Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire’s credibility has long been unsalvageable, and there is a very real danger that their main shield to criticism will soon earn a similar kind of status.
For Russell Slade, the figure used by the regime to pretend the manner in which they run the club has changed, already finds himself under justified pressure. The boos that serenaded the bald-headed boss as he headed down the tunnel following Tuesday’s disgusting performance against Oldham Athletic neither rash nor unfair.
Slade, the experienced English manager that was supposed to make the Addicks competent again, has done nothing but the sort. That despite having individuals at his disposal with the talent to be a competitive force in League One, or at least win the occasional game.
His tactics difficult to understand, with unbalanced XIs fielded and the attacking quality within the side heavily stifled. A will for him to do well, given that he has stood up to the regime and has come across as a decent bloke, but faith in him decreasing with each underwhelming effort. Faith in the regime, as if there was any left, decreasing with it.
And while, unlike the regime, he can still regain creditability, it won’t be immediately restored. One victory will mean very little.
A win over Rochdale, a side brimming with confidence having won three games on the bounce, on Saturday would not convince supporters that a turnaround is due, but merely lay a very unstable foundation from which Slade would need to build from.
One defeat or disappointing performance, however, would mean a great deal. The pressure on Slade should victory not be achieved will undoubtedly rise to uncomfortable levels.
Nothing but a victory will do.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-1 ROCHDALE (21/02/2012)
A rare disappointing evening in a title-winning season saw Chris Powell’s table-toppers frustrated by Rochdale, who occupied a spot in League One’s bottom four, at The Valley in February 2012.
Having dominated the first half, with Bradley Wright-Phillips going close on two occasions, Charlton found themselves behind eight minutes after the break. Nicky Adams connecting with Gary Jones’ driven cross, and converting via a deflection.
And though Yann Kermorgant drew the Addicks level almost immediately, with a trademark stunning free-kick, the French forward was denied on several occasions by goalkeeper Peter Kurucz as the hosts searched for a winner their pressure probably deserved.
The point, however, moved Powell’s side seven points clear of second-placed Sheffield United, and moved them a point closer to securing a title that had long appeared to be theirs.
Going seven games without victory from the start of the season is a huge disappointment for any club, but especially one that had flirted with the play-offs in the previous two seasons.
So not only is recording three victories on the bounce against opposition who had either started the season well or are expected to challenge for promotion an incredible achievement for Rochdale, but it goes some way towards laying the foundations they need in place to be an unexpected competitive force once again.
At the very least, defeating Fleetwood Town, Millwall and Bolton Wanderers proves Keith Hill’s side have the quality to test the division’s best. Hill himself believing that his men “were excellent value for the victory” following their 1-0 win over Bolton on Tuesday.
A Steven Davies goal enough to give them that victory, but Jamie Allen came close to doubling their lead on several occasions. Much like the wins against Fleetwood and Millwall, this was no fluke.
Throw in a draw at Bramall Lane earlier on this season, and it would certainly be naïve for any League One side to underestimate them.
Certainly naïve for this underperforming Charlton side to underestimate them. Dale will be travelling to The Valley full of confidence, and believing they can record another victory.
It would have been football’s greatest injustice had Oldham Athletic not equalised with seven minutes to play at The Valley on Tuesday.
Not just because the Latics’ performance was a commendable one, but Charlton’s outrageously poor efforts warranted defeat. Conceding a late equaliser the absolute minimum punishment they deserved.
For this was a performance so bad, on a night so bleak, that many long-serving supporters are struggling to remember evenings spent at The Valley as depressing as this one. Slade’s tactics bizarre, defensive errors plentiful, and simple passes struggling to be made as Oldham bossed the midfield.
Even Slade, so often pretending there’s positives to take when the majority of supporters can’t see them, was critical of the display.
All that in addition to this cautious and negative mentality that Slade seems to have instilled upon his side. This performance not a one off, especially given the Addicks are now six without victory, but merely continuing from the efforts against Oxford United, AFC Wimbledon, and Fleetwood Town. The encouraging display at Scunthorpe proving misguided.
A dramatic improvement, both in performances and results, desperately required. A need for the Addicks to live up to their promise to respond positively.
Dale are likely to be without Ian Henderson after the long-serving forward was withdrawn midway through the first half of Tuesday’s victory over Bolton with suspected concussion.
The 31-year-old was replaced by goalscorer Davies, and logic suggests he’ll come into the side if Henderson is unable to feature.
Should Henderson miss out, he’ll join Peter Vincenti in being unavailable, with the midfielder still recovering from an ankle injury.
Elsewhere, winger Reuben Noble-Lazarus and midfielder Ollie Rathbone will be pushing to start having been unused substitutes in the previous two games after returning from injuries, but Hill is unlikely to heavily disrupt a winning formula.
Charlton will welcome back Jason Pearce after the centre back recovered from the concussion that kept him out of the draws with Oxford United and Oldham Athletic.
The former Wigan Athletic man, who’s shown leadership qualities at the back and seems to be a man that Slade trusts, will likely come back into the side for Patrick Bauer, who sustained a slight injury during Tuesday’s draw.
Harry Lennon, having served his suspension, another who will be available again, but will likely have to settle for a place on the bench. At least that means Roger Johnson won’t be involved.
Coming off the bench, hopefully, will be Ademola Lookman, with Charlton supporters begging for Slade to play a balanced side with two wingers. Andrew Crofts’ place in the side probably most at threat should the teenager wonderkid return to the starting XI.
KEY BATTLE – CURTAILING MOMENTUM AND EARNING SUPPORT WITH A POSITIVE START
Facing this inform Rochdale side when the Addicks desperately require victory and lack any sort of confidence is hardly ideal. Probably to the extent that a positive result for the visitors to SE7 on Saturday is the most likely outcome.
But even though Dale boss Hill believed his side deserved their victory over Bolton on Tuesday, he was honest enough to suggest “the game could have gone either way” and that his players had a “little bit of luck” that was warranted as a result of their efforts.
It does, however, suggest that, despite this run of form, Rochdale are far from infallible. There are ways in which this side can be got at, and it’s certainly possible to create chances, as Wanderers did but without much potency in front of goal.
The problem for the Addicks in exploiting those potential flaws, though, is that they lack potency and have been playing in a timid and cautious fashion. Even Charlton’s biggest threat, Ricky Holmes, appeared restricted during Tuesday night’s shambles.
And you worry that, without a positive start, Slade’s side are likely to find themselves struggling once again. Supporters will quickly lose patience, this confident Rochdale side will exploit Charlton’s sluggishness, and the chances of
That positive start so important, in fact, that the game might well be decided in the opening exchanges.
A bright opening, and the Addicks could peg Rochdale back, finding ways to create chances and stifle their opponent’s attempts to get forward. A poor one, that allows Dale a chance to settle and increases discontent among the home crowd, and it’s difficult to see how Charlton recover.
I wish I had some confidence. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Rochdale
The concept of a draw that feels like a defeat is one that’s well accepted. An unexpected late goal, robbing a side of three points that seemed certain, and meaning supporters leave the ground deflated and disappointed. Deflated and disappointed despite, quite often in these circumstances, having seen a positive performance.
But the concept of a draw that fills you with despair, disgust, and furthers a disconnection from your club is one yet to be scribbled into the dictionary of football clichés. A perfectly predictable conceding of a late equaliser, preventing a side from claiming an unjust three points, and meaning supporters leave the ground utterly devastated as the context of supporting a crisis club overwhelms. Overwhelmed with anger, or possibly crushed by apathy, as a consequence of both the performance and the overall situation.
A concept, alongside “bitter ex-employee” and “we’ve learnt from our mistakes”, that supporters of Charlton Athletic will want submitted into that cliché dictionary. A concept that those inside a scarcely populated Valley were subjected to. A concept that provides pain that no dictionary definition can properly justify.
Sure, there was certainly despair as an unmarked Peter Clarke turned home a Paul Green free-kick to draw Oldham Athletic level with seven minutes remaining.
It a warranted equaliser for the Latics, who were able to control the game for large parts of it and played with positivity, but it more obviously just punishment for a horrendous Charlton performance. Josh Magennis’ 22nd minute strike, the result of a 21-pass move, coming completely against the run of play and totally undeserved.
Disgust definitely existing towards that horrendous performance. A performance that saw defensive failings, midfield sluggishness defined by constantly being beaten to the ball and misplacing passes having finally gained possession, and a distinct lack of attacking cohesion.
A performance instigated partly by player failings, but largely by the cautious mindset and difficult to understand tactics that Russell Slade – booed as he departed at full-time – has instilled upon a side that has the individuals to perform to a much higher standard.
And a sense of growing disconnection that comes from knowing the predictably of self-inflicted punishment, of having experienced these dark feelings many times previously, and knowing that the root cause is an ownership who have treating a once lovable club so poorly that even those who devotion is untarnished find it difficult to connect with the imitation of their club that remains.
But how can you possibly find the word to describe, which does justice to, the combination of all these feelings. The on-pitch despair, the disgust with failing players and management, and the constant fight against disconnection that exists largely from the actions and attitudes of those in charge of the Addicks.
There no concept, cliché, or dictionary definition that can properly describe the situation at Charlton, and the pain and sadness that supporters are feeling.
It has long surpassed anything explainable, but only seems to be surpassing anything explainable more and more with each passing day. There no concept, cliché, or dictionary definition that can justify this situation.
And it’s also pretty hard to explain, or at least make sense of, Slade’s insistence on playing imbalanced and seemingly cautious starting XIs. The insistence that wins would follow after another disappointing draw away at Oxford United on Saturday didn’t seem reflected in his line-up.
To the bald-headed boss’ credit, there was at least an additional forward brought in to assist the isolated Magennis. Though some would suggest that in Lee Novak, who replaced Kevin Foley, Slade had frustratingly partnered Magennis with a striker too similar to be a functioning partner.
A start, too, for Ricky Holmes. A start tainted by the fact that Ademola Lookman was the man sacrificed to bring him into the XI, leaving the midfield containing three centre-mids and a winger. With Jordan Botaka twiddling his thumbs on the bench, it a completely unnecessary imbalance.
Ezri Konsa, filling the gap left by the suspended Harry Lennon, also returning to the starting line-up, and it appeared from the opening exchanges of the game that he would have quite a busy night. A consequence of the Addicks struggling to retain possession for any length of time, and the physicality of Crystal Palace loanee Freddie Ladapo.
But, despite utilising the strength and aerial ability of the young forward, that certainly isn’t to say Oldham began the game playing in a direct fashion. Their passing swift, their movement excellent, and only indecisiveness in and around the box was preventing a genuine opening from being created.
In fact, though Charlton had the first efforts on goal of the game as Magennis struck a low effort straight at Latics stoppers Conor Ripley before Morgan Fox’s bizarre free-kick sailed harmlessly into the Jimmy Seed Stand, the visitors were in complete control of the early stages.
Restlessness increasing among the home fans as Oldham continued to steal possession and build promising attacks, largely as a consequence of midfielder Ousmane Fane’s efforts. Play broken up with ease by the tall Frenchman, and the next, positive, pass made quickly time and time again.
Restlessness that would soon turn to boos and anger. Anger that was shared by goalkeeper Declan Rudd, who reacted furiously to his side failing to deal with a Jamie Reckord cross, and allowing Billy McKay to work himself a shot on goal from close range. Thankfully, Rudd’s cries and arm wavings were made with the ball in his possession – the ‘keeper behind the strike.
So, both in terms of Charlton’s disgraceful early efforts and Oldham’s persistent attempts to be positive, it was completely unjust that the Addicks were able to take the lead with 22 minutes played.
Not that those celebrating the goal cared too much for whether it was deserved or not, and not least Magennis. A move that took in 21 passes, the first time Slade’s side had shown any sort of composure on the ball and forward thinking in their movement of it, resulting in the Northern Irishman breaking into the box from a tight angle from a Holmes pass, and firing through Ripley.
There probably wasn’t, but it would come as no surprise if frustration fuelled the vicious strike. Frustration, mixed with a tinge of fear, which still existed among the home crowd. No one inside The Valley naïve enough to think that improvement was not still required desperately.
Unfortunately, naivety remained in Charlton’s play. The goal not inspiring the Addicks to consistently move the ball around with more intent, to beat Fane to the loose balls, or to show any sort of energy and movement off the ball.
Defensively, too, there were serious issues that needed quick resolutions if this lead was to be protected. It all too simple for an unchallenged Ryan Flynn to feed an unmarked Paul Green down the right flank, with the ever annoying Ladapo awaiting in the centre.
Somehow, whether a result of poor finishing or sensational defending, the Palace loanee’s attempt to convert Green’s low delivery was blocked by Chris Solly and the loose ball ultimately claimed by Rudd. It truly a marvellous opening, and one that should have been taken by the Latics. Another wake-up call for the still desperately underperforming Addicks.
A wake-up call still not heeded, but the sense of panic that was beginning to creep into Oldham’s play was offering at least a degree of comfort. It understandable that a side without a win in six were desperate to make a positive first half performance count, but Ryan McLaughlin’s wayward effort from distance and Ladapo’s ambitious claim for a penalty having lost a battle with Konsa were not going to have the desired effect.
The half ending with Andrew Crofts, given the ball in space after a rare positive passing move, shooting from distance and forcing Ripley into a comfortable save, but it doing little to convince the home crowd. The applause for their side as they left the field at the break rather half-hearted, with many hoping Slade would inspire his side to greater things during the second period.
And while good work from the struggling Novak allowed Magennis to fire at goal from a tight angle and force Ripley into conceding a corner, the early evidence of a second half improvement was not positive.
For barely three minutes into it, Oldham had once again capitalised upon the statuesque defensive efforts of the Addicks and created a marvellous opening. A quick one-two allowing Ladapo to break into the box, but the forward’s effort fizzed agonisingly across the face of goal and just wide. Rudd as frozen as those in front of him.
But while Charlton had this lead, deserved or not, there was always the hope that a fortunate second would kill the confidence of the Latics, and thereby kill the game off. Space for Magennis inside the area, but his shot rushed and panicked, resulting in the ball sailing over Ripley’s crossbar.
It at least a bit more threatening, and encouraging, than Fredrik Ulvestad’s rather horrendous volley, who was closer to picking out the corner flag than the back of the net following a cleared Charlton corner.
Maybe Slade, whose side were still playing with caution and fear, felt similar with regards to the impact a second goal would have on the game. Lookman, in place of Johnnie Jackson, introduced, and there immediately great shouts of excitement as he ran with the ball. A contrast to the groans of displeasure as Kevin Foley, replacing Crofts, misplaced his first pass out of play.
But even having Lookman and Holmes on the pitch, two players whose mentality will always contrast whatever level of caution and negativity Slade encourages, did not inspire. Again, a sense that the Addicks were fortunate not to concede as a cross from the left picked out substitute Lee Erwin, and only the big German frame of Patrick Bauer denying the Leeds loanee a certain goal.
However, those two attacking influences would soon combine for the best chance Charlton would have to double their advantage. Lookman on corner duties, and his delivery flat towards the front post. Holmes meeting the ball first time, but his volley misdirected, and sending the ball back in the general direction from whence it came.
Similar frustration at the other end for the brave visiting Oldham supporters, as Green’s driven ball somehow evaded a series of outstretched legs in the centre. Any sort of touch would have seen the Latics draw level. Wasted chances, a continued dire performance, and gifting opportunities to the opposition increasing the sense that a capitulation was on the cards.
Fane continued to dictate against a Charlton side that seemed to have disregarded the need for a competent midfield, Erwin tested Rudd from range, and Konsa put in a well-timed tackle to deny the Scot inside the area. With time running out, there was not the fluency to Oldham’s play that there was in the opening period of the game, but they certainly remained on top.
Not that they could have been anything but against this truly horrendous effort by the Addicks, who found themselves attempting to protect and on the back foot. This lead more and more undeserved with each passing moment. A Latics leveller easy to predict.
So there was not a great deal of surprise as Green’s delivery was swung in, a dire defensive set up allowed Clarke to glance a header goalwards, and the bottom corner of Rudd’s net rippled.
That not to say seeing the Oldham skipper sprint away in celebration was any easier to take. Nor was it any easy to disregard the outrage, anger and embarrassment that overwhelmed as rumblings of discontent began to interrupt the visitors’ celebrations. Fury around The Valley.
Lookman, in the most Lookman of ways, attempted to bring calm, and maybe even some joy, but cutting inside and firing towards goal from distance. His effort bouncing back off the crossbar, and no one in red quick enough to react.
But, though a sign of some character, regaining what was an underserved lead would have been an even greater injustice.
In fact, it was Oldham who showed the greater intent in what remained of the game. Erwin’s curling effort always going wide, but it more concerning to see their pace passing play, positivity and pace keeping the Addicks on the back foot.
The Addicks, with an apparent top six budget, pegged back in their own half against a side in the relegation zone, and effectively clinging on for a draw in the game’s final moments.
Though it was Charlton who had the final say. A desperate roar of encouragement as a corner was won deep into four minutes of additional time, only for Lookman to send it soaring over the heads of those who stood inside the box. Fitting.
The final meaningful act before boos filled The Valley air, while emotionally broken players, who had certainly not given enough to be physically drained, sank.
A curtain call which saw Slade, so often one to lap up any sort of crowd acknowledgement, bow his head in shame as he departed, serenaded by boos. He the instigator of yet another bleak and unbearable Valley night.
For, on this night exclusively, it had to be the manager that oversaw such a directionless, structureless, and cautious effort that took the blame. For this night alone, there was no one else Slade could blame.
He could, in truth, attach a certain amount of blame to those who attempted to perform for him. There not a player who comes out of tonight with any real credit, with Solly and Fox so often static and beaten with ease, those in midfield second to every ball and unable to work new chances, and Holmes so often running needlessly into dead ends.
But these are individuals in a side that are so obviously being poorly managed. There is quality in this side that is not being utilised properly. Quality in this side, if not to challenge for the duration of the season, to overwhelm those who might well spend their season struggling to avoid relegation.
Oldham, however, were allowed to dictate. Credit deserved for the way in which they made the most of Slade’s side sitting off them, as they often knocked the ball around in quite a classy fashion with Fane very impressive, but that taking nothing away from Charlton’s disgusting efforts.
Slade’s imbalanced and cautious side, without cohesion and lacking the confidence to attack with persistence and bravery, getting no less than they deserved. Defeat, in fact, probably more fitting than a point.
That we are ten games into a season and a side with individual quality is still performing without any sort of fluency, identity or intent is extremely worrying, and Slade must take the blame for that. He has a serious amount of improvement to make, and to make incredibly quickly.
Nonetheless, there is no denying that the deep feeling of dread, and the growing disconnection, that comes from such a grim night in SE7 is born out of a bigger picture than simply the tactics that Slade attempts to deploy.
A hushed crowd of barely 8,000 would not have experienced such a grim night, to add to their growing collection of grim Valley days and evenings, were it not for the overall stain that Roland Duchatelet’s ownership has inflicted upon the club. The regime the poison that makes on the pitch matters feel particularly bleak.
Slade’s failure to create a competent side another symptom of a club that is diseased, and will be until changes are made that reverse the disconnection. That remove the indescribable feeling that comes when you combine all the pain the club inflicts upon its supporters.
It took place towards the end of October, and was the 12th fixture of the campaign rather than the 10th, but there was a game under The Valley’s floodlights last season that was as season-defining as the visit of Oldham Athletic on Tuesday night threatens to be.
For the 3-0 defeat to Preston North End, who had not won in ten fixtures prior to their visit to SE7, sent the Addicks into the Championship’s bottom three and effectively confirmed that a battle with relegation would be the story of the campaign. A pathetic performance, with no character shown in a game that demanded determination and fight.
The context slightly different as the out of form Latics come to SE7, with a failure to record victory not condemning Russell Slade’s side to a season of struggling to avoid relegation to League two, but the pressure similar. It, particularly in terms of confidence, a must-win.
A need to win not only to avoid becoming dragged further away from the top six at this early stage of the season, but to restore an element of trust in a manager and his side who have performed disappointingly in these early weeks of the season.
The minimum of a place in the top six promised, but so far Slade’s side have performed without the quality and cohesion to suggest anything like that is possible. In moments they have impressed, but more often than not they have frustrated.
Excuses have been made, a need to look at the positives has been reinforced, and now the boss has promised that the wins, after five games without one, will come.
But there can be no excuses for failing to beat a side who have won once all season, and occupy a relegation spot. The doubts about Slade’s side will become genuine worries if Tuesday ends in another disappointment, and those worries will include the question of just where this season is heading.
Victory the only acceptable outcome. A repeat of that crushing Preston defeat not an option.
LAST MEETING – OLDHAM ATHLETIC 0-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (07/04/2012)
A single-goal victory over Oldham in a season that saw the Addicks romp to the League One title hardly has the feel of being iconic, but the fight and determination of Chris Powell’s side at Boundary Park in April 2012 is certainly well remembered.
For Charlton, after the less than loveable Trevor Kettle decided to make the game about himself, had to desperately cling onto the smallest of advantages with nine men for the final 14 minutes of the game. That they were successful confirming the side’s immense character, and rewarded with the promotion they warranted just five days later.
That determined fight coming against Oldham’s ten men, who saw Jean-Yves M’Voto dismissed for a second bookable offence as half-time approached after Danny Hollands had rather harshly been dismissed for a late challenge on Kieran Lee.
And it was when the amount of bodies that each team could boast was equal that the Addicks took the lead. Yann Kermorgant, typically the man to score an important goal, converting Rhoys Wiggins’ fabulous cross four minutes into the second half.
But, with less than a quarter of an hour to play, Charlton’s lead suddenly became a fragile one. Kettle deciding that an unfortunate slip from Scott Wagstaff, taking down Dean Furman with him, was worthy of a second yellow card.
The nine men, however, were defiant. Oldham’s forward moves persistently halted, and the defensive effort of those in red outstanding. A proud victory.
It’s probably a fairly obvious sign that things aren’t going too well for you when your manager suggests that nine of those who started a fixture didn’t “come to the game”.
That was part of the honest assessment from Oldham boss Stephen Robinson after they performed poorly during Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Swindon Town. The weak effort resulting in a fifth league game without victory, and leaving the Latics in the division’s bottom four.
Defensively, led by dependable centre-back Peter Clarke and goalkeeper Connor Ripley, Robinson’s side haven’t struggled too much this season. Four league clean sheets a decent effort for a side led by an inexperienced boss, and formed in rather desperate fashion given that the club could barely boast a player at the start of pre-season.
But those four clean sheets have earned just four points, with problems in front of goal particularly evident. A creativity lacking against the Robins, and defensive sluggishness resulting in fatal punishment.
However, there is “good news” according to Robinson. That good news being that they won’t play as badly again.
Such a statement reaffirming the desperate need for his side to make big improvements in the coming weeks.
There were boos come full-time of Saturday’s draw with Oxford United. Boos that were primarily aimed at Russell Slade.
This not the beginning of a movement to rid the recently appointed manager as Charlton boss, far from it, but a show of frustration, and confirmation of the urgent need for improvement.
For the Addicks, who should be playing with the quality and ambition of a side who can challenge for a top two spot, are cautious and disjointed. Defensive errors frequent, the midfield sluggish, and attacking intent rare.
But maybe the most frustrating thing, with players such as Ricky Holmes, Ademola Lookman and Josh Magennis in the side, is that there is enough individual quality at Slade’s disposal to form a competent side. Maybe not enough depth, but certainly a reasonable amount of talent in a regular starting XI, and the manager’s inability to instil a fluent and flowing tactical set-up is extremely disappointing.
It’s left Slade’s Charlton without victory in five, and 16th in the League One table. Far from the play-off challenge that was promised, with an apparent top six budget available.
Having heavily criticised his side after their performance in defeat to Swindon, boss Robinson is likely to make changes to his starting XI for Tuesday’s trip to The Valley.
Marc Klok and Lee Croft, replaced at half-time on Saturday by Darius Osei and Ousmane Fane, will do well to maintain their place in the side, while the struggle for goals could see Billy McKay come in for Lee Erwin.
Elsewhere, there are calls for wingers Ryan Flynn and Ryan McLaughlin, who returned to the bench at the weekend after injury, to come into the side, while full-back Jamie Reckford should be available again after injury.
Charlton will be without Harry Lennon after the defending was sent off in stoppage-time of Saturday’s draw with Oxford.
Slade will be hoping the academy graduate can be replaced by Jason Pearce, who missed the weekend trip to the Kassam Stadium with concussion, but there remains doubt as to whether the former Wigan man will be fit to play. Ezri Konsa likely to come into the side if not.
Elsewhere, having returned via the bench at Oxford, Ricky Holmes should force his way back into the starting XI, possibly for Kevin Foley.
The winger could also be joined in starting XI by Lee Novak, another who made a comeback from injury off the bench at the weekend, which would certainly give Slade’s side much greater balance and attacking intent.
KEY BATTLE – TAKING COMPLETE CONTROL OF THE GAME
Charlton’s performance in the opening 45 of the 3-0 victory over Shrewsbury Town is going to gain mythical status at this rate. A fast and fluid attacking effort, which allowed the Addicks to take complete control of the game and crush the Shrews.
Mythical in the sense it’s hard to believe such a performance was put in, given how timid and inviting Slade’s side have been recently. A sluggishness in midfield and a reluctance to play with intent allowing weaker oppositions to settle, and Charlton ultimately forced into playing with caution.
There is, however, an exception to that. Fluent attacking football seen for much for the opening 70 minutes against AFC Wimbledon, before caution, the consequence of missed chances that meant the lead was slender, again overwhelmed. The capitulation that followed undoing all the positive work.
Such an attacking effort, however, does show that this side is capable of being on the front foot and dominating a game. They can control contests, and bully the opposition into retreat, instead of retreating themselves as has frequently been the case.
In fact, they are at their best when they attempt to dominant a game. It bizarre why Slade is so reluctant to give his side the freedom to attack with pace and intent, and instead play in a manner that slows the game down and invites the opposition into it.
Oldham must not be allowed to settle on Tuesday, and the Addicks must be given the freedom by their boss to dominate.
Simply no excuses. Charlton Athletic 2-0 Oldham Athletic
As Russell Slade approached the Kassam Stadium away end, doing so with a slight hesitation and an uncharacteristically emotionless expression occupying his face, the Charlton Athletic boss was given a definitive notice that improvement is desperately required.
For while the boos that responded to his attempts to applaud the travelling supporters were neither poisonous nor signalling that fans want the bald-headed gaffer removed nine league games into his tenure, they told an important message nonetheless.
The message being that Slade warrants his share of the blame for a disappointing start to the season, and certainly criticism for the approach taken in a frustrating draw with Oxford United. A sluggish, disjointed, and overly cautious effort against the U’s seeing the Addicks failing to record victory for the fifth consecutive game.
In truth, there was a brief period at the beginning of the second period which suggested a poor first-half effort was to prove meaningless. Charlton unable to match the intensity of Michael Appleton’s Oxford in the opening 45, who found themselves first to loose balls and often breaking purposefully, while a combination of Slade’s questionable tactical set-up and midfield mistakes stifled forward moves.
But a loose hand from Oxford defender Phil Edwards, who had moments before nodded over at the other end when unmarked, gave the Addicks the softest of penalties and an opportunity to take a lead that had not appeared forthcoming. The spot-kick, Charlton’s first since the end of the 2014/15 season, converted in cool fashion by Johnnie Jackson, with a tumbling knee-slide to follow.
Alas, the 54th minute lead did not inject hidden intensity into those in red, while Appleton’s men maintained a certain amount of threat in their pacey forward drives. Yellow shirts manoeuvring the ball through midfield with relative ease, and constantly asking questions of an uneasy Charlton backline.
It was, therefore, to the surprise of few that Oxford’s 67th minute equaliser came as a consequence of a fluid forward move that left the Addicks spectating. The pace of substitute Kane Hemmings too much for Patrick Bauer, his through ball perfect for the impressive Chris Maguire, and the Scot’s finish emphatic.
No less than Oxford deserved, reinforced by the fact Maguire abandoned celebration and instead carried the ball back to the centre-circle. The U’s positive, aware of the uncertainty in Charlton’s side, and sensing victory.
A belief halted by Josh Magennis almost immediately seeing a header superbly saved by Simon Eastwood, and the hosts becoming cautious, but there rarely a moment beyond where this disjointed group of Addicks looked genuinely threatening. An opposition sitting deeper, and inviting them to dictate the game, but still they stuttered.
That they were to end the game with ten men, with Harry Lennon receiving a second yellow card for a reckless challenge on Liam Sercombe, quite reflective of a performance that, in addition to attacking intensity, lacked sensible decision making and composure.
But more importantly, it lacked a coherent tactical set-up and a philosophy that allowed a group of talented individuals, or at least talented individuals at League One level, to control a game they had the potential to.
Another game where disappointment, from periods of sluggishness, and frustration, born out of those moments where seemingly encouraging moves were stifled, overruled any positives. Slade yet to find a way to get the best out of a side that should be doing better, and can no longer deny that improvement is required.
In truth, there was a concern pre-match that the desired improvement would not be shown at the Kassam, or at least the encouraging signs seen during the second half of Tuesday’s draw with Scunthorpe United would not be built upon, as Slade named a side that appeared unbalanced and cautious.
For the only change to Charlton’s starting XI was an enforced one, as the concussed Jason Pearce was replaced by Lennon, making his first appearance of the season. The midfield still containing too many slow central figures, and Magennis left to battle on his own up to, though the return of Ricky Holmes and Lee Novak to the bench did at least provide alternatives should the Addicks struggle.
But it a frustration nonetheless that Slade had not opted to use the momentum created at Glanford Park, and field an XI that had genuine attacking intent. It vital his side made a positive start to dispel unrest.
And, as a sold out away end made their voices heard, that they did. A hope that the desperate defending required by Oxford to prevent Jackson turning in Ademola Lookman’s early corner would set the tempo of the game. The visiting supporters loud, the Addicks threatening, and the U’s on the back foot.
Such a delirious image of delight, however, barely lasted for three minutes, as Charlton’s defending from an Oxford corner was not desperate, but completely non-existent. Chey Dunkley left unmarked just a few yards from goal, with only the most incredible of saves from Declan Rudd preventing the defender from giving his side the lead.
Undoubtedly a huge let-off for the Addicks, with most in the away end prematurely bemoaning the conceding of a goal as Dunkley made contact with Maguire’s delivery. Genuine bemoaning to come as this sluggish and structureless midfield struggled to turn sideways possession into anything more threatening, and the early signs suggested that Magennis was going to be enduring a tough afternoon in his lone battle up top.
But there were other concerns on the minds of the visiting supporters. Passionate and definitive chanting against Roland Duchatelet and his poisonous regime belted out from the away end without much pause over a ten minute period, barely stopping to gasp as a rare successful move into the opposition’s final third concluded with Fredrik Ulvestad’s ball across the face of goal just flashing pass Magennis’ outstretched boot.
Not that these chants, by any stretch of the imagination, were creating an uncomfortable atmosphere or distracting from supporting the side. The pro-Charlton cries that followed loud, reaffirming that opposition to the regime did not equate to disregarding the team.
It merely a coincidence that the U’s began to grow into the game, with Maguire lively and Sercombe combative, and create a handful of half-chances. Rudd collecting Maguire’s effort with ease, before the battling Ryan Taylor teed up Marvin Johnson to volley just wide.
And though Lookman, showing greater directness and attacking intent then the rest of his teammates combined, attempted to maintain parity, as he drove forward and unleashed a fizzing drive that Eastwood held at the second attempt, it was most certainly the hosts who looked more lively, were more positive, and were displaying greater intensity. Sercombe at the heart of it, and he the next to test Rudd, though his effort was comfortably saved.
A real need for the Addicks to respond positively to this pressure, particularly with grumblings among the away supporters increasing, but this cautious and rather lacklustre side seemed incapable of turning midfield possession into anything meaningful. A wayward Lennon strike, troubling the corner flag having pulled the trigger from the best part of 30 yards, not having the desired effect.
More greatly appreciated were the efforts of Magennis. An understanding that his task, which left him isolated and, with Dunkley’s use of his hands questionable, without the support of the match officials, was an almost impossible one, but still he continued to battle. For effort alone, he deserved greater than making space for a shot from a tight angle, comfortable collected by Eastwood.
While the Northern Irishman battled with a sense of determination, Oxford continued to look more fluent and threatening. Those in red standing off the ever-lively Johnson, and the winger cutting inside to curl an effort towards goal that required Rudd to make a decent save. For all Oxford’s energy, it probably the first time Charlton’s goalkeeper had been seriously tested since Dunkley’s header.
That inability to turn impressive play into genuine openings meant that, with the Addicks boasting a young match-winner in their side, there was always a chance that this sluggish effort could be rescued, and an arguably undeserved lead gained before the break. Eastwood worthy of immense praise for racing off his line as Lookman found a way through, smothering his effort and denying the teenager when one-on-one.
It left skipper John Lundstram, sitting deep for much of the half and feeding balls to his wide men, to fire the final shot of the opening 45. Another one of those rather weak efforts that failed to take advantage of Charlton’s sluggishness, as the Oxford man drove through a non-existent midfield and fired straight at Rudd from distance, and signalled that improvement could be made by both teams going into the second period.
This lacklustre, somewhat structureless and most certainly cautious group of Addicks in need of greater improvement, and as such the side more likely to be unhappy with their first half efforts. Attacking intent needed, and greater energy to match their opponents in the middle, who could do with showing a bit more composure in the final third, also required.
At least the stalemate in the scoreline meant that, with attacking options on the bench, there was always an opportunity for Slade’s side to put this disappointing first-half display to one side, and push for a goal without needing to chase the game.
Maybe such a thought, however, was being a little too optimistic. The start to the second period slow and tentative, with Lookman guilty of hanging onto the ball for too long when a shooting opportunity presented itself, while the U’s really should have put themselves in front. Edwards unmarked from Johnson’s free-kick, but failing to keep his header down and wasting a glorious opening.
But before Edwards had removed the images of his missed headed from his mind, the full-back had committed an even greater crime. Cries of injustice from the home ends as referee Keith Stroud pointed to the spot, but there no way a clear hand ball, with Edwards arm raised as a cross entered the box, was to go unpunished. Out of nothing, the Addicks suddenly had a chance to go in front.
Jackson immediately claiming the ball, and those in the away end feeling a little more nervous as a result. The skipper’s record from the spot, though having not taken a penalty for some time, a little mixed, and few completely convinced Charlton were about to take the lead.
The skipper, however, had all the confidence his supporters might have lacked. Placed coolly into the centre of the goal, as Eastwood dived the other way, though the least said about Jackson’s flopped knee slide the better. Little taken away from passionate celebrations, and a grand sense of relief.
It not so much papering over cracks, but there certainly a hope the goal would give the Addicks a boost, and allow them to stifle Oxford in a more comfortable and composed manner. The lead certainly not secure if Slade’s side continued as they had done.
The response to going ahead, therefore, slightly concerning. Rudd called upon to deal with a Johnson free-kick, a Maguire strike after the forward made space for himself, and a Hemmings effort after the sub broke down the left. Too much space for the U’s, and too easily being allowed to break forward.
A situation not helped by the fact Magennis was struggling more and more on his own up top, and there was no genuine out ball. The away end had previously called for 4-4-2, and the sight of Holmes being readied suggested it might be happening, but Lookman was withdrawn instead of being pushed up top. Frustration, and growing concern.
Frustration and concern that ultimately became despair. Having received several warnings of the threat Oxford posed on the break, the Addicks allowed the U’s to move forward with ease, ultimately concluding with an excellent Maguire finish from a Hemmings pinpoint pass. Nothing to take away from the hosts, but plenty to criticise a disjointed Charlton for.
The sense now that, as they had done last weekend, the Slade’s men would implode. They’d lose confidence, drop deeper, and effectively invite Oxford to win the game.
So Magennis’ powerful header, that caused premature celebrations in the away end, was an ideal response to conceding. The forward picked out at the back post by Holmes, but Eastwood’s reaction save, as great as Rudd’s first-half effort, tipping the ball onto the bar and over. The forward mystified as to how he had been denied his second Charlton goal.
Nonetheless, with just less than 20 minutes to go and Novak introduced, it provided a sense of encouragement. That this game remained winnable.
But with each attempt to get forward, that encouragement decreased. There some intent to win the game, certainly, but not enough equality, composure, or fluency to make it up. Holmes flashing an effort wide, but Oxford otherwise easily able to pick of Charlton’s late forward moves.
Even throwing Botaka on, again with less than ten minutes to play and with not enough time to make a genuine impact, failed to make a real difference. The side still unable to break free of the shackles their first-half efforts had placed them in.
And though there was some excitement as four minutes of stoppage-time was announced, which included the outstanding Dunkley make a marvellous block from a Botaka effort, the Addicks had never done enough to deserve to win this game, nor had they ever looked like doing so.
In fact, it was in stopping an Oxford break, with Sercombe bursting through as he had so often done during the first period, that Lennon received his marching orders. A rather unpleasant tackle that, at the very least, warranted a second yellow.
No difference made to the outcome, but the dismissal reaffirming a feeling of frustration and disappointment. No positives to take or encouragement gained, just a sense that the Addicks had underwhelmed, and Slade’s side remain disjointed and well below where they should be.
The negative post-match reaction, whether justified, most certainly reflective of the performance.
For it not just a frustrating draw at Oxford, a side with a commendable home record and who play a decent style of counter-attacking football, that is the concern, but the fact that same decisions that have previously cost the Addicks points are persistently being repeated.
I cannot, with two fully-fit wingers and two fully-fit strikers, understand Slade’s decision to deploy that cautious, tentative, and non-cohesive starting line-up that he did. There are talented individuals in this squad, who should be able to form a side that can win games, but they are being stifled by these rather bizarre set-ups and lack of attacking intent.
We are capable of taking a game to an opponent, of completely dominating them. It was done against Shrewsbury, and for much of the game against AFC Wimbledon. When we’ve played with a positive, attacking intent, we’ve looked excellent. When we’ve stuttered and been indecisive, we’ve been incredibly poor.
The indecisiveness today the consequence of the ball moved incredibly slowly in midfield, of Magennis battling up top with no around to collect the balls he did win, and Oxford having a bit of energy and pace in the middle. We allowed the U’s, particularly in the first half, to set the tempo, and it seemed we never fully allowed ourselves to escape the fear that they might hurt us on the break.
Why is there a desire to slow the game down, deploy plenty of rugged midfielders, and hope a goal is nicked here or there? Why is the side, nine games into the season, still appearing disjointed and not properly gelled? Why does it seem that Slade won’t be brave and bold with a side that appear at their best when they are given the licence to be brave and bold?
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to understand, and increasingly frustrating. Irrespective of the fact this is a new side, led by a new boss, who must deal with the off-field chaos, this start to the season is not good enough, and largely self-inflicted.
Supporters have every right to feel improvement is required.
This a week like many others. Where, between one Saturday and the next, I will have overcome a large amount of apathy to watch Charlton Athletic three times. Pretending my connection with the club isn’t hanging by a thread, and hoping my forced attendance will sew it back together.
The idea that I must force myself to attend gives the suggestion that there is always a question mark over whether I will make it to the Covered End, or a fellow League One club’s away end. That question mark, in spite of my disconnection, does not exist.
The very small logical section of my rather bizarre brain continues to present a weekly 20-slide PowerPoint display on why I should withdraw my support to the irrational and emotional sections, who respond with a statement that reinforces that it’s their duty to follow the Addicks over land and sea (and Leicester).
A sense that it is my duty to follow the Addicks, and a determination to fight against the emotions towards my club that Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire have instilled over the previous 30 months. To give up would be turning my back completely on their horrendous and insulting ownership, but so too would it be allowing the actions of this regime to achieve what it feels like they want to, and take the club away from me.
Charlton, in the past, has been an unmeasurable escapism for myself from a world that is overwhelmed by depression, anxiety, loneliness, a dreadfully low self-worth, epilepsy, and persistent niggling physical weakness. The Valley, or those untidy away ends, a world that was once free from those feelings, thoughts, and, quite often, pains.
A time when, irrespective of performances or results, untainted distraction from sadness could be found in supporting the side. Where anxiety and loneliness was replaced by a sense of connection with fellow supporters, club, and side, and a feeling of acceptance and comfortability that couldn’t be achieved elsewhere. Where physical discomfort was a lot easier to put up with, especially as the motivation to engage yourself with club and side produced unrelenting energy resources.
The misguided belief that it remains plausible to experience such distraction and escapism fuelling my desire to remain an ever-present. That, and the hope that 90 minutes of football will actually distract from the minutes used by Duchatelet and Meire to insult, discredit, and undermine. A hope that the footballing environment, when locked inside the four sides of a stadium, will be protected from attempts to damage connection and remain a sanctuary.
And then, having travelled to Scunthorpe the previous night to take in a goalless draw while feeling dreadful, you hear that the owner of your football club has informed a select group of supporters in a secret meeting that he can only dedicate 1.5% of his time to his running of the Addicks, and you’re reminded why your connection has been lost and your escapism damaged.
The existence of the meeting itself, between Duchatelet and the pathetic Target 20k group, an insult. This seemingly a handpicked group of individuals, whose minutes are confidential despite apparently representing fans in general, with their real purpose allowing for the regime to tick a few boxes. “Look, we are engaging with supporters, we are trying to make things better”.
Duchatelet meeting this group, in secret of course, but failing to engage with any supporters who aren’t towing the party line and have legitimate and genuine concerns. Several requests by the Supporters’ Trust not just turned down, but ignored.
A group formed by the club, which has achieved next to nothing for supporters and applies no pressure to the regime, evidently does not represent the views of the vast majority of supporters. Exploit those fans they can exploit, and ignore those they can’t.
While what was said in the meeting is equally as insulting. Aside from showing a total disregard for the club and its supporters with his ridiculous 1.5% comment, the defending of Thomas Driesen’s involvement with the club and this bizarre suggestion that football should be more like rugby just leaves you feeling deflated that this clueless figure runs out club.
That and the fact seemingly no one challenged him in the manner he should have been.
You put all this effort into supporting the club, despite all the barriers that exist both at my end and erected by the regime, but find yourself becoming more and more disconnected with each passing week. Increasingly being made to feel worthless, in an environment where you previously felt connected and valued.
For these comments, these events, and this constant insulting management of the club don’t just create anger and disillusionment when they occur. It is unquestionable that this regime’s actions have taken away an escapism from me, and made following Charlton impossible to enjoy. My mental health declining even further as a consequence.
The disconnection meaning that The Valley, or those atmospheric away ends, are no longer a different word; a place where the depression and sadness stops momentarily. Anxiety and panic attacks, along with feelings similar to being alone in a room full of people and similarly scrutinised by all those who surround me, often occurring without reason when I previously felt an acceptance and comfortability. That escapism lost.
And then there’s the need to protest. Something I will continue to do, because I believe it to be right and would feel worse if I didn’t offer my support to the battle against the regime, but something that makes me feel incredibly anxious and often overwhelmed.
Even last weekend, wearing a black and white shirt among the protest photo, I felt overwhelmed with anxiety. Surrounded by people in an environment that I struggle to feel completely comfortable in, the fear that there are those who frown upon what myself and other protesters do, and again that sense of being alone in a room full of people.
The only reason I continue to put myself in these positions that my mental health means I struggle to deal with is because of the regime, the opposition they have created for themselves, and the damage they have done to the club and, without wishing to sound self-centred, myself. I despise what they’ve inflicted upon the club and me.
So too is it unquestionable that, away from a match day, events at Charlton are having an impact on my mental health. I feel this is pathetic, but controversial comments or acts from the regime, an increasing sense of disquiet and disconnection, and arguments among supporters are a huge trigger.
A reminder of what feels like a bleak situation at Charlton reminding me of all the other sadness and anxiety I feel. Sometimes I just want to hide, delete my Twitter, delete my blog, and pretend none of this is happening. Maybe it would actually be beneficial to my mental health, but I simply can’t bring myself to do that.
In fairness, my personal situation is not simply a result of Duchatelet and Meire. My mental health has got worse and worse to the point where I have little solace, and things that previously helped that remain as they were no longer provide an escapism, so there are outside factors. I’m not in a good state.
But, at the same time, I have a strong connection with the county cricket club I follow, Northamptonshire, which does feel similar to the Charlton of old. Attendance providing an escapism, a release from sadness and anxiety, and the connection with club and, in particular, players making me feel a sense of acceptance.
I guess, therefore, that now the cricket season has concluded, the importance of the Addicks as an escapism has been reaffirmed. Instead of being an escapism, it’s effectively self-infliction. The disconnection growing, and the discomfort felt in following Charlton getting worse.
However, I’m aware that, without a regime whose actions increase my depression and anxiety, supporting Charlton could once again become an escape. That I’ve lost this escapism, despite my desperate attempts to maintain it, as a consequence of ignorant and insulting individuals is incredibly upsetting. Apathy increases accordingly.
And yet, I’ll be at Oxford tomorrow, despite feeling no excitement, merely anxiety and worry, and knowing my efforts are considered meaningless.
But I’ll continue to put more than 1.5% of my time into the club, in the hope my escapism returns. Not that it will under a regime whose actions have taken away an anti-depressant from me.