As the man about to be appointed Charlton Athletic manager allegedly watched on, the man keeping his seat warm led the Addicks to their most complete performance in some time.
In fact, Karl Robinson might have even felt immediate justification for his decision to ignore all the warnings he would have received about working under Roland Duchatelet’s regime, such was the manner in which the side he will inherit ruthlessly defeated Bristol Rovers at the Memorial Stadium.
Or maybe he would have been slightly concerned that Kevin Nugent had led this group of Addicks to such an impressive victory that his offer of employment would be withdrawn, and instead handed to the caretaker boss. Those that had travelled to the West Country treated to a quite remarkable 5-1 win.
The scoreline suggests an emphatic rout last for the duration of the contest, as does the fact Nugent’s side went in at the break with a two-goal lead, but it wasn’t until the start of the second half that the extent of Charlton’s domination became apparent.
For the game could have very easily turned not long after Ademola Lookman, via the help of a deflection, fired beyond Rovers goalkeeper Kelle Roos to give the visitors a 26th minute lead.
A barrage of attempts on Charlton’s goal, protected by the inexperienced Dillion Phillips in the absence of the injured Declan Rudd, as half-time approach seemingly suggesting that it was only a matter of time before the hosts equalised. The post hit, a reaction save required, and a goal-bound strike beaten away.
But the Addicks responded by doubling their advantage on the break a minute before half-time. Josh Magennis, unplayable after bursting into life 20 minutes into the evening, turning home Adam Chicksen’s low cross, and filling the away terrace with a rather shocked sense of joy and relief.
Five second-half minutes all that were needed for Patrick Bauer, with a typically powerful header, to convert Lookman’s corner, and it to become clear that the Addicks were in complete control of this contest. Victory secured, but the Addicks rampant, and Rovers, who would lose Jake Clarke-Salter to injury having already made three substitutions, crumbling.
A first Charlton goal for Chicksen, shooting from distance and beating the unfortunate Roos with a slight deflection, making it four with 14 still to play, and the fifth coming with five minutes remaining as Nicky Ajose finished superbly from the edge of the area.
No genius tactical strategy, merely a reward for direct attacking play and a brutal ruthlessness in front of goal.
And while Phillips recklessly hauling down Rory Gaffney inside the box gave Rovers the opportunity to grab a consolation goal in stoppage-time – the resulting spot-kick converted by Matty Taylor – it didn’t prevent this being a near complete performance, let alone taint the result.
Robinson, undoubtedly as impressed and pleased by the performance as those supporters who had travelled to Bristol, will soon learn that leading the Addicks isn’t as easy as this result suggests. Joyous results a distraction from the cancer that Duchatelet his inflicted upon the club.
But, if nothing else, he will inherit a side who seem to have discovered some confidence while Nugent has been their fostered leader.
A result of this nature made even more remarkable given that a victory of any kind seemed unlikely before kick-off.
The Addicks, without a manager and without a win away from home since August, were left without their first choice goalkeeper. A hip injury making Rudd unavailable, and forcing Nugent into handing Phillips a Football League debut.
With Ricky Holmes, Chris Solly and Lee Novak also missing out as a result of injury, and the questionable decision made to start Chicksen over both Johnnie Jackson and Jordan Botaka on the left side of midfield, it was fair to suggest that a depleted Charlton side took the Memorial Stadium pitch.
Meanwhile, Darrell Clarke was able to recall top scorer Taylor to his starting XI, and it was the prolific forward who had the game’s first opening. A miscommunication between Bauer, who had won absolutely everything and looked unbeatable up until this point, and Kevin Foley allowed Taylor in behind, but Phillips did well to deny to the striker from a relatively tight angle.
That chance in contrast to the overall pattern of the game’s opening exchanges, with both teams looking comfortable on the ball but both defences in no mood to be beaten. Bauer quickly returning to his Berlin Wall impression, while Tom Lockyer and Clarke-Salter, by winning the majority of aerial challenges and quickly halting any runs, had Magennis and Ajose under control.
It beginning to seem like this stalemate would only be broken by an out-of-character defensive capitulation from one of the sides, so serious questions were asked when Byron Moore was left totally unmarked with the Addicks slow to react to a quickly-taken Rovers corner. His header, thankfully, directed wide, but Phillips and Jason Pearce unforgiven as they looked around for answers from their teammates.
Answers wanted from those in backline, but they instead received one moments later from a duo found further forward.
Magennis, mistiming jumps and committing unnecessary fouls, had struggled to make his usual impression on the game, but a superb chested control of a long ball forward and subsequent knock into the path of Lookman was much more in character.
A touch inside giving the teenager a sight of goal and, with a roar of expectation from the travelling supporters behind him, the confidence to try his luck. His effort powerful, and probably goalbound without the deflection that followed, but the slight deviation giving Roos absolutely no chance. The Addicks, slightly against the run of play, had found a way to take the lead.
And with the goal coming somewhat against the run of play, a sense of nervousness was tainting the joy in the away end. A lead that felt uncomfortable from the moment Lookman had broken free from the mob of teammates that celebrated with him.
Though Magennis would soon volley over from a tight angle, it apparent that the hosts posed some sort of threat. Phillips warming up for what was to come with a marvellous reaction save to prevent Taylor’s attempt to turn a cross goalwards with his hand, thankfully spotted by the officials.
As such, another Charlton move against the overall pattern of play culminating in a superb goalline clearance from Lockyer felt like a huge moment. Lookman and Magennis combining again, with the winger playing through the Northern Ireland international, but the Gas defender able to get back and acrobatically clear after Magennis’ attempt had cleared Roos.
For the threat that Rovers were flirting with posing was soon unleashed. Chris Lines’ corners causing great concern for the Addicks, and the combination of Bauer and the post just about managed to keep Clarke-Salter’s out.
The danger far from over, however, as another inviting delivery was sent into the box to be met by the head of Clarke-Salter once again. A powerful nod, that seemed goalbound, or at least it would have been had Phillips not pulled off an excellent reaction save to tip the effort over the bar. The goalkeeper immediately congratulated by his teammates.
And, with Rovers now knocking the ball around nicely and Charlton struggling to regain composure, the inexperienced goalkeeper was called upon to be saviour once again. Taylor played through, sighs from around the away that suggested supporters were resigning themselves to a Rovers equaliser, but Phillips denying the forward from point-blank range.
“Dillon, Dillon, Dillon,” was unfortunately all the travelling supporters could come up with to honour their stopper. But his importance in the Addicks going in at the break with a two-goal advantage was lost on no one.
There no doubt the complexion of the game would have changed completely had the hosts made their pressure count, so it was really Phillips who provided the assist for Magennis’ goal on the stroke of half-time. The forward turning in Chicksen’s low cross at the front post, and doubling Charlton’s advantage just moments after it seemed like they were going to lose it altogether.
A reminder not to get too carried away issued before the break, as an unchallenged Taylor nodded a Moore delivery over the bar, but the brilliance of Phillips and some attacking ruthlessness had seemingly put the Addicks on course for victory.
It would, however, have been naïve to think that there wouldn’t have been a response from Rovers at the start of the second period. Clarke immediately shuffling his pack, with Peter Hartley and Charlie Colkett introduced.
So Bauer’s powerful downward header five minutes into the half was arguably as important as the first and second goals. The German rising highest to convert Lookman’s corner, and all but confirming victory. The celebrations on the pitch and in the away ends suggesting that the “all but” wasn’t necessary.
As did Rovers’ desperation, and subsequent tameness. A third substitution made immediately, with Ellis Harrison thrown on, and the forward finding himself in a scoring position less than a minute later. The ball played across the box by Leadbitter, but the Wales U21 international horribly blasting off-target.
In fact, despite having been guilty of becoming cautious and negative after taking the lead on numerous occasions this season, it was Charlton who looked the side most likely to score the game’s next goal. As anti-regime chants were heard, offering a reminder that no success can distract from the damage Duchatelet and Katrien Meire have caused, Chicksen broke into the box but Roos, having looked uncomfortable for the duration of the evening, finally managed to make a save.
This as joyous as the three-goal lead; the fact the Addicks were continuing to attack and possessing a sense of ruthlessness. Desperate defending required to halt another forward move, as Lockyer turned behind a cross-cum-shot from Ajose after the forward had broken into the box.
So desperate, in fact, that a Rovers body was lost in the melee required to turn the ball behind. Clarke-Salter dislocating a shoulder, the stretcher required, and Rovers reduced to ten men for the remaining 25 minutes.
The break in play actually working in the favour of the hosts, halting Charlton’s momentum and giving them an opportunity to recompose themselves. Taylor getting into a shooting position on the edge of the box, and firing narrowly wide with Phillips well beaten.
But this was simply not the Gas’ night, and everything was going the way of the Addicks. Not that it wasn’t deserved, as Chicksen drove forward and saw a deflected effort beat Roos. A slight look of embarrassment on the full-back-cum-winger’s face, but his goal a reward for being ambitious and adventurous despite already having such a dominant lead.
There no doubt that Rovers had completely capitulated but, to their credit, there was no sense that they, or their supporters, had given up. Still noise being created by the home fans as Taylor’s free-kick deflected just wide, and Leadbitter’s effort from distance climbed over the bar.
As such, they probably didn’t deserve any further suffering, but the Addicks continued to attack, and continued to be rewarded. A good finish from Ajose, cutting into space and driving powerfully towards goal, but Roos all over the place again as Charlton found a fifth. Quite remarkable.
Given the manner in which everything was going the way of Nugent’s side, the awarding of a penalty to Rovers in stoppage-time didn’t seem that alarming. The pattern of the game suggested that Taylor wouldn’t convert from the spot after Phillips had floored Gaffney.
The prolific forward making no mistake, however. Finishing coolly from the spot, and giving Rovers a consolation goal that made their defeat no less painful.
In fact, the Addicks were up the other before the referee could blow the final whistle attempting to inflict more misery on the opposition and provide more barely believable joy for their supporters. Ajose rounding Roos, but a combination of the goalkeeper and a handful of defenders just about manager to prevent the forward from forcing the ball over the line.
Pushing for more, but Charlton were ultimately forced to settle for five. Enough to bring delight the travelling supporters, who were appreciative of the efforts of those representing their side, and Nugent. Joyous scenes come full-time.
Joyous scenes that again offered a distraction from the chaos and crisis. The chaos and crisis that Nugent will soon escape from, despite overseeing such a wonderful performance, and that Robinson will soon discover, despite being given a different sort of impression this evening.
It to the immense credit of both Nugent and the players he has temporarily led that they have performed with such professionalism and quality in the previous two games, despite the circumstances suggesting doing so would be incredibly challenging.
But to perform in such a ruthless manner, earning a 5-1 win that will be retold like many other unbelievable away victories, is simply outstanding.
From front to back, the Addicks were excellent. The importance of Phillips, in making saves at crucial moments, obvious, but Bauer’s determined resistance when Rovers were applying pressure at 0-0 and 1-0 was just as vital. Foley and Fox close to faultless.
Lookman a constant threat, Chicksen grew into the game after an indifferent start, while Andrew Crofts and Fredrik Ulvestad sat relatively deep and did the simple stuff well in order to keep Charlton ticking over.
Ajose had been frustrating, but his goal made up for that, and Magennis was absolutely superb from the moment he provided the assist for Lookman’s goal. The Northern Ireland international unplayable thereafter.
Individually excellent, and collectively showing the attacking potential that this side has shown in glimpses throughout the season. With the confidence to attack, and a ruthless mentality, they can score goals. Not five every week, of course, but they can provide a serious test for opposition defences.
That something that Robinson will have to harness. He’ll also have to work out how to deal with those above him, and I fear that his rather arrogant character means he’s naïve to what he’s actually walking into.
But the base set before Russell Slade’s strange sacking, and the confidence that Nugent has managed to instil in this side in a difficult moment, will at least make getting the best out of this group a little lest testing for the latest boss willing to live under Duchatelet and Meire’s reign.