Spotland’s away end a sea of uncontrolled arms, connected to bouncing bodies, as the visiting Charlton Athletic supporters allowed themselves to be overwhelmed by jubilation in response to their side’s 88th minute equaliser. After weeks of hurt, a moment of joy was needed.
A glance to the pitch, however, would offer a reminder that Jorge Teixeira’s late leveller, giving the Addicks a third goal to match Rochdale’s tally, wasn’t quite enough. Josh Magennis with ball in hand, leading those in red back into their own half, demanding the resumption of the contest. Victory required.
But Teixeira, bundling the ball over the line as a corner was flicked onwards by Patrick Bauer, would ultimately claim the game’s final goal.
A final goal celebrated with real gusto, as if it were the one that earned the Addicks promotion. A final whistle met with sighs, as fans removed themselves from an absorbing contest and realised the point was not as powerful as the emotion involved in the equaliser perceived it to be. The dramatic nature of the game coating a frustration-filled reality.
Frustration a feeling shared by all inside the ground that should be now be referred to as the Crown Oil Arena, as Rochdale failed to secure the victory that their play-off push desperately needed. The sight of both red and blue slumped on the pitch come full-time confirming that this was a result that suited neither side.
But at least Keith Hill’s side, who ended a run of over 470 minutes without goal when Niall Canavan bundled home from a fourth minute corner, can still legitimately claim their hopes of a top six finish are intact despite dropping two points and losing the lead twice.
An early lead that would have been doubled before half-time were it not for Declan Rudd, who saved marvellously from Calvin Andrew and saved a sluggish Charlton from further embarrassment.
So a sense of good fortune was shared among supporters of the Addicks as they saw their side level before the break. A goal their performance didn’t really deserve, and a goal they almost didn’t get. Jordan Botaka sent through on goal, the Leeds loanee somehow striking against the post from a matter of yards out, before pouncing on the rebound and squeezing the ball home from a tight angle.
The hope being that this rather fortuitous 41st-minute leveller would be the platform from which Karl Robinson’s side would improve, but the platform for a complete turnaround was actually a moment of brilliance just beyond the hour.
Substitute Stephy Mavididi running from deep inside his own box and ending up inside the opposition’s, only to see his effort saved by Dale stopper Ben Wilson. Supporters still grieving that the Arsenal loanee hadn’t been able to apply the finishing touch to his incredible fun when Teixeira rose to head the Addicks in front. A 67th minute advantage that offered the briefest moment of belief.
The briefest moment, as just three minutes later Rochdale had restored parity. An excellent delivery from Ian Henderson, and a strong header from Andrew, but plenty of questions to be asked over Charlton’s defensive
As there were when the Addicks collectively appeared to stand off their opponents, allowing Nathaniel Mendez-Laing to pick his spot from the edge of the area. What appeared an 84th-minute winner scored, and an advantage thrown away in the weakest of fashions.
But, as crushing defeat was beginning to be accepted, there was some salvation for the mentally bruised Addicks in the away end. A late corner somehow finding its way to Teixeira at the back post and the Portuguese, only on the pitch after an early injury to Ezri Konsa, scored his second and Charlton’s third. The spoils shared in the strangest of games.
Spoils, however, hardly the most appropriate of words when Rochdale were left deflated and the Addicks have seemingly gained very little.
Ultimately, it an afternoon where some forward ruthlessness was found but defensive resolve was sacrificed for it, and an afternoon that leaves Robinson’s side eight points from the top six, and eight points from the bottom four.
Maybe some denial involved in losing yourself in the celebrations that followed Teixeira’s equaliser, and the freak nature of the contest. But there no denying that Charlton are trapped among League One’s also-rans.
That the Addicks would be spending another season in League One a reality accepted by most before the game had even begun, but an attacking line-up against a stuttering side allowed for Spotland to be seen as a location from which a dramatic climb up the table could begin.
Joe Aribo and Mavididi sacrificed as Tony Watt and Ricky Holmes returned to the side, with Botaka keeping his place following the midweek defeat to Oldham. Holmes and Botaka occupying the wide positions, Watt sat behind centre forward Magennis, and further forward threat to be found in the creative feet of Jake Forster-Caskey. There no doubt that Robinson, who also handed a start at left-back to Lewis Page in place of the struggling Adam Chicksen, was here for the victory so desperately required.
As were the men he selected, as the Addicks started on the front foot. Watt picking up the ball inside Rochdale’s box, but taking one touch too many and ultimately seeing his strike blocked. Attacking intent appreciated by a relatively small but noisy away following.
Alas, any positivity created by the offering of intent was misplaced. For it took just four minutes for Charlton supporters to have heads in hands, and Rochdale to have the ball in the back of the net.
Rudd attempting to claim a free-kick delivery through a sea of bodies but, under pressure, not doing enough to hold on. Canavan the man alive to the opportunity in this melee, and poking the ball into a relatively unprotected net. The hosts able to celebrate their first goal in 478 minutes of football, as the sickening feeling of despair that had swarmed supporters of the Addicks in recent weeks returned.
That feeling of despair being fought against in the away end as the game resumed, with the visiting fans still vocal in their support, but those on the pitch seemingly in no mood to fight against their fading confidence. Canavan unchallenged as he nodded a Rochdale corner towards goal, with the foot of Page required to stub the ball off the line.
A defensive shambles aided by a midfield incapable of picking a pass, and group of attacking players running into dead ends. Watt firing tamely wide and Magennis shooting from a tight angle for Wilson to save not lifting the clouds of doom. This was disastrously poor.
But a faint glimmer of hope appeared as Magennis sprung the offside trap with 15 minutes played and bared down on goal. Wilson off his line to save well, and so another wasted opening to add to the extremely long list garnered from the previous two games, but it had to be taken as a sign of competence. It had to be, or insanity would spread throughout the visiting supporters.
That little glimmer of some sort of forward threat, and the efforts of their goalkeeper, arguably all that was preventing insanity in Spotland’s away end. Rudd’s fingertips sending a curling effort from Donal McDermott – given far too much space – over the bar, before gathering Callum Camps’ strike after the resulting corner was only half-cleared. The Norwich loanee doing his utmost to redeem himself after his role in Rochdale’s opener.
In fact, by the time 25 minutes had been played, Rudd had earned himself relative hero status. With the Addicks still struggling, though Magennis might have connected with Holmes’ excellent delivery and surely scored had his head been half-an-inch bigger, the Dale should have had an unassailable lead when a completely unmarked Andrew was able to nod Jamie Allen’s free-kick delivery towards goal. The outstretched arm of Rudd, marvellously tipping the ball around the post, keeping his side in the game.
An acrobatic effort from Henderson, in acers of space at the back post, bounced wide after the corner that followed, but there were greater concerns for Charlton’s fragile defence. Konsa not recovering after receiving treatment, and needing to be substituted. Teixeira on, and a backline already in a state needing to regroup.
Some assistance from the midfield would have been nice, mind, as Andrew Crofts and Forster-Caskey continued to find themselves second to loose balls. So too were the Dale’s midfield men allowed too much time and space when in possession. The Addicks thankful that McDermott’s effort cleared the bar.
A further frustration for the visiting supporters offered by the amount of times their forward men were caught offside. The assistant referee nearest the away end receiving a volley of abuse, but Rochdale’s line was relatively high, and Magennis, Botaka and Holmes continued to make their moments forward too early.
So when Botaka burst beyond Dale’s backline with four minutes of the first-half remaining, a look to the assistant was required before cries of expectation could begin. His flag down, but frustration was instead provided by the winger, who saw his effort rebound off the post from a matter of yards. Thankfully, while the away end were collectively cursing their luck, the Leeds loanee remained alive, and buried the rebound beyond several blue shirts on the line.
Undeserved and unwarranted, but it didn’t really matter. The anger that had built up as a result of Charlton’s dire efforts prior to scoring let out in the shape of celebratory passion. Any remaining energy once the game resumed used to encourage more from the Addicks, and to use this as a platform to turn their fortunes around.
Encouragement that almost worked much sooner than was intended. Magennis through in similar circumstances to Botaka just moments after play had got back underway, but his touch was a little heavy and took him away from goal. The Northern Ireland international needing to cut inside from the left to get his shot away, and Wilson saved the resulting effort well.
Nonetheless, the Addicks could count themselves incredibly fortunate to be going in at the break level. The performance for much of the first half truly dire, and the second goal that Rochdale often threatened might well have killed the game off. A chance now, however, to turn the game on its head.
The attempts to inspire from the away end not quite turning their side into a ruthless attacking unit as the second period got underway, but at least Charlton came out after the break with improved structure and composure.
To the extent that, in a low key start to the half that lacked real quality, the two sides were cancelling each other out. Substitute Ruben Noble Lazarus firing over for the hosts in between Teixeira volley wide from a half-cleared corner and Bauer fiercely nodding wide from a set-piece, but neither side really looked like scoring.
Or at least that was the case until Mavididi, two minutes after replacing Watt, picked up the ball inside his own box as a Rochdale attack petered out. Space for the Arsenal loanee to run into, and a roar of excitement from the away end as he rounded one Rochdale man with ease. A further man in blue falling foul to the young forward’s pace as he moved into a more central position, but this run would surely be stopped as he crossed the halfway line.
Not so. Canavan left embarrassed as Mavididi drove beyond the covering Dale defenders and raced towards goal. Genuine devastation that the forward’s resulting effort was relatively tame, giving Wilson the opportunity to save and prevent the most incredible of goals from being scored.
But a corner, and a serious roar of encouragement, had been forced. The corner flicked on by Bauer, and met by Teixeira at the back post, but this was a goal that belonged to Mavididi. The loanee leading the celebrations as the Addicks, for the first time, gained the advantage.
Joy, however, is seemingly an emotion Charlton supporters aren’t allowed to experience unless it is almost immediately followed by a crushing sense of disappointment. Three minutes the gap between jubilant scenes of celebration and shared despair.
Despair born largely out of Charlton’s quite horrific defending. Henderson allowed all the space he required to deliver dangerously towards Andrew at the far-post, Rudd caught in no man’s land, and the masked centre-forward too strong for those who attempted to challenge him. The Addicks not only relinquishing their lead as Andrew headed home, but so too their composure and resolve.
The fear of lost composure and resolve only reaffirmed as, moments after equalising, Andrew broke free of the Reds’ defensive line. Calls for offside going unheard as the forward, all far too easily, moved the ball onto his left, and curled beautifully beyond Rudd. The crossbar coming to Charlton’s rescue.
Nonetheless, though the game remained level, it was quite apparent that Hill’s men had claimed momentum and taken the advantage that comes with it. They the most likely winners as the game entered its final ten minutes. Charlton, despite needing victory, on the back foot.
And on the back foot they must certainly were as the Addicks did little to stop the Rochdale attack that resulted in the hosts grabbing what seemed the game’s decisive goal. All far too simple for the hosts, with the Addicks again appeared unorganised and lacking any sort of defensive composure, as the ball was sat back for Mendez-Laing to curl beyond a motionless Rudd.
Six minutes to play. Rochdale jubilant, while Charlton sank even lower than they had previously. There no response to this.
To the extent that Canavan heading back to Wilson with too much power, and forcing the goalkeeper to chase after the ball as it trickled just wide of his empty net, was a moment of light relief rather than a moment from which a goal could be scored.
But from the resulting corner, Bauer climbed highest to flick on the delivery towards an unmarked Teixeira, who was able to bundle the ball over the line. So close was Teixeira to the line, that a moment was needed to make sure he wasn’t offside or any other offence had been committed, before Spotland’s away end was overwhelmed by celebration. An equaliser that seemed well beyond the Addicks had been scored.
Victory, however, still the only acceptable result in the circumstances Charlton found themselves in. A fact accepted by those on the pitch, who abandoned celebration to get the game restarted as quickly as possible while the away end enjoyed a rare moment of jubilation.
An attempt to get the game restarted as quickly as possible that was ultimately meaningless. Both sides searching for victory in the four minutes of additional time, but neither willing to sacrifice their point. Cynical fouls from Holmes and Oliver Rathbone preventing breaks for either side.
A share of six goals, therefore, what ultimately had to be settled for. Having thrown victory away, the hosts undoubtedly flat. Having not got the three points needed to spark any sort of life into an already deceased play-off challenge, only the aftermath of Teixeira’s equaliser kept the away end from sharing such a state.
But there was undoubtedly a shared frustration. This just not quite enough for two sides that need to be winning games. And not least the Addicks.
In truth, in certain circumstances, this would have been a good result for Robinson’s side. A dramatic draw away at a side with a strong home record. A moment of joy and a decent point to come away from Spotland with.
But the nature of the circumstances that Charlton find themselves in means games can’t be viewed in such isolation. It difficult to form genuine positives from games that haven’t been won when the play-offs remain so far away that it’s almost impossible to reach.
You can, of course, take positives of sorts from this rather bizarre encounter. Teixeira’s equaliser, of course, but so too the fact that the Addicks actually took advantage of some rather questionable defending and scored some goals. I’m not sure the word ruthless is quite fitting, but they were certainly more ruthless than they have bene in recent weeks.
But even in this game, which appears to provide more relative positives than recent fixtures, do you find yourself frustrated. A desperately poor opening 40 minutes, twinned with a lack of defensive resolve that lasted for the entirety of the game. Robinson’s side once again without much fluency, and conceding three goals that could have been avoided with reasonable levels of defensive quality.
And so, while the dramatic nature of the contest gave the game a slightly different feel to the frustration experienced of late, it was really just the same but with a bit of make-up and a nice hat. No escape from the reality that this side has a large number of faults, and they won’t make up the gap between themselves and the play-offs. The play-offs, that are now as far away as the bottom four.
Though dramatic, the events at Spotland have really just reaffirmed the dour reality that another season in League One awaits.