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.