Not going to go for a full match report; I’m rather out of practise, rather late in any event, and I don’t want to deepen anyone’s misery by raking over the coals. Suffice to say that if that were the standard for a full season we would have already been relegated. As it is other results sort of went our way (if you can view a Millwall win from that perspective) and a four-point cushion, better goal difference and four teams between us and the fourth relegation spot with only five games to go mean we are still likely to avoid the drop; but the odds are obviously shortening given our current form and Saturday’s round of matches will produce fresh shifts.
I was left asking fellow Addicks who have been attending at least some games how our performance last night compared with what else they had seen this season. The answer seemed to be perhaps not the worst but if not very close to it. And as we head towards the lowest end-season league position in my lifetime I was trying to remember if I’d seen a worst performance at The Valley. Of course there have been heavier defeats. A 1-5 capitulation against Rotherham in the early 1980s comes to mind (it was also a rather odd time for our club on the ownership front); but that was in a higher league and we scored. I can remember three occasions from last night when it seemed we might score, against a team that was hardly outstanding. MK Dons defended well, dominated midfield, and with any sort of composure in the final third could have run up a cricket score given the space they were afforded.
It’s been suggested that MK Dons were better than us from start to finish. I don’t agree. We had by far the better of the first minute. Watt flicked the ball past their defender and ran around the other side, only to be cynically hauled back. A yellow card after 43 seconds, a free kick in a promising position, an indication that we might have the weapons to beat the opposition. That was as good as it got, for Charlton and Watt in particular.
We went behind after seven minutes and I’m afraid that for me Solly has to take most of the blame. A fairly routine cross from their right was going to be contested by a forward and a central defender when for some reason Solly left his man at the far post to challenge for the ball. Nobody won it cleanly and it dropped to the guy Solly had left unmarked. He took a shot which was deflected, Rudd twisted well to keep it out with an outstretched palm but only for it to sit up for their guy to score from a couple of yards out. It was a horrible goal and the collective effort which followed was well short of what we would expect – and what any set of supporters would expect from a team which should be fighting to avoid relegation.
Seemed to me that we had plenty of fluidity up from, with Watt and Holmes moving around either side of Magennis. But also a total lack of understanding as to where they might crop up and consequently, with our midfield largely static, nothing productive resulted, especially with any ball chipped forward to Magennis dealt capably by their centre-halves and anything played up to Watt leading to either a failure to repeat his first minute trick and lost possession or poor control and the ball bouncing into touch.
By contrast, what turned into a very narrow formation from us enabled MK Dons to enjoy all the time and space that they could want down the flanks. The quality of their balls into the box and decision-making in the final third really let them down, otherwise the game would have been over as a contest before the break. However, with no change to the pattern in the second half it was only a matter of time before they got one right. Watt gave the ball away once more and they sprang forward. A simple pass and this time their guy advanced and really passed the ball into the side of the net without a tackle made. I’m not sure if it was before or after that decisive strike that we saw one of the worst examples of our collective defending. On this occasion we had numbers behind the ball but when MK Dons switched the ball from their left side to the right every Charlton player followed suit, leaving utterly unattended their players on the left. Schoolboy is an understatement.
Our three moments? A Holmes shot towards the end of the first half which was always going wide but showed some attacking intent. A defensive cock-up of MK Dons’ own saw two defenders and their keeper, plus Holmes, go for a ball just inside their box. Their guys collided and Holmes seemed ready to plant the ball into an empty net, but the linesman flagged, presumably for some infringement by Holmes. I can’t say for sure, would have to see it again, but at the time it just seemed that their guys had run into each other. And then most lamentable of all a decent cross from the left and Watt rose unchallenged, only to put in an utterly unconvincing sort of header well wide. With around 10 minutes left I was thinking please let there be another goal: if it’s for them there would be a mass exodus and we can get an earlier night, it it’s for us it would at least mean an interesting finish, conceivably an utterly undeserved point. But they hit the post with their final real chance and there was never a realistic prospect of us mounting a comeback.
Did anyone emerge with credit? I thought that we improved with the introduction of Byrne and Botaka, their threat helped free up more space for Holmes and it looked as though the pair did at least know how to control and pass the ball. Holmes himself would probably have been our man of the match for me, without much competition. Niggles and lack of match fitness may have affected others’ displays, but Watt was worse than inept. In his final 10 minutes or so on the pitch he was more intent on provoking their players than playing football, being taken off before his yellow card was added to, and his glaring miss summed up the night. I would shudder to think of the percentage of his touches which resulted in immediate loss of possession. Magennis was indeed a shadow of the player I saw earlier in the season bully central defenders. Collectively our midfield was static, unimaginative and easily bypassed by them.
If Robinson is right and the players are on trial for next season, their level of determination and ability displayed last night would suggest that they really don’t want to be here, at least not if he's still around. After the well-conducted tributes to PC Keith Palmer the mood in the stadium turned increasingly toxic. We are a club in steady decline and real crisis. I hope Duchatelet was watching a live stream but don’t have confidence that if he was he could finally see the wood for the trees.