Bringing this to the attention of others probably makes some of the points I’m about to make rather hypocritical, but I thought it needed to be explained.
At the very least, I’m going to take a break from running this blog. Maybe a permanent one. The break is something I want, and probably need, but equally I guess it’s an experiment to see whether I’m better with or without it.
I make no secret of my poor mental health. Crippling to the point where I don’t really have a ‘proper’ life. I haven’t mentioned explicitly on here that I attempted to take my own life in November (the ‘story’ is here if you want to read it – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1u7KAwL8p_xv_njIMHydbmSGb9HkaqOj1AvYDVkqm4TM/edit?usp=sharing), and I’ve not at all recovered mentally from that experience.
My mental state is making running this blog an uncomfortable experience. Equally, running the blog is worsening my mental state. Unnaturally intense anxiety on both counts.
I seem to be hiding from anything at the moment that brings on bursts of intense anxiety. I’ve escaped most social media for the time being, which was a huge cause of anxiety and panic despite having benefits. I’m not sure if it’s really working, I guess you could say it isn’t given that I’m getting nowhere, but it’s more complex than that.
On the one hand, I feel like admitting something that has been important in my life for several years, a huge distraction that gives me a sense of purpose, has become a hindrance is a brave call. On the other, I feel incredibly weak. Just another show that I’m not doing enough to improve my position and hoping that hiding from everything that creates any sort of anxiety will help.
But I just need to be away from it. It’s not a rash decision, particularly as it’s been causing sickening anxiety at an increasing level for some time. I’ve thought it through with consideration.
I think the main thing, the main producer of anxiety at least, is that I can’t handle the attention at the moment. It might be attention that isn’t there, but it’s attention I certainly feel that gives me great anxiety. I’d rather just hide, be anonymous.
I spend my day-to-day life being anxious around people, fearing their views of me, believing them to be negative and subsequently doing all I can to hide. There’s a relatively similar fear that comes from sharing pieces that I write on here. Worries about how my writing will be examined, who will see it, the judgements of my opinions – things that are created by drawing attention to myself, and can be paused by hiding.
I feel sick every time I see a comment has been left on one of my posts. I feel even more sick believing that people are reading it and judging it, judging me. The constant anxiety – I can’t get away from what I’ve posted on my blog because the fear of judgement is always there – makes this stressful and painful rather than enjoyable.
Despite coming away from Twitter, I saw that a piece I wrote was shared by CARD on there. I immediately felt an overwhelming sense of anxiety, and expressed this with aggressiveness as I so often do when irrational anxiety overwhelms. Something that would have been avoided if I just hadn’t produced the piece.
Equally, I’m really having difficulty with simply being at and attempting to enjoy Charlton games, for reasons totally unrelated to the club’s position. In fact, it’s when victories occur that cause the most damage. I feel a pressure to be happy, or at least distracted, which I can neither fulfil or deal with, and suffer huge bouts of depression thereafter.
I feel anxiety in being in the crowd, with people around me. Anxiety from what they might be saying, anxiety caused by what they might think of me. They don’t care, they have a game to watch, but I don’t deal in rational thought.
Even things like getting my camera out at away games, which I used to lose myself in, and quite enjoy attempting to use it for as long as possible before a steward attacked me, has become terrifying. The anxiety of what people think of me. The anxiety of knowing that stewards and such like will be looking on.
Away games are draining, demoralising, and anxiety-creating whatever the result. I’m too scared to break the mould and trend, though. I feel I have to continue this run of unbroken games, and I’m not really sure why.
Maybe it’s to impress other people, who don’t care for a second. Maybe it’s to feel I have a sense of purpose, and to try to distract myself with the only thing that might work. Maybe it’s because if I didn’t go to Charlton games home and away, I would leave the house even less.
Maybe going, watching the game, and going home without anything else to worry about will help. Just take in 90 minutes, and that’s all that matters for football for that week. I need to escape the anxiety it causes, and maybe I need to actually escape going to every game if that’s half the problem.
Ultimately, I’m just not getting the enjoyment out of this that I should be. It should be at the very top of the lists of my hobbies. Instead it finds itself among the things that make me most anxious.
I will, for as long as the club are willing to waste a press pass on me, continue taking photos at Charlton. It’s got to the point where I feel so uncomfortable being in the stands, home and away, that what I can make to be the rather isolated experience of photography is better for me. They’ll be going on here – https://www.flickr.com/photos/sportkyle/albums.
But for all the reasons above, doing this is just too much at the moment. I do hope it will just be a break, that there will be a lust to return if I can make improvements with my mental health. Either way, sorry.
If you want to say something in response, I’d much rather you emailed than commented. I’m unlikely to reply if you comment. Email is email@example.com – may not reply immediately but will certainly read and get round to replying at some point.
My apologies once more.
Charlton Athletic’s opponents sat at the foot of the League One table. They hadn’t avoided defeat in six, and hadn’t scored in seven. And yet the fragile state of the Addicks meant their advantage over Bury appeared less comfortable than it should have been.
Karl Robinson restricted in adding to his squad, as Roland Duchatelet’s sale of the club progresses, but contending with the loss of a key figure. Ricky Holmes not featuring as a move to Sheffield United is finalised. With injuries thrown into the equation, only five of the seven places on the bench were filled, with two of those – were Chris Solly and Jake Forster-Caskey sat – taken by players whose fitness meant they wouldn’t have featured under normal circumstances.
Available bodies few, the situation draining, confidence not exactly soaring. A win against Oldham Athletic last weekend the first in nine, but a performance that displayed the need for further improvement. The sort of straightforward afternoon you might demand against such an opponent not entirely expected.
And comfortable it was not. A contest lacking in quality, the Addicks slow, sluggish, and timid when openings did arrive, and the Shakers rarely doing anything with the occasional promising break. Goalless at the interval, with the knowledge that a single moment of class would surely crush the out-of-form hosts, but equally a fear that Bury themselves could find a way through in this scrappy affair.
The away end reflecting such a mood. Cries of encouragement so often intercepted by sighs of frustration. More demanded, but more importantly something to ease a sense of anxiety.
With 63 minutes played, however, a cry of encouragement continued to rise. There would be no interception by frustration. Nor would there be no interception from the Bury defence.
The feet of Joe Aribo had found the moment of class pleaded for, delivering a delicious turn to beat Greg Leigh and drive towards the byline in space. His ball across the face of goal beating bodies, and falling to the feet of Mark Marshall. A composed finish, with the power that meant he was not willing to take any chances, into the centre of the goal.
A meaningful celebration following. Those in red almost immediately uniting in a huddle, as if a goal inscribed to the collective and not specifically Marshall. What remained, even through their own struggles to deliver a fluent performance, were together.
The lack of fluency meant, despite Bury’s woes, victory could not yet be celebrated. Maybe it would have been if Stephy Mavididi, at the end of a massy run, hadn’t hit his shot straight at jovial goalkeeper Connor Ripley, and subsequently seeing the ball deflect onto the woodwork. Ripley left to joke along with the ‘banter’ provided by the visiting supporters behind his goal; his side still having a chance.
A chance that might have been taken. The Addicks caught out with just a minute to play, Josh Laurent latching onto a long ball, and the net surely about to ripple. The midfielder, however, scuffing his effort horribly, and the ball trickling wide; that’s why you’re going down, sang those in the away end.
And those in the away end, having papered over their relief with mockery, would soon be replacing relief with celebration. It wasn’t pretty, in fact it was as ugly as what Duchatelet has done to this club during his reign, but it didn’t matter. In these circumstances, these testing circumstances, to claim any sort of victory warrants appreciation.
Most certainly appreciation for the group in red who approached the away end, sharing applause in the knowledge of how important this win, this determined win that lifts the Addicks back into the top six, was. This uncomfortable period, when the change required occurs, will end. For now, an uncomfortable period has been relieved with the joy of victory.
You can only demand and expect victory when, as a side chasing a top-six spot, you face an opponent without a win in six who occupy the division’s final position. But, while the demand still existed, confidence was tempered slightly so that expectation was not soaring. You needed only to glance over to the bench to remind yourself if the difficult place Robinson’s side were in.
Dillon Phillips, Johnnie Jackson and Reeco Hackett-Fairchild seemingly the only bodies Charlton’s boss would be able to call upon for any length of time should the game need changing. Solly and Forster-Caskey, not yet at the end of their recoveries from injury, taking up places and little more. Two left unfilled.
Holmes’ imminent departure and further injuries hampering the Addicks further. Ben Reeves replacing the man heading to Sheffield United, and Anfernee Djiksteel called upon with Patrick Bauer injured once again. At least Ezri Konsa, amid rumours of a move to Everton, took to the field.
And at least, though without important bodies, was there still what appeared a competent starting XI. Though it was failing to encourage in the opening moments. Bury not threatening, but displaying energy off-the-ball, only making the slowness and sluggish of the Addicks when in possession more obvious; turgid.
Apparent from these opening minutes that victory, if it were to come, would not be a dominant one, but one forced by a side without fluency. In such circumstances, the importance of taking chances obvious. Something that hadn’t quite got through to the Addicks.
Two promising openings with an unthreatening Reeves header sandwiched in between. First, Aribo raced forward and delivered a low ball across the face of goal, but no one in red able to get the faint touch that would have turned the ball goalwards. Subsequently followed by Magennis breaking in behind, shooting with power but easily blocked by Ripley in the Bury goal, and the hosts able to prevent a Charlton boot connecting meaningfully with the loose ball.
The importance of taking chances, however, probably greater for the Shakers. Despite a season hindered so often by failures in front of goal, there at least greater belief in this group of Addicks to score than the home supporters had in their side. Their run of seven games without a goal should have been ended with a little less than 20 minutes played, as Harry Bunn hooked a ball into the centre, and the imposing James Hanson headed a glorious opening off-target.
Struggles for both side’s centre-forwards. At least Hanson was giving Harry Lennon plenty of work to do; Magennis failing to contribute positively inside the box or out of it. Bury caught out by the simplest of balls over the top, the Northern Ireland international in behind with a bouncing ball to connect with, but ultimately turning premature celebrations into frustration as he poked tamely into the hands of Ripley.
If nothing else, in a game that regularly saw possession change hands cheaply, it was the Addicks who had more of the ball in the opposition’s final third. Reeves getting a yard of space, and seeing a shot from the edge of the area comfortably saved by Ripley, before the goalkeeper could only watch as a free-kick from the midfielder was floated into the box. A Bury player almost scoring for the first time in eight games, and aiding Charlton’s struggles in front of goal, as Nathan Cameron’s intervention saw him head onto the post of his own goal.
Nonetheless, that half-time was reached without either side gaining the advantage was the fairest reflection of this contest. Chances for Charlton, but the unimpressed grumbles with which the half-time whistle was met reflecting that their supporters had spent the half being more frustrated than they were encouraged. Energy in midfield for Bury, but next to nothing going forward, and the Addicks in decent control at the back.
Something more encouraging, more fluent, needing to be seen as the second period got underway. Lovely footwork from both Mavididi and Aribo at least promising, before the ball was robbed from the toes of the latter just a few yards from goal. No time to admire, however, as anger was expressed towards the referee; Ripley gathering from Laurent, who had seemingly knowingly passed the ball back to his goalkeeper after halting Aribo.
If not a refereeing decision, then at least such a promising piece of play would surely lay the foundation for more. But the game soon returned to its scrappy, unappealing nature that was seen before the break. Stephen Dawson shooting in the general direction of Manchester, and Charlton floating tame ball after tame ball into the box for Ripley to easily grab; the chance of a goal in this game decreasing at some rate.
So the sight of Aribo collecting the ball inside the box with a little over an hour played was as surprising as it was exciting. A surprise for defender Leigh as the quick feet of Charlton’s midfielder execute a glorious turn, increasing the excitement among those in the away end. Space for Aribo to deliver from close range, with bodies in the centre.
Having fired powerfully across goal in the first period, with no one able to get on the end of his delivery, the youngster got the accuracy and weight of this delivery spot on. Marshall found, the winger composing himself, and finishing into the centre of goal. Out of nothing, and from the excellence of Aribo, the game had escaped what appeared its certain deadlock, and in the manner those behind the goal Marshall had converted into craved.
Obvious what this goal meant to those red, as supporters equally delighted raced towards the front of the stand. In the difficult context they found themselves in, and their difficulty to deliver in the final third in this game, this was huge. The Addicks coming together to celebrate, huddling with the unity required in this situation, a goal that had every chance of being decisive in a game of such low quality.
Decisive, and seemingly the catalyst for more. Five further minutes played when Mavididi, from wide left, beat the Bury men between him and the goal, and incredibly found himself just a couple of yards from goal in the centre of the box. But the Arsenal loanee didn’t have the finish to match his run, firing straight at Ripley, and the goalkeeper’s unintended intervention looping the ball onto the frame of the goal.
But the wasting of such an opportunity, in this season where wasted openings have so often been punished, created sickening anxiety. Bury on the backfoot, rarely getting forward in a way that tested the Charlton defence, but still the single-goal lead felt incredibly precarious. Ripley rubbing his belly as the visiting supporters mocked his chubby frame, before laughing along with some light-hearted exchanges with those behind his goal, at least provided an enjoyable distraction from the rather unenjoyable worry.
Bury, however, remained on the backfoot. Each member of the backline, and Kashi ahead of them, impassable, the goal seemingly giving Marshall greater confidence to play with a directness, and Mavididi drawing fouls on the opposite flank. Fouls a constant all over as the hosts began to lose composure, but Magennis firing a free-kick from a promising position straight into the wall after Jay Dasilva had been hauled down.
In fact, despite the pressure that comes with holding to a slender advantage, it appeared the Addicks were in a more composed state than their opponents as the game entered its final five minutes. The defence still untroubled, a calmness in possession, and the game being slowed down nicely. The Shakers seemingly without the quality or mentality to steal anything; confidence growing.
And so the sight of Laurent collecting a ball over the top and racing through with a minute to play was crushing. The first meaningful opportunity for the Shakers of the half, and one that would surely be taken. But Bury’s seven-game long failure in front of goal was probably encapsulated in one sliced shot; a golden chance that simply had to be taken ending up trickling behind the goal.
Relief, but confidence calmed. Not least given a further momentary injection of panic as Konsa’s sliding block from Ryan Cooney’s delivery headed towards his own goal, and Amos needed to turn the ball behind. If the resulting tame Bury corner was what was required for some degree of calmness to be regained, the sight of six minutes appearing on the fourth official’s board was not.
The calmest, and most determined, figure at this football club thrown on for those six minutes. Just Johnnie Jackson’s presence on the pitch making you believe this group of Addicks would fight their way through to the end. Worry with each Bury long ball pumped into the box, but those in red remained watertight.
An equaliser in those additional minutes would have been undeserved. What was deserved was for the visitors to hear the final whistle, and have confirmation that their determined efforts in adverse circumstances would be heard. A wonderful moment of relief and joy shared by those on the pitch and in the away end as full-time was finally signalled.
A performance that wouldn’t take much praise in normal circumstances, an ugly one that only narrowly scrapped past the division’s bottom club. But that completely missing the point. The mentality of this side to secure victory by any means while their club displayed itself in a fragile position could only be applauded.
And that mentality definitely worth celebrating. With bodies missing, a key player on the verge of being sold, and those who were his teammates needing to perform with a backdrop of uncertainty behind them, it would have been easy to crumble. But those in red, a side crippled by injury and the restrictions the club faces in the final days of Duchatelet, stood firm.
The first half particularly ugly, a gruesome watch, but grinding through that gave the Addicks a chance. Aribo excellent throughout, and delivering a moment of brilliance to tee up Marshall’s match-winning goal. An improvement in composure once the lead taken, with a calm Reeves, a solid Kashi, and Mavididi, whose performance was tainted only by his wasted chance, joining Aribo and Marshall in keeping the ball in Bury’s half for as long as possible.
Even the fact that unfit Solly and Forster-Caskey, the latter of which was introduced with two minutes of normal time remaining, were willing to take a place on the bench worthy of praise. No complaints, given their states of fitness, if they hadn’t featured in the matchday squad. But their willingness to do so with bodies lacking commendable.
But I’ll reserve special praise to those in defence. A defence with an average of about 12 (20.75 if you’re actually interested in facts rather than overexaggeration), featuring a right-back who isn’t really a right-back, a centre-back with rumours of a move to Everton looming over him, a centre-back only recently resuming first-team duties after 13 months out, and a teenage left-back. Djiksteel, Konsa, Lennon and Dasilva were near immaculate, and most certainly a determined force.
It the sort of determination that, if the takeover isn’t completed before the end of January, might well be needed throughout the campaign. But successive ugly wins have lifted the Addicks back into the top six. Ugly wins, in the contest of the season and the context of the club’s uncertain state, that deliver a beautiful outcome so desperately needed.
If Ricky Holmes is a match-winner, the sort of player who can make the difference in a contest devoid of life, then Roland Duchatelet is a club-crippler. The sort of owner who can leave a club devoid of life. Intent on leaving it devoid of life as he leaves.
A transfer to Sheffield United waits for Holmes. A player who only signed a new deal in the summer, fending off interest from the Blades on that occasion, but on the premises progression would follow. It fairly apparent that, in the short-term, progression for the Addicks is not to follow.
A rare provider of quality as last season stagnated; the scorer of a hat-trick in defeat at Shrewsbury Town the perfect reflection of his influence. Decisive, match-defining and match-winning moments as the Addicks enjoyed a promising first third of this campaign. And even in a period where he, and his side, lack form, it only he that provides any sort of spark.
The threat of relegation last season a more serious one without his influence? Most definitely. Points to deduct from this season’s total without his influence? Most definitely. Charlton a weaker side without his quality? Most definitely.
The nature of a football fan, demanding the same loyalty they apply to their club from each player who wears the shirt, means Holmes will undoubtedly face some criticism. Greedy, uncommitted, that sort of thing. But, ultimately, Holmes’ move to Yorkshire makes perfect sense.
A 30-year-old who has never featured above League One level, who certainly possesses the quality to do so, with the opportunity to play under a former manager at a competitive, progressive, Championship club. Escaping a club in a fragile state, that appear increasingly unable to give him a chance to play football above the third tier. He deserves a chance at a higher level, and his efforts in Charlton red mean criticism is misdirected.
Directed, instead, towards Duchatelet. It the ease with, and the context in, this transfer has been allowed to occur that both angers and concerns. No fight to retain a key player, even a willingness to sell, while Karl Robinson is denied the opportunity to strengthen his squad as takeover talks take place in the background.
Duchatelet’s care for this football, from performances to its fans, has never been at an acceptable level. It half-business, half-play-thing, that sits as part of a failed project for which his attentions are minimal. No concerns in what state the club is left in upon his departure for the Belgian.
A notion substantially increased by what would appear an equally as imminent sale of Ezri Konsa to Everton is to follow. Konsa, just as much, should be fought for, though it seems that something we don’t do for our homegrown players under this regime. Don’t simply cash in, promote the value of continued first-team football while doing so, or at the very least demand a greater fee.
Again, though, you can’t feel angered at the individual. Why, having seen that Charlton have willingly accepted the offer, would he turn down a chance to progress further at a Premier League club? One that have given an opportunity to Ademola Lookman, gradually integrating him more and more into the first team.
My knowledge of business is minimal. My willingness to read up on theories about what Duchatelet is up to even less. But to my very simple mind, it would appear a sale of assets to take a few additional pounds for himself in order to lower his substantially excessive asking price and convince potentially buyers to make an offer.
Suck not just as much life, but as much financial gain out of something he cares little for. Sell, but refuse to make any sort of investments. Leave Robinson in the most impossible of positions.
An impossible position in which Robinson is handling himself in such a way that warrants all manner of praise. Tasked with keeping a threadbare squad competitive, while being refused signings he believed would be coming his way, and hung out to dry by those above him as he deals with questions and uncertainty about the takeover situation. His openness, or more truthfully his inability to stop talking at the right moment, can sometimes be an annoyance, but here it’s a vital connecter between club and supporters; the hurt and confusion he’s expressing genuine and matching that which belongs to fans.
In similar fashion to Holmes and Konsa, I wouldn’t have any accusations of cowardliness to send the way of Karl Robinson were he to escape the near-impossible conditions he finds himself working in. I don’t think that, given his character, he will resign. But there’s a weariness, a desperation, as he attempts to contend with this impossible situation that makes you have second thoughts.
Relief comes only from the fact that it is a case of ‘when’ not ‘if’ Duchatelet will sell. The desperate wish to have a man who has caused so much destruction, so much disconnection, out of the club soon to be fulfilled. I wish relief would also come from a takeover being completed before the end of the transfer window, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
What would appear now to be the case is that a new owner will not only have the task of rebuilding the broken relations between club and supporters, but completely rebuilding a team facing unnecessary weakening. The task of any new owner was always going to be testing, but now even more so if January stands to be as bad as it might well be. Worse before it gets better.
After so much of this nonsense, over so many years, it’s difficult to totally commit yourself to caring. Not least when life itself has as many flaws as this football club and its current owner. Wake me up when this is all over, and I can peacefully enjoy my role as a supporter, not spending it dodging stress.
Charlton Athletic’s trip to Gigg Lane this weekend offers a return to hallowed ground. Ground upon which Roger Johnson told supporters, “if you don’t like it, don’t fucking come”. A moment now as enshrined in the football club’s history as Clive Mendonca’s hat-trick, Jon Fortune’s header, and Chris Powell swinging on the Hillsborough crossbar.
Relations between players and supporters increasing somewhat since then. The result of some likeable characters in this side, at least offering something worth supporting. Relations between club and supporters, once Roland Duchatelet’s sale is complete, might even increase to a reasonable level soon.
Better relations between players and supporters, but that not necessarily to say that there is total faith in this side. Even after ending an eight-game winless run against Oldham Athletic last weekend. A run ended in thoroughly unconvincing fashion.
The football textbook says that ending a long run without a win provides a sudden burst of confidence, transforming fortunes and getting the side back on track. The performance in the 1-0 victory over the Latics not really providing any reassurances that that will be the case. Still some work to do to find confidence in themselves, and provide confidence to supporters.
But the form the Shakers are in is enough to provide a substantial amount of confidence. One win in 14 games, including six consecutive defeats. If the Addicks want to get themselves back into the promotion picture, they should be beating #TeamsLikeBury.
No excuses this weekend. Not injuries, not the current restrictions in place as a consequence of the takeover discussions, and not the ghost of Roger Johnson. Win it.
LAST MEETING – CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-1 BURY (23/09/2017)
A sluggish Charlton performance allowed Bury, sat like they do now inside the division’s bottom four, to leave The Valley with a point to their name in September.
Under a certain amount of pressure to respond after consecutive defeats to Wigan Athletic and Gillingham, the Addicks responded by allowing the Shakers to take a ninth-minute lead. An outstanding finish from Jermaine Beckford, coming inside and curling into the far top corner, but those in red were complicit in the opposition gaining an early advantage. Charlton’s backline standing off the experienced forward, giving him space, and inviting him to shoot.
A goal that was hardly the catalyst for Bury to take complete control of the game, but Robinson’s side struggled to get back into the contest. Attacking moves slow, and often blunted by wayward passes or poor delivery. The Valley crowd restless.
So Josh Magennis’ equaliser six minutes before half-time was desperately needed, and not just to level the scores. Jake Forster-Caskey’s flighted delivery from the right emphatically headed home by the Northern Ireland international. The platform set from which to take the game to the visitors in the second period.
The Addicks, however, still struggled for fluency. Bury now second best, but Charlton cutting the image of a side somewhat out-of-form. Sluggishness in their forward moves preventing them from making the most of their control of the ball.
But for all the complaints with the performance, the Addicks might well have claimed victory in the game’s final moments. Chris Solly crossing for Magennis, the forward not quite getting enough behind his header, and goalkeeper Joe Murphy able to get across his goal and push the ball behind. A decent chance, and one Murphy did well to keep out, but a win would have flattered the Addicks.
There was a reasonable amount of expectation on Bury as the season began. Made not the sort of pressure that said they had the resources to finish inside the top six. But certainly a feeling that they were League One’s dark horse.
Their recruitment impressive. Jermaine Beckford, Stephen Dawson, Joe Murphy, Eoghan O’Connell, Jay O’Shea, Rohan Ince, Chris Maguire and Harry Bunn. To name but a few of a list of signings that most third tier clubs would have been envious of.
But no third-tier club is envious of the position the Shakers find themselves in with a little over half the season complete. Bottom of the division, 11 points adrift of safety, and in the midst of a run of six consecutive defeats. Individuals of decent League One reputation, neither under Lee Clark or Chris Lucketti’s stewardship, have failed to form a collective of decent League One competitiveness.
In defence of their current form, four of those six defeats have come against sides either in the top six, or the cusp of it. But last weekend’s 3-0 defeat to Plymouth Argyle, a much-improved Plymouth Argyle but still one that found themselves in a similar position to Bury in the early months of the campaign, displaying the true extent of their struggles. Two goals down before Ryan Lowe was dismissed, and only four shots managed throughout the contest.
Clawing themselves away from such a position, with such performances being punished with such results, seems an unlikely task.
Eight rather painful affairs. Eight results that saw the Addicks fall from fourth, and five points off second with a game in hand, to ninth, and 17 points off second as well as four points off the top six. Eight games without a win finally brought to an end.
Last weekend’s 1-0 win over Oldham Athletic, a poor Oldham Athletic who shouldn’t have been able to keep themselves in the game until its final minutes, certainly wasn’t pretty. A performance as poor, if not worse, than many of those seen during the winless run. But a result desperately needed.
A momentary spark of brilliance from the returning Stephy Mavididi, marking his second Charlton debut having re-joined on loan from Arsenal with his first senior, the game’s decisive event. A moment of quality not befitting of the other 89 minutes. The other 89 minutes in which the Addicks lacked any sort of fluency, sat themselves deeper and deeper, and invited the Latics to come forward.
It not, as such, the sort of performance to inspire a concrete belief in certain change. Not least with several bodies confined to the treatment, and Robinson’s quest to recruit new bodies dented by Roland Duchatelet’s unwillingness to invest in his final days in control of the club. But you would hope it provides some sort of foundation.
Injecting a degree of confidence into a deflated squad. The move to within a point of the play-offs a reminder that the eight-game winless run hasn’t destroyed the season entirely. But improvement, a lot of it, still very much needed.
Saturday’s defeat to Plymouth provided damage beyond the scoreline, with three players unlikely to feature against the Addicks as a consequence of events at Home Park.
Ryan Lowe will certainly be absent, with the experienced forward set to serve a three-match ban having been dismissed for a foul on goalkeeper Remi Matthews. But so too could the Shakers be without winger Zeli Ismail and full-back Craig Jones. Ismail, on his first game back having returned from a loan spell at Walsall, needed to be substituted 30 minutes into the game after a heavy knock, while lasted a little less than hour having seemingly pulled his hamstring.
Should Ismail and Jones be unavailable, they’ll join goalkeeper Murphy and forward Beckford, who both made positive impacts for the Shakers in the reverse fixture, in being laid low by injury. Both players contending with knee injuries, with the latter out for the remainder of the campaign. Goalkeeper Connor Ripley (Middlesbrough) and forward James Hanson (Sheffield United) arrived on loan last week to fill the void left by Murphy and Beckford’s absence.
Bury will also be without Nicky Ajose, who is ineligible to play against his parent club. Ajose, banished under Lee Clark, has only been used sparingly by Lucketti. The forward absent from the weekend defeat to Plymouth, with five other loanees in the matchday squad.
Charlton are likely to travel to Bury with a number of key players still absent from their matchday squad.
Chris Solly (calf) and Jason Pearce (knee) remain out, Jake Forster-Caskey is expected to be unavailable for several weeks with a hamstring issue, and, though his return isn’t too far away, the trip to Gigg Lane will come too soon for Tariqe Fosu.
Billy Clarke also remains absent, as he begins recovery from a season-ending knee injury following an operation, while it seems only a matter of time before Leon Best’s departure is announced as a consequence of his own season-ending knee injury.
And Karlan Ahearne-Grant became the latest victim of this injury curse, having hobbled off during the midweek Checkatrade Trophy defeat to Oxford United.
KEY BATTLE – WINNING. JUST WINNING
Let’s not lie to ourselves here. Saturday’s victory was a pretty gruesome one. Like being offered £1,000 by something that looks like a merging of Iain Dowie and Alan Pardew, and needing to tentatively hold your hand out with closed eyes in order to receive it.
But it would still be £1,000 gained. Saturday was still three points gained. Still a first victory in seven decades, or nine games if you’re interested in actual truths.
The problem being that, given the nature of the victory, it doesn’t feel you with reassurance that a corner is about to be turned. Not least when injuries, the restrictions placed on Robinson in his quest for new bodies, and individual form remains concerning. One moment of excellent skill from a single player, before just about grinding out victory against dire opposition, hardly inspiring in the grand scheme of things.
And so believing a single, unconvincing win will alter the course of the campaign is questionable. Confidence will increase, but not to the extent that an eight-game winless run is forgotten, and the side is injected with a spark that means a return to promotion-worthy performances. It’s difficult to see dramatic, immediate improvement.
What Saturday does offer, however, is another chance to win. Another opponent in poor form of their own, horrendous form compared to ours, who should be being beaten. They should be beaten well, but, ultimately, they should be being beaten.
For the time being, how games are won probably needs forgetting about. Just win them. Somehow.
Not sure it’ll be pretty, but they’ve lost six games in a row. Six. (Six). Bury 0-1 Charlton Athletic
The regular frustration expressed by The Valley crowd did not belong to a set of supporters whose side held the game’s advantage. Such expressions, however, did belong to a set of supporters witnessing their side effectively grinding out the game in uncomfortable fashion from the moment they took the lead with 27 minutes played. Charlton Athletic’s victory over Oldham Athletic was far from convincing, far from attractive.
But when victory has eluded the Addicks in the previous eight games, the manner of the win comes second to finally claiming a positive result. When Karl Robinson gave warning in the week that incomings to a squad in need of strengthening are unlikely unless a change of ownership is ratified before the end of January, the bodies he owns need to find any which way to win. In a troubled few weeks, and the positive of Roland Duchatelet selling the club creating further difficulties in the short-term, some sort of encouragement so desperately required.
Encouragement coming midway through the first half, as what might well be January’s only addition made the greatest of impacts on his second Charlton debut. Stephy Mavididi driving inside from wide, creating space for himself with a crowded box ahead, and poking beyond Johny Placide in the Oldham goal. The Arsenal loanee, re-joining the club for a second temporary spell, scoring his first senior goal with one of the game’s very few moments of quality and spark.
Encouragement scarce in the remaining 63 minutes of the contest. The Latics, themselves in dire form and having to deal with a depleted squad after loanees left the club in the week, lacking any sort of quality, but allowed to come at the Addicks more and more as the game went on. The hosts sitting deep, and their attempts to hurt the visitors on the counter blunted by a slowness in possession, wayward passes, and a poor final delivery.
It really a relief that Oldham’s possession in and around Charlton’s box, possession they were invited to have, was used to very little threatening effect. Ben Amos called upon to block Aaron Amandi-Holloway at each end of the half, good saves to deny the forward, but otherwise the Latics possessed a tameness to match their league position. A side with greater quality would have surely punished this sluggish effort from the Addicks.
Ultimately, however, such analysis of a performance Robinson himself was unwilling to get excited by mattered little at the relief of the full-time whistle. A win lacking the quality to make you believe the remainder of the season will see consistent runs of form, but a win needed to escape the eight-game run without a win. One to inject confidence into a group of players who have often looked completely devoid of it in recent weeks.
One that, in a week where a relegation-threatened side won at The Valley and the normally effervescent Robinson displayed a lack of belief, was a source of short-term relief.
There no guarantee of victory prior to kick-off, even against a side who hadn’t won in five and slipped to just a point above League One’s bottom four, but belief to be had with Robinson able to name a starting XI not sucked off all its quality by injuries. Chris Solly, Jason Pearce, Jake Forster-Caskey and Tariqe Fosu, but the side competitive enough. Patrick Bauer returning in defence, Joe Aribo a handy replacement for Forster-Caskey, and Mavididi’s return meant a relatively out of form Ricky Holmes could attempt to return to his beset in the central attacking midfield role.
And it Holmes that injected some early energy into a Valley crowd lacking as much confidence in the side were lacking in themselves. Having scored a stunning 30-yard goal in the reverse fixture, a man who favours the stunning again drove forward and tried his luck from distance. Oldham stopper Placide making only a half-hearted attempt to execute a save, presumably thinking the ball was heading over, but it instead agonisingly bounced back off the bar.
It not, however, the catalyst for a dominant and fluent Charlton effort. Mavididi, in his first run forward, receiving a yellow card for diving more reflective of what followed. Ineffective, ugly and frustrating.
That true at both ends, with neither side able to deliver anything remotely threatening. The Latics struggling to make any sort of impression, punting forward to little effect. The Addicks better on the ball, and occasionally driving forward with it in a manner that gave the impression of being promising, but possessing little to no end product.
But just as the uninspired hum of frustration was becoming a permanent fixture around The Valley once again, a moment of genuine quality, with end product, was found.
Mavididi had made limited impact in the game’s opening 27 minutes, tacked well by blue shirts whenever the ball fell his way, but the offering of space and he was ready to punish. Coming inside from wide with little challenge, the youngster punished Oldham’s lapse in concentration, and found the space to fire through the spaces in front of him and into the bottom corner. The sort of glimpse of quality seen during his brief first in Charlton colours, this time able to round it off with a goal in senior football for the first time in his tender career.
A chance, against an Oldham side failing to offer much in the way of concern to the red bodies at the back, to punish the opposition for the first time in many a week. A chance, however, that as appose to being wasted wasn’t available. Mavididi’s strike an exception to the rule, rather than setting the tone, as the Covered End called for greater speed in energy in Charlton’s attempts to get forward without the desired effect.
In fact, despite their tameness, it might well have been the visitors who scored the game’s next goal. Full-back Rob Hunt not too far off-target having been given the space to shoot from the left, the hard-working Amandi-Holloway warming Ben Amos’ gloves with a low drive from distance, and the experienced Paul Green firing comfortably wide. Relatively tame openings, but still more than the frustratingly lacklustre Addicks had offered since gaining the game’s advantage.
It taking until first-half stoppage-time for Charlton to strike goalwards again, and even that disappointingly poor. The ball popping up nicely to Mark Marshall on the edge of the box, but his volley mistimed, and rolling straight into the hands of Placide. The Addicks going in at the interval ahead, but knowing they’d needed to improve if they wanted to kill this game off, or even prevent a Latics fightback.
And further reminder of the need to improve was offered five minutes into the second period. Amandi-Holloway bustling his way in behind Charlton’s defence, squeezing a shot away while under pressure, and Amos doing well to make himself big and beat the ball away. The goalkeeper furious with those in red ahead of him, and so he might have been; weak and sloppy from the Addicks.
In fact, it not the most pleasing start to the period at both ends. Any position within the same postcode is a decent position for Holmes, but particularly true when the often match-winning influence found himself on the edge of the Oldham area with decent space to line up an effort on goal. It’s just that, as appose to a blue shirt desperately denying Holmes, his potentially goal-bound strike bounced off an off-side Josh Magennis; quite possibly his most meaningful contribution to the contest.
And, not 15 minutes after the interval, the Addicks had already frustratingly dropped deeper. They at least carried the ball forward with intent during the opening 45, but that not the case as the second half developed. Oldham with space to come forward down the flanks, regularly offered the opportunity to deliver from wide though with little threat, but disappointment existing from the fact the Latics were invited forward, and that an already sluggish Charlton had retreated.
With such sluggishness, there always to be chances for the visitors. Tope Obadeyi nodding into Amos’ hands from a Gevaro Nepomuceno delivery and Paul Gerrard meeting a corner at the near post only to turn the ball wide. The quality of them, for now, tame.
And amid the rather tame, self-invited storm, there was to be a chance for the Addicks on the counter. Holmes cutting inside from the left, curling towards goal, and Placide throwing himself to his right to push the ball away. A decent save from the short-sleeved goalkeeper, but a level of power on the ball that meant it was a relatively comfortable one.
As Mavididi’s goal was a break from a game without quality, Holmes’ strike was a break from Oldham being allowed to control possession in Charlton’s half. In parts, the Addicks defended well enough to earn credit. But, largely, the reason the Latics couldn’t make more of the possession and positions they were given was because of their own attacking frailties; the game a lacklustre one of tame effort from Karl Robinson’s men to get forward, and tame attempts to threaten from Richie Wellens’ side.
Maybe the greatest reflection of the game’s tedium coming with a little over ten minutes to play, as Oldham goalkeeper Placide received a yellow card for time wasting having taken a bit of time over a free-kick. The losing goalkeeper booked for time wasting; making about as much sense as Charlton’s second-half retreat. Placide was far from placid in response to the decision, or something dreadful like that.
But for all their own attempts to delay time and sabotage their chances of levelling, the Latics might well have found themselves level with seven to play. First, Holloway collected a Cameron Dummigan cross deep inside Charlton’s box with only Amos in front of him, but the goalkeeper made an excellent save to deny the forward. Then, from the resulting corner, carnage in front of goal ensued, and vital blocks to prevent the goal-bound efforts of Holloway and Obadeyi reach their intended target preserved the hosts’ lead.
Frustration around The Valley had developed into nervousness. Visions of the Blackpool draw prior to Christmas, in a game where the Addicks retreat against a side possessing roughly the same level of threat and were subsequently punished, appearing in the minds of home supporters. As the Latics pushed more and more men forward, a chance to kill the game would surely appear, and it needed to be taken.
And, with five minutes to play, it did appear. Aribo playing Karlan Ahearne-Grant through from the edge of the box, a first-time shot on, but the young forward’s extra touch but Placide could come off his line and deny the substitute. A wasted chance; we’d been here before.
As extra-time was entered, and the visitors continued to lurk on the outskirts of Charlton’s box, the experience of Johnnie Jackson was called upon. But the skipper, about 50 yards further forward than he should be, came agonisingly close to grabbing a second. A header at the far post in front of the Covered End, seen many times before, beating Placide, but not Dummigan on the line.
A Jackson goal probably would have made up for the tedious game and ugly performance, and a second from anyone would have been pleasing. Ahearne-Grant in behind again, but his shot tame, and easy for Placide to snuffle. Not that it mattered, however, as the final whistle followed with Charlton’s slender advantage preserved.
A first win in nine probably should have felt better than this. Relief the game was over with three points gained, more than joyous celebration. But, nonetheless, it was a win so desperately required to end a dire run of results.
But a dire run of performances arguably continues. Oldham reflecting the side they were; one without a win in five and in serious danger of falling back into the bottom four. And yet, they were never out of the game.
Incredibly frustrating that the Addicks dropped deeper and deeper throughout the second half, and invited the Latics to flirt with the idea of finding a goal. An equaliser for the visitors would have been entirely self-inflicted. The effort going forward lethargic, and even in keeping a clean sheet there was discomfort and sluggishness in defence.
But to underestimate the importance of grinding out a victory for the first time since a Tuesday night in the middle of November would be stupid. It not the foundation of something great, but after the Gillingham result confidence had hit rock bottom. The failure to follow up the hearty display at Wigan Athletic in positive fashion, and in fact deliver a dire effort that was deservedly punished by a side flirting with relegation, sucking all belief out of supporters.
The damage that might have been done if points were dropped today severe. But at least this offers a reminder that the Addicks can win games of football. And hopefully, if not the foundation for something great, then the foundation from which an underperforming side find a degree of confidence and grow towards the levels expected from them again.
In truth, those in red did work hard. Probably best summed up by Holmes, who abandoned attacking duties to consistently get stuck in in midfield, and win the ball more times than you might expect from a player who spends most of his time lurking around the opposition’s box. But it not really enough to paper over the level of overall performance.
It is undoubtedly a sense of relief felt among Addicks after these 90 minutes, rather than anything more jubilant.
Do you remember the belief that was created by Charlton Athletic’s performance in their final game of 2017? The defiant goalless draw at Wigan Athletic. Johnnie Jackson raising his fists in celebration, as the Addicks’ performance earned them an unlikely result.
A performance and result that was supposed to earn them something of a revival. The ending of a winless run. A return to the play-offs, and promotion hopes increased.
Alas, tame defeat to Gillingham on New Year’s Day meant the injection of positivity didn’t last in the blood stream long. The performance weak, as the Gills won at The Valley for the first time in their history. An eighth League One game without victory; this side not looking like one capable of promotion.
Defeat to Oldham Athletic on Saturday could see the Addicks fall to 11th, and be left seven points off the relegation zone. Oldham slipping to 20th after their defeat to Shrewsbury Town on Monday, and without a win in five, but Karl Robinson’s side haven’t taken advantage of lowly or out-of-form teams. A response, and a victory, required, but victory has been required for the previous eight games.
The Latics likely to do what almost every other team has done at The Valley in recent weeks. Defend deep, deal with weak deliveries from wide, and punish the hosts on the counter. All so simple for opponents, and you worry Charlton have now been found out as a weak and flawed side.
A game the Addicks should be winning. One they have to win. But recent performances and results makes it difficult to have faith.
LAST MEETING – OLDHAM ATHLETIC 3-4 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (02/09/2017)
A bizarre game at Boundary Park in September saw the Addicks come out on top in a seven-goal thriller, having appeared to have thrown away a dominant position.
The game seemingly only having one outcome with 21 minutes gone, as Robinson’s rampant side gave themselves a two-goal lead that reflected their dominance and control. The deadlock broken by a stunning 30-yard strike from Ricky Holmes 18 minutes into the contest, and Tariqe Fosu was able to cut inside and finish without sufficient challenge three minutes later. Embarrassment set to be suffered by the hosts, who had lost their opening four games.
But, against the run of play, Oldham were able to half the deficit 11 minutes before the break. The Addicks failing to deal with a corner sufficiently, and Holmes illegally hauling down Craig Davies as the ball came back into the box. Penalty awarded, Davies taking the spot-kick he won, and firing emphatically beyond Ben Amos in the Charlton goal.
And with the two-goal advantage went not only the control of the visitors, but their composure too. The Addicks appearing incredibly uncomfortable, and Oldham getting on top. Patrick Bauer and Jason Pearce challenging for the same ball six minutes into the second period, resulting in Eoin Doyle finding himself through on goal, and the Irishman finishing strongly to draw his side level.
Fears of total capitulation, however, were cooled just three minutes later. Robust midfielder Ousmane Fane receiving a second yellow card having brought down Chris Solly, and the Latics reduced to ten men. An incident that swayed the game back in Charlton’s favour.
A man advantage that they took advantage of just beyond the hour. Fosu pulling the ball back to Billy Clarke just inside the box, and the Irishman calmly rolling the ball into the corner of the goal. The points surely Charlton’s again.
And with Oldham committing their ten men forward, spaces to exploit became available for the Addicks. A bouncing ball allowing Joe Dodoo to break between the opposition’s centre-back pairing, and score what would be his first and last goal for the Addicks. With 18 minutes still to play, the chance of the outcome being embarrassing for the hosts returned.
Instead, the Latics set up a nervy finish. Robinson’s men offering far too much space on the edge of the box, and Jack Byrne subsequently able to strike into the bottom corner. The home crowd believing; the away panicked.
But Charlton dug in, and came away victorious. A victory made more difficult than it needed to be. But a quite remarkable victory all the same.
Seven of their first nine games lost. Only able to name three substitutes against Blackpool at the end of August, before signings from far and wide in the final days of the transfer window gave them something that resembled a squad. A manager sacked after a 5-1 defeat at Rotherham, which left them firmly rooted to the bottom of the division.
Oldham’s start to the campaign suggested total disaster, and certain relegation. The short-term appointment of John Sheridan had impressively allowed the club to stave off the drop for the second season in a row, but the experienced boss unable to inject life into his side at the start of this campaign. Caretaker boss Richie Wellens, at least in the short-term, tasked with getting the Latics to compete.
But so impressive was Wellens’ interim period in charge, remarkably winning three and drawing one of the four games he oversaw, the 37-year-old was given the job on a permanent basis. His first managerial role, but his impact huge. Only two of his first 13 league games in charge ending in defeat.
In fact, it appeared that Wellens’ stewardship had comfortably dragged them away from the mire. Closer to tenth than they were the bottom four after a 5-1 win over Northampton Town at the start of December. Six points clear of the drop; four points off the top ten.
But the Latics have since been reminded that they can’t lose sight of the notion that their main ambition this campaign is to avoid relegation. Five winless games, including three defeats, leaving Wellens’ side occupying the final position of safety. Just a point above the bottom four.
Worry increased by the loss of top-scorer Eoin Doyle, whose loan from Preston North End has expired, and a return unlikely as a result of injury. The Irishman arguably the catalyst, alongside Wellens, for Oldham’s revival, with nine goals in the first eight games following the managerial change. Difficult for a club of such standing to replace.
The second half of the campaign, therefore, likely to be a slog for Wellens’ men. Nonetheless, it can’t be overlooked that survival would be a relative success. Not least after such a terrible start.
The importance of the goalless draw at The DW Stadium last Friday felt huge. Defensive resolve discovered, having thrown away victory against Blackpool than subsequently capitulated at Southend United. Character and fight shown by a side that had desperately been lacking it.
Alas, after 32 minutes of Monday’s game against Gillingham, defeat had all-but been confirmed. Another defensive capitulation, as the Gills were allowed to score two very simple goals, and exploited the Addicks on the counter with ease despite their relatively lowly position in the table. The response in the second half, as the visitors sat deep, tame, and Joe Aribo’s goal consolation more than it was a sign that Robinson’s side had made an adequate job of getting themselves back into the game.
A return to square one. Exposure of defensive flaws, followed by a tame attempt to get back into the game, has been a consistent feature during this winless run of eight games. See Portsmouth, Blackburn Rovers, Southend, and now Gillingham. The nature of defeat predictable and dull, with Robinson seemingly having little answer.
The takeover, if completed quickly, will help. The prospect of January signings will at least provide fresh impetuous into a side lacking confidence, and hopefully goals. Players returning from, and subsequently avoiding, injury would also be quite nice too.
But none of that is justification to excuse the level of performance in recent weeks. A drop from being on the tails of the top two, to the play-offs slowly edging further away. Promotion, for a side not playing like one who warrant promotion, looking increasingly difficult to achieve.
The Latics will need to adapt to life without three players who played key roles in the first half of their campaign as their loan deals have expired.
It forward Eoin Doyle, scorer of 12 goals this season, whose departure will arguable be most damaging. And the Irishman, who was unavailable for the final two weeks of his loan spell, is unlikely to return to Boundary Park. A suspected blood cut likely to keep him out for a considerable length of time.
But boss Wellens does hope to see Jack Byrne (Wigan Athletic) and Kean Bryan (Manchester City) back in Oldham colours again despite their return to their parent clubs. Wellens making the re-signing of defender Bryan his priority, with the 21-year-old impressing and belonging to a club who won’t play him. But midfield Byrne, despite some performances that haven’t impressed Wellens in recent weeks, could also have another temporary spell at the club.
The Latics, however, will have a new addition in their squad for the trip to The Valley. Northern Irish forward Patrick McEleney joining from Dundalk at the end of December, and is now able to make his debut for his new club. The 25-year-old apparently holding talks with other League One clubs, including Blackburn Rovers and Doncaster Rovers, before opting to head to Boundary Park.
Stephy Mavididi could make his second debut for Charlton after re-joining the club on loan from Arsenal this week.
The forward, who impressed before injury cut short his time in SE7 during the previous campaign, has been on loan at Preston North End during the first half of this season, but has struggled for game time. Only ten Championship appearances, and failing to score. A return to The Valley will hopefully see a return to confidence.
The 19-year-old a welcome addition has injury has again struck members of Robinson’s squad, just as it appeared bodies were returning. Jake Forster-Caskey, in his first game back after injury, pulling his hamstring during Saturday’s defeat to Gillingham, and Leon Best unlikely to have his short-term contract extended after suffering a serious knee injury having only been on the pitch for six minutes. They’ll join Chris Solly (calf), Jason Pearce (knee), Billy Clarke (knee) and Tariqe Fosu (quad) in being unavailable.
But Patrick Bauer returned to the bench at the weekend following injury, and the German might well come into the starting XI after another defensively poor performance.
KEY BATTLE – DOING SOME DEFENDING IN THE FIRST HALF
Inside 11 minutes at Southend. Inside 32 against Gillingham. Charlton’s desperately poor defending in the early moments of games, taking Wigan out of the equation, has had defeat confirmed before they’ve even faced fury from Robinson at half-time in recent performances.
To concede the first goal when on such poor run, and subsequently a second, is terminal for a side lacking any degree of confidence. Or any real degree of attacking quality. Predictable runs down the wing, tame delivery, or chances wasted when they do arrive.
Once again capitulating in the first period is more than likely to again confirm defeat with many minutes still to play. Oldham themselves struggling for form, struggling for confidence and now having to make do without their top goalscorer, and an early lead for the Latics heavily sways the game in one direction. The visitors lifted, the hosts crushed.
Not to mention that the home crowd will quickly become restless, if not angered. Boos at half-time and full-time on Monday, with frustration displayed throughout the game. Justified, given what supporters have had to witness of late.
A return to the starting line-up for Patrick Bauer might well help. Naby Sarr performed well at Wigan, but has otherwise been catastrophically poor of late. Replacing Sarr with Bauer will hopefully provide some individual defensive resolve, and insert a player into the side who can marshal a backline.
But regardless of who features, the Addicks must show some defensive resolve. And it’s not like they can’t do it. Display the sort shown at Wigan, with a little more attacking intent when not defending.
Struggling for confidence, as much as the team are. Charlton Athletic 1-1 Oldham Athletic
The resolve, determination and fight shown in the final game of 2017 would mean little if there wasn’t victory in the first game of 2018. A notion clear from the moment the full-time whistle blew at The DW Stadium on Friday night. The battling goalless draw had to be a foundation from which results would come, and a foundation from which Gillingham would become the first opponent to suffer defeat at Charlton Athletic’s hands in eight games.
Pride should have been turned into points. Pride, however, was followed by a pathetic effort and warranted punishment. The defensive resolve that earned the Addicks an excellent point against Wigan Athletic vanishing, unrelenting work rates replaced by sluggishness, and opportunities wasted by a side whose confidence sits in a more fragile state than the club’s promotion hopes.
The backline capitulating under the simplest of Gillingham attacks. Tom Eaves in behind down the left, the ball rolled across an empty goalmouth, and an unchallenged Josh Parker able to convert under no pressure at the back post to give the visitors an 11th-minute lead. Simple, disgustingly so.
Every ounce of energy given to hold the league leaders for 90 minutes, but a structureless unit had gifted a relegation threatened side a second with little over half-an-hour played. Luke O’Neill getting into space down the right, his delivery a flat one, and Eaves able to stretch out a long leg to poke the ball beyond Ben Amos. Those in red appealed in vain for offside; those in the stands appealed in vain for their side to perform.
Any sort of football that would threaten the opposition, any sort of response to a widening chasm between the Addicks and hopes of getting a result that would push them back towards the play-offs, not coming until after the interval. Half-time substitute Leon Best, lifting an opportunity over the bar before being denied by a combination of Max Ehmer and goalkeeper Thomas Holy, as dangerous as any other Addick in his first six minutes on the pitch. His only six minutes, needing to be replaced after damaging his knee during his second chance, as if to confirm the afternoon would not belong to Karl Robinson’s men.
Steve Lovell’s side sat deep, Charlton threatened to be threatening as they were invited forward, but end product was lacking. A familiar tale. The Gills dealing with a constant exploitation of the wings from the hosts, and chances wasted when the visiting defence was opened up.
Only seven minutes remaining when Gillingham’s defence finally wilted, and gutless defeat had a chance of becoming dramatic draw. Joe Aribo turning in Ricky Holmes’ corner. No celebration, no well dones, simply a collective sprint back to their own half from those in red to get the game going again.
The first time that positive energy existed in the stands, that positive energy existed on the pitch, but it not nearly enough. Gillingham, by whatever means, standing up to the pressure applied, and Charlton wasteful. A leveller, were it to come, would have been unwarranted.
The Addicks left to suffer a double negative. The pride felt at Wigan left meaning next to nothing, and nothing claimed from a game that needed to be won. Boos from the Covered End as Robinson’s men attempted to show their appreciation towards supporters.
Friday night’s warriors wilting into woefully weak figures. A side that were sniffing around the top two at the start of November now looking like a side without the qualities to finish in the top six. If there isn’t worry, then there’s anger.
The emotions at full-time in some contrast to the belief that existed prior to kick-off. The performance in Lancashire promised improvement, and Charlton’s battered and bruised side had additional resources available. Jake Forster-Caskey returning from a quad problem, Ricky Holmes into the starting XI after only being fit enough for the bench on Friday night, and Patrick Bauer and Best in reserve having recovered from their respective injuries.
Ben Reeves, having been left out of the side that faced Wigan in order to pack the deep-sitting midfield, also coming back in. Johnnie Jackson, Joe Aribo, and Karlan Ahearne-Grant all unfortunate to find themselves on the bench again after performing against Wigan. But Robinson’s side looked stronger, and held the attacking intent required to get at an opponent that, though vastly improved under Lovell’s leadership, had the threat of relegation to consider.
The only thing under threat in the opening stages, however, was Charlton’s goal. It the same backline that featured at The DW, but it appeared they hadn’t turned up with the same structure, resolve and defensive qualities. Mark Byrne with a ball over the top, Eaves bringing the ball down inside the box, and only an excellent Amos save prevented the hosts from falling behind with just three minutes played.
A let-off, but the sort that should inspire a response, featuring both a reshaping of the defensive line and attacking intensity. The Gills, however, used the opening as belief that they didn’t need to be second best in this contest. It not so much a blocked Jake Hessenthaler strike and a wayward O’Neill effort that worried, but the fact the visitors were able to come forward as a consequence of Charlton’s lack of composure and quality in possession.
Maybe it a chance, rather than a let-off, that was required to get the Addicks going. Holmes’ delivery skidding over the heads in the centre, the ball falling to Reeves, but the playmaker scuffing wide from a strong position. Alas, the chance would be forgotten just two minutes later.
Hope replaced by fury. Eaves again able to get in behind from a ball over the top, shrugging off the pressure applied by Naby Sarr with ease, and delivering across goal. The ball seeming to move in slow motion across The Valley’s turf as those in red watched it trickle towards the back post, where Parker stood to convert the simplest of chances.
An undoubtedly preventable goal, gifted to the Gills. A goal that wouldn’t have been conceded if the side were as structured, determined and resolute as they were three days ago. Where had that side gone?
Wherever it had gone, its absence was seemingly not going to be made up for at the other end of the pitch. Charlton too slow in possession, halted whenever they looked to threaten on the outskirts of Gillingham’s box by the organised visitors, and their only outlet coming down either flank. The result of the ball heading down the flank so often an overhit cross, or a delivery that Ehmer and Gabriel Zakuani could easily deal with.
Frustration around The Valley, uninspired by their side’s lack of intensity in their efforts to get back into the game, but the mood was about to become a lot worse. Lovell’s men had sat relatively deep after gaining an advantage, attached to their defensive structure, but they’d never stopped looking for ways to escape and threaten on the break. O’Neill getting forward down the right, a delivery picking out Eaves, and robust forward sliding in to convert.
Questionable whether Eaves stood in an offside position or not, but Charlton’s defending more so. The home crowd enduring the noise of the away end as they sat in silent disbelief, before voicing their anger and frustration. If their side had given them a feeling of pride on Friday, they were now providing one of embarrassment.
A desperate need to get something, show something, before half-time. If not to half the deficit, then to give supporters encouragement, and keep them even slightly onside. A cloud over The Valley as it was, but it would have become covered in darkness had O’Neill’s well-executed free-kick curled just an inch further left.
But response from the Addicks, with their attempts to get forward continuing to be restricted to tame deliveries from wide, was non-existent. Response from the crowd, as those in red were booed off at the interval. Response from Robinson, as Best and Aribo started the second half in place of Forster-Caskey and Reeves.
And it Robinson’s response that seemed to have the greatest impact. A ball into the box won by a Charlton head for probably the first time all afternoon, with Magennis looping Holmes’ cross over the bar, but it more the impact Best had on proceedings that encouraged. The forward positioned well as a ball from the right bounced through to him, but leaned back slightly and poked over, before an off-balance prod towards goal, under pressure from Ehmer, forced an excellent save from Holy.
Best’s direct impact, however, would quickly be curtailed. Injuring his knee in forcing Holy to make his first save of the afternoon, and unable to continue. Replaced by Ahearne-Grant, but the Irishman’s efforts on goal were the catalyst for a more threatening Charlton side to appear.
In fact, ten minutes into the half, the Addicks might well have been level. Magennis again winning a Holmes ball, Holy caught in no man’s land, and a looping header bouncing over off the bar. Had it dipped just a second sooner, the hosts would have been back in the game.
But, having spent much of the previous two months bemoaning an inability to take chances, an inability to take chances was not going to please the home supporters. Undoubtedly an improvement on the first-half efforts, assisted by Gillingham taking a more cautious approach that limited their threat on the break, but still only causing frustration. Excellent work from Ahearne-Grant unrewarded as a delivery from a driving run forward just evaded those in the centre, while Bradley Garmston threw himself at the post, and ball, to prevent Mark Marshall turning home an excellent Holmes cross.
Energy instilled in the Addicks, and attacks that gave visions of being threatening, but the Gills coping with the bombardment of relatively tame deliveries that came into their box. In fact, even when a player in red had a chance to shoot, they crossed instead. Ezri Konsa breaking into the box, the goal insight, but his pull-back to Harry Lennon was blocked, before Holmes picturesque volley also struck a man in blue.
None of it enough to threaten Holy; a goalkeeper who proved his value in the reverse fixture, but was largely dealt the task of his marshalling the backline ahead of him on this occasion. Or at least that was the case until Marshall delivered for Magennis, a reaction save kept the Northern Ireland international’s header out, and the stopper was quickly on his feet to claim the ball ahead of Ahearne-Grant. With ten minutes to play, and just the sound of apathetic disappointment as Ahearne-Grant tamely headed a Marshall cross wide, Charlton’s efforts were seemingly futile.
But from apathy came a roar of hope around The Valley. Holmes delivering from a corner, Aribo meeting the ball at the front post, and his glanced header beating a stationary Holy. The reaction in the stands not so much one of celebration, but a cry of encouragement, sensing that, with seven minutes to play, the Addicks could force an unlikely, and arguably undeserved, point.
The hope half-instilled by the belief that Gillingham might well crumble given the increased pressure upon their backline. Instead, the visitors attempted to calm Charlton’s momentum by getting forward themselves. Eaves working himself into space and firing over; an ambitious effort, but that they were able to have it forcing the Addicks to think twice about committing every man forward.
However, had they continued to commit every man forward beyond the 87th minute, it might well have been in search of a winner. The ball falling to Aribo inside the box, blue shirts all around, and the midfielder able only to poke wide. An excellent opportunity not taken, to add to the already 57-page list of excellent opportunities not taken this season.
And with stoppage-time approaching, there a panicked desperation in Charlton’s efforts to get forward. Marshall striking comfortably over the bar, with little else on, just after Eaves had again found some space and shot wide. Defeat again accepted, or at least until six minutes of additional time were announced; new hope.
Several opportunities to run at the Gillingham defence. Corners won, for which Amos sprinted forward. Pressure on Holy and his backline.
Alas, but for Holy spilling a corner and the Gills reacting first to the loose ball, Charlton’s threat in the additional period was as tame as their threat to the division’s top two. Nothing. The boos and cries of anger at full-time, as those on the pitch sunk into their own bodies, of much greater threat.
And the Covered End had every right to respond to this defeat in such a manner. Eight games without victory, defensive capitulation after the heroic Wigan effort, the token gesture attempt to get back into the game just repeating the familiar faults in front of goal. Each week this side looks less and less like one capable of achieving promotion.
If the defeat is not put into context by its comparison to the determination shown on Friday, by the extending of the winless run, or the fact the Addicks sit ninth in the division, then it is by the opposition. Gillingham achieving their first ever win at The Valley. Relegation threatened Gillingham, able to expose the flaws in this Charlton side.
So easy for the opposition to get in behind, and score two of the simplest goals seen in SE7. Much like against Southend United on Boxing Day, defensive tameness gifting the game to the opposition before half-time. Frustration increased by how resolute the Addicks were against Wigan.
Sarr standing out as the flimsiest performer in a weak defensive line, the midfield non-existent at times as Gillingham broke in the first period, and their goals so, so simple.
And, much like the response at Root Hall, appearing for the second half was some attacking intent neither diverts criticism away from the overall performance, nor gives reason to suggest the Addicks warranted something from the game. Attack after attack invited, attack after attack wasted. Chances really do have to be taken when, once again in a situation of this nature, the end product is largely tame and predictable.
The pattern is boring now. Fall behind, build up apparent pressure with a series of defended deliveries from the flanks, waste chances when they arrive. Aribo providing hope, but the damage already done at both ends of the pitch.
Improvement to the squad is unquestionably needed, not least in attack, but you worry how much business Robinson will be able to do if a takeover is not completed before the end of the month. This squad needing more than the unwanted of other clubs if it is to challenge for promotion. Genuine quality required.
This squad seemingly needing more than a valiant display at the league leaders to inspire the return of confidence and performance.