Despite the high-stakes I felt pretty confident yesterday leading up to the game. Based on nothing other than a gut feeling I just couldn't see Charlton messing up the opportunity to pull clear of the bottom three. I much prefer evening games at the Valley under floodlights; the intensity of the event seems magnified under the night sky and the atmosphere is much better. At the ground, unusually long queues at the ticket offices suggested many had made late decisions to attend. Perhaps they didn't want to miss out on one of those 'memorable nights at the Valley'.
Then I saw Riga's starting 11.
It was as if you'd cut off my left foot and all my confidence was rapidly draining away. Within a matter of seconds, I just couldn't see how we'd win the game.
No Morrison or Wilson, presumably both rested. We'd waited over three months to see Solly and Wilson partner up on the right and the first chance we get Riga decides he knows best. No AA or Reza on a night when we'd need all of our creative nous to burst out of the blocks and try and grab that all-important early goal. Most concerning of all, for me, was the inclusion of Harriott. If ever there is a football player in desperate need to have a very long break out of the glare of the first team it is young Callum. I do not wish to kick a man whilst he is down, but Harriott is slipping backward fast and it is truly awful to watch.
There was a moment midway through the first half when I'm convinced Cousin's chose not to pass to Harriott despite the young winger being in a promising position. So instead of striding forward, Jordan passed backwards to Solly. Momentum gone.
Barnsley were unbelievably bad throughout the game. No, that's not sour grapes, they were rubbish, especially in the first half. And yet, somehow, they managed to grab a potentially life-saving win. Fair play to them and their hugely impressive 900 or so fans who travelled down from South Yorkshire.
Charlton, on the other hand, weren't entirely rubbish, despite the predictable overreactions following the game. I'm as gutted as the next Addick, but lets have this right, there were spells where we actually passed the ball around quite nicely. Sadly, once in the final third we become clueless. It's hard for me to understand quite how bad Charlton are going forward.
Perhaps most worrying of all is that our steady defense has turned leaky and our goal difference is looking comparable to those around us where it was once worth another point. Just as we welcome back Solly we loose Wiggins for what looks like the remainder of the season with a broken bone in his foot after a late challenge.
Charlton finished the game with 10 men, but you could argue we started the game with the same number.
Finding positives at this time is not easy, so I'll continue with the negatives. Worryingly, of those teams threatened with relegation, only Blackpool are lower than us in the form guide. We visit Bloomfield Road on the last day of the season and at this point I can only hope we still have something to play for then. If you're desperately scratching around for omens then I wouldn't dig too deep. Last time we went to Blackpool on the final game of a season was in 1972, when we got hammered 5-0 and relegated to...yes, you've guessed it...the third tier of English football.
But on a day when the footballing world was reminded of the most tragic of events 25 years earlier, perhaps it's not right to complain about the result of a football match, no matter the implications.