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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

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Antonio puts Carlisle Utd to sword with injury time winner

Sheffield Wednesday 2 Carlisle United 1: Asked if he would be glad to see the back of Michail Antonio, Greg Abbott said of Carlisle’s executioner: “I would enjoy watching him in blue and white.” Not much chance of that, alas, unless you count Sheffield Wednesday’s stripes.

Carlisle Utd action photo
Jordan Cook, right, gets awat from Wednesday's Jose Semedo

A better uniform for this monumental nuisance to Cumbrian ambition would be a straitjacket, or some other restrictive clothing. Even then, the roaming loanee would probably find some way of escaping, just so he could strike against the Blues and Abbott again.

In 2010 Antonio twice ripped big holes in Carlisle’s defence and their self-esteem while in Southampton’s colours; first at Wembley in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and then in the league at St Mary’s. Two seasons on and the borrowed menace is at it again.

Those days with the Saints seemed to suggest Antonio was too good for League One, but here he is, still taking his services to third-tier grounds while his parent club, Reading, leap into the Premier League. Whatever has prevented the winger from stepping up with the Royals, it clearly doesn’t bother him when he wakes up on a Saturday knowing that Carlisle are in town.

United seem fated to catch the 22-year-old on all his hot days. In the first half on Saturday he made so many darting inroads down Carlisle’s left side that his area of the pitch was almost bare by the 45th minute. Then came his winning goal, in the depths of injury-time, which provoked ear-splitting noise around Hillsborough and gave his victims’ fingers a hard kick as they cling on, manfully, to their play-off hopes.

“This city is ours,” was the belligerent roar from the home supporters, after Antonio’s last act enabled them to chomp three points off Sheffield United’s four-point advantage in the duel for the second automatic promotion place. Carlisle have no such momentum after a third consecutive defeat by a single-goal margin, but their own journey didn’t end here, however much pain the finale administered.

Thanks to Notts County’s alarming home slump against Bury, one successful weekend still puts the Blues bang in the race. This, in the end, was Stevenage’s day (they beat Brentford 2-1), but the Hertfordshire club – now two points clear in sixth – must next go to Sheffield’s other cauldron, Bramall Lane, while United host 23rd-placed Exeter. Ludicrously, after two points and two goals from five games, Carlisle are still alive and slugging.

“I need to digest this one first,” said Abbott, when invited to consider the outlook with 180 minutes of term remaining. The moving on begins today but on Saturday it was mainly about coping with disappointment after 95 minutes often spent surviving Wednesday’s strong raids ended with that final calamity, as Antonio took Jose Semedo’s pass, stepped in from the left and placed a precise shot into the net, via the post.

That triggered the afternoon’s biggest noise, but before kick-off the hum was all about Bury’s ambush on Meadow Lane, which put United’s travelling fans in hopeful mood before watching their team – including Paddy Madden, promoted at JP McGovern’s expense – go up against Dave Jones’ formidable unit.

Pre-match, the pleasantries extended to a halfway-line chat between Paul Thirlwell and Gary Madine, the Owls’ former Carlisle headline-magnet. But life swiftly got less friendly for the Blues, as Antonio and Lewis Buxton made their first press down the right, leading to a zipped cross from the latter which Danny Livesey cut out.

A pattern was swiftly created, as Jones’ side constantly sought to isolate Antonio’s pace against Peter Murphy, at left-back. In the second minute a raking ball had the winger far beyond the Blues man, but his cross failed. Moments later a heavy challenge from Murphy on Antonio earned him a booking. The eventual matchwinner duly skinned his rival again, but Wednesday were short on devil for all this enterprise, with a wide Mark Beevers’ header the closest they got in the first 15 minutes.

Carlisle, who paired Madden with Francois Zoko up front with Jordan Cook in a more withdrawn role, were struggling to hold off their hosts, who seemed snappier and with more flair than during the Gary Megson era. A couple of hopeful Zoko runs swiftly died and then Tom Taiwo upended Buxton a foot outside the box as the Owls flew back.

This was not, it should be said, a case of United backing into their own half and trying to squeeze their well-resourced foes, as many visiting teams here might. Wednesday were simply too swift, too strong. Carlisle did eventually find some better gaps, with Cook dropping a shot narrowly wide and Zoko testing Stephen Bywater from 20 yards, but back, again, came the South Yorkshire tide, as Madine had a header superbly tipped over by Adam Collin and then Chris Lines finally struck, slotting in after the keeper had parried Jermaine Johnson’s shot after a jet-heeled run from the Jamaican.

This cast off some of the home anxiety and upped anticipation levels when the wide players, Johnson and Antonio, gathered up the ball and set off on further sprints. Carlisle kept looking for their own opportunities, and almost found them when Miguel Llera blocked Madden’s shot and then bundled a narrow-angled Zoko effort behind, but United went into half-time mainly showering Collin with gratitude, after the keeper had first saved from Nile Ranger after Livesey had misjudged a lobbed ball from the back, and then defied Johnson after he had left Frank Simek and Taiwo for dead and shot, instead of squaring for Madine.

A more cutting final touch, and some less capable goalkeeping, would have killed Carlisle, who had also been forced to defend a heavy assault of long-throws from Antonio. But 1-0 is never a cause that cannot be salvaged with a twist of fortune and form.

At the break Abbott excused Murphy from further torment and went for Matty Robson’s extra pace at left-back for his first outing since January. With the Blues midfielders competing keenly, it was in wide positions where Carlisle needed to improve to get their motor running again. It was far from a simple road, as Lines began the second period by sweeping past two yellow shirts, and then Lubo Michalik, enjoying one of his more commanding days, heaved a Ranger finish off the line.

Two themes were at play here: Wednesday’s wastefulness at the death and some valiant work by Abbott’s rear men. Johnson made one more elusive run but lost first his stride, then the ball (thanks to Taiwo), and then his place, as Jones lost patience and sent Keith Treacy on, instead, in the hunt for extra productivity.

Carlisle themselves were using the ball better across the middle but struggling to penetrate. Then came a serious flashpoint, as a Wednesday clearance put Antonio racing clear with Liam Noble for company. Their collision had the Wednesday man down and hurt, but ref Simon Hooper saw no infringement, to Jones’ outrage (a free-kick would have seen Noble dismissed). Carlisle and their No17 survived, Antonio eventually got himself upright after lengthy treatment to his shoulder (the long stoppage would benefit Wednesday later), and United then weathered more attempts by Madine and Ranger.

Andy Welsh and JP McGovern then entered, for Madden and Taiwo, as Carlisle perked up again. A James Berrett pull-back for Zoko deserved better than the Ivorian’s high finish, so the midfielder did the shooting himself next time, when Miguel Llera was collared for handball, Robson clipped his free-kick into the wall, and Berrett lasered the rebound into the bottom corner.

Up in the press box among the local contingent Carlisle’s equaliser was met with talk of banditry. How could United have the gall to take a point from such a lopsided duel? Down on the grass that outcome was challenged to a soundtrack of worry, as Treacy missed with a header, Ranger failed with a bicycle kick, Treacy triggered howls by crossing into vacant space and then, after six minutes of added time had been signalled, Welsh made a clean break downfield – crossing only to Bywater – before the final, decisive raid.

After Antonio’s showstopper had tested eardrums in all corners of Hillsborough there was still room for Noble to be booked for a clash with Madine, and then for Collin to sprint forward to contest, unsuccessfully, a free-kick in the Owls box. Then the roar tore across the stadium again at the final whistle. Against United, Antonio is simply too big a noise to contain.

ADAM COLLIN – Carlisle would have been dead at half-time but for theCumbrian, who defied the Owls many times.

FRANK SIMEK – Sometimes caught out in first half but overallcontributed to a defiant defensive effort.

PETER MURPHY – Struggled to keep pace with Antonio as Owls keptattacking down United’s under-protected left side.

DANNY LIVESEY – Led Carlisle’s rearguard effort when the aerialattacks rained in, wholehearted as ever.

LUBO MICHALIK – One of his best displays of recent months, did all hecould to repel Jones’ attackers.

TOM TAIWO – Did the dirty work in the midfield contest but wasn’talways able to stamp his mark on midfield battle.

JAMES BERRETT – Sometimes outran by Lines and co but gave United hopewith a fine finish, his 10th of term.

LIAM NOBLE – Passed the ball sensibly and brightly, though Owls fansargued he should have walked for Antonio collision.

JORDAN COOK – Worked hard to get United on the front foot but wasrarely able to elude the Owls’ rearguard.

FRANCOIS ZOKO – Wednesday often doubled up on the Ivorian, but hebroke free a few times. Couldn’t finish his one decent chance.

PADDY MADDEN – Tried to test strong home back line on his return toside, but chances were few.

Subs: Matty Robson (for Murphy 46) – Back in the thick of it; AndyWelsh (for Madden 73) – Gave extra width; JP McGovern (for Taiwo73) – Tried to link attacks. Not used: Paul Thirlwell, Mark Beck.

Goal: Berrett 82

Booked: Murphy, Noble

Sheffield Wednesday: Bywater, Buxton, Llera, Batth, Beevers, Semedo,Lines, Johnson (Treacy 57), Antonio, Ranger, Madine. Not used: Weaver,R.Jones, Prutton, Lowe.

Goals: Lines 25, Antonio 90+5

Ref: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire)

Crowd: 21,934

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