Out of respect to those that have supported them throughout this torrid season, those representing Charlton Athletic must perform to the best of their abilities on Saturday when Brighton and Hove Albion visit The Valley. As if there is still something to fight for, and a long accepted relegation has not finally been confirmed.
So too must they perform out of respect to themselves, to protect their own professional pride. Whether they want to remain in SE7 next season and therefore prove their worth to supporters, or are looking to impress potential suitors, they must recover their own reputations following the confirmation of the drop to League One.
And out of respect to those battling for an automatic promotion place with this weekend’s opponents, Jose Riga’s side must provide some sort of opposition to the Seagulls. That victory is likely to be claimed by the visitors doesn’t make rolling over without genuine interest or the desired fight acceptable.
But to suggest Charlton supporters have even a reasonable amount of interest in the outcome of events on the pitch would be incorrect. That their fate has been secured turning full attentions towards ousting the regime that has not only inflicted this relegation, but a stripped fans of their once incredibly strong bond with their club. The remaining games of this horrendous campaign simply platforms to protest.
Protests which Brighton supporters, despite their attentions being firmly focused on their side’s bid to achieve promotion to the Premier League for the first time, are being selfless enough to support. The damage that Roland Duchatelet’s regime has done to this club understood beyond those that chant from the Covered End.
The sort of football fan mentality that Katrien Meire would unquestionably find weird. Weirder than going on holiday to Dubai while the club you operate heads for relegation as a consequence of your own mismanagement.
If not necessarily weird, or even unique, Meire and her companions are certainly going to find this weekend quite uncomfortable.
LAST MEETING – BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION 3-2 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
Charlton capitulated in emphatic fashion at the Amex in December, as Brighton overturned an early two goal deficit to record victory in dramatic fashion in the game’s final ten minutes.
The Addicks, unexpectedly against the unbeaten Seagulls, found themselves in front with just two minutes played. Karel Fraeye’s decision to field an attacking line-up seemingly rewarded as a pacey break saw Reza Ghoochannejhad feed Ademola Lookman, and the teenager scored his first senior goal in some style.
Lookman, leading another Charlton break down the left, was involved in the second goal that followed three minutes later. Johann Berg Gudmundsson picking up the pieces after his teammate was dispossessed, before crossing for Ghoochannejhad to convert. The Addicks unstoppable.
But Brighton, despite the scoreline, soon gained control of the overall play. Charlton’s goal living a charmed life, until Manchester United loanee James Wilson was allowed to walk through several red shirts and slot beyond Stephen Henderson five minutes into the second half.
And the momentum completely shifted towards the hosts with a little over half an hour to play, as Patrick Bauer clumsily hauled down Bobby Zamora when the experienced forward had a clear run on goal. The German defender given a straight red card.
Fraeye’s side rattled, and lost points accepted by those in the away end as the Addicks defended Brighton’s relentless attacks in uncomfortable and desperate fashion.
But that there was an acceptance the superior Seagulls would gain something from the game took nothing away from the frustrating manner in which they achieved it. The equaliser coming seven minutes from time, as Zamora bundled in after a goal mouth scramble, before Brighton completed their turnaround two minutes later, with Henderson unable to keep out Tomer Hemed’s header.
A 4-0 defeat without early optimism would probably have been easier to accept.
How to do you keep up the pressure on your rivals, who appeared to be in the sort of form that made chasing them down almost impossible, for an automatic promotion spot? By scoring nine goals without reply in the space of five days, of course.
A 5-0 win over Fulham and a four goal victory against QPR continuing a run of form that has seen Chris Hughton’s side win six of their last seven, and 12 of their previous 17. The mini-blip suffered between December and January, with no win in seven following the win over Charlton, now well behind Brighton.
And though Burnley’s last minute equaliser against Middlesbrough in midweek kept the Seagulls out of the top two on goal difference, promotion is now in their own hands.
Three victories, including on against top-of-the-table Middlesbrough on the final day of the season, and they are definitely a Premier League club. With the momentum they have, you wouldn’t put it past them.
Efforts, if not necessarily results, had improved as relegation drew closer, but the pathetic manner in which the Addicks performed in their goalless draw with Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday night made any previous fight and energy meaningless.
Without any sort of intent or quality, it appeared as if those wearing were resigned to relegation, and had no desire to continue to fight. The division’s basement team, who were already aware of their fate going into the game, seemingly possessing a greater desire to win a game that was, realistically, meaningless for them.
Charlton’s return to League One confirmed in gutless fashion.
It leaves Riga’s side with three games in which to regain an ounce pride. Not even three outstanding performances likely to be enough to do that, given the weak manner they have performed throughout much of this season.
Such is the strength in depth in Brighton’s squad, particularly in forward positions, Hughton has understandably rotated at times this season. Unchanged XIs, as was the case when the side that lined up against QPR on Tuesday replicated the one that started against Fulham five days previously, a rarity.
But Hughton could be forced to make a change to the side that has scored nine goals in two games, with James Wilson suffering a groin injury in midweek. Sam Baldock replaced against the R’s, and the one-time Charlton target could well start at The Valley on Saturday, particularly with Bobby Zamora struggling with a hip problem.
Elsewhere, such is the manner in which the Seagulls are playing at the moment, further changes are unlikely, which guarantees a start for former Addick Dale Stephens in midfield. The playmaker, never properly replaced by Charltoon, has been central to Brighton’s success this season after spending much of the previous campaign on the sidelines with a serious injury.
With relegation confirmed, there seems little point in Charlton playing temporary signings ahead of those who are likely to be here next season, which makes predicting the sort of side Riga will choose to field difficult.
That particularly the case with five unexpected changes, and a change in formation, made to the XI in midweek. The Addicks likely to revert back to a four in defence formation, with their performance poor at the Macron, which would hopefully see Chris Solly and Morgan Fox return to the side ahead of Marco Motta and Yun Suk-Young.
That would also mean one of the three centre-backs that started in midweek missing out, with Harry Lennon most likely. The academy graduate may keep his place is Riga opts to dispose of loanee Rod Fanni.
Alou Diarra, having seemingly been unable to start on Tuesday, may also return to the starting XI, but dropping Johnnie Jackson in these circumstances would be counterproductive. A tough call for the head coach in this meaningless match for the Addicks.
A return for Gudmundsson, you fear, is unlikely, but Callum Harriott, bizarrely dropped at Bolton, should return to the side if Riga reverts to a more traditional formation.
Elsewhere, having made an appearance in a matchday squad for the first time since September on Tuesday, Ahmed Kashi may complete his recovery from an Achilles injury by getting some minutes under his belt for the Addicks.
Patrick Bauer is also closing in on a return, but Yaya Sanogo remains absent.
KEY BATTLE – THE ONE AGAINST DUCHATELET
Support the team, not the regime was a valuable slogan while the Addicks maintained even an outside chance of relegation. Inspiring a confidence-drained side to victory as important as demanding that Duchatelet sold the club.
And quite often, supporters would do both elements of their job superbly. Protests causing huge embarrassment to the regime, with the energy then transferred to encouraging the team onto victory. Wins over Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough and Birmingham City – the three home victories following the early season positivity – following emphatic protests.
But now, with relegation confirmed, supporting the team is a cause that cannot be rewarded. Working to oust the regime, and therefore working towards a safer and more promising future for this crippled football club, an effort that can be rewarded.
CARD have promised the kitchen sink, and the amount of fans in support suggests unity. This will be another afternoon that undermines this flawed regime, which must depart.
We received the punishment we didn’t deserve on Tuesday, having been punished by this regime throughout the season. It’s time to provide the punishment their insults and incompetence deserves.
Duchatelet, Meire and Murray to feel rather uncomfortable while some easily forgettable football takes place. Charlton Athletic 0-3 Brighton and Hove Albion