After the encouraging win against Yeovil on Saturday we returned to the Valley this evening looking for a second successive home victory to restore morale and build spirits for the weeks ahead. Confidence was high that we might have put our recent bad run behind us and might finally return to the passing football that kept us in second place for most of the first-half of the season.
Unfortunately we started flat-footed against a lively Brighton team showing no lack of belief that you might expect from a side third from bottom. The warning signs were there from the second minute when new boy Kazenga Lualua (Tresor's younger brother) embarrassed Fraser Richardson before firing narrowly wide. Brighton out-ran and out-played us in the first half and fully deserved their half-time lead.
Dailly and Llera were the busiest two players on the pitch and did a sterling job in holding the back line. Johnnie Jackson was again solid without seeing nearly as much of the ball as his centre-half pairing or, indeed Fraser Richardson who struggled throughout to keep up with Lualua. Once again, the problem for me was in central midfield. Nicky Bailey is still playing at half-pace and looks like he could be protecting a niggling injury. He was also so deep again that Therry Racon was left flapping about like a fish out-of-water. Racon's work-rate and contribution was way short of the standard required and it disconnected us again from the front two and, to a lesser extent, the wingers.
Sam and Reid tried hard and will no doubt attract criticism from Charlton fans who expect to see Stanley Matthews-type players on both sides of the field. The problem was, they had very little close support from central midfield and neither Richardson or Jackson looked too interested in pushing up. No surprise then that Burton and Mooney didn't get too many balls they could attack. As it was, Burton might have scored before Brighton did when he snapped a shot from twenty yards after a neat one-two but Brezovan in the Albion goal got enough on it to deflect it over the bar. Burton limped off not long afterwards, making way for an earlier appearance of Akpo Sodje than we would otherwise have expected.
With ten minutes before half-time, Charlton had their best chance of the half to score as the ball ping-ponged around the Brighton box before falling to Racon 15 yards out in space but he fluffed his shot and the opportunity was gone. The ball was cleared downfield as Brighton countered and right-back Inigo Calderon was played in on the edge of the box. He got his shot off as Llera closed and it took enough of a deflection from Llera's boot to arc beyond Elliot's reach but not enough to evade the post and the vociferous Brighton fans erupted in the Jimmy Seed.
We started the second-half much better but it's hard to know whether we upped the tempo or whether Brighton were sitting back or taking a breather after their first -half efforts. Either way, we laboured away creating several half-chances and probably trying a little too hard once again. Akpo and Mooney both fired wide when they should have tested Brezovan and we were missing the industry of Bailey who was still largely anchored to Dailly and Llera.
Phil Parkinson's response on cue of 70 minutes was to throw on Leon McKenzie for Fraser Richardson, who was in desperate need of a rest anyway, as we tried to apply more forward pressure. Sam Sodje was next on for Jackson as we went to three at the back but the plan back-fired. Rob Elliot became integral to the match as he was now running out to clear a flood of long balls or having to pump the ball up-field in the absence of his full-Backs. Brighton scored their second as direct consequence of this when an under-hit Elliot boot fell to Brighton in our half. The waiting player cleverly headed the ball straight forward and it fell for Elliott Bennett who took a touch 30 yards out before driving a low shot beyond Robbie Elliot.
We were floored by the second and any fluency we had to our game disappeared just like so many of the 17,508 crowd who made their way to the exits in increasing numbers. I was on my way out behind the East Stand as I heard the muffled cheer of our injury time consolation goal from Akpo Sodje. I should comment on Brighton's impressive travelling support of close to 3,000 bearing in mind their season so far. It also begs the question "where were all the Charlton fans?" Night games are being poorly supported this season by the Valley faithful - not only is the pay-on-the-day turn-out poor but many season ticket holders are clearly not bothering to show up.
The inquest in the Oak is still underway as I write this, but it was a particularly hard night for Addicks fans as every other result went against us. We are now looking at dropping down to sixth and the writing's on the wall unless Phil Parkinson can get a response from this team. Like you, I am desperate to see it but there has been precious little sign of it since November when we put five past MK Dons after losing at Carlisle and reacted to Bristol Rovers coming from two down to beat them 4-2.
Southend is looking like another probable defeat and we could be under all sorts of pressure before Stockport visit on 6th March. Like I said the other week, this season is rapidly mirroring our first back in the Championship when Pardew could do nothing to affect performances or results as we slipped out of contention.
The "Parky-out" brigade are warming up and we need a win at Southend to quieten things down a bit. We all know what the most-likely consequences are for our club and the manager if we fail this season. I only hope our fans won't deepen the mood or hasten our decline prematurely.