Middlesbrough 2 v 0 Charlton Athletic

Barclays Premiership

Report by Gary Haines

CHARLTON'S relegation worries continued at the Riverside Stadium as Middlesbrough eased their own drop fears.

Goals either side of the break from Yakubu and Julio Arca sealed a comfortable Boro victory in the first of four festive fixtures.

And it meant the Addicks, for whom Bryan Hughes had a late effort cleared off the line, had gone the whole of 2006 without a Premiership win away from home.

Five points from the last 72 available through the calendar year and beyond tells its own story since Charlton beat Portsmouth last in October 2005, and Boro's win leaves Les Reed's side even further adrift of safety.

From the moment the Addicks lined up in a defensive 5-4-1 formation one sensed they would be happy with a point against one of their closest rivals at the wrong end of the table.

But with Darren Bent an isolated figure on his own up front, the visitors spent almost all afternoon on the back-foot.

He finally got some support in the shape of Marcus Bent 10 minutes after the interval but by then the hosts were two up.

Yakubu showed some neat footwork to dance away from Scott Carson and tuck home after 29 minutes and the Addicks keeper and Hughes on the post could not prevent Arca firing home his first goal for the club.

A late rally saw Hughes denied on the line by Emanuel Pogatetz but the fact Mark Schwarzer made his first serious save in injury time - a smart double stop from both Bents - said it all.

What's all the more frustrating is Boro looked vulnerable when put under pressure but the late cameo was far too late to have any baring on proceedings.

After Tuesday's catastrophic Carling Cup defeat against Wycombe Wanderers head coach Reed changed personnel and shape as he attempted to make ground on Boro.

A performance was vital against a Boro outfit who were on the slide themselves and an Addicks maximum would close the gap between the two sides to just two points.

With that in mind Reed plumped for 5-4-1 formation with Osei Sankofa and Djimi Traore wing-backs with Talal El Karkouri and Hermann Hreidarsson alongside Jonathan Fortune in central defence.

Across the midfield Reed went for graft over craft with skipper Matt Holland joined by Amady Faye, Hughes and the fit-again Radostin Kishishev with Darren Bent up front.

There was plenty of attacking power on the bench in the shape of Marcus Bent, ex-Boro man Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and Dennis Rommedahl, with Thomas Myhre and Souleymane Diawara making up the squad.

Like Charlton chief Reed, rookie Boro boss Gareth Southgate had found his first season at the Riverside helm far from smooth after replacing England boss Steve McClaren.

But if Reed and Charlton were looking for omens then the North East has been something of a happy hunting ground for the Addicks over recent years.

After beating Sunderland at the start of last season, Charlton produced arguably their finest performance of last term on Teesside with a 3-0 win.

They also held Newcastle United to a 0-0 draw - as they did this season - with the FA Cup quarter-final defeat at The Riverside the only blot on the copybook.

There was no Jason Euell for the home side, fourth bottom at the start of the play, but there was the threat from Mark Viduka and Yakubu up front with England internationals Jonathan Woodgate and Stuart Downing also in the side.

An off balance Pogatetz header at a seventh-minute free-kick was the first effort in anger with the black-shirted Addicks already showing plenty of strength in the early running.

Arca then sliced an effort wide of the right upright after some promising Boro build-up play as the small band of loyal Charlton followers broke into song behind Carson's goal.

Then, on 14 minutes, El Karkouri did extremely well to block a stooping header from James Morrison after the winger was found in space by Viduka's downward header from an Andrew Davies centre.

Yakubu glanced another header off target and hooked an overhead effort wide but as the half reached its mid-point Carson had been scarcely stretched.

Faye volleyed well wide from 25 yards on 24 minutes and it was the hosts who took the lead five minutes later.

Viduka drove forward from midfield and picked out Morrison on the right and the winger toe-ended the ball through to Yakubu who skipped round the advancing Carson and neatly tucked the ball into the empty net.

Davies was wide from long range as the hosts continued to work around their visitors while a third corner in quick succession in the 37th minute hit El Karkouri and dropped wide of the left upright.

Traore got forward to slice wide from the edge of the box three minutes before the break and, perhaps surprisingly, there were no changes to the visiting line-up when the teams returned for the second half.

Downing cut inside and drilled a low shot wide five minutes in and the England winger had a hand in Boro's second goal on 52 minutes.

He delivered a corner from the left and the ball was headed to the edge of the box for Arca whose low drive went underneath the dive of Carson and beyond Hughes who was stationed close to the left upright.

An uphill task had become even steeper and Faye hobbled off three minutes later to be replaced by Marcus Bent as the Addicks reverted to 5-3-2.

A Pogatetz effort at a corner was deflected across goal and behind and Boro continued to hold the upper hand as the match continued.

Arca's curler landed straight in the arms of Carson in the 64th minute and Rommedahl replaced Traore two minutes later.

Still Boro looked lively and a stretching Yakubu hoisted a half chance high into the stands, earning a mouthful from Downing who was far better placed beyond him on the left.

Viduka made way for Malcolm Christie on 75 minutes and Carson had to dash off his line to head clear of the injury-plagued striker soon after his arrival.

A promising Charlton raid nine minutes before time saw Sankofa's pull-back eventually scrambled clear, but that was a rare moment of concern for the Boro backline.

However, the visitors carved out their best opening five minutes from time when Schwarzer, under pressure on the edge of the box, missed a high ball and was powerless as it was quickly switched to Hughes on the left.

The midfielder curled a shot goalwards but Pogatetz was on hand to clear the ball off the line.

The visitors actually staged something of a rally in the closing stages and Hreidarsson saw a shot well blocked.

Schwarzer made his first save of the afternoon in stoppage time, diving to deny Marcus Bent and then reacting to block Darren's follow-up.

Fortune's late lunge on Christie earned the defender a late yellow card and that was the last action of the game as Charlton's awful season shows no sign of relenting.


CHARLTON ATHLETIC: Carson, Sankofa, Traore (Rommedahl, 66), Hreidarsson, El Karkouri, Fortune, Kishishev, Holland, Faye (M Bent, 55), Hughes, D Bent.

SUBS NOT USED: Myhre, Diawara, Hasselbaink.

ATT: 32,013.