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Monday, 20 October 2014

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Carlisle United's Danny Livesey lives to regret errors at both ends

Crewe 1 Carlisle United 0: The good news for Danny Livesey is that there are 364 days left in 2013 and all of them are likely to be better than this one.

James Berrett photo
James Berrett

How not to begin a new year, episode one: attempt a defensive header back to your goalkeeper, make next to no connection, and a couple of seconds later watch the other team score as a direct result of your mistake.

Episode two: observe the best chance of an equaliser heading straight for your right peg, and then clatter the ball over the crossbar from a few yards out.

On both occasions at Crewe yesterday we watched Carlisle’s captain in a state of distress. The second clanger was a genuine hands-on-head moment, but it was the former incident that truly cost United on their first outing of the year.

It isn’t hard to rank the day’s two key happenings in order of importance. Certainly, United should not require their centre-half to show icy finishing in order to get points on the board. The 72nd-minute miss by Livesey was an embarrassing blemish but it could have been covered by the others in the side who are paid to attack.

No, the howler which will have haunted their number five in the night was the mishap that occurred on his own patch. The brink of Carlisle’s penalty box is corn-earning territory for Livesey, who will not, you can be sure, have required a crack team of interrogators to prise a confession out of him at full-time.

One of football’s honest men, you could already see pain sinking into the defender as Crewe celebrated their 44th-minute gift yesterday. The second longest-serving player on United’s books happened to be nearest the ball as it came rolling back out of the net, once Lauri Dalla Valle had scored with a header. Livesey turned on to it and gave it a brutal kick upfield.

This was plainly not a man who Greg Abbott will have needed to drag out of hiding in the first inquest of 2013. “A horror goal,” was the manager’s description of the slapstick winner which took Crewe into the top 10 and left the Blues wedged in the middle of the bottom half.

Most things that happened either side of the goal, and the worst miss of the day, showed two teams in fairly even nick.

The difference may be that Carlisle are not yet fully in the winning habit, while Crewe have gone through this League One campaign without quite so many stresses.

Not many people wrote up last season’s League Two play-off winners as League One promotion contenders at the start of this term. United, by comparison, came off a gallant run in 2011/12, making their collapse in the autumn all the more shocking.

Now we may be seeing the after-effects.

When Carlisle perform well, as they did for stretches here, they are still close enough to their bad days to feel the strain when pressure is applied. Crewe, though not obviously equipped with better players, seemed to have a more optimistic bearing.

Those fond of gallows humour will say that at least United are now only making one howler per game, as opposed to several.

The more generous fan will not wish to lampoon Livesey, who has given greatly to the cause down the years.

He will surely have better times and so may United, on some of yesterday’s evidence (which included a notable return for Rory Loy, after more than a year of injury anguish).

But they still have to convert promise, and promises, into results. Their attempt to do so yesterday started with a run and (off-target) shot from Matty Robson, one of their festive heroes. After that they had to endure a spell as strangers to the ball as Crewe opened up their passing game on a pitch made stodgy by the recent heavy rain.

Without the ball, the Railwaymen occupied a standard defensive shape but in possession they became perhaps the division’s most fluid team, with centre-halves pulling wide, midfielders dropping into the back four and their attacking men fanning out in support of Dalla Valle, a Finnish striker on loan from Fulham.

United, in their more familiar 4-3-3, went into this patient contest with decent midfield appetite and enough resolve to survive tricky runs from Mathias Pogba and Byron Moore, who drew a smart parry from Mark Gillespie. Then, when they eventually retrieved the ball, they forced a peach of a chance themselves.

Kelvin Mellor’s defensive header was misjudged and onto it sped Robson. He served Miller in the box, the striker dummied, and Brad Potts arrived on to the ball. But the teenager was thwarted by Steve Phillips, the home keeper, and still, somehow, remains without his debut professional goal.

Moments later the teenager went into the book for a foul on Abdul Osman. The next Blues man to be penalised was Robson, for holding Mellor: a decision which brought Abbott a couple of feet on to the pitch in protest. Then fortune completely deserted the Blues when Miller had a header saved, before being outdone by an awful bobble as he prepared to shoot from 25 yards.

Then came the calamity downfield, as a dropping ball was misjudged by Livesey, allowing Bradden Inman to shoot for goal. Gillespie, off his line, saved impressively, but Dalla Valle scented the rebound and, with his head, lobbed the retreating Chris Chantler.

This moment of farce was out of keeping with all of Carlisle’s earlier resolve and now required them to raise their counter-attacking game in the second half. As the travelling supporters found their voice in the wonderfully named Whitby Morrison Ice Cream Van Stand, JP McGovern and Robson saw crosses unrewarded before Miller met a James Berrett inswinger, drawing a leaping save from Phillips.

This close call aside, though, United’s tip was not sharp enough. They remained in the contest, but needed more goal threat. After a Noble through-ball to Potts was shut down by Osman, Abbott sent on Loy for the teenager.

This was a hugely welcome moment for the forward and his many admirers in the United fanbase, and he was soon in the thick of a penalty-box skirmish which saw McGovern drive the ball across, Phillips make a save, and then Livesey pop up at the back stick to clear the bar from an enviable position.

No centre-forward he. Loy, though, looked encouragingly bright in his 20-minute leg-stretcher, and he was heavily involved in the remaining pursuit of a leveller: once engaging Phillips from 25 yards, then shooting over from closer range. In between, Berrett and Livesey had slid in superbly to deny the sub Max Clayton and Pogba, and then, with Dave Symington on as a very late replacement for McGovern, Robson shanked one last shot wide in injury-time.

This outcome left Abbott rather dismayed as he talked the game through in interviews, though the manager pledged to deal with his disappointment “once the dust settles”, when he is able to see past the scoreline to the way his team had played, across the piece.

Should he be on the hunt for a real plus, he may speed the tape on to the 82nd minute, when Loy appeared strong whilst turning away from Osman’s close pressure. Every hard physical test he passes like that will be a big stride away from the horror injury (a broken leg) he suffered on December 26, 2011, and all the psychological barriers that followed.

In a perfect world that small victory would have been part of a bigger one, but this is Carlisle United in 2012/13, and it will plainly take more than the flick of a calendar page to make them error-free again.

MARK GILLESPIE - After his star showing against Bury, the keeper again looked in confident mood with his saves and catches, and did all he could to stop Crewe claiming their slapstick winner.

FRANK SIMEK - Did most of his defensive duties well and was responsible for some timely interceptions as Crewe came forward. Unable to attack as freely as he had in previous game.

CHRIS CHANTLER - Often up against the strong Pogba, but Chantler did an efficient job and rarely allowed his man to get the better of him. Like Simek, limited attacking input.

MIKE EDWARDS - In one of his better games for the Cumbrians, Edwards did little wrong and most of his defending at the heart of the back four was solid and of the no-nonsense variety.

DANNY LIVESEY - Will not need lessons on how a couple of bad moments can ruin an afternoon. In general his work was fine but the moment that gifted Crewe their goal was a howler, likewise his missed sitter at the other end.

BRAD POTTS - Sometimes found it hard going during Crewe’s brightest spells. A couple of galloping runs nearly brought him a goal but his tackling and passing weren’t as sharp as recently.

JAMES BERRETT - Covered plenty of turf to strengthen United’s defensive effort, making one superb challenge to deny Clayton. Attacking efforts mixed, though one cross nearly led to a Miller goal.

LIAM NOBLE - Full of industry when Crewe were trying to boss the game. Passing not always precise on a difficult surface but almost unlocked the door on a couple of occasions.

MATTY ROBSON - His alertness nearly led to a Potts goal in first half. Otherwise he showed plenty of willingness to run with the ball, but execution in final third wasn’t consistent enough.

JP MCGOVERN - Put in the yards to help United stay competitive, and was involved in the chance which Livesey should have taken. But couldn’t create anything else for the Blues.

LEE MILLER - Got on the end of a couple of crosses and nearly got United back into it. Tried to link up some promising attacks and worked well with Loy during the latter’s cameo.

Subs: Rory Loy (for Potts 70) – Given all he’s been through, an encouraging return; Dave Symington (for McGovern 88) – Not enough time to make his mark. Not used: Adam Collin, Peter Murphy, Andy Welsh, Mark Beck, Sean McGinty.

Booked: Potts, Simek, Livesey

Crewe Alexandra: Phillips, Mellor, Tootle, Davis, Ellis, Murphy, Osman, Inman (Robertson 85), Pogba (Colclough 85), Moore, Dalla Valle (Clayton 76). Not used: Martin, Dugdale, Leitch Smith, Aneke.

Goal: Dalla Valle 44

Booked: Osman

Ref: Andrew Madley (West Yorkshire)

Crowd: 4,802 (485 Carlisle fans)

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