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.