Football: Charlton start to turn Valley into a fortress

Charlton Athletic 4 West Ham United 2
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The Independent Online
SIX YEARS on from their last derby against West Ham at The Valley, Charlton are still beating their neighbours out of doors. The difference is that last time their hopes for the season were soon to founder on the enforced sale of Robert Lee to Newcastle. No such problems nowadays for Alan Curbishley, who even believes he has the wherewithal to operate a squad rotation system, like Chelsea - though I doubt whether we shall see any redundant internationals on their bench.

Such is Charlton's all-round strength that their manager now feels that he has the personnel to switch from a back four to a back three whenever the occasion demands, as it did on Saturday. The use of wing-backs Chris Powell and particularly England Under-21's Danny Mills were to play a significant part in West Ham's undoing.

With 65 minutes gone West Ham were somehow still leading this game when Charlton introduced John Robinson - as if poor Julian Dicks was not having a hard enough time of it as it was against the speedy Mills - and, in the words of Harry Redknapp, "overloaded down that side against us - it was a threat which we couldn't really handle."

It was from a corner conceded down the right that Mills headed the equaliser and after Andy Hunt had put Charlton ahead with the best goal of the game with two minutes remaining, a shot which flashed in off a post, Robinson won a penalty which Neil Redfearn converted. In their desperation to keep Charlton at arm's length West Ham incurred three more bookings, taking them to 27 for the season, which is almost as many as the bad boys of Everton.

The win in the end was far too comprehensive for Curbishley to have had any misgivings about how the game might be reported. "Please don't say it was a case of West Ham playing badly," he pleaded as he departed from the press room afterwards, "like you did last week at Chelsea and against Arsenal and Liverpool before that."

Charlton will need a few more spunky performances like this one, though, to survive this season as long as their defence looks as fragile as it did here. In mitigation, they were without the substantial Sasa Ilic in goal after the concussion received in the previous week's game at Chelsea. Curbishley blamed his side's vulnerability on defending with an uncharacteristically high back line, for which they might have been made to pay dearly had Ian Wright and the still subdued John Hartson converted chances early in the second half when the Hammers were already leading 2-1.

It was an attacking performance which thrilled the Valley crowd and would have unsettled better defensive sides than West Ham; the new stadium is becoming a brute of a place to visit. Quite how Charlton managed to go in at half-time 2-1 down, though, one will never know Well, Richard Rufus might, since he headed West Ham's opening goal, even if the crafty Wright tried to claim it, while the defence was conspicuous by its absence when Eyal Berkovic restored West Ham's lead following Carl Tiler's scrambled equaliser.

Goals: Rufus og (17) 0-1; Tiler (29) 1-1; Berkovic (41) 1-2; Mills (74) 2-2; Hunt (88) 3-2; Redfearn pen (90) 4-2.

Charlton Athletic (3-5-2): Petterson; Rufus, Youds, Tiler (Robinson, 65); Mills, Mortimer, Kinsella, Redfearn, Powell; Hunt, Mendonca (S Jones, 84). Substitutes not used: Bright, K Jones, Royce (gk).

West Ham United (4-4-2): Hislop; Pearce, Ruddock, Ferdinand, Dicks; Sinclair, Berkovic (Moncur, 80), Lampard, Lomas: Hartson, Wright (Kitson, 77). Substitutes not used: Keller, Impey, Forrest (gk).

Referee: N Barry (Lincoln).

Bookings: West Ham Berkovic, Dicks, Moncur.

Man of the match: Mills.

Attendance: 20,043.