Football: Hunt the saboteur

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Charlton Athletic 4

Tiler 29, Mills 73, Hunt 87, Redfearn pen 90

West Ham United 2

Rufus og 17, Berkovic 40

Attendance: 20,043

THE CHARLTON manager, Alan Curbishley, called his side "the neutrals' favourites" after this enthralling win, but many more performances like this and they'll soon be the nation's favourite. Coming from 2-1 behind to finish up trouncing West Ham, who had held the Premiership's leaders, Aston Villa, only a week ago, served only to confirm their growing reputation as a fighting side with no little verve to their game.

Curbishley will have drawn extra satisfaction from this result, having started his own playing career at West Ham. To emphasise the close ties between the two clubs, Charlton shared West Ham's ground in the early 1990's during their enforced absence from The Valley.

But Curbishley will not want to leave comebacks like this so late again. It is too soon to talk of earning crucial points to stave off relegation but if Charlton are near the bottom of the table and find themselves 2- 1 down with only 17 minutes to go come next spring, the tension may be too much for them to play the uninhibited football they produced yesterday. For West Ham, the collapse will bring back memories of their 4-3 defeat against Wimbledon earlier this season, when they surrendered a 3-0 lead. It is also the sort of result that will give Rio Ferdinand nightmares as he seeks to impress the England coach, Glenn Hoddle.

Curbishley admitted afterwards that he started out with a three-man defence, feeling he finally had the personnel to justify such a ploy. He must have been rethinking that decision at half-time though, as West Ham took advantage of Charlton's unfamiliarity with the system to establish a 2-1 lead.

It was through a simple corner that West Ham took the lead in the 18th minute. Frank Lampard hit the ball to the far post and though Ian Wright wheeled away to celebrate scoring, television replays suggested a headed own goal by Richard Rufus.

From then on it was constant entertainment as Charlton's heads refused to go down and West Ham were eager to strike back on the counter-attack. Shaka Hislop in West Ham's goal had pulled off a couple of impressive saves early on, but he was helpless when Carl Tiler equalised from six yards after a goalmouth scramble.

The Hammers struck back in the 40th minute though, when Wright found himself clear outside the box and passed to an unmarked Eyal Berkovic, who tapped in from close range. Charlton had an effort ruled out for offside a minute later.

West Ham's collapse, described by their manager, Harry Redknapp, as "disappointing", started in the 73rd minute. Danny Mills, a thorn in West Ham's side all afternoon on the right-hand flank, popped up to head in Paul Mortimer's corner from short range.

That was the cue for West Ham to sit back, but Andy Hunt, with just about his only shot on goal, turned in the area and beat Hislop at his near post two minutes from time. Neil Redfearn's injury-time penalty after John Robinson had been hauled down was merely the cherry on the Charlton cake.