Football: Goater opens up the class divide

Charlton Athletic 0 Manchester City 1 Goater 48 Half- time: 0-0 Attendance: 20,043
A MANCHESTER CITY team whom their manager, Joe Royle, described as "down to the bare bones" because of illness and injury, showed their pedigree for the Premiership by fighting off - sometimes literally - the energetic challenge of Charlton to confirm they are worthy leaders of the First Division. Victory for Charlton would have taken them above City into top spot, so there could have been no more pressing incentive to please a sold-out stadium. However, once Sean Goater's header sent Manchester ahead a couple of minutes into the second half they indicated clear intent to hang out the "closed" sign.

This is a club, according to the reliable Royle's statistic, who have lost only six of their 50 games since last December, and it was easy to believe. Nick Weaver's excellence in goal complemented an uncompromising defence which denied Charlton, by means fair and foul, to extend an unbeaten run to nine games.

The complacent referee, Roger Furnandiz, appeared set on getting through the 90 minutes without reaching for his book and failed to bear down on some thunderous City challenges which left the striker Clive Mendonca, in particular, battered and limping. The official had no option but to show yellow cards to Kevin Horlock and John Robinson late in the second half when they flailed at each other at the height of Charlton's attacking frustration. Not before time.

Both managers were disparaging about the refereeing, but Alan Curbishley had more cause on his team's behalf. "It was a tough, physical game, which I expected," he said. "No complaints about that, but not to offer protection is wrong. Not being punished allows a player to carry on doing it, whereas if he gets booked he is on his guard. Not to book anyone in the first half beggared belief."

Against a more whistle-happy referee it is likely that City's Dutch centre- back Gerard Wiekens would not have lasted until the interval. "How many more times?" bellowed a Charlton fan as Wiekens clattered Mendonca from behind for the umpteenth foul which did not even draw a word of caution.

So hard up were City for fit players that Gareth Taylor, with an overnight temperature of 103, was deemed to have recovered sufficiently to play, while Mark Kennedy occupied a place on the bench despite a hamstring problem which was serious enough for him not to bother changing. "He was there in case of an epidemic," explained Royle, who had a case of the sniffles himself.

Curbishley opted not to give his new pounds 1m signing, Andy Todd, a closer view of this bruising match than a seat on the bench, explaining that it was a difficult occasion for a debut. In his absence it was the Charlton captain, Mark Kinsella, putting behind him the disappointment of Ireland's exit from the European Championships, who seized the initiative in midfield, though his team were unable to make much of their first-half domination. Andy Hunt's third minute effort on the turn, which missed Weaver's left- hand post by a whisker, turned out to be the closest they came in the half.

Towards the interval City jolted Charlton's confidence, first with a Danny Tiatto low cross shot which Dean Kiely held. Next time Kiely was harder pressed to block Danny Granville's fierce drive and then the follow- up by Jeff Whitley.

That danger was underlined on the restart. When the corner which Kiely had conceded with a save from Whitley was not cleared, Horlock's cross found Goater for a header which Kiely could only thrust into the roof of the goal. "I was disappointed with the free header Goater got," said Curbishley.

Kinsella twice threatened an equaliser. His shot from outside the penalty area was pushed on to the bar by Weaver and rebounded to Martin Pringle, who shovelled it over. Then, with City's supporters interrupting their rendition of "Blue Moon" to whistle anxiously for the end, Kinsella's header was turned over the bar by Weaver.

Royle called it "a tremendous win considering the difficulties," adding: "The message is that we are hard to beat." Curbishley agreed. "This is a big boost for City , but not a disappointment we can't get over."