Following a terrible run of four defeats in their last five matches, Charlton renewed their hopes of joining the Carling Cup winners Middlesbrough in next season's Uefa Cup with a hard-fought victory at The Valley.
Alan Curbishley, was clearly relieved that his Charlton side, who have developed a bad habit of losing their way in the final third of the last two seasons, got back to winning ways yesterday. "Towards the end of the game I feared we might bottle it," he said, "but I'm proud that my players held on. We needed that win."
Sven Goran Eriksson was in the crowd, no doubt taking a look at Middlesbrough's central-defensive partnership of Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu, a duo who could force their way into the England squad for this summer's European Championship finals.
However, it was Gaizka Mendieta who made an early impact, finding space on the edge of the Charlton area after eight minutes, before releasing Boudewijn Zenden down the left. The Dutch international's instant left-foot strike beat the diving Dean Kiely but not the post.
Charlton created an opening of their own five minutes later, as Paolo di Canio teed-up Carlton Cole, whose right-foot shot from 25 yards was palmed away by Mark Schwarzer. Paul Konchesky looked odds-on to knock in the rebound, but the young Boro right-back, Stuart Parnaby, blocked.
Charlton's Radostin Kishishev and Middlesbrough's George Boateng both went close with long-range volleys, before the home side took the lead on 25 minutes. Di Canio held the ball up on the right side of the Boro area before cutting it back to Matt Holland some 25 yards out. The Charlton captain was rewarded for his audacious first-time strike, as the right-foot curler looped over Schwarzer and into the net.
The visitors twice came close to finding an equaliser before the break, but Joseph-Desiré Job's shot from 12 yards was well parried by Kiely and then Franck Queudrue's back-flipped header fell just the wrong side of Charlton's left-hand post.
Szilard Nemeth and Massimo Maccarone replaced the ineffectual Doriva and Job at half-time, and the two substitutes made an immediate impact. However, creating chances is one thing; taking them is another. For all their neat approach play, Steve McClaren's side still lack an out-and-out goal-scorer. "I don't know what more I could have asked my strikers to do," the Boro manager said. "I'm baffled and stunned to have lost."
How they could do with Cole, the young Charlton striker on loan from Chelsea until June 2005. He might not have scored yesterday, but he was a real handful until substituted, much to his displeasure, on the hour. Cole's replacement Shaun Bartlett very nearly doubled the home side's advantage five minutes after his arrival, as he raced on to Holland's delightful through ball before shooting into the side netting when he had only Schwarzer to beat.
Boro were pushing ever harder for an equaliser and nearly conceded a killer second on the break, as the Charlton substitute Jonatan Johansson set Holland free on goal, only for the Republic of Ireland midfielder to shoot too close to Schwarzer. Kiely was proving just as tough to beat at the other end, palming Nemeth's goal-bound effort away to guarantee Charlton victory.
Charlton Athletic 1 Middlesbrough 0
Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 26,270Reuse content