Stuart's strike makes for a happier Valley

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The Independent Football

Are Charlton, relegated after one year in the Premiership, now in a stronger position than Bradford City, who survived their season among the big boys by the skin of the teeth? The League table and yesterday's result suggest that is the case, with the visitors now even deeper in the mire while Alan Curbishley's team are close to the high-water mark in eighth place after their fourth home victory - as many as in the whole of their previous campaign.

Are Charlton, relegated after one year in the Premiership, now in a stronger position than Bradford City, who survived their season among the big boys by the skin of the teeth? The League table and yesterday's result suggest that is the case, with the visitors now even deeper in the mire while Alan Curbishley's team are close to the high-water mark in eighth place after their fourth home victory - as many as in the whole of their previous campaign.

The importance of prevailing on days like these against the division's lesser lights is one of the lessons they have learned, and Curbishley was quite happy to close the game up towards the end by sending on an extra defender.

In the absence of Stan Collymore, an instant hero on his debut against Leeds last week but suffering now with his wisdom teeth, Bradford lacked a finisher to retrieve the early goals their porous defence conceded. Their spirit at least reflected well on Chris Hutchings, the manager who once played with Curbishley at Brighton and has been told by his chairman that things must improve. They have performed well, though a record of five goals scored in a dozen games shows how far there is to go.

Two years ago, Charlton were relegated with 36 points, whereas last May, Bradford, generally considered to be a less capable team, stayed up with the same number, benefiting from the feebleness of the three sides below them.

Neither will be able to avoid regular comparisons with their previous campaigns, the gist of which so far is that the Londoners have started even better than before and must consolidate this time, while City face even more of a struggle than a year ago.

They have chosen, dubiously, to add to their squad with comparatively big names, a method that Curbishley (apart from a brief dalliance with John Barnes) has always eschewed. Yesterday, however, not only was Collymore missing, but Benito Carbone was left in the dug-out for most of the match.

However bad Stanley's dental problem, it can have been no more painful than the first period of the game was for Bradford, who found themselves 2-0 down so early. There was a strong Scandinavian flavour to both goals, the first being set up by one of Matt Svensson's unexpectedly delicate touches, which allowed Graham Stuart to drive a cross-shot beyond Matt Clarke for Jonatan Johansson to tap in. Stuart soon found more space to run at a retreating defence and play a neat wall-pass off Johansson before clipping in a half-volley.

Had Svensson not miscued from a few yards out soon after half-time, Charlton could have played their football in more relaxed fashion. As it was, City's spirit gave Hutchings hope as well as plenty of possession, and should have given his team a goal to change the complexion of the afternoon. However, they ended with Stuart McCall sent off in the final minute for a second yellow-card offence.

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