There was an acceptance that this would be the night that Charlton Athletic’s relegation to League One was confirmed. An acceptance that this club would be playing its football in the third tier next season existing long before the trip to already relegated Bolton Wanderers was made. An acceptance that should have made the inevitable outcome relatively simple to deal with.
And yet, as the full-time whistle blew at a Macron Stadium overwhelmed by empty seats and apathy, it was impossible not to let the confirmation of Charlton’s drop, the consequence of a goalless draw with the basement cub, hurt you. This, particularly for those 253 supporters in the away end, the final insult in a campaign that has barely featured a week without the relationship between club and fans being damaged.
The performance, in a game less exciting and engaging than an opening paragraph of a Roland Duchatelet statement, pathetic. The mentality belonging to a side who had no interest in fighting to secure a stay of execution, the tactical approach not fitting of a side who knew nothing less than victory against perceived poor opposition would do, the quality so low that the Trotters, who contributed equally to this bleak affair, were the less inept side by a comfortable margin. A fitting way for the Addicks, who have so often embarrassed, to lose their Championship status.
But it was not the performance, with an air of predictability about it, which was the main contribution to the anger.
Nor the cowardly nature with which those wearing red responded to the game’s final whistle, and the confirmation that their pathetic efforts both on the night and throughout the season had not been nearly enough.
Emotion minimal among many, with the majority opting to head straight down the tunnel and ignore their supporters. Not just the ownership who lack respect for both the club and its fans. A club that has lost its ethos, spirit and meaning as a consequence of one man’s overall actions.
The evidently broken Johnnie Jackson, accompanied by Alou Diarra, Ademola Lookman, Harry Lennon and Nick Pope the only players to show the required amount of recognition to a set of supporters who, once again, deserved so much more.
Jose Riga, confident enough to take plaudits for Charlton’s survival effort in 2013/14, simply hid. An action the man who continues to re-employ him, out of laziness and unwillingness to change a flawed strategy, would have been proud of.
Instead, it was the unavoidable reminder of how nights like this one, that perfectly display the destruction of a club you once felt a great connection to, have been caused primarily by the ignorance, selfishness and disgraceful actions of Duchatelet’s regime. One man, and his equally horrendous sidekicks, crippling a proud club.
The sense of injustice that they have been allowed to inflict this upon us, while continuing to maintain an arrogant defiance and even shifting blame towards supporters, is strong. Katrien Meire’s pathetic statement in the aftermath, which should have been announcing her resignation, making matters worse.
The heartbreak that the brilliance of Chris Powell’s Charlton, both in creating a special bond and a successful side, has now been completely destroyed tough to take.
The sheer outrage that a football club, which holds a special place in the life of its supporters, has been treated as a rich man’s toy, and consequently mistreated, unbearable. This relegation a result of an unnecessary, flawed and insulting experiment.
This anger we feel is our punishment. Our undeserved punishment, for the unforgivable actions of Duchatelet’s regime.
It is they that should be hurting tonight, but they would simply find this pain weird. This pain is real.
A painful night seemingly assured, regardless of the quality of the opposition, with the news of Riga’s rather bizarre team selection. So bizarre that the formation was hard to digest even once the Addicks had taken to the Macron Stadium pitch.
An attacking player sacrificed from the side that suffered defeat to Derby on Saturday, with Johann Berg Gudmundsson absent and Harry Lennon becoming a third centre back, while it was Marco Motta and Yun Suk-Young in the wing-back positions instead of Chris Solly and Morgan Fox.
Nor was there a place in the XI for the recently impressive Callum Harriott, with Riga opting to provide Igor Vetokele with a definite partner in Simon Makienok, and Alou Diarra, whose loss was at least softened by captain Johnnie Jackson being the man to replace him.
The appearance of Ahmed Kashi on the bench, after the best part of seven months out with an Achilles injury, also a welcome sweetener. Though not sweet enough to make Charlton’s unconvincing start to the game any more bearable.
Pace and urgency lacking as much as an atmosphere in a silent Macron, leaving the Addicks without any sort of attacking threat. Maintaining possession seemingly an impossible task, as wayward passes constantly gifted Bolton the ball. The backline, with the hosts making a relatively bright start to the game, looking less than composed.
At least Riga’s side were just about able to deal with a succession of Bolton corners, though in uncomfortable fashion. Zach Clough ultimately firing tamely wide following the bombardment on Charlton’s box.
But while Bolton, with Mark Davies controlling the midfield, Emile Heskey’s annoying if a little ineffective hold-up play, and Clough’s direct running, were giving the Addicks something to think about, the favour was not being returned. Jordan Cousins struggling, Makienok and Vetokele not on the same wavelength, and rare promising positions ruined by over or under-hit deliveries. Cries of frustration, and the occasional mention of a trip to Shrewsbury, interrupting the Macron’s silence.
So it was a pleasant surprise to see Vetokele, at full pace, close down a Ben Amos kick and divert the ball into the path of Makienok with the goalkeeper out of position. Less surprising to see the Dane stutter in possession, and be immediately robbed.
Pleasant, too, to see a Charlton delivery from wide actually pick out a red shirt inside Bolton’s box with 25 minutes played. Motta’s delivery perfect for Makienok, but his header a little tame and directed straight into Amos’ hands. That he could have done better with the opportunity doing little to taint the sarcastic cheers of excitement in an away end rightfully disgruntled with what they were being forced to witness.
Unrest that would only continue, with Makienok’s header failing to move the Addicks in the right direction.
Still without the sort of urgency and energy that has been seen in recent weeks, and was desperately required on a night like this, as Derik Osede’s overhit volleyed ball into the box wasn’t too far away from lobbing Nick Pope in Charlton’s goal. The goalkeeper much more assured as he easily claimed Niall Maher’s drive from the edge of the box.
To his credit, Ademola Lookman, having claimed the Championship Apprentice of the Season at the Football League Awards ceremony on Sunday night, was at least attempting to spark his side, and this increasingly unbearably dull contest, into life. A succession of wayward shots, the second a touch closer than his horribly skewed first, not threatening enough to be the antidote Charlton supporters were looking for, however.
Though as half-time approached, it appeared as if frustration over off-target strikes and an unpleasant performance in general was about to become pure rage. A sea of red shirts blocking Darren Pratley on the edge of Charlton’s box, but the ball deflecting through kindly to Clough, who finished coolly beyond Pope. The linesman’s flag, raised relatively late, meaning the Addicks were able to escape without their poor efforts in the opening 45 being suitably punished.
A lucky escape, it’s fair to say. Not in regards to the disallowed goal, with Clough quite obviously, but a side more competent that Bolton would have certainly taken advantage of this weak Charlton performance. Not difficult to see why “you’re/we’re going down with the Bolton” had been sung in unison at times during the half.
Much better, both in terms of defensive composure and attacking intent, needed if relegation was to be on hold for a few days. At the very least, the worst defence in the Championship couldn’t be allowed to continue to go untested.
The start to the second half, therefore, was the absolute minimum demanded. Cousins in a decent position, only to see his shot blocked, and the defiant David Wheater preventing Vetokele from turning Motta’s cross home.
Again, though, the creation of some half-openings couldn’t inspire the Addicks. In fact, were it not for the brilliance of Pope, they would have found themselves a goal down with 53 minutes played. Wheater’s header from a corner excellent, but the goalkeeper reacting to tip the top-corner bound effort over the bar.
And from the resulting corner, the Trotters threatened again. Pope denying Heskey, Wheater’s follow-up effort blocked behind, and Charlton eventually provided with a chance to breathe as Osede headed over.
And a chance to laugh as Oscar Threlkeld’s ambitious effort from distance had the corner flag worried, before it ultimately trickled out for a throw. It probably would have been funnier if it didn’t some up Bolton’s lack of ability, the lack of quality in this contest, and the sheer absence of life in the game.
That Charlton and Riga had no answer to it, no way of injecting some energy and intent into their own performance, was both infuriating and perplexing in the circumstances. Lookman’s tame prod from the edge of the box, collected with a dive from Amos, at least increasing the shots-on-target count, but not the sense relegation wasn’t going to be confirmed by full-time.
The metronomic Jackson replaced, not before showing his appreciation to the away end, by Diarra, and the pace of Harriott introduced for the ineffectual Suk-Young, but not an ounce of difference made. Diarra’s first meaningful involvement to block a more accurate Threlkeld effort, as an equally dire Bolton continued to look the most likely regardless.
If it were not for the Frenchman throwing his body in front of a goal bound strike, however, you could begin to feel the Addicks had lost hope and motivation. They might have even given up when Vetokele was replaced by Zakarya Bergdich. The half-hearted Moroccan certainly not the man to inject some energy and fight into this lost-looking side.
And they certainly would have given up had Pratley been able to divert Threlkeld’s excellent low cross towards goal with ten minutes to play. The experienced midfielder, sliding to make contact and skewing the ball wide, really should have scored.
But that it was Bolton, the already relegated side whose season is effectively over, that were pushing forward with greater intent than a Charlton side who had promised they would continue to fight to avoid relegation while it remained a possibility, was simply insulting. Substitute Kaiyne Woolery firing against the side netting from a tight angle.
In fact, the final two shots the Addicks would take while they still had a chance of preserving their Championship status for a few more days felt very fitting of their efforts. Rod Fanni pretending his strike was close, when it had in fact trickled comfortably wide, before Cousins cleared the away fans in the lower tier behind the goal with a horrendously wild drive. Pathetic efforts, apparently, the best those beleaguered supporters could hope for.
So much so that the full-time whistle, irrespective of the fact it confirmed their side’s relegation, was probably a relief for some. This game unbearably grim, and the performance of the Addicks an absolute disgrace. To show no intent and no fight in a do-or-die situation unforgivable.
As unforgivable as those players, and their head coach, that decided there was no need to approach the visiting supporters to show their appreciation. On this night, more than most others, it was the very least they deserved.
They certainly didn’t deserve this. A relegation, instigated by the work of one man’s ignorance, confirmed by the half-heartedness that Duchatelet’s actions have instilled into the club and this side. Weak. Pathetic. Embarrassing.
The fight to stay in this division brought to an end in a gutless fashion. Relegated by a side already suffering the same fate, and who looked more likely to break the deadlock. Seemingly possessing more intent to do so, too.
But it feels almost meaningless to bemoan the nature of the performance when this drop to League One has not been caused by one pathetic display at Bolton. In fact, performances in general only contribute towards a percentage of the reason we will begin next season in the third tier.
For the anger felt now, while in part towards those that have unperformed throughout the campaign, is mainly towards the ineptitude of Duchatelet, Meire, Richard Murray and anyone else who has wilfully assisted in the crippling of this club.
And while the fight to avoid relegation has been lost, and therefore the fight to avoid this regime inflicting extreme damage on the club, the fight to rid this disease from The Valley cannot be.
This pain, and sense of injustice that they have been allowed to do this, is unbearable. But it can be put to good use. To provide more energy and emotion behind the protests that will follow in the battle to force change.
Charlton Athletic, its supporters, and those players that do genuinely care cannot continue to be crippled like this. Change is a must.