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.