Football: Stuart header grabs lifeline

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The Independent Online
West Ham United 0 Charlton Athletic 1

ON A THRILLING afternoon in East London it seems apposite to paraphrase Mark Twain. Reports of Charlton Athletic's death have been exaggerated. After a tense match at Upton Park Alan Curbishley's feisty side leapt three places and out of the relegation zone thanks to a 75th-minute goal from Graham Stuart.

After the match Curbishley revealed that he had employed a more subtle approach than last season's do-or-die Wembley heroics.

"I felt on Saturday it was a bit passionless for a local derby," he said. "We came here determined today - we had a pre-match at the Valley. I wanted the players to sit in the empty stadium and get the message that to fill it up we need to stay in the Premiership. I think they got the message. I made a couple of changes when we had a couple of injuries and I wondered if I'd done the right thing. It was a fantastic performance. We just needed to get that goal."

It is of, course, too early to say that this result has rescued Charlton's season, but the boost from this determined victory will be enormous.

John Barnes, 36 in November and wearing the No 37 shirt, made his first start for Charlton and had a calming effect if only to encourage them to look up from time to time.

Both sides should have scored within the opening five minutes. Andy Hunt had a clear chance within a minute as Charlton pressed forward but West Ham weathered the storm and Paul Kitson was equally wasteful after taking two attempts to beat goalkeeper Sasa Ilic.

Marc-Vivien Foe is turning into the Patrick Vieira figure that the West Ham manager, Harry Redknapp, proclaimed he had purchased. This is true even to the extent of his regular bookings as the Cameroon international made his awkward presence felt amid the chaotic midfield mire in his marking role on Barnes.

West Ham reverted to 4-4-2 in the absence of the injured Rio Ferdinand. Consequently Foe was also able to advance upfield, given that his role as a defensive midfield shield was superfluous.

The match came to life in an extended conclusion to the first half, one containing nine minutes of added play. After a lovely ball from Barnes to substitute Mark Bowen, on for the injured John Robinson, the replacement slid a cross into Stuart, who missed from less than six yards.

The chance gone, West Ham counterattacked and almost immediately had the ball in the Charlton net. A fine Frank Lampard shot had been palmed over his head by Ilic and although Marc Keller beat the goalkeeper to the rebound he was adjudged to be offside.

Ilic suffered blows to his head and a knee and was taken from the pitch on a stretcher, Andy Petterson taking over, and Paolo Di Canio rounded off an extravagant first half with an overhead kick from Trevor Sinclair's cross which flew over.

The second half opened in similarly breathless vein. Bowen's shot was well saved by Shaka Hislop, while Lampard saw a fine effort from 25 yards fly just over the crossbar. For Charlton Hunt's shot was well saved by Hislop and Pringle was close with a header.

West Ham came again as Kitson threaded the ball through to Di Canio only for replacement Petterson to smother as he rushed from his line.

With less than 15 minutes to go Charlton were presented with their Premiership lifeline by hesitation from Hislop and his left-back Scott Minto. From a Danny Mills free kick they both hesitated and as the ball bounced Stuart pounced to head Charlton's winning goal.

There was still time for Di Canio to hit the side netting as Charlton entered a nervous period of added time.

West Ham United (4-4-2): Hislop; Ruddock, Pearce, Minto, Lomas; Sinclair, Lampard, Foe, Keller; Di Canio, Kitson (Berkovic 81). Substitutes not used: Forrest (g-k), Moncur, Potts, Lazaridis.

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Ilic (Petterson 44); Mills, Powell, Rufus, Tiler; Kinsella, Robinson (Bowen 39), Barnes, Stuart; Pringle, Hunt (Jones 84). Substitutes not used: Youds, Bright.

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).

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