Curbishley seeks expert in demolition

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The Independent Football

Charlton have vigorously denied being the only Premiership club who supported recent proposals for a second tier or "Phoenix League", but their last two performances have unconsciously made the case for one.

At Bolton, in a dull goalless draw, and on Saturday at The Valley, the away team knew they could not afford to lose and set out their stall accordingly; on each occasion the home side could not knock it over and the entertainment value as they tried was negligible.

The bad news, accordingly to Charlton's thoughtful young manager Alan Curbishley is that while the price of relegation is so high, such fearful (in every sense) football will predominate among at least a dozen teams.

"I've just been talking to the Blackburn people and the games now are becoming so vital in terms of staying in this League that there'll be quite a few more like this," he said. "It's so vital to clubs in terms of finance. Credit to Blackburn, we couldn't break them down and they've got three massive points. But it was a very, very poor game."

In the case of clubs like Bolton and Blackburn, the absolute priority is to avoid going back down in their first season; for others like Charlton and Ipswich Town, who preceded them a year earlier and flourished, the difficulty, paradoxically, is being treated with greater respect.

"Last year teams came here to have a bit of a game," Curbishley said. Charlton exploited the space to good effect and lost only three times; this season they have already lost four matches at The Valley, but flourished on their travels by counter-attacking to win at places like Chelsea and Arsenal.

Blackburn have also found it hard to win at home, though their manager, Graeme Souness, hopes that visits from Sunderland and Derby this week will bring a first victory at Ewood Park since West Ham were humiliated 7-1 in mid-October.

Saturday's success, earned by well-taken goals from Damien Duff and substitute David Dunn, should help renew any fading self-belief. Duff scored after his clever run left him well placed to shoot home from an angle, while Dunn sidefooted in from 10 yards after Keith Gillespie had pulled the ball back from the byline. Gillespie also played a large part in Duff's opening effort.

"We've got people who've not played at this level before and we'd lost the last three games," he said. "You start worrying about confidence. But we were very together and worked very hard. Our aim is just to avoid being in a relegation scrap and now we could be starting January in a nice position."

It could be a position in the top half of the table, though the onus will now be on his strikers to find a way through stubborn defences. It will help to have Matt Jansen, the club's leading scorer, fit again for Boxing Day, when Souness might be tempted to stick with Duff as his partner rather than Corrado Grabbi, the £6.75m import from Serie B, who showed no sign of improving on his tally of one goal all season.

Meanwhile, Charlton must rise Phoenix-like from the ashes of an awful performance for games at Fulham and Everton.

Goals: Duff (0-1) 57; Dunn (0-2) 90.

Charlton Athletic (3-5-2): Kiely 5; Fish 5, Costa 6, Fortune 6 (Johansson 4, 65); Young 5, Stuart 4, Parker 4 (Bart-Williams, 82), Jensen 5, Powell 6 (Konchesky 82); Lisbie 4, Euell 3. Substitutes not used: Roberts (gk), Brown.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Friedel 6; Neill 5, Berg 7, Short 6, Bjornebye 6; Gillespie 7, Tugay 7 (Dunn 6, 65), Flitcroft 6, Mahon 6; Grabbi 4 (Hughes 6, 65) Duff 7. Substitutes not used: Kelly (gk), Ostenstad, Taylor.

Referee: A Wiley (Burntwood) 5.

Bookings: Charlton: Fish, Parker. Blackburn: Flitcroft, Short, Neill.

Man of the match: Tugay.

Attendance: 25,857.

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