Birmingham 0 Charlton 1

Bent boosts Curbishley's claim
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Like England in Belfast, Curbishley began with a 4-5-1; unlike England, Charlton made it work, perhaps because they have players who actually fit the system. "There's been a lot of criticism of 4-5-1 after what happened this week," Curbishley said. "But with [Jerome] Thomas, [Dennis] Rommedahl and [Darren] Bent something can always happen and we broke quite well."

Bent, in particular, looks at home as a lone striker. He may be rather more mobile than the classic target man, but he is still an awkward, muscular presence blessed with significant aerial ability. There were those at his former club Ipswich who questioned his finishing, but Charlton fans would regard such doubts as laughably eccentric.

He won yesterday's game with his fifth goal of the season, meeting Thomas's 15th-minute cross with a powerful downward header. Bent eluded his marker Jamie Clapham easily, but Thomas deserves great credit, both for the delivery and the intelligent way in which he created space for the cross.

There is a beauty, too, in the way Bent leaps for a header, with his seeming ability to hang as though in one of the new wave of martial arts films, before thrusting his neck towards the ball. He can do the less spectacular flicks, too, and with more conviction in his jabbed lob Rommedahl would have put Charlton two up five minutes later as Bent touched on a long punt from Stephan Andersen.

The Charlton keeper was perhaps fortunate still to be on the field after handling outside his box, and Birmingham also felt hard done by just after the half-hour as a Matthew Upson header was blocked by Chris Powell. Birmingham screamed penalty, but Halsey ruled it had hit the full-back's chest.

"That just about sums my bastard day up," said the Birmingham manager, Steve Bruce. "From where I was sitting it looked a penalty, but I thought the referee got it right with the goalkeeper."

There was further misfortune after half-time. "I can't ask them for more than they gave in the second half," Bruce went on. "I can't remember how many crosses came into the box." The pressure, though, yielded few chances. The only save Andersen had to make was from Walter Pandiani's dipping first-half volley.

That is testament to Charlton's defence, in which Chris Perry and Powell were both superb. Credit must also go to Curbishley. As the Birmingham pressure mounted, he made the switch to 4-4-2, which disrupted the home side's flow sufficiently that, while Charlton remained on the back foot, they were never under siege.

Players oozing commitment, playing to their system and responding intelligently to tactical changes: what more could England want?