Katrien Meire looked across to the away end situated just a few yards to her left. An expression on her face that suggested the Charlton Athletic supporters occupying it, who were voicing their opposition to the regime she works work, were little more than a tiresome nuisance. Her displeasure towards the club’s supporters, as it always is, apparent.
Apparent, too, that neither their justifiable anger or the events unfolding on the London Road pitch in front of her mattered. No emotion felt towards the gutless performance by Karl Robinson’s side. No desire to understand the pain being suffered by those who had travelled to Peterborough to support their side.
Too many people at this club don’t care. Too many people at this club continue to instil failure unpunished. Too many people at this club view committed supporters, hurting that the club they once loved is crumbling, with disdain.
If people at this club cared, if people at this club were competent, the Addicks would not sit four points above League One’s bottom four with six games to play. They would not have delivered an umpteenth performance that offered little quality in the final third, before defensive capitulation gave victory to their opponent.
Maybe such anger would have been quelled with a degree of composure in front of goal. The horrendous Lee Novak, so poor that he felt the need to hold his hands up in apology as he was substituted, wasting the most glorious of chances while the scores remained level midway through the first half. A tally of wasted chances at crucial moments throughout this season that only increases.
No fluency in Charlton’s play, passes that weren’t misplaced were instead overhit, and no improvement in the sluggish effort as the final third of the game was entered. Peterborough United’s final ball all that was preventing this lethargic performance from receiving the punishment it warranted.
Or at least that was the case until the 74th minute, as defensive capitulation invited the Posh to gain the advantage. Craig Mackail-Smith allowed to drive forward far too easily, Jorge Teixeira’s last-ditch tackle merely diverting the ball to Marcus Maddison, who had the entire right flank to himself, and the winger’s delivery picking out an unchallenged Martin Samuelsen at the back post. The West Ham loanee heading the hosts in front in the simplest of fashions, having come off the bench just a minute previously.
And as has been the theme of Robinson’s tenure as manager, he was not capable of evoking a reaction in testing circumstances. Instead of chasing the game with intent and desire in the remaining 16 minutes, those in red crumbled in pathetic fashion. A touch of class in Peterborough’s second, as Maddison lobbed Declan Rudd in audacious fashion, but not an ounce of fight in the remainder of Charlton’s display.
Dejected, defeated and beaten from the moment they had fallen behind. Robinson powerless. The away accusing those who wore the Charlton badge on their chest of not being fit enough to wear the shirt.
But at least as they stumbled off come full-time, to a chorus of entirely justified boos, they carried expressions that suggested they were hurting. That they did care. That they knew this wasn’t anywhere near good enough.
The woman who sat in the directors’ box, not fit enough to have any association with this football club, displaying quite a different mentality. Not willing to accept that should the Addicks be sucked into the bottom four, she will take a large part of the blame. Not willing to appreciate the suffering she has inflicted upon a committed group of hurting supporters.
There was, however, a moment for supporters, players and management of both sides to stand in unison prior to kick-off. Peterborough, ahead of Charlton’s own planned tribute on Tuesday night, organising a minute’s silence to pay respect to Addick PC Keith Palmer, tragically losing his life in the Westminster terrorist attack. The silence impeccably observed, and a chant of “PC Palmer, he’s one of our own” following from the away end.
Those that stood on the centre circle in red, linked together and paying their respects, did not include Chris Solly or Josh Magennis, despite Robinson hinting otherwise prior to the match. The former not in the squad altogether, with Nathan Byrne continuing to deputise at right-back, while the returning Magennis was only fit enough for the bench. Johnnie Jackson, replacing the injured Ezri Konsa, the only change to the starting XI from the defeat at Sheffield United a fortnight ago.
But the attempts of this Charlton side to begin as brightly as they had done at Bramall Lane went without success. Intensity, energy and quality absent from both sides in the opening stages, as an uninspiring number of misplaced passes were made by either team. Junior Morias, worryingly left unmarked, bundling a corner wide for Peterborough and Patrick Bauer nodding a free-kick back across the face of goal without a red shirt challenging about as good as it got in the opening ten minutes.
Robinson’s side struggling to maintain possession, and their desperation summed up by a rather hilarious attempt at a dive from Teixeira as he drove into the opposition’s half. The laughter only temporary however as Chris Forrester was invited to shoot from the edge of Charlton’s box, with his effort requiring a decent save from Rudd in order to be kept out.
But for all the misgivings of the Addicks in these opening moments, it was they who created the game’s first golden opportunity. An opportunity that simply had to be taken. An opportunity that wasn’t taken.
Impressive build-up play from Robinson’s men for the first time all afternoon concluded in Novak being slid through on goal, one-on-one with goalkeeper Luke McGee. A first-time placed finish into either corner would have put the visitors ahead, but the goal-shy striker took a touch, allowing a combination of McGee and defender Michael Bostwick to pounce. The shot blocked, and a glorious chance wasted.
Novak following up a few moments later with an effort from distance that forced McGee into a strong save, parrying the ball behind, but his earlier miss continued to occupy the thoughts of Charlton supporters.
At least these openings, in a game that continued to lack real intensity or quality, appeared to encourage a more attacking impetus from the Addicks. Ricky Holmes, uncharacteristically quiet in the first 25 minutes or so, delivering a marvellous ball from the left that just evaded the head of Tony Watt at the far post, while Peterborough’s defence were almost punished for standing off Jake Forster-Caskey as the midfielder drilled an effort narrowly wide from distance.
The Addicks out of their shell somewhat, but still not enough to prevent frustration in the away end, not least towards the decision making of Holmes, Watt and Novak. The trio getting into decent positions, but making the wrong choice at the crucial moment and failing to create the chances that appeared to be there. Holmes particularly guilty, with either a chance to shoot or an opportunity to send Novak through on goal wasted by taking far too long in possession and allowing the resulting stab goalwards to be blocked away.
The focus for the visiting supporters was also momentarily split between supporting the side and demanding the regime depart. An accusing glance delivered from Sue Parkes, sat in the directors’ box alongside Meire, while “just sell the club” was bellowed out by the Addicks.
It left Posh to create the final meaningful chances of the half. Rudd diving full stretch to his left to palm away a vicious long-range strike from Maddison, Leonardo Da Silva Lopes firing wide across the face of goal, and another moment of questionable Charlton defending as a Peterborough cross came into the box meant Morias was inches away from turning home a Maddison delivery.
But there no doubt it was the Addicks, despite showing little quality in their general play, who had created the best openings of the half. The interval reached with emotions of disappointment created by overall performance, and frustration coming from an inability to make the most of promising chances.
And though Peterborough themselves were offering little, and seemingly cursed by the same inability to deliver in the final third, better was expected of Robinson’s side after the break. A need to improve in possession, and most certainly offer greater potency.
The start to the second-half, therefore, an encouraging one of sorts. Of sorts, because Charlton were again getting into decent positions, but not doing anything thereafter. Fredrik Ulvestad’s shot charged down by the ever defiant Bostwick, Forster-Caskey driving through on goal but getting his feet in a muddle and allowing Posh to recover ground, and Holmes again guilty of taking one touch too many before his shot was blocked.
The theme continuing as Holmes’ delivery from the right picked out Forster-Caskey at the back post, but the January signing could only head wide. A vast improvement in the overall play; potency still absent.
As such, a chance for Peterborough to grow back into the game was always likely. Charlton’s early second-half pressure easing, sluggishness reappearing in midfield and at the back, and the hosts beginning to threaten. Rudd confident enough to watch Maddison’s effort hit the side netting, but the goalkeeper’s fingertips needed after former Crystal Palace man Jerome Binnom-Williams drove into the box from the left and fired powerfully towards goal.
The concern increasing, and the Addicks now most definitely on the backfoot. The introduction of Mackail-Smith had seemingly only increased that, with Bauer and Teixeira appearing less than comfortable. The former dragging down the forward on the edge of the box, with the resulting free-kick ballooned over the bar by Maddison.
In such circumstances, it was to no surprise that discontent was also growing in the away end. Discontent that only increased when it was Watt instead of Novak, being heavily criticised and rightfully so as he continued to struggle, sacrificed in favour of Josh Magennis, while Johnnie Jackson, battling as much as anyone else in red and winning a large majority of balls, was withdrawn in favour of Andrew Crofts. Knocks apparently justifying both of those substitutions.
The boos of frustration not yet died down before a scramble in Charlton’s goalmouth concluded with Rudd reacting superbly to turn a Bostwick effort from point-blank range behind. The sort of save that resembled his early season form, rather than what the Norwich loanee has been showing in recent weeks. It through a combination of Peterborough’s struggles to deliver a testing ball from wide positions and Rudd’s gloves that the Addicks had not fallen behind.
And they would have needed to offer thanks to Rudd had Ulvestad’s determined drive into the Posh box resulted in a goal. Again, however, it was another moment where a player in red took too long in possession, couldn’t compose themselves, and were ultimately denied. At least, as Novak jogged off with hands raised in apology for a brief moment to be replaced by Jordan Botaka, the visiting supporters were given some relief.
Relief, however, that would be replaced by rage a little more than a minute later. Samuelsen had been introduced alongside Botaka, and the midfielder’s first touch resulted in Peterborough taking the lead that they had been threatening to for the previous 15 minutes.
A goal given to Peterborough far too easily. Bauer and Teixeira at sixes and sevens as Mackail-Smith broke through, and Teixeira’s recovery challenged not enough to halt Posh’s move forward. Maddison with all the time and space in the world to deliver from the right, and his cross finding the unmarked Samuelsen at the far post, finishing a chance that even Novak would have found hard to miss.
Dejection on the pitch, and fury in the away end, but with 16 minutes still to play, Robinson needed to inspire a reaction from his players. To fight for the remainder of the game, fight to avoid defeat, and fight to avoid the embarrassment of being drawn into a relegation battle. Bostwick heading over unchallenged from a corner and Morias being allowed to shoot narrowly off-target from distance were hardly encouraging signs.
Nor was the sight of Maddison galloping down the right without a Charlton body capable of stopping his run. The finish that followed extraordinary, halting his momentum in order to dink the ball perfectly over Rudd and over the line via the crossbar, but the Posh had gained their two-goal advantage as a consequence of the Addicks emphatically capitulating.
Magennis and Holmes mis-controlling the ball out of play as Robinson’s side attempted to deliver the ball forward, but there was no energy, no intensity and no fight left in this group of Addicks. Whether they had mentally or not only they will know, but their body language suggested they had given up. That “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” echoed around the away end came as no surprise.
Crofts gave McGee, who had probably spent the majority of the second half counting blades of grass, something to as full-time approached, but his drive into the goalkeeper’s hands barely registered among the visiting fans. Too angry with this performance, too outraged with Robinson’s inability to motivate, too insulted by the damage the regime have done to their club.
All that remained was for the combination of these emotions to be expressed at the full-time whistle. The boos poisonous, the criticism of those in red venomous, and fury expressed to the toxic member of the club’s regime that sat to their left.
Robinson hiding, heading straight down the tunnel, the players bowing heads and apologetically applauding the enraged away end, Meire choosing to appear oblivious to the suffering of the club’s supporters as the vile Sue Parkes took enjoyment from it.
All this, as the club slipped to within four points of League One’s bottom four. A football club, existing as a shell of what it once was, in serious danger of complete disaster.
Disaster instigated first and foremost by Duchatelet and those he holds close. There aren’t words to express my hatred towards Meire, not least as she stood unaffected by the suffering of Charlton supporters and the suffering of their club. She doesn’t care – she would have resigned long ago if she did – and she continues to reaffirm that.
There is no embarrassment that her actions have left the club in danger of falling into League Two, something that will remain as unacceptable regardless of whether the Addicks remain with a barrier between themselves and the bottom four between now and the end of the season. No guilt that she has instilled misery on a group of supporters, and forced them to lose love with their club. Not a care in the world.
Disaster becoming increasingly possible as a consequence of the weakness of those in the dugout, and those on the pitch. The squad understaffed, success for any boss impossible under this regime, but you can only hold so much sympathy.
The performance possibly best summed up by the fact even Holmes, so normally reliable for a moment of quality that at least makes the Addicks appear competitive, struggled to have any real impact on the game. The entire side tedious and ineffective in possession, consistently wayward with their final balls, and tame in front of goal. The lack of potency shown, not least from the dire Novak, made more harmful when the overall performance made genuine chances few and far between.
But it the capitulation that preceded and then increased after the goal that offers the greatest amount of concern. The midfield and defence crumbling in the moments prior to the Addicks falling behind, and then simply caving in once Posh had gained their advantage. No fight, no determination, no desire to address the position they found themselves in.
And this not a one off. An inability to respond in testing circumstances the theme throughout the eight-game winless run that has left us in this position. It might well be the attitude of the players, but above that it’s Robinson’s inability to inspire, motivate, and instil change.
At any other club, in any other circumstances, the fury towards the boss and his players would be immeasurable. Unrelenting anger towards these pathetic performances. The four-game period between the Scunthorpe victory and the Sheffield loss far from enough to allow this defeat and performance to be seen as a one off.
And they, quite rightfully, are receiving the anger and criticism they warrant. It simply not good enough.
But when you have the club’s CEO, a CEO who has instigated the downfall of this football club in partnership with its owner, reaffirming her unwillingness to care, greater rage is always going to be directed elsewhere.
On the pitch and off it, this club is on its knees.