Football: What a Pitcher]

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers . . . . .0

Charlton Athletic. . . . .1

IT WAS the night when money was mocked: Charlton Athletic, the archetypal lower-division shoestring operators, knocking Blackburn Rovers, who can buy internationals and build towering stands at will, out of the FA Cup.

Steve Gritt, who along with Alan Curbishley has assembled a team for a 10th of the pounds 3.3m Blackburn spent on Alan Shearer, is less surprised than most by the week of the underdog. 'One of the reasons why teams from a lower league do well (against bigger clubs) is because they know more about the Premiership teams, who get so much exposure on television and in the press,' Gritt said.

Charlton's players even knew what Alan Shearer consumed before facing them - chicken and beans - following an in-depth Match of the Day profile on the Blackburn goalscorer. Des Lynam had even made a joke about it: 'Chicken and beanz meanz goals.' But not against Charlton.

'While we knew a lot about them,' Gritt said, 'they didn't know as much about us, although they did send reps to watch us.'

Tuesday was lived as a normal day for Charlton - it just had an extraordinary conclusion. The away-day routine was followed, with Gritt and Curbishley preparing their charges as if for a League game against someone of their own class. 'We treated it like any other game,' Gritt said of the fourth-round replay.

The match tactics were straightforward: ignore the individual and collective reputations opposite, play without fear and close those famous blue-and-white- halved shirts down early. 'Obviously against a team like Blackburn you pay a bit more attention to one or two players,' Gritt added. 'But if you worry too much about one or two, Blackburn have so many others. We were more concerned with what we were going to do. We knew what they were capable of.'

Motivation was simple. 'When you get a chance to play against teams like Blackburn, or in Bolton's case Arsenal, or any team in a league above you, you want to prove a point,' Gritt continued. 'The players want to prove a point that they are just as good as Premier League players if given the chance.'

Incentives varied. Micky Salmon, Charlton's 29-year-old goalkeeper, managed only one game for Blackburn, his first club, before moving on. His younger team-mates, like the excellent Darren Pitcher and Scott Minto, relished ruining a few expensive reputations and making names for themselves in an increasingly ruthless career.

The Valiants' zeal enabled Gritt and Curbishley to secure their initial objective. 'We went out with the intention of stopping them play for the first 20 minutes,' Gritt said. 'We knew they started very quickly. What we tried to do was not let them get their momentum going but to gets ours going. To get a goal in the first 15 minutes was a bonus.'

The unexpected bonus from Pitcher - which eventually proved the matchwinner - did not alter Charlton's tactics. 'It's very dangerous when you take a lead to try to sit back and defend it,' Gritt said. 'I know we got penned back a bit in the second half but sitting on the lead was not our intention.'

Charlton's tenacity, at home and away, ensured them victory over the Premiership's second-placed club, who stumbled to their first defeat in 12 games.

Gritt knows his players' headline- making display - more dramatic than the other shocks as it occurred on a separate night - has alerted rapacious Premiership clubs to the riches at The Valley. Minto was reportedly a target for Arsenal while Pitcher was valued at pounds 1.5m in stories linking the 24-year-old midfielder with Derby County and Rovers themselves.

At the moment it remains tabloid talk, although Roger Alwen, the Charlton chairman, has already made a profit from Pitcher, whom he backed to score. 'There's been a lot of speculation since Tuesday regarding Pitcher but to be honest we have not had any contact from anyone,' Gritt said. 'The media interest might elevate one or two into the spotlight and might attract one or two scouts to watch us, but we are attracting quite a few anyway because we're doing well. Other clubs want to know why.'

Cup celebrity can prove a mixed blessing, the heady exposure distracting from the championship slog. Gritt is quick to refocus wandering minds. 'The players should be motivated by getting at least a play-off spot. The result the other night should prove to them that they are capable of beating better sides. Now we've got to go and prove it against sides in our own league as well.'

But none will forget the Ewood feeling - a night, in Alwen's words, 'to look back on and say, 'I was there' '.

(Photographs omitted)

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