Date: 5th December 2005 at 1:04pm
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Stuart Pearce made five changes for the visit to The Valley, opting for experience over youth as several players returned from injury. The inexperienced midfield that struggled against Liverpool last week was all but changed completely with just Joey Barton keeping his place in the side. Sun Jihai, Claudio Reyna and Trevor Sinclair all came into the midfield at the expense of Musampa, Ireland and Croft. Both full back positions found new occupants with David Sommeil replacing the injured Danny Mills and Ben Thatcher replacing Steven Jordan. With last week’s left hand side of Musampa and Jordan failing to even make the bench, this selection told its own story about the lack of creativity down that side in recent weeks.

The game was in some ways a mirror image of the corresponding fixture last season with City dominating from the off. Vassell, in true Jon Macken style, missed an early one on one with Kiely but the omens looked good as the performance exceeded anything seen in recent weeks. City took a deserved lead on 24 minutes, Cole picking up the ball from Vassell’s toes and firing neatly home. Charlton looked there for the taking, their recent run of defeats looking as though it weighed heavy on their shoulders. Surprisingly therefore the next goal was Charlton’s, a long punt through the middle looked to offer no danger until Dunne misjudged the flight of the ball presenting Bent with the opportunity to fire a neat finish past James. Charlton were back in it for all of 54 seconds. City broke from the kick off, Cole found Sinclair who left the woeful Spector trailing before hitting a neat finish beyond Kiely and in at the far post. City took the lead to the break without ever looking really troubled.

The second half, if anything, saw an even more polished performance from City. Hreidesson fouled Vassell on 68 minutes allowing Barton to convert from the rebound of his own missed penalty. Charlton again threatened a recovery when Bothroyd reduced the deficit with a well struck free kick on 72 minutes. But City were not to sacrifice the points as they did last year, Vassell broke clear on 78 minutes to place a neat finish under Kiely’s body and Cole rounded off the scoring when he pounced on Perry’s poor defensive header before rounding Kiely and finishing into an empty net.

So City’s biggest win of the season to date and signs that the poor run of form has been arrested. The re-introduction of experience made a huge difference to the level of performance and reflects well for the games to come. That is not to underestimate the potential of the younger players but it was probably time for one or two to be rested. 10 out of 10 to the manger for recognising this and 10 out of 10 to the team for a performance that keeps the pressur on the European places.

Player Ratings

James 6
Not much to do, one good save in the second half but could have kept Charlton’s second out. Will be disappointed to be beaten at his near post.

Sommeil 8
Great return for the Phantom. Looked steady in defence and distribution was good. May get an extended run with Mills being sidelined

Thatcher 7
Solid return for the full back. Should keep his place on this performance.

Dunne 6
Not looking at his best right now, certainly at fault for Charlton’s first. However still Distin’s best partner and the form will return.

Distin 8
Enormous as ever at the back. Bent couldn’t get in behind him and Charlton had to change their system. Talking and shouting more and more.

Sun Jihai 8
A right full back playing on the left wing and giving twenty times more than Musampa has this season. Tremendous fifty yard cross field pass in the second half. Best game of the season so far.

Sinclair 8
Showing the promise we hoped he would when he arrived at the club. Great finish for the second goal, good return to the team.

Reyna 7
Nothing spectacular, broke up play, played the simple ball well and held the misfield together. Good partnership with Barton.

Barton 8
Great second half attacking performance, only soured by the penalty miss which he corrected. Been a tough few weeks for Joey but he’s got his head down and looks the part.

Vassell 9.5
MOTM performance for the torrid time he gave the Charlton defence. Great finish for his goal and yet more signs of a truly great partnership developing with Cole

Cole 9
Just edged out by Vassell for MOTM but still a great game with two typical Andrew Cole finishes. Looks anything but 34 at the minute, great game.

Manager Rating
Great changes by Stuart Pearce. Recognised the youngsters were flagging and shored it up with experience. The honeymoon may be over but we’re still moving forwards.

Opponent Rating
Charlton were awful. Sunderland must really fancy their chances next week as Charlton look shot of all confidence. Relegation strugglers? If this form continues, definately.

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