From the moment Roland Duchatelet first introduced himself to the staff he inherited, to an incident in stoppage-time of a game that would reveal whether there remained any chance of avoiding relegation, the damage done to Charlton Athletic while it has been led by this regime has been increased by unnecessary and senseless decisions.
In fact, given that the horrendous decisions of Duchatelet and Katrien Meire have placed the Addicks in a completely avoidable relegation battle and left supporters disconnected, it seemed fitting that a night of horrendous decisions from those below them has effectively confirmed a return a League One.
The hard work of well-respected Charlton figures to move the club away from a previous period of disillusionment undone, and the efforts to record victory at Brentford on Saturday made almost meaningless. The performance an insult to the committed side that won promotion, chased for the play-off, and then achieved a great escape, and a display of how weak Duchatelet’s disease has left this club.
For under the pressure of this must-win game against Milton Keynes Dons, Jose Riga and his side crumbled. Instead of being motivated to achieve, and attempt to reduce the gap between themselves and Karl Robinson’s men, both those on the pitch and in the technical area were toothless, gutless and staggeringly naïve.
Maybe summed up best by Yaya Sanogo’s lack of temperament has he struck Dons defender Anthony Kay while the Addicks, possessing a small amount of momentum in the dying embers of a goalless game, set up for a free-kick. The striker dismissed, that momentum replaced by collective anger, and a point that was never going to be good enough confirmed.
Sanogo’s moment of madness, however, only coming after 90 minutes of infuriating actions and barely believable decisions.
Riga’s unstructured side possessing no cohesion, no leadership, and no cutting edge. A defence largely featuring recent recruits fortunate that the Dons were at The Valley for a point, and rarely risked attempts to exploit them. An attack, led by a performance from Simon Makienok that suggested he has no interest in fighting to even a percentage of the extent required, weakened further by the bizarre substitution of Callum Harriott and the failure to introduce Ademola Lookman until the final ten minutes of the game.
A ten minute period where the hosts genuinely looked threatening, and the visitors’ defended desperately. But that the Addicks could only manage four shots, and one strong penalty claim, throughout the 90 minutes in a must win game is telling. Pathetic.
In fact, it was the Dons, sometimes in a fashion that goes against the spirit of the game, who fought harder. It was the Dons, through Rob Hall and Samir Carruthers, who had the game’s best chances. It was the Dons who possessed more willingness to work to avoid relegation.
This artificially constructed football club that is supposed to embody all that could be wrong with a football club, showing total commitment in a crucial game. The Dons effectively eight points clear of the Addicks, whose remaining ten games are largely against top ten sides.
Alas, it is ours that embodies all that could possibly be wrong in a club. A performance that embodied all the damage Duchatelet has done. A night that embodied the bleak position of a once great football club.
Bleakness anticipated from the moment Riga’s starting XI was named. An apparently unfit Sanogo, so influential in Charlton’s previous two fixtures, benched in favour of Makienok, seemingly set to play in the lone front man role which neither suits the Dane or the side.
Further worries provided by the continued absence of Stephen Henderson and Chris Solly, and a return to the treatment room for Alou Diarra. Diego Poyet, against the club he spent the first half of the season on loan, coming into the side.
Nonetheless, despite the nerves that this sort of high-pressure game provides only being increased, there could only be hope and desire among The Valley crowd. The Covered End vocal, both supportive and demanding a similar level of energy and effort from their side in a game where only victory would do.
Vocal despite an unconvincing start from the Addicks. Nicky Maynard breaking into the box, Jorge Teixeira bizarrely standing off him in such a manner that invited him to shoot, and Charlton fortunate that the forward’s resulting strike lacked the power to seriously test Nick Pope.
The hosts moving the ball far too slowly, especially given that the Dons were pressing effectively as a unit, while the visitors were gifted plenty of time on the ball. Jonny Williams and Carruthers dictating the early play, but they and their teammates guilty of putting too much behind the ball and allowing Pope to collect while his defenders cut somewhat bewildered figures.
And the young goalkeeper himself might have been left embarrassed had Josh Murphy, spotting Pope off his line, got more power in a strike from distance. The ball eventually plucked out the air with relative ease.
It was, however, much more threatening than anything the Addicks could muster. Yung Suk-Young’s tame and wayward strike, when a pass to the overlapping Morgan Fox looked the better option, about as desperate as the penalty claim from Murphy that followed, with the Norwich loanee hitting the deck after being fairly outmuscled by Teixeira.
The Valley crowd, understandably, growing more and more frustrated with each directionless move forward. The promise Marco Motta and Harriott were showing in partnership down the right barely worthy of note in comparison to Makienok’s failure to hold the ball up, Gudmundsson’s apparent desire to run into dead ends, and a collective unwillingness to play another other than a safe or sideways pass.
So too were the Addicks – whether nervy, uncommitted or lacking organisation – still faltering at the back. An unmarked Potter could only head upwards following a poorly defended corner, Murphy given the space to curl an effort not too far wide of Pope’s goal, and the goalkeeper fortunate that his poor kick, straight to Williams with a clear run on goal and Maynard in support, was not properly punished.
And as half-time approached, with Gudmundsson breaking into the box but David Martin making himself big and sending the Iceland international away from goal and Dean Bowditch getting a shot horribly wrong at the other end, it was apparent that the hosts desperately craved the interval. The Dons doing more than enough to warrant the point they craved, and the Addicks in such a state that they were most fortunate to have parity.
There was, after frustrated boos, cries of encouragement for those in red as they trudged down the tunnel. But they alone were never going to be enough. Riga needed to inspire a dramatic improvement over the course of the next 15 minutes.
It was, therefore, at least promising to see the Addicks start the second period on the front foot. Dean Lewington having to work extremely hard to deal with the dual threat of Motta and Harriott, while a Teixeira header from a Gudmundsson delivery should have provided a greater test to Martin.
In fact, the Covered End at its loudest suggested that maybe momentum was building for the Addicks. Harriott’s excellent run resulting in a cross only half cleared, and Jordan Cousins curling an effort agonisingly wide of the far post. Belief beginning to replace frustration, especially with the sight of Sanogo being prepared to come on.
Alas, such a mood lasted barely a minute. For only a fantastic save from Pope denied Hall, who had ran past several men in red unchallenged, before cries of “you don’t what you’re doing” were sent the way of Riga with Harriott the man sacrificed in order to introduce Sanogo.
The winger not perfect, but providing a greater threat and seemingly possessing more confidence than anyone else in red. His kick of the technical area ground adequately summing up the feelings of all Addicks.
No surprise, therefore, that momentum was immediately lost. Charlton sluggish, without pace and without direction, and the Dons immediately regaining a comfortable position in the game. A comfortable position that almost became complete control, with Maynard turning Murphy’s low cross wide.
Riga’s response to introduce Zakarya Bergdich, move Suk-Young, a left-back, to the right wing, and slot Gudmundsson into the centre of midfield. A side lacking cohesion now a complete shambles, The Valley crowd growing increasingly angry with pathetic forward moves, and Dons substitute Ben Reeves striking off-target from distance.
In fact, despite clearly playing with a degree of caution, it was Robinson’s side who continued to threaten. Hall unmarked at the back post, and seeing a goal-bound shot blocked superbly by Fox, before Reeves again fired off-target. Their ambition when a point would arguably be a positive result for them only increasing the frustration. Grim.
It was, therefore, completely out of character for the Addicks to mount a relatively successful attack and come desperately close to taking a lead that their efforts simply did not deserve. Bergdich’s delivery excellent, Sanogo inches away from a touch, and Makienok unwilling to gamble to connect.
Had either of them got on the end of the ball in, there would have been celebration. Instead, there was further venting of anger at Makienok, not helped by several pathetic attempts to hold up the ball before he was finally removed. Lookman, whose name had been sung for some time, introduced with just eight minutes to play.
And immediately the talented youngster made an impact. Dons defenders unable to commit themselves to making a challenge as Lookman broke into the box, before his ball across the face of goal seemed to deflect behind off the hand of George Baldock. Referee Breakspear, however, not interested.
Nonetheless, the introduction of arguably the most talented player in this Charlton squad had brought about a degree of optimism. Genuine hope that an undeserved victory could be snatched, and this growing sense that relegation was now certain put on hold.
At the very least, the ball was certainly spending most of its time in and around the opposition’s penalty area. The heads of Kay and Kyle McFazdean taking a battering, with their full-backs struggling to deal with the urgency and ambition Lookman was providing.
But this was a case of too little, too late. Lookman a real threat, only being stopped by cynical Dons challenges, but his deliveries were either being defended in desperate fashion or not met by a Charlton boot. The Dons, by whatever means, defiant, the Addicks still too timid despite pushing men forward with the game now in stoppage-time.
In fact, Robinson’s side might still have got the win their efforts were arguably deserving of. The Dons breaking from a Charlton set-piece, and an unmarked Carruthers horribly firing wide from a glorious position. The Addicks, once again, fortunate not to receive the punishment they deserved.
There was, however, to be no escaping punishment for Sanogo. As Charlton lined up to take a free-kick, the Arsenal-loanee struck Kay, inciting a rather large scuffle and earning himself a red card. His performances in Charlton red meant his name was sung as he dragged himself off the pitch, but this was senseless and stupid.
Much like Duchatelet’s running of the club, Riga’s decision making, and the overall efforts of the Addicks over the course of this, and many other, 90 minutes. The Valley flooded with boos as the full-time whistle blew, and an angry acceptance that this ground would be hosting League One football next season.
For the gap between the Addicks and safety won’t be made up. At eight points with ten games to go, and some of the division’s best left to play, there is almost no point. Especially when you fear performances than repeat this one.
So gutless and pathetic was this effort that the visitors should have come away from our must-win game with victory for themselves. In fact, the Dons camp appear frustrated that they were unable to claim victory, which only reinforces how pathetic the Charlton performance was.
The defence, earning the most undeserved clean sheet of all time, was a disorganised mess. No structure, no leader, no composure. Teixeira is looking more uncomfortable with every game, Fanni is arguably better than Roger Johnson but provides enough unnecessary errors, and Motta’s excellence going forward is too often tarnished by being caught out in his defensive duties.
In midfield, Cousins and Poyet were too slow in moving the ball, Gudmundsson was too indecisive, and Suk Young was simply dreadful.
Dreadful, too, was Makienok, whose effort was simply insulting. To play like he did in such an important game is a disgrace.
In fact, it was really only Harriott and Lookman that provided something worth getting excited about, and at least looked like they had the required desire for a game like this. Riga’s decision to remove the winger and introduce the forward with so little time remaining unjustifiable. His whole game plan, lacking urgency and an attempt to take control of a game, completely flawed in what was a must-win game.
Unjustifiable and flawed. Descriptions that sum up the entire club under the leadership of Duchatelet’s regime, and it is unjustifiable decisions and a flawed philosophy that mean we’re now in a position where a return to League One is almost certain.