Milner supplies good news from the East

Charlton Athletic 0 Leeds United 1: Last place in table and record losses forgotten as young striker and Gulf consortium ride to rescue
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The Independent Football

Some at The Valley yesterday afternoon felt James Alexander Gordon should have begun his results on Sports Report with something along the lines of "Charlton Athletic £2.8 million, profit; Leeds United £49.5 million, loss". But those losses - a record for any Premiership club - are not the ones that have hurt Leeds supporters most this season, and after six of the other sort in succession had sent them to the bottom of the table, a first win since early October must have felt as good as the 6-1 drubbing they dished out on the same ground last April under Peter Reid.

Even better news came as they made their way home, with confirmation from Sheikh Abdul bin Mubarak Al-Khalifa of Bahrain that he is part of a consortium of Gulf investors who could come riding to the rescue even though Gordon Strachan is not inclined to do the same.

Charlton, touching rare heights after their best start to a season at the top level for half a century, were wretched and did not deserve anything other than an abrupt end to their own run of five wins and two draws. Most of those had been earned on opponents' grounds or by counter-attacking at home to stronger opposition; not for the first time when it came to breaking down a side who took an early lead and flooded the midfield, they lacked the wit and invention that a Paolo di Canio might have provided. The Italian was one of four strikers and three defenders unavailable to Alan Curbishley for his 400th match in charge and the loss was felt at both ends of the pitch.

"We were chasing the game from the first minute," Curbishley said. "It's been a bad day." A Gray day too, and not just because of the wind and rain swirling round. Eddie Gray, in his second match as acting manager of Leeds, won the tactical battle with a five-man midfield that offered all the width Charlton lacked without sacrificing solidity in the centre. "We had a bit of strength with Alan Smith dropped in there and I was extremely pleased with the way the team played and their attitude," Gray said.

After last April's encounter, Curbishley took consolation of a sort in musing how many of the Leeds team that day would be around for the next meeting. The answer, a little surprisingly, was that only Harry Kewell and the former Charlton man Danny Mills (on loan to Middlesbrough) had gone, though bizarrely they are still paying wages to Robbie Fowler of Manchester City, and owe so much for Mark Viduka's transfer from Celtic that selling him at current prices would cost them money - negative equity for footballers is one of the interesting new concepts Leeds have introduced to the game.

Having announced a working profit for the year ending in June while still strengthening the club's playing strength, Charlton's chairman, Richard Murray, understandably could not quite resist a little gloat in the direction of yesterday's visitors. He wrote in the match programme: "Many clubs continue to be saddled with high levels of debt and I think there are still troubled times ahead for some as they struggle to come to terms with the excesses of the past." Fire-sales or not, the Leeds starting line-up did not look like one that should be propping up the division, and nor did the performance. Within half an hour, they could have been three up, as they were last time. As it was, they had to settle for one, scored in the eighth minute by the outstanding James Milner, who became the Premiership's youngest scorer last Boxing Day.

Still only 17, he was involved in starting a move down the left that he finished smartly from 10 yards after moving on to a pass neatly fed into him by Viduka.

The Australian striker, evidently in the mood for once, was close twice himself, once foiled by Radostin Kishishev on the goal-line. With David Batty, another of the old lags, working diligently and Smith dropping deep, there was insufficient room in midfield for Charlton to play their elaborate passing game. They did not help themselves by failing to use the wings sufficiently and were too often reduced to lofting the ball forward for the combative Matthias Svensson, who has recently been farmed out to Derby County.

By the time Carlton Cole, on loan from Chelsea, replaced Svensson at the interval, the home side had fashioned only one real opportunity, Paul Robinson pushing the ball on to the post from Matt Holland's header. Cole immediately raised hopes by outpacing Lucas Radebe but, as would be the case on several occasions, his last touch did not match his first.

Although Holland hit a free-kick narrowly wide, Leeds were not just sitting back and after the normally reliable Dean Kiely caused hearts to flutter by dropping a free-kick by Milner, another one from Ian Harte drifted tantalisingly close to the far post.

Robinson continued to enjoy a far more comfortable afternoon than he could have imagined. So did the visiting supporters behind his goal, even if the chants of "We're going to win the League" were on the optimistic side.

Jason Euell's shot on to the roof of the net following a free-kick was the closest Charlton came to an equaliser until the last few minutes, when Robinson, called into action at last, pushed Cole's header round a post. In fact there could have been no complaints if Viduka had inflicted further punishment at the end, taking Hermann Hreidarsson's awful back-pass but failing to defeat Chris Perry on the line.