The red rosettes of The Valley Party occupying chests around walkways leading up to the ground. A constant reminder of the incredible efforts of supporters in fighting for this football club. Memories of the famous day on 5 December 1992, when Charlton Athletic returned home.
It impossible not to enter The Valley, a ground once left to rot, without pride on this afternoon. As those that were involved on the pitch celebrated alongside supporters, these were anniversary celebrations that acknowledged the efforts of all in making the achievement of returning to The Valley a special one. From candidates, to Colin Walsh.
Many had used these celebrations, the anniversary, to remember their favourite moments of success and joy over the previous 25 years back in SE7. Particularly those who weren’t around in 1992, who could only thank those that battled to return this club back home. Who have been taught about those events, with the special nature of Charlton Athletic fed through generations.
But with those successes have come many moments of suffering and failure. Moments that, in the midst of a day of celebration, most supporters would have forgotten. Their mind overwhelmed with positive moments, and not the negatives that have consumed at least as many hours at The Valley in previous 25 years.
So maybe it a perfect reflection of those previous 25 years that following the high of celebrating the anniversary of the return, a low followed. The game against Portsmouth, the same opponents as when the Addicks returned home, effectively a side note until it actually began. It certainly not a side note by full-time, as Karl Robinson’s side left supporters leaving the ground not with the pride they entered, but with disappointment and frustration.
For the hosts were hideous in a single-goal defeat. The reverse score-line of the one that occurred 25 years ago, and a performance that certainly didn’t reflect the events being celebrated. Quality, cohesion and intensity among the many attributes absent from this group of Addicks.
The opposition, backed by an away following not seen in SE7 for some time, began to exploit the faults in the home side in the latter stages of the opening 45, and took only two minutes of the second to go in front. Gareth Evans’ dangerous dead ball from the right swung in towards the far post, Josh Magennis responding under pressure from Stuart O’Keefe, but succeeding only in turning the ball into his own goal. An action summing up the struggling Magennis’ afternoon.
And Pompey should have doubled their advantage with 25 minutes to play. Chris Solly pushing Brett Pitman as a ball from the right was delivered, and referee Andy Madley pointing to the spot. But Pitman, prolific in front of goal this campaign, signposted his penalty, and Ben Amos was able to push the ball away.
An opportunity for the Addicks to get back into the game, one that should have inspired, but one not taken. The home crowd growing increasingly frustrated as possession was increasingly lost far too easily, and each meaningful attack was blunted by a poor final delivery. In fact, a genuine chance didn’t arrive until the 89th minute, but Luke McGee was able to save well from Leon Best’s header.
But had the Addicks equalised, it would have been undeserved. Their performance not good enough, leaving them slipping behind those above them in the promotion race, and seeing Pompey gain ground on Charlton’s play-off place, which seemed so safe just a few weeks ago. The fight of the supporters in getting the club back to The Valley not on display on the pitch.
As those that had participated in the game 25 years ago lead the current teams out, there hope their efforts would be repeated. A single goal after seven minutes would be ideal. But a victory that meant a day of proud anniversary celebrations could be remembered without being tainted was the minimum required.
And the chance of a second celebration, with the original one being upheld, was improved by the return to fitness of several of Robinson’s men. Solly back into the starting XI, replacing the inexperienced Anfernee Djiksteel at right-back, Billy Clarke, so important in the opening weeks of the campaign, returning with Karlan Ahearne-Grant dropping to the bench despite his recent goal-scoring form, and genuinely threatening options on the bench. Ben Reeves, Ahearne-Grant, and Best there to make a difference if required.
Reassuring that they were there, in fact, before the half hour mark had been reached. The atmosphere at both ends of the ground, hosting a greater home support than regular afternoons and rivalled by more than 3,000 visiting fans, creating a real energy around the ground. Energy that was not seen on the pitch, as both sides struggled to turn tame possession into anything threatening, let along genuine goal-scoring opportunities.
Ricky Holmes thought he might have threatened in the game’s opening moments, but an offside flag was already up before he struck over the bar from a decent position. Charlton’s future attempts to get forward blunted by an inconsistency in midfield from Joe Aribo and Jake Forster-Caskey, tame final ball from both Holmes and Mark Marshall, and a poor Magennis struggling to make any impact on the game. Portsmouth more efficient – organised at the back, applying pressure in midfield, and looking more composed on the ball – but their attacks, led by the pace of Jamal Lowe, did little to puncture Ezri Konsa and Naby Sarr.
It not until the 29th minute, in fact, that either side managed a shot on goal. Amos called into action to deny Evans, tipping the midfielder’s effort from the edge of the box over the bar. And after such a long wait, a second shot followed from the resulting corner, as the Addicks cleared their lines in uncomfortable fashion, and O’Keefe lifted the loose ball onto the roof of the goal.
It the inspiration for the visitors to get at Charlton, and test the frailties both in midfield and at the back that had seemingly been there throughout the game. Not necessarily efforts that made Amos sweat, as Pitman headed tamely into the goalkeeper’s hands after latching onto a free-kick at the back post before Evans fired off-target from distance, but enough to show in this previously sluggish affair that they had claimed dominance. The Valley crowd, previously happy enough to create atmosphere rather than bemoan their side’s performance in numbers, now beginning to get frustrated, and demanding more.
Better coming, however, just moments later. Marvellous work from Dasilva, skipping past Portsmouth defenders with a display of quick feet, concluding with him teeing up Holmes in the centre, but the winger saw his effort tipped over the bar by McGee. Having taken a touch, and with the whole goal to aim at, it not unkind to suggest more should have been made of the opening.
A feeling that only increased as Portsmouth broke rapidly after the resulting corner came to nothing. Red shirts back peddling, and blue shirts surging forward with real intent as Lowe fed Evans, before squaring for Conor Chaplin, who would surely convert at the far post. But a fantastic block from Solly prevented the visitors from taking the lead, before Konsa’s block just about sent O’Keefe’s follow-up wide of goal; the Addicks sitting ducks as the opposition broke, but bodies put on the line in a desperate situation to make up for it.
It a display of determination, previously lacking from Charlton’s performance as Portsmouth continued to win the midfield battle, and determination that would be rewarded. For it the Addicks who ended the half the strongest. Beginning with Dasilva’s curling strike from the edge of the box, causing brief premature celebrations around The Valley, saved by McGee.
And from the resulting corner, there further brief expectation that the net would ripple. Konsa nodding on, but the ball narrowly glanced wide of the far post, with the ball skimming the frame of the goal on its way behind. A Marshall strike, deflected over the bar, ending the Addicks’ positive end to the first period.
But no one inside The Valley was under any illusions. This was a performance too sloppy, too sluggish to be totally encouraged by a few minutes at the end of the first half; further improvement desperately required. A half lacking in attacking quality, but Portsmouth’s organisation and pressing, preventing Charlton attacks and forcing them into losing possession, making them marginally the better side.
So despite arriving in SE7 under the expectation that they would be celebrating on this special afternoon, it didn’t come as a complete shock to the home crowd when Pompey took the lead just two minutes into the second period. Another break from the visitors, exposing the sluggishness and gaps in Robinson’s defence, forcing Dasilva to illegally halt Evans’ run. The same man picking himself up, delivering to the far post from the free-kick, and with both Magennis and O’Keefe fighting to win the ball, the former made the vital intervention only to find his own net.
A moment made particularly gruelling by the 3,800 Portsmouth fans in celebration. Their players celebrating in front of the wild away crowd, while the home fans sat in disappointed silence. This was not how the afternoon was meant to go, but with such a poor display, and a poor attempt to defend a delivery, there could be little sense of injustice.
This the fifth game in succession that the Addicks had conceded the first goal, and in two of those previous four serious fight was shown. Fight, and dramatic improvement, was desperately needed here. There character in this side, the ability to recover from these dire situations, and on this afternoon, it needed to be displayed.
But the signs were not encouraging, as the Addicks expressed deflation rather than determination. There no increase in intensity, in quality, as Portsmouth’s organisation, pressing game and threat on the counter kept them on top. Evans had further space to drive forward, as Charlton’s backline looked uncomfortable once again, but opted to shoot and powerfully fire off-target.
A sign of some threat from the Addicks, as Holmes found himself in behind on the right, but it only a cause of further frustration as his delivery was horribly wayward, evading the awaiting Magennis in the centre. Portsmouth showing how it showed be done, as the excellent Lowe delivered low for Pitman, only for the forward to clip a fantastic chance at the near post over the bar. It followed by substitute Kyle Bennett forcing Amos into a tame save, but the pressure on the dire Addicks was anything but tame.
Respite for the Addicks as a half-cleared Holmes delivery fell kindly to Solly, in an unnatural shooting position. But Charlton’s woes were summed up with his strike being blocked by Joe Aribo, and the ball flashing tamely behind. Portsmouth hardly needed any assistance with their defensive efforts, but apparently we were willing to provide some anyway.
And equally it seemed assistance for their attacking efforts was also available. A delivery from the right seemingly sailing over the head of Pitman, but Solly choosing to put the forward under pressure by putting his hands into his back. The action resulting in a soft penalty call, but an action that was totally unnecessary.
Little chance of the remarkable comeback that saw the Addicks score two goals in stoppage-time to earn a point against Peterborough United 11 days ago if Portsmouth were to score a second, such was the nature of this performance. Pitman stepping up, the home crowd expecting to see their side fall further behind, but you could see from the Covered End via the way he shaped his body that he was going to the right. Amos reading it, and saving superbly; this game not yet dead.
Or at least it not yet dead if the Addicks showed some fight in the remaining 25 minutes. But what followed was hardly the display of fight, or quality, that the home support expected to see after what should have been a game-changing moment. Portsmouth sitting deep, and wasting time at every opportunity as they looked to cling onto their lead, but all Charlton could deliver were tame deliveries, with Holmes and Marshall’s balls met not by the horrendous Magennis, but by the imposing Christian Burgess and Matthew Clarke in the centre.
In fact, it took until 13 minutes from time for Robinson’s men to threaten McGee. Threaten being a generous word. Marshall driving inside, several players calling for the ball, but the winger opting to shoot tamely with his weaker foot, and the goalkeeper comfortably claiming.
Though greater pressure applied on McGee with a minute to play. Substitute Ahearne-Grant delivery, Best rising, but not quite enough power behind his header. The goalkeeper pushing away, and with that victory effectively signalled for the visitors.
It Charlton’s first genuine chance of the half, and the reason it was reaffirmed in stoppage-time. The Addicks not only without the quality to break Portsmouth’s tight line, but also without the intent. The ball still being passed around tamely, with few options on, and no one brave enough to make a bold move forward.
The referee’s final whistle only confirming what had been known since the aftermath of Amos’ penalty save. That this afternoon was to end in self-inflicted disappointment. A lacklustre performance lacking all the desired attributes, a defeat for which there could be no cries of misfortune, and a special of day for the supporters of Charlton Athletic having no further reward for those in the stands.
Reward, or at least a moment to savour, for the mighty army of visiting Pompey supporters, as they and their players shared celebration come full-time. A moment that you couldn’t deny them. Their side displaying everything the hosts hadn’t; organisation, determination, and occasional moments of quality in attack that ultimately resulted in a winner being forced.
Vocal scenes of enjoyment, in contrast to the disappointed silence among the Covered End. Given the level of performance, the Addicks doing well to prevent mass expressions of anger and frustration. This arguably the worst home display, on an afternoon where a very strong home display was required, in some time.
Collectively, there was an absent of everything desired. There no organisation, to deal with Portsmouth’s threat on the break, no structure on the ball to make possession count when Portsmouth’s pressed, and no attacking intensity, or quality, to make any moves forward county. Disorganised, and a dispirited attempt to get back into the game.
Individually, there few in Charlton colours who come away with much credit. Even Holmes was ineffective, consistently losing possession and failing to threaten, with a similar story for Marshall, Clarke and Magennis in the more attacking positions. Forster-Caskey and Aribo lost the midfield battle to O’Keefe and Rose, Naby Sarr and Konsa became increasingly unsettled as the afternoon went on, while Solly’s decision to push Pitman, however soft, a stupid one.
Really it only Dasilva, decent enough defensively and providing as many threatening moments as anyone else, and Amos, whose penalty save kept the Addicks in the match, who come away with meaningful credit.
And there a frustration that Robinson was unable to inject any life into his side after Amos’ penalty save. The perfect opportunity to get back into the game, and to deliver a worthy performance, but instead those in red looked even more lacklustre. Potential threat on the bench, but both Robinson and those individuals providing nothing.
It a concerning performance, that creates wider concerns in the context of Charlton’s promotion push. One league win in five, a run of games that has seen several poor efforts, with Blackburn Rovers and Wigan Athletic to follow. Two sides that are getting away from the Addicks, while Portsmouth encroach on what appeared a safe play-off place.
And so there is a desperate need for improvement to prevent this month derailing the campaign. Performances of this nature won’t beat Blackpool and Southend United, let alone Blackburn and Wigan. A concern that if there isn’t improvement, we may end the month outside the top six.
You do trust this side to respond. But a response has been called for, for several weeks during while unconvincing performances have been shown. Something better needed, and quickly.
Nonetheless, the immediate shouldn’t totally taint the past, nor the celebration of it. It impossible not to walk away from the ground in anger and frustration. But the pride upon entry, and while celebrating what was done to achieve a return to The Valley, can’t be forgotten.
A return to this place we call home. Where we’ve celebrated incredible moments. And endured these turgid ones, too.