In the same week as blitzing Derby County and beginning to plan their European Tour with a trip to Torpedo Moscow, Ipswich Town found themselves blown out of the water from an unlikely quarter. The 22-year-old Kevin Lisbie had two previous goals to his name in more than 60 appearances – mainly as a substitute – and had never scored at this exalted level.
With five minutes of a frustratingly uneventful game remaining, the young Londoner, who had replaced the injured John Salako, chased a punt to the far corner of the penalty area and hit a stunning volley past Ipswich's record signing, the goalkeeper Matteo Sereni. It was a goal out of keeping with the afternoon's entertainment as draining temperatures failed to advance the case for summer football.
That will not bother Charlton's manager Alan Curbishley, whose tactics and motivational ability inspired his injury-ridden team's first victory following a poor effort at home to Everton last week. Nor will a £25,000 fine for having six players booked. In midweek, he watched Ipswich take Derby apart, with the experienced Nigerian international Finidi George earning more plaudits on his home debut than some players receive in a season.
Curbishley and his coach Mervyn Day went to work and the result was that George was bottled up down the right flank, forcing Ipswich's manager George Burley to switch him further forward in the second half. "I knew we'd have to produce effort and commitment here, that's what we're all about,'' Curbishley said.
Charlton continue to miss the midfield guile of Claus Jensen, who turned down Ipswich last summer in favour of the south London club, where, with Richard Rufus, he was the outstanding player of a season in which they came close to matching the East Anglians noted exploits. Rufus returned from suspension yesterday and lasted only 34 minutes, having the insult of a yellow card added to the injury he sustained in fouling Marcus Stewart.
The home side were just beginning to get on top at that stage after starting slowly and allowing Salako to waste Charlton's only opportunity of the first half; Graham Stuart put him through but he could not beat Sereni.
Little was seen of the visitors as an attacking force for some time thereafter, partly because so many long balls were hit towards Jonatan Johansson and Jason Euell, neither of whom is exactly a Duncan Ferguson. Titus Bramble and Hermann Hreidarsson mopped up easily as Ipswich began to create some chances at the other end.
George, given little scope by England's Chris Powell, began to creep inside, sending two headers at Dean Kiely and curling a 25-yarder wide.
The home team's stuttering start to the second period persuaded Burley to try something different, first sending on the young Spanish striker Pablo Couñago and then – to Portman Road's displeasure – taking off Stewart in order to push George into attack. As Charlton successfully took the pace out of the game, he pulled one chance wide, then had another blocked by Mark Fish in the final flurry that followed Lisbie's intervention.
Couñago lifted a header on to the top of the net but otherwise Kiely was under-employed, certainly in comparison to his heroics seven days earlier. "Charlton defended in numbers and would have been pleased with a draw,'' Burley claimed. "When you put them under so much pressure you've got to kill them off.'' Like his defenders, he could hardly have anticipated where the killer punch would come from.
Ipswich Town 0 Charlton Athletic 1
Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 22,804Reuse content