Manchester City 3 Charlton Athletic 2: Pearce's day in the battle to succeed Sven

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The Independent Football

If this was an audition for the role of next England coach, it was an entertaining one, but it did not tell us much we did not know already.

Stuart Pearce, having climbed down in instalments from claiming it was ridiculous to count him as Sven Goran Eriksson's successor, inspired an inconsistent Manchester City to the victory that lifts them to ninth in the Premiership table.

In so doing, he took some points off one of his major rivals for the post, Alan Curbishley, whose Charlton Athletic side remain desperately poor travellers.

Ultimately, it was a rousing contest, although perhaps more interesting for assessing the merits of the respective managers than two teams destined to finish amongst the spirited also-rans in the Premiership.

The cynics might say that the only thing they have in common is that neither has won anything as a manager; and that the City manager has taken 10 years fewer to do so.

No less an institution than Match of the Day has made "Pearce Watch" an essential pastime and his touchline demeanour occupied the minds when this game failed to.

He continued to wear out his technical area by prowling, earpiece in place, from pitch-side to water bottle to bench; gesturing, guiding, and sometimes growling.

If, heart-on-sleeve visible passion is seen by the suits at Soho Square as the top priority, the "Football Association Three", charged with finding Eriksson's successor, could not be accused of barking up the wrong tree by going for this British Bulldog.

He could not and cannot stand still and was even more an occasional visitor to his seat than Curbishley was to joining his right-hand-man, Mervyn Day, near the touchline.

Yet Pearce decided this would not be a day for extravagant goal celebration, preferring to stride purposely back to his coaches in acknowledgement of Richard Dunne's opener and settling for a characteristic clenched fist when Georgios Samaras restored the lead. There was some open-mouthed awe and skyward eyes at the sight of Joey Barton's absolute belter from nearly 30 yards.

The bespectacled Curbishley is much more reserved and appears studious in comparison. Arms folded and notebook and pen in hand, he was more Sven than Psycho. Not that his players did much to stir any stronger an emotion from him than him exasperation for long spells.

The first half was another North-west no-show by them following their surrenders at Blackburn, Everton, and Wigan; so maybe he would insist on his England team never playing at Old Trafford or Anfield.

They had every reason to be surprised by the quality of Dunne's 22nd-minute breakthrough: not just because it was his fourth goal in 203 City appearances, but also because it was a volley from Barton's partially-cleared right-wing centre.

Notwithstanding an element of shin, the effort was struck with sufficient power to beat Thomas Myhre on the bounce from just inside the area.

Just as Curbishley must have been wondering where Charlton might find the ingenuity to halt a powerful City run that was standing at four successive home victories, it came from an unlikely source.

Talal El Karkouri, recalled after African Nations Cup duty for the unwell Chris Perry, curled the ball delightfully between Dunne and Sylvain Distin for Darren Bent to steer home his 16th goal of the season. He is the top-scoring Englishman in the Premiership.

That 51st-minute equaliser brought a rapid response from City; their £6m recent arrival Samaras marking his half-time introduction with a fine downward header to Barton's cross for his first goal in English football.

Then Barton, his popularity fully restored, thundered in a stunning right-foot shot to raise hopes of a repeat of his team's five-goal flourish at The Valley in December.

Samaras missed horribly, however, when clean through; and Myhre pushed aside Kiki Musampa's free-kick and brilliantly kicked over a header by Antoine Sibierski.

Charlton didn't go down without a fight. Marcus Bent headed home Radostin Kishishev's wonderful centre, and it took a fine save from David James to keep out El Karkouri's stoppage-time volley.

So it remained Pearce's day. Up and down City may be, but the long-term trend is encouraging; there was another bonus here.

The fledgling's manager is not afraid to back youth and, with Stephen Jordan suspended, he threw Micah Richards, "a baby in a man's body,'' in for his first senior start.

Pearce saw the 17-year-old make a tidy fist of it at right-back: one storming first-half run being followed by the wildest of shots: cue a big grin from the City manager.

Barton was again the star though: he surely has an England future; but will they take a gamble on him?

Goals: Dunne (22) 1-0; D Bent (51); Samaras (54) 2-1; Barton (62) 3-1; M Bent (66) 3-2.

Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Richards, Dunne, Distin, Sommeil; Sinclair (Samaras, h-t), Barton, Musampa, Riera; Cole (Ireland, 81), Vassell (Sibierski, 68). Substitutes not used: Weaver (GK), Croft.

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Myhre; Young, El Karkouri, Hriedarsson, Spector; Kishishev, Hughes (Bothroyd, 74), Smertin (Euell, 74), Thomas (Ambrose, 74); D Bent, M Bent. Substitutes not used: Andersen (gk), Powell.

Referee: M Dean (Wirral).

Man of the match: Barton.

Attendance: 41,347.