There is one focus for Sunday’s game in SE7. One focus for the final game of this truly dreadful season. Making sure the next season isn’t as dreadful as this one.
And how can that be achieved? With what will hopefully be one final fight against the horrendous regime that has caused this horrendous season. That has caused the destruction of Charlton Athletic over the previous three years.
For with Swindon Town’s relegation to League Two confirmed last weekend, and Charlton hovering harmlessly among League One’s also-rans, the claiming of points at The Valley this weekend hardly holds much value. The value of making a point much greater.
A final opportunity to reaffirm the point that, after a catalogue of mistakes, constant efforts to insult supporters, and leaving fans detached and disillusioned, there is no place for forgiveness and another opportunity. No further opportunity for Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire to fail, insult or lie.
The tireless fight for change will hopefully reach its conclusion. A final protest on this final day, that makes the indication the club might be for sale a certainty. That shows the desperate need to move this club into safer hands.
This final fight for change involving supporters who have long felt unwelcome in their second home returning, and reclaiming the ground that belongs to them. There will be those, the unromantics and those who place business above any other aspect of life, who say The Valley does not belong to Charlton supporters. But, possibly more than any other ground in the country, The Valley belongs to Charlton supporters.
The club, too, belongs to its supporters. But such connection is not possible while Duchatelet remains. There no connection between the club and its supporters.
It a notion that Swindon supporters, who have directed much of their anger following the confirmation of their relegation in the direction of chairman and owner Lee Power, will sympathise with. Power’s authoritarian ways not only leading to failure, but the feelings of apathy and disconnection so familiar in SE7. A need for change in order for the Robins to reclaim their League One status.
And a need for change in order for the Addicks to revert to being anything like the football club it once was. For supporters and club to hold any sort of bond, and for further failure and destruction to be avoided. No room for second, third, fourth or fifth chances.
No one wants to protest. No one wants to feel such cynicism and anger towards their own club. No one wants to be disconnected and detached.
But one final expression of the despair Duchatelet has instilled upon Charlton supporters is required. One final expression, that will hopefully lead towards the change so desperately required.
A change that will mean the final day of next season is filled not with protest, but with pride.
LAST MEETING – SWINDON TOWN 3-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (12/11/2016)
Despite having been backed by Katrien Meire just two weeks previously, Russell Slade became the latest managerial victim of Roland Duchatelet’s regime after Charlton’s poor performance in defeat at the County Ground in November.
The sacking itself coming as something of a shock, with heavy support during the summer suggesting Slade would be given time, in addition to his team slowly showing signs of improvement.
The bald-headed boss also facing Swindon without Josh Magennis, Ademola Lookman and Jordan Botaka after the trio had been called up for international duty. The fixture’s coverage by Sky Sports preventing postponement.
But none of that justified the performance in Wiltshire, as the Addicks wilted without much of a fight. The hosts ahead on the stroke of half-time, as Sean Murray’s strike took a wicked deflection off the heel of Morgan Fox, completely deceiving Declan Rudd in the Charlton goal.
A touch of misfortune in the manner the Addicks fell behind, but they only had themselves to blame as the deficit doubled five minutes after the interval. Truly horrific defending from a Swindon corner allowing Lloyd Jones to convert at the back post from a Michael Doughty flick-on.
The Addicks, showing little attacking intent and almost no composure and quality in possession, rarely looked like getting back into the game. Slade with no answers, and few alternatives in reserve.
And the scoreline was made to more greatly reflected their efforts with four minutes to play. More dire defending allowing Yaser Kasim to race forward, and play an unmarked Jon Goddard through on goal. His finish as emphatic as Charlton’s performance embarrassing.
An attempt made by their club media outlets to pretend it didn’t happen, but Swindon supporters have been preparing to face the reality of relegation to League Two long before defeat to Scunthorpe United on Saturday confirmed it.
And not only because the Robins have lingered in and around the bottom four for much of the season, taking up permanent residency in the relegation zone since March 11th.
Consecutive victories over Millwall and Fleetwood Town briefly allowing Luke Williams’ side to flirt with the idea of maintaining their League One status at the start of April, but it not enough to prevent an outcome that has appeared likely for some time. Two points from four games since, with a combination of their tame effort in defeat against the Iron and Bury’s comprehensive win over Northampton Town condemning them to fourth tier football.
But relegation was always a worry under the structure that chairman and owner Power instilled at the County Ground. His ownership never popular, and appointing Tim Sherwood as director of football has created confusion and chaos at the club. Williams’ role of head coach seemingly carrying very little value, with Sherwood controlling all from above.
A system that was never likely to work. A system that has been nothing but divisive and damaging. A system that has really done little but continue the decline of the club that has existed while Power has held power.
Clarity desperately required at the County Ground. But, in reality, change, whether in personnel or practice, is what’s really needed.
The threat of relegation that existed just a few weeks ago was a genuine one, and it to the credit of Robinson and his side that they have shown much greater determination and quality in the four games that have followed the pathetic defeat to MK Dons.
But avoiding being sucked into the division’s bottom four is no cause for celebration. Nor is the fact that victory on Sunday, combined with a draw between Walsall and MK Dons, would allow the Addicks to sneak into the top half.
The season remains a pathetic failure, for which regime, management and players all hold some degree of guilt. That the case whether the Addicks finish 12th, or whether they finish 15th.
At least, however, some degree of pride has been restored in the previous four fixtures. At least supporters have been able to enjoy three victories in four games. At least some fight has been shown, when it appeared a non-existent quality among this group of Charlton players.
But these three wins from four hardly lay a foundation for the season that follows this one. The performances much improved, but not convincing enough to create optimism after such a poor campaign, while the likely high turnover of players decreases the value of a positive finish.
What would lay a more positive foundation would be the removal of the Duchatelet regime, and a chance for this club to properly rebuild.
Swindon will be without Nicky Ajose, with the Charlton loanee ineligible to play against his parent club.
The forward, who re-joined his former club on a temporary basis having struggled to make an impression in SE7, has scored five times since returning to the County Ground in January, but hasn’t been able to prevent the Robins dropping to League Two.
Ajose one of seven loanees in Swindon’s squad, and one of the regular five that have featured in the matchday 18 since the end of February. Lloyd Jones not featuring since the win over Coventry on February 25th, and Islam Feruz not playing since the defeat to Bristol Rovers on January 28th, but one of the pair may be involved on Sunday in Ajose’s absence.
Though it might well be the case that Williams/Sherwood/whoever it is that picks Swindon’s team will have an eye towards next season when selecting the squad, making the opportunity to put a largely isolated loanee back into the squad an unattractive one. Possibly more beneficial to Swindon to offer game time to young players who are likely to be around for their attempt to make an immediate return to League One.
Young midfielder Jesse Starkey, yet to make his senior debut, was an unused substitute in the defeat to Scunthorpe and could make his first appearance this weekend, while Ellis Iandolo, Tom Smith, Jake Evans and Jordan Young are all teenagers who have appeared for the Robins in one way or another during this campaign and could be involved on Sunday.
Elsewhere, Nathan Thompson is a doubt having missed the previous three games with a heel injury, while Jamie Sendles-White remains absent as he continues to recover from rupturing his knee ligaments.
Karl Robinson has promised that Johnnie Jackson will lead the Addicks out on Sunday, with the suggestion that the skipper will be signing a new contract that places coaching responsibility ahead of playing duties.
That Jackson, who holds legendary status in SE7, could be making his final appearance in Charlton red is one neither my heart nor my head wish to contemplate. The 34-year-old will unquestionable make a fantastic coach, but he still has plenty of offer on the pitch. Not least as a leader, and a fighter.
Chris Solly will also be returning to the side, having recovered from injury, which we likely see Nathan Byrne move to the right of midfield and Karlan Ahearne-Grant drop to the bench. Unless, of course, Robinson wishes to give further game time to development squad players in this final game of the campaign.
At the very least, Ahearne-Grant is likely to be joined in the matchday squad again by Aaron Barnes and Anfernee Dijksteel, who can both count themselves a little unfortunate if they don’t make some sort of appearance having been unused substitutes at Chesterfield.
Elsewhere, loanees Declan Rudd, Jordan Botaka, Fredrik Ulvestad, Jay Dasilva and Byrne are all set to make their final appearances for Charlton, while Lewis Page remains absent.
KEY BATTLE – AGAINST THE REGIME, FOR HOPEFULLY THE FINAL TIME
I’ll be among those on Sunday in black and white, standing outside the North stand, demanding that this regime sells the club.
I want it to be the final time that my focus is on protesting, and not supporting. I want the catalogue of protests to reach its conclusion. A catalogue as long as the regime’s list of mistakes.
For it is a chore to protest. I take pride in the efforts that our supporters have gone to in order to fight against this poisonous regime. But it pains me that it must be done.
And that is unfortunately the truth. That it must be done. That we must battle against this destructive ownership, inflict further embarrassment upon them, and force them to sell.
A sale does not provide instant success, but it does provide instant relief. A regime that cannot be trusted replaced, and fresh optimism injected as a result. Next season not starting with fear of what damage Duchatelet will inflict, but with the hope and belief that a fresh start brings.
I, like everyone else, just want to return to being a normal supporter of a relatively normal football club. That something that will only happen once Duchatelet departs.
Couldn’t care less. Just get them gone so the end of next season stands a chance of being a much more enjoyable one.