In a period where the veins of this football club are filled with a crippling poison, the brief moments of celebration Charlton Athletic provides to its supporters can be seen as little more than painkillers. A momentary release from a suffering that will soon return.
But the painkillers the Addicks provided on this Tuesday night in SE7 were particularly strong. Not just distracting from the sorrow that comes from seeing The Valley so empty, or simply numbing the pain that Roland Duchatelet’s ownership has made a constant. A real release of relief, joy and delight as Karl Robinson’s side find found a way to record their first victory in nine games.
That there had been such a long wait for a win, and so much suffering experienced over the course of that winless run, meant that one was always going to be celebrated in a unique way. But the nature of the victory against Scunthorpe United made it all the more enjoyable.
For it was the Skipper who broke the deadlock. The perfect representative of this football club, who feels every bit of pain that his supporters do. A leader and legend, who continues to offer total commitment at a time when the desire and determination of his teammates has been seriously question.
Johnnie Jackson converting from a corner with 33 minutes played. His expression, his roar, his kneeslide. This meant everything to Mr Charlton, and it meant just as much to the supporters sharing his joy in the stands.
The script suggested Jackson’s goal would be the one that gave the Addicks their first victory in nine attempts, but this was a script that required Robinson’s side to perform with uninterrupted competence for the remainder of the game. Something they couldn’t quite do.
Drive, determination and fight in a coherent structure could be seen for much of the opening hour, but an injury to Josh Magennis turned the Addicks into the sort of quivering wreck that had lost four games in succession. Gaps appearing as only the most incredible Ezri Konsa tackle denied Tom Hopper, before Padden Madden somehow contrived to head against the post when it seemed easier to score.
The overdue Iron equaliser coming with 15 minutes to play, as Declan Rudd fumbled an attempt to claim a cross and Kevin van Veen was ultimately able to convert. The visitors racing back to their half, desperate to restart and chase a victory that now seemed very plausible. The painkiller being replaced by toxic.
So much so that a free-kick won by the Addicks inside the opposition’s half as full-time approached was seen as more a chance to keep the ball away from their own box than as an opportunity to score. Discontent had returned, frustration was the overwhelming emotion, and fear of total capitulation had to ignore.
But this free-kick was threatening. Threatening to the extent that Scunthorpe panicked. Murray Wallace pulling Jorge Teixeira to the ground, and referee Whitestone immediately pointing to the spot.
Substitute Tony Watt confidently grabbing the ball and placing it on the spot as those in the Covered End panicked. The recent run of despair pointed to the Scot blasting this opportunity to steal victory into the unoccupied seats scattered behind the goal.
Instead, there was confidence in the spot kick, with Watt emphatically converting into the bottom left corner before jumping into the Lower North in celebration. A frustrating figure, who has received support beyond what logic would suggest he warrants, finally giving something back.
Giving back a 90th-minute winner, no less. Three points taken from a match for the first time since the end of January, and three points that were there to be enjoyed.
A Valley hero scoring, a winner from a troubled player that fans have invested their support in, and a gap opening up between the Addicks and the bottom four as this side proved it does know how to record victory.
A momentary release from a suffering that will soon return, but a momentary release that provided extraordinary delight and relief.
Delight and relief not emotions that were anticipated prior to a kick-off delayed by 15 minutes due to travel issues around the South East London area, with the pattern of defeat and embarrassment that the Addicks found themselves in meaning many were accepting further suffering.
That the opposition arrived without a victory in seven offering little encouragement with Robinson’s weak side depleted further by injuries. Chris Solly’s expected return from suspension delayed by a calf problem, Teixeira replacing the unwell Bauer, and Joe Aribo coming into the XI with Jordan Botaka, goalscorer in the weekend defeat to Northampton Town, also in the treatment room.
One further change was at least welcomed by this minute Valley crowd, as Jackson came in for Andrew Crofts in the centre of midfield. The leader that a side lacking character and desire desperately required.
Initial fears that he would be playing wide left quickly quelled with the skipper playing as part of a central trio, that meant Magennis was flanked by Lee Novak and Ricky Holmes in attack. But Robinson’s side might well have found themselves in front before they’d had a chance to prove their commitment or the positives of this slightly shuffled set-up.
Scunthorpe clearing a Charlton free-kick only as far as Teixeira, and what appeared a harmless flick back into the danger area ultimately came back off the crossbar. The Iron breathing a sigh of relief with three minutes played.
The fluked opening enough to encourage The Valley faithful into song, but not enough to deter a Scunthorpe side desperate to reignite their promotion push. A half-cleared corner falling to Jordan Clarke, whose effort forced a strong save out of Rudd, before Madden ballooned the rebound in the general direction of the corner flag.
But, in spite of that opening, Graham Alexander’s side had begun the evening appearing like one that hadn’t won in seven games. Not only was their possession play unimaginative and struggling to get them into threatening positions, they were also being caught out at the back by a Charlton side pressing and pressuring like they hadn’t done in recent weeks. Holmes being able to deliver a final ball would have been a bonus, but this was pleasing to see nonetheless.
Not quite the dramatic response that was anticipated at Northampton at the weekend, but certainly much greater effort on show than in the final half hour at Sixfields. No songs of criticism against the players required amid the anti-regime chants as Ezri Konsa sliced a strike horribly off-target.
Maybe they might have even had some reward for their early efforts had referee Whitestone not turned a blind eye to Teixeira being clipped inside the box as he chased after a loose ball. The appeals from around the ground somewhat half-hearted, but the Portuguese perplexed with the decision not to award a spot kick.
A decision that would have had greater repercussions had Madden showed greater composure inside the Charlton box five minutes later. Nathan Byrne struggling to contain Duane Holmes, the Scunthorpe man’s delivery finding Madden at the pack post, but the forward able only to volley into the side netting. Not the first time that the Iron had threatened down the flanks, but the first time where their threat had become something more substantial, and a little reminder that this side were third for a reason.
A momentary stutter at the back, however, was not going to dent the growing attacking confidence of those in red. Magennis a menace throughout the half, showing the determination that had been absent from his play in recent weeks, and battling his way through into a promising position. The result a vicious drive across the face of goal that narrowly avoided the head of Holmes before narrowly flashing wide of the post.
The encouraging signs increasing for the Addicks, and there a sense of belief as Holmes ran across to take a corner from the left. Belief that was to be rewarded as Jackson improvised to connect with the winger’s delivery, and volley beyond the clutches of Luke Daniels. The fist pumps and emphatic knee slide that followed arguably more enjoyable than the goal itself.
Robinson’s men by no means in control, and not really creating any prior clear-cut chances, but this was a reward for their improvement in energy and effort in the opening 33 minutes of this contest.
A reward, of course, that would mean very little if the same levels of energy and effort were not maintained for the remainder of the game. The Covered End certainly doing their bit as the Addicks battled successfully to retain their advantage going into half-time. Those in red racing down the tunnel to well-earned applause and appreciation.
But the Addicks had found themselves in front at half-time on several occasions throughout this run without victory, and few inside The Valley were allowing themselves to get carried away, or even feel a degree of confidence. A second goal as sought after as the first.
Something that wasn’t going to be achieved by Holmes firing horribly off-target from the best part of 30 yards five minutes into the half. Not that you could blame the long-range specialist from trying his luck.
And if it was to be the case that the Addicks would need to fight desperately to maintain their single-goal advantage for the duration of this half, at least they had made through the first ten minutes of it without completely capitulating as they against Shrewsbury Town a week ago. The Iron unthreatening in second period’s opening passages of play.
But concern was soon to come, and not through anything the visitors had done. Magennis staying down having suffering an off-the-ball injury, and ultimately needing to be withdrawn. Andrew Crofts replacing the Northern Ireland international, Ricky Holmes shoved into a central position, and Charlton’s shape, structure and composure almost immediately lost.
Magennis substituted a minute before the hour. Scunthorpe beginning to take control of the contest a minute after the hour. A forward move from the Iron ending with Clarke firing wide.
But their next forward move should have resulted in parity being restored. Or at least it would have done were it not for the intervention of Konsa. Jackson’s tackle in the centre of the pitch bouncing unfortunately and sending substitute Hopper through on goal, only for the long leg of Charlton’s young centre-back to claw the ball away from his feet just as he was shaping to shoot.
Having been on the pitch for barely three minutes, Hopper had had a hand in Scunthorpe’s two best moments of the night. For a minute after being denied a certain goal by Konsa, the forward had again got the better of Charlton’s defensive line and found himself racing towards goal.
Madden up in support, and Hopper opting to deliver a perfect ball for his forward partner at the back post. The home supporters resigned to their side conceding, and despair-filled silence had already filled the crowd as Madden connected with the delivery, but his header bounced back off the post and the Addicks were somehow able to clear. Quite remarkable good fortune.
It needed to act as a wakeup call for Charlton. They needed to rediscover a degree of shape and structure, or the Iron would continue to attack in the pattern they had seemingly discovered and ultimately score. Comparisons with the Fleetwood Town game coming to mind.
But the Addicks were now firmly stuck on the back foot. Matt Crooks dictating, the deceptive pace of Stephen Dawson causing problems, and some rather desperate defending from crosses and corners required to keep the Iron at bay. Without an outlet in attack, Charlton were inviting their own pressure, and showing more and more panic.
It really no surprise, therefore, when van Veen popped up to draw the Iron level with 15 minutes to play. But the frustration of the equaliser coming from the avoidable manner in which it was conceded. Rudd all at sea as he attempted to push a cross away from Madden, the goalkeeper unable to pounce on the loose ball, and Scunthorpe’s Dutch forward emerging from the wreckage to finish.
Frustration, and so too fear. Fear that, with 15 minutes to play and the Iron seemingly in control, a complete capitulation would occur. Clarke’s driven effort from the edge of the box flashing just wide, with a Scunthorpe leg inches away from diverting it goalwards.
The Iron certainly the side more intent on chasing victory, but at least the Addicks were showing a greater degree of composure than they had done prior to losing their lead. If not that, then cynical fouls were being called upon to halt dangerous-looking Scunthorpe runs. Byrne and Fredrik Ulvestad taking one for the team and earning yellow cards as Robinson’s side looked to see this one out by whatever means necessary.
A volley from Crooks, full of power but little accuracy, sent well wide of Charlton’s goal about as much as Scunthorpe could muster as full-time approached, but there still this sense that the Addicks, trapped in this winless run, would find a way to inflict defeat upon themselves. A draw not the most positive of results, but it needed to be the very least that was salvaged from this affair.
A draw that was edging closer as the Addicks were awarded a free-kick just inside the opposition’s half. The game’s final minute approaching, neither side looking like they would grab a winner, and this an opportunity to take a few further seconds out of the game.
But the resulting ball into the box was one Scunthorpe struggled to deal with, and it was flicked into the path of Teixeira. The Portuguese may have had opportunity to score, had it not been hauled down by Wallace. A clear-cut penalty that referee Whitestone had signalled for before Teixeira had even begun to appeal.
And so, despite having been pegged inside their own half for much of the second period, creating next to nothing, the Addicks had somehow found themselves with a chance to steal three points. To gain their first three points in nine games. A swagger and a smile as Watt stepped up to the spot, but that surely a way of hiding the obvious pressure that was on the Scot to score.
Pressure, however, that the forward made to look non-existent with a confident finish, lashed into the bottom left while Daniels dived to the right. Watt, with his first Charlton goal since August 2015, throwing himself into the Covered End, celebrating with the supporters that have backed him beyond reasonable logic. Celebrating the most dramatic of last minute equalisers.
But The Valley’s roar was momentarily silenced by the announcement of four additional minutes. Still time for the Iron to deny the Addicks their first victory in nine, and some relief as a free-kick from the right skimmed off Scunthorpe heads inside the box but failed to threaten Rudd.
Some relief, expressed through cries of joy and celebration, also felt as the full-time whistle was blown. The winning feeling felt for the first time in nine games.
Appreciation and applause for those in red following, who had worked harder than they had done throughout much of this winless run. Appreciation for the Covered End as Jackson, running on empty having given his absolute all for 90 minutes, mustered the energy to perform a tunnel jump.
Relief and some pride restored for those in red. Relief and reward for those Addicks that have been forced to suffer in previous weeks. Relief and joy all around.
And that relief, in part, felt on the basis that there was a degree of fortune in Charlton’s victory. There no denying that the Addicks were placed under immense pressure for the majority of the second period, and struggled to regain any sort of shape or composure after Magennis was forced off. Scunthorpe seemingly the most likely side to steal victory in the game’s final period.
But while the overall pattern of play will point towards Robinson’s side being fortunate, that penalty and subsequent Watt winner was a reward for a performance that showed improvement in terms of application, energy and determination. It a reward for a Charlton side that were willing to show a bit more fight than in recent weeks.
Of course, such levels of determination should have been on show throughout the previous eight fixtures, and scraping a victory somewhat fortuitously not a sign that Robinson has overseen a dramatic turnaround in his side. But that is beside the point.
The point being that, after a period where the Addicks had been nothing but pathetic and embarrassing, seemingly internalising a weak attitude that lead to these gutless and dire efforts, a degree of fight was finally shown.
A determined effort prior to Jackson’s goal, and, though struggling with the pressure they were being put under, some degree of resilience was offered as Scunthorpe pressed for a winner. The draw probably the fairest result, but the victory what this Charlton side needed after showing a greater quality and greater mental toughness.
Victory that was also needed to ease fears of relegation. The buffer now nine points, but the mental buffer is more important. Where it seemed the Addicks had lost the ability to win prior to tonight, Robinson’s men have now proved that they can.
That a victory is required to ease relegation fears in League One probably offers a reminder of the grim reality of the situation that we remain in. And the suffering that that situation provides will undoubtedly return once the joy this victory has provided wears off. There still no justification for the position the Addicks in, this season still a failure, and Duchatelet’s regime still poisoning the club.
But none of those things mattered as Jackson performed his knee slide or Watt jumped into the crowd. Genuine pain relief, after weeks of increased suffering.