As the referee signals for full-time, the high-pitched tones of his whistle are often accompanied by distinctive sounds expressed by those who occupy the stands.
The displaying of emotion, more through noise than poetic word, that would give a clear indication of the game’s events and subsequent outcome even to someone who had not witnessed a single moment of it. Faint cries of celebration from barely populated away ends hardly heard as the boos of home supporters take control. Or the existence of visiting supporters forgotten as they are submerged by a delirious moment of home joy.
But it was a glum and miserable near-silence, draining to the extent that it required energy to create, that helped express the overriding emotion as Charlton’s encounter with Bury reached its drawn conclusion.
A third sub-standard performance in succession from Karl Robinson’s side did not warrant the courtesy of applause. A second-half resurgence of sorts, which moved the Addicks from absolutely pathetic to a side showing intent without the end product to match, meaning the creation of a hostile and emotionally disappointed atmosphere would have been somewhat misplaced. The overall quality of the game, in which two sides so clearly short on fluency, cohesion and confidence so often blunted their own attacking moves, had claimed decibels from each Covered End chant throughout the game, and even greater reluctance to place effort into producing volume came with the forced acceptance that a sluggish display and unenthralling game had produced an uninspiring result.
The Valley simply left flat. Hugely disappointed that their side had once again failed to deliver a performance that emulated the impressive early-season efforts. Energy drained by the sometimes infuriating, sometimes tiresome, sometimes promising, sometimes frustrating, but almost always disappointing 90 minutes, and this deflated silence provided the perfect tune.
Though for the game’s first 35 minutes, it appeared unavoidable that the end emotion would be much more severe. There no response to Jermaine Beckford’s emphatic ninth-minute opener for the visitors, curled spectacularly into Ben Amos’ far top corner from the edge of the box, as Charlton’s sluggish play and inability to retain possession invited further opposition pressure. With Lee Clark’s Bury, a side that hadn’t won since the opening day of the season, dominating against a group of Addicks who could take no control of the contest, there was both embarrassment and concern.
Josh Magennis’ 39th-minute leveller, therefore, was more relief than cause for celebration. The Northern Ireland international’s header, converting from Jake Forster-Caskey’s cross, had come while Robinson’s men remained without any sort of composure, and would count for very little unless there was overall improvement. An opportunity to get out of jail.
An opportunity, however, that Charlton never truthfully did enough to make the most of. The complexation of the game changing in the second period, with Robinson’s side finding energy and having the better of the scrappy affair – leaving Clark’s men resorting to running the clock down where possible – but still their play frustrated. Invited to come forward, but decisions, executions and movement all poor.
But there was, whether warranted or not, to be a chance for the hosts to turn the succession of groans into a concluding delirious celebration deep inside stoppage-time. Chris Solly’s delivery finding Magennis’ head and the ball directed towards the top corner, only for Bury goalkeeper Joe Murphy to pull off a stunning reaction save. A bump of fists between forward and gloveman affirming the quality of the stop.
Alas, such an opportunity was not enough to prevent The Valley descending into near-silence. Not enough to divert from the reality of this display from Robinson’s men, and the disappointment shared. Not enough to suggest their performance, against a Bury side that grafted and scrapped considerably once their initial dominance faded, warranted victory.
If nothing else, it not a performance of a side with promotion ambitions. It a performance that left a group of supporters, so encouraged just a few weeks ago, deflated and with a growing sense of concern that needs to be quickly quelled. A need to start making more positives noises.
That need, in truth, already existing prior to kick-off at The Valley. The Addicks coming into the encounter on the back of disappointing defeats to Wigan Athletic and Gillingham, and a result against a Bury side without a win in seven required to reignite early-season optimism.
Though it certainly not the case that victory felt anything like a forgone conclusion. Charlton’s task to bounce back from consecutive defeats made all the more difficult by the absence of Ricky Holmes, forced to sit out the game through suspension. Karlan Ahearne-Grant called up to the starting XI in his place.
And anyone who had considered victory to be a forgone conclusion were reconsidering their stances within the game’s opening minutes. Those in red static, struggling to find the next pass, and making no impression on the game whatsoever. The difficult in moving the ball on meaning that Ahmed Kashi was caught in possession by Beckford, the forward racing through, but a well-timed recovery challenged from Jason Pearce prevented a shot on goal.
It often the case that such a moment is the catalyst for a side bursting into life, but still those in red were near motionless on The Valley’s surface, unable to offer anything in possession and inviting a Bury side without confidence to discover their long-lost stride. All far too easy for Greg Leigh down the left flank, his ball across the face of goal finding former Addick Michael Smith, and only an excellent block from Jay Dasilva preventing his resulting strike from causing more harm.
The Covered End understandably critical, but so too attempting to instil some kind of life into a side that hadn’t yet arrived. Expression of frustration followed by vocal support for Robinson’s men, and they did at least find a way in which to get forward. A bit of space for Fosu, a flighted delivery to the back post, and Forster-Caskey’s header deflected only just wide.
But if any among the home supporters were hoping this was the moment where Charlton discovered how to play Association Football, they couldn’t have been more wrong. For just a minute later, Reilly was allowed space in the centre, and able to feed an equally open Beckford with a defence-splitting pass. The experienced forward cutting inside as red shirts stood off, and unleashing a stunning curling effort that whistled into the top corner and even earnt a scattering of applause from the Covered End.
No denying it was a moment of individual quality from a striker who, when fit and functioning, still possesses great talent. But it was a moment of individual quality that took advantage of Charlton’s sluggishness and their dire start to the match. This, with nine minutes played, simply had to be what brought Robinson’s men alive.
Still, however, they appeared lost and frightened with the ball at their feet, and equally so without it. Confused and helpless looks as short passes were made inside the Charlton half, followed by quickly blunted bursts into the opposition’s territory. The fluency of the early weeks of the season not only dead, but replaced by something so poor it must have existed in an illusion.
At least there was a certain tameness, not reflective of Beckford’s strike, to Bury’s attacking play. Smith knocking down a Leigh cross into Beckford’s path, only for him to volley the ball in the general direction of the corner flag, before a brainless foul from Kashi on Chris Maguire saw the same Bury man deliver a free-kick from a glorious position that deflected off a Charlton body and over Amos’ bar. A more potent side would have been pinning the Addicks to the wall.
And so, with the deficit remaining as one, there always chance Charlton could find a way back into the contest despite appearing completely out of it on the basis of the overall play. Unlikely that a flowing move would get them back into it, but a lob up field was perfect for Ahearne-Grant to run onto. The youngster attempting to force the ball over the onrushing Murphy, but succeeding also in forcing the ball over the bar.
A tired and frustrated crowd, needing immediate salvation, groaned with displeasure, but so too was there appreciation for the effort. Appreciation too as Magennis spun on the edge of the box and struck powerfully into the hands of Murphy. The overall play still largely horrifying, but at least now the Addicks were finding ways to get into the opposition half and conclude their attacks.
But very, very slight signs of encouragement were going to count very little if Charlton were to remain inviting defensively. In not too dissimilar fashion to Beckford’s goal, Maguire cut inside from the right as red shirts stood off him, and only a strong palm from Amos kept out the former Oxford winger’s effort. Applause for the goalkeeper’s save masked further frustration.
For as equally as the deficit gave the Addicks every chance of getting back into the game despite their efforts, a second goal would surely crush them. So to draw level, somewhat unreflective of their performance, with six minutes to play before half-time appeared huge. Magennis meeting Forster-Caskey’s delivery in typically emphatic fashion, and the ball nodded back across the face of goal to draw the sides level.
Now this, this, had to be the moment that inspired the Addicks to perform. Ahearne-Grant, seeing an effort deflect narrowly wide, and Ahmed Kashi, striking over the top from a half-cleared corner, attempting to instil further confidence that that would be the case as the half-time whistle approached. Most, however, just feeling extremely fortunate that this first-half performance, dire for the most part, had concluded with the Addicks level.
Nonetheless, there immense pressure on Robinson’s men to remerge after the break having utilised the effects of their leveller and begin to take control of the affair. No longer could they be chasing the game. They had to rediscover their qualities.
Skewed long-range efforts from Fosu and Forster-Caskey weren’t really what was meant to be on the agenda, but there were some signs to be encouraged by. Energy, intensity, a greater desire to move the ball forward instead of pausing with confusion inside one’s own half. There was, if nothing else, greater attacking intent.
But it soon became apparent that that intent didn’t have the end product to match. Charlton’s decision making, delivering and quality in the final third was doing Bury’s defending for them, with Fosu and Ahearne-Grant struggling. The relative short period of encourage signs replaced by further frustration.
Telling, as such, that it was a Bury side who were now sitting deep, taking time out of the game, and seemingly uncomfortable with the pace and energy at which the Addicks were getting forward with that created the first opening of the half that tested either goalkeeper. Substitute Neil Danns’ strike from the edge of the box needing Amos’ fingertips to prevent it from creeping underneath his crossbar.
But Bury were uncomfortable, were on the backfoot, and would need to remain defensively sound to avoid gifting Charlton openings. Something they didn’t do as Murphy’s pass out from the back found Magennis, but the Northern Ireland international’s attempt to find a man of his own was equally poor, as the ball ran away from Fosu. Another moment of frustration, but underneath the realisation that this was side to be exploited.
And exploited they almost were. Forster-Caskey’s free-kick picking out the formidable head of Patrick Bauer, but the German knocking an excellent off-target, before a deflected Billy Clarke effort wrong-footed Murphy and the goalkeeper was required to tip the ball over his bar. Charlton still struggling to show any sort of composure, control or reliable threat in the attacking third, but at least there were now chances to be had against a nervy Shakers side.
Though it apparent that, in a game where the Addicks still had little fluency, any chance that was created had to be taken. So it understandable that frustration continued to override any other emotion when the hosts faltered in front of goal. Dasilva delivering, an open Forster-Caskey heading towards goal, but his effort from a glorious position comfortable for Murphy.
Ultimately comfortable, too, was Fosu’s free-kick that the goalkeeper took into his chest on the bounce. But it a clever idea from the younger winger. The ball swerving and bouncing just before him, and might well have needed to have been parried into a body of players by a less confident goalkeeper.
But time was fading for near-misses, half-chances and clever ideas to be taken with appreciation. As stoppage-time approached, at no point had the Addicks shown the sort of control, composure or attacking quality that would have made them dominant and given them a clear gripe should they not have found the winner in the game’s closing stages. They found small improvements, they found ways to take advantage as Bury sat deep and kept more than half an eye on the block, but did not look fluent or threatening.
Which isn’t to suggest, however, that mass celebration would not have spread around The Valley had the Addicks found a winner inside the three minutes of stoppage-time awarded. A winner they so nearly did. Murphy’s reaction save to prevent Magennis’ header, turning Dasilva’s cross towards goal, from giving the hosts a late winner was as stunning as Beckford’s goal.
A softener, knowing that a chance had been created good enough to win the game in the dying minutes? The Valley’s misery, portrayed in the crowd’s near-silence and deflated moods among supporters and players suggested not.
A performance that was not good enough to avoid criticism, not good enough for a side wanting to be promoted, most definitely suggesting not.
In fact, displeasure and concern as a consequence of the overall performance would not have been displaced by a winning goal. A winning goal that would have provided a victory so desperately required, but would have papered over the cracks somewhat.
The cracks that have appeared over the course of the previous three games. Three games being quite a short span of playing time, but these cracks rather large. The performances of the season’s opening weeks appear to have fallen down them, and getting them back is proving tricky.
For it really is difficult to understand where the defensive determination and attacking fluidity shown at least in periods during five of the seasons’ opening six games has vanished to. It’s not just a case of a slight step backwards after an excellent start. It’s a quite concerning series of performances.
The near confusion when in possession during the first half allowed Bury, a side with little confidence at all, to take control of the contest. I thought that Robinson had done enough over the summer to make his style of football work among this squad, and it was imbedded in them. But they all just looked lost.
And while the equaliser, with Magennis’ threat proving as vital as ever, a catalyst for second-half improvement, it was more in mentality than quality. Energy and intent discovered, but wasted attacking moves became incredibly tiresome to watch.
Of course, there is the argument to be had that the absence of Ricky Holmes made a huge difference in Charlton’s capabilities going forward. And with Ahearne-Grant struggling to make any sort of impression, there’s no doubt that that was the case. But to suggest a side with promotion ambitions is reliant on a single player to perform with any sort of fluency against opposition without a win in seven is concerning.
So too can you point towards the lack of options in reserve available to Robinson, not least with Mark Marshall and Ben Reeves still injured/unfit. Probably best summed up by young striker Ahearne-Grant being replaced by young striker Joe Dodoo, with both playing out wide and both not providing any real threat. Huge sympathy for the manager in such a situation, less so towards those above him.
Ultimately, the previous three games have provided genuine concern. Concern as great as the encouragement before it. The point today not a great deal better than the previous two defeats, on the basis of performance.
No doubt, as seen within those opening six games of the season, there’s quality within this side, but it desperately needs to be displayed again soon. A revitalising performance and result required. For that was deflating.
(Apologies once again for the lack of photos. I’ve used a camera during games at The Valley for three seasons now, have simply been left to myself, and never had a single comment from steward or fellow supporter. But I was abruptly told today by a steward that I couldn’t use it during the game. It appears the steward was a new one, and hadn’t been specifically informed to get me to stop using my camera. Probably just wanted to do something that felt right. I’ve got the impression it’s something that will be resolved. Two games where my camera required fixing, and now this with it perfectly functioning. Going well.)