CHARLTON'S PLIGHT at the wrong end of the Premiership worsened significantly last night with a defeat that Tottenham had at first not looked sufficiently interested to inflict on them. For 20 minutes it seemed as if the visitors would provide the limp performance of a team with nothing to play for, infuriating their manager, George Graham, and delighting the home side.
Mark Kinsella took advantage with an early goal to raise the expectations of another capacity crowd but Tottenham belatedly raised their game, equalising through Steffen Iversen just before the hour and going ahead 12 minutes from time with Sol Campbell's header. There was worse to come for Charlton, conceding twice more in the last minute, which sent them into the bottom three on goal difference.
Although it was the first time they have been beaten at home by more than a single goal, victory is now imperative either at Everton on Saturday or the following week at home to Blackburn, who now sit just above them with a game in hand.
If 4-1 was not an entirely fair scoreline - Charlton should have led 2-0 early in the second half and were twice denied an equaliser later by fine saves from Ian Walker - the failure to beat a weary Leeds United at The Valley on Saturday, when Paul Mortimer missed a penalty, was made to look even more costly.
Alan Curbishley, the Charlton manager, shell-shocked as he may have been, was still in no mood to throw in the towel, sodden as it would have been on a night of driving rain.
"If we can win two of the next four games, we'll have a good chance of staying up," he said. "Everton were dead and buried two weeks ago but after two wins on the spin they're almost safe."
He knows, however, that his team will need to rely on fellow strugglers losing ground as well as his own team finding new reserves of the determination they have relied upon all season.
After seeing Tottenham raise their tally of goals away from White Hart Lane, from only 12 in 16 games to 16 in 17, George Graham wore the air of a headmaster who has had to chastise his pupils for slackness before achieving the desired results. "We were a bit too casual in the first 20 minutes," he said. "We had to play with more purpose and did that."
After a delayed kick-off caused by traffic congestion, Charlton's loyal crowd were given a perfect reward - a goal within five minutes. Andy Hunt sent Mortimer down the left for a cross that Graham Stuart at the far post turned back for Kinsella to sidefoot calmly past Walker.
It took Tottenham until midway through the first half to settle and even when they did, abundant possession came to nothing until 12 minutes after the interval. The impressive Iversen then played a smart one-two with Tim Sherwood before beating Andy Petterson, who until then had not been required to make a save.
Charlton could not complain at conceding the goal, yet ought to have been further ahead at the time. Martin Pringle was squeezed out after he appeared to have got round Campbell and the Swede then sent Hunt clear, only for his striking partner to shoot weakly at Walker.
Graham risked damage to his best coat in the uncivil weather by dashing out to rebuke a linesman for not signalling a penalty following Chris Powell's challenge on Stephen Carr. He need not have worried as three goals rained in during the final 12 minutes.
Campbell left Charlton in the soup by stooping to head in Darren Anderton's corner and after Walker had thwarted Hunt and Stuart, David Ginola and the substitute Jose Dominguez went through a tiring defence to send Charlton's loyalists miserably into the night.
Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Petterson; Bowen, Tiler, Rufus, Powell; Stuart, Kinsella, K Jones, Mortimer (Barnes, 65); Hunt, Pringle (Mendonca, 76). Substitutes not used: Salmon (gk), Brown, Barness.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Carr, Nilsen, Campbell, Taricco; Anderton, Sherwood, Freund (Nielsen, 73), Ginola; Armstrong (Dominguez, 73), Iversen. Substitutes not used: Baardsen (gk), Fox, Young.
Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury).
PREMIERSHIP SURVIVAL FIGHT
P W D L F A Pts
Blackburn 33 7 11 15 35 46 32
Charlton 34 7 11 16 36 48 32
Southampton 34 8 7 19 31 63 31
Nottm Forest 34 4 9 21 30 66 21