It might have been a little overzealous, to celebrate a scrappy victory against a side all but condemned to relegation in such a manner, but you could not help but feel jealous of Derby County’s enjoyment at full-time.
Fist pumps from Darren Wassall as he approached a jubilant away end that had been bouncing for much of the final period of the game. A real sense of connection between supporters and head coach as they shared a joyous moment. Those who represent the club and those who follow it unified, sharing the same objectives, and increasing each other’s sense of belief.
For supporting Charlton Athletic used to provide moments aplenty like that. Away victories, whether achieved in dominant fashion or through a display of fight, concluding with a wonderful shared period of celebration between supporters and a manager whose feelings towards the club were just as strong. Committed following rewarded, fans feeling unified with their club, and trust existing in those who represented the Addicks.
Those moments have been replaced by silently watching a dejected group of players, whose effort and fight had been extremely questionable, traipsing off the pitch with the knowledge that a return to League One was all but confirmed. The one-goal defeat to the Rams leaving Charlton effectively 12 points from safety with just four games left of this torrid Championship season to play.
Too apathetic and disconnected, in addition to growing used to half-hearted performances and having long accepted relegation, to express the bitter rage that was felt on the inside. No trust in a club that has constantly insulted supporters, viewing them as a nuisance to achieving goals that aren’t shared by those that have occupied The Valley for many years. No unity with a side put together as a sideshow to Roland Duchatelet’s experiment, and no connection with what this regime has turned the club into.
An entirely self-inflicted relegation all but confirmed merely affirming the painful emotions that Charlton supporters are forced to experience.
In truth, the Addicks can feel somewhat frustrated to have suffered defeat to the promotion chasing Rams. Their attacking efforts encouraging, and seemingly rewarded when Jorge Teixeira bundled a header, and Derby goalkeeper Scott Carson, over the line. The Portuguese defender penalised for the physical nature in which he challenged the former Charlton stopper for the ball.
But it’s hard to feel any real sympathy for Jose Riga’s side when their lack of character, fight and overall quality was immediately exposed. A corner predictably defended in dire fashion just two minutes later, and Johnny Russell allowed to head in unchallenged from close range.
And for the half-hour that followed, there was not nearly enough energy and genuine desire from those in red to warrant an equaliser. Lifeless and gutless, particularly in comparison to their earlier efforts, hindered by Riga’s odd substitutions, and lacking any sort of threat, defeat was ultimately warranted and predictable.
Derby left to celebrate their victory in emphatic fashion; Charlton supporters simply saddened by the inevitability of an entirely self-inflicted overall outcome.
The Rams believing that momentum is building ahead of their play-off campaign; the Addicks fearing what further damage could be done to the club they are so distant from if Duchatelet is not removed.
There was at least a degree of optimistic Charlton belief prior to kick-off, as Riga again fielded an XI with plenty of attacking threat, not too dissimilar to those that have put in commendable performances in recent weeks.
The only change from the side that started the undeserved defeat to Queens Park Rangers last weekend seeing the injured Yaya Sanogo replaced by the fit again Johann Berg Gudmundsson. The forward threat arguably even greater.
But that optimism, if it wasn’t already by the quality in Derby’s side from the defence Jason Shackell led through to the forward triumvirate of Tom Ince, Chris Martin and Russell, was soon tainted. Charlton’s start to the game, without being poor, lacking quality, cohesion and cutting edge.
Maybe it was the somewhat muted Valley atmosphere, without an emphatic early protest to inspire, that meant Riga’s side were unable to replicate the energy they had shown in their recent performances. Jordan Cousins terror-like, and Callum Harriott striking a tame shot that Carson claimed with ease, but the Rams began brighter.
Every knock up field won by the excellent Martin, and a sense of unease each time Ince ran forward with the ball at his feet. The gaps and defensive flaws in this Charlton side made more apparent with attacking moves constantly breaking down, and momentum not able to be built.
In fact, the first bit of genuine excitement home supporters were offered summed up the frustrating start their side had made to the game. Ademola Lookman performing a marvellous ‘Maradona’ turn to get away from Cyrus Christie, but immediately gifting the Rams possession with a misplaced pass. Something there, but it not clicking at all.
It was fortunate that Alou Diarra still had something there as Derby began to turn their early promise into something more tangible. The Frenchman throwing himself in front of Richard Keogh’s goal-bound strike following a corner, and needing a few moments to recover after taking a blow to an area of the lower body.
Fortunate, too, that Charlton’s goalkeeper was able to offer even more impressive resistance as the Rams searched for an early lead. Nick Pope’s double save simply extraordinary.
His first, denying Ince from a tight angle after a blocked shot had fallen kindly for him, was very good, but it was the second that received the sort of recognition that goalkeepers rarely get. Martin’s follow up struck perfectly, but Pope able to quickly lift himself up off the ground and superbly tip the strike behind. The disbelief on the Scottish striker’s face saying all.
The saves important not only in the context of the scoreline, but in the overall pattern of play. After the resulting corner was headed over by Keogh, Pope was given another round of applause, and it seemed to lift the crowd in general.
It might well have been just a coincidence, but an awoken support appeared to have an immediate impact on Charlton’s forward efforts.
Igor Vetokele superbly playing through Gudmundsson, presented with a chance so glorious that premature celebrations had begun in the Covered End, only for Christie to punish the Iceland international for taking too much time on the ball and make a goal-saving tackle. Frustrating to waste such an opportunity, but offering promise that the Addicks were about to grow into the game.
Alas, the attacking quality of the Rams, and the defensive uncertainty of the hosts, meant few were getting carried away. Russell’s first time strike from the edge of the box inches away, while George Thorne also went close after a half-cleared corner ultimately fell to his feet. Greater resilience required.
But it did appear, as Harriott’s tame effort trickled wide at one end and Ince’s free-kick cleared Pope’s crossbar by a considerable margin at the other at the other, that half-time would be reached without the deadlock being broken. A chance for Charlton to up the tempo in the second period, as they had done in previous weeks.
Instead, with the half petering out, the Addicks decided to make an impression prior to the break. A wonderful passing move, with the energy and pace that had been absent for much of the opening 45, concluding in Cousins feeding Harriott, and the winger’s first-time effort narrowly flashing wide with Carson stationary.
At the very least, a suggestion offered that Riga’s side remained capable of winning this contest, despite being the lesser threat for much of the first half.
To maintain such a belief, however, a bright start was desperately needed to the second half. Rod Fanni almost delivering, as his faint header from Lookman’s set-piece was collected in uncomfortable fashion by Carson.
Promising, too, that the sort of attacking intent that was seen in the second half at Loftus Road last weekend was seemingly being repeated here. Fanni again involved in an unnatural position as he drove into the box, only for his resulting drive towards goal to be hacked away with Vetokele desperately attempting to prod the ball over the line.
It was now the Rams that were requiring a touch of good fortune to remain on level terms, particularly when Teixeira was able to flick on a Lookman corner in the general direction of the goal. The ball looping up, and away from Carson, before bouncing against the inside of the post. This sort of pressure unimaginable in the first period.
In fact, such was Derby’s desperation, the ball was yet to be properly cleared. Vetokele reclaiming possession, driving into the box and delivering for Teixeira, who was able to divert the ball into the net.
But the centre back, barging into the ‘keeper before making contact with the ball, appeared guilty of impeding Carson. That the view of referee Bond, much to the dismay of Teixeira and the displeasure of the Covered End.
And those that felt a sense of injustice only had it increased two minutes later, with the Rams allowed to take the lead.
Not for the first time this season, the Addicks were guilty of gifting the opposition a goal through a tame effort to defend a corner. Thorne meeting the initial delivery, and his knock on perfect for an unmarked Russell to nod in from close range.
Cruel on Charlton, particularly given the way they had started the second period, but to concede a totally avoidable goal while they had some degree of momentum was unforgiveable.
Particularly as it appeared to instil confidence in the Rams, and rob the Addicks on the attacking energy they were previously displaying. Ince close, before Pope was able to gather Craig Bryson’s mistimed strike from the edge of the box.
While the deficit remained just one, however, and with Charlton possessing players who had shown they were capable of testing Derby’s defence previously, there remained a reasonable chance the hosts could get back into the game.
Much of that relied on Lookman, lively down the left, and Cousins, battling defiantly in the middle, continuing to have an impact. The former seeing a free-kick tipped over the bar by Carson, before the resulting corner fell to the latter on the edge of the box, only for the midfielder to drive narrowly wide.
But the Rams were looking more and more assured at the back, and Charlton coming up with fewer and fewer ideas to break them down. Their passing become predictable and sideways, and those that had previously made an impressing in wide areas struggling to beat their men.
In fact, with 15 minutes to play, it was Derby that carried a greater attacking energy and threat. Apparent that they were happy to protect their lead, but the forward three still possessed too much quality for Charlton’s unorganised and indecisive defensive unit. Ince played through, and only narrowly pulling wide.
The inability to create, or come up with something new, worsened by the lack of options available on the bench. Disbelief as Riga opted to replace Chris Solly with Marco Motta, before a chant of “que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be, we’re going to Shrewsbury, que sera, sera” was belted out by the Covered End as the resilient Diarra was replaced by Simon Makienok.
At least Makienok’s six feet and seven inches offered something a bit different. Six feet and seven inches that couldn’t make a connection as Lookman’s delivery from a corner flashed by him. The forward unmarked, and would have surely scored with any sort of intelligence.
And after failing to take the only genuine opening that had been created after 20 minutes of lifeless play, the game should have been taken away from the Addicks for certain. Martin blasting over from close range.
It left Charlton with four minutes of additional time, which would be played without the withdrawn Lookman, to find an equaliser their efforts did not particularly warrant. Some encouragement from the Covered End as a fierce Makienok strike was blocked, but that was as close as the hosts came.
In fact, it was Derby who were involved in the game’s final attack. With few back for the Addicks, substitute Will Hughes was able to break free, and ultimately tee-up Russell. His strike well saved by Pope, who could at least hold his head high.
His head deserving to be held high as every other in a Charlton shirt sunk with the full-time whistle. Wasted opportunities and refereeing decisions could be pointed to, but this was yet another tame effort in an overall gutless attempt to avoid a drop to League One.
The Valley, but for the away end’s roars, in a despair-induced silence. Relegation all but confirmed. The disease that is Duchatelet’s regime close to inflicting the damage it has promised to all along.
Of course, there is no shame in losing to a very talented Derby side.
A Derby side whose forwards gave Charlton’s defence their biggest test in a number of weeks, whose midfield controlled the ball with composure and class, and whose defence were resilient and resolute in a way that suggested that will not be an emphatic throwing away of a play-off place this season.
So too can you suggest that the Addicks enjoyed positive periods during the game. Not least the moments before and including Teixeira’s disallowed goal, but also the constant threat that a lively Lookman provided. At the very least, there were times when Riga’s side were able to test the Rams.
However, the period after Charlton fell behind was not one of those periods, and both the manner in which the goal was conceded and the failure to react to it makes it difficult to feel like this was an unjust result. The character and fight of the side were not at the level they had been at in recent weeks, and frustration meant for a lack of composure. Petulant pushing and rushed passes forward towards the end evidence for that.
But the sadness this defeat creates is more so in the grand scheme of things. A lifeless response to adversity something that has happened so many times this season, and almost feels like it is a part of the ethos Duchatelet has instilled into this club. Both overall, and among the squad.
So too is now there now no escaping the reality of a return to League One. No escaping the reality of what Duchatelet has done, and might well continue to do.
Utter disconnection, dejection and misery.