The sombre bodies that belonged to Coventry City players come full-time were a reflection of the fate they had just suffered. Their 1-1 draw with Charlton Athletic not enough to prevent relegation to League Two being confirmed.
But the noise still emerging from one corner of the near-empty Ricoh Arena was a reflection that there is a bigger fight to win for supporters of the Sky Blues. The fight that needs to be won to secure the future of their club. “We want SISU out,” as had been the case for much of the afternoon, sung in unison by both home supporters and the visiting Addicks.
Coventry supporters assisting the “we want Roland out” chants that the Charlton fans produced, on a Good Friday where the game itself became something of a sideshow. As most games have been for both sets of supporters for some time. There more value in forcing SISU and Roland Duchatelet to move the clubs they own into safer hands than there is a single three points, irrespective of the circumstances.
The two sets of supporters, detached from the clubs they once loved and overwhelmed by the suffering the respective downfalls have caused, marching together in protest prior to kick-off, before interrupting the start of play with a swarm of plastic pigs similar to those thrown on The Valley pitch in October. The vocal anti-regime chants full of determination and heart as the pigs occupied the Ricoh Arena’s turf.
The message, as if it wasn’t clear enough already in these seasons of discontent and disaster for both clubs, couldn’t be clearer. Sell up.
And maybe once both clubs have been sold, supporters can expect to witness a standard of football much greater than what was witnessed in the West Midlands on this afternoon. A dire affair, that showed the lack of quality, composure and potency that has had both teams struggle this season, and merely placed greater attention on the protesting efforts.
Karl Robinson’s side, struggling to maintain possession for long enough to form meaningful attacks, might well have taken a lead that their overall performance didn’t warrant with 20 minutes gone. But Nathan Byrne headed Jay Dasilva’s delivery against the crossbar when it seemed easier to score.
A miss that allowed the Sky Blues to take control. First of all taking the lead with 28 minutes played, as the Addicks failed to deal with a corner and a deflected shot fell straight to George Thomas to finish, before becoming the game’s dominant side. Declan Rudd in fine form, and Coventry winger Jodi Jones wasteful.
And that wastefulness meant that the Addicks, against the run of play, were able to snatch an equaliser that didn’t appear to be on the cards. Josh Magennis flicking Ricky Holmes’ delivery into Patrick Bauer’s path, and the big German nodding Charlton level with 54 minutes played.
But that equaliser wasn’t the catalyst for a rejuvenated performance from Robinson’s men. Still offering nothing going forward, still struggling to maintain possession, and still thankful to the fingertips of Rudd.
In fact, come full-time, there was a sense of relief that the Addicks had managed to come away from the division’s bottom side with a point. Not least with the hosts, who threw goalkeeper Lee Burge forward for a later corner, desperately searching for the goal that might have delayed the inevitable.
A disappointing performance from the Addicks, on a disappointing day for the Sky Blues.
But, if nothing else, both sets of supporters can take solace from how committed they are to fighting for the futures of their clubs. Duchatelet and SISU have picked the wrong clubs to cripple, and the wrong sets of supporters to harm.
There two attitudes that were fuelling the protest march towards the Ricoh. Coventry supporters largely motivated by anger, as relegation and an uncertain future stared them in the face. The Addicks holding onto the touch of hope that suggestions Duchatelet is ready to sell has brought, and desperate for this to be among the final determined efforts that convince the Belgian to move the club into safer hands.
But both sets of supporters shared the sense of disconnection and despair that being owned by regimes that have broken their clubs has caused. Both desperate, above anything else, to be able to feel a bond with their club once again.
Vocal and valiant from both sets of fans, but their job was not done and their point not yet hammered home. The pause to welcome the teams onto the pitch prior to kick-off, with Charlton unchanged for the first time under Robinson’s leadership, was merely just a pause. The referee’s whistle the cue for the familiar figures of soft pigs to rain down from the stands onto the pitch.
Both sets of supporters in unison chanting against the ownerships that have damaged their club, and against the Football League for their lack of assistance, while half-hearted attempts were made to clear the pigs from the pitch. A considerable delay, allowing for opposition to be voiced at some volume.
But there still a game to be played, and a game that both sides wanted to win as the songs of support started to emerge from home and away ends.
A game in particular that the Sky Blues wanted to win, and it was they who created the game’s first opening. The clever feet of Jones too much for Chris Solly down Coventry’s left, and his cross-cum-shot requiring an intervention from Rudd. The goalkeeper palming away, and the Addicks just about able to clear unscathed.
It down the flanks that both sides were attempting to threaten, with neither looking particularly composed in possession in the centre. Jones a constant threat for the Sky Blues but lacking a genuine end product, while Byrne’s move into a good position for Charlton was followed by a horribly overhit cross that enraged a set of visiting supporters beginning to get frustrated with their side’s lacklustre performance.
But with 20 minutes played, the persistence of Robinson’s side down the flanks almost paid off. Dasilva with all the time and space in the world to pick out Byrne and the far post, and his delivery perfect for the unmarked winger. But the Wigan loanee couldn’t keep his header down, nodding against the crossbar and wasting a golden opportunity to put the Addicks ahead.
The ball, however, still not cleared, and a fine block from Farrend Rawson required to deny Holmes, before Magennis flashed a further follow-up effort off-target. At the very least, this was an improvement from the Addicks, and as such encouraging.
Though a horribly wayward strike from Fredrik Ulvestad, slicing well off-target after a half-cleared cross came his way, offered a little reminder to supporters of the visitors not to get too carried away.
And if that didn’t restore caution, concern and disappointment, then the conclusion of Coventry’s next meaningful attack certainly did.
No one alive to the home side’s short corner and the ball eventually worked to the edge of the box, where Jordan Turnbull’s deflected effort fell perfectly for George Thomas. The midfielder with only Rudd between him and the goal, and his finish giving Charlton’s goalkeeper no chance. The softest of goals to concede, with structure and resolve completely absent from the visiting backline.
Having conceded such a tame goal, the least you might demand is a determined response to get back into the game. Alas, the Addicks remained tame, too often losing the ball in midfield, and struggling to get forward with any real threat.
The backline, also, not regrouping after conceding as they continued to show a lack of organisation and intelligence. Gael Bigirimana allowed to drive forward unchallenged, though thankfully succeeding only in firing straight at Rudd, before the red carpet was laid out for Jones just moments later, with Rudd required to make a marvellous save from the young winger as he drove towards goal without any pressure being applied. This not good enough.
Some signs of life as half-time approached, as optimistic shouts for a penalty after a floored Turnbull blocked the ball under pressure from Magennis and conceded a corner, before Charlton’s forward drove into the box and forced a strong save out of Burge at his near post.
Nonetheless, boos could be heard from the away end as the half-time whistle went. This an effort from the Addicks lacking structure, quality and intensity. In some contrast to the determination shown during the victory over Southend United last weekend.
The latest hope, therefore, was that a response would follow after the break. That Robinson would inspire his side, and this dour effort would at least become a competitive one.
Alas, and arguably with more threat than they had shown in their brighter periods during the first half, it was Coventry who started after the break with greater intent. Substitute Kwame Thomas flicking a corner onward at the near post, only for the ball to evade several blue and white bodies in the centre and ultimately bounce just wide.
It followed by two minutes where Charlton’s midfield seemed to disintegrate into nothing and allow the Sky Blues the easiest of breaks forward. George Thomas fed through, and Rudd making a fine one-on-one save as the goalscorer attempted to add another to his and Coventry’s tallies.
But it was the second of those openings where Coventry were most guilty of being wasteful. Jones running through unchallenged, driving inside and drilling a wonderful opportunity to double his side’s advantage wide of the far post. An opportunity he had to take, and the sense of guilt felt would have only increased with the face that George Thomas stood unmarked at the far post.
And that sense of guilt would have become immeasurable just a minute later, as Charlton’s first meaningful attack of the half punished Coventry’s failure to finish.
Having delivered several corners that had failed to beat the first men, fell into Burge’s gloves, or sailed over all those awaiting inside the penalty area, Holmes finally got one right. Met by Magennis, who got enough on the ball to divert it goalwards, where Bauer was ready to pounce. The centre-back heading home from close range, and somehow restoring parity in a game that seemed set for Charlton to suffer a heavy defeat.
The goal celebrated, of course, but those in the away end were wise enough to know this equaliser would ultimately mean very little unless there was improvement in the overall performance of Robinson’s side. A platform from which to build upon, as much as an equaliser.
Alas, the Sky Blues immediately set about exposing the lack of structure and resolve in Charlton’s midfield and defence once again. The ever-lively Jones turning Solly inside out and cutting inside to shoot, only to be denied on this occasion by the fingertips of Rudd.
A goalkeeper determined not to be beaten for a second time, though he might have been had George Thomas shown any composure at the back post. Rudd’s save landing straight on the midfield’s head, only for him to divert the ball wide. A fortunate moment for the Addicks.
But goalscorer Thomas, as Charlton’s midfield and defensive shape evaporated once again was given a chance to make up for that miss just five minutes later. Another Coventry counter that the Addicks had no answer to, Thomas slid through on goal, and once again only the fingertips of Rudd prevented the visitors from falling behind for a second time. The Welshman attempting to lift the ball over the outrushing goalkeeper, but Rudd alert to the danger.
All this sluggishness and tame defensive effort would, of course, be forgotten if the Addicks could nick a winner against the run of play in the 15 or so minutes that remained. A dire performance would suddenly become a classic away display. Magennis driving straight at Burge from distance and Byrne looping a volley wide weren’t exactly what was required.
The strike from substitute Jake Forster-Caskey, however, was a bit more promising. A bit of space offered to him on the edge of Coventry’s box, the former Brighton man striking powerfully, and Burge called upon to make a fine save diving to his right. Maybe the Addicks still had what seemed an unlikely winning goal within them.
In fact, a winning goal was seemingly becoming just as unlikely for the Sky Blues. George Thomas’ free-kick, in the sort of position Holmes would score from with his eyes closed, ballooned over the bar, and the reality of relegation, if it hadn’t already, beginning to dawn on the home supporters.
Burge sent forward in desperation for a Coventry corner in stoppage-time, though what followed was probably a reflection of the finishing of both sides throughout this game, and throughout the season in general. Rudd claiming the ball, Magennis ultimately set free, but the forward driving horribly off-target from a good 40 yards despite the open goal there for the taking.
Instead, the Addicks would have to accept that a point was more than they could really ask for from this rather uninspiring effort, while turning their heads to the Coventry supporters to their right as the full-time whistle blew.
The sort of situation where mocking might occur, and some joy taken in the demise of another club. But not here. The Addicks understanding the hurt, hurt caused largely by the actions of an ownership group, that the Sky Blues were experiencing, and instead joining them in their chants against SISU.
And the home supporters, despite grieving at the loss of their League One status and having their own grim regime to concern themselves with, joining in with the chants emerging from the away end against Duchatelet. The grim 90 minutes of football watched momentarily forgotten, as a partnership between two sets of supporters who have seen their club crippled by horrendous regimes was strengthened.
And that partnership, in addition to the actual opposing of both regimes, is about all that can be taken from today. A dire performance from one side, a relegation for another, and a reminder of the sorry state these two clubs are in.
But, through unfortunate circumstances, Charlton and Coventry supporters get each other. They understand the struggle that each other are going through. They want to, in a very un-football-like way, support each other as they fight for brighter days at their club.
Brighter days, of course, referring to a club owned by regime that has the club’s best interests at hearts, and can fix the disconnection and apathy that has been instilled by both Duchatelet and SISU.
But brighter days undoubtedly needed on the pitch, too. Both sets of sides lacking quality, too reliant on young players, and in the positions that they are in the League One table for good measure.
And it for good reason that the Addicks failed to come away from the division’s bottom club with only a point. In fact, it fortunate that they did come away from the Ricoh with an additional point to their name.
For Charlton’s performance was dire. Organisation and structure off-the-ball completely lacking, no intensity or attacking drive, and minimal quality in the final third. The effort that was shown to record three points last weekend complete vanished, replaced a very lethargic performance.
Were it not for Rudd, and Coventry’s wastefulness, defeat would have been suffered. At least some solace can be taken from the fact that it’s a point that moves the Addicks six points from the bottom four, and there’s only three more games of this dreadful season to go. And hopefully only three more games of Duchatelet’s reign to go.
Hopefully, too, only three more games of SISU’s reign. I heard Coventry fans discussing the League Two grounds they haven’t yet visited after full-time. Hopefully they’ll be visiting those grounds with renewed hope and sense of belonging to their club.
And hopefully Charlton supporters will be travelling to League One grounds, watching a vastly improved side, with renewed hope and a sense of belonging to their club.