The chants of “we want Roland out” that followed the full-time whistle showed exactly where this victory stood in the grand scheme of things. Unified defiance from those in the Elland Road away end, portraying an idea that Charlton Athletic supporters can never feel truly victorious while Roland Duchatelet’s regime remains in control of their club.
For not only was this hard fought win over Leeds United not enough to undo the damage that has already been done this season, but a reminder the real battle exists away from events that take place on the pitch. Faith and hope not suddenly restored by a first victory in six.
That, however, is not an attempt to take anything away from the character those representing the Addicks showed in Yorkshire to claim three points in their final away game of the season. Supporters have been able to feel a sense of pride in their defiance throughout this campaign, but this a rare occasion where Charlton performed in an unquestionably proud manner.
Resolute and watchful as the hosts dominated possession for much of the first half, Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s 39th minute opener came somewhat against the run of play. The Addicks making a rare break into the final third, with the Iceland international ultimately converting from Morgan Fox’s delivery.
But momentum was with the visitors as Leeds’ defence stood off Ademola Lookman, and the talented teen finished in clinical fashion from the edge of the box four minutes into the second half. Charlton’s advantage certainly not undeserved.
In fact, it wasn’t until they had conceded for a second time that Steve Evans’ side began to carry some genuine attacking threat. Chris Wood’s looping nod hitting the bar, before an unmarked Sol Bamba halved the deficit with a thunderous header from a Charlie Taylor set-piece.
It set up an uncomfortable final 19 minutes for the Addicks, who were required to defend in desperate fashion against a persistent Leeds threat. The returning Ahmed Kashi sublime, Johnnie Jackson tireless, and Nick Pope producing a number of stunning saves. Without such fight, the hosts would have certainly made their pressure tell.
Instead, as a consequence of their resolute efforts, Charlton were able to celebrate a fourth away win of this torrid campaign. Too little and too late to have any sort of meaningful impact beyond the exclusive joy of victory on the day for the already relegated Addicks. Much like a Leeds equaliser would not have suddenly justified Massimo Cellino’s running of the club.
Not enough to distract from the more important fight that supporters of this club must win. Even as those in red received their deserved applause on their way off the Elland Road pitch, the unified chants against Duchatelet could not be ignored.
Unified, too, was the delight in seeing Kashi make his first appearance for the Addicks since suffering an Achilles injury in September. The Algerian coming into the side in place of the injured Jordan Cousins.
There was also a start for Jackson, with Alou Diarra retreating into the centre of defence in order to accommodate the skipper. Rod Fanni moving to right-back, Marco Motta dropping to the bench, and still no place in the matchday squad for the mysteriously absent Chris Solly.
But regardless of the Jackson and Kashi partnership seemingly forming a solid midfield pairing, it was Leeds who looked more composed in the game’s opening stages. A mix-up among those in red allowing Chris Wood to slide Luke Murphy through on goal, but goalkeeper Pope off his line well to deny the midfielder from a relatively right angle.
An immediate response from Charlton, as Lookman’s free-kick curled narrowly wide of Marco Silvestri’s post, but it remained the hosts who appeared the most confident of the two sides.
A combination of poor decision making and a sluggishness in possession preventing the Addicks from launching successful attacks, while Leeds, with midfielders Lewis Cook and Murphy dictating and able to supply those in wide areas, carried a certain amount of spark. End product lacking, however, as Stuart Dallas finished a decent move with a strike that failed to test Pope.
But Northern Ireland international Dallas would soon provide a much more uncomfortable moment for Pope, as the goalkeeper was forced to back-peddle and tip his free-kick over the bar. The set-piece, an overhit delivery from a wide position rather than a genuine attempt on goal, goalbound without Pope’s intervention.
It fair to say that Leeds were beginning to take a real control of the contest, so the exposure of their defensive frailties couldn’t have been timelier. A reminder that the Addicks were no worse than their opposition, and they could certainly cause a threat of their own, as those in white stood off Gudmundsson and allowed him the space to strike towards goal. The ball rebounding back off the post with some force.
Enough to increase expectation and enthusiasm in the away end, but not enough to address the issues that were holding Riga’s side back. Too much time still being taken on the ball, and the likes of Callum Harriott and Igor Vetokele running into dead ends when invited to move forward with the ball.
At least Leeds, with their task made harder by the growing resolve of Kashi, Jackson and Fanni in particular, were still lacking a genuine threat to complement their composed midfield play. Cook lashing wide, Wood pressured enough to head off-target from Liam Bridcutt’s delivery, and Bridcutt himself, not known for his exploits in front of goal, striking wildly over from distance. Rushed and wayward efforts.
And even when the hosts managed to get themselves in close proximity to Charlton’s goal, they still couldn’t produce the desired final ball. Lewie Coyle’s low delivery claimed by Pope after superbly breaking into the area, and a combination of Jackson and Pope denying Cook after the ball fell kindly to the highly-rated youngster.
Such wastefulness meant the sluggishness the Addicks had shown for much of the opening period, frustrating though it was, could be forgiven if there was a response after the break. Few expecting there to be a meaningful response prior to the interval.
But there was encouragement as Lookman bombed forward with intent, and fed the overlapping Fox. His near-post-delivery much more threatening than anything Leeds had been able to muster at the other end, perfectly picking out the run of Gudmundsson. The Iceland international finishing emphatically.
Unexpectedly, and the consequence of a forward move far more slick than anything else they had created in the previous 38 minutes, the Addicks had the lead. A moment of confirmation required in the away end before celebrations were allowed to begin, such was the shock nature of the well-worked goal.
Quite a shocking sight, too, to see Pope impersonate Manuel Neuer by racing out of his area and beat Wood to a loose ball via a brave diving header. The away end appreciative, and beginning to enjoy their afternoon much more than the early Leeds dominance suggested they might.
In fact, with some greater composure, the visiting supporters might well have had a second goal to celebrate before the break. The excellent Fanni feeding Vetokele, but the Angolan taking too long on the ball, and a Leeds defender able to close him down before he could get his shot away.
But the pattern of play throughout the first half meant there were few feeling completely confident of victory as they applauded the Addicks in at the break. Charlton’s resilience as excellent as Leeds’ attacking efforts were tame, but their control of possession meant the hosts had every chance of getting back into the game.
A second goal for Riga’s side, however, and you would struggle to see a way back for Evans’ men. Their deluge of half-chances not enough to suggest they had the attacking quality and character to come from two behind.
So it was with both joy and a sense of relief that Lookman’s strike four minutes into the second half was celebrated. There now no question that the Addicks were in complete control, as the 18-year-old drove forward and struck powerfully into the bottom corner with no player in white willing to shut him down.
Ten minutes of playing time had seen Charlton transform from a lacklustre unit that were on the back foot, to a potent attacking force that held a sizeable advantage. A marvellous effort.
But anyone who was already preparing to celebrate a rare victory were reminded that caution was required just seven minutes later, as Leeds came agonisingly close to halving their deficit. Taylor’s delivery superbly flicked on by Wood, but his looping header dipping only enough to hit the top of the bar, and Bamba’s follow-up effort crashing against the side netting. Game over it was most certainly not.
The pattern of play immediately reverting back to the one seen throughout the majority of the first half, with Leeds dictating while Charlton sat deep and, through the defiant figures of Jackson, Kashi, Diarra and Jorge Teixeira, attempted to be resolute. Liam Cooper’s tame header over and Murphy’s wayward strike following a half-cleared corner not enough to suggest such a tactic from the Addicks was going to result in them being punished.
In fact, it was Charlton who next came close to scoring the game’s third goal. Leeds committing too many men forward, Lookman leading the break forward, and Harriott ultimately side-footing his effort just beyond the post.
The home-grown winger, lively but frustrating all afternoon, probably should have done better with the chance, and that was a feeling that only increased as Charlton’s inability to defend from set-pieces was again exposed just a minute later.
As excellent as the defensive work of Riga’s side was for much of the afternoon, there was no excuse for the sizeable figure of Bamba being left unmarked as Taylor swung in the free-kick form a wide position. The Ivorian thumping home the header, and dramatically increasing a feeling of discomfort in the away end.
The talk among the visiting supporters was not of confidence that the Addicks would see out the remaining 19 minutes, but of an acceptance that they would capitulate. Those that have followed this side around the country this season have seen it all before. Impossible to feel reassured in such a situation.
Pope, however, was doing his utmost to convince Charlton supporters that their side would not be throwing this advantage away. Dampening the increasing enthusiasm of the home supporters, too, as he saved from substitute Mirco Antenucci before denying Wood in superb fashion with the New Zealand forward through on goal.
The goalkeeper was assisted by a collective defiance, but none more so from the still tireless Jackson and Kashi. The Addicks dropping deeper and deeper, but the midfield duo throwing themselves in front of every Leeds effort at goal. Their fight, particularly given that this was Kashi’s first game since September and Jackson’s advancing years, commendable.
In fact, Kashi was not afraid to do damage to himself in the process. The need to treat him meaning six horrendously nervy minutes were added. Made all the more nervy as Harriott ran into a dead end after being played through following a break out of defence from substitute El-Hadji Ba.
But this extended period of extra-time merely allowed for one last outstanding Pope stop. Antenucci’s sweet strike from the edge of the area heading towards the top corner, only for the goalkeeper’s fingertips to tip the ball behind. Some equaliser it would have been, in both style and context, but Pope would simply not allow it.
He as much as anyone else deserving of the feeling of joy and relief as Bamba prodded Leeds’ final chance wide and the final whistle blew. This victory a reward for Charlton showing a level of resolve that has rarely been seen throughout this torrid campaign.
Deserving of the celebrations, too, were those supporters in the Elland Road away end. Many of who have followed the Addicks all over this season with a little reward, and a victory taken from their final trip of the campaign at least bandaging up one of the countless wounds they have been left covered in.
A victory particularly pleasing for the effort and application shown in order to achieve it. That led by the fight of Jackson and Kashi, whose relentlessness and resolve was superb, and gave Pope at least a little less to do between the sticks.
In fact, this was a performance based on solid foundations. The attacking elements of the display were a little unpleasant, with forward moves limited and the likes of Harriott and Vetokele more frustrating than threatening, but the defensive resilience was excellent.
So much so that the elements of luck the Addicks had to cling onto their victory, particuarly the numerous chances wasted by Leeds, were arguably earned. A few things going their way only right given the amount of fight and effort put in.
And while it can be argued that a performance of this nature only makes the rest of this pathetic season more frustrating, it was unquestionably nice to have something to enjoy at the end of this torrid campaign. A traditional, hard-fought Charlton away win.
But there is no danger of this even distracting slightly from the damage Duchatelet is doing to the club, and the need to remove him. The “we want Roland out” chants that were made at least twice following the full-time whistle pertinent, given that they were made in what should have been moments of joy.
No one wants calls for Duchatelet to go to be made more passionately than a victory celebrated; supporters want to be able to enjoy victories.
But fans of the Addicks have been left with no choice but to place the need to remove this regime from the club at the top of the list of their priorities. Victories cannot be enjoyed to their full extent until Duchatelet departs and the ethos of this club is restored.
Victories like today merely providing a positive distraction from the grim reality.
The fight continues.