Curbs deserves another season to prove us wrong
Well, at least we competed for 35 minutes or so but as soon as Andersen's heroics gave way to an error, the game was all over and frankly that was the most depressing take-away from the afternoon (and believe me, there were plenty). The gulf in class was enormous and it is frightening that this was against a team that remains 15 points behind the Champions. I can handle a 4-0 defeat to Man Utd, after all our record against them since we were promoted hardly gives you a sense of optimism. What I find harder to swallow is the impression that as soon as we conceded the first, the players seemed to resign themselves to defeat, the only question was by how many?
After surviving a first-minute scare when Rooney found oodles of space in the area, we actually matched United for a while, if not for flair and class, then at least for commitment. Jeffers was unlucky not to put us ahead when his sharp chest control and early shot forced a good save from Roy Carroll. Indeed, Jeffers' smart opportunism suggested that he may not have lost his natural goalscoring instinct, but it is hardly surprising that he is a bit stale given the paucity of chances he's been given to shine.
The selection of Andersen at least suggested (for once) that Curbs was willing to take risks and offer opportunities to those frustrated on the bench or in the stiffs. Admittedly, Kiely would not have been my first choice for demotion to the bench but Andersen pulled off a genuinely world-class save which not only reminded us of Kiely at his best, but suggested we may indeed have a long-term replacement for the Irishman. Another good save from Scholes was shortly followed by an unfortunate error which the ginger one pounced upon, although replays showed that Rooney's shot took a slight deflection which at least explained the error, though admittedly didn't excuse it.
Heads dropped, United sensed we were fully there for the taking and in the next twenty minutes either side of half-time, we duly obliged, offering scant defence for the hapless Dane who must have wondered what he had done to deserve this merciless treatment. The sight of Alan Smith running fully forty yards before slotting home summed up our defensive inadequacies, and in all honesty it was only a combination of the woodwork (from Rooney), a professional foul from Perry and United's energy conservation which prevented a cricket score.
You had to at least respect those Addicks fans that remained until the end. Had I been at the Valley instead of a New York pub, I certainly would have been inside the Blackwall Tunnel well before Dermot Gallagher put us out of our misery. There is only so much that one can take of seeing the pathetic figure of JJ, the paceless midfield, and a substitution which saw Europe's fastest player replaced by a centre-back when 4-0 down, before health considerations take priority over 'loyalty' to the team.
I have discussed at length the difference in class between the top three and the rest. What concerns me is that in seasons past, we have at least competed with the top three and indeed have beaten them occasionally, the 4-2 win over Chelsea springing to mind in late-2003. Our record in the five games so far this season against Chelsea/Arsenal/Man Utd have yielded a combined score of 1-17 and I shudder to think what score a relaxed Chelsea might rack up on Saturday particularly if they are heady from potentially beating Liverpool on Tuesday night.
There is no denying that we have gone backwards this season. Admittedly 45 points is no disaster, but 55 goals conceded and a goal difference of -15 tells the real story of this campaign. I think the damage was done in the summer; the transfers of Jeffers, Murphy and Rommedahl were all unusual for Charlton because for each, the move represented a move backwards rather than forwards, at least in terms of the size of their new club. This was not true of most of our previous successful signings. There is something in the body language of Murphy in particular which suggests he would rather be elsewhere.
I don't believe that short-termism gets you very far in football; this can be exemplifed by the relative success of those teams that have been loyal through thick and thin (eg. Man Utd, Crewe, Charlton etc..). Curbs is entitled to one bad season in light of what he has achieved after all, and it is on a season-by-season basis that managers should be assessed not on a game-by-game basis as some Chairmen seem to prefer. Hence in my view, it is not yet time for the board to be considering his future but rest assured, if fans like myself are sat writing a depressing blog like this come Summer 2007, then I dare say it will be time to say adieu to Curbs (if he hasn't already walked away, something which I believe is likelier than many imagine). In the meantime, a change at the coaching level would be most welcome - I'm comfortable letting Curbs deal with the motivation problem; I don't trust Mervyn Day to deal with the lack of ideas and basic defensive mistakes.