Bent hands Wigan a reality check

Charlton Athletic 1 Wigan Athletic 0
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The Independent Online

Charlton, meanwhile, ride high in the table alongside the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham. For this happy state of affairs they owe much to Darren Bent, their summer signing from Ipswich, whose goal lifted his season's total to three. Having tried, and failed, to sign Bent before the start of last season, the Charlton manager, Alan Curbishley, is delighted with his new striker's progress. "Scored two goals last week, called into the England squad and got the winner today. We like our players to go along quietly, but I have told him it isn't going to be like this every week. Enjoy it while you can."

As well as that priceless ability to put the ball away, in this case just before half-time with a precise header from Danny Murphy's equally precise short cross, Bent possesses a fine turn of speed, the ability to hold up the ball and to pass it on accurately. No wonder Curbishley called Charlton's performance "fantastic" and praised the way Bent has adapted to a new style of play with his new club, operating solo up front.

Charlton, with three wise heads (Murphy, Radostin Kishishev and loan man Alexei Smertin) in midfield and Jerome Thomas and Dennis Rommedahl running deep and wide, did not take long to blunt opponents who offered plenty of commitment and work-rate but little of the zest which so unsettled Chelsea. As Jewell said: "We tried, but I never really thought we were going to score a goal." Had the quicksilver Henri Camara not been injured playing for Senegal in midweek, it might have been a different story for Wigan. But last season's workhorse, Jason Roberts, is not a racehorse, while the Swede Andreas Johansson was a midfielder unsuccessfully trying to pose as a striker.

In contrast, Charlton's mix, partly out of necessity because of injury to Matt Holland and with the popular Chris Powell back from his loan spell at West Ham, was an effective one. Hermann Hreidarsson moved to the centre of defence, permitting Powell to slot in at his favoured left-back position, where he had an excellent game, pushing forward eagerly and once striking the Wigan bar. Judging by their applause, the Charlton fans enjoyed it almost as much as Powell, who twice emerged from the tunnel at the end to acknowledge the cheers.

Stephan Andersen, deputising in goal for Dean Kiely, who is recovering from a broken finger, can never have enjoyed a quieter afternoon. Not so fortunate was Wigan's keeper, the 33-year-old Mike Pollitt, who finished as their most important player with a string of excellent saves.

He made two of these in quick succession, from Powell and Bent, in the mêlée before Powell struck wood, saved low from Thomas, repelled a fizzer from Bent and, after conceding the goal, saved again from Powell and saw Bent drag an inviting opening wide of his far post.

In the second half Rommedahl belatedly began to exploit the weakness on the left side of Wigan's defence with some incisive running, but he never reproduced the sort of football which made him the scourge of England in Copenhagen last Wednesday and with a quarter of an hour left he was replaced by Jonatan Johansson.

As Curbishley pointed out: "We want more at Charlton of what he did against England in the six-yard box." It was Johansson's thrust to the byline which produced the nearest Charlton came to a second goal, his cross being bundled against an upright from point-blank range - by Bent of course - 10 minutes from the end.

Curbishley called it "a convincing 1-0", while admitting "you are always on edge because the game isn't over". With opposition like this, he need not have fretted. For Jewell, albeit after only two games, the signs are that it could be a long, bleak season. "We can't afford to become a crisis," he admitted. "This, on paper, was a winnable game. Although Charlton are a good side, we need to get better."

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