Under normal circumstances, earning a point at Portman Road would be a relatively impressive achievement. In the context that Charlton Athletic have been trapped in, failing to find the decisive breakthrough meant the goalless draw with Ipswich Town was an incredibly frustrating result to stomach.
For the performance of Jose Riga’s side was such that, though the hosts were able to create excellent chances of their own, it warranted a greater reward. A greater reward than to have the gap between themselves and safety extend to what is effectively eight points, with just six games to make up such a large margin.
And effort was certainly not lacking in search of that reward. Nick Pope saving superbly on several occasions and defiantly claiming almost anything Town delivered into his box, Jordan Cousins battling in midfield for the duration of the game, and Ademola Lookman’s drained body still trying to make something happen deep into stoppage-time.
The newly found fight in this Charlton side, appreciated by a set of supporters that shared their heart-break come full-time, best summed up by Alou Diarra, evidently in pain, returning to the field after injury had seemingly ended his night a few moments early. Such fight certainly not warranting defeat, and the Addicks deserving their good fortune when an unchallenged Jonathan Douglas headed over Ipswich’s best chance midway through the second half.
In fact, the only complaint you could have with the performance of the Addicks was a similar tameness in the final third. The wrong pass made to put an end to a promising move on too many occasions, Callum Harriott wasteful, and Bartosz Bialkowski saving superbly from Lookman and Yaya Sanogo in quick succession to snuff out Charlton’s best opening with ten minutes to play.
Both sides could point to wasted chances, with similarly large margins to make up in different ends of the Championship table, but Riga’s men certainly possessing the strongest argument that they did enough for victory. At the very least, momentum had long been theirs by the conclusion of the ultimately even contest.
But it isn’t a failure in front of goal on a Tuesday night in Suffolk that will see this club ultimately condemned to League One. It isn’t those who battled, though ultimately without success, on the Portman Road turf who have inflicted this fate upon us. These 90 minutes won’t be looked back on as a missed opportunity when the inevitable occurs.
For performances like this, occurring too late to make a genuine difference particularly with those around the Addicks in the Championship table also improving, only reaffirm were the fault for this completely unnecessary relegation lies.
It’s taken the best part of 40 games to build a squad able to compete. A squad that was for so long understaffed and reliant upon players without quality and effort. A squad that was for so long lead embarrassingly by Karel Fraeye.
A squad that has suffered as a result of the horrendous and destructive decision making of Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire. Failing to beat Ipswich only moves us closer to the outcome they have long instigated.
In his selection, Riga was at least able to instil a degree of confidence in supporters who have rarely been enthralled by Charlton starting XIs this season.
With Chris Solly returning at full-back, in place of Marco Motta, and Lookman given the starting birth his performance off the bench against Birmingham deserved, with Yun Suk-Young the man to miss out, this a side arguably stronger than the one that beat the Blues at the weekend.
Somewhat disappointing, however, that Igor Vetokele, having only recently returned from injury, was seemingly unable to contend with two games in quick succession. The forward replaced by Sanogo, returning from suspension, in attack.
But the Angolan’s absence did not dent the attacking intent that Charlton had been able to show on Saturday. Though it was Ipswich that had much of the ball in the early stages, it was the Addicks who had the first effort on goal, with goalkeeper Bialkowski holding onto Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s swerving strike after the Iceland international had cut inside.
The visitors, however, were soon issued a reminder of the threat their opponents possessed. Town, in desperate need of victory themselves to keep within sight of the top six, agonisingly close to going in front as Freddy Sears got in behind Charlton’s backline and cut an effort across the face of goal. Pope motionless as the ball rolled just wide.
Not the most convincing of starts for the Addicks, but they were able to settle quickly after allowing the Tractor Boys that opening. Jorge Teixeira and Rod Fanni defiant in defence, while Cousins, Harriott and Sanogo were beginning to move the ball quickly between themselves. Some promising signs for the vocal visiting support.
Also promising was Ipswich seemingly lacking a touch of composure at the back. Bialkowski and Christophe Berra colliding as they dealt with an innocuous long ball, and the Tractor Boys fortunate that the latter was able to recover with Sanogo lurking.
Unable to recover, however, was Gudmundsson. Clashing heads with Knudsen after the full-back had challenged late for header, the winger needed to be replaced by Motta just 20 minutes into the game. A huge blow for the Addicks, and the momentum they were building.
The creation of a Charlton opening immediately exactly what was needed to calm those worried in the away end. Solly crossing to Sanogo, proving a real handful for Ipswich’s backline, who brought the ball down for Harriott to strike at goal. Bialkowski comfortably behind an effort which lacked a bit of power, but a nice move from the Addicks.
Regardless, the continued threat Mick McCarthy’s side posed meant you couldn’t suggest the visitors were dominating. The lively Ben Pringle cutting inside, and curling a top-corner bound strike that required the most marvellous fingertip save from Pope to keep up. Solly immediately showing his appreciation to his goalkeeper.
And the away end were singing Pope’s name again just five minutes later, with the Suffolk boy getting down well to keep out a Sears strike after the forward had been allowed to create space for himself on the edge of the box.
But the occasional Ipswich opening was doing little to harm the threat the Addicks possessed when attacking. A real roar of expectation as Harriott bombed forward and fed Cousins through, but the academy graduate dragged a pass behind Sanogo when it looked a wiser option to shoot. Lookman blasting the loose ball wide.
It was moments like that that meant both sets of supporters had cause to be frustrated. The Portman Road home crowd obviously annoyed that their play-off chasing side were looking somewhat uneasy against relegation fodder, while those in the away end wanted to see a bit more composure and quality in the final third from their side. Charlton sloppiness that allowed Sears to strike over and Pitman to fire comfortably wide prior to half-time not really providing the encouragement Town supporters needed, or enough to inflict worry on Addicks.
Not least with the visitors going close in stoppage-time. Bialkowski’s reaction save denying Teixeira from Lookman’s corner, and the follow-up set-piece ultimately resulting in the 18-year-old tentatively poking wide to round off a promising half for Charlton.
Promising, however, was not enough. Particularly with results elsewhere in the division not looking too pleasant. A killer instinct needed to be found in the final third, and victory secured.
Not ideal, therefore, that former Addick Luke Varney was introduced by Ipswich at half-time, and a run from Sears at the start of the second half concluded in Teixeira pulling him back and the hosts earning a free-kick in a promising position. Luke Chambers, much to the delight of those away in the away, slipping as he stuck the ball and hitting it against the wall.
Similar delight felt as, after Harriott had seen a shot blocked and Sanogo headed wide from the resulting corer, an unmarked Douglas somehow headed Cole Skuse’s delivery over the bar. Blue shirts behind the long-haired midfielder may have been better placed to finish, but that is no excuse for Douglas failing to convert the most glorious of openings.
Still, though, Charlton remained under an uncomfortable amount of pressure, not least with their moves forward failing to seriously test Ipswich’s backline. A situation not helped by Teixeira losing the ball in his own half, allowing Varney to slide Sears through and a sea of bodies in the box required to block the forward’s effort.
This was arguably the first period of the game were you could send any meaningful criticism the way of the Addicks, who had become a little too slow and were given a bit too much space to the Tractor Boys. Douglas attempting to make amends for his earlier miss, but lifting an effort from the edge of the box over the bar, and the excellent Pope well behind Pitman’s rather tame strike from an excellent position 20-yards from goal.
Nonetheless, there remained enough pace in Charlton’s forward moves to feel assured they would soon regain an element of control. Harriott played through, but clearing the crossbar from a relatively tight angle.
And it was the energy of those young players in red and white, with Lookman a continuous threat, Sanogo a nuisance, and Harriott unwilling to stop running, that meant momentum was back with the Addicks by the time 20 minutes was left to play. Cousins, forcing Bialkowski to palm away having been invited to shoot from the edge of the box, and Harriott, breaking into the box from the right and striking low and hard against the side netting, going close for Charlton.
Which isn’t to say Ipswich’s ambitions had ended for the evening. Substitute David McGoldrick’s strike taking a vicious deflection off Teixeira’s head, and only narrowly looping over Pope’s bar.
But with the Addicks throwing on Vetokele, in place of the tiring Harriott, it did seem like it was they who were mostly likely to find a winner in the game’s closing moments. Lookman cutting in from the left and maybe taking one touch too many, which allowed Berra to block his resulting strike.
There was little, however, that Ipswich’s defence could do the next time Lookman worked his way inside. This time coming in from the right, the youngster found the space to fire towards goal, only for Bialkowski to pull off an excellent diving stop. The goalkeeper also able to deny Sanogo, who pounced on the rebound and poked towards the corner of the goal. Excruciating.
Those missed chances only increased the nervous energy in the away end, resulting in a seemingly never ending stream of individual shouts of encouragement. The noise from the visiting supporters barely interrupted as Sears tried his luck from distance, but comfortably cleared Pope’s goal.
An anxiety in the away end, and seemingly desperation down below. Substitute Motta substituted, with Simon Makienok introduced in hope of causing some discomfort to Ipswich’s defence.
And almost immediately, though unintentionally, he did. Lookman’s delivery from a corner, in the direction of the Dane, superb, forcing Varney to take a wild swipe at the ball. It deflecting back across the face of goal, and only narrowly wide.
That desperation extending as Diarra, clattered off the pitch and seemingly staying there, hobbled back on with a leg not functioning for the final few moments of four minutes of stoppage-time.
A final few minutes were Charlton, to increasing volume from their supporters, found a way to win two corners. The first cleared, and the second agonisingly avoiding everyone in the middle and going behind for a goal kick.
Much like this survival attempt as a whole, it simply wasn’t to be for the Addicks. Such was their efforts, those in red and white were applauded as if they had achieved victory. But their hurt faces and the feeling of frustration in the away end meant this felt like defeat.
For this level of fight and performance, right throughout the team, deserved better than a point that merely makes relegation become even more certain. It is really hard to stomach that this display, with a win for Fulham and Rotherham and Bristol City drawing, has moved the Addicks further away from safety.
Of course, it would be wrong to downplay the fact Ipswich created chances. Sears was always lively, Pringle needing an excellent save to be denied, and Douglas should have done better with his wonderful headed chance.
But the home supporters were frustrated. With their side’s sloppiness and sluggishness, but also with the manner in which Charlton found themselves on top for large periods of the game.
And when we weren’t, Pope and his defence were excellent. The goalkeeper making a handful of excellent saves, his commanding of his area excellent, and Teixeira and Fanni offering resilience. A real gritty fight.
The same could be said in midfield, with Diarra breaking up attacks, and Cousins relentlessly up and down. Neither stopped worked for the duration of the game, and it no wonder that both looked exhausted come full-time, even with the Frenchman’s knock.
Their hard work allowed more freedom for those in forward positions. Harriott everywhere, Lookman’s trickery and pace a constant threat, and Sanogo battling diligently against a strong and experienced centre-back partnership.
It just frustrating that their was no finish and few killer final balls to round off excellent attacking moves. Harriott particularly guilty, with the forward lacking the composure to match the moves he was making.
It makes it incredibly hard to see how any chance of avoiding relegation remains. The gap getting bigger, the opponents getting tougher, and those around us continuing to pick up points.
Nonetheless, it’s nice to see us fighting, and particularly nice to feel a sense of pride in an away performance at a difficult ground to go to. On very few occasions has that happened this season.
For that relegation to League One is set to follow is not the fault of those that represented the Addicks tonight. Not those that are battling and giving their all to avoid a fate that looks almost already sealed.
They, like us supporters, have been let down and insulted by those above them. The failings of this season will always lie with the ineptitude of Duchatelet and Meire.