Last season I came away from one game, against Preston, totally bemused at how a Charlton team could take the pitch with apparently so little idea of what to do and maintain that level of incompetence for a full 90 minutes. By comparison that was a good display. Forget the fact that we played very well for the first 20 minutes or so (which we did) and could easily have been a couple of goals to the good (2-1 would have been a fair scoreline after five minutes). Nothing that resembles a team can capitulate in the way that we did after they scored. A game that we could have won 5-1 became one we could easily have lost 6-0 if Bristol had been bothered enough to compound the humiliation. That they didn’t feel a need to add to their two goals said it all.
It really isn’t worth trying to list the events of the game, the litany of chances created early in the game which were through a combination of poor finishing, bad luck and excellent goalkeeping (one save from an Ambrose shot was a turning point in the first half, a superb deflection late in the day just drove home the point we weren’t going to score come what may) were not converted, or to bother with player ratings (for what it’s worth I thought Youga was exceptional through the game, despite some mistakes late on as he tired). Collectively it was shameful and embarrassing.
It is surely unacceptable – or a sign of some truly deep-seated problems in the dressing room – for a team to fall apart in the way we did after conceding a goal. Where before there had been vibrancy, movement and positive passing players hid, getting rid of the ball as soon as possible, by whatever means. And with few players wanting the ball movement disappeared, leaving the man in possession to lose the ball, have to run with it with no other option, or hit it long. Just to compound the misery we had substitutions which, whatever their purpose, left the team utterly incoherent. It seemed as if Pardew wanted to demonstrate an ability to make things worse just when we thought it wasn’t possible (which does sound a little unfair on Dickson, Todorov and Sam who came on; nobody could have turned it around on the night).
We looked like a team that has become too used to losing. And we have lost four of the last five. With ready-made excuses in the form of the absence of Hudson, Semedo plus Zhi, the distraction of the possible takeover, the apparent injustice of going behind having created so many chances seemed sufficient for heads to fall instantly. Is our confidence and motivation really that fragile? If it is we have serious problems. Another capitulation on Saturday and the fans could really turn on the team and the manager. As it was tonight, bare minimum support was provided before astonishment at what was going on on the pitch led to gallows humour.
There’s a lot of work to be done starting tomorrow morning, hopefully with the players and manager collectively accepting responsibility for an unacceptable display and discussing between them some home truths. At least before the game on Saturday we should be spared being told how close to a play-off place we are. We were up against a good team tonight, one which kept its shape when under the cosh and which played good football when given the chance. The last 30 minutes of the game for them was nothing more than a training session. This is an incoherent and inadequate account of what happened tonight; but in the circumstances that’s appropriate.