To definitively judge the Robinson Revolution four games into its existence would be misguided, but so too would it be misguided if the man behind the attempted revolution isn’t making a fresh judgement about the nature of the task he has on his hands.
For Charlton Athletic’s performance in their 2-0 defeat to Peterborough United was in complete contrast to the bold, brave and boisterous demeanour that Karl Robinson has possessed since his appointment in SE7. His promises of attacking play, positive performances, and points made to look like the sort of promises Katrien Meire might make.
But for a period at the start of the second half, which saw Josh Magennis strike the post and Jordan Botaka’s deflected effort loop onto the top of the crossbar, the Addicks were lifeless. Without defensive structure, attacking intensity, and overall quality. Not one player in red reaching a desired level, and few showing enough effort to leave The Valley pitch for the final time in 2016 with any sort of pride.
That criticism, justified in its entirety given the desperate nature of Charlton’s display, not to take anything away from an organised, efficient and dynamic Peterborough side.
Grant McCann’s men opener coming with 21 minutes played, and followed a ten-minute period where a composed start from the Addicks became an incredibly sloppy one. Sloppiness also playing a part in the goal, as Ryan Tafazolli converted Paul Taylor’s delivery from a free-kick. Dillon Phillips unsure whether to come or stay, and those challenging the Posh defender not doing enough.
The remainder of the half filled with misplaced passes, a complete lack of quality in the opposition’s final third, and mounting frustration as those in red performed in a horribly lethargic fashion. Boos serenading the home side as they headed for the tunnel at half-time.
And though the promising start to the second period, with the Posh woodwork struck twice and the visitors appearing a touch rattled, offered hope, a return to the level of intensity, partnered by horrendous decision making and structural deficiencies, that plagued the opening 45 would soon return.
To be suitably punished with 66 minutes played, as Gwion Edwards skipped through red shirts as if they weren’t there, nut-megged Patrick Bauer, and finished emphatically beyond Phillips. A fine individual effort, embarrassing a weak defensive effort. Game over, and the Addicks certain to fall seven points behind the top six.
That Peterborough’s second goal had sealed their victory confirmed by Charlton’s response to falling further behind. A deflated and apathetic group of Addicks seemingly desperate for full-time, offering little to no fight and determination.
Still time for further embarrassment, as the underperforming Ademola Lookman slipped while taking a free-kick as full-time approached, allowing Posh to break and waste the opportunity to grab a third. Robinson, normally energetic and enthusiastic on the touchline, pensive and puzzled.
Possibly reassessing the extent of the bold claims the latest Charlton boss has made. Robinson partially to blame for the lack of fluency and structure, but the individual effort and quality of his side, in addition to the lack of genuine options in reserve, not helping his cause.
And a reminder that, irrespective of who controls the side, a revolution remains impossible while the real problems remain at the club. For Robinson cannot revolutionise with this squad, and you fear January will end without Roland Duchatelet and Meire providing the required tools.
Defeat in such a tame manner not anticipated before kick-off, with the performance in the goalless draw at Bradford City providing encouragement, and a return to what appeared a strong XI meant Tuesday’s FA Cup defeat to MK Dons could be ignored.
The injured Jason Pearce and Lee Novak missing from side that performed so valiantly at Valley Parade seven days ago, but their absence masked by a first league start of the season for Jorge Teixeira in defence, and Lookman, having been unwell last weekend, taking up a position out wide.
There was also a return to the starting XI for Morgan Fox, having been unwell last weekend and made an appearance off the bench at Stadium MK, at the expense of the consistently performing Adam Chicksen.
Some degree of pressure on Fox to perform, but a great deal on the Addicks. Still searching for a first victory under Robinson, and having scored just once in their three games under him, a positive result required to back up the positive glimpses seen at times under his stewardship.
And there nothing in the game’s opening ten minutes to suggest the hosts would be overwhelmed, despite Posh creating the first opportunity. Tom Nichols getting in behind down the right, but Shaquile Coulthirst turning his delivery horribly wide.
For an immediate, and more threatening, response from the Addicks followed. Clever footwork from Botaka on the edge of Peterborough’s box creating the smallest sight of goal, and his subsequent effort curling narrowly wide. Encouragement for another very small Valley crowd to make a bit of noise.
But that encouragement would soon be replaced by frustration, largely instilled by the man that had just provided a bit of promise. For Peterborough’s attacking style meant space was often offered to Charlton on the break, space that Botaka wasted in very disappointing fashion twice in quick succession.
Moves that could have very easily resulted in the Addicks being through on goal concluding with Peterborough regaining possession, and starting a break of their own, as a result of poor decision making from the Leeds loanee. The catalyst for misplaced passes and weak retention of the ball to spread throughout the Charlton side.
Teixeira and Bauer doing enough to restrict Posh in the final third, with an excellent block from the Portuguese denying Chris Forrester before Michael Smith shot well off-target, but the frequency with which the visitors were getting in behind down either flank was beginning to cause concern. Nichols and Taylor in particular were allowed to be first to almost everything.
And it was a Nichols run down the left that led to Posh’s opener, as Ezri Konsa hauled down the pacey forward.
The Addicks had defended a Taylor set-piece delivery from a similar position in the game’s opening moments, but the winger’s execution was far more threatening on this occasion, flighted perfectly for Tafazolli to attack. The defender nodding the ball beyond Phillips, showing great strength to make first contact ahead of Magennis and Bauer. A lead for Peterborough that acted as suitable punishment for the error-prone efforts of the previous ten minutes.
Little positive to be taken out of falling behind, not least from a set-piece, but did at least provide hope that there would be the required motivate and energetic response from the Addicks. A return to the efforts seen in the opening period at Valley Parade.
Alas, Robinson’s men remained clumsy and unorganised. The ball gifted to the opposition with even greater regularity, and Peterborough allowed to mount attacks with little to challenge in the centre of midfield.
Nichols cutting into the box from the left having rounded Konsa, but firing straight at Phillips, Leonardo Da Silva Lopes’ dragging an excellent opening across the face of goal after the ball fell kindly to him, and Forrester firing over on the volley from a half-cleared corner. There no question that the visitors were firmly in control.
If not reaffirmed with every Peterborough opening, then certainly with every failed Charlton attempt to get forward. Lookman uncharacteristically wasteful in possession, Magennis receiving little service but struggling to win the ball on the occasions he did, and Ajose’s anonymity making Duchatelet look like a Valley regular. There no fluency, cohesion or threat whatsoever.
With a little over half-an-hour played, and the familiar sound of disgruntled voices beginning to swarm The Valley, there was already a feeling that there would be no recovery from a second Posh goal. The immediate thought not to find the equaliser, but to get through to the interval with the deficit at only one.
A save from Phillips required to make sure that would be the case, as the goalkeeper did well to get behind a strong effort from Da Silva Lopes. Again, a Peterborough wide man finding a route into the box with far too much ease.
And with those defensive failings, combined with attacking tameness and a complete absence of any sort of intensity, it no wonder that the half-time whistle was met with boos. This year probably setting some kind of Valley record for half-time booing, but it reasonable to suggest this was a justified display of anger.
Not just a motivated response required from individuals in red, but so too strategy and structure to be instilled upon the side by Robinson. This simply not good enough.
It was to Charlton’s credit, therefore, that they started the second period in encouraging fashion. The amount of reasonable efforts on goal during the first half, one, matched inside the first five minutes as Magennis set the ball back for Ajose to fire off-target. A nice move, if lacking a composed finish.
Maybe most promising about such a move was Magennis’ involvement in it. Two further minutes passing before he was galloping down the left with pace and power, shrugging off a reckless challenge from Michael Bostwick, and finding himself through on goal.
The angle tight, and an unmarked Ajose making desperate pleas for the ball at the back post, but the Northern Ireland international chose to shot. Luke McGee beaten by his curling effort, but the ball bouncing away off the post. There would be no complaints if the ball had curled just a fraction more, but Ajose’s frustrated response told a story.
Nonetheless, there no doubts that this was better, and further encouragement was provided by Posh appearing a little flustered and finding it difficult to escape their own half.
An occurrence that created an opportunity for Botaka to correct the frustrations he inflicted during the first half. As with his effort in the game’s opening moments, the winger wriggled into a fraction of space on the edge of the box, but saw his effort take a considerable deflection off Andrew Hughes. The ball looping towards goal, beating McGee, but bouncing over via the crossbar.
More openings created in eight second-half minutes than during the entire first period, and arguably two openings as good as anything the opposition managed to create during their total dominance of the opening 45. Promising.
Some volume, not just created by tuts and anger, emerging from the subdued Covered End, reasonably believing that there was more to come. But it immediately became clear those openings were a rare break in the overall pattern of Charlton’s play, rather than setting the tone for something different.
Ball retention quickly becoming an issue again, both through misplaced passes and Lookman and Botaka frustratingly finding dead ends to run into, while the collective response to Peterborough’s still pacey attempts to break remained lethargic. Crofts a passenger in the middle, and both Fox and Konsa chasing shadows. There simply not enough from the Addicks to compete with an opponent doing little more than playing their game.
So the visitors doubling their lead with 66 minutes played was of little surprise to anyone inside the ground. Even fewer individuals surprised that their goal came as a result of rather questionable defensive efforts from the Addicks.
Though that not to diminish Edwards’ marvellous individual strike, running from the middle of the pitch, beating a handful of effective static players in red on his way, and finishing in superb fashion into Phillips’ far corner. Sort of like scoring a goal you’re proud of on FIFA when the opponent’s controller has run out of batteries.
It seemed that the Addicks had removed their energy supply by choice, as there no determined response to falling further behind to get the crowd on side. Instead, possession was cheaply given away in the centre, substitute George Moncur twisted Konsa inside and out several times over, and his shot across the face of goal needed Phillips’ finger tips to keep it out. Grim.
In fairness, it was probably too late to instil any sort of encouragement, as proven with the groans as Magennis tamely nodded wide from Fox’s delivery, while the decision to remove Ulvestad and keep Crofts on the pitch, with Joe Aribo coming on for a league debut, certainly didn’t help.
Nor, for that matter, did Ajose diverting what appeared a goal-bound header from Fox wide. The left-back, enduring as torrid an afternoon as anyone else in red, rising highest to flick on Lookman’s corner, but Ajose’s legs, attempting to help the ball on its path, deflected the effort off-target. A moment to sum up this dreadful afternoon of comedic errors, absent cohesion, and dreadful football.
Chicksen, to his credit relatively lively having come off the bench, would fire wide with Posh seemingly settling on their two-goal advantage, before a final Charlton change was made. A frustrated Valley crowd possibly overstepping the mark, with Fox serenaded with sarcastic cheers as he left the pitch to be replaced by Brandon Hanlan.
A tough afternoon for the Welshman, but directing such abuse at a single player didn’t sit particularly well. At the very least, there men who had performed with less effort and determination than Fox.
In fact, the only time the Addicks would show any fight came in stoppage-time, as a brawl between the two sides broke out after Forrester and Chicksen clashed. No one in red using the opportunity to get themselves sent off, and as such get Christmas off.
But, had there been a dismissal, you wouldn’t have noticed in the moments that remained, such was the level of anonymity among many of those in red. As Posh, undoubtedly grateful for how simple a task they were given, enjoyed their victory with their travelling supporters, the Addicks, heads bowed, slumped down the tunnel to a chorus of boos.
There no more fitting fashion for the final home game of this torrid year to end.
The final home game of the year it might have been, but more truthfully it was one that was meant to set the tone for what remains of this season. An opportunity for Robinson and his side to prove to the apathetic Valley crowd that there remains value in committing to their side.
An opportunity horribly wasted. This a performance as poor and pathetic as has been seen in SE7 this season. Not a single player can hold his head high, and most deserve to feel embarrassed.
Bauer and Teixeira unusually unsettled, though probably not helped by the fact Konsa and Fox were being beaten down the flanks with incredible regularity, while Ulvestad and Crofts were offering little protection in midfield.
The decision making of Botaka and Lookman, who you would hope didn’t have his mind elsewhere, was constantly flawed, rarely has Magennis had such little impact on a game, while Ajose offered as close to nothing as you’re going to get. Individually, it was dire all over.
And as dire as a collective. A non-existent structure allowing Posh to break through without any real challenge, fluency and cohesion lacking to the extent that this side looked like a team of strangers on several occasions, and the collective lack of intensity and energy incredibly disheartening particularly after the effort at Valley Parade.
Robinson seemingly powerless to stop it. A grim performance to oversee four games into his spell in charge. Four games that have produced just one goal.
One game, and one stat, that does not define his Charlton career, but this certainly an afternoon to completely counter the early enthusiasm that Robinson has attempted to instil. A reminder for him that more is required to address underperformance on the pitch than his soundbites and promises might suggest. A reminder that the apparent positive relationship he has with a damage-inflicting regime will be severely tested in January.
A reality check for all of us.
Though maybe it shouldn’t be that great a shock. For this style of defeat, tamely falling behind and then offering no fight in response, has been seen throughout the year, both home and away. By Karel Fraeye’s Charlton, by Jose Riga’s Charlton, by Russel Slade’s Charlton, and now by Karl Robinson’s Charlton.
It’s almost as if the problem, despite the persistent attempts by Duchatelet to pass the blame on with regular sackings of bosses, lies away from the dugout. Who, in this year of supporters losing connection with their club as a result of a torrid regime, would have thought that?