Amid all the headlines about Alan Curbishley being interviewed for the England job, it was easy to forget that his Charlton team had a Premiership game yesterday.
Middlesbrough were the visitors to The Valley, the first of two meetings in 10 days between the teams who also come face to face in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup on Thursday week.
Inevitably, yesterday's game was overshadowed by all the talk about Curbishley meeting the Football Association but by the end, it was equally about Darren Bent's latest brace that won the points for Charlton and whether he will make Sven Goran Eriksson's World Cup squad this summer. Most teams rest key players for cup rather than league games at this level but not Boro.
With the return Uefa Cup tie against Roma on Wednesday very much in mind, Steve McClaren made no fewer than nine changes from last week's first leg at the Riverside when Boro carved out a 1-0 lead. The visitors' unfamiliar line-up provided Charlton with a marvellous opportunity but it was McClaren's team who looked far more threatening. Ray Parlour forced Thomas Myhre into a tip-over save and the Norwegian keeper did even better to thwart Massimo Maccarone, one-handed, after terrific work down the left from the 18-year-old Adam Johnson.
Charlton took an age to get going. Bent was as guilty as the rest of his team-mates for the mediocrity but all top strikers need decent service and when Curbishley freshened things up for the second half by throwing on Jason Euell and Jerome Thomas, so Bent was transformed and won the game with his 18th and 19th goals of the season.
First, on 73 minutes, he rose above two defenders to head Chris Powell's cross beyond Schwarzer. Then, with three minutes left, he slid in at the far post to convert Luke Young's centre. In between, Mark Viduka looked to have rescued a point for Boro with an exquisite dipping volley that could well be a contender for goal of the season.
"All Darren can do is put himself in the frame and keep in Sven's face," said Curbishley. The manager's durable team play with a mean streak and grind out results these days after abandoning their expansive style thatdidn't gain enough points. "No one would have thanked me playing entertaining football if we kept losing games," Curbishley said.
McClaren was hugely disappointed with the defeat but has invested in a talented crop of young players which augurs well for the future. "You have to learn about concentration at this level, but you won't dominate many games away from home like we did," he said. "The players I picked were capable of getting a result. Sometimes you don't get what you deserve."
Goals: D Bent (73) 1-0; Viduka (81) 1-1; D Bent (86) 2-1.
Charlton Athletic (4-4-1-1) : Myhre; Young (capt), Hreidarsson, Perry, Powell; Kishishev, Holland, Hughes (Thomas, 46), Ambrose (Bartlett, 76); Bothroyd (Euell, 46); D Bent. Substitutes not used: Andersen (gk), Spector.
Middlesbrough (4-5-1) : Schwarzer; McMahon (Davies, 14), Ehiogu (capt), Pogatetz, Queudrue; Maccarone (Yakubu, 76), Taylor, Doriva, Parlour (Cattermole, 69), Johnson; Viduka. Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Riggott.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffs).
Booked: Charlton Athletic Hughes; Middlesbrough Parlour.
Man of the match: Bent.
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