There a sense in the latter stages of the second period, among those Charlton Athletic supporters who occupied the Roots Hall away end, that the efforts of Dillon Phillips and Joe Aribo would ultimately be futile.
Phillips marvellous in the Charlton goal, denying an attack-minded Southend United on several occasions. An outstanding fingertip save to prevent Anthony Wordsworth from scoring the highlight of an excellent display of shot-stopping.
Aribo, on his full league debut, composed, dynamic, and creative in the centre of midfield. No sense at all that the teenager was overawed, as he carried the ball forward with intent and attempted to create for a team still lacking in cohesion and fluency.
But it appeared a Southend goal, scored 24 minutes into the first half as Karl Robinson’s men struggled to make an impression in the opening 45, would be enough to send Phillips, Aribo and all of Charlton’s side and supporters back to South East London without any reward.
Simon Cox, not properly pressured by Josh Magennis, allowed to squirm into space inside the penalty box following a corner that wasn’t dealt with, and finish with all the composure of the experienced forward the former Nottingham Forest man is.
The Addicks second best, and deserving of at least the punishment Cox provided. It hard to argue, come half-time, that Phil Brown’s men hadn’t done enough to warrant a larger advantage.
So when the visitors responded in the second period, as Southend shot-stopper Ted Smith was called into action on several occasions, those in the away end had their own goalkeeper to thank for such pressure still being meaningful.
A game that, on several occasions, should have been put to bed by the Shrimpers, and would have been had it not been for Phillips, along with the occasional bit of Southend wastefulness in front of goal.
It meant that Charlton’s attacking efforts still stood to produce reward. That pressure was still being placed on Southend, and there always a chance of an equaliser despite what appeared a reasonably large gap between the two sides. That Aribo’s quality, including an effort that struck the crossbar, mattered.
But as full-time approached, hope was fading. The visitors lacking something definitive in the final third, and the hosts always threatening on the break. A second Southend goal as likely as a Charlton equaliser, though the advantage the Shrimpers already had appeared enough.
Enough until Aribo found space on the edge of Southend’s area, and found the delivery of real quality that he and his teammates had not been able to produce for much of the afternoon. Andrew Crofts connecting, and volleying home via the crossbar in the game’s 89th minute. Unexpected scenes of joy and relief in a packed away end.
A fair conclusion? Maybe not. Maybe Southend should have killed the game off long before Crofts’ strike bounced back off the bar.
But, if not simply reward for the increase in pressure during the second period, then this an equaliser that Phillips’ determination and Aribo’s drive warranted.
A full league debut for 19-year-old Aribo, but the absence of another teenager claiming the bulk of the attention as the team news was released at Roots Hall.
Following a week of speculation, suggesting Ademola Lookman would be joining Everton upon the opening of the transfer window, the highly-rated winger was not involved in the squad. Illness the official line, but quite apparent this absence would become a permanent one.
Lookman replaced in the starting XI by Adam Chicksen, while Aribo’s opportunity coming as a result of the groin injury that was keeping Johnnie Jackson out of the side. The skipper, instead, offering coaching assistance during the warm-up.
His assistance, however, not enough to prevent an erratic start to the game from the Addicks. Not one that left you longing for Lookman, with Aribo already making a positive impression as Charlton looked to get forward, but one that increased concern with the reliability of the back four.
Magennis heading over from Nicky Ajose’s delivery, before Fox was very fortunate not to be punished having cheaply conceded possession to Will Atkinson deep inside his own half. An early sign of the intensity to be found in Southend’s midfield.
Intensity that meant the Addicks were struggling to put a proper impression on this game in its opening stages. Those in blue first to loose balls, while those in red were far too generous in their conceding of possession. Robinson’s men not without the quality that allowed them to push forward, but finding it difficult to settle.
The positive response from the away end, packed and attempting to make their voices heard above a vocal home support, to Ajose volleying a half-cleared corner back towards the hands of Smith suggested this might be the moment where Charlton finally started to settle. But the visiting Addicks would be flushed with panic barely a minute later.
Stephen McLaughlin allowed far too much time and space as he drove through the centre of midfield, leaving the Irishman to try his luck from 25 yards without a red shirt applying any pressure whatsoever. Phillips beaten, and the ball flashing narrowly past his far post.
A wake-up call? Possibly. Signs of encouragement still being offered in and around the opposition’s penalty box, as fantastic hold-up play from Magennis was followed by a clever turn and shot on his weaker left foot. Smith, initially unsighted, getting down well to keep out the attempt.
Alas, the qualities and cohesion being shown when the side were without the ball remained troublesome. Too easily were they carrying the ball through midfield, while the wide areas, with an out of position Ezri Konsa and an out of form Fox, were being heavily exploited. A free-kick won by McLaughlin in one such attempt to burst down the left flank, though enough pressure was applied to Ryan Leonard in the centre to prevent his resulting header from testing Phillips.
It was, however, merely a pre-curser for the defensive failings that were to follow, which were to be more significantly punished. McLaughlin troublesome again, and Konsa forced into conceding a corner, from which Charlton’s defending was indecisive.
Cox ultimately able to hold up the ball inside the box, despite having Magennis on his back, take several touches to turn towards goal, and fire beyond a sea of bodies into the bottom corner to give the hosts a 24th minute lead. Well taken, no question, but this a goal that could have so easily been prevented.
The Addicks who occupied the away end loyal and willing to give up part of their New Year’s Eve to support their side, but it no wonder frustration was obvious from the moment Cox sprinted away in celebration. Gifting a side an opener who came into the game without defeat in 11 was simply not acceptable.
An immediate response, therefore, desperately required. Aribo had been linking up nicely with Fox and Chicksen on the left for much of the half, and found a way into the box with their assistance just beyond the half hour. A fingertip from Smith needed to make sure his effort across the face of goal veered off-target.
But what Aribo was producing, beyond expectation for someone so young and inexperienced, was in contrast to the rest of a side that had grown increasingly sluggish and sloppy. Defensive errors being repeated, as Michael Timlin was allowed to burst forward unchallenged, though thankfully firing more comfortably off-target, before a horrid effort from Fox resulted in boos from the away end.
Half-time approaching and, as such, a longing for the interval growing. An improvement in intensity, organisation and fluency would see the Addicks compete, but it felt that was not going to happen while they continued to perform so erratically, and with heads low, in what remained of the first period.
And so, two saves from Phillips prior to the break proved particularly important in the context of this game. Southend prevented from making their lead insurmountable by the fingertips and palms of this young goalkeeper, and meaning the Addicks could reappear for the second period knowing their deficit was only one.
First, the young shot-stopper saved superbly from Wordsworth’s goalbound effort. A reflex dive, responding to the emphatic strike from just outside the area, and an extended arm doing just enough to tip the ball around the post.
Appreciation from the travelling supporters, though little from his teammates, who might well have known their goalkeeper’s task was not yet done in this half. Cox again able to create space for himself just inside Charlton’s box, volleying towards the bottom corner. A more comfortable save from the 21-year-old, but a strong and important save nonetheless.
If not the determination of their goalkeeper, then the boos that serenaded the Addicks as they left the pitch at half-time provided a reminder to those in red that improvement was required. For themselves, to get back into this encounter, and to reward supporters and hard-working teammates alike. Ulvestad’s horribly wayward effort seconds into the start of the second period not quite what was in mind.
More promising was, after Aribo had drawn a foul from Timlin, Ajose’s free-kick delivery to the back post. An unmarked Teixeira awaited, seemingly set to equalise for the Addicks, but his first time dab towards goal had too much loft behind it, and was helped on its path over the bar by the fingertips of Smith. Promising, but so too a real wasted opening.
A wasted opening that should have been made even more costly when Southend next attacked. Dire, dire defending from the Addicks resulting in the ball falling to an unchallenged McLaughlin inside the box. Opting for power rather than placement, the Irishman’s effort canned back off the far post when it seemed easier to score.
So with Southend still carrying the same threat, or Charlton still showing concerning signs defensively, but the Addicks looking more threatening in attack, it felt that the cliché of the next goal would almost certainly prove match-defining. Ulvestad’s flighted effort from the edge of the box looked destined for the back of the net, but still the fingertips of Smith had other ideas.
And from the resulting corner, there was more frustration, as Fox was left with his head in his hands after the cleanest contact he had made with a ball all afternoon resulted in a volleyed effort well-saved by the increasingly defiant Smith. You could no longer question Charlton’s intensity or cohesion, as you might have done in the opening 45, but there was no reward for this improvement.
In fact, there a feeling that this improvement would ultimately go completely unrewarded as more marvellous work from the feet of Aribo saw his curling effort strike the crossbar. Though the Addicks probably should have been trailing by more than one, you still had the impression that this wasn’t to be Charlton’s day.
At least Anton Ferdinand was able to provide some light relief. Having won a free-kick by his own corner flag, having been barged by Magennis, a Charlton supporter pointed out that he is “just a shit Rio”. A comment the younger Ferdinand brother has clearly heard many times before, turning to the away end with a smirk, saying “I know”, and getting a high five off teammate Atkinson.
More welcome relief, however, would have come in the shape of Ferdinand’s defence crumbling and a goal being scored.
Though as stoppage-time drew closer, and the away end began to mix subdued emotions with anti-Duchatelet chants, it seemed that a second Southend goal was the more likely outcome.
A Charlton body and Phillips’ fingertips were required to prevent the net from rippling, but Atkinson would have felt extremely disappointed not to have finished from deep inside the box following a cut-back, while half of Roots Hall were celebrating before Marc-Antoine Fortune had made contact with the ball, such was the belief that the forward would score, and not nod wide. Southend again wasting excellent chances to kill the game off.
And so, though they could feel frustrated by Phillips’ brilliance, the Shrimpers could feel no sense of injustice as Aribo delivered from the edge of the box in the game’s 89th minute.
Crofts, popping up at a vital time to score his first Charlton goal, connecting emphatically with the cross, and volleying beyond Smith with the assistance of the crossbar.
The celebrations suggesting that, in the week that Duchatelet’s latest words of wisdom implied creating a social event was more important than delivering success, those in the away end were relatively pleased with their brief moment of success.
The briefest moment of joy and relief to end this torrid year on.
An argument, of course, that this brief moment of joy was achieved in fortuitous circumstances. There no doubt that, on several occasions, Southend should have taken advantage of lacklustre Charlton defending to double their lead. Victory for the Shrimpers would not have been an injustice.
But so too is there as strong an argument that those celebrations that followed Crofts’ goal came as a consequence of collective determination and individual quality within the Charlton side.
The Addicks something of a mess in the first half, and with no attacking quality to mask the extent of their defensive chaos. And though defensive improvements were not seen too heavily, the attacking intent and determination that appeared after the interval enough to suggest the visitors had threatened enough to warrant scoring.
So too did the individual performances of Phillips and Aribo warrant rewarding. Nurtured talents, in their first season of League football, offering wonderful determination with fantastic saves, and quality creative play both with the match-saving assist and in general.
Always greater pleasure to be taken in performances of homegrown players at a time when the club is controlled by a regime intent on stripping all sense of connection that exists between supporters and club.
Regardless, whether a fortuitous point or not, it’s a point worth taking. Away at an in-form side, this a result that may have exceeded the expectations of many. And provided a wonderful moment of celebration.
Alas, there is not getting away from the fact that that moment of celebration was merely a brief one. A brief one to end a torrid year. The reality, in addition to the disconnection and anger created by a poisonous regime, is that the Addicks sit among League One’s also-rans, a long way off the play-offs, and a long way from being the finished article under Robinson.
A performance that had encouraging aspects to it, maybe more so than in the victory over MK Dons, but so too a performance that featured repetitive mistakes, defensive uncertainty, and a familiar lack of cohesion and fluency at times.
Nonetheless, these gritty results do provide a base. A base that, once Robinson’s side has had bodies taken from it, bodies added to it, and functioning bodies returned to it, will hopefully be built from.
In a year contaminated with embarrassing performances, results so poor that relegation from the Championship couldn’t be avoided and competing in League One wasn’t possible, and Roland Duchatelet continued his destruction of Charlton Athletic looking back some of the worst moments of 2016 isn’t exactly an appetising prospect.
The side pathetic, four managers failing to succeed at a crisis club, and the regime antagonising supporters at every opportunity. If there wasn’t disconnection by the end of 2015, there certainly is now.
Karel Fraeye’s management, Katrien Meire’s lies, and Duchatelet’s overall running of the Addicks among the things that have contributed to a gruesome 2016.
Two pieces to follow looking back at some of the very worst moments in a year of endless bleak moments.
As I sit writing this, almost a year after his tenure as interim-but-not-interim head coach came to an end, I still feel insulted that Karel Fraeye was allowed to lead our football club.
Not simply a pathetic head coach, employed for no other reason than that he would obey every order the regime sent his way, but a pathetic individual. To take on such a role, you must lack any sort of ambition, self-respect or character. Fraeye desperately lacking in all three qualities, let alone actual managerial qualities.
Worse was still to come, with the 5-0 defeat at Huddersfield Town that would follow three days later, before Fraeye was finally relieved of his ‘interim’ duties, but it the effort in defeat to Colchester United in the FA Cup that confirmed not even this soulless and scandalous could continue to justify the unjustifiable.
For the Addicks were completely outplayed. Not by a contemporary, but by a club who sat in League One’s bottom four, and whose forward line was led by Marvin Sordell. A Marvin Sordell that was allowed to imitate prime Darren Bent by Naby Sarr and Roger Johnson, a centre-back pairing that brings shudders when thinking about it.
The former Charlton loanne doubling the home side’s lead just before the break, adding to George Moncur’s opener. Both goals taken well, but largely the result of dreadful defending from the Addicks.
“Stand up if you’re 2-0 up” coming from the home supporters, followed by “stand up if you want them out” coming from the away end. Effectively the entire away end on their feet.
And though Reza Ghoochannejhad pulled a goal back in stoppage-time, a 2-1 defeat was incredibly flattering on Charlton, and particularly Fraeye. Embarrassing.
Embarrassment at Colchester, and a complete capitulation at Huddersfield. At least Fraeye’s reign was over, the re-appointed Jose Riga – the best of Duchatelet’s mates – offered some hope of improvement on the pitch, and the trip to Hull simply couldn’t be any worse than what had been witnessed over the previous seven days.
Alas, this beleaguered group of Addicks neither had the confidence nor quality to contend with the Tigers. Some justification for the defeat given that Hull City were second in the division, and would ultimately achieve promotion, but no justification for another complete capitulation. One that suggested not even Riga’s sense and composure could prevent relegation.
A mere 39 minutes all that was required for the hosts to have a four-goal advantage. Those wearing red and white could have been replaced by training ground manikins and no one inside the KC Stadium would have noticed.
Rhys Williams gifting the ball to Abel Hernandez for his first of three goals, an incompetent backline collectively standing off the forward for his second, and Robert Snodgrass also given all the time in the world to pick his spot for Hull’s third. A little over half an hour played.
Hernandez allowed to seal his hat-trick before the interval, with the Addicks effectively watching as a simple but skillful passing move from the Tigers ended with the Uruguayan converting from close range. Few in the away end, many of who had seen nine goals conceded in 135 minutes of football, but their boos loud enough to be heard at half-time. Anger, resentment, and a sense of resignation to relegation and failure while Duchatelet’s regime remained in control.
Those supporters would still have to witness two further strikes against their side. Mo Diame’s effort a lovely first time finish from the edge of the box, while Isaac Hayden’s deflected strike added a sixth ten minutes from time.
There have been many unbearable weeks in 2016, but the worst, most certainly when only considering on-the-pitch events, was the second full week of the year.
Incredibly, in spite of that torrid beginning to 2016, there was a degree of hope and confidence as Charlton welcomed Bristol City to The Valley.
The clash against a fellow side with fears of relegation coming after a 4-1 victory away at Rotherham United. Riga’s side performing superbly at the New York Stadium, and instilling supporters with the belief that his management would get a side with at least a degree of quality to perform on a consistent enough basis to avoid the drop.
At the very least, there every chance Riga’s side would offer considerable more fight. No more half-hearted, gutless efforts in defeat.
Alas, the defeat that followed to the Robins was very much half-hearted and gutless. A real blow for those who had seen hope restored seven days previously.
City, who had new boss Lee Johnson watching from the stands, may have only won by a single goal, but the difference was much greater than Lee Tomlin’s 21st minute strike. Richard O’Donnell completely untroubled in the visitors’ goal, the Robins in complete control of possession and first to every loose ball, and the Addicks simply not showing enough quality or character to suggest they were ever likely to get back into the game after falling behind.
Not only knocking the Addicks back down to earth and reality, but down to the bottom of the Championship.
The game against Reading features in my reflection of some of the better moments of the year, given the chance it offered to appreciate Yann Kermorgant, but despite the Covered End emotionally applauding the Frenchman after scoring for the Royals, there was still a game to win.
A game that seemed would end in defeat when Ola John gave the visitors a 3-1 lead before the break. Reading scintillating, but the Addicks absolutely woeful.
So the performance of Charlton in the second period, and in particular the efforts of hat-trick hero Yaya Sanogo, was incredible. The Arsenal loanee, who had immediately responded to Kermorgant giving the Royals a fourth minute lead with a superbly taken equaliser two minutes later, restoring a degree of faith five minutes into the second half. A fantastic Rod Fanni delivery headed home by the French forward, despite Ali Al-Habsi’s best efforts.
A commendable effort from Riga’s men in searching for the equaliser, but it appeared it would not be coming. That until Sanogo pounced on a parried Johann Berg Gudmundsson to seal his hat-trick and, seemingly, a point for the Addicks with four minutes to play. Wild celebrations around The Valley.
Alas, there still time for Charlton’s pathetic defence to capitulate once again. The point lost as a poorly defended free-kick found its way to Deniss Rakels at the far post, and the forward finished with great composure from a relatively tight angle. The scenes in the away ending joyous, and in complete contrast to the utter despair to be found around the home ends of The Valley.
A goal that summed up Charlton’s failings, and showed they neither had the character nor resolve to fight against relegation.
How do you respond to protesting supporters, expressing legitimate feelings of anger, disapproval, and disconnection? Logic suggests you would promise to make changes, or at least attempt to make some kind of connection with them in order to understand how to get those fans back on side.
Duchatelet, however, had a different idea. The best way to deal with legitimate protesters, who make up the majority of your fan base, is to insult them. Obviously.
“Some individuals seem to want the club to fail,” hilariously aimed at supporters by the man who has turned the club into a failure.
That followed by a desperate, and rather odd, attempt to justify Meire’s infamous “weird customers” effort. We’re unique, apparently, and not simply weird customers. Which is nice.
A nice foundation set for Duchatelet to continue to ignore his own wrongdoing, and persistently insult the supporters he’s attempting to win back. Weird bloke.
You can take several moments in the first half of 2016 and say that was where relegation became certain. I struggled to convince myself survival was possible following the Bristol City defeat, some would have been without hope prior to Fraeye’s sacking, and others losing faith during the spell that saw Riga’s Charlton fail to follow up impressive victories with a consecutive positive result.
But the defeat that, without mathematically condemning the Addicks to League One, confirmed for all that there would be no miracle escape was inflicted by Derby County in the 42nd league game of the campaign. Enough to mean no one would have complained had the ‘R’ prematurely appeared next to Charlton’s name in the table.
It not necessarily the most turgid performance, with the Rams placed under a degree of pressure at the start of the second period with the game still goalless. Igor Vetokele striking against the post, and Jorge Teixeira bundling a header over the line only to be penalised for pushing former Charlton goalkeeper Scott Carson as he challenged for the ball.
But once Derby had taken the lead, with Johnny Russell converting from a corner after an hour, the Addicks were beaten. Beaten and relegated. An acceptance among a deflated side, and a resignation among a Valley crowd that had suffered too much.
Enough to leave the Addicks 11 points from safety that effectively became 12 when goal difference was considered. An insurmountable gap.
Can you think of a more fitting way for Charlton’s relegation to be confirmed than by a goalless draw on a Tuesday night away at a club who had already had their drop to League One sealed? A dull, grim, and soulless final 90 minutes before fight and determination could no longer be rewarded
For stalemate against Bolton Wanderers at the Macron Stadium condemned the Addicks to the third tier. A fate that most had long been accepting of, but that not to say the confirmation didn’t bring with it sadness and despair. That, and the occasional burst of anger towards this Duchatelet-orchestrated demise.
The game a lifeless encounter between two sides with quality that made their place in the Championship table fitting, and the sort of character that meant there could be no complaints about their punishment. Neither side creating a real opportunity to break the deadlock, and Charlton seemingly willing to accept their fate.
Though those representing the Addicks not willing to approach their supporters at full-time, at a moment where doing so was the minimum expectation. Jackson, still loved and appreciated in this context of failure, leading a small group over, but many hid. Hid, as they had done all season.
There no longer any getting away from the fact Charlton were a League One club, and that Duchatelet and Meire had failed.
In many ways, the act of Riga resigning wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Duchatelet’s most trust boss with a solid regime connection, leaving to allow managers with English experiences to be appointed.
But Riga’s words upon his resignation, coming directly after the final-day defeat to Burnley, offered a reflection of the state of the club under this regime. A long-serving ally of the regime too unhappy with the way Chrlton was being wrong to continue working with the club.
The Belgian not simply resigning as a cowardly reaction to relegation, and not that he thought he was “better than League One”. But Riga suggesting he was able to work and succeed in the conditions that the regime had imposed on the club.
“You succeed in a season before the season when you have the right choices. But it’s more than just about players – it’s the club structure,” as he confirmed his decision to quit following the Burnley defeat.
The final confirmation at the end of a horrendous campaign, filled with horrendous acts by the regime and horrendous performances, that the club could hardly be in a worse state.
Katrien Meire has spent 2016 failing, lying, and insulting both the club and its supporters at any opportunity. That she remains in her position as CEO is a reflection of her pathetic character, and Duchatelet’s unwillingness to correct failure.
A reflection of her pathetic character, too, that she would pay a four-figure-sum to attend the Telegraph Business of Sport Conference, and flood the room in crocodile tears when those on stage, quite justifiably, criticised Charlton and the manner in which it is being run.
But, of course, they were wrong. The media are wrong. Charlton fans are wrong. Football followers in general are wrong.
“We’ve got the most affordable season tickets, we invest in our community, we invest in our academy,” she said from the audience.
“We spend £30m in less than two years of ownership. And yes, we got it wrong with the managers and the players, but that happens, that’s why clubs get relegated, that doesn’t mean that everything else is shit.”
Fair enough, she’s going to defend the club, because that’s her role, but it quickly became an attack on supporters.
“For the last couple of months, I’ve had extreme abuse, I’ve had criminal offences committed against myself, and I’m disappointed about governance in sport, that none of the governing bodies contacted me and stood up for the fact that things are not allowed, that’s one step too far,” said Meire, behind her expensive produced crocodile tears.
“I also ask the governing bodies in this country, that sometimes some of the fans have crossed the line, very far, and this is just acceptable. It’s been reported by the media as it’s normal and it’s actually not, and the governing bodies have a responsibility to make people aware that that is not what sport is about.”
Interesting, really, that Charlton supporters have followed the law in their protests, but Meire would rather ignore that. Rather ignore her own horrendous failings, and pretend she’s the victim.
It no wonder there’s no relationship between club and supporters.
Part Two to follow
For many supporters of Charlton Athletic, their favourite moment of 2016 will be when it comes to an end.
A torrid year to be an Addick. A year stained by defeats, disconnection, and a disasterous regime. Few memorable victories, many feeling forced to stay away from The Valley, and the constant failings of Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire.
And so shifting through 12 months of misery to find rare moments of joy is not the easiest of tasks. It not simply a case of listing some impressive victories, especially with many of the most impressive victories coming on the same days as Charlton supporters showed their togetherness and much-celebrated strength.
Moments extracted from the rare wins, but so too moments that allowed supporters to connect with their club, connect with the past, and connect with each other. Those particularly valued in 2016.
In chronological order, and over two parts, I’ll re-tell some of the more enjoyable Charlton-related events of this calendar year.
It says something about the leadership qualities of Johnnie Jackson that the skipper could inject some life into the club on the night of one of the most dreadful, embarrassing and disgraceful Charlton performances in my 13 seasons as a supporter.
For the Addicks had capitulated at the John Smith’s Stadium. Huddersfield helping themselves to a five-goal victory against a side who had no structure, no quality, and seemingly little willingness to fight. To lose by just five flattered this mess of a Charlton side, perfectly representing the state of the club.
So while the regime continued to inflict misery upon the club and its supporters, Karel Fraeye refused to speak to the media as the sack loomed, and Reza Ghoochannejhad was more than happy to effectively get himself sent-off, the skipper stood up.
He was not alone. Stephen Henderson, who had underperformed but was not a figure who needed to appease supporters, spoke in quite emotional terms post-match. But it was Jackson’s decision to organise for supporters who travelled to Yorkshire to be refunded that really stood out.
Normally, it’s quite easy to be cynical about players repaying supporters. A cheap publicity stunt, and nothing more. But as this was the club’s inspirational leader, in a time when the connection between the club and its supporters was fading rapidly, it mattered.
There many other individuals who needed to make more immediate apologies, but this was a reminder that, in spite of the cancer that runs through the club, there is one chap doing all he can to keep its heart beating.
There will be plenty that suggest Chris Powell’s TalkSPORT interview, in which he spoke with honesty and openness about his relationship with Duchatelet, was among the worst moments of the year. Hearing a Valley hero reveal the unfair treatment he suffered, in addition to his overall critical analysis of the regime, induced anger and disappointment.
Powell, with typical class and dignity, confirmed that Duchatelet had told him who to pick, but the flat-capped boss had always stood his ground. The promotion-winning manager aware from the moment the takeover was completed that he would not be in charge for much longer, unwanted players turning up at training unannounced, and questions always asked as to why the network recruits did not play.
So too did he show his understanding and appreciation for how many supporters felt, particularly getting on board with the idea that this regime were not aware of just how important the fans were in the history of this football club. This not a bitter rant, merely an expression of sadness and frustration.
But so too did it have an emphatic unifying effect. There still those uncertain as to whether Duchatelet’s ownership was the cancer that many suggested it was, even after the appointment of Karel Fraeye. It possible that the return of Jose Riga had convinced a section of Addicks to abandon their hostility towards the regime.
Powell’s words, however, reaffirmed the damage that Duchatelet’s ownership had done to the club, and brought supporters together behind the idea that this regime needed to depart.
There many moments prior to this that increased the opposition to the regime, but this felt like the one that really united the majority of supporters behind a single cause.
The confidence gained, and the belief that avoiding relegation might be possible, was immediately crushed by the defeat to Bristol City a week later, but Charlton’s first win after Jose Riga’s return provided at least a brief moment where survival seemed realistic.
For the Addicks were ruthless at the New York Stadium, earning a 4-1 victory over Rotherham United that was not at all flattering. A performance that would have been exceptional in any circumstance, but more so given the fact it came just two games after all confidence had seemingly been stripped from the side at the KC Stadium. An almost immediate response to the 6-0 defeat to Hull City not anticipated.
A touch of early panic as, after the heavily criticised Simon Makienok had put the Addicks ahead and shh-ed the away end in celebration, Chris Burke curtailed Charlton’s joy. Disjointed defending allowing the Scot to quickly draw the Millers level.
Previous evidence, and the mentality of this Charlton side, said an impressive capitulation would now follow. Instead, an incredibly high work rate was maintained, and their efforts were rewarded just before the break as the tireless Igor Vetokele converted from the exceptional Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s delivery.
And with momentum now firmly theirs, the Addicks were able to give themselves what appeared an unassailable advantage after the break. Makienok, enjoying one of his better afternoons in a Charlton shirt, heading in from Gudmundsson’s corner.
Victory effectively sealed as Jonson Clarke-Harris blasted a penalty, awarded after he was hauled down by Jorge Teixeira, deep into the travelling Addicks, and all but confirmed with a well taken fourth goal from Ademola Lookman.
This a first league win in 12 games, and a third away victory in the space of 12 months. A club still in crisis, the bottom three still occupied, and a final chant of “we want Roland out” before the away end emptied, but this was genuinely encouraging.
A shame that encouragement was entirely misplaced.
CARD’s Billboard (06/02/2016)
The protest group might not have achieved their ultimate goal, but the impact that the Coalition Against Roland Duchatelet have had in 2016 is unquestionably impressive.
Commendable amounts of organisation and effort behind eye-catching and often unique displays of opposition, drawing attention to the situation at The Valley from both the media and the wider footballing public. There no doubt about the failings of Duchatelet and Meire, not just in SE7 but all over, as a result of CARD’s protests.
A group that dismayed supporters have been able to unit behind, who have constantly held the club to account, and – given that they’ve acted within the law, donated funds to charity, and reinforced the need to support the team while opposing the regime – conducted themselves in a sensible manner.
But maybe CARD’s greatest strength is that they have a perfect understanding of what this club means to its supporters, and how soul destroying it is for long-serving fans to feel such a level of disconnection and apathy as a consequence of this regime. So often has Charlton’s past, and moments where supporters felt completely at one with their club, been utilised.
And maybe the greatest showing of that, both in terms of the understanding and making an emphatic point for all to see, is the first of many billboards that appeared at the start of February. A young boy standing in front of an unoccupied Valley, with the words “Here before you, and long after you’ve gone”.
A reminder of what Charlton’s supporters have achieved in the past, what they have previously fought for, and what they’re prepared to fight for now. A marvellous image, promoting an important.
It reinforcing the sense of community and togetherness among Addicks, and the belief that fans will ultimately be successful in forcing change at, and as such protecting, their club increased.
It revealing of the loss of connection with the current incarnation of Charlton Athletic that many supporters have suffered from throughout 2016 that reconnecting with a former hero, as he scored twice in front of the Covered End for his current employers, was among the more heartwarming moments of the year.
The reaction to Yann Kermorgant opening the scoring for Reading with a powerful header was not a celebration of Charlton’s failings, as some would like to suggest, but both an appreciation of a Valley hero mistreated by a poisonous regime, and a rejection of the actions of that regime.
Kermorgant’s reaction to giving the Royals a fourth minute lead almost apologetic, shyly acknowledging the Covered End before being mobbed by his teammates. By which time, the majority of the Covered End had risen to applaud the Frenchman. Not simply one or two supporters being a bit quirky, but a large number of Addicks showing appreciation to a player who had just scored against them.
There also applause for his second, a sublime top-corner finish, and appreciation for the forward come full-time, beating his chest and raising his clenched fist towards the Covered End in response. By which time, Kermorgant had provided the assist for Reading’s third goal, and seen Dennis Rakels’ 92nd minute winner make Yaya Sanogo’s hat-trick irrelevant.
But the real moment of emotion was in response to first goal. The unique scene of a set of home supporters applauding a goal scored by a visiting player explaining all you needed to know about the connection that still exists between Kermorgant and his former supporters.
There undoubtedly bitterness and pain, increasing as the Frenchman continued to deliver a sublime performance throughout the game, that a talismanic influence under Powell’s Charlton was inflicting damage upon the Addicks, but so too did his performance remind you of the days he performed like that in SE7 while wearing red.
Something he would still be doing were it not for the misguided and destructive decision-making of the regime.
There are those that suggest moving on, from both the decision to sell him and the man himself. But that reaction to his goal shows that supporters of the Addicks will maintain a permanent bond with the Frenchman. Kermorgant a cult hero.
It not simply the regularity with which Charlton have dropped points throughout 2016 that has left supporters disheartened and demoralised, but that manner in which those defeats have been suffered.
On several occasions, the effort, application and mental strength of both the individual and collective could be questioned. Particularly in the first half of the year, character is a quality that was often absent.
So when hard-fought victories came about, in circumstances where only a victory would do, they were valued and appreciated with even greater intensity. The fight and determination shown at Griffin Park in March mightily impressive among Riga’s men.
A Callum Harriott strike, cool and composed into the bottom corner, 30 seconds into the game suggested the Addicks might claim three points in West London with a complete and comfortable performance.
But Brentford, even when trailing, were by far the more threatening side. Nick Pope called upon to make several fine saves before Yoann Barbet equalised from a poorly defended Bees corner.
And it was the hosts who continued to look the most likely, putting the Addicks under immense pressure. Defending erratic, Brentford wasteful, and Charlton seemingly doing little but attempting to cling onto a point.
So Harriott’s second goal of the game, capitalising after the excellent Sanogo pressured David Button into spilling a Gudmundsson cross, undoubtedly came against the run of play. Incredible celebrations in the away terrace quickly replaced by a horrible sense of fear that the Bees would once again equalise with 21 minutes still to play.
Alas, there was a display of fight in those 21 minutes that had rarely been shown previously. Endless determination, courageous blocks, and every ball battled for. Teixeira leading an organised but hearty defence, and Sanogo excellent as an outlet further forward. Their efforts earning an unlikely victory.
An unlikely victory, but one that simply had to be gained. MK Dons and Rotherham winning elsewhere meant that, without these three points, the gap between Charlton and the bottom three would have effectively been 11 points.
Meaningless come May, but to see this sort of fight in adversity provided a rare moment of joy and pride to those who were in the Griffin Park away end.
Not particularly memorable for myself, as I decided to have a seizure midway through the second half and don’t really remember anything of the day even with written and photographic help, but I’m fairly sure that both the effort in protest against the regime and effort in victory over Middlesbrough were both rather spectacular.
With the game being broadcast by Sky Sports, Charlton supporters took advantage. A pre-game mock funeral march, hundreds of black and white beach balls invading the pitch on kick-off, and a 74th minute (reflecting the amount of goals that had been conceded by the Addicks up to that point) walk-out all executed impressively. A wider audience seeing the extent of unrest among Charlton fans, and as such the extent of the damage Duchatelet has done to the club, for possibly the first time.
Maybe most revealing to those watching at home was the volume of the “we want Roland out” chant that filled The Valley as the beach balls flooded the pitch. The funeral symbolic, the whistles blown at the start of the second half an annoyance simply intended to embarrass, and the number of committed supporters that left with 16 minutes still to play telling. But that chant was emphatic.
And with promotion-chasing Middlesbrough in a state of disarray after head coach Aitor Karanka had momentarily walked out on the club following a training ground argument, this Charlton side took advantage. Even with the absence of the Spaniard, there was an expectation that the relegation-threatened Addicks would wilt against promotion-chasing Boro, but they found a level of quality and determination that allowed them to succeed in their own adversity.
Required to show a level of stubbornness against high-class opposition, not least when Nick Pope pulled off a marvellous reaction save to prevent a Rod Fanni own goal, an unexpected reward for their grind arrived with 57 minutes as played as Jorge Teixeira headed home from an excellent Johann Berg Gudmundsson corner. Confirmation that it was the regime supporters were against, and not Charlton as a whole, with the energy behind the celebrations matching that put behind the protests.
And though many had exited The Valley, relocating to the back of the West Stand to protest, by the time Callum Harriott’s 80th minute goal had sealed an unlikely win, there no doubt that the determined performance and subsequent victory made a day in which supporters showed their own fighting spirit all the more enjoyable.
Or at least until they woke up in a hospital-like bed somewhere deep inside The Valley, bemused as to where the players and protesters were, with a heavily bitten tongue, a bloody nose, and a complete loss of awareness. Or was that just me?
If there were any doubts about where the loyalties of the protesting Addicks lie, they were laid to rest with the sound of celebration that bellowed out of the Covered End as Jorge Teixeira’s late, late header gave Charlton a vital victory over Birmingham City.
A huge collective roar emerging from behind the goal as the Portuguese centre-back connected with Ademola Lookman’s corner, and nodded beyond Thomas Kuszczak.
It a goal made all the sweeter not only because it came so late, but because the Addicks had overturned a deficit and recorded a victory that their efforts after going behind deserved.
The signs not promising after Jon Toral had converted from Paul Caddis’ delivery, but Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s deflected effort saw the hosts equalise almost immediately, and it was they who looked the most likely to record victory from that moment onward. Teixeira’s goal not fortunate, but a warranted moment of joy.
A wonderful moment in isolation, which allowed the fact results elsewhere had rendered the victory almost irrelevant to be ignored, and meant the need to force the regime out of the club could be momentarily pushed to one side.
Besides, the protesting efforts prior just after kick-off were once again mightily impressive. Motivation to be had for it not only from the regime’s persistent failings and Charlton’s position in the Championship table, but the fact the excellent Michael Morrison lined up for the Blues having been deemed not good enough in SE7.
A determined chorus of “we want Roland out” lasting for the length of the five minute delay that was instigated by a sea of soft mini-footballs flooding the pitch. Attention gained again, the passion and pride of Charlton supporters displayed, and Duchatelet and Meire embarrassed once more.
With relegation to League One confirmed, and Charlton’s immediate destiny therefore sealed, the battle to force Duchatelet’s regime out of the club, as such protecting its future, was the only focus for Addicks by the time of the penultimate home game of last season.
Wonderful timing, therefore, that Brighton and Hove Albion were the side to visit SE7 for the penultimate home game of last season. An old friend from battles past, fully aware of both the importance and potential impact of protest movements.
And so their assistance in opposing Duchatelet, both in and outside the ground, allowed for an emphatic day of protesting. The untenable position of the regime left in no doubt by the anger and emotion displayed by Addicks, and similar feelings expressed by Seagulls that reflected the perception of Duchatelet and Meire among everyone in the footballing community but themselves.
“We’re Brighton and Hove Albion, we want Roland out,” the Brighton fans sung as they joined in with a 5000-strong march that featured both blue and white and black and white. A sea of supporters, placards, and banners heading up Charlton Church Lane and down Floyd Road, with a huge Duchatelet balloon floating above them. The visiting supporters even to be found outside the West Stand, as feelings were made clear at the conclusion of the march.
And so too were the Seagulls on hand, with balloons and voices, to aid with the protesting efforts once the game, a sideshow for the Addicks but an important one for Brighton’s promotion hope, had got underway. Objects invading the pitch from all four sides of the ground, preventing play from truly getting underway for the best part of seven minutes, and the emphatic chorus of anti-Duchatelet chanting could be heard as strongly from the Covered End as the Jimmy Seed Stand.
A 3-1 victory for Brighton followed, with Charlton’s defence crumbling in rather pathetic fashion far too frequently to have any chance of being competitive, but there little focus or emotion invested in the contest itself. That Sam Baldock applauded the Covered End after giving the visitors the lead registering as much as anything else.
For this was a day where emotion, anger and opposition was expressed. Where the focus was solely on forcing out a regime who had destroyed a club and disconnected supporters. Where two sets of supporters did themselves proud.
This another afternoon in SE7 where home supporters had little to no interest in the game itself. Maybe not such a bad thing when you consider Burnley, recording a 3-0 victory and collecting the Championship title, gleefully took advantage of Charlton’s frailties. A 24th defeat of a horrendous league season, and enough for Jose Riga, resigning at full-time, to decide he’d had enough.
For though a tame defeat was a fitting conclusion to this campaign, the chaotic scenes of protest and anger provided powerful images. Images that would remain with supporters, who could be proud of their efforts, and the regime, who could be anything but, throughout the summer. A final display of fight from a set of fans who had suffered so much, but had shown an unrelenting amount of determination in the face of adversity.
There even attempts from the club itself to prevent protesting, or at least make it more challenging. Following a sit-in protest staged by the West Stand gates, supporters entering the ground were met with ‘amnesty bins’ and a giant netting that stretched the length of the Covered End.
Not enough to stop the displays of banners and placards calling for Duchatelet to sell the club, and songs asking for similar. In fact, those attempts didn’t even stop the placards being scrunched up and thrown on the pitch, let alone a smoke bomb and the chaos that followed thereafter.
For this afternoon will be remembered mostly for two displays of protest which have gained cult status. The first being a pair of supporters lowing a banner which read “LIAR” above the directors’ box, with an arrow pointed in the general of Meire. As if it wasn’t clear already, supporters were no longer willing to accept her meaningless and misguided words.
The second coming as both Charlton, in protest, and Burnley, in celebration, invaded the pitch at full-time. Maybe at this point a line, and not just the white ones around the pitch, was crossed. Heavy-handed stewards playing a large part in creating unsavoury scenes, which developing into both sets of supporters chanting for Duchatelet to depart in front of the directors’ box.
But while this was occurring, a symbol of this regime was attacked, never to be seen again thereafter. The fans’ sofa destroyed, to the joy of most inside The Valley.
And with that, both the clever and quirky displays of protest and the release of genuine anger, there could be no denying that Charlton supporters hadn’t done absolutely everything possible to force change at their club in the final few months of the season.
The stubbornness of this regime meant more would be required in the remaining seven months of the calendar year, but that not to say protesting Addicks couldn’t feel a sense of pride in their efforts.
At the very least, they could laugh and smile at the ‘LIAR’ banner and the sofa being destroyed. Something they hadn’t been able to do much in SE7 in the first half of 2016.
While Karl Robinson was still searching for his first win as boss of Charlton Athletic, there were understandable feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. A lack of definitive faith in him, and a side that were failing to impress.
So the win over MK Dons on Boxing Day should allow this group of Addicks to approach the trip to Southend United with a greater degree of confidence. Allow supporters to make the journey on New Year’s Eve with less concern. Allow Robinson to approach the fixture with less pressure on his shoulders.
The problem, however, is that a better side, a more potent side, would have beaten the Addicks on Boxing Day. Robinson himself admitting that the performance was poor, with it hard to argue that Charlton’s single goal victory was entirely deserved, and supporters in the away end exiting Stadium MK feeling very fortunate.
Southend, unfortunately, are that better side. The Shrimpers unbeaten in their previous 11 league games, only Sheffield United and Bolton Wanderers boast a better record over the previous ten games, and Phil Brown’s side have climbed into the division’s top six.
So too are they scoring goals, with 22 scored in those 11 games. Far more potent than a MK Dons side that wasted numerous guilt edge opportunities to take the lead, and then to level.
As such, the Boxing Day victory only counts for so much as the Addicks head to Roots Hall. A confidence boost, unquestionably, and a showing that they can grind out a result with the aid of some good fortune, but a repeat performance would not be enough against the Shrimpers.
Further improvement required if the Addicks are to take anything from a tough fixture.
LAST MEETING – SOUTHEND UNITED 1-2 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (26/02/2010)
There has been a more recent meeting between the two sides, a 1-0 victory for the Addicks at Roots Hall in the Johnstones Paint Trophy in November 2010, but it feels more appropriate to reflect on the most recent league meeting between the pair.
A stoppage-time strike from Kyel Reid required for Phil Parkinson’s Charlton to come away from Roots Hall with three points in February 2010 despite Southend having ten men for the majority of the game.
The Shrimpers taking the lead just six minutes after Jean-Francois Christophe was dismissed for violent conduct. Rob Elliot not covering himself in glory as Matt Paterson’s effort from distance creeped underneath him with 31 minutes played.
And though the Addicks applied unrelenting pressure, it wasn’t until the 73rd minute when they finally equalised. Akpo Sodje converting from close range.
Despite being on the back foot for most of the game, it seemed that Southend had done enough to secure a point. That until Reid found a pocket of space in the first minute of stoppage-time, and struck emphatically beyond Steve Mildenhall in the Southend goal to earn the Addicks victory.
With 12 league games of this season completed, Southend sat 22nd in League One. Six of those games ending in defeat, including heavy losses to Scunthorpe, Northampton and Rochdale, leaving copious amounts of pressure, understandably, on boss Brown.
11 fixtures later, having lost none of them, the Shrimpers have climbed to sixth. Seven of those games won, with impressive victories over Bradford and AFC Wimbledon, and 25 points claimed. An incredible turnaround, led by Brown.
A team with journeymen who have performed at a higher level (Anton Ferdinand, Marc-Antoine Fortune, Simon Cox), long-serving Southend players (Michael Timlin, Ryan Leonard, Will Atkinson), and players with good League One pedigree (Jason Demetriou, Anthony Wordsworth) gelling together into something effective.
There more exciting sides in the division, with younger talent, but this group is certainly proving their worth.
And Southend head into Saturday’s fixture against the Addicks on the back of a mightily impressive 3-0 victory over play-off chasing AFC Wimbledon – their third consecutive victory. Cox scoring either side of an Atkinson strike to take the Shrimpers into the top six.
In truth, there wasn’t a great deal of difference in the quality of performance between the victory over MK Dons and the dreadful defeats to Peterborough United and Millwall.
Application and effort at times when it was required at higher levels, with Robinson’s side working harder at Stadium MK, but the performance still incredibly disappointing. A lack of defensive structure, misplaced passes a regular occurrence, and next to no attacking intensity.
The Addicks securing their first victory under Robinson, and in seven games, with a moment of quality. Andrew Crofts’ through ball marvellous, and Ademola Lookman’s finish excellent. A goal against the run of play, and Charlton rarely looking like threatening throughout the remainder of the contest.
Concerns, however, remain high. That performance, like the ones against Peterborough and Millwall, was still concerning in spite of the victory, and it doesn’t necessarily feel like the foundation for something impressive.
Though something impressive is needed, with this group Addicks still some way off a competent side and some way off the play-offs.
Six points back at the season’s halfway stage incredibly disappointing, and makes finishing in the top six, the apparent bare minimum, come the end of the season incredibly unlikely.
With first choice goalkeeper Mark Oxley expected to be out for a number of weeks with an elbow injury sustained prior to the Boxing Day victory over AFC Wimbledon, homegrown shot-stopper Ted Smith is likely to continue between the sticks.
The 20-year-old, who has played for England’s U18, U19 and U20 sides, is highly rated, but has found first-team opportunities limited.
Brown’s side will also remain without Nile Ranger, who has a thigh injury. Despite the controversial character’s past, and present with a fraud allegation recently made against him, the forward has impressed at Roots Hall, earning himself a contract extension at the start of this month.
Though Zavon Hines was recently recruited after a successful trial, Marc-Antoine Fortune and two-goal Cox are likely to continue in attack on Saturday.
Elsewhere, former Addick Dave Mooney has a long-term ankle problem, while defenders Ben Coker and Ryan Inniss also absent through injury.
Uncertainty exists as to whether Ademola Lookman will feature at Roots Hall, with Everton having agreed a fee for the talented teenager forward.
While Lookman obviously remains a Charlton player until at least January 1st, the risk of the 19-year-old suffering injury, and as such preventing a £10m transfer, is probably too high. Robinson might want him to play, Lookman might want to play, but Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire may have other ideas.
His enforced absence hardly coming at an ideal time, with an already small squad desperately short of bodies. Recognised wingers, though Nicky Ajose and Adam Chicksen have been playing out wide in competent fashion, down to just one (Jordan Botaka). A consequence of Ricky Holmes (foot) being one of several injuries.
Holmes joined in the treatment room by Declan Rudd (hip), Jason Pearce (groin), Chris Solly (knee), Ahmed Kashi (unfunctional body), and Lee Novak (knee), who have all been absent for at least several weeks.
And, following the Boxing Day victory over MK Dons, another body has made its way to the treatment room. Johnnie Jackson withdrawn just after the interval at Stadium MK and, given the quick turnaround, is unlikely to be fit for Saturday.
A real lack of options in the centre of midfield, particularly if Robinson again wants to play three in the middle.
KEY BATTLE – DEFENSIVE COMPOSURE
Before Robinson’s appointment, the most redeeming fixture of this Charlton side was its defensive solidity.
Patrick Bauer and Pearce impressing, Morgan Fox in decent form, and Solly’s absence, whether it be Kevin Foley or Ezri Konsa in his place, not being felt. Declan Rudd also dependable, and Dillon Phillips proving a talented shot-stopper when given an opportunity following the Norwich loanee’s injury.
However, though there have been three clean sheets, the defensive efforts since Robinson has been in charge haven’t been so assured. Bauer and Jorge Teixeira not as comfortable as reputation suggests they should be, Fox in the middle of a horrendous run of form, and Konsa guilty of very poor defending in the derby defeat to Millwall.
MK Dons, sometimes wasteful and often woeful in front of goal, unable to take advantage of that uncertainty at the back, but a more potent Southend side might well be able to.
Having scored 22 goals in their unbeaten run, and boasting three players – Stephen McLaughlin, Cox and Wordsworth – who have struck six times in the league this season, the Shrimpers are much more likely to exploit the flaws in Charlton’s defensive structure.
And, as such, it’s vital that the Addicks show much greater composure at the back than they have in the previous three fixtures.
A repeat of the performance at Stadium MK and the Addicks lose this, but you would like to think that the win will spark some sort of improvement. Enough to end Southend’s unbeaten run? Unlikely, but there’s no excuse for not being competitive. Southend United 1-1 Charlton Athletic
At the scene where Karl Robinson shaped a reputation as a forward-thinking boss, instilling a passing philosophy on his MK Dons side that attempted to play attractive football, a performance in some contrast to those principles was required by his group of Addicks to come away from Stadium MK with victory.
A performance required as a consequence of his Charlton Athletic side still struggling to adapt to a style of football that requires fluency, creativity and intensity. A performance needed to give Robinson his first win in charge of the Addicks at his sixth attempt. A performance that, was quite simply, needed.
Fortune undoubtedly playing a part in this single-goal victory, with the hosts dominant in the opening stages. The Addicks performing in a tired and error-prone manner that reflected the efforts seen in defeat against Peterborough United and Millwall. The hosts wasting several excellent openings to inflict deserved punishment on Robinson’s dysfunctional men.
But while MK Dons wasted the numerous openings they were largely gifted, the first real sight of goal that Charlton were given concluded in the visitors taking the lead with seven minutes remaining until the half-time.
An excellent ball through from Andrew Crofts finding Ademola Lookman, and the teenager finishing emphatically into the far corner. A moment of quality to break the deadlock, and give the Addicks a lead that, on the overall balance of play, they probably didn’t deserve.
Having that lead, however, an ideal situation for the Addicks. The search for attacking fluency abandoned, and protecting what was already theirs the focus of the second period.
It not exactly an attractive and enterprising period of football, with this a battle between two underperforming sides. But this a gritty battle that Robinson’s men showed enough fight and resolve to win.
Always on the back foot, but rarely tested, and thrown into a state of characteristic panic on even fewer occasions. Dons left frustrated not only by Dillon Phillips’ timewasting, but so too their inability to break down a backline who had finally discovered some stubbornness. The most un-Robinson-like of victories secured.
As such, this not the base from which the promised brand of football is built, but it is a base from which improvement under Robinson’s leadership can be made.
If nothing else, this a victory that shows some resolve remains in a group of Addicks who had appeared weak and characterless in the previous week. Enough resolve to win while quality remains minimal.
An early sense that this was an afternoon where resolve and determination would be required to be found in Robinson’s team selection. Not a great deal of creativity to be found in a central midfield three of Fredrik Ulvestad, replacing Adam Chicksen having recovered from injury, Johnnie Jackson, making his 250th appearance for the Addicks, and Crofts.
That trio seemingly part of a 4-3-3 formation, with Nicky Ajose and Lookman either side of Josh Magennis in attack, but it soon became quite apparent that both wide forwards would spend a great deal of time inside their own half assisting with the defensive efforts. The Addicks immediately on the back foot.
The early pressure a considerable concern given that improvement on the horrific performance at The Den on Wednesday not only needed to be seen in the way Robinson’s side retained possession and attacked, but in their defensive structure and resolve. Just four minutes played when Nicky Maynard shrugged off Ezri Konsa’s presence and got in behind, with Charlton thankful to see the forward fire across the face of goal and behind.
Quite tamely allowing the opposition into a promising position not the catalyst for the Addicks to settle and discover some composure. A real struggle to maintain possession inside MK’s half, pace and intensity almost completely lacking, and the tally of wayward passes building at a steady rate.
Not a great deal of composure off the ball, either, as Ben Reeves cut inside far too easily only to blast horribly wide. Frustration already growing among the visiting supporters.
Frustration that was released by the singing of “we’ve had a shot” after some uncharacteristically impressive passing play resulted in Magennis firing straight at David Martin from the edge of the box. The goalkeeper needing a second attempt to claim the ball, but there was certainly a feeling that a shot on goal was about as much as the Addicks would have to celebrate over the course of these 90 minutes.
A feeling reinforced as MK again got in behind far too easily, with Reeves ghosting past Konsa, only for the resulting ball across the face of goal to be diverted wide by Dean Bowditch. A glorious opportunity wasted, with the forward needing only to turn the ball over the line from no more than two yards, and a huge let-off for the struggling Addicks.
Regardless, you feared the goal wasn’t too far away. Kieron Agard played into an excellent position, his resulting effort blocked, and a headed follow-up from Reeves lacked the power to properly test even an out of position Phillips. Chaos inside Charlton’s poorly protected penalty area.
There no release, with the Addicks still struggling to find any sort of quality or fluency in their efforts to get forward, and so MK continued to apply quite a concerning level of pressure. A half-cleared free-kick falling kindly to Bowditch, and his first-time strike was deflected narrowly wide, while the same man went close again after Robinson’s men failed to properly deal with the resulting corner, seeing an effort from a promising position float over the bar.
It quite understandable therefore, with Charlton showing little composure at the back and even less quality going forward, that grumbles had turned to boos by the time an unchallenged Maynard had glanced a Reeves free-kick into Phillips’ palms with 30 minutes played. This simply not good enough.
A feeling seemingly shared by Robinson. The entire side called over to the technical area during a break in play caused by an injury to Bowditch. Words spoken, which if they were reflecting the views of supporters, then they would be hammering home the importance of making it through to half-time without the punishment that was so clearly deserved.
So, as half-time drew nearer, it was quite the shock to see Crofts surge through the middle, deliver an inch perfect ball through MK’s backline, and feed Lookman into a position where he was one-on-one with goalkeeper Martin.
The angle relatively tight, and this not a simply finish, but the teenager made light work of an opening more difficult to take than many of the chances those representing the hosts had wasted. The ball blasted beyond Martin, and nestling in the far corner. Against the run of play, out of almost nothing, and realistically undeserved, the Addicks had the lead.
But this was the sort of lead that didn’t suddenly feel you with confidence that victory was on the horizon. It merely changed the concern from worries about falling behind, to worries about losing the lead. That the remaining seven minutes of the half were played with minimal incident, and Robinson’s men could retire to the dressing room with their rather unwarranted advantage intact, provided as big a feeling of relief as any of MK’s missed opportunities.
The need for a second-half improvement, therefore, obvious. If not the discovery of fluent and persistent attacking play, then at least the showing of more composure in defence, and some greater care for the ball in possession.
The required improvement, however, not quite being shown in the half’s opening moments. A wonderful opportunity presented to Reeves, with the ball falling kindly to him on the edge of the box, and Charlton fortunate that he struck wide, while an injury to the calming influence of Jackson, to be replaced by youngster Joe Aribo, didn’t exactly help control the nerves that were flooding the away end.
And though Aribo’s presence, energetic and attack-minded, contributed towards the Addicks briefly experimenting with the idea of getting themselves in and around MK’s final third, it quickly became apparent that the second period would feature unrelenting nervousness and plenty of clock watching. The nature of the game meaning there was an acceptance that Robinson’s men needed to sit deep and desperately defend what they had.
But, within this unbreakable pattern of Dons building attacks and Charlton attempting to stop them, there were some positive signs. Maybe not positive enough to be reassured that victory was to follow, but encouraging all the same.
A stubbornness growing among the Addicks, with the midfield working tirelessly, Konsa and Morgan Fox dealing with MK’s wide threat much more effectively than they were in the first half, and Patrick Bauer and Jorge Teixeira cleaning up anything that hadn’t already been cleaned up. The hosts still getting into decent positions, but Charlton denying them the opportunity to make anything of them.
Greater composure on the ball, too, with the need for the end result of possession to be an effort goal almost completely abandoned. The ball simply passed to the next free purple shirt, regardless of where they were on the pitch, in an attempt to slow the game down and frustrate the opposition.
The opposition also frustrated by Phillips’ antics when preparing to take a goal kick. The goalkeeper inducing the fury of the home crowd as he time wasted quite obviously without the match officials taking any major objection to his conduct. This the complete opposite of the attractive football promised rather boldly by Robinson, and some supporters were to be heard voicing frustrations, but it there was no denying it was practical.
Or at least practical while Robbie Nielson’s men hadn’t equalised. An event that Charlton were not only doing their best to prevent, but so too were the Dons. Wayward passes, horrendously weak deliveries into the box, and overall attempts to build moves in the final third increasingly ending in frustration. MK were struggling, and those wasted first-half openings were looking even more costly than they did at the time of Charlton’s goal.
Struggling to the extent that the next reasonable effort on goal didn’t occur until a little over five minutes were remaining, and that effort on goal was from an Addick. Ajose breaking, and an error from Paul Downing leaving him one-on-one with Martin, but the goalkeeper was out well to block the forward’s effort. The little nagging voice at the back of your mind immediately telling you that would be costly.
The little nagging voice becoming one that screamed and shouted as Roger Johnson, replacing Ajose, was introduced in an attempt to see out four minutes of stoppage-time. “You’re not fit to wear the shirt,” accompanying an away end-wide series of boos as the supporter-hating defender made his way onto the pitch. Not a popular substitution, it must be said.
Though it was one of those keeping him company in the centre of defence that left visiting supporters with hears in mouths for just a moment. Substitute Chucs Aneke bundling his way into the box, only to seemingly be hauled down by Bauer. The immediate thought from my very distant perspective was penalty, so the crossing of the referee’s hands to signal he was disregarding MK’s appeals was a beautiful sight.
As was Ulvestad leading a break, flanked by both those in white and purple, with those four minutes of additional time almost up. The Burnley loanee cynically taken out on the edge of MK’s box by Joe Walsh, and the resulting free-kick, though in a perfect shooting position, used merely to take more time out of the game.
A game that, somehow, would soon have its final whistle with Charlton still clinging onto their advantage.
An advantage they didn’t deserve to have in the first place, and one they protected in rather desperate fashion at times.
But an advantage, and as such a victory, that was celebrated without any of those thoughts tainting the joy. Robinson and his men returning the applause of the visiting supporters, as a first win under Charlton’s new boss, and a first win in seven games in total, was embraced.
The win, in spite of how it was achieved, to be celebrated and enjoyed more as a consequence of the grim events of the previous nine days. More than anything else, it a relief to celebrate victory again after those horror efforts against Peterborough and Millwall.
Though, of course, to completely rid those games from both mind and memory would be naïve, particularly given that, in terms of overall quality, there wasn’t much between the Charlton that turned up in those games, and the Charlton that turned up at Stadium MK.
For there is, unfortunately, little getting away from the fact that the Addicks were rather unimpressive for the majority of the game. Particularly in the dire effort that occurred prior to taking the lead, which rivalled the Millwall performance for shoddiness, and really should have been punished by a MK side creating endless chances. At the very least, they were incredibly fortunate not to have fallen behind before Lookman put them in front.
A moment of quality in a game of little providing the difference that might not have been a reflection of the overall pattern of the game. Crofts’ ball through, and Lookman’s finish, probably the first moment of attacking quality seen for some weeks.
But the difference was also provided in Charlton showing some determination and some steel. In a week where they have shown little character whatsoever, a degree of fight, regardless of how unconvincing and scrappy it was at times, was pleasing to see.
Phillips cool and clever, the backline rarely making any sort of misjudgement after the break, and the midfield driven. Enough to suggest that this was a win achieved in more than just one moment, and that relentless hard work played a part.
It not, however, quite enough to build excitement and optimism for the remaining fixtures of the festive period on its own. Not least given that these are coming against two sides, in the shape of Southend United and Bristol Rovers, who are in decent shape and, most importantly, scoring goals. Improvement in terms of actual quality, fluency and structure required for those two fixtures.
We’re still a long way from being a competent and quality side under Robinson’s leadership. This barely a starting point, given the amount of improvement that remains.
It not a win that downplays the amount of improvement that is required in performance levels, and the improvement that needs to be made to the squad in terms of signings that will hopefully be sanctioned in January.
It a win, after this torrid run of performances, to be celebrated and enjoyed on its own. To build confidence, and to remind supporters that, hiding underneath the weak and wilted bodies that were seen at The Den, there are some hard-working characters in this side.
“The truth” to be told to Charlton Athletic players in a series of individual meetings following the pathetic 3-1 defeat to Millwall on Wednesday night. Karl Robinson, presumably, calling every member of his squad in to tell them they’re not very good at football and need to be better at football. Something the boos that met the full-time whistle at The Den has probably already told them.
It, however, an unfortunate truth of Robinson’s time in charge at Charlton that his words have not reflected his, nor his side’s, actions. So much fighting talk; not enough fight on the pitch. It difficult, as a supporter sat outside these meetings, to believe more talking will instil motivation, determination and quality into individuals and the collective.
But it simply must make a difference. There simply must be a difference between the Charlton that failed so pathetically at The Den, and the one that travels to Stadium MK on Boxing Day. A difference in mentality, as well as in performance and result.
For a repeat of the display against the Lions, with similar seen in defeat to Peterborough United last weekend, when the Addicks face Robinson’s former employers would leave both he and his current club in a very uncomfortable position.
A position that Robinson has created for himself. Not just as a result of failing to organise or motivate his side, but a result of the confident and boisterous manner in which he spoke at the start of his time in charge. Talk of positive relationships, success and promotion has been replaced by an admission that “there are certain aspects of the club” that aren’t what they should be.
And a position that worsens for the club with every defeat, and with every word spoken by Roland Duchatelet. The “stupid” supporters of the club he owns quite rightly demanding more, and merely getting more soundbites.
Time to come out fighting.
LAST MEETING – MK DONS 3-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (13/12/2016)
Charlton exited the FA Cup at the second round as two MK goals in the first seven minutes of extra-time condemned the Addicks to a replay defeat.
The replay required after a goalless draw at The Valley in Robinson’s first game as Charlton boss, but only six minutes needed for the deadlock to be broken at Stadium MK. A mistake from Joe Aribo, one of many fringe players given a start in a rotated side, seeing Darren Potter dispossess the youngster and send Darren Powell through on goal, who finished with ease.
The Addicks second best, and struggling to react to falling behind, but found themselves level with 24 minutes played. Former Don Adam Chicksen creating an opening out of nothing, as he cut inside and finished superbly into the far bottom corner.
That how it remained until extra-time, but Robinson’s side blew a fantastic opportunity to seal progression to the third round in the final minute of normal time. Nicky Ajose played through, the defence beaten, but his resulting shot straight at goalkeeper Lee Nicholls. A chance that really had to be taken.
And Charlton were made to pay for wasting such a glorious opening just four minutes into the additional 30, as Roger Johnson stood of Kieran Agard, the forward teed up Ben Reeves, and the playmaker curled a fantastic effort well beyond the reach of Dillon Phillips from the edge of the area.
A Jorge Teixeira header, narrowly wide of its own accord but almost turned in at the far post by Ajose’s outstretched boot, may have seen the Addicks draw level, but the hosts sealed their place in the next round just three minutes later, as Dean Bowditch raced beyond a motionless defence and tucked beyond Phillips.
Dons through to face Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex in the third round.
MK Dons: LWWDWL
Robbie Nielson’s reign as boss of the dons is in its infancy, but the former Hearts manager has made a positive impression at Stadium MK.
A 1-0 defeat at Gillingham last weekend disappointing, and made more so as a consequence of Dean Bowditch’s missed penalty, but the overall signs shown in Nielson’s first three ‘proper’ fixtures in charge are that his management should comfortably guide the Milton Keynes club well away from the possible threat of relegation.
A more pragmatic style of football then what was seen under Robinson, giving the Dons greater chance of grinding out results and climbing towards the comfort of mid-table.
The victory over AFC Wimbledon, also their first league win at home of the campaign, a very positive way to start, and the performance against an albeit weakened Charlton side in the FA Cup warranted victory prior to extra-time.
Too early to make a true judgement, of course, but Nielson seemingly delivering what is required in the short term.
Remember the optimism and positivity that followed the valiant effort at Valley Parade in Robinson’s first league game? I’m not quite sure I do, actually.
For the impact that performance against Bradford City have, coming away from Yorkshire with a goalless draw but creating enough chances to warrant victory, has since been totally eclipsed by three successive defeats. Part of a run of six games without victory, in which only three goals have been scored, five of which have come under the management of Robinson.
It not so much alarming that points aren’t being collected or goals aren’t being scored, with a Charlton side instilled with Robinson’s brand of free-flowing and attacking football managing just two goals, given that many coaches and managers have struggled to provide both of those when under Duchatelet’s reign.
But the performances, particularly in successive league defeats to Peterborough and Millwall, are concerning. Not just poor performances and poor results, but a side without structure, intensity or effort labouring half-heartedly around the pitch seemingly in acceptance of their defeats. There little fight, and there seemingly little motivational impact from a boss whose greatest strength appears to be the words he produces.
Poor results will also be related back to Duchatelet, given the overall impact he’s had on the club and more specific role this regime have had in creating another weak and understaffed squad, but there blame attached to Robinson for the manner of these recent performances.
Richie Barker added to the coaching staff in midweek, having departing MK Dons, and maybe he will have the required impact to motivate this group of beleaguered Addicks. Either way, better has to be expected.
Defender Joe Walsh is likely to be available for the Dons again having missed last weekend’s defeat to Gillingham with an ankle injury.
The Welshman has trained with the side this week, and looks set to come into the starting XI at centre-back, allowing Dean Lewington to revert to his natural position at left-back.
But Neilson will be without right-back George Baldock, who aggravated a hamstring issue initially sustained in the FA Cup win over Charlton during the loss at Priestfield. George B Williams, who has been playing at left-back in recent weeks, competing with the Wigan loanee Jack Hendry for the right-back spot made vacant in Baldock’s absence.
Elsewhere, Nicky Maynard made a return from injury off the bench last weekend and will be pushing to start, while Chuks Aneke, who impressed against the Addicks in the FA Cup replay at Stadium MK, is another fighting for a place in the starting XI after injury issues. Long-term absentee Scott Wootton, however, remains on the sidelines.
“They’re lucky that we only have so many players fit and they’ve got 10 days until January. That’s not been my mentality…I’ve been quite positive and forward thinking. But these are the cold facts of where we’re at.”
Robinson descending into an excuse-ridden rant following Wednesday’s defeat to Millwall which left wishing he would, for once, forgo his ability to speak. Injuries, and a squad lacking any sort of depth, not an excuse for the lack of effort shown at The Den.
But those injuries do exist. Another victim of this curse seemingly claimed prior to the midweek fixture, with Fredrik Ulvestad carrying a knock and only fit enough for the bench. The Burnley loanee left unused, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll recover in time to start on Boxing Day.
Declan Rudd had been set to return from a hip injury against Peterborough, but the Norwich loanee’s absence has continued into this week. With the goalkeeper having been back in full training for over a week, Rudd will surely be available for the trip to Stadium MK.
But there little chance of anyone else on the length list of injured absentees making an appearance. Jason Pearce (groin), Chris Solly (knee), Ahmed Kashi (ankle), Ricky Holmes (foot), and Lee Novak (foot) remain unavailable.
KEY BATTLE – RESPONDING
How do you respond to two of your worst performances of the season? How do you respond to wilting, and offering little fight, in a game against your rivals? How do you respond to supporters, understandably, losing faith in your ability as a side to achieve?
At the very least, you don’t allow a lack of confidence to overwhelm, and instead find the energy and effort absent over the previous week and put in a bloody decent shift. A third performance lacking any sort of intensity from the Addicks simply unacceptable.
It not all just about mentality and effort, however, with Robinson referring to the need to shake things up. More with a reference to the long-term, but in the short-term, too. Options limited in terms of changing personal and structure, but instilling cohesion and fluency within the side an absolute must. A more traditional and pragmatic set-up, with Lookman in a wide position, probably required.
But it not just Charlton who need to respond on Boxing Day. Dons responding to their first defeat under Nielson. On a much smaller scale than the grand crisis among the Addicks, but still a test of character, quality, and managerial ability.
A need for Nielson to learn from the mistakes made at Priestfield, for his side to bounce back from disappointment, and again shown the more positive signs that were seen in the Scot’s previous two fixtures in charge.
Dons’ task to respond a much simpler one than Charlton’s, but a requirement for both sides to respond, and show something different.
Characters in this Charlton side that will fight, and will want to prove their worth after recent displays, but others who will crumble. Nothing less than victory will appease in the circumstances, but not sure more than a gritty draw can be expected. MK Dons 1-1 Charlton Athletic
Supporters of Charlton Athletic have nothing to prove. They fight tirelessly to protect the future of their club, while continuing to provide an influence as 12th man. They hold and represent the club’s identity at a time when the club has been made soulless.
They travelled to The Den with drive and determination, despite having not seen their side record victory there since 1996. They were vocal, and they were supportive. Energy and intensity placed into backing their side.
The record against Millwall momentarily meaningless. The performance four days previously at Peterborough forgotten. The disconnection and apathy between club and supporters that has been instilled by Roland Duchatelet’s regime overridden by the need to put every molecule of fight and passion into coming away with Bermondsey with pride intact.
As Duchatelet calls for a ‘Christmas wish’ that sees Charlton supporters become 12th man again, just days after antagonising them further by calling them stupid, supporters that a club run by such a poisonous owner do not deserve are, once again, giving their all. No blame, no fault, no need to change.
But maybe he is right about supporters of this club being stupid. Stupid enough to believe their efforts will earn the reward they warrant. Both while Duchatelet’s cancer spreads through this club’s veins, and when the Addicks are attempting to compete at The Den.
For this another unbearable night in the blue half of South East London. Another unbearable night under Duchatelet’s reign, reaffirming the club’s pathetic and failing state from top to bottom. An embarrassing 3-1 defeat that perfectly reflected the efforts of both side and club on the evening and over an extended period, but certainly not the efforts of Charlton supporters.
Karl Robinson, having provided so much fighting talk, overseeing an emphatic capitulation as half-time approached. Aiden O’Brien credited with converting Shaun Cummings delivery, though it seemed Ezri Konsa had turned the ball into his own net, five minutes before the break, followed just two minutes later by Steve Morison taking advantage of Konsa’s slip to volley Shaun Williams’ lofted ball into the box beyond Dillon Phillips. The defending pathetic, the lifeless response to conceding twice in two minutes even worse.
But, to the credit of Robinson and his beleaguered men, there was some fight shown after the break. Four second half minutes before Ademola Lookman broke forward and teed up Nicky Ajose, who finished emphatically in spite of recent troubles in front of goal. Hope, and hearty efforts from the away end.
Hope that would be false, and effort that would be meaningless. More dire defending allowing Steve Morison to regain Millwall’s two goals advantage on the hour. A scoreline that reflected the control and dominance the Lions were allowed to have against a weak and gutless group of Addicks.
The remaining half hour existing for Charlton to embarrass themselves, and their supporters, further. Horrendously error-prone, and never mounting a serious threat on Millwall’s goal. They without the willingness to fight.
Only Johnnie Jackson willing to properly acknowledge the suffering supporters in the away end. Only the skipper willing to acknowledge these stupid people who form the 12th man, insulted and under appreciated by so many connected to this club. In words, in actions, and performance.
Change required, and it doesn’t involve a 12th man uniting around a club owned by a man who thinks they’re stupid. It involves giving this 12th man something to connect to, and to believe in. Their club is not rewarding them.
In truth, the realistic view before kick-off suggested reward was unlikely. Not just as a consequence of the torrid record against Millwall, nor the pathetic performance by Robinson’s men against Posh, but more pressingly the seemingly weak XI that had been selected.
Injuries, of course, restricting Robinson’s selections, but that no excuse for fielding such a tame side against the Lions. This a greater reflection of the lack of quality and depth in the squad that the recently appointed boss has been handed.
Despite struggling on Saturday, the same back four remained, with Morgan Fox’s inclusion a particular surprise. The Welshman probably keeping his place in the XI by default, with the alternative left-back option, Adam Chicksen, required to start on the left of midfield in place of Jordan Botaka.
Jackson being named in the starting line-up more pleasing, given his character and leadership seemed necessary in such a contest, but a partnership with Andrew Crofts in the centre of midfield was not inspiring. Fredrick Ulvestad, with a slight injury, needed to drop to the bench.
It was Jackson, however, fighting most of Charlton’s battles in the centre during the game’s opening stages. A horribly scrappy affair, with both sides struggling to retain possession amid the overwhelming noise created by both sets of supporters, and the skipper first, or at least fighting for, every loose or winnable effort.
The scrappy start offering an immediate insight into the distinct lack of quality either side possessed. Aimless long balls and misplaced passes high on the agenda, and it quickly becoming apparent that mistake or miracle would settle this encounter.
And it a mistake that almost allowed Millwall a clear sight of goal with ten minutes played. Defence crumbling and Lee Gregory allowed to burst through down the right, but his cutback to an unmarked O’Brien running behind the Irishman. Only a spectacular miss would have prevented the Lions taking the lead had the pass been accurate.
But the Addicks were quick to remind they had a talent capable of producing miracles. A quick break forward, with some considered passing play, concluding in the ball falling to Lookman on the edge of the box. Jordan Archer needing a second attempt to get the well-struck effort fully under his control.
Those two openings, in reality, merely a short break from the low action and low quality affair that was otherwise taking place. Intensity and application not be questioned on either side, but actual footballing ability and strategy lacking. Byron Webster stretching to head a delivery from a free-kick wide, before Lookman’s second attempt at shooting distance was closer to troubling the corner flag than Archer.
Work for Phillips to do, however, as Charlton’s backline again showed frailties. O’Brien able to cut inside with relative ease, simply knocking the ball past the flat-footed Patrick Bauer, before forcing the young ‘keeper into a good stop at his near post.
Those frailties, even with the Neil Harris’ men not appearing particularly threatening going forward, were continuing to offer a degree of concern. Bauer and Jorge Teixeira looking a little uncomfortable, Fox and Konsa not making the wisest decisions, and the overall structure not offering much reassurance. A situation not helped by the Addicks, retaining possession well enough in midfield but possessing absolutely nothing when looking to attack, lacking fluency and as such inviting pressure.
A poorly defended free-kick finding its way to an unmarked Morison at the back post, who thankfully volleyed in the side-netting, before a cynical challenge from Teixeira earned the Portuguese a yellow and prevented Gregory from bursting through on goal. The resulting set-piece unthreatening, but that it needed to be conceded the more compelling issue.
Distraction from this growing sense of discomfort offered by the sight of Jackson standing over a free-kick on the edge of Millwall’s box, won after the isolated Josh Magennis was hauled down. A passionate show of support for the skipper, and some rare belief. Memories of previous Jackson efforts, from the pair against the Sheffield clubs to hitting the post in stoppage-time against Scunthorpe in this campaign, appeared in the mind, but the reality showed the ball bouncing back off the wall.
A reflection of the lack of definitive quality being shown by both sides, and reaffirming a sense that, even with Charlton’s defensive uncertainty, the interval would be reached without a goal being scored.
Alas, with five minutes remaining until Robinson’s side could regroup and rediscover some sort of composure and cutting edge, the Lions finally managed to take advantage of the Addicks defending without authority or quality.
Cummings played through down the right, Charlton bodies seemingly doing enough to hold him off, but the full-back able to find the space to deliver a ball towards the back post. Phillips not coming, Bauer and Konsa not commanding, and both O’Brien and Morison challenging. The final touch from my perspective coming from the head of Konsa, but the goal given to O’Brien, a man far too small to be winning an aerial battle in such a position.
Silence, born out of shock and despair, flooding the away end. A Millwall goal in these contests, based on previous experience, is not something the Addicks respond well to. A fear that, in one poorly defended delivery, the game had been decided.
Fear that seemingly became reality just two minutes later.
Millwall with confidence, the Addicks seemingly losing any sort of energy and intensity they might have had, and the Lions pestering in and around Charlton’s box. A Konsa attempt to clear panicked, and falling straight to Williams 40 yards from goal, who responded by lifting the ball back into the box. A delivery that might have been dealt with had Konsa not slipped, but the young full-back losing his footing allowed Morison to execute an excellent first-time finish unchallenged.
“You’ll never beat Millwall,” sung the home fans, and the familiar feeling of despondency suggested they might well be right. Certainly right on this night. A half-hearted slug around the pitch for the remainder of the half merely increasing the anger and frustration in the boos that would serenade the Addicks off the pitch at the interval.
It game over. The Lions comfortable, and Robinson’s men behind physically, mentally, and in terms of actual footballing qualities. The lack of hope in the away end, an away end that had been at full volume for 40 minutes, understandable.
But suddenly, apathetic heads looked up to see Lookman running forward with a clear sight of goal four minutes into the second half. His decision making questioned of late, but the teenager calling this moment perfectly, with a perfect pass to the unmarked Ajose. The goal-shy forward finishing with the composure of someone with greater confidence.
The goal celebrated with the sort of intensity that suggested it meant much more than simply halving a deficit, but there was built up frustration being released in this scene of joy in the away end. More importantly, there was also hope.
Hope that increased with intensity, energy and attacking intent immediately rising. A panicked Millwall clearance suggesting they were a little rattled. The 12th man fully behind this reboot of Robinson’s men.
A reboot that would crash just 11 minutes after it had begun with no further progress. Certainly no progress at the back, as those in red stood and watched as Millwall knocked it around at their pleasure before ultimately deciding it should be Morison to have the shot on goal. A clinical effort into Phillips’ far bottom corner, and the result of this contest confirmed.
Charlton’s response summed up in their next move forward. Promising, with Konsa breaking down the right, but him and Ajose too afraid to deliver the ball, and possession ultimately being lost. The anger in the away end increasing at a rate of nots.
In fact, it remained Millwall, assisted by their complete control of the contest in midfield, who looked the most threatening going forward. Fred Onyedinma through on goal after more weak and static Charlton defending, an unmarked Morison to his left, but the youngster opting to shoot straight at Phillips. Pathetic from the Addicks, regardless.
A chance to reduce the deficit not coming until 16 minutes remained, as substitute Botaka showed some clever footwork, before firing comfortably wide across the face of goal. Emotion hardly changing in the away end. If it wasn’t anger, it was apathy.
The game hardly changing on the pitch. Charlton mistake-ridden, lacking any sort of composure, and without the required drive and energy to get back into the contest. They were embarrassing themselves, and insulting their supporters.
It left the Lions to see the game out in comfortable fashion. Possession retained, and recovered quickly when lost, particularly given how half-hearted the efforts of those in red were. A reflection of another failure to show up in a derby encounter, of a manager and group of individuals failing to deliver, and of a toxic club.
The final whistle merely a relief, preventing further embarrassment. Most in red unwilling to challenge the completely justified boos and anger to be found in the away end, except for the skipper, who stood and applauded in apology for an extended period of time.
But, despite their attempts, there was no place to hide for his teammates. They had performed pathetically in a game where anything less than complete fight, determination and effort is not acceptable. They, as the club has been doing as a whole for almost three years, had let their supporters down.
For there no doubt that the blame for this performance lies with Robinson and those he selected to represent the Addicks. A simply unforgiveable effort.
A defensive unit and structure, seemingly in a stable position in the period that Russell Slade’s reign ended and Robinson’s started, has become a chaotic mess. Collectively, positioning and organisation is poor, while individuals are making the same mistakes. Fox continuously gifting possession to the opposition and being caught out, Konsa playing a part in the conceding of both goals, and Bauer and Teixeira anything like the solid duo they threaten to be.
In midfield, there was fight while the scores remained level, but very little thereafter. Jackson’s effort never dying, but he unable to make much of an impact without adequate support, and Crofts doesn’t provide that at all, while playing Lookman in a position behind the striker weakened his impact and weakened Charlton’s strength in the wide areas.
Wide areas that were very rarely exploited. Chicksen battled, but without end product, while Ajose contributed little beyond his goal. All of that leaving Magennis, struggling to replicate the impact he’s had throughout the majority of the season in the previous two games, completely isolated. Structurally, and individually, grim.
Not to mention the effort and mentality of the side. Weak, pathetic, and a sense that there was nothing left to give in the aftermath of the second and third goals going in. Simply not good enough.
Then there the mentality of Robinson. Not merely his failure to form a cohesive unit, but using his post-match press conference to label blame for the defeat on injuries and the fact he’s yet to have a transfer window. Weak and infuriating.
Besides, absent players not justify a lack of effort, while an approaching transfer window offers little encouragement when this regime as failed so many times. Failed in producing a squad with enough depth for this half of the season, for example, and leaving us seven points of the play-offs at Christmas.
And, as such, such a performance, with such a side, in such circumstances, is also a reflection of the state the club has been reduced to during the period in which Duchatelet has damaged it. A weak side, offering little fight, despite supporters valiantly battling on, a regular occurrence, and a symptom of this regime’s reign.
We’ve lost to Millwall before. We’ve lost to Millwall with similar gutless performances. But this a performance not only seen previously against the Lions, but one seen many times by sides constructed while this regime has controlled.
There just a feeling that, in this week where Duchatelet has again insulted and patronised, the efforts on the pitch where a reflection of the lack of connection between the club’s identity and those who operate or represent it. A reflection of the lack of connection between those who operate or represent this club, and determined supporters.
A reminder, undoubtedly, that we deserve so much more.