A side without structure and resolve, who had invited their opposition to double the advantage they had gained 11 minutes into the game on numerous occasions, appeared to have been rescued by moments of individual brilliance.
Ricky Holmes’ splendid right foot had allowed Charlton Athletic to end the first-half with a lead that their overall efforts probably didn’t warrant. A 30-yard thunderbolt and a wonderful free-kick moments before the break eclipsing Shrewsbury Town’s opener, scored after Louis Dodds had capitalised on weak defending from the visitors to New Meadow.
The winger’s impact, however, greater than just giving his side the lead. Holmes had galvanised a set of supporters left battered and bruised by a run of six games without victory, injecting the sort of joy not felt for weeks into the souls who occupied the away end. There was caution, but so too was there belief among the visiting supporters.
But Holmes’ efforts had not galvanised his side. His efforts not enough to prevent a seventh game without victory, and a third consecutive defeat. His efforts not enough to prevent the Addicks sliding to within six points of the bottom four, and the threat of relegation becoming a very real one.
Like rare victories cannot paper over the huge holes Roland Duchatelet’s regime has inflicted upon the heart of Charlton Athletic, rare moments of individual brilliance were not enough to stabilise Karl Robinson’s shambolic side. Seven second-half minutes all that were needed for the Shrews to exploit the structural, tactical and defensive weaknesses in this gutless group of Addicks.
Two goals in two minutes, both coming after Charlton attacks had broken down and ruthless counter-attacking football from the hosts had left a non-existent defensive structure exposed. The individuals within it embarrassed. That belief in the away end replaced by crushing despair.
Tyler Roberts racing forward and converting from an angle after possession had been lost in midfield, Simon Whalley was the man to finish after two red shirts were left desperately back-peddling while four wearing blue and yellow attacked following a cleared Charlton corner. Laughable.
There little attempt to regain pride, little attempt to show a degree of resolve. The contest exclusively between Declan Rudd in the Addicks goal and Shrewsbury’s attackers. Each save from the goalkeeper followed by a display of anger at the pathetic, non-existent defensive structure that was supposed to be protecting him.
As such, while it was Karlan Ahearne-Grant who fed Holmes to convert emphatically and grab a hat-trick that reflected his individual qualities and nothing more, the assist for Charlton’s 70th minute equaliser really belonged to Rudd. Fight and determination, lacking from many of his teammates, to keep his side in the game, rewarded with an equaliser that the collective effort simply didn’t warrant.
On this occasion, it was relief in the away end. Spared from embarrassment. Pride in the performance of Holmes, though fully aware his goals had papered over rather large cracks.
Alas, the visiting supporters would experience relief for just five minutes. To be replaced by a sickening combination of disgust, embarrassment and despair. A defensive resolve as pathetic, as insulting, as the words of the poisonous regime that have taken away the club’s foundations and allowed for nights like this to occur.
Several men in red static as Whalley came from wide and travelled half the width of the box without challenge. Rudd once again attempting to spare the blushes of the pathetic individuals ahead of him, saving an initial shot, but no Addick reacted to the rebound. Dodds pouncing, and scoring for a second time to regain Shrewsbury’s lead.
The final nail in the coffin. An acceptance among players and supporters that this was defeat. That the structureless, gutless, and effortless side had received the punishment it deserved.
They expressed despair come full-time. Heads in hands, looks of embarrassment, half-heartedly applauded the away fans while their manager hid. But there could be no sympathy following such a pathetic performance.
Little sympathy, too, for the hiding boss. Tactically inept, unable to motivate, powerless to prevent pathetic performance after pathetic performance. Assisting in the spreading of the symptoms of Duchatelet’s disease.
The only sympathy that could be had was for those supporters in the away end. Those that had given total commitment to this football club, and were watching it disintegrate further into an irreversible crisis before their eyes. Irreversible, at least, while those who operate it continue to make it worse.
But they don’t want sympathy. They don’t want Holmes to provide brief distractions from a shambolic side that represents a shambolic club. They want change.
Change of sorts prior to kick-off. Robinson finally abandoning his beloved 4-5-1 formation to stick a second man up top. The injured Jake Forster-Caskey absent, allowing Josh Magennis to partner Lee Novak.
Patrick Bauer and Stephy Mavididi also failing to recover from the injuries they sustained during Saturday’s defeat to Bury, meaning Joe Aribo, with Ezri Konsa dropping to centre-back, and Jordan Botaka came into the side.
There also a return to the starting XI for Johnnie Jackson, whose leadership qualities were desperately needed. But the skipper’s potential impact decreasing emphatically by the fact he was chosen to play at left-back. Lewis Page dropped to the bench, sitting alongside another natural left-back in Jay Dasilva.
Change, however, not to be created on the pitch by the result of these changes. As has been the case on so many occasions in recent weeks, the Addicks guilty of wasting an opportunity that could have defined the game. Guilty just 12 seconds in.
Novak played through on goal, and into a fantastic position, but his resulting shot tame. Jason Leutwiler saving well, but the goalkeeper should have faced a much greater test from the position Charlton’s forward found himself in.
At least the Addicks did not spend time dwelling on failing to take such a fantastic opening. Holmes, having cut inside from the left, seeing a shot well-saved, before the fingertips of Leutwiler were required to tip a Botaka effort around the post as the visitors made a relatively promising start. Or at least a promising start in the forward positions.
For the defensive uncertainty that has plagued the Addicks in recent weeks was visible from the off. Dodds volleying over from a tight angle after Byrne had gifted him possession, before Rudd was beaten to a Shrewsbury free-kick by Matt Sadler, who thankfully couldn’t keep his header down. For each moment of encouragement, there one of concern.
Truly great concern as Roberts burst through Charlton’s defensive line and got himself into a fantastic position from which to cross. Dodds picking up the ball at the back post, allowed to take a handful of touches as Byrne stood of his man, and ultimately poking into the far corner with Rudd unsighted. An avoidable goal, and one that exploited the weaknesses of this dire defensive collective, giving the Shrews an 11th minute lead.
This an all too familiar situation for those in the away end, who had seen their side gift the opposition cheap goals in the opening stages of their previous three games. All too familiar, too, that chances weren’t being taken.
The goal not silencing the attacking threat of Robinson’s side, as Botaka crossed for Magennis, only for the hand of Leutwiler to claw the header away. A moment of encouragement, were it not the sort of moment that had been repeated again and again in previous weeks. Wasted chances now simply a tedious frustration.
Not least with there still a fear that every Shrewsbury attack would result in this collectively and individually shambolic defence from being exploited once again. The hosts again breaking forward with ease, resulting in Dodds forcing a save from Rudd. The goalkeeper then required to deny Roberts, who had latched onto the loose ball, before a goal-bound strike from Gary Deegan was blocked, and the Addicks were able to breathe an underserved sigh of relief.
Undeserved reward, however, was to increase just two minutes later. Undeserved reward much greater than simply avoiding further punishment. The Addicks, out of nowhere, level.
For having begun to look lacklustre in possession, and building an impressive tally of misdirected crosses, there no sign that this was coming. No sign for Leutwiler in the Shrewsbury goal that Holmes was to strike from 30 yards. No chance for the goalkeeper to save the most stunning of individual efforts from arguably the only player in this Charlton side with match-winning qualities.
Admiration for the strike, and joy felt, in the away end, but it obvious that this needed to be much more than just a moment of brilliance. It needed to have an inspirational impact on Holmes’ teammates. Or at least settle them into some sort of competent structure.
And, to their credit, the Addicks did appear to show a touch more composure in the moments that followed. Though it would have been nice if that composure had filtered through to Novak, whose mishit volley meant an excellent Charlton move ended in disappointment.
At least composure was also lacking at the other end, as Ryan Yates fired over having been invited to shoot before an unchallenged Stephen Humphrys nodded wide. Still the Addicks looking a total mess without the ball, and another opportunity for Yates, who had rounded Byrne and broken into the box, signalled that the visitors were once again putting themselves on the backfoot.
Greater interest in the fact half-time was approaching, and hopefully an opportunity for Robinson to address a complete lack of defensive structure, as a Charlton attack was halted illegally by the hand of Sadler. Interest in the resulting free-kick soon increasing as it became clear that this was very much Holmes’ territory.
The winger stepping up, and providing an almost mirror image of his effort against AFC Wimbledon. The perfect free-kick, over the wall and back down again to settle beautifully into the top corner. No time to consider how undeserved this was as celebrations on the pitch and in the stands begun, and sheer admiration for Holmes’ qualities overwhelmed any other thought.
Nonetheless, to go in at half-time believing this game was won would have been naïve. Joy that, following weeks of misery, Charlton supporters deserved to embrace, but the defensive failures throughout the first half could not be ignored. The Addicks had to tighten up to maintain this lead.
Or, failing that, they could double it and crush Shrewsbury spirits. Junior Brown on the line for the hosts to clear a Jorge Teixeira header following a corner, a crucial block required to prevent a Holmes deliver finding Magennis, and Teixeira meeting another delivery only to see his effort saved by Leutwiler. Chances, you might suggest, to kill the game.
The game, however, was certainly not dead. Those wasted chances appearing even more costly as Magennis conceded possession cheaply in midfield, Shrewsbury embarked on another pacey break, and Roberts was ultimately allowed to finish clinically into the far bottom corner. Six second-half minutes all that were required to crush the spirits of the visiting supporters.
Momentum and belief now belonging to the Shrews, but Charlton winning a corner threatened to change that. Almost every man in red in and around the Shrewsbury box, but the hosts able to clear Holmes’s delivery. A clearance that would become a clinical break that truly exposed the lack of structure in Robinson’s side.
Yates leading the charge forward, with passes that could made either side of him that would send a yellow and blue shirt through on goal. Whalley, the man to his left, picked out and Byrne only able to back peddle in fear as the winger approached. The finish impressive, with Rudd well-beaten, but this a pathetic piece of Charlton defending.
A two-minute capitulation that had turned Holmes’ inspired victory to defensive disaster inspired defeat.
A saving grace of sorts that there remained plenty of time for the Addicks to turn the game on its head once again, but the remaining time seemed nothing more than an opportunity for the hosts to double their advantage as they bombarded Rudd’s goal.
No desire to form some sort of defensive resolve as the Shrews threatened with each and every attack they made. The lively Roberts breaking into the box again, with Rudd blocking his shot from a tight angle, the goalkeeper doing well to claim an Aristote Nsiala header across the face of goal, and another impressive save required to deny Yates as the midfielder was allowed to enter the box unchallenged.
If not allowing Shrewsbury players into the box, then the Addicks were inviting them to shoot from positions where Rudd could be seriously threatened. A fierce, swerving strike from Whalley from 25-yards, with no red shirt anywhere near him, needing to be tipped over the bar. It seemingly only a matter of time before the hosts all but confirmed their victory.
The 69th-minute introduction of Tony Watt, therefore, long overdue. The Scot replacing a struggling Magennis, with Ahearne-Grant also thrown on in place of an ineffective Botaka. Not men that would improve Charlton’s shambolic defence, but two that would at least provide a degree of pace and threat going forward.
And while their roles in the goal were limited, it took just a minute for the changes to make an impact.
Jackson and Ahearne-Grant exchanging passes on the left flank, the latter getting into the box, and able to thread the ball into the path of Holmes. The winger taking a touch, before finishing emphatically beyond Leutwiler. Again, a goal that was undeserved, but that nothing doing no harm whatsoever to joyous celebrations and collective appreciation for the wonderful efforts of hat-trick hero Holmes.
And the nature of Holmes’ performance meant that, with 20 minutes left, victory could not be ruled out. Another impressive moment of individual brilliance all that was required.
Cries of encouragement for such an event from the away end, and those cries were almost rewarded. Holmes’ delivery turned wide by Novak, before the forward’s attempt to score with a back hell from close range was blocked by Leutwiler. The latter in particular a very good chance.
Again, however, the impact of wasted chances was to prove fatal. For just five minutes after equalising, and a minute after Novak’s flick had been saved, the Addicks found themselves behind once more.
And once more, it was all of their own making. No attempt to shut down Whalley, no response after Rudd had saved Dodds’ initial effort, and a reminder of the pathetic tameness of this side as the forward pounced on his own rebound to score. It would be unbelievable, had Charlton’s defensive efforts not warranted the conceding of four goals.
Optimism dying, and its death confirmed as Holmes miscontrolled two passes in quick succession. If that didn’t sum up the lack of fight and quality in the final few minutes as Charlton half-hearted chased an equaliser, than a horribly wayward strike from Crofts and a pathetic moment of petulance that earned Watt a yellow card for dissent most certainly did. They had accepted defeat.
Defeat that would have been even more unbearable were it not for Rudd saving superbly from Crystal Palace loanee Freddie Ladapo deep into stoppage-time. The punishment that Charlton warranted was defeat, but Rudd had prevented it from being as emphatic as it might have been.
The goalkeeper among the most visibly distraught as the full-time whistle blew. Several moments of laying in despair required, as heads were hung in shame and Charlton supporters stood trying to make sense of the bemusement, anger and disgust that they felt.
A sense of apology in the applause directed towards the away end, though it counted for little. Even if it was more than Robinson, exiting straight down the tunnel, would offer. Too many times has this happened for apologies of any sort to be enough.
Too many times has this Charlton side delivered performances that haven’t been good enough.
It a Charlton side that was supposed to achieve a top six place as an absolute minimum. One that was supposed to reflect that fact the regime had learned from mistakes. It sits just six points above the relegation zone.
Six points hardly a comfortable cushion when it difficult to see where this side is getting its next win from. Not even the brilliance of Holmes salvaging any sort of pride for this desperately pathetic group of Addicks. There not the resolve, resilience or character to offer the response required to this run of seven games without a win.
Nonetheless, Robinson throwing his places under the bus by suggesting a large percentage of them don’t care or warrant their position in Charlton’s side is quite possibly the worst piece of man management I have ever seen.
This is a side that has shown little desire in recent weeks, and shown no structure whatsoever on a persistent basis. Of course, the players take criticism for that, but so too must you ask why Robinson hasn’t been able to motivate, and hasn’t been able to get a group of players that are supposed to be talented to perform in any sort of cohesive structure.
If the dressing room wasn’t lost before tonight, you fear it is now. You fear a response, or even just an undeserved victory that means this growing fear of being dragged into a relegation battle can be quelled, is now even more unlikely.
But it the spirit of the club that is really being lost. Taking greater blows with each passing week. The suggestion from the boss that players within this side don’t care is misguided, but it probably not incorrect and a symptom of the disease that Duchatelet’s regime has instilled upon this club.
Remember when, irrespective of the circumstances, there was a Charlton side that would offer unrelenting fight and determination? Remember when there was a deep connection between club and supporters, and squad and supporters? The state of this club, and the attitude of this squad and their manager, in complete contrast to that.
The damage that has been done reaching a point where even a fresh ownership, with logical ideas and who understand the club, are going to struggle to turn the situation around. Failure and fracture is deep-rooted within the poisoned veins of this football club.
The cure is not something that this regime, Robinson, or this group of players hold. This a truly bleak situation.