Over a thousand of them travelled from South East London to Bury, prepared to support the side that represented their damaged club. Charlton supporters, in spite of the return to League One and the summer activity offering barely enough to loosely bandage the top half of a wounded body, continue to show diligence and commitment in the face of a poisonous disease sweeping through the Addicks.
You could not criticise the collective that stood behind the goal at Bury’s Gigg Line, providing almost unrelenting encouragement for the first side selected by Russell Slade. A clear intent, intertwined with the occasional call for the club’s hierarchy to depart, to provide a somewhat fresh side with support it had not yet earned.
But so too, as full-time approached, could you have sympathy for the justifiable anger that had replaced the offerings of support untainted by previous events. The cries of fury, protest and frustration as the Shakers doubled their lead a reminder, if it were needed, that the only antidote to the poison that is crippling Charlton is to completely remove the source.
There can be no attempt by Roland Duchatelet, Katrien Meire and Richard Murray to address the sizeable sum of issues they have created at this club, for the damage they have already done is too great. Their half-hearted efforts to heal wounds meaningless when such disillusion, disconnection and anger – the sort that can only be resolved by a complete revolution – exists among such a large number of devoted Addicks.
The defeat, a sluggish and unorganised effort punished by an energetic but less than excellent Bury, a catalyst rather than a cause for such emotion. Anger remerging as those efforts to heal wounds became more obviously half-hearted. A squad, still understocked in all departments for this new season in the third tier, without cohesion or quality.
A squad that, in different circumstances, might well have been given the benefit of the doubt, but not a squad that needs to produce in order to deflect away from the damage that Duchatelet’s regime has done to Charlton. That needs to produce in order to deflect away from severe lack of depth it has.
Some of that anger, rightfully, sent the way of Slade and his side.
An aging midfield and a complete lack of attacking cohesion allowing Bury to be the most adventurous side for much of the afternoon, but for the period prior to the hosts taking the lead. An encouraging spell of sorts for the Addicks followed by Jason Pearce giving away a brainless penalty, needlessly hauling down Nathan Cameron, and Neil Danns converting powerfully with 71 minutes played.
And though substitute Ademola Lookman provided some attacking intent, such was the overall disjointed and sluggish performance of Slade’s side, you could not begrudge Bury their second three minutes from time. Cameron knocking a corner down, and Kelvin Etuhu converting at the near post despite a desperate attempt to clear the ball from the line.
This uninspiring effort, however, was, as has so often been the case for Charlton supporters in recent times, something of an afterthought. Instead, a motivation to unleash their feelings towards the regime that continues to cripple this club, that had been hidden in favour of supporting a side wearing Charlton colours previously.
A feeling reaffirmed that supporting any Charlton side untainted won’t be possible until this regime departs.
A feeling somewhat removed from the hopes that existed prior to kick-off, which suggested Slade and his side, though limited in number, might well be able to provide distraction on a matchday from the anger that exists towards the club’s regime.
Concerns within the first competitive XI selected by Slade, but seemingly not enough to create grand fear at League One level. Roger Johnson the weak line in an otherwise solid backline, which featured debuts for goalkeeper Declan Rudd and centre-back Pearce, along with dependable full-back duo Chris Solly and Morgan Fox.
The greatest imbalance seemingly coming in midfield, where it appeared Johnnie Jackson would slot in on the left in order to accommodate debutants Kevin Foley and Andrew Crofts. Ricky Holmes providing the creative influence out wide, while Lookman, seemingly as a result of his truncated pre-season, began on the bench.
And there were first competitive appearances in attack for Lee Novak, starting after a scare over a hand injury, and Nicky Ajose. Much expected of Charlton’s new forward duo following their summer arrivals, not least with little in reserve.
But that Rudd, confidently claiming a cross from wide with Bury’s Tom Pope lurking, was the first debutant Addick to be called into action set the tone for the opening 45.
Not in the sense that the hosts were totally dominant, with genuine chances at a premium, but Charlton constantly found themselves on the back foot in response to the raw pace that their opponents offered. A trend they struggled to grow out of, as attacking threat and midfield energy of their own was worryingly absent.
It no surprise that Bury’s first genuine opportunity came as a consequence of the Shakers pushing men forward, and capitalising on the space afforded to them on the edge of the box. The ball running loose to an unchallenged Jacob Mellis, and the midfielder’s strike flashing across the face of goal. With a margin great enough for Rudd to watch and observe, but not quite great enough for there to be no discomfort in the away end.
Left-back Greg Leigh, swinging wildly in the way an overenthusiastic full-back might do in such circumstances, causing less concern as he blasted horribly off-target from a half-cleared corner that followed, but definitely contributing towards a need for the Addicks to show greater urgency and intent.
Urgency and intent that could be shown by getting out to their opposing men and not simply allowing them time on the ball, or by pushing the Shakers back with a few runs of their own. The lively Holmes, providing Charlton’s only genuine outlet while Novak struggled to get the better of Cameron and Anthony Kay, did his best to produce the latter. One of his moves forward concluding with Ajose crossing for Crofts, but his volley hit into the ground and tame.
But the pace and trickery of Holmes, allowing him to get the better of Leigh down his flank, did at least inject some life into this previously lifeless effort. A powerful effort from one-time Charlton loanee Tom Soares clipping the back stanchion of Rudd’s goal, but the Addicks attempt on the counter much closer to breaking the deadlock. Ajose’s swerving strike from distance just about kept out by Ben Williams in the Bury goal, and an offside flag preventing Novak from pouncing on the loose ball.
And Ajose, anonymous for much of the opening third, was involved again moments later as Jackson’s lofted through ball ran perfectly for him. Williams, however, out superbly to narrow the striker’s angle, and prevent a first Charlton goal for the summer signing from Swindon.
At least there was finally some reward of sorts for the unrelentingly vocal visiting supporters behind Rudd’s goal, who were seeing their side showing a touch more promise. There no great science behind it, with the moves forward either the result of direct balls or Holmes’ ambitious runs, but the creating of chances welcome after such a slow start.
Reward of sorts that wasn’t followed by punishment, despite Croft’s rather unnecessary pulling back of Danns that awarded with a free-kick Bury in an inviting position. The dead ball teed up for the former Bolton man, but his effort soaring over the bar and only rising thereafter.
In fact, there probably still a need for the Addicks to head to the comfort of the dressing room for half-time. Pope invited to cut inside, but thankfully dragging a tame effort wide, before Johnson’s misreading of a bouncing through ball almost allowed Nicky Clark in. Slade’s side far from convincing, and probably thankful to be level at the interval.
The truth in that reaffirmed by the positive, and confident, start made by Charlton to the second half, in some contrast to the uneasy and tentative effort seen for much of the first.
It, as was the case for many of the more positive moments of the opening 45, led largely by Holmes’ endeavours down the flank. The summer signing from Northampton touching the water by winning an early corner, before rifling a ball across goal that needed an intervention from Williams and couldn’t be turned in at the far post by a stretching Novak.
Holmes then the beneficiary as Novak finally showed the tenacity and strength he’d previously struggled to. His dogged work eventually seeing the ball worked to Holmes, but the determined Cameron managed to get his body in the way of the winger’s strike.
And finally, the Addicks were allowed to venture forward without Holmes’ influence, as the most marvellous move down the left came agonisingly close to resulting in a Charlton lead. Jackson timing a ball through to Fox perfectly, his delivery defence-splitting, and Novak inches away from getting the touch required to divert the ball goalwards. Once the initial groan of frustration had been shaken off, something resembling a roar of encouragement emerging from the away end.
A roar, however, that would soon be silenced. The thorn patch walked into with full knowledge it was there, rather than misfortune having anything to do with Slade’s side failing to build upon their early second half promise.
For even with the introduction of Lookman, Bury showed defiance in the face of the attacking threat Charlton were showing. This period of their game, led by the resilient efforts of their centre-back pairing in addition to the relentless running and battling of Soares and Danns in the middle, worthy of more credit than the stage during the first half in which they were obviously dominant.
And with such resilience allowing for the game to settle, a chance appeared for the hosts. Danny Mayor’s near-post header from a free-kick forcing a smart reflex save out of Rudd, and rewarding Bury with a corner.
A corner that the Addicks would not defend with any sort of composure or organisation. Or sense, for that matter, as the ball was delivered too long for Cameron, but Pearce had already hauled him to the ground before the delivery had completed its flight. Referee Miller having no hesitation in pointing to the spot; Charlton, on this occasion, with no cause to protest.
The only hope that Rudd, having produced such a marvellous save prior to the corner, could keep out Danns’ effort from the spot. The Norwich loanee diving the right way, but realistically nowhere near the former Bolton midfielder’s firmly struck penalty.
Just 19 minutes remaining for a Charlton side with little in reserve to come back into this game. Support still there, but frustration growing as Lookman’s fine work to break into the box wasn’t rewarded with two players in red peeling away from an inviting cut-back. The perfect reflection of the lack of cohesion in this side.
A scramble resulting in a pot shot from Jackson, which floated over the bar, but the task Slade’s side faced to get back into this game reaffirmed by the fact Brandon Hanlan, on his professional debut, was turned to from the bench.
The desperation, too, reaffirmed as an optionless Holmes tried his luck form the best part of 40 yards, and the ball unsurprisingly trickling well wide. Frustration, and understandably so given how committed their support had been for the majority of the afternoon, now growing to a point where it was noticeable in the away end.
Frustration that became anger with three minutes to go, as the efforts of the Addicks to defend another Bury corner were flimsy at best. Pope easily allowed to nod the delivery back into the centre, and Etuhu bundling the ball over the line.
Defeat on Charlton’s return to League One, where immediate redemption was promised on the basis of Duchatelet and Meire remaining, simply not acceptable.
Not least defeat in such a drab and gutless manner. Frustration and fury voiced at those Addicks brave enough to traipse towards the away end at full-time as a consequence. But even at the conclusion of such a disappointing performance, it was not they who were the real targets of supporter frustration.
Once again, the cries were as loud and passionate as the support had been for much of the game. A strong desire to remove the regime voiced, that was applauded by Bury’s Soares. This frustration that the result of one tame defeat, but the consequence of continued mismanagement and mistreatment.
For even in such a poor performance, the reason for it comes partly back to the source of the poison that continues to spread stronger and deeper throughout the club. A more cohesive effort would surely have been seen had Slade been allowed to properly build a squad, and not been scratching for a side in the week prior to the season getting underway.
All pre-season preparation tainted by the summer recruitment beyond the initial three arrivals, for there has been no opportunity to build anything of quality, or anything cohesive.
No greater sign of that than in the middle, with a centre-mid deployed out wide, and two very defensive midfielders paired together centrally. There room for one of those three in the side, but certainly not all three. The lack of creativity and energy alarming.
But it seen elsewhere, too. Johnson and Pearce, lacking composure for much of the game, spending much of their time hoofing the ball in no general direction, Solly and Fox not worthy of criticism, but struggling to make an impression, and Novak and Ajose largely isolated.
The only genuine plus point to take from the game was the attacking intent that Holmes provided, but that meaningless with no one able to provide a finish, and no one willing to prevent the opposition from enjoying even greater attacking freedom. Bury’s midfield, via a bit of strength and some pace, allowed total domination.
We could not be further away from having a cohesive unit, and those supporters who deserve so much more for their efforts could not be further away from having what they warrant.
For once again, there can be no forgiveness. Not when the damage done is so extreme, and not when the attempts to address the issues are so meek.