remained dubious. Robson-Kanu bursting through, and only a stunning one-handed stop from Henderson prevented the Wales international from providing the Royals with some comfort once more.
Comfort that they seemingly needed, in this battle of who could produce the worst individual bit of defending against impressive but not completely unplayable attacking threat. Makienok battling away, and able to send Sanogo through on goal, only for the forward’s lob over Al-Habsi to be hacked away by McShane after he initially helped it on its way to goal.
At the very least, the Addicks were now earning some support, but frustration will always grow quickly in the situation this club finds itself in. The lively (no, really) Bergdich played through on goal, and somehow conspiring to produce a shot weak enough that allowed the unconvincing Al-Habsi to save. A moment definitely more infuriating than promising.
For time, with less than 20 minutes remaining as Sanogo’s strike from a tight angle was claimed by Al-Habsi at the second attempt, was running out. This pressure would mean very little were it not to be rewarded soon, and that threat of Reading breakaway goal, though the Royals now looked somewhat lacklustre going forward, remained.
In fact, there was a sense Charlton’s pressure was being tainted by the pressure Charlton were under. Sloppiness creeping into their forward moves, with huff and puff going unrewarded. Reading, digging in by whatever means, suddenly appearing a bit more stable.
It was through defiance and a rare showing of self-belief, therefore, that the Addicks somehow managed to pull level.
Scrappy battles not being definitely won on the edge of Reading’s box, before the ball ran loose to Gudmundsson. His strike could only be parried by the still shaky Al-Habsi, and Sanogo was there to pounce. The ball bundled over the line, and The Valley able to truly celebrate with genuine excitement for the first time in many months. For the briefest of moments, the league table and the leeches that control this club did not matter.
But there remained six minutes and seeming plenty of stoppage time. A period where further joy could be provided, or misery could be sucked from the jaws of relief. The worry about the latter increasing as Sanogo, providing much more than just his goals, hobbled off the pitch to be replaced by Reza Ghoochannejhad. Immediately the Addicks appeared less convincing in the opposition’s half.
And there was a sense they were unsettled at the back, as Fanni needlessly pushed Rakels as the Reading sub held up the ball. A brainless move, especially with Charlton’s record on defending set-pieces.
A record that would only become worse. Jordan Obita’s delivery not properly dealt with as it skimmed through the heart of the box, and the unmarked Rakels was on hand to poke home. Unbridled joy among those in the away end; indescribable rage and despair in the Covered End.
If this was a new feeling, it might have been described as heartbreak. But it was not. This was simply another symptom of Duchatelet’s poisonous disease. Another defeat for which the Addicks only had themselves to blame. Another step towards League One.
And as the forward who did so much to move this club away from the third tier, and push it into a position where it could gain a sense of ambition and pride, shared a moment of appreciation with his former supporters, you remembered that the reason this wasn’t heartbreak was because the hearts of Charlton supporters had long been broken.
The connection with the man that had just instigated defeat stronger than the one they have towards to their club. His name sung during the post-match protests to reinforce the notion that forcing Kermorgant out of the club was the first symptom shown from this disease.
A disease which most recently has inflicted the Addicks with a seemingly fatal case of defensive woes.
For all the positivity created going forward, with Sanogo sublime, Gudmundsson lively and the wing-backs making an impact when attacking, it was rendered effectively meaningless by the utterly spineless and embarrassing attempts at defending.
Individually, it was a disgrace. Johnson is simply not good enough, and doesn’t show enough application to suggest he wants to be here, Fanni error-prone and guilty of conceding the match-deciding free-kick, while Teixeira has looked less comfortable with each game. The wing-backs were also disappointing defensively, with both Motta and Suk-Young caught out on several occasions.
Collectively, it was a shambles. This inability to defend a set-piece is beyond parody now. How it hasn’t been resolved, or even addressed slightly given that Reading won so many free headers, is inexcusable. Riga must take plenty of the blame for that, but so too must the players, too quick to blame each other, collectively address this mess.
Nonetheless, watching Kermorgant play again, regardless of the punishment inflicted, was a joy. His play so clever, his finishing so classy, his personality so admirable. How I wish the bond we as supporters had with him was not interrupted.
How I was the bond we as supporters had with the club was not damaged to a point where it won’t exist until Duchatelet’s regime has been removed. The stubborn and delusional regime that continuous to inflict misery, fails to accept the extent of the failings of its philosophy, and refuses to listen to Peter Varney’s offer.
I want my Charlton back. Or at least a Charlton I can feel as strongly about as I do about Kermorgant.
The Valley is normally occupied by many who have been infected by Roland Duchatelet’s poisonous regime.
A Charlton side collectively lacking quality and fight, and subsequently heading towards League One. Young players forced to play at a level they are not yet ready for, and having their careers and confidence crippled. Supporters who feel disconnected from a club they once loved, and forced to protest in order to save that bond.
But there will be an additional body in SE7 this Saturday who has been subjected to the Duchatelet disease. Arguably the first body to show the sort of symptoms that many connected to Charlton Athletic would be affected by, in one way or another.
For Yann Kermorgant, the cult hero and talisman deemed not good enough by any owner that has crippled a football club, will line up for Reading. The Frenchman, despite so far being frustrated in front of goal, already warming himself to supporters of the Royals, having made himself adored at Bournemouth. Should Duchatelet’s agenda not been so destructive, Kermorgant might still be enjoying his incredible relationship with Charlton fans.
Instead, he was forced out of the club. Unforgivably deemed surplus to requirements, and treated in an unforgivable manner. The hero of one of the most loved Charlton sides tossed aside, without any of the respect he deserved, and replaced by a series of players lacking his quality and commitment.
The bond with Kermorgant still stronger for many supporters of the Addicks than it is with the majority of those that currently wear their club’s shirt.
The current crop of Charlton players likely to continue to play their part in undoing the work of the group Kermorgant was a part of on Saturday. Another step closer to a return to League One.
LAST MEETING – READING 1-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
Nick Blackman’s late header at the Madjeski in October earned Reading a victory that their complete dominance of a tame Charlton deserved.
For at least 68 minutes of the contest, however, the Royals were left frustrated. The in-form side lacking the composure in the final third to complement the classiness with which they got the ball forward. Nick Pope never properly tested by the barrage of efforts sent in the general direction of his goal.
But such wastefulness never looked like being punished, with an incredibly sloppy Charlton struggling to move the ball forward successfully. Guy Luzon’s side managing just two shots throughout the 90 minutes.
And a defensive stubbornness of sorts was lost with 22 minutes to play, as Patrick Bauer needlessly got himself sent off. A second yellow card awarded for hacking down Blackman on the edge of Reading’s box.
It meant the Royals were always likely to make their pressure tell, and they did with 14 minutes remaining. An unmarked Blackman heading in Lucas Piazon’s cross to condemn the Addicks to defeat.
It might not be quite to the same extent, but some of the positivity that existed among supporters of the Royals when their club last played Charlton has returned in recent weeks. And that isn’t just because they get to watch Kermorgant.
For having won just one game in 13 following the victory over the Addicks, a run that completely derailed their early push for promotion and saw the sacking of Steve Clarke, The FA Cup has provided excitement in Berkshire.
Their 3-1 victory over West Brom on Saturday setting up a quarter-final tie against Crystal Palace, and the cup run is seemingly having some sort of positive impact on Brian McDermott’s side in the Championship.
A 1-0 win over Rotherham on Tuesday night may have been their first in seven in the league, but it’s a run that has included decent draws with Sheffield Wednesday, Derby and Burnley, in addition to signs of improvement being shown.
Though they have little to play for in the league, with the Royals 14 points from the play-offs and the relegation zone, maintaining that positive momentum ahead of the Cup quarter-final is crucial.
It’s not the gutless defeats, the questionable attitude of many in red that reflects the overall state of the club, nor the continuing increase in the gap between the Addicks and safety that is most boring. It’s the desperate attempts to create the idea that positives can be taken from each game in a run of one win in 17.
Positives to take from a 2-1 defeat to Preston North End, according to Jose Riga and goalscorer Johann Berg Gudmundsson, despite the fact the usual costly mistakes were made. We have long passed a point where brief passages of promising play mean something
For not only are those positives not taken into the next game, but only results are important with 13 games to play. Charlton effectively eight points from safety, and already looking doomed.
Latvian forward Deniss Rakels is pushing for a start after making a positive impact off the bench in the victory over Rotherham on Tuesday night.
The introduction of the forward not only gave Kermorgant the partner his clever flick-ons need, but his individual play gave the Royals new energy and contributed towards their win.
And Rakels’ chances of starting are increased with Matej Vydra unavailable to McDermott. The formed Watford forward definitely out of the game with a hamstring injury, while Danny Williams is unlikely to feature due to a hamstring troubles of his own.
Charlton will be without the suspended Harry Lennon following the centre-back’s sending off for violent conduct in the defeat to Preston.
Naby Sarr could replace the academy graduate, who earned his red card by petulantly striking out at North End’s Joe Garner, should Riga opt to remain with the 3-4-1-2 formation using at Deepdale, or Lennon’s absence may force Charlton’s head coach to revert to a more traditional formation.
Riga may also have to deal with the absence of Jordan Cousins and Chris Solly. Cousins suffering a recurrence of his injury on Tuesday, while Solly was taken off midway through the second half with an ankle complaint. Both will be assessed prior to Saturday’s game, along with the seemingly always-near-but-never-quite-fit Igor Vetokele.
Johnnie Jackson, Alou Diarra and Patrick Bauer, however, definitely remain unavailable.
KEY BATTLE – BOTHERING TO DEFEND SET-PIECES
Such is the laughable way in which Charlton have attempted to defend set-pieces in recent weeks, it’s almost as if Bob Peeters has returned.
In fact, Preston were even able to score from one of our own on Tuesday. Having taken the lead from a corner, with Garner heading in, the hosts regained their advantage following a break from an Addicks flag kick. Add that to the three that Fulham scored from corners on Saturday, and it’s rather pathetic.
Particularly with Charlton so often capitulating after conceding a soft goal throughout this season. It’s meant that those positive passages of play in recent weeks, consisting of some breaks that lacked any sort of end product, have been made even more meaningless.
Not ideal, either, given that two of Reading’s goals in their 3-1 Cup win over West Brom came from set-pieces. The Royals, with Paul McShane, Michael Hector and Kermorgant, possessing a number of players that are a threat when attacking a delivery.
Important, therefore, that the Addicks show some sort of defensive organisation this weekend. That much more rewarding than having to find ten minutes of positive play in a 3-0 defeat.
At least I’ll get to see Kermorgant score at The Valley again. Charlton Athletic 0-2 Reading
(Apologies for the lack of Preston report/reaction. Car broke down 40 miles from Deepdale and I therefore wasn’t able to attend the game)
It was an absolute pleasure and privilege to follow Charlton Athletic the last time the Addicks made the journey to Deepdale. A desire to simply savour the final weeks of the most spectacular of seasons, with Chris Powell’s side having secured the League One title the previous weekend.
The mood relaxed and celebratory. Powell found himself posing for a photograph with some rather questionably dressed characters, before him and his coaching staff engaged in a crossbar challenge that, such was the relationship between club and supporters at the time, had the away end hooked.
Not even Graham Alexander’s stoppage-time equaliser, an incredible moment in itself with the Preston North End legend scoring in his final game, enough to taint the mood. Supporters able to enjoy a bond with their club, embrace their side’s success, and be excited about the potential this group had.
But as the Addicks prepare to return to Deepdale less than four years on from the penultimate fixture of the 2011/12 season, it’s fair to say that potential has not at all been fulfilled. Stifled by an ownership without financial clout, and completely destroyed by a regime without intelligence and respect. Joyous moments and enjoyable days, that helped to create the impression that we had our Charlton back, replaced by despair and detachment.
In fact, it is with fear that the resolute supporters of this club travel to Lancashire on Tuesday night. Attending without expectation, and not heading up north because they feel their side has done enough to warrant their committed support. Habit and duty the only thing keeping some sort of bond alive.
For the likely defeat to a hard-working and well-functioning Preston unit, who have moved into the top half of the division, will further increase the disillusionment supporters have with the crippled shell of Charlton Athletic, and increase the weight behind the notion that a return to League One is nailed on.
This certainly won’t be like that day at Deepdale in 2012.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 0-3 PRESTON NORTH END
A shambolic Charlton performance was suitably punished by an efficient Preston in October, as a 3-0 defeat heaped further pressure on underperforming players, a struggling head coach, and an under fire ownership.
It took just two minutes for the visitors to gain an advantage, with Paul Gallagher’s free-kick lifted over a feeble wall and beyond the desperate dive of Nick Pope.
And Gallagher would double North End’s lead before the break, picking out the far top corner from a tight angle after only he responded to Pope’s punch clear. Horrendous defending from the Addicks.
Luzon’s side, continuing to invite pressure and lacking the composure to make any sort of threatening move forward, never looked like forcing their way back into the game, and their defeat was confirmed just beyond the hour. Daniel Johnson curling in superbly from the edge of the box, as the Covered End made their frustration known.
A third successive win, this one particularly impressive given that it came against an in-form Sheffield Wednesday, lifting an unfancied side into the division’s top half. Quite the achievement for Simon Grayson and his men.
In fact, it’s fair to suggest that Preston’s move up the Championship table has not attracted the attention it deserves. With a wage bill smaller than at least 20 other teams in the division, and a squad that seemingly has the quality and depth to reflect that, this is a huge overachievement.
It is their efficiency and effectiveness that is most impressive, with Grayson’s well-organised side, in a 3-5-2 formation, grinding out results in the sort of manner that Powell’s Charlton were so often capable of. Only two, one coming against Charlton, of their 11 league wins this season have been by more than a single.
And their reward for displaying such a winning mentality throughout the season is that they can afford to approach games without fear. Their task always to survive in their first season back in the Championship, and a 19 point gap between them and 22nd means they have effectively achieved that already.
A third successive game without victory. A third successive game without a goal. Just one victory in 16 games. Jose Riga’s inept side, the consequence of Roland Duchatelet’s destructive ownership, embarrassed once again.
In fact, as the half-hearted Addicks slogged around the Craven Cottage pitch, it was hard to believe that this gutless bunch had even been able to manage that one win. Their return to the bottom of the division after a 3-0 defeat to Fulham reflecting their efforts.
Reflecting, too, the mood that all hope is lost. Charlton supporters were defiant at the Cottage, but their side is not rewarding them. Little chance of what is effectively a seven point gap between the Addicks and safety being made up.
Such is the confidence of Grayson’s side, in addition to his current favoured starting XI making it through the weekend unscathed, Preston are likely to name an unchanged line-up from the victory over Sheffield Wednesday.
Wednesday loanee Marnick Vermijl, illegible for the game against the Owls, is once again available, but the versatile Belgium is unlikely to dislodge any of those that started on Saturday.
Elsewhere, forwards Jermaine Beckford and Stevie May remain absent through long-term injuries.
Charlton look set to welcome back Jordan Cousins, after the midfielder missed Saturday’s defeat to Fulham through injury.
And Jose Riga is also hopefully that Igor Vetokele, absent since the victory over Rotherham, and Yaya Sanogo, troubled by a back complaint, will be available to the trip to Lancashire. Both forwards will be assessed on Monday.
But the Addicks will definitely remain without skipper Johnnie Jackson, while long-term absentees Alou Diarra, Patrick Bauer and Ahmed Kashi are not yet ready to return.
KEY BATTLE – DOING SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE IN THE FINAL THIRD
For all of Charlton’s horrendous efforts in the previous weeks, there have been incredibly brief moments of positivity.
The Addicks getting into the right areas and taking up decent positions, but failing to make the most of those openings. At times, even on Saturday, a final ball was all that was lacking.
Their failure to make more of those moments particularly important given their continued proneness to errors at the back, and the dramatic drop in effort and confidence once Riga’s side fall behind. We’re not getting out of this mess if we can’t start showing some composure and quality in the final third.
Nor are we getting anything at Deepdale on Tuesday night without making the most of any chances that come our way. Preston not the sort of side that afford an opposition team several opportunities to score, nor will they be willing to sacrifice a lead once they have predictably taken advantage of our inadequate defensive efforts.
A step closer to League One. Preston North End 1-0 Charlton Athletic
As Fulham doubled their advantage just after half-time, those who occupied Craven Cottage’s away end could be excused for feeling some degree of injustice.
At the very least, the position that Michael Madl’s headed goal, adding to Tom Cairney’s strike after a first-half corner was not cleared, had put Charlton in was not a fair reflection of their overall efforts. Just a final pass away from turning possession and purpose into something more meaningful, and an otherwise tame home side able to punish static and unorganised responses to their set-pieces on two occasions.
But by the time the Cottagers strode forward, waltzing past the gutless and beaten men in red, for the umpteenth time in search of a fourth, sympathy had long been lost. The idea that the Addicks didn’t deserve such punishment replaced by the notion that a three-goal defeat was the absolute minimum their pathetic response to falling two behind warranted.
That lack of final ball became tired and effortless misplaced passing, with each one inciting further frustration from a set of visiting supporters that deserved better. Those rare moments of defensive naivety became a regular occurrence, with Fulham wasteful before and after Cairney’ stunning volley from distance made it three. Visible effort became a half-hearted slog, with the loss of fight and desire among the players resulting in hope, on this afternoon in West London and of Championship survival, vanishing in the away end.
In fact, the only injustice come full-time was that Charlton’s committed supporters had been served up another performance and result that reflected the disease Roland Duchatelet’s ownership has spread throughout the club. Those supporters, who sung as loudly for their team as they did against this awful regime, deserved so much more.
It no surprise that, as Callum Harriott added one final moment of embarrassment with a horribly wayward strike, frustrations boiled over. A small number attempting to enter the pitch, losing rational thought as a consequence of their side’s efforts.
But most, whether expressed by cries of anger, boos, or reflective silence, simply settled for entering a state of despair as Charlton’s return to the bottom of the Championship was confirmed. Stephen Henderson the only one brave enough to directly face his fans; a handful offering some applause from a distance.
And you fear few of his teammates are brave enough to win this battle to avoid relegation, and fight to the extent that their supporters deserve. A club, in general, unwilling to represent and work for its most important customers, and being suitably punished.
There will be no feeling of injustice when the Addicks return to League One.
In truth, there were predictions of such a disastrous outcome once Jose Riga had named his starting XI.
Morgan Fox kept in at the deep end, despite the signing of Yung Suk-Young, the positive of Diego Poyet coming into the side tainted by El-Hadji Ba starting alongside him, with neither Johnnie Jackson nor Jordan Cousins available, and Harriott given a free role behind Simon Makienok with Igor Vetokele not yet ready to return.
Fulham, meanwhile, could boast former Addick Scott Parker, booed by those in the away end as if he needed any further motivation to perform against his old club, and the prolific Ross McCormack. Hope, rather than expectation, behind the first belting of ‘Valley Floyd Road’ of the afternoon.
But further noise from the visiting Addicks was enhanced by an energy and drive from those on the pitch. Encouragement provided as Bergdich and Harriott, though ultimately unable to create an opening, tested the Fulham defence with pacey and direct runs.
Little testing about Moussa Dembele’s effort, however, as the highly rated striker skewed an effort so horribly wide from distance that Fox was required to take a throw-in by the corner flag. Huff and puff from both sides, but not a lot of genuine quality.
Or at least that was the case until Charlton, with an ever increasing volume of support behind them, next broke forward. Bergdich, with skill, pace and strength, superbly getting the better of Ryan Fredericks before setting the ball back to Harriott, but the academy graduate’s strike was well saved by Andy Lonergan. Such was the nature of the opportunity, some in the away end had begun to celebrate before the palms of Fulham’s goalkeeper intervened.
The start most certainly positive, and the away end, the perfect mixture of supportive chants and anti-Duchatelet slurs, housing a superb atmosphere, but signs were there that prevented any Addicks from getting too carried away. Parker left unattended on the edge of the box following a corner, and Jorge Teixeira needed to throw his head in the general direction of the midfielder’s shot in order to deflect it behind.
You could also suggest that the lack of final ball, with Harriott and Ba particularly guilty, was another reminder to remain cautious. As was an uncharacteristically poor Johann Berg Gudmundsson free-kick, as he fired straight against the wall from a wonderful position after Harriott had been hauled down. This positive intent from the Addicks meaningless without any end result.
So the creation of a genuine opportunity was most welcome. Bergdich picked out unmarked at the back post, Makienok’s strike from the Moroccan’s pull-back blocked, and Gudmundsson following up to narrowly fire wide with a motionless Lonergan seemingly unsighted. In between the defiant tunes of protest, the sound of hope turning to belief was developing in the away end.
Developing enough for it to be painfully crushed once the feeble ways of Riga’s side were exploited. Charlton again seemingly a second too slow in responding to a corner, with it played short and McCormack able to draw the first meaningful save of the afternoon from Henderson. Another corner for the hosts.
And from this one, the response of those in red was one of bewilderment. Cairney knocking the ball down to Parker, whose snap shot rebounded back off the bar, before Cairney followed up and picked out the top corner. No Addick alert to the danger, and making enough of an attempt to intervene, undoing 32 minutes of commendable work.
Nonetheless, the defensive lapse did not condemn Charlton to defeat. Not while there remained energy in their forward moves and Fulham maintained a tameness in their play. Bergdich not far away from turning in Gudmundsson’s cross, and Fox’s superb delivery diverted wide by the lanky leg of Makienok.
Fox’s crosses from the left testing, but no justification for allowing him to take a free-kick in area many would describe as Gudmundsson’s territory. That previously growing hope now being replaced by a familiar frustration as the Welshman blasted the dead ball miles over.
More meaningful embarrassment looked set to come at the conclusion of Fulham’s next attack, as the Cottagers moved the ball around with far too much time and ease on the edge of Charlton’s box. Cairney picking out an unmarked McCormack perfectly, only for the Scot to somehow fire over from a glorious position. A huge let off for the Addicks, as half-time approached.
Regardless, there was applause and encouragement for the visitors as they headed down Craven Cottage’s tunnel. Those in the away end, who you could excuse for showing no patience whatsoever given the position their club finds itself in, respective of the efforts their side had shown in the opening 45.
But frustration, just beginning to appear towards the end of the half, would only increase if Charlton could not find a meaningful final delivery and show greater awareness and composure at the back. Threatening moves forward too often breaking down, and seemingly tame Fulham moves becoming more serious than they should have been.
Harriott doing enough to keep supporters onside in the early stages of the second period, with a fierce drive that Lonergan could only palm away. The academy graduate, more than anyone else in red, so close to reaching the desired level of performance.
At least, as was the case in the opening moments of the first half, his strikes were more threatening than what Dembele could offer. A shot that was more of a pass into the hands of Henderson and a curling effort that flew a huge distance wide not suggesting that the Addicks were in any significant danger of having their search for an equaliser interrupted by falling further behind.
Only increasing the frustration, therefore, when substitute Madl rose without challenge to head home Ross McCormack’s delivery from a corner. The game a minute shy of the hour mark, and a competitive Charlton performance was going to count for nothing. Disappointment, and a sense that this was a rather cruel fate, overriding feelings of anger.
But, in such a position, the anger that has been created by the state this football club is in was never going to remain in hiding for long. It emerging just two minutes later, as Demeble run past several static men in red and fired an ambitious effort against the frame of the goal.
And it growing as McCormack was able to slide Cairney through with complete ease, only for the all-action midfielder to blast well over the bar. This response to falling further behind disgusting, and it hard not to accuse the Addicks of losing fight and effectively giving up.
Fulham, in particular the still classy Parker, in complete control in midfield. Charlton’s passes wayward, while the hosts continued to find ways beyond an almost invisible defensive line. The Addicks without any sort of attacking threat, and the Cottagers not needing to perform to anything above an acceptable standard to earn dominance.
Such was that midfield weakness, it was both a sign of Riga’s lack of resources and an acceptance that this game was effectively lost as both Ba and Poyet were withdrawn, to be replaced by debutant Marco Motta and Ademola Lookman.
Neither of the midfield duo impressive, but putting Gudmundsson and Chris Solly in the centre was not going to halt the control Parker and Cairney had on this game. The young Scot not far away from his second of the match, as his header forced another save out of Henderson.
Instead, after Gudmundsson had increased the rage in the away end by driving straight at Longeran from an excellent position, Cairney saved something more special for his second of the afternoon. A wonderful, dipping volley from distance following another corner not properly dealt with.
Henderson had no chance with the strike, Charlton had no chance of getting back into the game, and those in the away end, having been so diligent and supportive for much of the game, had no chance of keeping their cool for the remaining 12 minutes. At least McCormack, played through beyond a static Addicks backline, was kind enough to waste another chance, with power lacking in his attempted chip of Henderson.
Those of a Charlton persuasion, however, were not so effective in their efforts to calm the hostility. Gudmundsson wasting another free-kick, and Harriott’s horrendous miss the catalyst for a chorus of boos, along with altercations at the front of the away stand. Unpleasant, but completely understandable.
Most had either moved themselves to be among the carnage, or simply escaped from the ground altogether by the time Gudmundsson and Makienok fired tamely at Lonergan in quick succession. Charlton’s toothlessness depicted perfectly with these late, although meaningless, misses.
For long had the chance vanished for the Addicks to come away from Craven Cottage with any sort of pride, let alone be able to overturn such a deficit. A deficit that, despite their positive periods of play, was most certainly deserved. Dembele, not having the greatest of afternoons in front of goal, blazing another effort over the bar as Fulham attempted to increase Charlton’s suffering before full-time.
But that full-time whistle did not come as a relief to supporters, even if it did to those players who immediately made for the tunnel. It merely confirmed and justified their rage, their disillusion, and their sense that those representing their club were intent on insulting them with their lack of effort.
Unquestionably, they deserved much more than this.
Much more than questioning why they have spent another weekend supporting their team with all their might, only for them to respond with a lacklustre, characterless and gutless effort.
They rose to the occasion, knowing how important victory would be. Time was dedicated to showing dissatisfaction against the regime, but passion was placed behind the backing of the team. Once again, the efforts of those supporting the Addicks could not be questioned.
But the efforts of those representing the Addicks could certainly be. With such a tameness where it mattered in attack, and avoidable goals conceded, even prior to the capitulation that followed the second goal did Charlton only have themselves to blame.
For Fulham were composed and efficient, particularly in midfield, but not classy enough to warrant such dominance. Their dominance born out of a Charlton defence that was too slow and disorganised, a midfield that might as well have not been there for much of the game, and an attack that was far too wasteful in promising positions. No player worthy of any real credit; Riga showing no genius.
Particularly not when so many were half-heartedly slumping around the pitch after the second goal went in. It’s impossible to see us getting out of this situation when, aside from the likes of Solly and Henderson, the character to triumph and thrive in adversity is lacking. Supporters deserve players that can fight like they are, and they certainly don’t deserve League One.
But, above all, supporters deserve better than to feel a previously unbreakable bond between supporter and club being shattered into pieces. With another gutless defeat, another stream of committed fans lose hope, and lose the ability to care. You cannot blame them.
Supporters gave their all today, irrespective of the performance and the goings on at the club. They were insulted once again.
Meanwhile, Duchatelet and Meire are not even willing to accept the blame for what they have caused. The players not willing to fight hard enough to get us out of this mess.
Destruction and despair.
No longer can salvaging the smouldered remains of possessions from the self-inflicted fire that continues to burn provide reassurance and hope.
For plucking positives from mixed performances and frustrating results is not a worthwhile exercise for Charlton Athletic when the threat of being engulfed by relegation becomes greater. Rescuing the unusable doesn’t stop the fire spreading.
Nor does attacking a fixture with the mentality that a draw would be a decent result. A win the only outcomes that can be celebrated come full-time at Craven Cottage on Saturday.
In circumstances where Charlton’s future in the Championship isn’t under such threat, you could certainly argue a point away at Fulham would not be a bad result. The Cottagers showing, albeit slightly tainted, signs of improvement under Slavisa Jokanovic, and the Addicks without a win at another London Club since November 2011.
But with seven points effectively between Jose Riga’s side and safety, and only 15 games remaining, victories against opponents who are not invincible must be demanded. Opponents like Fulham, who lie only four place above the Addicks, and have recorded only two more victories all season.
These wins are not to be expected, with it wrong to call any game winnable given that only one of Charlton’s last 15 have resulted in victory, but failing to win in not impossible circumstances can no longer be accepted or justified.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 2-2 FULHAM
A Johnnie Jackson-inspired Charlton fought back from two goals down to steal a point in stoppage-time at The Valley in October.
The hosts’ sloppy performance was suitably punished just beyond the half hour, as Ross McCormack’s free-kick was spilled by Nick Pope and pounced upon by Ryan Tunnicliffe.
And the game seem to be beyond the Addicks with an hour played, with McCormack finishing in typically potent fashion. An atmosphere of anger and frustration in the air in SE7.
But that changed once Guy Luzon introduced Jackson with ten minutes to play. The Skipper immediately providing hope, inspiring the Covered End with a thumping header and characteristic celebration.
And deep into stoppage-time, Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s cross picked out Jordan Cousins at the far post, who headed in to complete a remarkable comeback.
Just as positivity was building around Craven Cottage, Fulham saw it fit to capitulate in mightily impressive fashion.
For there has been improvement since Jokanovic replaced Kit Symons, with his 3-5-2 formation earning a commendable draw with Derby County and an impressive victory over rivals QPR. A group of players that is undoubtedly talent finally playing to something like their potential.
But Tuesday’s crushing 3-0 defeat to Blackburn Rovers served as a reminder that faults remain within Jokanovic’s side. Faults that have seen the Cottagers win just two of their last 17 games.
It means they’re just six points above the relegation zone, and still looking nervously over their shoulders. Relegation extremely unlikely, given the previous improvement Jokanovic’s influence had brought about and the quality within Fulham’s underachieving side, but that it is even a consideration is a huge disappointment for the West London side.
A draw that could have easily been defeat but might have been turned into victory was ultimately a point that left the Addicks further from safety.
For while there can be an argument that goalless draw with Cardiff was a fortunate one, with the Bluebirds wasting a host of chances, and a frustrating one, with Charlton unable to capitalise on some late pressure, wins for MK Dons and Bristol City elsewhere means any sort of discussion is meaningless.
Effectively seven points from safety and with just one win in 15, a return to League One looks increasingly likely.
And though that victory was impressive, with Rotherham crushed at the New York Stadium, the intensity of that effort has yet to be repeated. The more games without a repeat, the greater the feeling that it was a one off performance becomes.
Former Addick Scott Parker is likely to return to Fulham’s starting XI having missed Tuesday’s defeat to Blackburn.
The Charlton academy graduate, instrumental in the Cottagers’ victory over QPR, is no longer able to cope with the demands of three games in eight days, but will be refreshed to frustrate his former supporters with a predictably impressive performance. Sakari Mattila the man set to miss out in the middle, with Jamie O’Hara and Tom Cairney expected to start alongside Parker.
There could also be a change at wing-back, after Luke Garbutt was hauled off 34 minutes into the defeat at Ewood Park. The Everton loanee, who gave away the penalty that Blackburn took the lead from, apologised to Fulham supporters for his performance, and may be replaced by Alexander Kacaniklic, who came on for Garbutt in midweek.
But Jokanovic will be without Lasse Christensen, who suffered a hamstring injury during the win over QPR, and Cauley Woodrow, who continues his recovery from a broken metatarsal.
Charlton will be without Johnnie Jackson after the influential skipper was forced off during the draw with Cardiff through injury.
And there is also a doubt over whether his normal midfield partner will be available, with Jordan Cousins set to be assessed prior to the game. Diego Poyet and El Hadji-Ba waiting in reserve should last season’s player of the year not be fit.
Igor Vetokele’s fitness will also be assessed on Friday, but Yaya Sanogo will not be an option to fill in for the Angolan should he not have fully recovered from the knock that has kept him out of the previous two games. The Arsenal loanee troubled by a back complaint.
Elsewhere, recent signings Rod Fanni, Marco Motta and Yun Suk Young are pushing to be involved for the first time, while Alou Diarra, Patrick Bauer and Ahmed Kashi remain absent.
KEY BATTLE – STOPPING THEIR POTENT FORWARD AND MAKING OURS MORE OF A THREAT
It’s probably not the best idea to be so inviting to opposition forward lines when they are led by a potent goalscorer.
Alas, Charlton have been more than willing to gift their opponents openings throughout this campaign, and appear even more willing when up against a player who finds himself near the top of the top goalscorer charts. Andre Gray, Abel Hernandez and, of course, Jordan Rhodes have all had the loveliest of afternoons against the Addicks.
You can therefore imagine that McCormack is probably sitting somewhere in West London, licking his lips at the prospect of pouncing on the offerings that Charlton’s defence serve up. A defence still leaky despite recording its first clean sheet in 12 games against Cardiff – the Bluebirds had more than enough chances to score.
Jorge Teixeira and Harry Lennon at least making McCormack work to add to his 18 goals in all competitions this season is an absolute must, but so too must Charlton’s own forwards give their opposing centre-backs something to think about.
For while it is reasonable to fear Fulham’s forwards, or at least forward, a less than impressive defensive record should provide the Addicks with encouragement. Only Rotherham (55) and our wonderful selves (56) have conceded more goals than Fulham (53), and a midweek defeat littered with defensive errors suggest Jokanovic’s three-at-the-back formation isn’t as formidable as it was appearing.
And to capitalise on such weaknesses, Makienok requires a partner. His relentless work last weekend was not rewarded, with no one available to meet his flick-ons, and a similar performance will prove for more beneficial to Riga’s side if Vetokele or Lookman are there to feed off him.
Stop them scoring, and score some goals ourselves. All simple, innit?
A performance, throughout the entire 90 minutes, that gives me back some confidence is needed. For right now, I have very little. Fulham 2-1 Charlton Athletic
It’s rather ironic that the man at the centre of one myth harmful to the pride of Charlton Athletic supporters has enhanced the weight behind another being seen as a truth.
For so often since our decline from the Premier League, we have had to defend ourselves against this notion that our impatience and greed pushed Alan Curbishley out of the club, and therefore means we only have ourselves to blame for the many subsequent periods of despair and crisis since.
True, there was frustration that qualification for European football could not be achieved, particularly with Curbishley’s side regularly finding themselves in promising positions as the season entered its final quarter. Those end-of-season slumps understandably creating a feeling that more could have been achieved during our time in the top flight.
But frustration, and a rather timid sort at that, was all that ever existed. Never were there any serious murmurings of displeasure against Charlton’s legendary boss of 15 years, let alone mass calls for him to be dismissed in the hope of reaching the next level.
In fact, as it was announced prior to the final home game of the 2005/06 season that Curbishley had made the decision to move on, tears left the 11-year-old eyes of your writer in a shocked and heart-broken Covered End. Tears leaving Curbishley’s eyes as he said goodbye following that 2-0 defeat to Blackburn, and his effort thanked by all at Old Trafford a week later. Supporters supportive and appreciative until the very end, unlike the perceived narrative might suggest.
Particularly disappointing, therefore, that Curbishley has seen it fit to question the supportive efforts of Charlton’s fans in recent weeks. It can be ascertained from his words on Football League Tonight on Saturday that he believes both the protests and the mood within The Valley have had a serious impact on the performances of the players. Protection for this regime, an excuse for the underperforming men in red, and an unfair accusation against supporters.
I’d like to think those beliefs are a result of genuine ignorance, especially given his suggestion that the protests should be postponed until the summer. A sign that he isn’t fully aware of the extent of the damage Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire have done, and continue to do. As such, I have no anger towards Curbs, only a sense of disappointment that he doesn’t seem to have an understanding of events at a club where his considered a legend.
But a true sense of frustration comes from the extent at which this belief we are not supporting the team has grown, both in recent weeks and following Curbishley’s comments. That we are contributing towards what appears to be an inevitable return to League One.
I won’t deny that there is evidence to support such views. There have been moments this season where supporters, in the midst of this bleak period, have let frustration and disappointment get the better of them.
Some will point to the numerous occasions where the team has been mocked or booed off the pitch, the incident which saw Morgan Fox substituted during the defeat to Bristol City to heckles and abuse, and the times where protests have occurred during a game.
But the atmosphere has only ever been anything less than supportive of those representing the Addicks once our efforts have not been suitably rewarded. Games always beginning with more support than a side occupying the relegation zone are arguably worthy of, and only replaced by angst once they underperform to a point of no return.
The most poisonous atmospheres this season coming when players have either not responded to support, or showed such a lack of quality and fight that frustration and anger is completely understandable. The FA Cup defeat to Colchester United a prime example, and there have been plenty of other examples this season where our support to begin with means we are completely blameless for the defeat that has followed.
Any booing that has occurred a justified show of disappointment at poor performances, and the mocking of individuals or the collective normally light-hearted. Celebrating a shot when already three goals down at Hull City probably the only way to avoid a complete breakdown, while there really wasn’t a need for Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s look of disgust as the Covered End found humour in a horribly wayward Reza Ghoochannejhad strike.
Of course, the Fox incident was a rare occasion where the extent of the anger shown was unjustified, and the reason why the suggestion we’re not supporting the team had grown before Curbishley added his thoughts.
But Fox, who deserves little personal blame for his struggles when it is Duchatelet’s system that has exposed him to such an environment he is not yet ready for, was merely an unfortunate victim of the general unrest that exists among supporters. It unreasonable to suggest that supporters should be robotic supporting machines while their club is in crisis, they occupy a relegation spot, and continue to perform dreadfully.
Regardless, I’m of the opinion that we as supporters can be proud of our efforts this season. I certainly don’t think we’ll reach the end of this campaign, regardless of what the end result is, and feel any sense of guilt in our actions whatsoever.
There is always going to be a degree of unhappiness in a situation like this one – the supporters of every other club in a relegation battle this season will have voiced their frustration on numerous occasions, and the club and players are the ones that need to shoulder the blame for creating a situation where such anger exists.
But each game has been treated as a fresh start, with disappointment from the previous encounter replaced by a chorus of support from the Covered End or a vocal away end. Players well backed in that horrendous run between the Colchester defeat and the draw against Blackburn, and arguably undeservedly so. Our persistence should be the focus, not our displays of anger in moments of disappointment.
For this idea that The Valley atmosphere is not what it should be is not a consequence of the Covered End losing its voice, supporters turning their back on their side, or insults replacing support. The reason the atmosphere has been damaged, as Curbishley believes, is because of numerous demoralising defeats, and the way the club is being run has produced anger and apathy.
It’s why the protests, not just in their goal to remove Duchatelet, are vitally important. A supporter spirit has been ignited, with the collective voice that wants this regime gone then followed by a collective voice that wants the side to achieve victory. Together in supporting the team, and together in not supporting the regime.
A show, too, that we as supporters have not given up. It would be easy to bury heads in the sand and hope it all goes away, but we have showed the same sort of persistence in our protesting as we have in our support.
Nor is protesting something that anyone wants to do. No one wants to have to effectively fight against their club, but it has reached a point where we are doing a job as supporters to protect and fight for the future of our club. We’re doing this because we care. Because we want Charlton to succeed, and can substantially prove that unlike this ownership.
Besides, this notion that protesting during the game is harming the team is, quite frankly, rubbish. If a professional footballer is more affected by a minute of holding up banners or standing up against the regime than numerous minutes of positive support, then they do not have the required character to be a professional football.
And it would seem that the players are appreciative of efforts anyway. Stephen Henderson’s quotes following Saturday’s draw with Cardiff very important:
“The fans have been great with us. Obviously we’re aware of the shenanigans at times but they have been great with us and that’s all we can ask. They’ve got to do what they’ve got do. As long as they support us, is all I ask.”
“I’d really like to thank them for their support.”
Confirmation, if it were needed, that we’re doing a mighty fine job of supporting the team, and not the regime. It is possible to protest, and provide the sort of support needed for the players to perform. We’re not creating a difficult atmosphere at all.
Opposition observers also commend our efforts, and appreciate our bewilderment. Important words from Phil Smith, writing for Wales Online:
“Though their support of the team was unwavering, particularly in the final ten minutes as they pushed for an unlikely winner, the sense of disillusionment in the Valley was unquestionable.
You could feel it in the SE7 streets around the stadium beforehand, and you could certainly feel it when they stood as one to demand Duchatelet sells the club.
They wore Pinocchio masks and stickers in protest, even printing beer mats to be used pubs near the ground.”
We’re doing a commendable job in these testing circumstances, supporting the team until their efforts mean disappointment and anger can only takeover, and providing hope and togetherness with the protesting efforts.
A job far greater than many connected to Charlton Athletic have done this season.
We simply are not to blame if this side does not collect the points it needs to survive.
A dull and tense affair, with neither side willing to overcommit in search of victory, opened up as it reached its conclusion. But so too did the gap between Charlton Athletic and safety.
Good fortune playing a part in Cardiff City failing to take one of several fantastic openings, and make that gap even larger. Luck lacking away from SE7, though, as those around the Addicks in the Championship table had greater success.
Jose Riga’s side coming alive in the closing stages, applying immense, but ultimately frustratingly toothless, pressure to the visiting Bluebirds. Their hopes of maintaining their Championship status, however, edging closer towards a terminal diagnosis.
For while this was the sort of goalless draw where there was a positive for every negative, the nature of Charlton’s position means there can only be frustration and disappointment with the outcome. Just Pinocchio would suggest this was a successful afternoon for those in red.
An improvement on the shambolic effort in defeat to Bristol City, helped by the battling Simon Makienok, but not nearly enough. Particularly prior to the 80th minute, with intensity, urgency and a genuine attacking threat still lacking.
The Bluebirds, through Joe Ralls hitting the post, Sammy Ameobi curling agonisingly wide, and the hands of Stephen Henderson on more than one occasion, really should have found themselves in front long before Riga’s men took control.
But when this Charlton side, fitter and more effective in the closing stages under their most recently appointed Belgian boss if nothing else, found pace, energy and drive on the break as stalemate drew ever closer, they were unable to use it to capitalise on the opportunity offered by Cardiff’s wastefulness.
Backed by the Covered End, awoken from the slumber the uninspiring display had put them in, each attacking move offered genuine hope. The ball moved quickly, red shirts outnumbering blue in the spaces that mattered, and a roar of expectation on several occasions.
Each time, however, that roar of expectation was not rewarded. A Bruno Ecuele Manga intervention, hacking away a Simon Makienok effort that appeared to be heading across the face of a near-empty goal, the only time panic in Cardiff’s penalty area became genuine concern.
And though the dismissal of Ameobi, receiving a second booking for kicking the ball away deep into stoppage-time, allowed the home supporters the last laugh between the two sides, they would ultimately end the afternoon in despair.
Milton Keynes Dons and Bristol City both winning, leaving Charlton effectively seven points from safety when goal difference is considered. The failure to take advantage of a promising situation making this two costly points dropped, rather than Cardiff’s wasted chances making it one point gained. This not a time where positives can be taken if not enough points are picked up.
The gap between the Addicks and safety large enough to house Pinocchio’s noise. The chances of avoiding the drop now as unlikely as Katrien Meire persistently telling the truth. The worry over Charlton’s Championship status as large as the fear over Roland Duchatelet’s running of the club.
Worry also existing before kick-off, as the Igor Vetokele-shaped hole in Charlton’s starting XI remained unfilled. The Angolan forward, so vital in the victory over Rotherham United a fortnight ago, yet to recover from the knock that kept him out of the Bristol City defeat.
In fact, there was, rather disappointingly, just one change to the side that faltered against the Millers. Reza Ghoochannejhad coming in for Ademola Lookman, with the Iranian occupying a wide role and Johann Berg Gudmundsson taking up a central position.
It meant Morgan Fox, the target of abuse as he left the field following a disappointing performance a week ago, was not hidden away or protected. A nervy start, as Ameobi got the better of him, and a vital Chris Solly intervention was needed to nick the ball off the head of Anthony Pilkington. Ecuele Manga hacking an effort from the resulting corner well off-target.
But the Welshman, seemingly determined to get supporters onside, soon began to settle. In fact, he began a move which ultimately resulting in Charlton coming desperately close to taking an early lead out of nothing. Having made a complete hash of dealing with Zakarya Bergdich’s cross, allowing the ball to pop to Gudmundsson, Paul Connolly recovered superbly to throw himself in front of the goalbound effort.
These early exchanges certainly not offering evidence that a comfortable home win was to follow, but somewhat encouraging nonetheless. At least Makienok, dominated by Bristol City’s backline, was giving Cardiff’s centre-backs something to think about. His efforts applauded, though his flick-ons not rewarded.
Similar frustration, if a less direct style used, for the visitors, who found themselves in promising positions on the outskirts of Charlton’s defensive third, only to lack quality in their next pass. Ameobi and Peter Whittingham guilty, and possibly impacting on Fabio’s questionable decision to aim in the general direction of the corner flag with a strike from some distance.
However, Cardiff’s more frequent wayward passers were quick to look to make amends. Whittingham always providing a threat from a dead ball situation, and his delivery picked out an unmarked Ameobi at the far post. Had the ball not bounced in such a way that meant it merely deflected wide off of the Newcastle loanee’s shin, the Addicks would have surely been behind.
And they most certainly would have been had an assistant’s flag not been raised just shy of the half hour. The ball pumped into the path of Pilkington and converted coolly, but the former Norwich man was adjudged offside. His suggestion that Johnnie Jackson, running back up field, was playing him on falling on deaf ears.
The ping as the ball rebounded back off Henderson’s right-hand post moments later, however, slightly harder to ignore. Red shirts standing off Ralls, and the midfielder drilling an effort against the frame of the goal. For all Makienok’s efforts up the pitch, and persistence and determination of Charlton’s back line, the Bluebirds’ control of the game was growing.
It meant that Ghoochannejhad’s two half-chances in quick succession – one a poorly executed first-time strike from a Fox through ball and the other a drive straight into the hands of David Marshall from a position that promised more – did little to alter the emotions of home supporters. Their side’s dull performance not assisting in their battle with apathy.
Somewhat ironic, therefore, that a more positive response came from the more frustrating miss. That the Addicks were able to create such an opening, as Gudmundsson’s corner picked out an unmarked Jackson in a position from which he has scored many times before, encouraging. That it was not taken, with the skipper heading into the ground and over the bar, unpleasant.
So too was the remainder of the half, as the Bluebirds worked themselves into decent positions and weaned out half-chances. Tom Lawrence hacking an effort over after another dangerous Whittingham delivery was only half-cleared, and Whittingham himself slicing horribly off-target when teammates appeared better placed.
Regardless, the Addicks had made it through to the interval relatively unharmed. Positives to be taken, with a man needed to be shoved alongside Makienok to collect his flick-ons, and things to build upon, with the midfield battle being lost and a general resolute defensive effort being let down by the occasional uncomfortable moment.
Uncomfortable moments, not including the announcement that an incorrect photo of Graham Moore was displayed during a minute’s applause for the former Addick and Bluebird who died this week, which continued beyond the half-time whistle. Too many men in red following the ball, allowing Pilkington to be played through on the right, with Henderson needed to deflect his effort behind.
And Henderson could only stand and watch barely a minute later as a loose ball fell to Ameobi in the box. The brother of Shola curling an effort so agonisingly close, some in the Covered End had accepted their side were about to fall behind as the ball floated towards goal.
A horribly unconfident start to the half, only reaffirmed by promising attacking moves breaking down. Makienok and Jackson linking up cleverly, but neither confident enough to take the ball on themselves when a path to goal appeared on.
The Bluebirds, however, if not exactly rampant, were more willing to attempt to exploit an unorganised opposition. Scott Malone’s cross flicked onto the top of Charlton’s crossbar by the ever-lively Pilkington, and Ralls’ first-time shot dragged across the face of goal. Surely on a matter of time before the visitors got the lead their domination deserved.
But while they failed to capitalise on Charlton’s sluggish efforts, there always remained a chance the Addicks would find something on the break. Fox, composed and growing in confidence, delivering a fine cross to an unmarked Ghoochannejhad at the back post, but his volley was so spectacularly awful that it drew justified taunts from the home supporters. Grim.
The feeling that this would be another totally enjoyable afternoon in SE7 growing and growing, and not helped by Jackson going down injured. The skipper not having his best day, but replacing him with El-Hadji Ba, while Diego Poyet sat in reserve, not exactly welcomed by supporters.
At least their side continued to enjoy an unprecedented amount of good fortune. Ralls’ effort deflecting off the toe of Lawrence, but not to the extent that Henderson wasn’t able to respond and get a crucial fingertip to the ball.
And so too did they have Jordan Cousins, discovering the sort of drive that has been absent for most of this season. Determined runs, shaking off blue shirts as he marched forward before ultimately breaking down, providing some much-needed encouragement to the Covered End. Their voices slowly returning, if dampened by the need to withdraw the academy graduate through injury moments later.
It allowed Yaya Sanogo to come on for his debut, while Poyet soon replaced the lazy and ineffective Ghoochannejhad. Not dramatically so, but he shape of Charlton’s team now different. Gudmundsson hugging the touchline, and Sanogo supporting the tiring Makienok.
Something was building. All the time let down by some sort of horrendous final delivery or touch, quite often from Ba or Bergdich, but there was certainly a greater intensity about the Addicks. A shame that Bergdich, latching onto Sanogo’s flick-on, could not get more power behind an effort that failed to test Marshall.
But for all the huff and puff of the Addicks, the numerous misplaced crosses, and the increased volume with each attack, Cardiff remained threatening. Lawrence volleying strongly towards goal, but Henderson again equal to a testing effort.
In fact, this was almost an end-to-end finish. Charlton having the better of it, but the Bluebirds not lying down and accepting that they would need to dig in for the remainder of the game.
As the 90th minute approached, however, desperation was required to prevent the Addicks from scoring. It might well have been going wide, but Ecuele Manga’s block after Makienok’s effort had beaten Marshall was superb. Bodies flying all over the place once again as the big Dane broke into the box in Charlton’s next attack, but Makienok and Sanogo unable to break through.
A roar of encouragement as five minutes of stoppage-time were announced, but a worry this point would be lost also existed. The two emotions felt back-to-back, as Lennon’s superb blocked denied Lawrence after a Cardiff counter, before Makienok drove forward only to find a dead end.
But, rather than the end-to-end chaos of the remaining ten minutes or so, it was probably the last meaningful action of the game that summed it up best. Ameobi, lashing the ball into the net as he did so, kicking the ball away after the referee’s whistle had blown for a foul, and receiving a second yellow.
An incident which provided frustration for both sides. A needless, and rather harsh, dismissal to add to Cardiff’s annoyance that they couldn’t take any of their numerous chances, while Charlton were left disappointed that they didn’t have enough to capitalise properly, as was their case when they began to perform late on.
Frustrating and deflating. The boos that met the full-time whistle possibly not for the general performance of each individual, but for how costly these dropped points appear to be.
Of course, the Addicks could so easily effectively be eight points from safety this evening. Cardiff, always lacking just a touch of composure in the final third to make their pressure count, were arguably the side more deserving of victory. At least the side consistently creating the better chances.
For it was only in the those closing moments that Charlton genuinely carried a persistent threat. Frustrating that more wasn’t made of that threat, but ten minutes of pressure not nearly enough to suggest a win was warranted.
And there were those wearing red who performed for the entire game. Jorge Teixeira sometimes shaky, but Harry Lennon defiant, a sense of pride felt in Fox’s response to recent events, and Chris Solly, as ever, showing drive and determination.
Makienok, if horribly unlucky, also worthy of plenty of praise. Battling right until the final moment, and deserving more for his efforts. A mistake from Riga not to give him a partner sooner, with so many of his flick-ons not met.
Alas, it’s all empty praise. Positives that are meaningless in the position we’re in, and tainted by a rather lacklustre effort for much of the game. A result that makes relegation look even more likely.
The platform to release some of that frustration and disappointment provided in the protest, but it wasn’t enough to provide the hope that it has done previously. The hope of change and opportunity.
It’s incredibly hard to not feel like it’s game over. The Addicks in desperate need to provide some proper hope and encouragement.