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Loneliness

I had a single motivation when choosing to express the extent of my mental and physical health struggles at the start of December.

The emotions that were expressed in those words were weighing me down to a point where I couldn’t function to any degree. The motivation was to simply express myself. To translate the confusing, overwhelming and overpowering emotions into words.

It was not, in my mind at least, a cry for help. I wasn’t begging and pleading for others to make a difference. More an attempt to help myself.

Help and support, however, arrived in incredible amounts. For a brief period, the emotions that were overwhelming changed from crushing to empowering. A belief that I’m better than the person my situation makes me think I am, and a belief that others believe I’m a better person than I think I am.

For the majority of my life, and certainly from the start of my teenage years onwards, I have been made to feel isolated, excluded and marginalised. I have made myself feel isolated, excluded and marginalised. Never have I felt so appreciated, supported and valued as I did in the evenings that followed writing that post.

Strangers who had made no interaction with me before, providing me with words of care and encouragement. Words that many have probably forgotten sending, but words that I will always treasure and value.

People I knew, going out of their way to offer support they simply didn’t need to, but meant so much. Not just showing that they cared, but showing appreciation for what I do, and for me as an individual.

The handwritten message on a shirt sent by Johnnie Jackson, the invitation from Chris Powell to be a guest at a Derby County game, and the handwritten letter from Bradley Pritchard (which I have chosen not to share). Three people who I idolise offering incredible levels of personal support. I don’t believe I can make anyone truly appreciate just how much those acts mean to me.

This incredible amount of support in general, that I didn’t call for or even expect to a single percent, is something I’ll never truly be able to express my appreciation for. Every word, every act. I truly value.

I feel like the extent of it all means it should be lifechanging. Or at least have provided me with tools to fight against how I feel. I should feel anything but alone, isolated and unwanted.

So it is with extreme guilt that I must admit the previous few months have been unbearable. I feel like my overall position has got worse. I’m certain that I have become even more trapped in a state of isolation and loneliness.

Guilt, because so many people in so many different ways went out of their way to make me feel like I was anything but alone. That I feel even more alone, or at least even more crushed by this sense of loneliness, feels like I’m disregarding everything that was done for me. That I’ve just ignored it all, and not given it the value it warranted.

I don’t know how I prove it, but I want everyone reading this to know and believe that that simply isn’t the case. On countless occasions have I referred back to that support in my mind to control my emotions and make myself believe I don’t deserve to feel like I do.

That Jackson shirt, the tip of this iceberg of support, sitting in the corner of my room, as a reminder that people do care, and I need to keep fighting against how I feel for the people that care. The blunt reality is that Jackson shirt, and everything that goes with it, has quelled suicidal thoughts on more than one occasion.

The support is a motivator as much as it is an arm around the back. I try so hard to use it as a motivator. But since the turn of the year, I’ve been failing.

In other regards too, but it’s the loneliness that is really destroying me. It’s the loneliness that I should be using this support to address, but instead it’s only got worse.

I guess loneliness to most people is the idea of being alone. Something that involves having no company, and can be addressed by finding some company. Loneliness (isolation, marginalisation, worthlessness, self-loathing etc etc) is much more complicated in my mind.

There is, obviously, an aspect of it that reflects the traditional notion of what loneliness is. I’m alone. I don’t really feel like I have any friends, I spend almost all of my time on my own.

I don’t have the social skills, the opportunity, or the mental capability to address the fact I’m always on my own. I can’t communicate with people, I’m struggling more than ever to leave the house unless my dad is with me, and anxiety and depression prevents me from engaging in conversation with any sort of confidence.

I do make attempts to address it. I attempt to converse with people online, but every exchange leaves me fearful and anxious. Constantly scared about how the person I’m talking to perceives me, and most of the time I just retreat.

Something that stops me from talking to people I used to be friends with. A fear that the reason they’ve stopped talking to me is because of their perception of me. Fighting against these perceptions, that are really just perceptions I have of myself that I believe others share, isn’t something I’m good at.

And opportunities to address that loneliness would scare me. I want to hide, and want to be alone, and yet I hate it and want to fight it. The idea of being around others is terrifying. I’m just stuck.

There are times when I do challenge that loneliness. I think the only one that actually makes some sort of difference is when I’m refereeing. I adopt a confident character, that can handle both conversation and being in control, but it is just a character.

A character to the extent that the moment I finish refereeing, a return to the fragile mess I normally am. I begin to fear that the players and coaches involved in the game I’ve refereed despise not just as a referee, but as a person. I feel hated, having felt confident and calm while actually having a whistle in my mouth.

I think that that’s the basis of this loneliness, this isolation, this marginalisation. I can’t help but despise myself. I can’t help but believe everyone else despises me to an even greater extent.

It’s why that support I received a few months ago was so important, and why I do truly value it. And it’s also why it’s incredibly upsetting that that support hasn’t challenged my perception of myself, or how others perceive me. The evidence is there, and yet I can’t accept it.

I know where, in addition to the general state of my mental health, this comes from. This self-loathing, that makes me believe everyone else loathes me in similar ways. That makes me look for the smallest, smallest thing that others a suggestion someone has a negative opinion of me, and turn it into a showing of hatred.

I’ve always been alone. Always isolated. Always bullied.

Bullied throughout school, and the feeling that everyone was against me always there. Sometimes not just a feeling, and actually expressed. So many instances of people, classes even, collectively ganging up against me in words or actions.

Bullying that led to me having to deal with anorexia for the best part of two years. The transformation of my mind into an anorexic one where this sense of loneliness and fear that everyone dislikes me really comes from. Long recovered from anorexia, but never shifting the perception of myself that I believe others have.

Bullied in a similar manner once I went to university, and a huge part of the reason I have worsened to such an extent over the previous three or four years. Locked in my room, knowing those outside of it were all against me. The feeling that everyone is against me just something I haven’t been able to shake.

In those periods, academic success was my saving grace. It doesn’t matter that I’m lonely and disliked because I’m getting As. The amount of times a teacher told me to ignore the bullying because I would have a better life in the future countless.

Now I feel like I’ve wasted that academic success, and feel I have another reason for people to dislike me. Constant panic attacks about being a failure, and a failure in the eyes of others. I certainly don’t have the better life those teachers promised.

Another reason to feel isolated and marginalised.

It’s something I feel when watching Charlton. Nothing to do with the state of the club, and everything to do with me. Believing that people around me dislike me without logical reason.

Maybe it’s the fact people I don’t know might know who I am, or at least know I’m the chap behind this blog and dislike me accordingly. Sometimes I wish I’d never started this blog, and didn’t have this persona. I just want to hide.

Maybe I should just bin off the blog, and attempt to hide. Maybe it’s holding me back in my attempts to get better. But it’s a distraction, a focus, and something I get a sense of enjoyment from.

At the same time, there’s a loneliness that comes from this blog. The fear that people reading it dislike what I’ve produced. That’s not to say that I should be criticised or questioned, it’s more the criticism and questioning that I don’t receive, that I effectively make up and believe exists.

And I guess, on top of all that, is a certain loneliness that comes from being unwell. I can’t do justice to the feeling of detachment and isolation that comes after having a seizure. Seizure provide plenty of physical pain, but the mental impact eclipses that.

It means several days in bed, lacking both the mental stability and energy to engage in life. It’s not just direct pain, but reaffirmation of my loneliness. How restricted I am, or at least how restricted I feel, and how isolated my situation has left me.

A sense of being different, too. The medication, the hospital appointments, the symptoms. I can’t have a normal life, and as such it’s hard to believe everyone sees me as different.

All of this loneliness, all of these aspects that create a sense of loneliness, filtered through a mind that’s crippled by depression and anxiety.

The loneliness increases. The depression and anxiety increase. The loneliness increases. Stuck.

And that’s really what the overall feeling is, I think. One of being stuck or trapped.

Stuck and trapped in this sense of loneliness, despite that support that should have allowed me to break free. Battling against a sense of guilt, that I’ve let people down, and just a simple sense of sadness, that I’ve not been able to make any sort of progress. I have to keep telling myself, and I feel like I have to keep telling everyone else, that I do want to get better despite the fact I’m getting nowhere.

I don’t really know what this is. It’s not a cry for help, or that would make many of the words I’ve said meaningless. Besides, I don’t know what would actually help, and I don’t know how to help myself.

I guess it’s just a consequence of feeling like this, after a time where I briefly believed I no longer would, since the start of the year and needing a way of expressing it. It’s probably a mess and doesn’t make much sense, I’ve just tried to translate my thoughts into words again.

Sorry for posting stuff like this on a Charlton blog. There’ll be a report from Shrewsbury tomorrow, so miserable readings about football will soon replace miserable readings about real life. Thank you for reading.

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Preview: Shrewsbury Town V Charlton Athletic

This the beginning of the week where the motivation, determination and fight of Charlton Athletic supporters will be anything but questioned. Addicks travelling to Belgium on Saturday to protest against the regime that’s crippling their club. Doing absolutely all they can to force Roland Duchatelet into ending the destruction he’s overseen in SE7.

But before then, there is a game on Tuesday night. A trip to Shrewsbury Town, where motivation, determination and fight might well be questioned. Qualities that have been questioned of those representing the Addicks in recent weeks.

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Six games passing without victory for Karl Robinson’s side, and without an acceptable level of performance being reached. Actual footballing qualities largely absent, and tactical structure ranging from flimsy to non-existent, but the mentality of those in red hasn’t helped. Particularly in the previous two games, ending in defeats at The Valley, where much more has been demanded.

But where is the motivation to improve going to come from? The play-offs long gone, and this season resigned to failure. Professional pride all that remains for this group of Addicks to play for, but have they even got the determination to prove they have that?

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Maybe they should look towards a set of supporters that are starting to, if they haven’t already, lose faith in their side. Not just in the sense of needing to prove their worth, and to disprove the legitimate doubts of their fans. But in the sense that emulating such determination would surely see success.

There is, however, no maybe about it at the New Meadow on Tuesday. Nothing less than a victory will do for Robinson’s side. Nothing less than a fully-committed performance.

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LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 3-0 SHREWSBURY TOWN (16/08/2016)

A brutal nine-minute first-half period was enough for the Addicks to claim their first victory following an indifferent start to the campaign, and claim it in convincing fashion as Shrewsbury were crushed at The Valley in August.

A brutal period led by the match-winning qualities of Ricky Holmes. The game, with reasonable chances at both end, evenly contested until the 22nd minute, as the summer signing from Northampton Town cut inside before striking a spectacular effort beyond Shrews stopper Jayson Leutwiler.

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And Russell Slade, for who this would be his first victory in charge, saw his side double their advantage just two minutes later. The visitors unable to clear a delivery into the box, something of a goalmouth scramble ensuing, and Johnnie Jackson capitalising. His signature kneeslide following having forced the ball over the line.

By this point, Shrewsbury were already deflated, and the Addicks had started to settle into a rhythm that would go uninterrupted for the remainder of the contest. Holmes’ second goal, therefore, guaranteed the points for the Addicks with a little less than an hour still to play. The winger, intentional or not, scoring direct from corner.

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And despite Charlton sitting deeper during the second period, inviting the Shrews to have more possession and seemingly settling for a three-goal victory, the hosts never looked threatened.

In fact, were it not for Nicky Ajose making his first of many horrendous misses before ultimately being loaned back to Swindon Town, a fourth would have been added. A fourth that wouldn’t have flattered Slade’s side.

A convincing first win of the season, and for Charlton’s new boss. But those that were convinced that this level of quality would be repeated throughout the season were soon to be having second thoughts.

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FORM

Shrewsbury: LWLWWD

When Paul Hurst left behind the impressive job he’d done at Grimsby Town to take the reins at the New Meadow, Shrewsbury found themselves in a bleak situation. Bottom of League One with 15 games played, only two victories to their name, and the threat of relegation a very real one. A seemingly impossible task for the former Rotherham United left-back.

And so for Hurst to describe his side’s weekend defeat to MK Dons as below-par carries with it a sense of dread and fear. Or at least it would have done had it occurred immediately after his appointment.

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For such is the improvement under his stewardship, a four-point cushion sits between the Shrews and the bottom four in spite of suffering defeat at Stadium MK. A four-point cushion that doesn’t guarantee safety, not least with 21st-place club Port Vale having two games in hand, but one that puts survival in their own hands. That in itself an impressive achievement after the state Shrewsbury were in when Hurst arrived.

Their climb away from the bottom four helped by five victories in their previous eight games. Clubs who are focusing on the top end of the division, such as Bradford City and Scunthorpe United, suffering defeat against Hurst’s hard-working and resilient side.

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In that resilience, and the increase in confidence that comes with it, that has allowed the Shrews to go on such an impressive run. All five of those recent victories coming by a single goal.

And it those qualities of resilience and confidence, that Hurst has instilled since his arrival, that means there isn’t a fear the Dons defeat will lead to a longer term drop in performance levels and results. An immediate response expected, from the club that were not so long ago resigning themselves to the drop.

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Charlton: LLDLDD

It seems quite incredible that we have gone from Robinson’s emphatic fist pump in front of the Macron Stadium’s away end to the Charlton boss heading as quickly down The Valley’s tunnel as possible after a sixth successive game without victory.

Six games that have seen Robinson’s decision making appear questionable, the defensive structure of his side vanish, and ability on the ball become non-existent. The Addicks stuck in a rather grim rut, reflecting the overall state of a club being dragged into the ground. The promised play-offs out of sight, and failure assured.

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Those wishing to make excuses for Robinson and his side will point to the amount of chances created that haven’t been taken over the course of these six winless games. If Lee Novak’s first-half header was an inch lower against Bury, if Patrick Bauer’s nod towards goal hadn’t found the man on the line against Oxford, and if any sort of composure in front of goal had been shown at Oldham, then the Addicks might well have accrued more points.

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But, aside from those chances being created in spite of, and not because of, the overall performances, these wasted openings are exposing a lack of potency and ruthlessness. Part of the problem, and not an excuse for it.

And it not just frustration and disappointment that exists over the previous six games, but a fear of what will follow in the next 13. Performances so poor, and confidence so low, that it’s difficult to see an immediate turnaround.

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THE OPPOSITION

Having scored off the bench in the weekend defeat to MK Dons, forward Stephen Humphrys is in contention for a starting spot in Hurst’s starting XI on Tuesday. The place of Stefan Payne, yet to score since arriving on loan from Barnsley, under some threat.

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The Fulham loanee one of several alternatives, which include AJ Leitch-Smith, Louis Dodds and Adam El-Abd, available to Shrewsbury’s boss after he suggested his side’s performance at the weekend wasn’t good enough.

Alternatives available to Hurst despite injury ravaging his squad. A chance that West Brom loanee Tyler Roberts will be available after hamstring troubles, but Joe Riley (hamstring), Olly Lancashire (calf) and Abu Ogogo (knee) remain absent.

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THE ADDICKS

Charlton not only ending Saturday’s defeat to Bury without pride or points, but also a number of their players.

Stephy Mavididi sustaining what appears to be the most serious injury of the three that were picked up at the weekend, with the impressive Arsenal loanee stretchered off in the game’s closing stages. The forward incredibly unlikely to be available on Tuesday, or for some time thereafter, with Tony Watt and Jordan Botaka in line to replace the 19-year-old.

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Jake Forster-Caskey, having limped off ten minutes into the second period, is also a major doubt for the trip to Shrewsbury. Andrew Crofts or Johnnie Jackson the alternatives available to Robinson should he be without his January signing from Brighton.

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But Patrick Bauer, having been replaced at half-time following a clash of heads during the opening 45, should be okay to start. The German, you would hope, withdrawn with a bit of grogginess and nothing more than that.

Elsewhere, Chris Solly serves the second game of his three-game suspension, while Jason Pearce (groin), Adam Chicksen (knee) and Fredrik Ulvestad (niggle that seems to be lasting a lifetime) remain absent.

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KEY BATTLE – UNSETTLING THE SHREWS/ACTUALLY TAKING A CHANCE

Shrewsbury are grinding out results. Claiming leads, and then defending with guts and determination to claim all three points. The opposition offered very little.

And as such, chances for a Charlton side that seemingly need at least 3,928 to take one are likely to come at a premium. The defensive capitulation from the Shrews that allowed the Addicks to help themselves to three goals at The Valley in August highly unlikely. Hurst’s side a much more resilient beast than the one Mellon oversaw.

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Really not ideal when Robinson’s side have not only struggled to break teams down in recent weeks, but wasted the openings when they have done. A situation worsened by the likely absence of Mavididi, who had both Oxford and Bury on the back foot.

Nonetheless, an early MK Dons goal at the weekend seemed to unsettle the Shrews, and it’s what Hurst has suggested prevented his side from playing to the standard they have done in recent weeks. Kieran Agard giving the Dons a fifth minute lead, which was Harvey Barnes was allowed to double just six minutes later.

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And so, if the Addicks can show both the intent and potency they have been lacking in recent weeks, there may be an opportunity for them. Racing out of the blocks, capitalising on a Shrewsbury side that will probably want a few moments to settle into the game after suffering defeat at the weekend, and claiming an early advantage.

Take the game to the opposition. Something we can do, with the likes of Holmes and Watt available, but not something we’ve done for some time.

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PREDICTION

I want a response. I’m demanding a response. It’s just hard to believe it will come after the dejection the previous showings have created. Shrewsbury Town 1-1 Charlton Athletic

Photos: Charlton Athletic V Bury

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Tame Addicks Sink to New Lowe

Levels of frustration and anger around The Valley only increasing, but there barely enough enthusiasm to force the full-time boos this Charlton Athletic performance warranted.

The booing of this display, a display not enough to avoid a 1-0 defeat to strugglers Bury, a half-hearted expression of disproval, and a more revealing showing of apathy. Not enough energy among home supporters to display the true extent to which they’re suffering. That energy long beaten out of them.

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It not just a sixth sluggish performance, and a six successive game without victory, from Karl Robinson’s side that has deflated Addicks to such an extent. It not just those performances that led to a Football for a Fiver crowd SE7 as low as any seen previously. It the consequence of three years of a football club doing it all it can to alienate a group of supporters who deserve so much better.

Who deserve better than to be having already bleeding wounds widened. But it’s easier to hide that pain, and pretend it doesn’t matter. To shrug off the extent to which the hallmarks of Roland Duchatelet’s regime – disconnection, destruction and failure – hurt.

On this occasion, those representing the empty shell of this club might believe they have excuses to justify their pathetic effort. Enough chances created to deserve more. On another day, with a bit more fortune, it could have been different.

There certainly no excuses for gifting experienced forward Ryan Lowe a chance he was never going to waste with 21 minutes played. Several dire Jorge Teixeira attempts to clear the ball from the byline ultimately punished by Jacob Mellis, who pulled back for the 38-year-old to finish coolly. The goal that would prove the winner conceded in pathetic fashion.

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But in response, amid the countless misplaced passes and overhit crosses, Robinson’s side did create several genuine openings. A first-half Lee Novak header that crashed against the crossbar followed by a further nod towards goal that required a strong save from Shakers stopper Joe Murphy. The palms of goalkeeper Murphy also needed to deny Stephy Mavididi, who would be carried off on a stretcher shortly before full-time, and Tony Watt.

Though a series of wasted chances, with the Addicks again proving tame in front of goal, aren’t enough to provide a genuine excuse. To mean the stale, sluggish and predictable play in possession becomes irrelevant. To mean the general lack of energy, determination, and intent can be ignored.

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There no place to hide for Robinson and his players, despite the former’s attempt to bury his head and escape down the tunnel come the final whistle. This another half-hearted effort, lacking organisation and quality, that seemed to mirror the regime above them. Any criticism they receive justified.

And there certainly no place to hide for the regime. No excuses for the sustained failure they have created. No way they can ignore the disconnection between club and supporters they have caused, and no way for them to address it with such damage done.

In a way, it would be nice if these pathetic defeats hurt as they should. If connection hadn’t been killed. If the booing was full throttle, and not a token gesture from a group of fans who are hurting in a way they no longer have the energy to express.

Deflated, when I should be distraught.

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An attempt to inject some sort of life into a deflated side made prior to kick-off, with Robinson making the promised changes to his starting XI.

Out went Andrew Crofts, struggling in recent weeks, and Josh Magennis, having failed to make a real impression since returning from injury, to be replaced by Joe Aribo and Novak. The first change encouraging; the latter less so.

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Ezri Konsa also coming into Robinson’s side, replacing the suspended Chris Solly. Nathan Byrne taking Solly’s position at right-back, Konsa into the centre of midfield, Forster-Caskey pushing further forward, and Ricky Holmes claiming both the armband and Byrne’s wide right position. Changes in personnel that would hopefully lead to a change in attitude, mentality and performance.

Early signs, however, weren’t exactly encouraging. Still far too slow in possession, with each individual looking short of ideas upon receiving the ball, and Mavididi the only player in red showing any sort of attacking intent. Asking far too much for a teenager to carry the side’s attacking ambitions.

So too were the Addicks again looking fragile in the full-back areas. Wing-back Taylor Moore in behind far too easily, and an important block from Patrick Bauer required. Bury debutant Paul Caddis latching onto the loose ball, and striking a a bouncing effort from distance that kept Declan Rudd on his toes.

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At the very least, Caddis’ attempt was a touch more threatening than Holmes’ that followed at the other end. Cutting inside from the right, before sending his strike in the general direction of the left corner flag.

But all that, and the lingering concern that exists as a consequence of the previous five performances, appeared irrelevant with seven minutes played as a goal mouth scramble from a Charlton set-piece concluded with Bauer bundling the ball over the line. The German, however, hardly discreet in his pushing of Cameron Burgess prior to converting, and the whistle of referee Trevor Kettle ending the premature Valley celebrations before they had begun to boil.

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Enough, nonetheless, for the Covered End’s volume to increase, helped by further promising signs as the lively Mavididi powered his way from the left touch line to a central position just outside Bury’s box. His resulting shot just wide.

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Wiser members of The Valley faithful were not allowing themselves to get carried away, however, and their caution was justified with 21 minutes played as the Addicks impressively managed to shoot themselves in the foot.

Several chances to clear, as Teixeira’s failed attempts fell back to his feet, but the Portuguese couldn’t deliver the decisive strike away from Charlton’s box. The ball ultimately settling into the possession of Mellis, whose cut back allowed Lowe to finish from little more than six yards. The sort of composed finish you would expect from a man of his experience, but a goal gifted to the Shakers nonetheless.

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The Valley crowd, commendably, not immediately turning against their side, and cries of encouragement tinged with desperation could be heard as play resumed. The home supporters less apologetic when Moore was gifted possession and allowed to fire off-target. Lee Clark’s side had rattled the Addicks, but it more so the case that the Addicks were inflicting most of their own harm.

Relief, of any degree, required, and it might have arrived had Novak committed himself more purposefully to Konsa’s ball across the face of goal. Plenty of power behind the teenager’s cross, but the forward unable to make what would have surely been a goal-scoring connection.

Novak, however, could make connection with the next cross that came into Bury’s box. The forward, who played under Clark at Birmingham, peeling away from his marker and heading Forster-Caskey’s delivery back across goal with a degree of power. The crossbar struck.

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A sign, if not just papering over the misplaced passes and sluggish possession play, that the Addicks had the quality to get back into this encounter. Another goalmouth scramble seeing Murphy block a Novak prod towards goal, before Caddis got his body in the way of a Bauer attempt. But potency, as it has been for several weeks, still lacking.

The absence of potency particularly important given that, as has also been the case over the previous few weeks, the sense a second Bury goal would confirm defeat existed. The Addicks again exposed as Hallam Hope led a Shakers break in stoppage-time, only for Lowe to kill what should have been a more threatening counter with a wayward cross. A reminder, nonetheless, of how frail Robinson’s side continued to appear, and reaffirming that they would be serenaded by a chorus of boos come the half-time whistle.

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Defensive concern only growing after the interval with Bauer, treated midway through the opening 45 after a clash of heads, withdrawn to be replaced by Crofts. The Welshman, assisted by an equally as wayward partner in Jake Forster-Caskey, settling into a rhythm of misplaced passes from the off.

In fact, it took until Forster-Caskey was withdrawn with what appeared to be injury ten minutes into the half for the Addicks to show any sort of composure on the ball. Magennis replacing the January signing, and, in a shock twist, a Robinson side featured two out and out forwards.

And with an hour played, one of those forwards was presented with a wonderful chance to draw his side level. A marvellous delivery from Holmes, having raced down the left with trademark intent, finding an unmarked Novak at the near post, with preparations being made for celebration as he nodded towards the bottom corner. But there not enough power behind the header, and Murphy able to react quickly enough to make a fabulous save.

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Again, a familiar dilemma of emotions existing. To be encouraged by the Addicks creating chances, or to be frustrated by their inability to finish them. Another Novak header, you would assume an effort on goal but the forward’s faint touch making it a flick across the face of goal, going to waste edging you towards the latter.

Though you can’t help but be enthused when Mavididi embarks on a run. His power, skill and intent greater than his teammates combined. The Arsenal loanee coming in from the right, shrugging off several Bury players to make the space to shoot, but seeing his strike blocked by a combination of Shakers defence and Murphy.

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A similar amount of encouragement to be had at the sight of Holmes standing over a free-kick placed at the edge of the box after his effort against AFC Wimbledon two weeks ago. A similar amount of loft and dip to get the ball over the wall and back down again, but Murphy was able to take a step across his line and claim the ball with ease. Tame.

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And still, despite this degree of Charlton pressure, which was mixed with enough weak losses of possession and tame attempts in the final third to mean the phrase ‘sustained’ cannot be used, the sense a second Bury goal would be fatal existed. As did the sense that it wasn’t beyond the reach of Clark’s dogged and determined side to get one.

Charlton’s line sneaking higher and higher up the pitch, and Hope was able to catch it out. The former Everton youngster driving into a shooting position, and unleashing a strong attempt. Rudd required to divert the ball over the bar.

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The sense that a second Bury goal would be fatal obviously increasing as time went on, but with a little less than 15 minutes to play, it was beginning to become a reality that their first one would be enough for them. Novak again unmarked from a Holmes cross, but his far post header sent horrible wide. This certainly the point where wasted chances began to frustrate more than encourage.

So too was this the point where, with the Addicks committed forward, more and more space was available for the Shakers to pose a threat on the counter. The rapid Greg Leigh bursting down the left, his cross-cum-shot blocked away by Rudd, and Mellis firing the loose ball over the bar.

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Amid this increasing concern that the visitors would kill the game off, Charlton were still trying in desperation to salvage something. Substitute Watt with clever footwork, cutting inside, and curling an effort towards the top corner. Not quite enough power behind it, and Murphy able to push the ball away.

But Bury’s advantage was to increase before full-time, at least numerically. Ambitious shouts for a penalty as Leon Barnett cleanly dispossessed a rampaging Mavididi, but the forward seemingly suffering serious damage as he tumbled off the pitch. A stretcher required to carry the Arsenal loanee away and, with Robinson already having used his three substitutes, the Addicks left with ten men for four additional minutes.

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The nature of the situation meant Teixeira, probably with his two goals against Rochdale in mind, was made a makeshift forward. The Portuguese sent through on goal in the first of those additional minutes, only for the crossbar, and the assistant referee’s flag, to deny him.

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For the remainder of those additional minutes, however, it was as if it were Bury attempting to salvage something from the game. Substitute Tom Pope through on goal, fellow sub George Miller unmarked in the centre, but the latter unable to control the former’s delivery. Actually quite useful for the Shakers, as Miller’s chasing of a ball still in play, and his attempts to retain it thereafter, took more seconds out of the game.

But Miller might have actually confirmed victory for Clark’s side prior to the full-time whistle, with the forward breaking into the box from the left, and seeing a strike patted away at the near post by Rudd. Pope’s tame attempt ultimately allowing Rudd to claim the ball, but it mattered little.

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First because the Shakers had shown all the energy and determination the Addicks had not, and secondly as the full-time whistle would blow as Rudd attempted to distribute the ball.

A full-time whistle met with sights and sounds that mirrored the events of Tuesday night. Robinson quickly escaping down the tunnel, he and his players booed off, and the visiting side allowed to enjoy a hard-fought victory in front of their travelling supporters. This, once again, simply not good enough.

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Well, Bury enjoying a victory as hard-fought as a victory can be against a side without structure, quality or potency.

Let’s not, however, deny Clark’s side the praise they warrant. Capitalising on dreadful Charlton defending, taking the chance that was offered to them, and defending wholeheartedly thereafter. Whether that be the backline that Ian Evatt superbly marshalled, or the excellent Murphy’s fingertips.

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They had a chance. They took it. They held onto it.

We had several chances. We didn’t take them. We showed the defensive composure of a Sunday League side playing at 10am after a heavy night on the town.

This “we had enough chances to win the game” nonsense that Robinson wants to spurt out, papering the cracks of another stale and lifeless performance, simply doesn’t cut it. We had chances, of course, but we’ve showed no potency in front of goal for several weeks now. It’s not an excuse, it’s part of the reason we find ourselves six games without a win and 11 points form the play-offs.

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Part of the problem in addition to the overall quality in the final third. Cleared crosses a familiar sight in recent weeks, but Charlton were intent on creating new frustration with an unrelenting number of overhit deliveries on this occasion. Lewis Page, who had a torrid afternoon both going forward and defensively, and Byrne particularly guilty during their forays forward.

Then there’s the general lack of quality on the ball in the centre of the pitch. Forster-Caskey, particularly after his early promise, misplacing more passes than he retained, and the amount of times a Charlton player stood with the ball at his feet without an idea where to send it was quite incredible. Even Aribo, for who there is no need to criticise, was stifled by the fact there was rarely a forward pass available to him.

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Teenagers, in Aribo, Konsa and Mavididi, the only players that come away from today with any real credit. It seems greedy to say Mavididi needs to improve his decision making, given the pleasure derived from seeing him burst forward, but a bit more end product and he’ll begin to create and finish. We’re in a spot of bother, as if we’re not already, if his injury is serious.

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But it doesn’t really matter, does it? Both from the perspective the league table provides, and the manner in which emotions have been drained. The full-time booing, the sound of a group of supporters who have been battered and bruised too often in the previous three years and seeing their connection with their club weaken and weaken, the perfect example.

Some of it the result of persistent pathetic performances, and faith being lost. Some of it the consequence of a belief that there is little hope, regardless of the changes made on the pitch, while Duchatelet’s regime oversees proceedings. Some of it a sad and depressing separation that’s occurred as a result of Duchatelet’s doing.

The Valley’s response to a sixth successive game without victory, and a sixth successive dire effort, should have been anger. The anger was there. But meaningful emotions like anger have been replaced by apathy.

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Preview: Charlton Athletic V Bury

The reverse of this season’s first fixture taking place at The Valley this Saturday, with Bury the visitors. A fixture that set the tone for the campaign after its first 90 minutes. A desperate performance, a disappointing defeat, and Roger Johnson telling booing supporters that they shouldn’t fucking come if they don’t like.

But even amid the despair of the full-time whistle at Gigg Lane, there remained a degree of expectancy that the Addicks would be competitive in League One. That they would settle into a strong unit, and challenge for promotion.

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A managerial sacking, several moments of Roland Duchatelet igniting fury among supporters, and just nine wins from 32 games later, and that expectancy has proven to be incredibly naïve. The only expectancy that can exist while this regime remains in control is despair and failure.

Emotions that were experienced in abundance on Tuesday night. An empty, soulless Valley, watching Karl Robinson’s side offering little fight as they succumbed to a 1-0 defeat to Oxford United. Ten points from the play-offs, eight from the relegation zone; the season over already and failure assured.

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A club in a desperate state, and efforts on the pitch doing very little to inject any sort of enthusiasm. So much so that relegation-threatened Bury, led by new boss Lee Clark, have as great a chance as the Addicks of winning this encounter.

At least, what with this being a Football for a Fiver game, the empty seats that reflected an overwhelming sense of apathy will be filled by spectators. But in the club’s current state, apathy is still likely to fill The Valley.

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LAST MEETING – BURY 2-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (06/08/2016)

On an afternoon where Charlton were expected to make an immediate impression in their first game back in League One, the only impression that was made was that nothing would change while Duchatelet’s regime remains in charge.

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Wounds still being licked following last season’s relegation, and the constant misery inflicted by Duchatelet and Katrien Meire, and they only growing deeper as Bury punished a sluggish Addicks performance under new boss Russell Slade.

It took until the 71st minute for the hosts to take the lead at Gigg Lane, but they had been in control and created the better chances throughout the contest. Jason Pearce pulling back Nathan Cameron from a corner, and Neil Danns converting from the spot.

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An opening-day defeat assured with three minutes to play, as Cameron knocked a corner down for Kelvin Etuhu to bundle the ball over the line. A combination of despondency, booing, and calls for the regime to sell emerging from the away end.

The suffering of over 1,000 visiting Addicks compounded beyond full-time, as Johnson issued his infamous line to group of rightfully angered supporters. If fans chose to not turn up as we didn’t like, there would be even more empty seats.

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BURY: WDWLDD

An adversary of the Addicks during the Chris Powell-led promotion season has been appointed to guide Bury away from the relegation zone.

And former Huddersfield Town boss Lee Clark, having replaced temporary head coach Chris Brass last week, got off to the idea start at the weekend. A vital victory away at fellow struggles Chesterfield, with George Miller’s stoppage-time winner taking the Shakers above the drop zone.

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Clark, who arrived at Grigg Lane from Kilmarnock, has never quite lived up to the managerial potential that a play-off final defeat and subsequent promotion with the Terries offered, but he has a gritty, fighting equality that’s suited to the situation Bury are in. Kilmarnock kept in the Scottish top flight last season and his management.

And, in addition to the Chesterfield win, the 44-year-old boss has something of a stable base to build from. The previous five weeks seeing a 5-1 thrashing of Peterborough United, a handy draw at bottom four club Port Vale, and another positive result against a fellow struggler with Swindon Town beaten 1-0.

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CHARLTON: LDLDDW

A fifth game without victory, leaving the Addicks closer to League One’s relegation zone than the division’s top six. You’d suggest Tuesday’s desperate defeat to Oxford was rock bottom, if you hadn’t felt the club had already sunk lower than they possibly could over the previous three years.

The performance against the U’s pathetic. Organisation, determination and quality all lacking, as Conor McAleny’s 12th minute strike from distance gave the visitors all three points.

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It nothing new, however, with the performances of recent weeks all lacking those qualities. Robinson refusing to make tactical changes, the intensity of the players only dropping, and defensive errors, misplaced passes and a lack of ruthlessness in attack are rife.

Of course, the evidence suggests that no group of players and their boss can succeed under this regime, but it doesn’t excuse their efforts. A response required from Robinson and his side, but it’s difficult to see where that’s coming from.

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THE OPPOSITION

Prolific forward James Vaughan is in line for a return to the Bury side having missed Saturday’s victory over Chesterfield through injury.

Vaughan, whose career has been blighted by injuries, has scored 18 times in 25 league appearances for the Shakers this campaign, which includes a four-goal haul against Peterborough.

An alternative if the one-time youngster Premier League goalscorer doesn’t recover in time is 16-year-old Callum Styles, who signed a professional contract in the week. The forward the Football League’s first player born in the 21st century, and a talent that has impressed Clark.

Elsewhere, Danny Mayor, is nearing a return having been absent since January with a stomach problem, but there still plenty occupiers of Bury’s treatment room. Thigh problems for both Kean Bryan and Craig Jones, Nathan Cameron out with a knee issue, and a groin injury making Zeli Ismail unavailable.

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THE ADDICKS

Charlton are likely to without Chris Solly after the long-serving right was dismissed during Tuesday’s night to Oxford United.

The vice-captain faces a three-game ban, and so would also miss the games against Shrewsbury and Northampton Town, but Robinson has stated his intention to lodge an appeal against the sending off. Referee Gavin Ward’s decision considerably harsh, but it not one that will unquestionably be reversed.

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Should Solly be unavailable, then Nathan Byrne will drop to right-back. The Wigan loanee has been playing on the right-side of midfield for the Addicks, but he has spent large parts of his career at full-back.

Elsewhere, Adam Chicksen’s recent absence was finally explained with Robinson revealing he has a knee problem, while Ezri Konsa, Fredrik Ulvestad and Jason Pearce will also be unavailable through injury.

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KEY BATTLE – OFFERING A POSITIVE RESPONSE

A motivated Bury will travel to SE7 on Saturday. Boyed by recent positive results, and enjoying the new manager bounce under Clark.

While their position in the league table is a reflection of a lack of quality, and within that a lack of determination, it unlikely that you’ll be able to excuse that Shakers of not playing at a high enough intensity this Saturday.

By contrast, determination and intensity have been absent from the Addicks for several weeks. Half-hearted performances, not doing enough going forward and offering little fight when out of possession.

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The expectation has been that, after each concerning performance, there would be a positive response. The only response that has followed is for the performances, and for the attitude of the players, to decline.

And given the desperate nature of Tuesday’s performance, the concern is that the Addicks will lack the mentality to respond. That instead of attempting to prove themselves, they’ll simply wilt.

I can’t say I’m hopefully. But it up to this group of Addicks to answer my doubts.

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PREDICTION

Sluggish performance, and another failure to gain all three points. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Bury

Photos: Charlton Athletic V Oxford United

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Empty Seats, Apathetic Addicks and Pathetic Performance on Bleak Valley Night

An apathetic quietness filled a home that was once the source of much pride, but now wilts with suffering from the disease inflicted upon Charlton Athletic.

The Valley as empty as it has ever been before for a league game. Statistics might offer alternatives, but the emptiness much more than just the overwhelming amount of unoccupied red, white or black seats. Or at least unoccupied by a supporter; each empty seat filled by apathy.

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Emptiness to be found among those still in attendance. Devoid of belief, hope and connection. The bond that should be felt with their club, as it has been for some time, absent.

For there an emptiness that has left the club in a state far removed from the Charlton Athletic that supporters were previously in love with. Roland Duchatelet’s regime removing identity, offering insults at every opportunity, and overseeing chronic failure. The club without heart.

And on The Valley’s pitch came an empty performance. One without structure, quality and determination. A performance by a group of players, and a manager, that should be ashamed, but also one that mirrored the overall state of a diseased club.

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This 1-0 defeat to Oxford United, from the moment the turnstiles were opened until the relatively few Addicks in attendance exited them, a symptom of a disease with only one cure. Mangers, players, positive words; none of those able to put the club into a state of rehabilitation. Only Duchatelet selling the club can provide solace to the empty, and begin to restore.

A fifth fixture without victory, and a fifth fixture largely devoid of any redeemable aspects, increasing the sense that the Karl Robinson experiment is beginning to fail. Another manager, and another set of players, unable to provide on-pitch distraction from the damage that has occurred away from it. A defeat that leaves the Addicks closer to League One’s relegation zone than the third tier’s play-off positions.

The difference on the night a single goal. Former Charlton loanee Conor McAleny allowed to drive forward unchallenged, before seemingly unleashing an ambitious strike towards goal from the best part of 30 yards. The ball beating Declan Rudd, bouncing off the post, and over the line to give the U’s a 12th minute lead.

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And, to their credit, there were chances for the Addicks to equalise. Even in the game’s final minute, Patrick Bauer saw a header diverted off the line. But the scoreline, and a handful of wasted chances, don’t reflect the real difference.

The real difference shown in a determined group of Oxford players fighting for every loose ball, while this group of Addicks showed a distinct lack of fight for almost the entirety of the game. Their failure to fight at its worst following Chris Solly’s 70th minute red card; the response of dropped heads and decreased effort suggesting Robinson’s side were four goals down, rather than just one.

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And while the visiting support, evidently proud of their overachieving club as it claimed their first ever win over the Addicks, offered passionate support for the entirety of the evening, the apathetic silence that swarmed The Valley’s home support was rarely interrupted by anything but expressions of frustration, and boos.

This not a failure to get behind the team, but a reflection of a group of fans, already battered and bruised, who aren’t being inspired to beat away apathy, hopelessness and despair. That the apathy was only broken by a valiant cry of “we want Roland out” a reflection of the situation. There cannot be hope while the regime remains.

Days and nights of crushing heartbreak have been aplenty while following this club over the previous three years. Where sitting inside The Valley has brought nothing but sadness. This among the bleakest that this empty imitation of a football club has offered.

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You arrive in SE7, however, with fabricated hope. How can you not? You have to believe there will be reward of some degree or battling against apathy to attend becomes a pointless fight.

Maybe the return of Nathan Byrne, having served a three-game suspension, would make a difference. The wide man coming into the starting XI for Jordan Botaka, while Stephy Mavididi, after his incredible solo run at Rochdale, earned himself a start ahead of Tony Watt. Jorge Teixeira, scorer of two goals after coming off the bench at Spotland, the third and final change to Robinson’s line-up, with Ezri Konsa absent through injury.

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And maybe the return of Byrne would have made a difference had his 3rd-minute strike been just an inch or two lower. The winger invited to shoot from distance, and his effort bouncing back off the crossbar. Frustration, but so too an offering of genuine, rather than forced, hope.

Hope that Mavididi was also intent on contributing to. Early cries of encouragement as he made bold and brave runs down the left flank, forcing men in Oxford shirts onto the backfoot. A shame that, particularly after cutting inside and shooting tamely at goal, an end product eluded him.

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But either side of those two chances, there was defensive uncertainty. Teixeira looking extremely uncomfortable, and the U’s finding themselves in some threatening positions. The inability to defend that was on display at the weekend seemingly unaddressed, as Antonio Martinez, Marvin Johnson and McAleny asked early questions of this unsettled backline.

There didn’t, however, appear to be too much danger for the Addicks when McAleny picked up the ball in the centre of midfield and drove forward. Teixeira standing off him, but the Everton loanee with little support and still some work to do before striking towards goal became a realistic option.

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But, with Charlton’s Portuguese defender continuing to stand off him and McAleny still pushing forward, the shot was effectively being encouraged. A shot he took from 30 yards, driven across the turf and aimed perfectly towards the far corner of Rudd’s goal. The goalkeeper beaten, the ball bouncing in off the post, and something of a potshot exposing the defensive woes of the Addicks.

McAleny racing away to celebrate something he never managed in Charlton colours – a goal at The Valley – as home supporters found themselves inflicted with misery once again. Chances not taken, questionable defending, and an opposition goal. This an all too familiar story.

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And just eight minutes later, further exploitation of the dreadful defensive organisation of Robinson’s side should have allowed Oxford to add to their 12th minute opener. Phil Edwards left unmarked from a Johnson free-kick, and the defender heading a glorious chance over the bar. The good fortunate not preventing the night’s first chorus of boos from the Covered End.

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At least, amid the chaos at the back, there was some degree of threat further forward. Lewis Page’s low delivery met by Josh Magennis, but the forward unable to divert it towards goal, before Mavididi’s strike from the edge of the box forced a save out of visiting stopper Simon Eastwood.

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Further solace provided by the fact that, though they battling incredibly hard and appearing the much more determined and settled side, Michael Appleton’s men lacked a touch of quality in the final third. Further frustration expressed at Charlton’s backline as Sercombe was allowed to drive into the box, but his shot tamely driven across the face of goal.

With the deficit remaining at one, therefore, there always a chance this tepid and uninspiring effort from the Addicks would be livened up by a goal their performance did not warrant. Teixeira looping a header over the bar after a Ricky Holmes free-kick in a promising position had been deflected behind.

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But these half chances, largely coming as a consequence of threatening runs down the left flank, were not enough. Neither to appease, nor to cover up the inadequacy of Charlton’s performance. The defence remaining a shambles, passes rushed or panicked, and both Andrew Crofts and Jake Forster-Caskey being bullied in the centre of midfield. An unstructured mess.

And as half-time approached, Oxford might well have gained themselves a two-goal advantage. Johnson far too easily getting himself in behind down the left, with several unmarked Oxford shirts in the centre awaiting his cut back, but the winger selfishly opted to shoot from a tight angle. Rudd gathering the ball at the near post.

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A chance that provided unneeded confirmation that boos would meet the half-time whistle. The Addicks needing to appear after the break with some degree of defensive structure, much greater composure in the centre and, above anything else, a reasonable degree of determination and intensity. All of that completely absent in the opening 45.

The second period’s opening moments, however, offered little hope of change. Still there were struggles at the back, as a half-cleared corner allowed Sercombe to test Rudd, and still there was nothing in midfield, as Crofts in particular continued to concede possession almost metronomically.

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It Crofts’ midfield partner that was sacrificed, however, as Watt and Joe Aribo were introduced in an attempt to inject some life into this dire performance. Forster-Caskey and Byrne removed.

And, with Watt playing just behind a previously extremely isolated Magennis, there was an immediate improvement. An immediate improvement that led to Charlton’s best few minutes of the game. Minutes that probably should have produced an equaliser.

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First, it was poor decision making that denied the Addicks. Watt played through down the right, his cut back to Holmes perfect for a first-time finish, but the winger taking far too long on the ball and allowing a sea of Oxford bodies to shut him down.

Then it was the turn of the post. Mavididi doing marvellously well to cut inside from the left and somehow work himself an inch of space amid several visiting defenders, but his effort rebounded back off the woodwork.

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And finally, it was the goalkeeper. Eastwood down low to save a Crofts attempt from a relatively tight angle, before pouncing on a fiercely struck Arbio effort having parried the ball initially. A battle in the mind between the missed chance frustration that has overwhelmed in recent weeks, and the hope that creating chances provides.

It soon emerged that frustration was the correct emotion to hold. That intensity lasting little more than three minutes, as Edwards fired over for the visitors and the Addicks returned to a side devoid of energy and ideas.

A rare moment of further anticipation arriving just before the 70th minute, as a ball over the top sent Magennis through one-on-one with Eastwood, but the goalkeeper was to the bouncing ball quickly enough to block the forward’s stab towards goal. But, as was the case with any previous moment of encouragement, the feelings of despair and disgust soon returned.

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For barely a moment later, it was effectively game over. Not because Oxford doubled their advantage, but because they gained an advantage in terms of men on the pitch. Solly dismissed for a late, and not particularly necessary, challenge on U’s captain John Lundstram in the centre of the pitch.

More energy put into the protestations by the Addicks that followed referee Ward displaying his red card than would be seen for the remaining 20 minutes. Any sort of structure there was completely dismantled, heads dropping, and determination absent.

Holmes effectively playing both at right-back and on the right side of the midfield, though a lop-sided defensive line stood for most of the time. Something Appleton attempted to exploit by introducing Kane Hemmings. Both he and McAleny seeing efforts saved by Rudd prior to the game entering its final ten minutes.

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A final ten minutes that featured numerous incidents of Oxford time wasting, but they really didn’t need to. The determination of the visitors meant they looked assured in their attempts to protect their advantage, while Charlton’s tame and unstructured nature meant they offered very little. More energy in the stands, as this disillusioned group of supporters stood to demand Duchatelet sell the club.

Bauer heading wide from a corner, and Edwards firing off-target from a promising position at the other end, but this game petering out and heading towards the confirmation of the punishment the performance of Robinson’s side warranted. Five minutes of stoppage-time not offering hope of that changing.

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But deep into those additional minutes, a corner was forced. Rudd thrown up, and one last rally in desperate hope this pathetic performance would end with an unwarranted equaliser being snatched. Ryan Ledson, stood on the far post, needed to make sure that wasn’t the case, as the Oxford midfielder nodded Bauer’s header away from goal, and Holmes’ follow up was blocked.

It doing absolutely nothing to change the predictable mood come the full-time whistle that followed seconds later. The Valley crowd vigorous in their booing and showing of discontent, the Addicks despondent, and Robinson exiting down the tunnel without acknowledgement. The bleak night getting the grim ending it deserved.

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For Oxford, however, this was a moment to savour. And a moment they had more than done enough to deserve. A collective that had shown fabulous determination to protect their lead throughout the game applauding a jubilant set of visiting supporters; you couldn’t help but feel a degree of envy.

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It Robinson’s favourite line when things go against the Addicks that other clubs are jealous, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. You wanted to be one of the supporters in the away end, sharing a moment of joy with a side and club they were connected to. You didn’t want to be a regular occupier of a Valley seat, enduring another moment of despair and having to find the energy to express disgust once again.

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A performance that simply wasn’t anywhere near good enough. A defence without composure, a midfield without the ability to make simple passes and compete, forwards without any degree of ruthlessness. It a repeat of the previous five weeks, only worse.

Made worse not only be the accumulation of these dire efforts, but the increasing lack of effort from those in red. Robinson’s talk not something that would inspire me, but that little excuse for the side continuing to show very little determination. You want to believe they’re giving their all, as professionals and a group presenting the Addicks, but I just can’t.

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And while the players must ask themselves questions, Robinson seems to have no response for the questions that face him. Or at least he seems too transfixed to a formation that evidently is limiting the Addicks, and has no idea how to provide the changes that will lead to improvement. Again, there no composure on the ball, again, the 4-5-1 variant left Magennis isolated and limited.

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But ultimately, as has been the case on the countless similar nights under The Valley’s floodlights while this regime have ruled, the importance of the manager, the players and the performance is prevented from being the most pressing concern by the overall state of the club.

They need to be doing more, and it not an excuse for either the performance nor decision making, but this group of players and their manager are not the first to struggle while under this regime. While Duchatelet’s disease spreads through the club’s veins.

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That the Addicks find themselves closer to League One’s bottom four than they do the play-offs is a reflection of a struggling side, but more so a club that has been ripped apart.

It has been reinforced again and again that change – both in mood and performances – is not possible while this regime remains. Their stubbornness, as they oversee the demise of this football club, is sickening. Duchatelet ignorant to the suffering, felt by both club and its supporters, caused.

Empty, deflated, distraught. Too apathetic for anger. Too overwhelmed by sadness as this football club sinks even lower not to feel heartbroken.

These bleak nights really do hurt.

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