Lisbie lights up happy Valley

FA Premiership: Rude awakening for Royle's City as they are overwhelmed on their return to the big time
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The Independent Football

The last time Charlton graced the Premier League, they ended their first month as unlikely leaders. After a comprehensive drubbing of an abject Manchester City yesterday, the only question being asked by those optimists down at The Valley was whether they would be able to stay there this time. Two goals in each half sealed Charlton's handsome reintroduction to the big time and promised, if not prosperity, then, just possibly, a season spent rather further from the brink than their last.

The last time Charlton graced the Premier League, they ended their first month as unlikely leaders. After a comprehensive drubbing of an abject Manchester City yesterday, the only question being asked by those optimists down at The Valley was whether they would be able to stay there this time. Two goals in each half sealed Charlton's handsome reintroduction to the big time and promised, if not prosperity, then, just possibly, a season spent rather further from the brink than their last.

In contrast, City's future looks bleak already. If they defend with the same inefficiency for the rest of the season, Joe Royle, their manager, will need an abacus to tot up the goals- against column. By the time Graham Stuart had converted a late penalty City, runners-up to Charlton in the First Division last season, were in disarray, ineffective in attack and hopelessly outpaced in defence. But for a tendency to over-elaborate in front of goal, with the otherwise impressive Kevin Lisbie particularly at fault, Charlton might have begun with an even greater flourish, despite the loss through injury of four strikers.

"We've been here before," said Alan Curbishley, Charlton's manager. "We drew our first game last time, then beat Southampton 5-0, so we're not getting carried away." True enough. A dishevelled City, still remodelling after a frustrating close season in the transfer market, will hardly be the yardstick for survival. But this Charlton side look better prepared to slog through a hard winter, with Claus Jensen, a £4.5m Danish international, making a significant impression in midfield and Andy Hunt carrying on much where he left off last season, putting Charlton ahead after nine minutes with a right-foot shot drilled low past Nicky Weaver.

You sensed earlier that this would be Charlton's day. In traditional season-opening sunshine, the Charlton players had stood arm-in-arm during the minute's silence to mourn the death of Pierre Bolangi, a 17-year-old Charlton trainee killed 10 days ago during an exercise at an army training centre in Aldershot.

The programme carried a tribute to Bolangi from the academy director, Mick Browne, who wrote movingly of his enthusiasm and willing attitude. "I remember him sitting in my office on the evening we told the under-16s whether or not they were going to be kept on. All the other boys were there with their mother or father, Pierre was there on his own. I told him that we wanted to keep him and he shook my hand and cried." The Charlton players wore black armbands, the Union Jack over the East Stand flew at half-mast and a minute's silence was impeccably observed. The home side's urgency suggested that there was more than just three League points at stake.

Charlton should have gone ahead a minute before they did, but Lisbie clipped a loose ball after a long-range shot by Carl Tiler against the crossbar. It was the first of a hatful of chances for the 21-year-old former England Under-18 international, who has endured a frustrating time at Charlton in recent seasons. His pace is ferocious, but his finishing is less threatening.

"I think he's been a bit stifled here," Curbishley said. "But Kevin has come back prepared to work much harder and physically he's stronger now. I just wish he could have scored but his hard work deserved a reward." Lisbie had to make do with chants of "Super, Super Kev" ringing round The Valley.

Once ahead, Charlton began to hum. One fluent move involving Powell, Lisbie and Robinson swept the ball from City corner to Charlton shot in three passes and when Lisbie, clear one-on-one with Weaver, shot weakly at the keeper's legs, Robinson gleefully followed up to score via a deflection to earn the home side a deserved standing ovation at half-time and leave Curbishley almost tongue-tied in the dressing-room. "I didn't really know what to say," he admitted. "But I just told the players that if they kept them out for another 10 or 15 minutes, they would have to come out at us." And so it proved.

Royle, the City manager, brought on Shaun Wright-Phillips, the adopted son of Ian Wright, for the second half in place of Kevin Horlock. A snap shot by Alf-Inge Haaland signalled a brief flurry of pressure by City midway through the second half, but Richard Rufus and Tiler won most of the significant duels with George Weah and Paulo Wanchope. The revival was mere flattery. Within minutes, Charlton had assured themselves of a winning start to the campaign.

Having just survived an extraordinary double-miss, Hunt's header being touched on to the bar by Weaver and Lisbie's follow-up volley crashing against the inside of a post, City once more left Stuart free down the right and the cross was precisely placed this time to the feet of Kinsella, who toe-poked the ball into the top corner of the net.

Stuart's penalty, after Kinsella was brought down by Dean Kiely, completed the rout. Of Wanchope and Weah, one of the stranger forward pairings in the Premier League, little was seen, though the former had a header pushed against the bar midway through the first half. That and a claim for a penalty or three, according to Royle, was the sum of City's booty. "We played like a team of strangers," Royle lamented. "But don't write us off after one performance."

It was tempting. The ovation accorded Charlton at the final whistle was warm enough to last a long winter.

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