Murphy rewarded for tireless industry

Charlton Athletic 3 - Birmingham City 1
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The Independent Online

If anyone from his old club, Liverpool, had been at the Valley yesterday they would surely have questioned the wisdom of allowing Danny Murphy to go to Charlton for a bargain £2.5 million last year. After Liverpool lost to Manchester United, Murphy dominated the midfield against a Birmingham City side who lacked spirit and on this form look incapable of turning round a Premiership season that is becoming troubled on and off the field.

If anyone from his old club, Liverpool, had been at the Valley yesterday they would surely have questioned the wisdom of allowing Danny Murphy to go to Charlton for a bargain £2.5 million last year. After Liverpool lost to Manchester United, Murphy dominated the midfield against a Birmingham City side who lacked spirit and on this form look incapable of turning round a Premiership season that is becoming troubled on and off the field.

The FA Cup weekend had seemingly given both clubs a timely lift. Charlton, who almost effortlessly overcame Rochdale, had needed to regain their pre-Christmas momentum after two Premiership defeats, and Birmingham's 3-0 beating of Leeds also came after successive losses.

What also pleased City's manager, Steve Bruce, was that the 21-year-old Darren Carter scored twice and in so doing showed that he may be able to replace the abrasive Robbie Savage, who should soon be transferred to Blackburn.

What did not please Bruce yesterday was the way Birmingham conceded an absurd goal after nine minutes. Talal El Karkouri took a free-kick so far out that Matthew Upson seemed to have ample time to cover. But when Shaun Bartlett crossed in front of him the ball sailed over them both and over the keeper, Maik Taylor, directly into the goal. "Comical," said Bruce, without a hint of seeing the joke.

This early good fortune set Charlton on a lengthy spree of attacking interrupted only by a tendency to give the ball away, City constructing a few tentative forward movements of their own. When Darren Anderton hit a central free-kick on edge of the area into the wall, Stephen Clemence struck the rebound firmly but Bartlett headed off the line.

Given the negative nature of past Premiership games between these two, there was an acceptable amount of action but little in terms of quality, and Birmingham were the poorer. At least when Savage has been among them, there was fire in their soul.

Charlton's midfield was comparatively solid but they were offered that area without sufficient challenge. Murphy moved through their ranks strongly and held the ball well. His ability to cover large amounts of ground either in front of the back four or just behind Bartlett at the front made a significant difference.

Perhaps it was inevitable that when Birmingham equalised in the 55th minute it was from a set-piece. Anderton's centre found plenty of their big men in the area and Mario Melchiot added his weight to head in at the far post.

Murphy responded to the challenge, digging deep, and in the 66th minute his containment of the ball and deft pass wide to substitute Francis Jeffers led to a centre that Kenny Cunningham lunged at. He missed. Bartlett was beyond him and slid the ball in.

With every justification after his splendid match, Murphy grabbed Charlton's third when he collected a through pass from Jeffers. He comfortably beat Taylor. Liverpool will not want to know that. As Alan Curbishley, Charlton's manager, said: "I was really surprised they let him go. He still had to adapt to us, not us to him. But now he influences us and calms us down."

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