Football: Pringle's precision bolsters Charlton

Crewe Alexandra 0 Charlton Athletic 2
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The Independent Online
CHARLTON SHRUGGED off Saturday's setback at Birmingham with a relatively straightforward victory last night, first-half goals by Graham Stuart and Martin Pringle lifting them above Ipswich into second place in the First Division. Crewe, enterprising but outclassed, remain rooted in the bottom three after a sixth match without a win.

Mark Kinsella and his cohorts controlled the midfield as Charlton demonstrated their counter-attacking prowess. Crewe stuck manfully to their task, yet did not bring a save worthy of the name from Dean Kiely until he acrobatically tipped over Colin Little's header midway through the second half.

Barely six months ago Charlton were scuffling for Premiership points at places like Old Trafford, Highbury and Anfield. Coming to the Alexandra Stadium was not, however, the culture shock it might have been.

A massive new stand has risen at Gresty Road, dwarfing the other three sides but also depriving Crewe of the cramped setting which might have unsettled Charlton. Alan Curbishley's side certainly settled quickly, Andy Hunt forcing Jason Kearton to save with his leg before they took an early lead.

A 13th-minute thrust along Crewe's right flank led to Pringle reaching the penalty area. The former Benfica striker selflessly squared the ball for Stuart, who more or less ran it in at the far post.

Crewe's bold response belied their lowly status. Eddie Youds' blocking tackle denied Rodney Jack a certain equaliser, before Little volleyed wildly over after Colin Cramb had twisted round Youds.

Charlton's second goal, on the half-hour, also had its origins on their left wing, Pringle heading Hunt's cross down past Kearton. Crewe's frustration immediately intensified when Cramb, presented with a simple tap-in by Little's pass, connected only with fresh air.

One of the keys to Charlton's recovery since their relegation has been continuity; Greg Shields was the only outfield player last night not involved last season. The Scottish right-back, watched by Craig Brown's deputy, Alex Miller, showed his attacking ability with a powerful drive which Kearton did well to push aside at full stretch.

Crewe, by contrast, cashed in their prize asset for pounds 3m, and some cynical locals call the new structure the Seth Johnson Stand. Dario Gradi's positive principles have not changed, but luck has temporarily deserted them. One almighty scramble in the visitors six-yard box in the second half saw the ball strike all manner of Charlton limbs before being cleared.

Crewe Alexandra: (4-4-2): Kearton; Bignot, Lightfoot, Macauley, S Smith; Collins (Lunt, 79), Charnock, Sorvel, Little; Jack, Cramb. Substitutes not used: Unsworth, P Smith, Wright, Welsby (gk)

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Kiely; Shields, Brown, Youds, Powell ; Stuart, James, Kinsella, Robinson (Newton, 74); Pringle (Salako, 80), Hunt. Substitutes not used: Barness, Parker, Fortune (gk).

Referee: J Kirkby (Sheffield).