Middlesbrough 4 Charlton Athletic 2: Curbishley left in shadows by Boro's march to last four

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The Independent Online

Alan Curbishley, the Charlton Athletic manager, faces a seemingly insurmountable task when, later today, he attempts to persuade a Football Association panel that he is better equipped to manage the England national team than Middlesbrough's Steve McClaren.

Even before last night's ultimately unsuccessful FA Cup quarter-final replay, the likeable Addicks boss appeared to lack certain qualities synonymous with those he is competing against to succeed Sven Goran Eriksson.

Now, in the cold light of day, it is impossible to reason against McClaren in favour of Curbishley and the feeling persists that the latter's Soho Square interview, scheduled for this afternoon, is more about courtesy than settling a key appointment.

Had Charlton's highly regarded coach been able to call upon the goalscoring talents of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Mark Viduka and Aiyegbeni Yakubu this season then his chances of international management would have been considerably enhanced.

The trio have now scored 50 goals between them this season and McClaren admitted: "Games are won and lost with goals and we do have goals in our team.

"We have players who, out of nothing, can make the breakthrough. I've been able to rest, rotate and keep fresh Jimmy, Mark and Yakubu and now we're reaping the rewards. The bigger the games, the more the players want to be involved. It can be tough, but they understand the situation."

If only Curbishley was troubled by such quandaries. "There are clubs like ours which cannot get anywhere near three strikers of that quality," he said. "It's a great advantage."

Charlton had featured in six goalless draws in the nine games prior to last night's replay and Middlesbrough fans were braced for boredom just six days after their team's heroic last-gasp victory against Basle in the quarter-final of the Uefa Cup. But within 26 minutes such pessimism appeared foolhardy as goals from Fabio Rochemback and James Morrison sandwiched a fine right-footed volley from Bryan Hughes. Both sides could have added to their tallies before the break but Boro's advantage was no reflection of their increasing dominance.

That the home team had the upper hand was emphasised in the 73rd minute when Hasselbaink arrowed a fierce shot beyond Thomas Myhre from 20 yards. Gareth Southgate was unfortunate to concede an own goal within two minutes and at 3-2 the travelling Charlton supporters sensed a famous comeback. Viduka's 77th-minute retort all but extinguished that Addicks' optimism.

"After the first 20 minutes we struggled to gain a foothold," admitted Curbishley. "We started off ever so well but as we pushed up after the break we suffered the consequences but I feel Middlesbrough did the job at The Valley. They have a great chance to lift the Cup now.

"People talk about the amount of football they're playing but if you're winning then it's not a problem. Boro have been winning for six weeks now and good luck to them." McClaren's players will have played a minimum of 25 cup ties, and a maximum of 27, before this potentially historic campaign reaches its conclusion and it is no wonder the Teessiders find themselves mired in the lower reaches of the Premiership.

Middlesbrough's manager has made it clear the League is no longer his priority and, whether or not the FA's interviewing panel agree with a brave but controversial stance, nights like this suggest he is an increasingly astute judge.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Parnaby, Riggott, Southgate, Taylor; Morrison, Boateng, Rochemback, Downing; Hasselbaink (Ehiogu, 80), Viduka. Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Doriva, Maccarone, Yakubu.

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Myhre; Spector, Perry, Hreidarsson, Powell; Hughes, Kishishev (Euell, 78), Holland (Thomas, 59), Rommedahl; Bent, Bartlett (Bothroyd, 62). Substitutes not used: Andersen (gk), Sorondo.

Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).

FA Cup semi-finals

Chelsea v Liverpool Saturday 22 April, Old Trafford (5.15pm kick-off)

Middlesbrough v West Ham Sunday 23 April, Villa Park (4pm kick-off)

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