Football: Charlton basking in glory at happy Valley

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Charlton Athletic. . .2

Leicester City. . . . 2

IT IS pay-off time at The Valley. For those who had faith that Charlton would one day reclaim their old ground; for those who campaigned for that return in local elections; for those who swept terraces and fixed seats and painted walls before the seven-year exile ended midway through last season, Saturday provided the kind of experience which made them care in the first place.

With a West stand in scaffolding and a vast East terrace in muddy transition - an off-duty crane offering a bizarre still-life - The Valley is hardly paradise regained. But it is home, and a happy one at that.

A match that began almost soporifically ended in real excitement. Three minutes from time, the home side appeared to have thrown away a deserved victory by allowing Steve Agnew to equalise Phil Chapple's first-half header. Within a minute, justice prevailed, even if the penalty smartly converted by Darren Pitcher involved an element of doubt. Mike Whitlow protested long and loud that he had bundled Kim Grant over by accident.

Three points lifted Charlton to joint-leadership of the First Division. Alan Curbishley, their joint manager, had particularly good reason to be satisfied. 'A lot has been said about the size of our squad, and people are right,' he said. 'We have nine professionals out of 25 injured at the moment, and out of the 25, six are first-year professionals. We are down to bare bones. But the people who have come in have done well. I think today's team must have been the youngest and the cheapest Charlton have ever put out. They don't come to pounds 300,000.'

Yet the home side, playing the neat and artful game with which Curbishley was associated in his playing days at West Ham and Aston Villa, managed to be more than the sum of their parts. Leicester were less; yet after missing promotion at the play-off stage in successive seasons, you would not bet against them finishing higher than Charlton. But for now, the south London club are on a wing and a prayer and a rare spirit of camaraderie. Long may it continue.

Goals: Chapple (31) 1-0; Agnew (86) 1-1; Pitcher pen (87) 2-1.

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Vaughan; Pitcher, Chapple, McLeary, Minto; Pardew (Brown, 14), Robinson, Walsh (Linger, 86), Grant; Leaburn, Nelson. Substitute not used: Lawson (gk).

Leicester City (4-4-2): Ward; Grayson, Whitlow, Hill, Willis (Philpott, 52); Oldfield, Thompson, Agnew, Ormondroyd (Gee, 80); Speedie, Joachim. Substitute not used: Poole (gk).

Referee: G Poll (Berkhamsted).