Two comments stood out for me following Tuesday night's game. First, how about this excerpt from an Ipswich fan's account of the match and their prevailing mood? "The entertainment value in Suffolk has been sub-standard for most of the season and Mick McCarthy's men have now produced three dire home displays in a row to leave many fans questioning whether to renew their season tickets for next season." Walk a mile in our shoes.
Second, McCarthy himself was quoted as saying "why they are in the bottom three heaven only knows". He is of course perfectly well aware why we are where we are, it doesn't require omniscience. But beyond stating the bleedin' obvious (our habit through much of the season of conceding a lot more goals than we scored) it's perhaps worth stressing that the team Ipswich played last night was only assembled through January and February under a new manager and is perhaps only starting to gel.
Just compare the squad for our last couple of games with that which played our final game of 2015 (a 0-2 home defeat to Wolves). I'm not going to games and can't comment on the merits of many of our current squad (there are a number I've never seen play and never will), but the former contained recent incomers Fanni, Teixeira, Sanogo, Yun Suk-young and Motta, recently returned from loan Harriott, and recently returned from injury Vetokele. The latter contained Sarr, Ba, Ghoochannejhad, Holmes-Dennis, Vaz Te, Ahearne-Grant, Charles-Cook, Ceballos, Moussa and Muldoon. To be fair, at the end of 2015 Cousins, Diarra plus I think Bauer and Gudmundsson and obviously Vetokele, were unavailable through injury, while Watt (now apparently back with us and out for the season) was either injured or already out of the door, I don't really remember. But the only players common to both squads - and we are talking only a few months apart - were Henderson, Pope, Solly, Fox, Lookman, Jackson, Manienok and Lennon. That's eight out of an 18-man line-up.
So we began this season with a new team, one that looked competitive on paper - especially as Cousins and Gudmundsson had been retained - but rather threadbare. We saw it progressively decimated and as results and confidence deteriorated there was too much denial for too long. I remember the comments about us 'underperforming' and that we 'shouldn't' be near the foot of the table; even in his recent rambles recorded on his inspiring visit to London, Duchatelet commented that it hadn't occurred to them that we might end up in a relegation fight (I can't be bothered to find the exact quote). Obviously the spreadsheets said the outcome would be different; we all know football doesn't work like that.
The regime's assumption presumably was that any change of head coach would do the trick. So in comes Karel Fraeye in October as Guy Luzon was appearing to lose it, like Bob Peeters before him. Not surprisingly people are citing that change (ie the decision on who to replace Luzon) as the key reason for our probable relegation; and a record of two wins in 14 games has to be right up there. But just consider what resources were available to Fraeye, with an incoming brief probably along the lines of: 'use the youngsters, whether they're ready or not (we need to beef up their sale value), get a new head coach bounce (because all our changes are the right ones), and if we're still in the merde in January we'll throw a few new players at it to ensure we stay up (as we never fail)'.
By the time that Fraeye was disposed of, to go for another new head coach bounce, the question wasn't whether we were in a relegation fight but rather whether we were already down. Jose Riga returns (after the unbelievably daft option didn't come to pass), the brief presumably being 'keep us up and if you're lucky we'll keep you on for another year, as long as you pick the kids and don't object to who we bring in/sell'. A manager seemingly at least a bit more interested in getting results than prioritising the youth fish-farm strategy. He did seem to be given a bit of licence when it came to who should come in to try to rescue us. Let's not attribute the 0-6 drubbing at Hull to him, but just consider his record over 11 subsequent games in charge. Overall, it reads played 13, won 4, drawn 4, lost 5 - kind of mid-table form. Split it into the first seven games to the end of February and the six since then and it's a different picture: for the former its played 7, won 1 (the remarkable victory at Rotherham), drawn 2, lost 4; the latter reads played 6, won 3, drawn 2, lost 1.
Sure results are affected by who we've played against. But it seems reasonably clear that there is a turnaround in form and results as the changes made bed in (and of course as winning a game or two builds momentum of its own). With six games left a repeat of the results of the last half-dozen - no mean feat as three are against teams in the top six - would see us end the season with 47 points - almost certainly not enough unless someone else implodes or we win almost every game. Of course, if Meire really believed in what she says, the best thing we could do now to boost our chances would be to sack Riga, as our results have always improved with a change..
In short, this season the frailties of the Duchatelet approach have been laid bare by a combination of injuries, some inadequate spare parts and some factors that people who understand football take into consideration (momentum, confidence, partnerships in key areas, team spirit etc). It is encouraging, going on the reports, that the players are lately showing determination and character, which rightly has supporters behind the team. It is unacceptable that this seems not to have always been the case this season. And it is galling that we could end up going down with a reasonable Championship team which will of course then be decimated (just as the teams at the end of each season under this regime have been ripped up rather than built on). If we stay up - and next up on Saturday Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink will have yet another chance to finally do something positive for Charlton - Riga will deserve the freedom of SE7.
I didn't decide through the second half of last season not to renew my season ticket because expected us to get relegated (I'm not omniscient either, and there was the additional factor of finding the network concept utterly repugnant). But I did think on the basis of experience that given the nature of the beast (and there's nothing unique, even special, about our owner) he/we would sooner or later screw up. If your objective is to scrape by there's precious little margin for error (especially when you throw in incompetence and arrogance). Duchatelet got away with it by the skin of his teeth in his first season, having seriously undermined an already depleted squad, and learnt nothing. That expectation created (for me) ambivalence while watching games, such that in the later stages of last season I wasn't looking for reasons to not renew, rather for reasons to make me stay. Those reasons boiled down to whether or not the regime could change its spots, learn from its mistakes, the acid test being some signs of a switch from arrogant contempt for supporters to active engagement. Some chance.