Albion galvanised by Earnshaw grand slam

Charlton Athletic 1 - West Bromwich Albion 4
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The Independent Football

Having waited nearly all season to win an away match, beleaguered West Bromwich broke their duck in spectacular style against a Charlton side reduced to 10 men by the dismissal of defender Talal El Karkouri after half an hour.

Having waited nearly all season to win an away match, beleaguered West Bromwich broke their duck in spectacular style against a Charlton side reduced to 10 men by the dismissal of defender Talal El Karkouri after half an hour.

Resilience has been known to overcome such a handicap on many previous occasions but Charlton's hopes of rescuing something from what had been regarded beforehand as a straightforward annexation of three points was wrecked by a hat-trick by the diminutive substitute Robbie Earnshaw. Having been brought on in the 64th minute, the Welshman responded with a 15-minute hat-trick which put a severe dent in Charlton's ambitions of European football next season and lifted the escape hatch, if only by a fraction, for Albion and their jubilant followers.

The 4,000 fans jammed into one end of The Valley had been conveyed from the Midlands in buses provided free by the club, not only as a gesture of appreciation but also an invitation to help lift their players to another episode of that long-running Baggies soap, The Great Escape.

Even before El Karkouri was sent packing, Charlton were struggling to contain an Albion robustly led by Geoff Horsfield and benefiting from the knowledgeable presence in midfield of three men familiar with the Manchester United shirt, Ronnie Wallwork, Jonathan Greening and the on-loan Kieran Richardson.

It was Horsfield's head which applied the punishment for Charlton's failure to clear their lines adequately after nine minutes. Jonatan Johansson would have equalised at once but for Russell's Hoult's full-length tip-away when Thomas Gaardsoe underhit a back-pass, and the Finn did level the game rather fortunately soon after. A fine through ball by Jerome Thomas was reached first by Hoult, only for his clearance to rebound off Johansson, permitting him a sidefooted formality.

The game's high, or more correctly, low point was probably something the referee, Mark Halsey, could have done without. He was only in charge because the originally appointed official, Howard Webb, had been stranded en route home following a midweek Uefa Cup game. When El Karkouri went in on Gera it was with such a follow-through that, having struck the Hungarian captain's thigh, his boot next caught him in the face. The red card was flourished as soon as Albion tempers had cooled a little and, as the Charlton manager Alan Curbishley pointed out, the decision changed the game.

"I have seen worse tackles from my players not punished and I have seen worse tackles this season get a yellow card," Curbishley said, adding that he had no sympathy for El Karkouri "because his feet had left the ground". The West Brom manager Bryan Robson did have sympathy, however: "In my day [as a player] it would not have been a sending-off, it would have been a booking. It was a 50-50 decision."

Robson introduced Earnshaw "because I thought another striker would give them more problems". That he certainly did, heading Albion in front again nine minutes after his arrival when the tireless Horsfield returned Paul Robinson's cross. Next a precise defence-splitting pass by Gera left Earnshaw to run on, keep his composure and shoot across Dean Kiely's body, and two minutes from the end Halsey's final act of infuriating Charlton's fans was to award a penalty which Earnshaw tucked away, celebrating the hat-trick with a cartwheel.

"We have given ourselves half a chance to get out of it," claimed Robson. Perhaps, but the sobering statistic is that this was only Albion's fourth victory of the season.

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