Usually effervescent, the man who would celebrate a victory with supporters more than anyone else, but on this occasion absent. His players tentatively approaching the angry remains of an away end, rightfully outraged by a dire performance. Karl Robinson hiding from the heckles of Charlton Athletic supporters.
A reflection of how weak his side were in defeat to Southend United, unwilling to gather and support his players after a 3-1 loss. A reflection of Robinson’s own growing faults, unable to inspire improved performances as failures repeat. A reflection of a tame capitulation over several weeks that has seen the Addicks win one league game in eight, and fall outside of a play-off place that appeared so secure.
So too is the nature of this performance reinforced by the fact the visiting supporters produced vigorous boos inside the game’s first 15 minutes at Roots Hall. And certainly not irrationally. The game effectively lost after just 11 minutes, with the Shrimpers capitalising twice on a shambolic Addicks unit, and the response in the moments that followed equally pathetic.
The defensive unit non-existent as Nile Ranger was too easily allowed to head a looped block across the face of goal, Anthony Wordsworth initially denied as he attempted to turn the ball home, but no one in red alive to the loose ball and Simon Cox able to convert from close range.
And Southend’s second minute lead, which might have been added to in the interim with Cox failing to get a proper shot away from a glorious position after the Addicks watched a Stephen McLaughlin delivery fall to the unmarked forward at the back post, was doubled just nine minutes later. Anthony Wordsworth floating a free-kick into the centre, no challenge on Michael Turner as he leapt to meet the ball, and the Charlton academy graduate’s glanced header finding the bottom corner. To say there was disbelief would be inaccurate, only anger, for this was entirely what the unstructured visitors warranted.
A regrouping of sorts from Robinson’s men as the game developed, to the point that a side who had embarrassed managed to enjoy an extended period of pressure on Southend’s goal. Pressure that resulted in Ben Reeves collecting Josh Magennis’ knock down and finishing coolly with 24 minutes still to play. Brief belief that something might be salvaged from this dire performance.
Brief, for with 11 minutes to play the Shrimpers confirmed their victory. Half-time substitute Harry Lennon heading away a delivery from the right, but only as far as Cox, allowed to lurk inside the box unwatched and subsequently volley emphatically beyond Ben Amos. Charlton’s defence remaining incredibly frail throughout the contest, far too easily cut apart by balls spread to the flanks, and a third goal ultimately coming as little surprise.
More anger in response from the supporters than energy from the players, but both feeling the pain and embarrassment of performance and predicament. There was confidence in this side, and among those involved in it, before the beginning of this run of one in eight that the Addicks would find their way into the top two. Now they sit outside the top-six, with confidence, and promotion hopes, punctured further by another dire effort.
Injuries, and important players who remain failing to perform, exposing the lack of depth in the squad. Robinson’s inability to adjust his side’s style, or inspire, when improvement is desperately needed evident. A run that have left supporters deeply concerned that their club isn’t in a state to achieve promotion; promotion that would be undeserved reward on the basis of this debacle at Roots Hall.
Bizarre to reflect on the increased sense of belief that existed before kick-off. Structure seemingly reintroduced with the return to the starting XI of Ahmed Kashi, and attacking quality in the side with Ricky Holmes in the side after injury. Their respective recoveries enough to ignore the absence of Mark Marshall, another trapped in the treatment room, while Karlan Ahearne-Grant came into the side in place of the unavailable Leon Best.
But just two minutes into the encounter, before the Addicks had claimed any real possession, that belief was replaced by expectance of defeat.
Frustration from the away end heard as Jason Demetriou was allowed to travel down the right, cut inside, then gallop towards the centre without challenge. The shot that followed from the Cypriot blocked by Naby Sarr, the ball ballooning up in awkward fashion, and Charlton not alert to its danger. Ranger meeting the hanging ball as if it were a pre-match exercise to get accustomed to using his head, a scramble in the centre seeing Wordsworth unable to force the ball beyond the bodies ahead of him, but a lack of red shirts around him and the loose ball falling kindly gave Cox a simple finish at the far post.
The Addicks only having themselves to blame, being dealt worthy punishment for such shambolic defending. Punishment that really couldn’t be afforded, particularly so early in the contest. The side already lacking confidence, and it hard to have faith that an adequate response to falling behind in such a fashion was possible.
Faith decreasing, and anger increasing, as a Charlton side that still couldn’t get a foot on the ball allowed Southend to attempt to build on their opener in all too easy fashion. The ball moved quickly by the hosts, and simple balls spread wide exploiting the lack of cohesion and composure in the backline. Cox with a fantastic opportunity to score for a second time as he collected McLaughlin’s delivery, but a combination of hesitation and falling to the ground having trapped his foot in a poor playing surface meant the Addicks escaped.
They would not, however, escape further punishment for much longer. The struggle of Robinson’s side to get out of their own half not helped by a needless push from Magennis on Southend’s Ryan Leonard, and the struggle of Charlton’s backline not helped with a free-kick in a crossing position to deal with. A free-kick, delivered by Wordsworth, that could not be dealt with; Turner rising without pressure to glance beyond Amos.
The game only 11 minutes old, but defeat seemingly confirmed. In fact, there a sense that a more embarrassing defeat had all but been confirmed. The Addicks embarrassing, and the boos beginning with force as Josh Wright was given space to feed Cox, with the ball only just escaping the through-on-goal forward.
If not boos, then ironic chants that reaffirmed how far Charlton were from offering an acceptable level of performance. Holmes breaking through in a wide position, but his strike comfortable for Shrimpers stopper Mark Oxley to push away. “We’ve had a shot,” emerging from the away end.
Another strike from Holmes following, as he volleyed comfortably over the bar from distance, but it not a sign the pattern of the game was changing. The midfield being controlled by the hosts, as Kashi consistently conceded possession, and the defence still an unorganised mess backed with individual weakness. Concern each time Southend came forward that the Addicks would cave in once again.
But if they could, against the run of play, half the deficit than maybe momentum and an injection of confidence would at least make the visitors a greater attacking force, and subsequently push Phil Brown’s men deeper. A scenario that should have been played out with half an hour gone. Reeves sending Ahearne-Grant in behind, but the forward firing a fantastic chance into the side netting.
A miss maybe confirming that this would not be the Addicks’ afternoon. But at least Southend, though still exploiting the flaws in Charlton’s defensive strategy, weren’t making the most of the excellent positions they found themselves in. Cox fed through down the right with several unmarked players in the box, but Wright could only loop a header into Amos’ clutches, before Ranger, having dispossessed Kashi in the centre, overhit a pass that would have sent McLaughlin through on goal.
And with Ranger heading over in the final minute of the half, Robinson’s side had somehow got through to the interval without suffering further punishment. Not that the fact Southend hadn’t added to their two-goal advantage provided any comfort. Heavy boos for the Addicks as they slumped off the Roots Hall pitch.
The problems exacerbated by a lack of options on the bench. In fact, there only six bodies available in reserve, and none of them likely to make much of a difference. Though an enforced change had to be made before the start of the second period, with Kashi seemingly injured once again, Harry Lennon making his first league appearance since returning from injury, and Konsa heading into midfield.
Alternations to the defensive structure probably no bad thing, but it took only three second-half minutes for Southend to break in behind again. Cox setting McLaughlin free down the left, with bodies available to him in the centre. But the winger instead shot powerfully towards goal, with Amos doing well to save, and subsequently claim the ball at the second attempt.
However, not that it could be any worse, there were signs of improvement among the Addicks at the start of the half. If nothing else, there was greater attacking intensity. Although whether to call it threat was questionable, as Ahearne-Grant got himself into an excellent shooting position, only to effectively pass the ball into Oxley’s hands.
But Charlton’s best chance since the game began, and one that would begin a period where Southend were made to struggle, came moments later. Big bodies in the centre making a Reeves corner difficult to deal with, the ball falling to Joe Aribo at the far post, and the midfielder, having scored such a wonderful solo goal against Blackpool at the weekend, somehow managed to poke wind. The away end had started to celebrate, only to see the ball roll against the side netting and away from goal.
Possibly a familiar tale of wasted chances, combining painfully with dreadful defending, but you had to take some belief from this increased pressure of sorts or the suffering would become too much. And that Charlton’s increased pressure was largely coming from corners was a reflection of the fact they were getting forward, and they were asking questions of the Shrimpers. Sarr and Lennon a nuisance, and the latter heading goalwards for Oxley to save.
Nonetheless, a third Southend goal seemed as likely as a Charlton first, despite the Addicks being on top during this passage of play. McLaughlin again allowed to break free down the right, and again arguably making the wrong decision as his tame effort with his weaker foot was saved by Amos while men stood in the centre. Holmes responding for the Addicks by bursting through Southend’s defence promisingly but, like his fellow left winger, making the wrong decision to shoot, allowing Oxley to save.
But there nothing wrong with Holmes’ decision making in the next Charlton move forward. His cross finding Magennis, performing poorly but doing superbly to hold up the ball and lay it back for Reeves, with the playmaker finishing in composed fashion to half the deficit. All of a sudden, having looked set for a heavy defeat, this group of Addicks had given themselves a sniff in the final 24 minutes.
It was, however, only a sniff. Charlton coming forward, but with very little meaningful threat. Aribo and Lennon heading corners straight at Oxley, with another tame effort from Holmes sandwiched in between; something more testing required with only 15 remaining.
And it not as if Southend were under so much pressure they couldn’t get forward. And why wouldn’t they, with chances still being gifted to them. No one alive as substitute Jermaine McGlashan rolled a free-kick to Wordsworth, and the midfielder really should have done better with his first-time effort.
But it mattered little. Charlton’s attempts to get back into the game even less so. For the Shrimpers restored their two-goal advantage, a margin that was the minimum true reflection of the contest, with 11 minutes to play.
Again a moment in which Charlton’s defence failed to cover themselves in glory. Former Addick Wright doing well in the build-up, and Lennon ultimately failing to get the ball put into the box away sufficiently enough to avoid further threat. The ball falling to Cox, and a striker of such experience was never likely to miss, volleying home to secure his side’s victory.
And secure misery for the Addicks. Silence in the away end quickly replaced by the sound of foot steps as many escaped, and the sound of outraged supporters. Dire.
In fact, as the anger intensified with Charlton ending the game in uninspiring fashion, Southend might well have added in a fourth in stoppage-time. Substitute Marc-Antoine Fortune teed up in an excellent position, but the forward able only to blast over the bar. Supporters and players just wanting this to end.
The end coming, to the sound of vocal boos. Boos that those in red could only accept. The performance catastrophically poor, the recent collapse moving from worrying to disastrous, and the ninth-place position that the Addicks would end up in by the end of the day reaffirming the fact the players could not hide from their failings.
Robinson, however, decided he would hide from them. A man in charge of a side without structure or consistent attacking threat, a man who has previously pretended performances have been better than they were, and a man who cannot inspire improvement from his side. Criticism just for him as much as those on the pitch.
But it would seem, without the need for facing the full-time heckles, the boss has cracked. Calling his players in at 7am tomorrow to watch the game is bizarre, and stinks of desperation. Almost like a PR message, or an attempt to just do something, without having any meaningful impact.
Of course, there no doubt that the errors made in defeat at Roots Hall need to be assessed and altered. But so too have the errors made in previous games, with Robinson making little alteration to his game plan. With the attempts to make other dire performances seem better than they were, I’m getting the impression he doesn’t want to take the responsibility he should be taking.
Individuals deserving plenty of blame. There not a player in red who performed. The individual errors whenever Southend attacked consistently pathetic.
For 15 minutes the Addicks were okay going forward, but otherwise they were dreadful. Even during that 15-minute spell, they remained a mess defensively. It simply incredibly how easy it was for Southend to get in behind, with their no structure or resolve on offer from Charlton’s backline.
Incredible how easy it was for Southend to score their three goals. Incredible that, throughout the game, they found themselves in positions to score more. Incredible that the Addicks only conceded on three occasions.
And Robinson does have the excuse of injuries. No denying that they’re harming this side, reflected most obviously in the lack of options on the bench. But it doesn’t protect him from responsibility.
The same set-up played each week, despite this run of one win in eight, and the same set up revealing a lack of structure, and how a bit of opposition pressure easily exploits it. And it not as if one or two players are underperforming; the collective performances have been poor. He needs to be doing something different.
Improvement, or at least an injection of life into the side, needed from both players and Robinson. Not least with this slide out of the play-offs. Not least with Wigan Athletic to play on Friday.