Curbishley gives Murphy licence to rip Albion apart

West Bromwich Albion 1

Charlton Athletic 2
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The Independent Football

New blood was required in the manager's office, they said, to motivate a squad of serial over-achievers. After 10 years in sole charge and 15, in all, as a Charlton manager, the man touted as a future England coach faced a watershed summer.

Could he, once again, freshen up his playing staff and mould another efficient passing team to please local tastes and make a bid for a top-six finish?

Curbishley listened, reflected and then acted. New blood was infused into the playing staff, not the manager's office, the team was rejuvenated and the squad strengthened in depth.

For the first time since the sale of Scott Parker to Chelsea for £10m in January 2004, he could field a balanced midfield that defended as well as it could attack. And, on Saturday, he took a 22-man squad to the Hawthorns, leaving six excellent players, including Matt Holland, in the stands.

The arrival, on loan from Chelsea ironically, of Alexei Smertin, to play alongside Radostin Kishishev in central roles, gave Danny Murphy licence to kill with his creative skills.

On Saturday, this trio dominated the first half as a feeble West Bromwich conceded two goals and crashed towards a third successive home defeat in the Premiership. For Charlton, it was a fourth away victory that cemented their grip on second place behind a near-flawless Chelsea, who had won 2-0 at the Valley the previous weekend.

"This is the first time I've really had a strong squad, with real quality in depth," Curbishley said. "We've got good players, like Jason Euell, on the injured list but the bench was strong and there were six good players in the stands. We've made a great start - so let's just see how it goes."

West Bromwich, as their manager Bryan Robson conceded, are embroiled already in a relegation battle. They will need all the courage, guile and belief that were missing in Saturday's opening 45 minutes if they are to succeed again. "Yes, we are in a fight, and we are not kidding ourselves," he said, adding that he had believed, wrongly, that his players had overcome the psychological difficulties left behind by last season's long struggle for survival.

Here, in the second period, inspired by a home debut goal from Curtis Davies, the £3m signing from Luton Town, they roared back into the game, and almost deserved a point, but never touched the sublime heights of Charlton's strolling combination play in the first when Murphy, with a penalty and a tap-in, scored twice.

"If I knew why we played one way in the first half and such a different way in the second, then I would be a much better coach," said Robson, who talked last week of creating a Curbishley-like dynasty at West Bromwich. "It's not something I can put my finger on, but we have to make better starts. I thought they'd got over last season, but clearly there is some work to do."

A phone call to the Valley for a friendly chat might not be such a bad idea, Bryan.

Goals: Murphy pen (9) 0-1; Murphy (31) 0-2; Davies (51) 1-2.

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Kirkland; Watson, Davies, Clement, Robinson; Gera, Wallwork, Johnson (Kamara, 46), Greening; Earnshaw (Horsfield, 69), Campbell (Ellington, 69). Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Moore.

Charlton Athletic (4-3-3): Andersen; Young, Perry, Hreidarsson, Powell (Hughes, 83); Smertin, Murphy (Spector, 83), Kishishev; Rommedahl (Bothroyd, 62), Bent, Thomas. Substitutes not used: Myhre (gk), El Karkouri.

Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).

Booked: Charlton Athletic Kishishev.

Man of the match: Murphy.

Attendance: 23,909.