Those in red were applauded from the pitch as they departed from it at half-time. Their lead celebrated, their performance admired, their intensity thrilling. Their advantage could have, and probably should have, been greater than one.
Applause that was warranted. But so was the aggression, the anger, and the disappointment as a beleaguered set of Addicks made the same trip from pitch to dressing room come the conclusion of the contest.
Their own applause towards the Covered End timid and desperate. Heads bowed, hiding bemused and confused facial expressions, and hiding from the disgruntled boos that increased in volume as they came closer to the tunnel.
Those in red, having excited on occasions, ultimately letting down the many in black and white, whose support of the side was unrelenting.
For on the day where persistence in Charlton Athletic supporters’ protests against their club’s regime was shown, with many in protest shirts forming a ‘squad’ photo prior to kick-off, Russell Slade’s men lacked the persistence to perform with quality, endeavour, and structure for the duration of the game.
Little to bemoan about the manner in which the Addicks started, as AFC Wimbledon’s backline was left embarrassed by Ademola Lookman with eight minutes played. The teenager cutting in from the left, faking to shoot on two occasions, and creating the space for himself to finish expertly into the bottom corner.
That sort of quality and attacking intent seen for the duration of the first-half, with Slade’s side vastly improved upon their efforts at Fleetwood Town a week ago. The Dons pressed with urgency, the ball moved sharply when the Addicks regained possession, and Lookman almost unplayable at times.
The only concern being that they were not making their dominance tell. Ricky Holmes and Nicky Ajose among those guilty of being wasteful, and allowing Neal Ardley’s side to reach the break without just punishment inflicted upon them.
Giving the Dons a chance to grow in composure, competitiveness, and quality as Charlton tired from the extent of their earlier exertions. The hosts still creating, still impressing, but you began to fear moments like James Shea saving Holmes’ volley in superb fashion would prove costly with the visitors competent, and questioning Charlton’s backline with greater regularity.
A backline that retreated deeper and deeper, behind a midfield that was losing intensity, and a set of forwards appearing more and more isolated. Their punishment for, first of all, failing to kill the game off while on top and, secondly, declining so dramatically, inflicted as Dominic Poleon rounded Chris Solly in sublime fashion and finished coolly beyond Declan Rudd with 12 minutes to play.
There should have been a driven and determined response, to regain the lead their performance for much of the afternoon warranted, but the Addicks merely seemed to drop deeper and lose even more energy. The Dons confident, committed, and full of intent.
To the extent that you could hardly bemoan previous misfortune in front of goal when Wimbledon took advantage of Charlton’s staggering decline. Substitute Tyrone Barnett heading home superbly from Barry Fuller’s cross with five minutes to play.
Ultimately, the winner. The Dons supporters, as loud and passionate a group as The Valley is likely to see this season, left to share a wonderful moment of celebration with their side. To embrace the unity between fans, and a fan built club.
Wimbledon’s celebrations a reward for determination and persistence, both on the day and in the resurrection of their club.
Charlton’s contrasting misery, bemused and angered that their side had capitulated in such spectacular and embarrassing fashion, a feeling that aligned itself perfectly to the one inflicted upon many supporters by this regime.
Another black and white day for Charlton under Roland Duchatelet’s ownership.
Black and white seen as supporters protested once again against the regime they so passionately despise prior to kick-off. Those in protest shirts and scarves showing a unity that isn’t to be undervalued.
A hope that unity would be seen in Slade’s somewhat disjointed side, too, as attentions turned to supporting the team. An unchanged XI named, in spite of an underwhelming performance lacking fluency against Fleetwood, with returning skipper Johnnie Jackson, and goalscorer Lee Novak, kept in reserve.
The early signs, however, were positive. Lookman, relatively quiet at Highbury Stadium, needing just two minutes to burst into life, as he wriggled into space on the edge of the box and shot narrowly wide.
But while an early opening increased confidence among a set of supporters unsure how their side would respond to a mixed afternoon last weekend, the need for Morgan Fox to make a desperate block inside the first five minutes kept feet on the ground. A pacey Dons attack concluding with the ball falling kindly to Andy Barcham, the winger seemingly having a clear sight of goal, but denied in spectacular fashion by the Welshman throwing his body in front of the effort.
It was, therefore, Lookman’s second unstoppable burst forward that truly set the tempo of the first half and, more importantly, gave the Addicks the lead.
Yellow shirts aplenty in his path, but they were left mesmerised by the teen’s feet to such an extent they might as well have been statutes. Successive fakes beating all those in front of him, and opening up a clear sight of goal. The ball rifled into the back of net, with no hope for Shea between the sticks.
The goal, obviously, encouraging, but maybe it was more pleasing to see that there was no let-up in Charlton’s attacking intent once the game resumed. Sometimes cautious and often lacking fluency in previous games, but Holmes driving forward to test Shea and Lookman seeing an effort blocked from a position not too dissimilar to where his goal was scored from suggested Slade’s side had finally found some forward rhythm.
So too was there unrelenting energy in midfield, in addition to composure and intelligence, as Fredrik Ulvestad showed the qualities that Slade promised he possessed, while Andrew Crofts’ passing was much more positive. With Wimbledon’s pace-inspired attempts to move forward persistently cut out by an incredibly impressive Ezri Konsa-led backline, the Addicks had moved into a dominant position with less than 20 minutes played.
Dominance, however, that would need to be reflected in the scoreline before a relatively vocal Valley crowd could feel a sense of comfort. For while Holmes’ relentless running allowed him to force Shea into another strong save and Ajose fired narrowly wide having capitalised upon some hesitant Dons defending, an excellent opening for the Dons was sandwiched between those Charlton chances.
The previously faultless Konsa largely to blame as he struggled to get the ball out of his feet, and it ultimately falling kindly to the impressive Jake Reeves just inside Charlton’s box. A shimmy into space, and a drive towards the bottom corner of Rudd’s goal, but the ball flashing narrowly wide.
Maybe a wakeup call and a reminder against complacency, but certainly reinforcing the message that a second goal was desperately needed. A message that Ajose had seemingly not received as, having collected Josh Magennis’ superbly won knock-down, the forward blasted over from a position where it appeared easier to score.
And while there remained time for Lookman, whose feet alone had been a joy to watch for the duration of the first period, to dance into space and force a comfortable save out of Shea, there remained a sense of nervousness as the half-time was reached.
Vocal and almost celebratory applause for the Addicks as they retired to the dressing room, in recognition of 45 minutes of football that came close to matching their first half efforts in the victory over Shrewsbury, but no one to naïve enough to think that Charlton could afford to continue to be so wasteful in the second period.
Not least given that, in addition to the Reeves opening, there had been improvement from Wimbledon in the latter stages of the half. The pace of Poleon and the robust nature of Lyle Taylor a challenge for Charlton’s backline, while Reeves and George Francomb were growing more competitive and composed in the middle.
A growth in composure that largely spread throughout the entire Dons side after the break, with the visitors looking a lot more composed on the ball and Charlton’s intense pressing no longer causing the same degree of concern. The start to the second period lacking the tempo of the first.
But that isn’t to say that the Addicks, or at least at this point, had retreated and withdrawn from their intense play. Ardley’s men still under immense pressure whenever in possession, and there still roars of excitement whenever Lookman and Holmes were given the ball.
If not a roar of excitement, than a gasp of anticipation. A delivery from the left ultimately worked to an unmarked Holmes inside the box, who took a touch before volleying an effort towards goal. Only the fingertips of Shea, the very extremities of those fingertips, prevented the fierce strike from finding the bottom corner.
And while Charlton continued to struggle to find the back of the net, Francomb was left struggling to find two of his teeth. The Dons man involved in a nasty-looking collision while defending an Addicks corner, which resulted in him being stretchered off with an unpleasant amount of blood leaking from his mouth.
But it was Slade’s men who displayed a more concerning level of toothlessness. Magennis bursting into the box from wide, but no one in red able to chew on his cut-back, while Holmes’ ruthless run forward concluded with a tame shot that lacked bite.
Meanwhile, the loss of Francomb was looking like something of a blessing in disguise for the visitors, for it forced Ardley to introduce Tom Elliott. The powerful forward getting the better of Jason Pearce as both chased after a long ball, and firing into the side netting, but Dons supporters were less than impressed with the manner in which Elliott’s shirt was pulled as he shaped to shoot.
At the very least, Elliott’s presence and Charlton beginning to sit deeper were not unrelated. Space for his teammates created as the Addicks lost their intensity and started to abandon the idea of pressing Wimbledon in midfield.
The defending in general more desperate, and would not have prevented a Wimbledon equaliser had Barcham opted to cut the ball back instead of shooting from a tight angle after dancing into the middle.
Confidence and intent in Wimbledon’s play, which did at least mean the Addicks could remain a threat on the break. Magennis, winning far few of his aerial duels throughout the second period, finally getting the better of Darius Charles and Paul Robinson, only to head Solly’s excellent cross comfortably over the bar.
But that the Addicks were now limited to openings on the break was reflective of the fact they had long lost their dominance. Crofts and Ulvestad timid, withdrawing deeper and deeper, while Lookman had evidently been shattered to the point where his contribution was minimal for much of the second period. Dons not dictating, but it was they who were setting the tempo of the game as they pushed for an equaliser.
Pushed down the left, as they had done for much of the contest, exploiting the pace of Poleon. The former Leeds man asking questions but rarely able to beat Solly, and it seemed that would be the case again as he exchanged unthreatening passes with Jonathan Meades.
But, with a chance of pace and skilful footwork that Lookman would be proud of, Poleon suddenly burst past Solly and appeared inside the box. Only Rudd stood between him and the goal, and the attacker converted with the coolness of a man with a much more prolific record. The Valley’s deathly silence only interrupted by the wild celebrations that emerged from away end, and the unspoken thoughts that asked how Charlton had conceded their advantage.
Wasted chances replayed in the minds of home supporters, and a sense that the two sides being level was somewhat unjust, but sympathetic feelings soon decreased.
There was encouragement from the Covered End, begging their side to find their earlier intensity once again, but instead they dropped deeper. Men that had previously appeared so fluent now looked lost. Energy lost.
Encouragement from the away end, too, with a greater response. The Dons not sheepish, and encouraged to push forward by the space offered to them in midfield. It was as if the confident group of Addicks that had dominated with such prowess had been completely replaced by a number of individuals with no tactical understanding.
Almost a sense that, despite leading and dominating for so long, it was Charlton who wanted the full-time whistle, and not the Dons, who should have been desperate to come away from SE7 with a point.
Instead they pushed forward, and Charlton academy graduate Fuller found space down the right. His cross excellent, and Barnett’s combined leap and headed marvellous. Unstoppable, not least when a static and disorientated defence were passed in order to score it.
The frustration and anger around the ground obvious, as much as joy among the Wimbledon supporters was clear, and it not helped by another lethargic response to conceding. Lookman finding some energy from somewhere, and firing straight at Shea from a tight angle, but there was not enough intensity or direction for Slade’s side to hope to equalise.
That the case despite the net finally being found in the final minute of five added on, with substitute Lee Novak in an offside position as he tucked past Shea. Regardless of the fact the Addicks lead and dominated so long, to steal a point would not have been warranted. Their efforts in the final period of the game worthy of the punishment they had received.
Their efforts in the final period of the game worthy of the boos they received come full-time. Those in the away end, and those in yellow who stood in front of it, worthy of their wonderful moment of celebration.
For though even the most blindly supportive supporter of Wimbledon will admit their side realistically should have lost the game in the first hour of it, to suggest their victory was fortunate and Charlton’s defeat unlucky in the overall context of the contest is unjust.
For starters, as Slade himself has admitted, the Addicks only have themselves to blame for not being more ruthless. Such exciting attacking play was extremely encouraging to see, but made meaningless by the tameness in front of goal. A second goal wins the game, but such a comment meaningless when a second goal could not be found.
Secondly, Wimbledon’s determination and persistence in the face of Charlton’s continued intensity for much of the game is to be applauded. They could have so easily crumbled but, in spite of the Addicks creating chances, the Dons were able to grow in composure and ultimately begin to threaten with more regularity.
They did not sit deeper and hide, but instead grew stronger and attempted to come back into a game they appeared completely out of. Something they were allowed to do by Charlton looking more and more unorganised, panicked, and drained as the second half neared a conclusion.
Slade’s lack of substitutes, particularly not withdrawing the exhausted Lookman or making a change in the centre with Crofts and Ulvestad beginning to struggle, bizarre. The constant dropping deeper and deeper that of a side without confidence, composure or leadership, which is incredibly odd considering their earlier expansive play. Their defensive efforts weaker and weaker as the half went on, and Wimbledon able to exploit with ease.
A tame capitulation that you felt wouldn’t occur under Slade’s leadership. That determination he seemed to have instilled nowhere to be seen, and replaced by a pathetic and tame effort in the final third of the game.
But, for all the anger felt towards the pathetic capitulation, the final feeling felt upon exiting The Valley was one of jealousy. That myself and many other supporters had dressed in non-Charlton colours to express our opposition to the regime, and our disconnection from the club, while Wimbledon were able to enjoy united celebrations.
A flag in their end expressed that they “are the resurrection”. I long for ours.