Charlton's goalkeeper tells Jon Brodkin that today's match with Boro ranks with facing Juventus at Anfield.
Comparisons are not often drawn between a Charlton Athletic-Middlesbrough game and a Champions League quarter-final but for Scott Carson the similarities are striking. Two seasons ago the goalkeeper was thrust into the first leg of such a European tie for Liverpool against Juventus because of injury to Jerzy Dudek and the fixture he faces today at The Valley has the same feel.
Just as the outcome against Juventus at Anfield promised to have a major bearing on Liverpool's European Cup, so Charlton's result against Boro will impact significantly on their battle to stay in the Premiership. And as Carson says: "At this stage of the season when you are playing at home a point's just not good enough."
That feeling is amplified given that Middlesbrough, who beat them 2-0 last month, sit 15th without an away victory and Charlton's following four matches look daunting: away to Portsmouth and Bolton, at home to Chelsea and then away to Manchester United.
"If we don't win it's going to be a tough next few games, in the same way that if we didn't win that home leg of the quarter-final it was going to be tough to go to Juventus," Carson reflects. "If we don't get the result we need, the next few games will be difficult to get the confidence up. We need to get a few things out of this game. The most important is the three points but we also need to get confidence."
For Charlton, six points below safety, belief can hardly have been bolstered by consecutive defeats at Arsenal and Nottingham Forest but Carson is positive. Liverpool beat Juventus 2-1 with him and eventually won a memorable European Cup final that he watched from the bench. The 21-year-old believes Charlton, where he is on a season's loan, can conjure an escape almost as spectacular as Liverpool's from 3-0 down that night against Milan.
Partly that is because of Alan Pardew, Charlton's third manager of a turbulent season. "I think the main thing he's brought is a belief," Carson says. "The lads have got an extra boost since he's been here. I have seen it in training from day one. Everyone's got an extra spring in their step, everyone wants the ball and it just looks totally different.
"He's had a good record with the two clubs he's been with [Reading and West Ham] and on day one he had a meeting and said: 'This is what I want and this is how I'm going to go about it.' The lads felt that was what we needed. Everyone knows what they are doing and, if it goes wrong, the manager can say: 'I said I wanted this and it never happened.'
"He wants people to go and get the ball. If they don't get the ball, they won't play. He wants people to work hard and he wants energy all round the pitch." Such essentials had not always been evident previously. "I think they were happening in stages but not as a team really," Carson says. "He wants everyone doing them, not just five or six players."
Several Iain Dowie summer signings have proved unsuccessful but Carson does not fit that category. "I think I have learned more in these 20 games than in the last five years," he says, and he aims to become No1 at Liverpool, for whom he has played nine times since a move two years ago from Leeds.
"When I get called to play again for Liverpool I will know what it's about," he says. "In the past I didn't know what it was about. I was not nervous but I thought: 'What if I do this or I don't do that.' Now I have been through it. I have all that out of the way and go into a game with a clear head."
Carson's rise is reward for hours of practice as a youngster in Cleator Moor, Cumbria. Even on the morning of exams he would get friends out of bed to hit shots at him and park games became more fun once a friend acquired goalnets that had belonged to a pub team. "He put them in a binbag and whenever we found some goalposts we would stick the nets up," Carson says. "We would have three or four hours just constantly shooting."
Carson's skills were also honed playing for Cleator Moor Celtic. His mother, a single parent, would cycle to watch. "It was four or five miles, so it wasn't like it was just five minutes," Carson says. "It was a good half-hour. Only in the last couple of years has she passed her [driving] test. Before that she never had a car, so it can't have been easy for her."
Carson, whose younger brother, Grant, is a goalkeeper on Carlisle's books, has rewarded his mother with a car and other gifts. "We weren't a poor family but my mum worked for everything she got and gave everything to me and my brother," he says. "For me getting this opportunity to make money doing something I like is beyond belief and I like to look after my family and my mum. She doesn't really want me to buy her things but I like to look after her and make sure she's not struggling for anything."
Carson's earnings might have been even higher had he accepted an offer from Chelsea but he opted for Liverpool. "Chelsea had [Petr] Cech and [Carlo] Cudicini," he says. "Liverpool had Dudek and [Chris] Kirkland but Kirkland was out for three to six months, so I thought: 'It's not about money but trying to get games and with Jerzy there could be a sending-off or injury.' That season I got three or four games, which was more than I expected, so even in those three or four games it was the right move."
One of those was against Juventus. Carson knows it is vital to replicate that win today against Middlesbrough.
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