Jensen's penalty blunder leaves Villa just reward

Charlton Athletic 1 Aston Villa 2
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The Independent Football

The draw which would have kept Charlton ahead of Aston Villa in pursuit of European football next season got away from them deep into time added on. Having been comprehensively outplayed for much of the match, they were correctly awarded a penalty when Thomas Sorensen brought down the substitute, Jonatan Johansson, but Claus Jensen, having insisted on taking the kick, hoofed it high over the bar and into the ecstatic Villa supporters.

The draw which would have kept Charlton ahead of Aston Villa in pursuit of European football next season got away from them deep into time added on. Having been comprehensively outplayed for much of the match, they were correctly awarded a penalty when Thomas Sorensen brought down the substitute, Jonatan Johansson, but Claus Jensen, having insisted on taking the kick, hoofed it high over the bar and into the ecstatic Villa supporters.

Victory was no more than Villa merited. Their manager, David O'Leary, was at pains to point out afterwards his mantra: "high tempo, good passing, good movement". His team excelled at all of these, and much else besides, as they firmly put behind them last week's woeful home loss to Blackburn, and extended a Charlton record at The Valley which has brought only six wins in 15 tries.

The watching England manager, Sven Goran Eriksson, was rewarded by a terrific performance from Darius Vassell, who levelled the scores after Carlton Cole's early goal for Charlton. "I'll have to get Sven to watch us more often," said O'Leary. "That was the Vassell we see with England and should see more of at Villa."

Also worth Eriksson's visit was Gareth Barry's excellence on the left side of Villa's midfield, since England are so regularly reported as being deficient in that position. It was a slick ball from Barry which sent Jlloyd Samuel through for a second goal soon after half-time, a lead which Villa defended comfortably enough until the penalty was needlessly conceded.

Having started in lively fashion, with Barry's shot being turned for a corner by Dean Kiely and Thomas Hitzlsperger sending a bouncing header on to an upright, Villa conceded a dispiriting goal when Carlton Cole used his height to reach a corner and find the net past assorted players on the line.

Three times the genius of Paolo Di Canio produced glorious passes which threatened more bad news for Villa, but they settled, started to play the sort of stuff O'Leary made clear he wants and equalised when Vassell reacted with eye-catching speed to hook home a loose ball.

Having dominated the rest of the opening half, Villa kept up the momentum on the resumption and were quickly in front. The goal came out of nothing and owed much to the speed and persistence with which the excellent Juan Pablo Angel pursued a long clearance towards the left corner flag. The Colombian turned the ball back to Barry and Kiely had no chance with Samuel's curled right-footer.

It was, said Alan Curbishley, the Charlton manager, a "painful" goal to concede. "The full-back went marching into the box unopposed and we then ended up having to chase the game. We aren't very good at chasing." True enough.

Charlton's expenditure of sweat was not matched by skill or composure, and Villa could have been further ahead, Gavin McCann adding to a fine return after a two-month absence, through injury and suspension, with a flicked header which came back off the bar.

Even so, the chance of a draw opened up unexpectedly for Charlton after the match had entered added time. As Olof Mellberg attempted to usher the ball back to Sorensen, Johansson nipped in, tipped the ball past the keeper and was felled by him. Di Canio and Jason Euell having been taken off, Jensen pushed himself to the forefront of candidates, with horrendous consequences.

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