Football: Ricard puts fear of the drop into Charlton

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The Independent Online
Middlesbrough 2

Ricard 35

Mustoe 60

Charlton Athletic 0

Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 34,529

WHILE MOST sporting eyes were focused elsewhere, Charlton missed the chance to sneak three points ahead of Everton and Blackburn on the fringes of the relegation zone and now appear to be in the most parlous of positions.

"I wanted a little more oomph from us," said the Charlton manager, Alan Curbishley. "We didn't have that cutting edge in many areas and we've got to get that back. The players realise it is still in our own hands as we have four games at home and two away, but we need to get some wins and we need to get them quickly."

As Charlton once more contemplate the Nationwide, Middlesbrough now eye Europe a little keener, as this victory keeps them in the race for the once derided Intertoto Cup.

Yet in an incompetent opening 30 minutes, which started inauspiciously when Brian Deane took to the pitch with his name misspelt on the back of his shirt, neither side drew any inspiration from the high stakes they were playing for.

Indeed, by the 17th minute, the Boro crowd had become so distracted by the drab fare that they began cheering Alun Armstrong warning up on the touchline after a season's absence.

Charlton, fielding the same 11 who finished the win over West Ham on Monday, were a little more direct in their approach, but only one opening came, when Gary Pallister, in his 500th League appearance, allowed Martin Pringle to sneak in behind him and fire a shot at Mark Schwarzer.

At the other end, the game's pivotal confrontation was developing. Hamilton Ricard was giving Richard Rufus a rough ride but seemingly with little reward - in the 18th minute he rolled rather too easily off the defender's shoulder and referee Uriah Rennie quickly dismissed any thoughts of a penalty. A minute later, Ricard's overhead kick caused Deane to collide heavily with Andy Petterson, Charlton's third-choice keeper. As the home crowd again called for Armstrong, Deane shook off the pain and came to his senses.

In the 35th minute he cushioned a header into Ricard's path. Once again, Rufus appeared to get the better of the Colombian, sliding in to block his shot, but the ball ballooned unkindly and Ricard hooked home his 15th League goal of the season.

Charlton made a better start to the second half but, aside from an early corner, it served only to push Rufus's relations with Ricard beyond the legal. In the 51st minute he powered into him from behind, setting up a central free-kick which Paul Gascoigne curled just wide.

By now Charlton were quaking whenever the Colombian was near the ball. Just his presence allowed Dean Gordon to fire in a fine low shot which Petterson did extremely well to tip round and then his headed touch opened the way for Deane. This time Petterson saved well with his legs but he could do nothing a minute later when Ricard's lay-off found Robbie Mustoe, who lifted the ball into the net.

Charlton were beaten and as Middlesbrough rotated their strikers, Armstrong, who scored seven goals in 11 appearances at the end of last season, could twice have made the scoreline more emphatic.

A good day for Ricard, a bad one for John Barnes, who lost the veteran's midfield battle to Gascoigne.