The mocking cheers from the Covered End, fuelled by fear that had transformed to relief, as Franck Nouble headed the simplest of chances wide for Southend United with the game in stoppage-time reaffirmed that this was not the most fluent of Charlton Athletic performances.
But the home fans’ unrelenting noise for much of the game’s final period reaffirmed why the Addicks warranted a vital victory over the Shrimpers. The noise in contrast to the fury of Tuesday night. The effort of those in red warranting support rather than questions over their suitability to wear the shirt.
For Karl Robinson’s side, half-hearted and weak in the midweek defeat to MK Dons, found a level of determination and drive that has so often been hiding throughout the season. They fought, they battled, and they gave enough to mean the faults in their footballing performance were made relatively meaningless.
It footballing quality, however, from this side’s most talented player that gave them the lead with just six minutes played. A tirade of chants against the regime, combined with support for the Addicks, followed by Ricky Holmes driving down the left and finishing across the face of Christian Walton’s goal.
But it footballing quality that, just five minutes later, meant Charlton had lost their lead. Horrendous organisation from a Southend corner allowing John White the freest of free headers, as he nodded home without challenge.
Disappointment obviously inflicted, but the overriding emotion one of fear given how Robinson’s men have reacted to conceding in recent weeks.
Their heads, however, did not drop. They misplaced passes and they offered chances to the Shrimpers, but their heads did not drop. They kept fighting, they kept exhausting all the effort and energy that could be asked for.
They offered chances to the visitors like when Stephen McLaughlin was allowed to race through on goal. Even then, determination was the winner, as Declan Rudd put behind the mistakes of recent weeks to race off his line and superbly rob the winger of the ball.
A moment that would have proved particularly cruel had it concluded with a goal being conceded, with a goal-mouth melee at the other end from a corner seeing the ball hitting the inside of the post and cleared off the line twice.
But maybe it was the manner in which the eventual winner for the hosts was scored that showed this determination was fuelled by determination as much as anything else. Nathan Byrne battling on the right, Adam Thompson beating Jake Forster-Caskey to his delivery, but the pressure Charlton’s substitute placed on the Southend defender meant he could only turn the ball into his own net.
Forster-Caskey celebrating as if it were his own; Addicks on-the-pitch and off it celebrating knowing full well the importance of the goal, irrespective of how it arrived.
The support, as Charlton battled in the remaining 16 minutes, reaffirming its importance. The importance of maintaining this lead, and the importance of ex-Addick Nouble heading Southend’s best chance in the final period of the game wide.
The monumental hug shared by Rudd and Jason Pearce as the calming sound of the full-time whistle was heard another event highlighting the value of this three points.
A victory celebrated like any other, with supporters embracing a rare positive moment in SE7, but it a victory that, much like when Nouble headed wide, predominately provided relief.
Several of those below Robinson’s side picking up points, and the gap between them and League One’s relegation zone extended by just a point. Charlton still needing to look over their shoulders in the final four games of the season, and desperately needing this victory.
Requiring a win to prevent being sucked further towards the division’s bottom four reaffirms the failure of this campaign, and the failure of so many at this club, but that not to say delight was tainted on this glorious afternoon at The Valley.
In the overall context, it was not a victory like any other, but as they celebrated under the sun come full-time, it was a victory that provided the joy of any other.
Joy most certainly not predicted prior to kick-off, with Tuesday’s performance still playing in the minds of Charlton supporters, and Robinson’s team selection not providing the greatest increase in confidence.
The concern in the starting XI largely formed around the selection of just one forward. Josh Magennis up top on his own, with Tony Watt dropped to the bench.
But at least the diamond in midfield had been abandoned. In fact, the midfield of Tuesday night had been almost entirely abandoned altogether. Holmes the only man to maintain his place, taking up a position on the left, Byrne coming in on the right to take the space made available by Watt, while Ezri Konsa, Andrew Crofts and Fredrik Ulvestad replaced Johnnie Jackson, Jake Forster-Caskey and Joe Aribo in the centre.
Hope that another abandonment would be made, and that of the current regime abandoning the club. Not before the death of former director and vice-chairman Mick Norris, who did so much for the club, was acknowledged with a minute’s applause. A man in complete contrast to those who own roles at the top of the club.
“We want Roland out” belted out by almost all inside The Valley from the moment referee Roger East blew for the game to begin. Several minutes of anti-regime chanting, reaffirming the unrelenting and unanimous opposition to Roland Duchatelet’s poisonous ownership.
But, as ever, there was a team to support, and a team who received such support amid the fury towards those above them. A team who had disappointed so often, but needed to perform on this beautiful afternoon in SE7.
And with just six minutes played, an already vocal Valley found reason to raise their voices further as their side, effectively out of nothing, took the lead.
Or at least it would have been a goal out of nothing were it not Holmes involved. The winger specialising in creating unexpected moments of joy, and this probably relatively routine for such a talented performer. Played through down the left by Konsa, beating Jason Demetriou with ease, before firing beyond Walton from the tightest of angles.
That it was an individual moment of quality, however, reaffirmed the need to settle and show some resilience. The lead Charlton’s, but they not in control of the overall pattern of play, and facing an in-form side with play-off ambitions. Jason Pearce not doing enough to hold off Theo Robinson and Rudd required to save the forward’s resulting effort at the near post providing warning.
But it a warning that, despite the most marvellous of tackles from Andrew Crofts preventing Luke Amos from getting through on goal, was not noted. For from the resulting corner, the Addicks crumbled, and allowed the Shrimpers to equalise.
White’s leap strong and his header powerful, but Charlton’s defensive efforts weak. The full-back completely unmarked, and completely unchallenged, as his rose to nod home Michael Timlin’s delivery and draw his side level. Positivity all of a sudden replaced by panic.
An attempt from the Addicks to provide immediate calm, if not re-indulge supporters in positivity, with a move forward that saw Magennis head Byrne’s delivery wide. At least the hosts were continuing to show intent, and had not capitulated in the face of conceding.
In fact, quite quickly, the game settled into a rhythm that meant neither team could claim to hold the advantage. A combination of fluency in both midfield’s lacking, as misplaced passes racked up, and tameness the theme in the rare moments when either side were able to scrappily move into the final third.
Though there was nothing tame about Simon Cox’s effort with 25 minutes played. Cox, a scorer against the Addicks in Roots Hall in December, being afforded the space to shoot from the edge of the area and flashing an effort not far wide of Rudd’s far post. As close as either side had come to scoring again since White’s leveller.
But it not the catalyst for threatening moments for either side, as what was quite a high intensity the game continued to lack meaningful quality. Byrne summing the situation up nicely, as a positive Charlton move allowed him to get the ball in space, only to fire horribly off-target with the outside of his boot.
In fact, but for breaks forward interrupted by strong defending or wayward deliveries, half-time was reached with further incident lacking. Southend seeming to have more of the ball in the opposition’s half, and getting into areas where they might have threatened more often, but the Addicks had showed drive and determination throughout the opening 45 even if quality was questionable on occasions. An applause for those in red as they left the pitch the result.
A half that, therefore, provided a platform for the second period from which either side could claim victory. Or at least either side could claim victory if they found a bit of cutting edge to match their work rates.
And in such circumstances, you would consider the side more likely to record victory would require a positive start. A positive start which belonged to Southend. Rudd scrambling the ball behind after Robinson broke into the area from the right and fired towards goal, Demetriou played into a promising position but offering a defender’s finish, and Cox emulating his first-half effort with a drive that flashed past the far post.
But this collection of half-chances did not mean that Phil Brown’s side had gained total control of the contest. Far from it, in fact, as the Addicks, led by Holmes, continued to make drives forward. The aforementioned winger winning his side a corner just before the hour.
And from that corner, chaos was created in Southend’s penalty box. A header from Patrick Bauer bouncing off a Southend body, deflecting onto the inside of the post and just about prevented from crossing the line, but still the ball was not clear. Two goal-bound follow-up efforts from the Addicks, the latter of which from Magennis, somehow blocked at point-black range by blue shirts before Walton finally put an end to carnage.
Ambitious cries for handball as the Southend bodies blocked away the strikes, but it was the hurt misfortune provides more than injustice that played on the minds of the Addicks. That, along with the notion that following such moments of misfortune so often comes further pain. And as McLaughlin, amid shouts for offside, raced free of Charlton’s backline and through on goal, the predicted misery was scheduled.
But the winger’s decision to attempt to round Rudd rather than simply firing into the far bottom corner gave the goalkeeper a chance to salvage the Addicks. The Norwich loanee timing his dive perfectly, and palming the ball away from McLaughlin’s feet. A wonderful piece of goalkeeping, not least from one under justifiable criticism of late.
Defiant defending beating away Southend’s attempts to follow up Rudd’s denial of McLaughlin, before the ‘keeper collected a header from the Irish winger from the corner that followed. Finally a chance to breathe for those in red, and those in the stands.
And most certainly, though quality had not increased dramatically, there was now greater threat being applied to both goals. The referee’s whistle rather questionably making his strike meaningless, but Crofts flashing a drive of uncharacteristic power inches wide of the far post as the Addicks continued to push in the face of fear that Southend might be the side to make one of those determined attacks count.
Push predominantly through the pace available on either flank. Pace, accompanied with an amount of fight that meant every ball was battled for, and every attempt to burst forward was taken.
Byrne doing just that, as he broke down the right flank and delivered a ball that marginally appeared to not have enough for substitute Forster-Caskey to connect with. But the January signing made an attempt all the same, and the pressure he applied on Shrimpers defender Thompson meant that, somehow, the ball was diverted by him into his own net. A moment to take it what had occurred before The Valley became overwhelmed by scenes of celebration.
But with 16 minutes still to play, these were not scenes of victory just yet. Not least with former Addick Nouble, terrible during his loan spell in SE7 but the sort of player likely to inflict misery, introduced by Brown. The forward firing into the side netting moments after coming on.
The game, however, might well have been wrapped with a little more than ten minutes to play were it not for the assistant referee’s flag. Ulvestad’s effort powerful, Walton fumbling, and Magennis converting but the Northern Ireland international quite comfortable offside. Work still to be done.
Though if Southend continued to lack potency when in and around the final third, Charlton’s work would be relatively simple. Rudd’s regular nemesis McLaughlin getting a shot away from just inside the box, but without the power to offer the goalkeeper a real test.
It with one minute remaining, however, that the Irishman finally delivered a strike that brought the best out of Charlton’s stopper. A free-kick in an incredibly dangerous position on the edge of the Addicks’ box that, instead of attempting to lift over the wall, McLaughlin drove low through a sea of bodies towards the far corner. Rudd reacting superbly to push the ball behind.
The save providing little opportunity to relax as four minutes of additional time were soon to be announced. With so many late goals conceded in games involving the Addicks this season, the fear that the visitors would draw level was a very real one.
A fear that became unbearable panic as substitute Jermaine McGlashan got in far too easily down the right and delivered to the far post where an unmarked Nouble stood. With the section of the net in front of him unguarded, solid contact would have made him a Southend hero. Instead, the ball sliced off his head and rolled wide.
An incredible miss, and a moment more productive for the Addicks than anything he actually managed while wearing Charlton colours.
A miss that was to be Southend’s final chance to draw level, and the final moment before the Addicks could embrace a moment of victory that their drive, determination and effort had warranted.
That the victory was embraced come full-time with several of those in red needing a moment to breathe reaffirming that this was a win formed from the sort of hard work that had not been since in the previous two fixtures.
But so too was it embraced with real joy. In the Covered End, who had supported superbly in the game’s final period and were now offering the praise to Robinson and his players that they deserved, and among those on the pitch, who found delight after enduring large quantities of self-inflicted suffering.
These scenes in some contrast to those that followed the defeat to MK Dons on Tuesday night. These scenes that couldn’t help but be enjoyed.
Those on-the-pitch could not be aware of the importance of their efforts in achieving this victory as they celebrated, not aware that Shrewsbury, Swindon, Oldham, Gillingham, Coventry and Chesterfield had all picked up points. Not aware that defeat, or even a draw, would have left the Addicks on the verge of being drawn into the bottom four.
But they didn’t need to be aware of the importance to find relief and enjoyment in their own performances, and the scenes of celebration at The Valley.
Right through the side, each body in fact, there was energy and intensity. Not the half-hearted effort that has so often led to capitulations and embarrassment.
Rudd, not least when denying McLaughlin’s run, defiant with Pearce and Bauer at centre-back deserving similar praise, the midfield, and in particular Ulvestad, battling incredibly hard, and Magennis, though not always winning the ball, unrelenting in his attempts to do so.
Even Robinson, in fielding wingers that added so much more intensity to the side, deserves praise. Byrne and Holmes, back to his best after a quiet couple of games, supported well by Chris Solly and the impressive Jay Dasilva, providing a real difference. Their pace and their drive, along with the defensive determination, rather than any sort of fluent and fluid football, the foundation on which this victory was built.
Far from mathematically safe, and not out of danger from a rational perspective just yet, but Charlton’s chances of being sucked into the bottom four have diminished with such a result. From a points perspective and, you would, from one of confidence. Belief increasing going into the remaining four games, all against sides with concerns of relegation.
It does, of course, feel bittersweet to be celebrating this victory on the basis of its importance. It an unfortunate truth that there is little to enjoy in the fact that the Addicks have moved a little bit further away from the bottom four, and a little bit closer to avoiding a relegation to League Two that should not even be being contemplated.
A side that has failed, led by a manager who has so often struggled to deliver, salvaging a club in crisis from the indignity of successive relegations. A finish in the Football League lower than any of recent years still likely. Failure should not suddenly be forgotten.
Nonetheless, when so much suffering has been had throughout this campaign and the previous three, moments of joy are not to be shunned.
Most certainly, allow yourself to embrace the joy of this rarest of wins.