Back-to-front Dublin dumbfounds Charlton

Charlton Athletic 1 - Leicester City 2

Mention the FA Cup and Charlton turn to jelly. At half-time yesterday they paraded a couple of old-timers, Peter Croker and Bert Johnson, the only survivors of the team who won the trophy in 1947. It served merely as a cruel reminder of better times, since Charlton's Cup progress in recent years has been hesitant at best, and usually non-existent.

Mention the FA Cup and Charlton turn to jelly. At half-time yesterday they paraded a couple of old-timers, Peter Croker and Bert Johnson, the only survivors of the team who won the trophy in 1947. It served merely as a cruel reminder of better times, since Charlton's Cup progress in recent years has been hesitant at best, and usually non-existent.

Having struggled past Yeovil in the last round they were comprehensively outplayed by Leicester City, a Championship side whose better days include four losing appearances in the final when it was staged at Wembley. They may not be quite good enough to make it five, but a place in the quarter-final draw suits their manager, Craig Levein, nicely, and the manner of victory could not have been better: a headed goal in the dying seconds by the all-round veteran Dion Dublin at the end where the Leicester supporters were massed.

"A draw would have been a reasonable result," said Levein rather surprisingly, whereas Charlton's manager, Alan Curbishley, was much franker and more accurate in his assessment: "We got turned over. They were quicker, sharper and more aggressive. Leicester reminded me of us six or seven years ago."

Levein was much more on the mark with his tribute to Dublin and Nikos Dabizas, not only for the goals which won this tie but also for the way they defended, with a combination of experience and enthusiasm which offered Ian Walker the quietest of games in goal.

Until Dean Kiely conceded a corner with a fine save, again from Dublin, with time almost up, Charlton seemed certain of a replay. "I was looking at the clock and thinking if we go to Leicester we can't play that badly again," said Curbishley. "But we never got the opportunity." The corner on the left, aimed at the near post by Gareth Williams, was met by Dublin with one of those perfectly placed headers which were once his trademark.

As Curbishley readily admitted, it was no more than Leicester deserved. With their captain, Danny Tiatto, dictating the work rate and Keith Gillespie reminding us of the way he once performed for Newcastle, Leicester dominated the congestion zone that was midfield, where both sides had five players. At least Leicester's lone striker, Mark de Vries, put himself about to good purpose, albeit at times over-dramatically, whereas Charlton's Shaun Bartlett could not even get a decent supply with which to challenge the Dabizas-Dublin penalty-area dominance.

Charlton needed more than half an hour to muster their first shot, a Bryan Hughes volley turned over by Walker. To deepen their embarrassment, Charlton were undone by a pair of set-piece goals. The first came seven minutes from half-time. Joey Gudjonsson's free-kick cleared the straining De Vries and Hermann Hreidarsson and fell precisely to Dabizas for a routine scoring header.

Astonishingly, Charlton mustered an equaliser in time added on. A run by Paul Konchesky opened space for a cross which Bartlett reached before Dabizas. Leicester could have been in front again after the restart, but Gillespie headed straight at Kiely. Jerome Thomas, who replaced Dennis Rommedahl, livened Charlton briefly with his running down both wings, but an indication of Charlton's desperation was the commitment into the attack first of Jonatan Johansson and then, near the end, Jason Euell.

"I was trying to win it," said Curbishley. "I thought we couldn't carry on playing so badly. The game was there to be won." And so it was, but by Leicester with that joyously celebrated Dublin strike.

Levein, whose face does not give much away, said: "Financially, it was a big win for us." It was also, without doubt, a boost to the team's confidence. As for Charlton and their fans, Curbishley summed it up with the comment: "If I was sitting in the crowd I would be upset as well."

Comments