More energy, more emotion and more effort expressed by the Charlton Athletic supporters in attendance at Sixfields come full-time than had been displayed by those representing their football club on the pitch.
“You’re not fit to wear the shirt,” they sang. Loud, passionate, meaningful. The sentiment expressed as vocally as the cries of “we want Roland out” and “Valley Floyd Road” throughout the duration of the contest against Northampton Town.
Such sentiment shouldn’t have needed to be expressed. There was a response promised, one that would show the commitment and character of this group of Addicks after it was questioned by Karl Robinson in midweek. But this sentiment was totally, totally fair.
For Robinson’s men had performed without quality, without cohesion, and without the sort of levels of determination and effort you should be demanding from professional footballers for the eighth consecutive game. And eighth consecutive game without victory. An eighth consecutive game without any degree of pride being shown.
They deserved better. The 1,400 Charlton bodies who had travelled to Sixfields, with their minds split between Northampton and the action against Roland Duchatelet in Belgium. The team supported, the regime opposed, their commitment and their determination unquestionable.
Instead, they got a lacklustre performance from a group of weak players, which received its first moment of punishment with 32 minutes played. No one bothering to shut down Aaron Phillips, the winger delivering, and former Addick Michael Smith rising unopposed to head into Declan Rudd’s top corner. Smith, who was excellent for the Cobblers and bullied the backline of the club who released him three years ago, showing how you react when you need to prove someone wrong.
But, to Charlton’s credit, there was a response just four minutes later. Defending from the Cobblers that the Addicks would have been proud of as they failed to deal with a corner. Jordan Botaka eventually bundling the ball over the line after Ezri Konsa’s initial header had been thwarted.
A platform set. The first 35 minutes of the game could be ignored. This was where the Addicks would prove their worth, and show Robinson’s comments about 40% of them not caring enough were incorrect.
Alas, all they did was suggest that 40% is too a low a percentage. A goal gifted to Justin Edinburgh’s side, as a half-cleared cross fell straight for John-Joe O’Toole, with 62 minutes played. Not just parity lost as the Irishman ran away in celebration, but any notion of energy, effort or application from Robinson’s men.
The response after falling behind for a second time pathetic. No quality, no intensity, and no attempt to restore any sort of pride. A group of professionals who looked, unmotivated, unwilling to fight, and without any sort of guidance or direction. Their apologetic, half-hearted, applause come full-time towards the enraged away end meaningless.
Another performance without justification, that leaves the Addicks worryingly close to League One’s relegation zone. That leaves Robinson and his players deserving all the criticism they will receive. That leaves supporters dragged deeper into a state of disgust and despair.
But, really, it just a performance that reflects the overall state of the club. A performance that reflects the unavoidable failure and loss of identity that Duchatelet’s regime has overseen. A performance that reflects the damage done.
A symptom of the disease, and further confirmation that the only cure is to fight against it and force change.
A performance of a group of players not fit to wear the shirt. Displays of determination in both Northampton and Belgium from a group of supporters unrelenting in their fight for change at their club.
For those that were travelling to Sixfields, you could do little but hope the effort of the players would match the efforts of those who had travelled to Belgium. Total commitment, giving their all, and offering some fight. Already shown by those taking the protests to Duchatelet; a promise that it would be shown by a group of players for which trust is almost non-existent.
Three changes in personnel, as Robinson replaced Jorge Teixeira, Johnnie Jackson and Joe Aribo with Patrick Bauer, Lewis Page and Fredrik Ulvestad, but a change in mentality was more important. There had, apparently, been a positive response in training following the defeat at Shrewsbury Town in midweek. Time to prove it.
However, it was in an away littered with black and white that the early intensity was shown. Songs of protest and songs of support sung with the same vigour as an overhit Botaka cross, after the winger had waltzed past two Northampton men, didn’t quite offer the degree of encouragement required.
Nor did Ricky Holmes, returning to his former club for the first time, firing harmlessly over from distance provide the early reassurances that were required to convince the visiting Addicks their side would be performing with the desired quality and effort. A slow, somewhat scrappy, start to proceedings.
The scrappy nature of the affair meaning the Michael Smith’s physical attributes were proving particularly useful for the Cobblers, and giving the Addicks a few moments of concern. The one-time Charlton man fighting away to win the majority of his battles with Bauer, before the forward was fed through from Gregg Wylde on the left only to fire wide.
In fact, there not a great deal of reassurance being offered in Charlton’s overall defensive efforts. In addition to the difficulties in dealing with Smith, full-backs Page and Nathan Byrne were being caught out too easily, and too much time was being given to the Cobblers on the ball. Luke Williams invited to shoot, but thankfully providing no genuine test for Rudd.
Holmes responding with an almost identical strike at the other end, easily claimed by Adam Smith, but concern inside the Northampton box would come with 20 minutes played.
Concern that, unfortunately, provided little benefit for the Addicks other than the hilarity of the situation. Adam Smith set to claim an overhit Charlton pass, but Cobblers defender Gabriel Zakuani decided his intervention was required. The result a totally avoidable collision that required the centre-back to be withdrawn.
Zakuani an experienced centre-back, and the leader of Northampton’s backline, but his injury would have been seen as a blessing in disguise had his replacement made better use of an opening gifted to him by more question Charlton defending.
Zander Diamond left unmarked at the back post from a Cobblers set-piece, and the defender diving to connect with Matthew Taylor’s delivery. Rudd pouncing on the defender’s nod towards goal, but fury still existing that the Addicks had naively allowed Diamond so much space.
Fury towards this fragile Charlton defence that would increase as a failure to clear from Page ultimately led to a goal mouth scramble that Northampton were unfortunate not to capitalise from. Williams into the middle, Michael Smith trying to force a shot away, and Marc Richards seeing a goalbound header blocked.
At least these warnings for the Addicks were tame ones. The game lacking quality in general, and the Cobblers not providing what you would consider a dangerous degree of threat despite Charlton showing very little defensive composure. Improvement, and the discovery of some structure and intent, would mean this unsettled opening 30 minutes could be forgotten.
Alas, instead of being forgotten, it was to be punished. The trend of standing off an opponent continuing as Phillips was allowed plenty of time to pick his target, and Smith rising between two Charlton men to head the winger’s delivery firmly into the top corner. A splendid header, and no doubt a goal that Smith enjoyed, but yet more woeful defending and another moment of despair for the Addicks.
There no sign of this response, and a weak Josh Magennis strike straight into the hands of Adam Smith not doing anything to suggest otherwise. This simply not good enough.
So it was to some surprise that, with 36 minutes played, the Northampton net would ripple. This lifeless and lethargic group of Addicks forcing an equaliser, with Botaka the first to react after a Konsa header from a corner had been blocked. The winger forcing the ball over the line, and allowing Robinson’s men to escape their pit of embarrassment.
But it was a goal that could be seen as nothing more than a starting point. Greater than a point required anyway, but it would ultimately be meaningless if there was not improvement on what had gone before. It needed to be a moment of inspiration.
Although, as Page was brought down on the edge of the Northampton box, it might have been the case that the moment of inspiration was still to come. Holmes standing over the resulting free-kick, from a position in which he has proved deadly in recent weeks. Disappointment as his effort climbed over the bar and into those who used to support him behind the Cobblers’ goal.
Attempts from Botaka, who cut inside dangerously and curled not too far wide, and Magennis, who put quite a degree of power behind his effort from distance but not a lot of accuracy, still to come before break, but the overall feeling as the half-time whistle blew was one of frustration.
Relief, certainly, that the Addicks had restored parity, but their performance not really doing enough to restore pride and certainly not the sort of dramatic response to Tuesday’s performance and comments that had been suggested.
A further 45 minutes, therefore, for those in Charlton colours to prove their point. Probably not helped by the fact Teixeira, one of the players who seemed to fit the 40% gang quite well, was needed to replace the unwell Bauer before the second half got underway.
But the early stages of the second period were relatively positive for the Addicks. Good work again from Botaka as he cut inside, but his shot from an excellent position comfortably cleared the crossbar via the help of a deflection, while Magennis had forced the ball into the net long after the referee had called play back for a foul by the Northern Ireland international.
That relatively positivity, however, tainted by the fact the Addicks still looked without structure in defence. Taylor’s effort easily claimed by Rudd, but it more concerning to see Smith get in behind after the simplest of balls over the top. The forward’s cross-cum-shot thankfully pounced on by Charlton’s goalkeeper.
And though Novak, invited to shoot from distance, saw an effort swerve not too far over the bar, it became increasingly difficult to force yourself to believe the Addicks would be leaving Sixfields with three points.
The early intensity of the second period lasting a little more than five minutes, the overall play returning to hit and hope passes and up field as Andrew Crofts and Ulvestad continued to prove wasteful in possession, and each time Northampton crossed the halfway line there a fear Charlton’s defence would find a way to embarrass themselves.
It taking until just beyond the hour for those fears to be realised. An aversion to closing down Phillips as he was again allowed to deliver from wide, the initial ball won by a Charlton head, but no one reacting quickly enough as O’Toole pounced and finished emphatically. Self-inflicted suffering once again.
From the rubble came a prolonged cry of “just sell the club”, but so too a group of players who had lost any willingness to fight. Heads dropping, petulant fouls being given away, and a desire to engage in battles with opponents not there. Not to mention a complete lack of attacking intent for a side that were chasing the game, and a complete inability to make the simplest of passes.
The idea that supporters showing their disproval towards the regime was a contributing factor to these efforts blown out the water with a resilient cry of “Valley Floyd Road”, but overhit Botaka crosses were all the Addicks could muster. No threat, no intent, whatsoever.
Tony Watt thrown on, replacing the almost statue-like Novak, but he succeeded only in losing possession cheaply and showing the sort of mentality that has meant his potential will always remain unfulfilled. Cynical, almost childish, fouls having given the ball away, and displays of dissent that belonged to frustrated supporters.
In fact, though sitting deep and comfortably seeing off any half-hearted Charlton attempt to get forward, it was the Cobblers who created the only reasonable opening after they had restored their advantage. Taylor’s delivery three minutes from time an excellent one across the face of goal, needing only the slightest touch to divert in goalwards, but no one in claret was able to convert.
It might have mattered, a chance to kill the game off not taken, if they were playing against a side with any sort of energy or quality. Three minutes, and the four additional ones that would follow, for Charlton to find an equaliser. But there could be another 30 minutes and this weak group of Addicks would not have come close to drawing level.
They came into the game with one set of words they needed to prove were wrong, and another they needed to prove were right. To show that there was more desire in this side than Robinson had suggested, and to support the claims that there had been a positive response to Tuesday’s defeat.
The full-time whistle confirmation that they had done neither. A weak and gutless performance that lacked any sort of quality or fight from a side that had merely justified any negative word said against them.
Robinson exited as quickly as possible, most turned their backs on the away end, some half-heartedly clapped in the general direction of enraged supporters. None of it mattered. It couldn’t be made any worse or any better.
This was truly pathetic.
Pathetic not simply because defeat had been suffered. Defeat in a game that lacked quality against opposition that sat below the Addicks before kick-off. Northampton grinding out their victory, and deserving it.
Pathetic not simply because this defeat meant an eighth game without victory. A fourth consecutive game ending in defeat. The gap between Charlton and the bottom three, with testing fixtures to come, just six points.
Pathetic not simply because Robinson’s tactics leave the team without structure. No composure in defence. No quality in possession.
All of those reasons contributing to an assessment that labels the performance pathetic, but it the effort and application of this Charlton side that really confirms it.
They were under pressure heading into this game. A result of their own failings that have left them in such a dire position, but greater sources of pressure coming from elsewhere.
A need to prove their manager’s criticism of their desire wrong. A need to show that there had been a response that has been suggested continuously since Tuesday night. A need to offer a degree of fight on a day where Charlton supporters would claim most of the attention if they did not.
A need to show some professional pride. And if the levels of effort in that performance are anything to go by, then it would appear they have none. No willingness to fight.
This a day where supporters have been fighting for the future of their club. It was surely of paramount importance that those representing the Addicks on the pitch did so with a similar level of commitment, determination and drive. They did anything but.
At least pride can be taken from the efforts of those supporters. Both those who supported and opposed at Sixfields, and those who have travelled to deliver the message directly to Duchatelet in Belgium. There no question that there’s outstanding levels of determination among Charlton supporters.
But I want a football club I can be proud of again. One that doesn’t persistently fail, display all the symptoms of Duchatelet’s disease, and find new ways to hack away at its identity. These gutless performances another scar on that identity, already damaged to a point where it’s completely unrecognisable.
I want that identity restored, and it not something that can be achieved by Robinson and his players regardless of what follows. I want a football club I can be proud of again. I want change.