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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.