Football: Referee takes the shine off Derby day

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WHEN DRAWN on the subject of referee Mike Reed's performance, Jim Smith chose his words carefully. No wrath, just anxiety. "It was worrying," the Derby County manager said.

No wonder. Five of seven bookings collected by Derby players including their key defender, Igor Stimac, who is on track for suspension after his fourth yellow card in as many matches. Smith, at 57, the elder statesman of Premiership managers and soon to be honoured by the Football Writers' Association, shook his head wearily.

Smith could have said that he does not know what the game is coming to but long experience teaches discretion.

Stimac was more forthright. Standing in the press room following the 2-1 victory at Charlton that raised unbeaten Derby to fourth place, he expressed understandable confusion. "Referees should be looking for bad fouls, not things that don't really matter," he said.

Apart from Reed's fussy interpretation of the laws, there was his apparent indifference to Eddie Youds' rough-housing in Derby's goalmouth at corner kicks - "referees are supposed to be keeping their eyes on what goes on in there," Smith said - and the dubious 89th minute penalty converted by Clive Mendonca that brought Derby under heavy pressure.

When a manager of Smith's standing expresses concern about an issue that goes beyond inconsistency, it is surely time for the appropriate authorities to take notice.

However, in finding themselves in danger of giving up two points, Derby had only themselves to blame. A goal up after only five minutes when Paulo Wanchope clinically finished off a four-pass move that shredded Charlton's defence, they should have doubled the two-goal lead that came on the hour from Francesco Baiano's elegant free-kick.

Wanchope was the principal culprit, choosing extravagance over simplicity - a fault that might cause Smith to tear out his hair if he had any left.

Charlton's second successive defeat, after an encouraging start to their Premiership adventure, freshened the question of whether they are good enough to consolidate.

"The players aren't down," their manager, Alan Curbishley, said. "They know we played better against Manchester United than the score suggested and deserved more than we got today. Look at how many terrific saves their goalkeeper made. We'll be alright."

The trouble is that Charlton have begun to leak goals. Four at Old Trafford last week, two more against Derby, who were never really at their best. The return of Richard Rufus from suspension will strengthen Charlton's back line, but they are seriously short of pace in vital positions. "I'm looking around," Curbishley added, "but the time to make judgements will be when we have played 10 games."

Derby are now where Charlton would like to be. Established in the Premiership with a blend of youth and experience, the result of Smith's astute team- building. Perhaps Wanchope will remain too fitful, Dean Sturridge too much of a promiser, but their growing confidence was evident in a formation that had Wanchope, Sturridge and Baiano as attackers.

The risks Derby are prepared to take emphasises the trust placed in Stimac, whose astute interceptions frustrated Charlton as much as Russell Hoult's reliable goalkeeping.

Charlton were more huff and puff than purposeful, their eagerness to get wide undermined by poor deliveries from promising positions. Paul Mortimer's introduction improved their chances, his pass to Mendonca leading to another fine save. The downside of this substitution came when Mortimer was caught in possession, enabling Derby to spring a counter attack that brought a free-kick on the front edge of Charlton's penalty area.

Baiano had a look, then curled a shot into the top-left corner. Shortly afterwards, the Italian was taken off. Its eems Jim Smith can now afford such luxuries.

Goals: Wanchope (5) 0-1; Baiano (6) 0-2; Mendonca (pen 89, pen) 1-2.

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Ilic; Wills, Brown, Youds, Powell; Newton (Jones, 72), Kinsella (Mortimer, h-t), Redfearn, Robinson; Hunt, Mendonca. Substitutes not used: Barness, Balmer, Petterson (gk).

Derby County (3-4-3): Hoult; Prior, Stimac, Laursen; Delap, Carsley, Bohinen, Schoor (Powell, 46); Baiano (Eranio, 67), Wanchope, Sturridge. Substitutes not used: Harper, Burton, Poom (gk).

Referee: M Reed (Birmingham).

Bookings: Charlton: Youds, Mortimer. Derby: Schnoor, Stimac, Sturridge, Wanchope, Eranio.

Man of the match: Stimac.

Attendance: 19,516.