Bristol City plumb new depths as Charlton stroll to victory
DEREK McInnes urged his team to play the game and not the situation before sending them out to face Charlton at Ashton Gate.
Unfortunately for Bristol City's under-fire manager, his words of wisdom fell upon deaf ears.
When a parlous situation required a positive response, City's players instead served up the kind of limp performance that illustrates perfectly why they are propping up the npower Championship with a third of the season gone.
Even the most diehard supporter will be hard-pressed to identify a single redeeming feature from a display that lacked passion, urgency and desire.
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Despite their manager's promptings, City were flat from the outset and the afternoon simply went from bad to worse from the moment former Ashton Gate favourite Danny Haynes fired the Addicks in front midway through the first half.
The Robins failed to respond and there appeared only one outcome when Charlton centre-back Michael Morrison took advantage of more schoolboy defending to double the lead early in the second half.
Although City's losing run now spans more than a month and the team's defensive frailties have been well-documented throughout a campaign that began brightly before fading, this latest showing represented a new low point.
At least players short on confidence had hitherto summoned a level of performance that suggested salvation might be close at hand.
But the manner in which Charlton's players were able to win their individual battles so comfortably all over the field will surely cause concern in the Ashton Gate board room.
It is one thing to claim the players let McInnes and his staff down, but owner Steve Lansdown and his board of directors will be looking for evidence that the manager has what it takes to galvanise his under-achieving team and effect a transformation in fortunes in the not-too-distant future.
While chopping and changing managers is costly and far from ideal, football is a result-driven industry and now would be a good time for those in the dressing room to muster the kind of cussed determination and togetherness that enabled the threat of relegation to be averted last season.
Certainly, the situation – seven straight defeats – will expose those who lack the moral fibre to cope with adversity.
McInnes will be learning a good deal about the character of his players.
Few, if any, came out of this latest defeat with any credit.
Nothing drains confidence quite like conceding soft goals and City have not kept a single clean sheet in 18 competitive games since Barnsley were beaten in BS3 on April 21.
And until something can be done to eradicate the weak defending that again cost them dear in this contest, City will continue to struggle at the wrong end of the table.
A collective failure to clear their lines and perform the basics was again evident as Charlton were handed victory on a plate.
Both Rob Hulse and Dale Stephens were allowed too much time and space in the move that culminated in Haynes opening the scoring on 20 minutes.
In fact, the former City striker could have had four goals before half time had he demonstrated greater composure in and around the penalty box.
It was no surprise when the Addicks increased their advantage shortly after the break, Morrison cashing in on another episode of poor defending.
City began the season amid a blaze of goals and, while they were scoring, there was always the hope that they could turn things around.
But the goals have disappeared along with the self-belief and the fact the Robins have now failed to find the back of the net in any of their previous three outings is worrying to say the least.
Too often, the home side played into Charlton's hands by relying on long balls played high towards forwards Sam Baldock and Ryan Taylor.
When Charlton went ahead and the game changed, City's players simply lacked the confidence needed to play any other way.
Some looked as though they did not want the ball and, unless McInnes can persuade them to take more responsibility in future, there seems little prospect of the Robins ending their dismal run when Blackpool arrive in town next weekend.