CHARLTON ATHLETIC v NEWCASTLE UNITED, 2-0
Sun 18 Mar 2007
Zheng Zhi used his head to dramatically improve Charlton Athletic's chances of staying in the Barclays Premiership.
The China international midfielder headed a 54th-minute goal against Newcastle United, and won an 88th-minute penalty which Jerome Thomas converted to turn Addicks’ home into Happy Valley again.
Zheng, on loan for the rest of the season from Shandong Luneng, was on the spot to coolly head into an empty net after Darren Bent’s clever free-kick had bounced down off the bar nine minutes after half-time.
Then as Charlton hung on to their hard-earned advantage, Zheng went down in the box after a nudge by Nolberto Solano and Thomas sealed all three points from the spot.
It means Charlton are now just four points behind 17th-placed Sheffield United, having picked up seven points from their last three games.
With Sheffield United and Wigan Athletic to play in south London before the end of the campaign, boss Alan Pardew will believe he can get his new team out of jail.
Zheng was the star of a vibrant second half which was a total contrast to the first 45 minutes - but only after he was switched into attack with Bent when specialist winger Dennis Rommedahl replaced the injured Marcus Bent at half-time.
Zheng could have easily scored two more goals - but he shot over after Bent’s header came back off a post and then saw another effort blocked by Newcastle’s Craig Moore, playing for the first time in 26 matches after a hamstring injury.
For Newcastle, who exited the UEFA Cup at the hands of AZ Alkmaar on Thursday, the outcome could have been different had Antoine Sibierski taken an early chance - and also if referee Dermot Gallagher had awarded a handball by Talal El Karkouri in the Charlton area early in the second half.
Newcastle’s former Charlton favourite Scott Parker had the first shot of the first half when he fired badly wide from 30 yards in the fourth minute.
Two minutes later Sibierski spurned a great opportunity to add to his eight goals this season, applying a dismal first touch in the penalty area to Damien Duff’s pass and allowing Charlton’s Souleymane Diawara to get across and dispossess him.
A cold, blustery wind did not exactly encourage good football but Newcastle kept the ball on the ground and had marginally the better of the scrappy early exchanges.
When Emre clumsily fouled Zheng - making his full debut after three substitute appearances - five yards outside the area, El Karkouri’s well-struck free-kick was only a yard or two wide of the target.
Only in the closing stages of the opening period did Charlton show sufficient urgency to match their relegation-fighting task.
The hosts had to remodel their plans when Alex Song, on loan from Arsenal, hobbled off just before half-time and Marcus Bent failed to appear for the second half - replaced by winger Rommedahl.
It made all the difference to Charlton and they pummelled the Newcastle goal - even though goalkeeper Scott Carson was required to make his one outstanding save of the match from substitute Charles N’Zogbia deep in stoppage-time.
However, by then, Zheng and Thomas had both beaten Shay Given to make sure of three precious points for the home side.
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