Penned into an away end too small to accommodate the number of Addicks it intended to. Forced to deal with stewards so clueless as to how to contend with this organisational disaster that their actions created, rather than calmed, friction. Many peering through gaps in the bodies in front of them, desperately attempting to catch a glimpse of a dire game of football.
There was only one reward that would make this experience worthwhile. That of victory. A victory to give legitimacy to Charlton Athletic’s play-off ambitions.
Play-off ambitions that had been punctured only seven days ago by an injury-time strike from the opposition. Surely, as four additional minutes were signalled at Kingsmeadow, the same fate would not be suffered again. The sort of heartbreak that strips your face of colour and body of strength would surely not spread through this huddle of visiting supporters.
They were clinging to each other, if not small pieces of terrace structure, and the lead that had been given to them so early that many were still trying to force their way into a position from which the pitch was viewable. A stunning free-kick from Ricky Holmes, lifted over the wall and beyond AFC Wimbledon goalkeeper James Shea, giving the Addicks an 8th-minute advantage.
But as the game, this scrappy and low quality game, entered those four additional minutes, replays of wasted Charlton chances appeared in the mind. Lee Novak shooting wide when clear on goal, and Shea denying the freshly shaven Tony Watt in spectacular fashion. There needn’t have been emotions of panic and hope; the game could have been killed off.
And maybe more genuine chances to effectively seal victory would have been created had Karl Robinson’s somewhat tame and disorganised side shown greater attacking intent during the contest’s scrappy periods. They didn’t sit back, but nor did they purposefully push for a sought after second.
Maybe with thoughts of the capitulation against Fleetwood in their minds, not wishing to commit men forward and ultimately be caught out. Maybe through fear of Wimbledon’s Tom Elliott, winning almost every header and involved in almost all of the half chances the hosts had created. Maybe simply as a consequence of their own footballing efforts, with attempts to get forward regularly stifled by misplaced passes.
Regardless, Robinson’s men had once again placed pressure upon themselves. Pressure that a side challenging for the play-offs could contend with. The sort of pressure Robinson’s Charlton must contend with.
Pressure that would ultimately rob the Addicks of their reward. The fate that would surely not be suffered again was about to be suffered again.
A simple Tyrone Barnett flick on, intelligent movement, and an excellent Elliott finish. Charlton static in their attempts to defend this 92nd-minute equaliser, and static as many dropped to the floor in despair as the net rippled. Elliott ecstatic; a second yellow card for celebrating with the home supporters hardly tarnishing the collective joy around Kingameadow.
Collective, but for the pocket of penned in Charlton supporters.
The sound of shattered hearts and the occasional uncontrolled scream of outrage interruptions to the silence of disbelief and despair. Again. Their side had capitulated again.
The bruised minds, and now bodies, of Charlton supporters dealt another heavy blow. A play-off chasing side doesn’t throw away two points in two consecutive games. A side soon to accept its also-ran status does.
That crushing misery, coated in an ever-increasing lack of trust in all aspects of Charlton Athletic, in some contrast from the misguided hope that existed before kick-off. Hope neither crushed by the absence of an injured Jake Forster-Caskey, nor the attempts of Wimbledon’s stewards to make this visit to Kingsmeadow as unpleasant as possible.
Jorge Teixeira coming into the starting XI at Forster-Caskey’s expense, with Ezri Konsa moving further forward.
The creativity of the January signing to be sorely missed, but other aspects of the side Robinson had selected were pleasing. The prospect of Watt in a wide position, replacing the suspended Nathan Byrne, quite an exciting one, while the fit again Josh Magennis sat in waiting on the bench with Lee Novak entrusted to lead the line.
But before it could be seen – both in the sense that little time had passed and the struggles to find viewing space in an oversubscribed away end – whether this Charlton set-up would record the victory desperately required, they had taken the lead.
The injustice of the poor organisation of the away end and the visiting supporters made greater by the beauty of Holmes’ 8th-minute free-kick. So simple, with the winger merely lifting the ball over the AFC wall and getting it to come down in time to find the top corner, and yet so sublime. Plenty would not have seen, but the dire stewarding wasn’t going to prevent a fierce roar of celebration from the visiting Addicks.
And though this a lead achieved through an individual moment of brilliance, the overall efforts of Robinson’s men that followed made sure it was a lead they warranted. Pressing with unrelenting intensity, winning almost every battle for the ball, and looking something of a threat going forward.
In fact, with less than ten minutes passing since taking the lead, Charlton had created two genuine openings from which their advantage might well have been doubled. Joe Aribo played into the box, but his effort curling just wide of the far post, before Novak’s tame attempt to lob Shea allowed the goalkeeper to gleefully grab the ball, and left many scratching their heads as to why the forward tried to finish in such a fashion.
Alas, those openings, both born out of decent passing moves, were not to set the tempo of the game. Wimbledon direct, and the tough-to-deal-with Elliott persistently winning headers or drawing fouls, while the Addicks soon began to stutter going forward. A stop-start and very scrappy battle ensued.
George Francomb, from a position not too dissimilar from where Holmes had struck, fired a free-kick against Charlton’s wall, while Konsa’s strike from the edge of the box was comfortably claimed by Shea, but there a real lack of quality. A grim Sunday League affair being replicated, with individual errors rife, and neither side able to navigate their way through the other’s midfield.
So, given the Sunday League quality of this encounter, it probably not a surprise that the first genuine run into the opposing final third for some time was ended in quite cynical fashion. A disgusting challenge from Holmes on Lyle Taylor, who was steaming forward and leading what seemed a threatening Wimbledon breakaway, earning the goalscorer a yellow card. Some relief around the away end that the punishment was not more severe.
Relief an emotion soon to be felt among the home supporters, as Konsa was denied what would have surely been a certain goal by a marvellous piece of defending from Barry Fuller. The full-back, at full stretch, preventing the teenager from turning in Aribo’s low cross. Teixeira heading comfortably wide from the resulting corner but, within this sloppy encounter, there still signs the Addicks could double their lead.
Nonetheless, the announcement of seven minutes of injury-time was not welcomed. Sean Kelly’s cross-cum-shot almost having Neal Ardley’s men level with two of those minutes played, but no one in blue able to get the touch required to divert it over the line.
And still a half-time lead was not certain for the Addicks deep into this period of additional time, as Chris Solly’s clattering of Dominic Poleon gave the Dons one last chance to restore parity. Thankfully, however, the free-kick from almost the corner flag was headed away and Charlton were rewarded with 15 minutes to compose themselves.
For the nature of the first-half suggested that Robinson’s side needed to be little more than organised and composed in order to maintain this lead until full-time. Deal with Elliott, show a bit more quality in possession, and surely a Wimbledon side struggling to create would continue to be thwarted.
Or, failing that, grab the second goal and put the game to bed. Watt, embracing his inner Mark Renton with his shaven head, cutting inside from the left but able only to curl an effort into the hands of Shea.
In fact, in quite quickly became apparent that the second goal was needed. Not only because the Addicks were looking a little unsteady, something that allowed Rudd to be tested for the first time as those in red failed to deal with a rather time Wimbledon delivery and Elliott was able to poke the ball into the goalkeeper’s hands, but because the Dons had emerged for the second period with greater energy intensity.
The threat of their general pace and physicality increasing, as Taylor drew a foul from Teixeira. The resulting free-kick glanced wide by the experienced Paul Robinson, and those in the away end now slightly unsettled in more ways than one.
So the sight of a deflected pass falling perfectly to Novak inside the box was a glorious one for Charlton eyes, and minds. Time, space and a clear sight of goal all afforded to the striker. A composed finish, however, was not.
Somehow, Novak fired his effort into the side netting. Premature celebrations replaced by stunned silence. It quite an incredible miss, and his punishment was to be replaced by Magennis just a minute later.
But even with Magennis’ mountainous frame on the pitch, you still began to worry that a miss like that would come back to haunt the Addicks. Watt doing his absolute best to prevent that from being the case, as he again cut inside from the left, but this time forcing Shea into an excellent one-handed save. Holmes might have done a bit better with the follow-up, blasted horribly off-target, had it not taken him a moment to realise the ball was still in play.
The concern, however, only increasing. Charlton wasting chances; AFC’s threat growing. Taylor’s volley, superbly timed as a cleared cross came his way, flashing narrowly wide of Rudd’s goal.
At least solace could be taken from the hosts’ own wastefulness. Groans beginning to be heard from the home ends as promising attacks came to a halt purely out of their own doing, and Poleon’s wayward strike from distance wasn’t quite cutting. For all the energy and intensity they had attempted to show, desperation was now just as apparent.
It made that second goal even more sought after. There no way they would come back from it; a certain three points for Charlton.
But the Addicks, not particularly helped by the lively Watt again appearing drained and needing to be replaced with 15 minutes to go, were offering less and less going forward. Magennis not getting himself into the game, and Wimbledon reclaiming the ball far too easily.
A Taylor effort, deflected wide, another that raised the blood pressure of those in the away end, while Jake Reeves should have done better when the ball fell to him inside the box. Ten minutes to play, and this far from won.
The introduction of Stephay Mavididi, making his Charlton debut, was therefore useful. Direct, pacey and strong, the Arsenal loanee got the better of Robinson before unfortunately crossing over the heads of all inside the box. But the Dons now had a new threat to contend with.
A new threat that seemed to have instilled a sense of panic among the entire Dons defensive line. Shea incredibly fortunate that his scuffed clearance trickled wide after it had bounced back off the body of Magennis. The chance to kill this game off, as the stoppage-time approached, was still there.
A chance that had always been there. But, though creating a handful of chances, Charlton simply hadn’t done enough. The opportunity to steal something still there for AFC.
An opportunity, two minutes into stoppage-time, that they would not turn down. A free-kick pumped forward, Barnett relatively unchallenged as he flicked on, and Elliott slamming into the far bottom corner. Oh so simple, and oh so avoidable.
That Elliott was subsequently sent-off, claiming a second yellow for celebrating with the home supporters, provided no comfort whatsoever to the Addicks. Not even the smallest jolt of belief that they could reclaim their lead against ten men in the minutes that followed. The life drained from those in red, crippled by despair that they had effectively inflicted upon themselves.
Despair that was tripled among those in the away end. Attempts to make sense of how the Addicks had thrown away victory once again not worthwhile. It easier to simply express rage, or hold a head in sadness.
Life sucked out of all connected to the Addicks, and two points taken. Belief sucked out of all connected to the Addicks, and play-off ambitions taken. This extremely difficult to take.
The feeling even worse when you compare it to the pride and hope that existed after the Bolton victory, and consider what occurred post-game at Kingsmeadow.
Robinson, understandably abused for much of the game given his connection to the club that claimed the original Wimbledon’s league position, rising to the bait that had been offered by a member of the Dons’ staff.
A groundsman, it would seem, insulting Charlton’s coach. Extremely unprofessional on his part, of course, and it would appear Ardley is going to make sure the club deal with him in the correct manner. But equally unprofessional for Robinson to rise, and not simply continue to his walk to the tunnel.
An incident that, if Robinson had conducted himself in the correct manner, could have been very easily avoided. Much like the incident that occurred several minutes beforehand, that saw his side drop two points in stoppage-time for the second successive game.
They are four points, whether through greater mental toughness, stronger defensive organisation, or finding a second goal, that could have been claimed. Probably should have been claimed.
Four points that would have put us on the fringes of the play-offs, with three successive victories, and an incredible amount of confidence.
Instead, we sit in 13th, six points away and with seven teams to leapfrog. Confidence, and belief, crushed. Faith in this Charlton side to achieve dramatically dented.
Where defensive capitulation was to blame seven days ago, it’s the failure to kill the game that smarts here. Numerous chances, and those created without the Addicks even showing a great deal of intent. A second goal would have won the game, and a second goal should have been claimed.
Both examples revealing faults in Robinson’s side, and making the genuine belief that existed following the Bolton victory feel incredible misplaced. That the belief has been so quickly taken away hurts.
Robinson and his side now with an incredible amount of work to do to regain trust, and reinstil belief.