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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.
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.
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.
The increase in volume from the stands that met each move forward had grown from a tone of encouragement to one of desperation. Anger increasing around The DW Stadium with each positive attack wasted; by misplaced pass, tame delivery or unthreatening strike. Testing efforts on the opposition’s goal no longer a sign of promise, but a source of immense frustration.
You needed only to listen to the collective sounds of the home supporters to tell you that Charlton Athletic were standing firm in the face of immense pressure. Wigan Athletic held control, the League One leaders constantly asking demanding questions, but the battling Addicks continued to dig as deep as possible to find answers. A side that had crumbled, both in terms of previous performances and available numbers, rediscovering structure and resolve.
Possession belonged to the hosts by default, much of which occurred inside the opposition’s half. The visitors sat so deep that Johnnie Jackson was often the player second most forward, and only five shots were offered. It by a collectively organised defensive effort, relentless hard work, and the occasional moment of fortune that the Addicks found themselves in a position from which to claim the point a goalless draw provides.
For such a battling display, ugly and gritty though it was, to go unrewarded would have been a cruel fate that the exhausted bodies of those in red did not deserve. The Latics, given their domination of overall play and regular threatening attacks, might suggest the real injustice would come if they failed to find a winner against this side with little interest in committing men forward. But when it considered how tamely the Addicks have wilted in recent weeks, how injuries have crippled their squad, and how desperate the travelling supporters were to see some fight in a game where comprehensive defeat seemed almost certain, admiration for the efforts of Karl Robinson’s side could only be held highly.
Admiration coming in spurts from a tense away end, where a fear of capitulation was beginning to become belief in containment. But there always a worry, regardless of how well the Addicks were battling, that the attacking quality of the Latics would ultimately secure victory for the hosts. The voices of frustration around the ground a source of encouragement, confirming the visitors’ resolve was not fading, and easing the panic that came with each Wigan attack.
But it another sound that stands to display the game’s decisive moment, heard two minutes into second-half stoppage-time. A sound that possibly increased claims that some fortune was involved in Charlton coming away from Lancashire with a point to their name. But it the sound that confirmed pain would lie with Latics, and pride with the Addicks.
The ping of the ball hitting the inside of the post heard as Sam Morsy struck from the edge of the box, only for Ben Amos to superbly deny Wigan’s skipper. Silent panic in the away end as the ball rolled back across the face of goal, but substitute Anfernee Djiksteel was the first to react, and relieve the Addicks of danger. The post’s ping a source of torture for the home supporters, denied what they would have believed to be a warranted victory; the post’s ping a source of relief for the visiting supporters, knowing that a shared moment of pride between players and a tiny pocket of Addicks would not be taken away.
A shared moment of pride, with admiration for those in red reciprocated towards the hardy travelling fans, standing in some contrast to the boos and heckles directed towards a set of players who had performed without quality or resolve at Southend United on Boxing Day. The man whose connection with club and supporters greater than all others, evidently still fuelled by determination and fight, even provided passionate fist pumps. That Johnnie Jackson could enjoy the sort of battling effort he is so often been a part of, and so often united supporters around him, particularly enjoyable the day after Katrien Meire, the CEO whose determination has been directed towards dividing club and supporters, had her departure announced.
If ever there was a good point, this was it. Entering the game without hope, and without a win or promising performance in six, the punishment the runaway leaders were expected to inflict blunted by the relentless Addicks. If ever a point provided pride, this was it.
The expectation before kick-off most certainly that pride was about to take a battering. Five wins in six, 19 goals scored in that time, and a four-point advantage at the top of the table would have made a trip to Wigan unwelcome at the best of times. That Charlton came into this having lost their spot in the play-offs, following a dire performance at Southend that saw a fourth defeat in six winless games, made this terrifying.
Made more so by what was available to Robinson. Though Mark Marshall returned, and Ben Reeves and Ricky Holmes sat in reserve, this was undoubtedly a makeshift unit. Harry Lennon with a first start in 14 months after injury as Ezri Konsa moved to right-back, the attacking midfield position withdrawn in order to have three battling figures – Jackson, Ahmed Kashi and Joe Aribo – sit deep together, and Josh Magennis forced to continue out wide.
The task of this makeshift unit becoming immediately obvious, as Marshall and Magennis involved themselves heavily in defensive duties, and Karlan Ahearne-Grant effectively became a stranded figure in attack. Men behind the ball, don’t get drawn in and give them any space to exploit, battle and frustrate. Shrewsbury Town had managed to succeed with such an effort on Boxing Day; a source of encouragement, if faith in Charlton’s defensive capabilities hadn’t been totally lost by the debacle at Roots Hall.
But the Addicks started strongly, unfortunately reflected in the game’s tedium. Wigan’s attacking threat nullified, and even when Michael Jacobs fed through Will Grigg dangerously, the striker was harried quickly enough to prevent him getting a shot away from a strong position. Composure, coherent structure and simple defensive quality seen in much greater abundance than three days ago; at the very least, the visitors were to survive 12 minutes without conceding twice.
The Latics even had some defending to do of their own. Aribo bursting through midfield, breaking dangerously into the box, but becoming the meat in a Dan Burn/Chey Dunkley sandwich. An ambitious penalty shout turned away by the always helpful Trevor ‘he-of-Oldham-away-with-nine-men’ Kettle.
In fact, it not until beyond the 20th minute that the first serious fault in Charlton’s defensive line was exploited, and exploited dangerously so. A bit too much space offered to the Latics on the left, with Lee Evans ultimately crossing, and far too much space offered to Grigg in the centre, heading downwards at the back past and over the bar. A forward of his quality should probably have done better.
While Grigg moved to find space and waited for a chance to finish, another striker was sprinting and battling as much as possible with the thought of being inside the box simply a dream. Ahearne-Grant working as hard as anyone in red, and it his willingness to collect balls and subsequently run at the Wigan defence that meant the Addicks weren’t devoid of all attacking intent. A run down the right-wing, a low cross, but a blue and white body preventing Jackson from turning the ball goalwards.
A break from the relentless resolve Charlton were being required to display, but such were there continued efforts that a created Wigan opening offered a break from frustration. A corner half-cleared, Callum Elder delivering a bouncing ball back into the box that feel kindly for Grigg, but Amos able to claim what was ultimately a tame effort. Probably worth not letting Grigg go unchallenged in the box for a third time, mind.
But as Paul Cook’s side’s control of the game’s overall pattern increased, the ball almost always at the foot of a Latic, before being passed on at a reasonable tempo, so did the defensive resolve of Robinson’s men. The backline continuously tested, but Amos not required to make a meaningful intervention until stoppage-time. A crucial intervention, however, as Nick Powell’s beautifully struck volley, timed perfectly after a blocked Morsy effort fell his way, was held well by the diving goalkeeper.
Powell’s attempt one of few Wigan had mustered in the opening 45, but a few more than Charlton’s none. It not until almost the final kick of the half that the Addicks finally struck towards goal, with Ahearne-Grant battling his way into the box and firing against the side netting from a tight angle. Shots not what best reflected the determined effort of the Addicks in the first period, but the relative lack of opposition strikes as they were continuously halted in their attempts to turn possession into something more meaningful.
Just do the same thing again for another 45 minutes and Robinson’s side could come away with a respectable point, and an overall resolute effort that offered something to build upon. Problem being that, particularly as legs tired and with Wigan possessing attacking options in reserve, that wasn’t so simple. It didn’t look particularly simple just two minutes into the half, as Amos was forced to save a placed effort from Morsy following a half-cleared corner.
So too, however, was there any early reminder that reward could be had for testing Wigan’s backline. Dunkley climbing on Magennis, in the midst of a silent but hardworking performance, and a free-kick in an encouraging position presented. Jackson stood over the ball, the away end with a rendition of his name, but Ahmed Kashi taking, and curling the ball just over the bar.
In fact, amid the unrelenting defensive work, there certainly a greater willingness from those in red to get forward in the early stages of the second period. Something certainly helped by Wigan committing more men forward, and their backline rising further up the pitch. Space for Marshall to send Ahearne-Grant through on the break, and the striker taking himself beyond home goalkeeper Christian Walton, but Dan Burn’s presence between him and the goal meant his effort from a tight angle was cleared.
Maybe, just maybe, there was a chance to win this. A thought immediately ended by Powell heading narrowly wide at the far post from a Jacobs delivery, and Josh Magennis getting booked for time-wasting. The pattern of play restored.
A pattern of play that, unfortunately, was ending with more Wigan chances. The Addicks continuing to battle, and show immense resolve, but the Latics had found a greater tempo. Amos only able to parry Jacobs’ effort from the edge of the box, and a scramble ensuing that just about saw the ball cleared.
Although greater carnage inside Charlton’s box was to follow. The aerial ability of substitute Ivan Toney had given the hosts another dimension, and the forward was able to rise to collect a ball played to the back post, before having his shot from an inviting position blocked away. Lee Evans first to follow up, but falling as he was challenged for the ball, only for vigorous penalty appeals to be waved by Kettle.
With 15 minutes remaining, the pressure on the Addicks was immense. This as threatening as Wigan had looked all evening, and as fragile as Charlton had appeared. Toney challenging for a delivery with Amos, the goalkeeper fumbling, and those in red somehow doing enough to prevent Grigg turning home the loose ball.
With Toney lurking, the Addicks could no longer sit too deep and allow Wigan to deliver from distance. But coming out of the structure brought with it dangers of being exploited. No questioning their efforts and determination, but the resolve was being tested somewhat, as Toney headed into Amos’ hands.
But, as has been the case on several occasions this season, a Charlton defensive effort was backed up by their goalkeeper when the opposition began to find ways through. Toney again the target from a delivery from the left, his knock down falling to Grigg, and another moment where the sight of the net rippling was anticipated. Amos, however, off his line and blocking the Northern Ireland international’s strike; a fine piece of goalkeeping.
And he would be needed again with five minutes to play, though on this occasion questions had to be asked of the forward involved. Powell getting space from a corner, a free header on offer, but able only to nod downwards. Amos reacting well to make what was ultimately a comfortable stop.
The away end tense, but believing. Those on the pitch under constant pressure, but their determination to protect this point unrelenting. Though it might not have been just a point they were protecting in the game’s final minutes.
The blue and white Alamo meant the thought of the Addicks breaking away had long been forgotten, but a cleared ball fell to Ahearne-Grant on the left flank, and the forward simply got his head down and ran. Ran past the few Wigan players that were back inside their half, and into the box. Ran before collapsing in a heap beyond the goalline, having seen his shot beat Walton but skid across the face of goal; agonising.
With such a determined effort, and now with a chance not being taken with three minutes to play, the thought of losing this was an agonising one. Five additional minutes not meant with pleasant thoughts. Five minutes that were going to fill like 50.
And after just one of those minutes, Wigan came arguably as close as they had come to finding the decisive goal. The ball half-cleared, it ultimately falling to Morsy, and his strike looked destined for the far corner. But Amos’ fingertips turned the ball onto the inside of the post, physics was wearing a Charlton shirt as the ball trickled across goal, and the sigh of relief from 300 in the away end was louder than the cries of frustration from the 9,000 home supporters.
Four more minutes to survive. A corner and a free-kick in a crossing position wasted by the hosts. The most wonderful piece of time wasting ever seen by Naby Sarr, as he ran to take a free-kick before stepping over the ball and leaving it to Amos, should have given the Addicks the point by default, but apparently that’s not how these things work.
And these things don’t work like that because, as the full-time whistle blew, the fight and determination of the Addicks met they warranted this point. The depleted and out of form Addicks, battling a Wigan side into frustration. The hosts with every right to feel they could have, and should have, won the game, but that taking nothing away from the efforts and deserved reward of those in red.
A classic determined, resolute and hard-working performance. Charlton’s signature in years gone by. Achieved at a time when we might just be getting our Charlton back.
Roland Duchatelet, as has always been the case during his time in charge, would not have understood the emotion of the supporters come-full. Pride in a goalless draw. Unthinkable.
Pride in the way the Addicks battled, against a Wigan side who had near total control of the entire game. The true extent of the hosts’ attacking threat may not have appeared until the latter stages of the second half, but throughout those in red remained determined, structure and resolute. They had a plan, and they stuck to it.
Appreciation for both manager and players in how they responded to the Southend defeat. Robinson not demanding that his side play his way, but instead being a pragmatist, and overseeing an excellent defensive display. Those on the pitch that looked so frail at Roots Hall, like Sarr, Konsa and Jay Dasilva, immense in their defensive duties.
And an effort made all the more impressive by the missing bodies, and those that came in performing. Ahearne-Grant, irrespective of the missed openings, immense in his role. Jackson and Aribo given a thankless task in the centre but, along with Kashi, maintaining shape, structure and defensive solidity throughout.
And when they failed, another stood up. Amos with a performance equalling his heroics at Bradford City. A command of his box, and important saves to prevent the work of the Addicks from being undone.
It is, ultimately, only a point. It now seven games without a win. Still Charlton sit outside the top six.
But, aside from being an achievement in itself to come away from the league leaders with a point, it lays a foundation. It injects confidence and belief into a side that had looked crippled. It makes the games to come, not least Gillingham on Monday, appear winnable.
And it sits on top of what will potentially be a firmer foundation. The club being sold, the short-term improvement to the squad made, and the long-term feeling of the club reconnecting with the supporters it has left disillusioned. That long-term feeling hopefully beginning with a hearty performance to admire.
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.
A time for giving, particularly towards those who struggle on their own. A time for inviting people to your residence, and hoping you’ll be able to put up with them despite not having a concreate plan. A time for ending a celebratory atmosphere by being hit by a surge of lethargy, and struggling to remain awake.
With time remaining in Charlton Athletic’s final game before Christmas, the Addicks embraced the spirit of the season. An 89th-minute equaliser gifted to a poor Blackpool side, having sat on a lead for much of the second period and invited the Tangerines into their half, and ultimately losing concentration having at least kept themselves alert to the limited threat the opposition offered for much of the contest. A free-kick not dealt with, the robust Armand Gnanduillet able to head towards goal, and Clark Robertson getting a touch to make sure the ball crossed the line as Karl Robinson’s men stood motionless.
The hosts stricken by injuries, and an argument that the award of the free-kick which led to the visitors’ goal was a soft one, but they only had themselves to blame. There no real excuse. A side who looked in relative control threw away two points through their own errors of strategy and performance.
It an ending to the game in some contrast to a stylish Charlton start. Joe Aribo giving the Addicks an advantage after 15 minutes with a wonderful individual goal. Quick feet and close control allowing him to weave through several Blackpool bodies as he burst into the box, before keeping his balance and composure to finish well beyond the dive of Ben Williams.
But Charlton’s self-inflicted punishment began in a first-half period of control, aided by the return of structure, cohesion, and effective attacking movement. Williams denying Leon Best after the forward dived to head an excellent Jay Dasilva delivery towards goal, before Josh Magennis pull-back was rolled wide from an excellent position by the same man. The story again one of a failure to take chances and, despite the Tangerines struggling to make any impression on the game, an invitation for the visitors to get back into a game they should have been out of always there while their deficit was only one.
An invitation formally produced in the second period. Robinson’s side abandoning their improved attacking efforts, and simultaneously their control, to drop deeper and allow Gary Bowyer’s men to consistently ask questions of Charlton’s backline. Rarely did the Addicks threaten to finish the game off, while Blackpool, though still struggling if not aiming for Gnanduillet from a set-piece, were allowed to ask questions of the home backline.
At least the towering Naby Sarr was able to win the majority of the deliveries sent into Charlton’s box. But the occasional scramble and moment of panic reaffirming that this game was far from won. The backline rejecting Blackpool’s list of ambitious Christmas requests, before ultimately caving in to Gnanduillet and Robertson’s suggestion in the final moments.
Little suggestion that the Addicks were unfortunate, or that their early dominance took dominance over what followed. Boos at full-time, reflecting the unacceptable nature of the second-half effort, and several crushed bodies on the pitch who knew they’d thrown away the additional two points they should have had. One win from six league games, containing several poor performances, and an automatic promotion push continuing to fade alongside the fear of the play-off position being lost.
The distraction of Christmas Day most definitely needed for frustrated Addicks. Hopefully they’ll be receiving, as well as giving. Or at least not inflicting disappointment on themselves when celebration should be enjoyed.
In truth, there a pre-match fear that unwrapping this contest wouldn’t be pleasant, for it would be done without the company of many of those the Addicks mostly deeply treasure.
Jason Pearce, Patrick Bauer Ahmed Kashi, Jake Forster-Caskey, Ricky Holmes, Tariqe Fosu and Billy Clarke all confirmed as being absent in the lead up to the game, with a further blow revealed before kick-off. Chris Solly joining the long list of injured bodies, and youngster Anfernee Djiksteel forced to start in what seemed a very flimsy side. The entire regular midfield five, or at least the one that played consistently at the start of the season unavailable probably the most striking element; Johnnie Jackson, Aribo, Mark Marshall, Ben Reeves and Josh Magennis played where Kashi (surprisingly named among the substitutes), Forster-Caskey, Holmes, Clarke and Fosu didn’t.
A headache for Robinson and the Addicks, and a headache for Leon Best – coming into the side to lead the line – just four minutes into the contest. A clash of heads between the recent signing and Gnanduillet leaving him in a heap on The Valley’s turf. Seemingly in a state where it appeared he wouldn’t be able to continue, there relief the Addicks wouldn’t be left a further man down as Best gathered himself after a considerable amount of time on the deck.
Soothing relief, however, offered in the composed and competent style Charlton had started the game in. Far from a roaring siege on the Blackpool goal, with a tame Reeves poke the best they could manage in the opening moments, but a return to basics on show. A deeper-sitting Jackson certainly helping, as was a quicker tempo with which the ball was being moved.
Though a reminder of the self-inflicted suffering Robinson’s side have delivered in recent weeks was pictured with 14 minutes played. Gnanduillet already proving himself a nuisance from Blackpool’s long balls forward, and his presence in the box forced Ezri Konsa to head towards his own goal. His intervention originally catching Amos off-guard, but the goalkeeper responding to push the ball away in commendable fashion and prevent a third own goal in as many weeks.
Such a moment, not only conceding but doing so again via a player in Charlton colours, would been crippling to a side already lacking in confidence. Their state meaning gaining the advantage in this contest crucial, to prevent further crisis as much as to gain self-belief. But Aribo certainly did enough to inject a bit of self-belief into this group of Addicks with 15 minutes played.
It a display of the sort of quality that, when performing to their maximum, exists in this side. A true display of the quality of Aribo, only seen in glimpses from the youngster particularly in attacking positions. Ultimately, it was the moment this out of form side desperately needed.
A cohort of Blackpool defenders embarrassed as the youngster danced around them in rhythmic fashion, with a roar of expectation increasing with each touch that deceived the man ahead of him. The largest roar appearing as, having waltzed past the Tangerines, a clear view of Williams’ goal was presented to him. The nature of his run not enough to take away his composure with the chance on offer, and a cool finish to put his side in front following.
The Valley, and its occupants, suddenly altered considerable. An intensity in Charlton’s attacking play, suddenly believing they could test what appeared a weak Blackpool as a regular occurrence. Token gesture chanting from the Covered End, the sort that feels a duty at the start of a game, replaced by something that created meaningful noise.
A notion reflected in the Addicks, not only comfortable and in control with the ball, striving forward in a spell of possession. Magennis might have done better after fighting off a defender to allow a Marshall cross to sit for him, with the somewhat unbalanced Northern Ireland international only able to flash over the bar, before Marshall himself had a go, cutting inside but firing comfortably wide. These, however, were merely the warm-up acts for two golden Charlton chances; the Best they were going to create.
Both coming as a consequence of this new-found desire to push forward without caution and tentativeness holding those in red back. Dasilva skilful feet finding himself space, his cross from the left beautifully whipped and flighted, and only a Williams’ reaction save prevented Best from opening his Charlton account (in the right net) via a diving header. The Valley too deep in a sea of encouragement to wonder what a failure to take one clear opening might mean.
Besides, given the positivity of the home side’s play, and Blackpool’s weakness, greater chances would surely follow. A greater chance following just moments later, as Magennis’ body strength got him away down the right. His cut back perfect for Best, but his attempt to pass the ball into the net with a first-time connection was a poor one, rolling harmlessly wide.
Now maybe, given how often the Addicks have dropped points having failed to take chances this campaign, there was some degree of concern. A worry that they would come to regret their tameness in front of goal, regardless of the lead they held. But at least the efforts of the visitors offered hope that one might be enough.
Horribly misplaced passes a regular occurrence as the Tangerines struggled under any Charlton pressure, their midfield too slow in finding their next pass, and a total reliance on knocking the ball forward and hoping the battling Gnanduillet would continue to make Konsa and Sarr work. Though a reflection of whether Gnanduillet was showing enough to be decisive on his own came with the awarding of a free-kick in a dangerous position. The forward firing straight into the legs of those in the wall.
Slightly more threatening as a cross from the left was nodded down by Danny Philliskirk, but his resulting volley comfortably off-target. Blackpool really not showing enough to have you concerned as both sides went in at the break. The greater concern coming from a fear of the Addicks finding a way to throw away their relatively comfortable advantage, rather than the Tangerines enforcing it.
A second, subsequently, needed. And quite early on in the second period, too, to avoid panic setting in. A team shot from Marshall, on his weaker foot after coming and comfortable left by Williams to head off-target, not going to provide that goal, but at least there was still an intent to attack.
But that early shot, two minutes into the half, was not reflective of what was to follow. Nor was Colin Daniel’s header, from a good position to nod back across the face of goal but instead heading straight into Amos’ hands, the catalyst for a change in the pattern of the contest. But an anxiety, a cautiousness, and a reluctance to get at the Tangerines soon began to grow.
They were allowed to come at Charlton, despite their sluggishness in the centre and tameness in the final third remaining. But it meant the Addicks were inviting pressure on themselves. One of many balls into the box, and one of many causing something of a scramble, resulting in Sessi D’Almeida’s follow-up from the edge of the box being well blocked when it at least appeared an accurate strike.
A trend that grew greater as both sides made substitutions. Best battling to peg the Tangerines back, but an injury forced him off, while the introduction of Viv Solomon-Otabor gave the visitors a direct winger that meant they were in a better position to make more of the invitation the Addicks were offering. With a little less than 25 minutes remaining, and the knowledge that their attacking intent had concerned a flimsy Blackpool defence, the Addicks appeared to be making the drive to secure victory harder than it needed to be.
And Bowyer’s side, albeit regularly blunted in their efforts to get forward, were certainly threatening more than they did in the opening period. Solomon-Otabor’s delivery causing carnage in Charlton’s box, as Jackson dived to compete with Curtis Tilt at the near post, and Amos getting his body in the way to keep the ball out. A struggle to properly clear following, but the resulting strike from Daniel clearing the crossbar.
To Charlton’s credit, there remained a calmness in possession. Jackson excellent, simply via the medium of working hard and keeping things simple, while Aribo was quick in his decisions to either make the next pass or drive ahead. But that possession, through both a loss of intensity and regularly frustrating decision making, was not being turned into anything threatening.
But for all the struggles of the hosts to put the game to bed, the introduction of a 20-year-old league debutant might well have done it. George Lapslie introduced, and one minute later coming as close to scoring as any Addick had during the half. A lovely interchange with Aribo sending him through, but Curtis Tilt did just enough to get back and block.
An uninspired Valley crowd suddenly finding positive voices, but they would not last. Lapslie’s effort not inspiring a Charlton surge to kill the game, for still they sat deep, and still Blackpool were given the opportunity to deliver from wide. Gnanduillet throwing himself about with strength and desire, but the home side’s backline, and particularly Sarr, were winning the majority of balls into the box that they were inviting.
And so, in uncomfortable fashion, it did appear the Addicks were doing enough. Horrible to watch, but if achieved, it what was required. A victory of any kind to boost confidence.
Those perceptions, however, had come too quickly. A minute remaining, but not enough had been done to secure victory. Blackpool able to steal a point, in part from their own determination, but largely from Charlton’s faults.
The ball delivered into the box from a free-kick, one that the Addicks would surely again deal with, but the resistance crumbled. Gnanduillet rising to head towards goal, a melee of bodies between him and the net, and faint touch from Robertson making sure the Tangerines had found an equaliser. Deathly silence, aside from the small cluster of visiting supporters celebrating with all they had.
It quite unbelievable that the Addicks had put themselves into this position, quite unbelievable they hadn’t won the game. Though self-pity and anger would have to wait. Five minutes of additional time signalled, and some hope offered.
Hope that, after Dasilva had bombed forward and forced a corner, a dramatic winner would be found deep, deep into stoppage-time. The corner, however, cleared at the front post and for a moment it appeared Solomon-Otabor might be leading a breakaway. Not that defeat would have been any more painful in the raw emotions of the moment; merely confirming the dire nature of Charlton’s second-half efforts.
Players in red looking like they had just experienced defeat at full-time. Bodies bent over, faces drained of all positive emotion, and a shared persona that was asking how. How had the Addicks not won this game?
But it not really a question that needs to be delved into too deeply. The Addicks were on top during the first half, comfortable for most of it and enjoying a spell of real dominance after scoring, but couldn’t make the most of it. They then grew tame, sat deep, and invited the opposition to have a go at them.
To one degree or another, we’ve been here before. So many times. So many points dropped through little but self-infliction, that may ultimately prove costly as the season develops.
That are proving costly now. Eleven points off the top of the division and, as a result of Portsmouth losing and Peterborough United winning, only holding onto a play-off place by a point from two teams. Confidence, in line with overall displays, growing more concerning in a run of one league win in seven.
Our chronic inability to finish becoming, if it’s not already, embarrassing. The contrast between the comfortable first-half performance and the lacklustre effort in the second difficult to make sense of. The defensive display somewhat better than in recent weeks, but it counts for little when a simple free-kick defeats them at the last.
This really was our chance to gain confidence, to win, and to have some sort of platform from which to go into two tough fixtures. The quality Blackpool displayed explaining their run of form, and yet the Addicks couldn’t take advantage. The quality Southend, strong at home, and particularly Wigan, having won 7-0 today, will be too great if we continue to perform in such a manner.
With injuries, a hectic period that allows little time to work on improvement, and confidence crushed, you worry how greatly the concerns will grow after the remainder of the festive period fixtures.
Concerns that really can’t be ignored now. We’re not performing like a side with promotion ambitions.
Ewood Park hadn’t heard noise of this volume all afternoon up to this point, and the game was 27 minutes old. The boos and heckles created by the home fans quite possibly as vicious as a returning player can receive. Blackburn Rovers supporters angered by the appearance of Leon Best, whose £3m move to the club in 2012 became something of an injury, poor-performance and loan-spell filled disaster.
In truth, Charlton Athletic supporters weren’t exactly pleased to see their recent signing enter the action at such a premature stage of the contest. Only required as another injury to a forward player – Billy Clarke twisting his ankle having caught it in the turf – forced an early change. Injuries joining defensive errors, an absence of structure and tame attacking threat as the main reasons for the relative struggles of Karl Robinson’s men in recent weeks.
So it scripted that, just three minutes later, Best would break the deadlock. “Leon Best, he scores when he wants,” voiced by the delighted supporters. The only problem being that those delighted supporters were those who despised him.
A Charlie Mulgrew free-kick requiring intervention but, with only limited direct pressure from a player in blue and white, should have been dealt with in more composed fashion. Best instead only managing to loop a header perfectly into the corner of his own net, becoming the second Charlton striker to score for the opposition in as many weekends after Josh Magennis’ own goal against Portsmouth a week ago. If you didn’t at least take a moment away from the misery to laugh at such a comedic situation, you’d only be denying yourself an opportunity to calm the pain inside.
The need to ironically appreciate that moment of comedy becoming clearer as the remainder of the game developed, with the Addicks only frustrating. In rare moments when the visitors genuinely threatened David Raya in the Rovers goal, such as when Best teed up Ben Reeves in the final moments of the first half, their finishing was painfully tame. And as the hosts sat deeper and deeper in the second period, Charlton’s attacking play became increasingly ineffective, creating only the tune of anger and disappointment in the away end rather than opportunities to equalise.
Passing often sideways or backwards, if not misdirected when played forward, with pace and movement lacking. Threat down either flank non-existent, as Mark Marshall and Josh Magennis stuttered into dead ends, or delivered tame crosses into the box easily dealt with. The panicked long balls that followed rarely worthwhile, as Magennis struggled once again to perform his main role, and Best’s overall performance only encouraged further Blackburn heckles.
It, therefore, came as little that surprise that deep into stoppage-time, while Robinson’s men were uncertain how to get the ball forward and still play without the intensity of a side desperately in need of a goal, Blackburn’s own intensity earned them a second goal. Chris Solly stuttering on the ball, and ultimately robbed, substitute Joe Nutall breaking forward and crossing for fellow replacement Danny Graham to head home from close range. A goal that means Charlton’s play-off place is only protected by goals scored.
And so the tale a familiar one. Defensive errors, strikers who seem potent only in front of their own goal, and tame possession that cannot be turned into genuine threat against an organised and defensively resolute opponent. Concern increasing, as the improvement in quality and confidence required grows larger.
The threat of a lack of threat promised offered before kick-off, as an unexpected injury left the Addicks without their main forward influence. Ricky Holmes frustrating in recent weeks, without the delivery to match his bursts into the opposition’s final third, but he the only player capable of performing such threatening movements forward. The only player, with Tariqe Fosu still absent, who can genuinely be labelled as a match-winner; Reeves, indifferent in his injury-struck start to life as an Addick, with big shoes to fill.
But there was at least greater reassurance in defence. Jason Pearce making his first league appearance since September having recovered from a knee injury, with the hope he would provide an organising quality to a side without structure in recent weeks. If nothing else, Naby Sarr needed to be withdrawn from the side after several weeks of uncertain, uncomfortable and error-prone efforts.
The reassurance of defensive improvement certainly required against an in-form, and goal-hungry, Rovers side. But it was the Addicks who started the game on the front foot, sort of. Magennis, having found himself in a bit of space 30 yards from goal but without support, trying his luck from distance, only to threaten the blue seats to the left of the post.
And it seemed those sorts of openings might well be what Robinson’s side would be restricted to, as Blackburn showed a tenacious and defensively determined quality to match an obvious quality that reflected their form. Rovers not pressing too high, but patiently waiting for an opportunity to rob the Addicks of possession they weren’t keeping with a great deal of composure, before threatening on the break. The clever footwork of playmaker Bradley Dack and pace of Dominic Samuel in attack particularly concerning, as Pearce just about continued to win the battle with the latter in quite aggressive fashion.
So the openings both sides carved out in quick succession as the 20th minute approached were an adequate affection of the sort of threat they were posing. Decent work down the left from the Addicks as Jay Dasilva and Reeves combined, but the latter’s pull back to Jake Forster-Caskey was ballooned horribly, horribly off-target from an inviting position. While at the other end, with Charlton’s backline losing its shape, a better connection would have seen an unmarked Dack turn in a Marcus Antonsson delivery from the left.
The visitors, as such, not without ways out of their half, but struggling to match the threat and quality and Rovers were offering on the break. Not helped by the space the hosts were being giving, in complete contrast to their organised backline. Dack allowed to cut in from the left and curl an effort narrowly wide of Amos’ left-hand upright.
And several moments prior to that opening, Blackburn’s threat had played a hand in Clarke suffering what appeared the sort of injury he might be able to shake off. Antonsson going forward and back on the left, and Clarke ultimately catching his foot in the turf as he attempted to keep up with the Swede’s movement. Several moments after, his efforts to continue had proven to be in vain, with the Irishman hobbling off to be replaced by Best.
The forwards introduction met by applause from the visiting Addicks, desperate for their new signing to solve their issues in front of goal, but there some contrast in the home stands. The sort of boos Katrien Meire received as she appeared at half-time of the Portsmouth game last weekend sent the way of the man who once wore Blackburn colours. Best, no doubt particularly determined to score, taking up the central role, and Magennis moving wide left.
And score he did, to the delirious delight of the Rovers supporters. Overwhelmed by the prospect of their side’s recent run continuing, and in a state of celebratory enjoyment, as well as being crippled over in laughter. The hated figure turning Mulgrew’s free-kick into his own net on the half hour.
The ball bouncing into the net after taking the touch of Best’s head, and the forward already had a look of horror on his face by the time the ball had come back off the ground. Amos only able to watch, bemused silence from the away end as the net rippled, and hands moving towards Best’s guilty face. Blue and white lurking, but the header was a clean one, and so should have been sent away from goal.
An admirable effort from the home support to follow the goal with chants in favour of Best, not least “he scores when he wants”, but there a growing fear Blackburn were going to be scoring when they wanted, having taken the lead. No red head meeting this Rovers set-piece, as Dack’s corner was flicked on to Derrick Williams at the back post, but the full-back somehow managed to turn the ball wide when it seemed easier to score. A horrendous miss, and disgruntled Charlton fans were left legitimately demanding more from their side.
A tame header hitting the side-netting, with Raya almost going to collect the ball before it had crossed the goal line, not quite what was in mind. Forster-Caskey’s corner finding Magennis at the back post, but the Northern Ireland international heading unthreateningly wide. Uninspiring.
Not least with Rovers continuing to break with threat, and the Addicks continuing to look uncomfortable in defence. Craig Conway allowed to run from the halfway line to the edge of the Charlton box without challenge, his resulting effort thankfully well held by Amos. The Addicks to tame both with and without the ball.
But, as is always the case, while the deficit remained at one, Robinson’s men were far from out of the game. Far from out of it if they could create a genuine opening, which they managed to do with three minutes of the first half remaining. Best doing well to hold up the ball, and subsequently tee up Reeves but, with a clear sight of goal, the playmaker could only weakly slot the ball just wide of Raya; the goalkeeper easily collecting a chance that really should have been scored.
The half ending with a final visual display of just how much the Addicks needed to improve, as Conway picked out an unmarked Williams at the far post, with the full-back’s ball across the face of goal just about dealt with, but Reeves’ chance at least offered some hope. Or at least a reminder that Robinson’s men, irrespective of how poorly they’d played during the opening 45, were not out of this game.
Though if Blackburn scored a second, given both side’s form and the context of this contest, it would almost certainly be game over. A succession of corners at the start of the first period ultimately leading to Mulgrew, in prolific scoring form for Rovers despite leading their defensive line, heading wide. Charlton couldn’t afford to be pushed back.
And so encouragement was to follow; something of an opportunity not taken but a sign that the Addicks were the side who were going to get on the front foot. Marshall and Reeves combining for the latter to curl towards goal, but the effort not quite having the pace to beat Raya. The goalkeeper only capable of palming the ball away, however, though both he and the offside flag were on hand to deny Best from just a few yards out as the forward attempted to make amends for his own goal.
What followed was, at least, better from the Addicks. They were at least pressing their opponents, and reward would have followed had Best’s touch not been awful after stealing the ball off Mulgrew and bursting forward. They were at least pressing Blackburn back, to the extent that they felt uncomfortable to display their threat on the break.
But, ultimately, the pressure grew increasingly tame. Reeves prodding a handy opening on the edge of the box straight into Raya’s hands, Best appearing to break through on goal but deciding he’d see if he could get away with scooping the ball over a Blackburn head with his head, and a Marshall free-kick from a tight angle comfortably clearing the crossbar with unmarked men waiting in the centre. Lots of clueless expressions while in possession, as tepid passing still rained supreme, and weak crossing either nodded away or held by the impressive Raya meaning Charlton’s ball control wasn’t being turned into meaningful threat, and certainly not cooling the frustration of supporters.
There at least the sense, given the pattern of the game, that the deficit would remain at one, but this a sense generated not out of an improvement in the way the Addicks were defending. The game might well have been over with 15 to play, as Dasilva lost sight of Conway, a long ball sent him through on goal, and his strike flashed wide as Amos stood in no man’s land. Hand the scot delivered to a number of waiting blue and white shirts and centre, particularly with Amos stranded, the hosts would have certainly doubled their advantage.
And so the opportunity for the Addicks to equalise was still there. But the opportunities created were horribly tame. Forster-Caskey almost rolling the ball towards Raya from the edge of the box, while, pleasing further the home supporters, Best headed comfortably over as Reeves delivered a rare testing Charlton delivery from wide. As has so often been the case, simply not enough in the final third.
A final third that the Addicks seemed afraid to venture into as the 90th minute approached and subsequently surpassed into four additional minutes. Seemingly a consequence of all in red being uncertain of how they were supposed to threaten, the ball was too often passed around sideways, with our own time too often wasted. The resulting punts forward easily dealt with by Rovers, who remained composed, while Charlton looked a spent force.
A spent force that, in the final minute of the four added on, Blackburn were able to capitalise upon further. Solly hesitant, and robbed in midfield without bodies behind him, allowing pacey forward Nuttal to burst through. Seemingly going too wide and then overrunning the ball, but still able to deliver, resulting in Graham being picked out and the experienced striker nodding in a chance that even a Charlton forward would do well to miss.
The silence, but for the sound of feet walking down steps as supporters escaped Ewood Park, in the away end as emphatic as the celebrations of the home supporters. Blackburn making a huge statement, beating a promotion rival on the way to winning a sixth game in a row and keeping the pressure on the top two. Charlton making an equally huge statement, that massive improvement is required, for they have gone from pressurising the top two to seriously worrying about their top-six position in just a few weeks.
A worry reflected in the obvious sorrow of Robinson come full-time. Normally so boisterous in his interaction with supporters, the boss instead hiding behind a set of deflated players, hardly worthy of applause from the few fans still remaining in Ewood Park’s away end. Confidence drained.
Some might point to the quality of opposition as reason not to overstate the nature of Charlton’s poor performance. And it unquestionable that Blackburn look a side ready to challenge the top two. Raya confident in goal, the backline defiant, and the pace, link-up play and overall threat on the break reflective of a side that have been goal hungry in recent weeks.
Others might also point to the ‘pressure’ applied to Blackburn in the second half as enough to drain some sort of positive out of this game. It true Rovers were pushed back. It true Charlton had both possession and chances.
But not only does this take a bizarre underdog tone, as if we’re a midtable side not attempting to fight for automatic promotion, we’ve seen this all before in recent weeks. A failure to offer a consistent threat going forward, and a failure to take chances when they do arrive. It only Reeves’ chance at the end of the first half that was particularly clear cut anyway, while the rest of the game was spent making very occasional half openings, or seeing tame attacks blunted.
Equally, faith in the backline, even with Pearce’s return, decreases by the week. It not simply the result of Ahmed Kashi’s absence ahead of it, though that seemingly has left the side devoid of all structure, for the biggest problem is individual errors. Solly, Ezri Konsa, Pearce and Dasilva all guilty, and Pearce’s return offering no improvement in collective unity.
There will be some improvement when Holmes, Fosu and Kashi return. But performances were declining with Holmes in the side, and it a concern that the entire shape relies on a single player, if that is the case with Kashi. It brings up the question that has been asked before during times of disappointment – does Robinson not have a plan ‘B’?
There’s certainly a reluctance, or inability, to change the way we’re playing. A formation other than 4-5-1 is never used, there’s no injection of alternative play in attack, and the pattern of sideways passing without a way forward before a desperate punt was incredibly frustrating today. In a testing time, Robinson needs to come up with the answers, and make us look like a side capable of achieving promotion again.
It would be quite unbelievable that we are teetering on the verge of losing a play-off place that was ours to lose a few weeks. It would be quite unbelievable if we hadn’t performed so poorly for a number of weeks. A huge improvement required, but having belief that that will suddenly appear is difficult after witnessing recent performances.