Charlton Athletic 3 Brentford 1:Bent curbs Brentford's enthusiasm

England prospect strikes early to spark Charlton but Bees go down fighting to the last
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The Independent Football

Martin Allen had talked about marching - rather than riding - into The Valley but the gap of more than a league between these two sides proved decisive as Charlton reached the last eight of the FA Cup for only the third time since they won the competition back in 1947. They have never been beyond the quarter-finals since.

Brentford were not exactly cannon fodder in some footballing Charge of the Light Brigade -they are too capable for that - but they did bravely carry the fight throughout a committed contest with little prospect of real reward. They were also undone, to extend the image, by a Russian. Alexei Smertin was the man of the match, controlling the lively midfield battles.

"Non-stop attack," said the Brentford managerafter his team's cavalry charge. At the end, Allen said, there were four forwards, no defenders, and he was loving it. "I asked them at half-time," he added of his players, "are you going to sit back and hope and wait, lay down and try and get out without getting spanked, or collectively get at them?" It was the latter, of course, and it ended in glorious failure.

They were undone by their own mistakes. Goals at the start of the match and just before the interval were "killer blows" Allen said. Charlton's Alan Curbishley agreed. "There are always good times to score but they were great times," he said, adding that Brentford had served "prior warning" of their threat by winning their last five League games. "We set about it right," Curbishley added.

By doing so, his side have given themselves a real opportunity. Yes, they are a mid-table side, their manager said, but a Cup run was a tangible goal and he feels able to deliver. Who knows, he mused, where it might end.

When the No 5 ball is drawn out tomorrow, Charlton will know their next opponents but having disposed of the lowest-ranking team in the last 16, it will inevitably get tougher.

Not that Charlton have always found such challenges easy to overcome. Three times in the last four years they have succumbed to teams in divisions below them but once Darren Bent thrashed in his 17th goal of the season with a right-foot shot - after just three minutes - the outcome appeared inevitable. The striker latched on to Radostin Kishishev's hook forward, taking advantage of the ponderous defending of Michael Turner.

The Premiership side were without the Cup-tied Marcus Bent, with Jay Bothroyd replacing him and getting involved in a long-running tussle with the physical Sam Sodje which, along with a minor skirmish at the end of the ground housing the 5,500 Brentford fans, threatened to overshadow proceedings.

Although Allen's side pushed on they provided little real threat - a header by Lloyd Owusu which drifted wide was the best - before Ricky Newman was penalised for a handball outside the area. The free-kick was touched to Bothroyd whose powerful shot from 20 yards beat the goalkeeper Stuart Nelson. It was, indeed, a decisive moment.

At the break, Allen, who paid tribute to Charlton's resolve but revelled in saying that the only millions he could pay for players was "in lire" having assembled a squad of free transfers and rejects, was on the pitch to exhort his fans.

He had done the same to the players in the dressing room. But the threat still came from Charlton. A header by Chris Perry was straight at Nelson who eventually held on while Luke Young drove over after Smertin had deftly touched Bent's cross into his path.

"I honestly thought that if we got a goal in the first 15 minutes we would go on to win," Allen said. Instead they conceded a third when the substitute Shaun Bartlett - with his first touch - slid in Bryan Hughes, who showed the composure to beat Nelson with a low, side-footed shot from the angle. It was the 15th FA Cup goal of his career.

Still, and to their undying credit, Brentford attacked. The substitutes Ryan Peters and Isaiah Rankin wasted chances before a free-kick by Jay Tabb was diverted over by the goalkeeper Thomas Myhre with an outstretched arm. And then they scored. A scramble in the area and Rankin was alert enough to turn the ball into the net.

It offered hope and still Brentford attacked. This time, from a corner, Sodje beat Myhre to the ball but his header cannoned off the near post. "God that last four minutes would have been exciting," Allen mused about his side's prospects had the ball gone in. "And in my mind we definitely would have won it." With that kind of belief he may well have been right but, in truth, Charlton deserved to progress. Yet Brentford were magnificent in defeat.

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