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.