PRIOR to kick-off "Europe or bust" was the tannoy announcer's take on affairs, but by the close of play Charlton's European dreams were lying in tatters.

It was not so much the Addicks' failure to take three points and so stay in the hunt with the chasing pack, more the psychological damage inflicted on them by defeat against a side which had hitherto failed to record a single win on their travels.

The story of Saturday's game can be gleaned from the fact that whilst West Brom finished the match with three strikers on the pitch, the home side, following the substitutions of Shaun Bartlett and goalscorer Jonatan Johansson, ended with Jason Euell and Dennis Rommedahl, both nominally midfielders, leading their line.

Charlton fans will point to the performance of Mark Halsey (who was due to be the fourth official at Manchester United's game against Fulham, but was called in as a late replacement for Howard Webb) as the catalyst for their demise, but this would be unfair on both West Brom and their magnificent travelling support.

The referee did make a number of poor decisions, but cannot be faulted for the game's major talking point: the 29th- minute dismissal of Talal El Karkouri.

On first viewing, the decision looked to be a harsh one, but replays confirmed Halsey was well within his rights to dismiss the Moroccan, who now misses Charlton's next three games against Manchester City, Portsmouth and Bolton.

The tackle was two-footed, late, high and, in short, the sort that ends careers.

El Karkouri was cheered off by the fans, but Alan Curbishley looked less pleased as he was forced into an early reshuffle, dropping Paul Konchesky to left-back and shifting Hermann Hreidarsson across into the centre of defence.

Speaking afterwards, he was in little doubt over the game's pivotal moment.

Curbishley said: "The sending-off was harsh, and it changed the match. We were up against it, because we had to play more than an hour with one man less. I was hoping to get away with a point, and my players acquitted themselves well until the last few minutes."

Whilst the manager's assessment might be open to question, what cannot be doubted is that he is facing an almighty job to lift his players, and prevent the season petering out as it has done in previous years.

He will also have to restore some confidence in his strikers: how Curbishley could do with an Earnshaw, whose hat-trick was an exercise in clinical finishing.

Charlton next play on April 2, when they entertain Manchester City at 12.45pm.