Charlton Athletic 1 Middlesbrough 3: Cattermole the catalyst for collapse

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The Independent Football

"Keep the faith", the stadium announcer declared, attempting to reinflate spirits after the final whistle, though you could tell even his heart wasn't really in it. Faith? It is a rapidly dwindling resource here. When even such poor travellers as Middlesbrough - the only team to have been defeated by Watford - turn you over on your own turf it rather confirms that the game is up. An afternoon that began with apprehension ended with air of resignation. Well before the end, it hung around here like a bad smell.

A Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink first-half opener against his former club had augured well for the hosts, but it was soon cancelled out by 18-year-old Lee Cattermole's first goal for Boro. In the second half, Gareth Southgate's side, who possess sufficient talent to establish mid-table respectability, eased to victory with goals from Julio Arca and Yakubu Aiyegbeni, and greatly improved their expectations of Premiership safety.

In contrast, the problems besetting Alan Pardew intensify. Mostly, they are caused by a lack of quality, but there are also other factors at work. "The third goal completely knocked the stuffing out of us," said the Charlton manager, who admitted he was not happy "with the reaction to setbacks - and that's something I don't want to see again".

Southgate suspected Charlton's psychological frailties would ultimately prove crucial and his side played on them. "As soon as we started attacking them, you could see those anxieties appear," he said.

Charlton's FA Cup defeat at Nottingham Forest apart, it had been a reasonable start by Pardew following the bizarre managerial swap-shop with Alan Curbishley. But yesterday, a first home defeat in his new appointment, demonstrated that midfielder Andy Reid apart, Charlton simply do not appear equipped with the class to survive. The return from injury of Darren Bent, pencilled in for the 10 February visit to Manchester United, may enhance their cause, but enough to encourage prospects of survival?

"If Darren had been playing today I thought perhaps we would have won," suggested the Charlton manager. He added: "I see honest characters in the dressing room, but sometimes that's not enough. You need quality. If it's not there, we will need to bring players in."

Lack of goals has bedevilled Charlton, and Pardew is also overseeing the worst defence in the Premiership. But that at least has been bolstered by the acquisition of Manchester City's left-back Ben Thatcher, whose debut his manager described as "terrific". Pardew had demanded more dialogue and, for much of the first half, there was evidence his words had some effect.

Boro had rarely troubled Scott Carson, and when the home side prised a lead it could have been a defining moment; one to kickstart a winning sequence that will be necessary to survive. Captain Matt Holland launched a long ball forward. It struck Emanuel Pogatetz on the head, under pressure from Marcus Bent, and fell kindly for Hasselbaink to strike his effort into the ground and past Mark Schwarzer. The Dutchman, who had been receiving some vocal criticism hitherto, and scored his only other Premiership goal this season against another old club, Chelsea, could be excused his rather inelegant somersault.

The goal merely encouraged an initially cautious Boro. In the final minute of the half, after Stewart Downing's pass inside had been cleverly dummied by Yakubu, Mark Viduka set up Cattermole to drive the ball across Carson, despite protests from the home side that the referee, Mike Dean, had not whistled for a challenge by George Boateng on Reid in the build-up. "He has terrific passion for the game and the club, and has got maturity beyond his years," Southgate said of young Cattermole.

After the interval, Viduka headed down and over at the far post from Boateng's cross. But with Reid's prompting, it was Pardew's men who dominated early in the second half. However, it brought no reward against a defence in which Jonathan Woodgate was unflappable.

Just after the hour, Downing crossed and Hermann Hreidarsson, under pressure from Cattermole, failed to clear. The ball ran loose and Arca had an eternity to place his shot. Four minutes later, Yakubu's spectacular effort from out on the left gave Carson no chance.

There was time for Holland's long-range drive to produce a fine save from Schwarzer. But that was their only threat. They now face Portsmouth, Bolton, Chelsea and Manchester United, before West Ham visit - and the return of Curbishley, the Ghost of Addicks Recent Past.