Carlisle Utd and Exeter exploit holes to serve up attacking thrills
Last updated at 12:48, Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Carlisle United 2 Exeter City 2: League One is often downplayed as a refuge for artless grafters and defensive passion-killers.
For 45 minutes last night Carlisle United and Exeter City sprayed graffiti over the stereotype and left a small midweek audience drunk on attacking thrills.
At the interval, Greg Abbott and Paul Tisdale concluded that the craziness must stop. Two of the division’s longest-serving managers asked their sides to remember that a game can’t be won with carefree football alone.
The shutters descended, and the 5-5 draw which seemed to be in the making at Brunton Park was duly consigned to the imagination’s trashcan. But as defenders eventually reasserted themselves, the memory still dwelt on a four-goal first half which hit some of the season’s highest notes for entertainment.
United and the Grecians are not necessarily the third tier’s red-carpet names. Glamour-addicts tend to look elsewhere. Their loss. Any neutral who shuffled into Carlisle’s ground on this misty Tuesday evening would quickly have been reduced to giddiness at the sight of the ball zipping from one end to another, courtesy of Exeter’s passing triangles and the Blues’ persistence and drive.
Students of the game’s negative arts would have howled at the abandon with which both teams continually careered out of their own territory.
Example: midway through the opening half, Troy Archibald-Henville, the visitors’ centre-half, vacated his back-four habitat and sprinted forward to join an Exeter counter-attack on the edge of Carlisle's box.
It couldn’t go on like this, but it was enormous fun while it lasted.
“Exeter were brilliant,” said Abbott. “Paul plays football the way we want to play. He opens the game up and wants to attack.
“They left holes, we left holes. We both exploited each other. If the referee hadn’t blown for half-time it could have been any score. Both teams tidied it up after that but sometimes you wish that everybody would come and play as openly and freely as that.”
In Abbott’s dash to praise Tisdale for his admirable philosophies, United’s boss can himself accept some plaudits for urging his own players to fire themselves back at their guests with such vigour. The sloppiness at the rear which allowed the gifted Ryan Harley to snaffle a pair of goals was clearly niggling the Carlisle leader but he, like the rest of us, found greater value in highlighting the game’s more appealing virtues.
“We need more than 3,900 if we’re going to take the club forward,” added Abbott, referring to the evening’s modest gate. “That’s why we’re trying to play attractive football. It doesn’t always come off, and it doesn’t mean you have to stop defending properly, but we will always try.”
For players like Harley and Francois Zoko to flourish in last night’s manner it usually requires a pair of dugout-dwellers with matching intentions. It also helps if the respective rearguards aren’t always at their most attentive. And so, as early as the second minute, an Exeter cross found Harley in outrageous space in the Carlisle area. The midfielder, loaned back to the Grecians after signing for Swansea last month, lingered too long on the ball when an uncultured thrash of the right leg might have opened the scoring.
Harley, who will surely grace the next division up, does not seem one for such vulgarities. His imaginative running and cute distribution was among the night’s highlights and also a tribute to Tisdale's tactical intellect. Yet if United were sometimes flummoxed, and pulled uncomfortably to all parts of their pitch by Exeter’s star man, they offered plenty of their own ideas downfield.
Finding their range, they forced early chances for Ben Marshall, who struck the ball against Zoko’s head, and then Peter Murphy, who skimmed a free-kick against a post. Then they scored: an interception by Liam Noble, a purposeful dash by the buoyant Marshall, a pass which Zoko retrieved with superb acceleration, and a cut-back which the recalled Craig Curran forced home.
Four minutes later, though, Exeter struck back with a move from the rear which ended with Scott Golbourne lofting the ball on, Cureton applying a header and Harley evading loose defensive attention to fire in an impressive shot which fizzed across Adam Collin and went in off the post.
United, affronted, attacked again. Noble won a stirring challenge and Marshall drew the save of the night from Ben Hamer. Danny Livesey, in for the injured Lubo Michalik, then rose to head a James Berrett corner towards goal but was denied on the line by Harley.
Deep breaths. Another Exeter surge. Steve Tully’s cross from the right was inadequately dealt with by Murphy, who glanced the ball on to Cureton. The striker’s volley was miscued, but Harley’s opportunism took him onto the chance and he steered it past Collin. 1-2.
This was unusually slapdash defending from the Blues, but there was little time to dwell on such matters, for Abbott’s men were soon sweeping forward again. First, the superbly-competitive Noble shot wide from 30 yards. Matty Robson, fielded again at left-back, then fed Curran but the striker misread the pass. Collin defied Billy Jones at the other end, Robson replied with an off-target swerver, Murphy thwarted Harley’s hat-trick attempt, and then it was level again: a deep Marshall cross, a nod-down from Curran and a composed, close-range finish from Zoko.
Supporters took half-time respite and then anticipated a further flurry of goals. It never came, chiefly thanks to those defensive improvements, but United in particular continued to throw all their best ideas at the victory pursuit.
With one foray, Zoko – looking more menacing than in Carlisle’s recent away victories – ran to the byline, pulled back for the arriving Berrett but saw Archibald-Henville take the chance off the midfielder’s toe. With Marshall now becalmed on the left, Frank Simek and Robson rained a series of crosses into the Exeter box as the crowd upped their volume.
Curran, who performed all night with quality and drive, then outmuscled Archibald-Henville and tested Hamer. Moments on, the visiting skipper Matt Taylor offered a fresh diversion by backheeling the ball along his own goalline to safety. Zoko then received a transatlantic tirade from Simek when the Ivorian failed to spot his captain’s overlapping run. Later, Noble engaged Hamer with a further pair of shots but couldn’t apply enough revs to beat the Reading loanee.
Harley was by now a drifting force, but almost broke free with a 71st minute shot that Collin was obliged to parry. Exeter’s faithfulness to imaginative football remained but sometimes led to malfunctions, such as the quick free-kick taken by David Noble 10 minutes from time which he donated straight to Tom Taiwo. Elsewhere, Berrett was denied by defenders after a Taiwo battle and Marshall sprint, and then Livesey copped a last-minute booking for upending Liam Sercombe with a challenge that was ill-timed but not malicious.
“I think the referee had blown for full-time by the time he got to that tackle,” smiled Abbott. “But Danny has only played a couple of games in the last 12 months. He is a top guy, Carlisle through-and-through and you know you will get total honesty from him.”
Livesey’s rehabilitation as a front-line performer after so much injury grief will be helped no end by these 90 demanding minutes. The shame was that it all had to end, a sentiment shared by the gallery as they sent the Blues on their way with a mighty ovation.
Save a ripple, too, for Tisdale, the art and design enthusiast who now takes his attractive football back to Devon. United’s decision to join their guests in an evening of eye-catching patterns earned them one point and plenty of admiration.
Perhaps the clue was in the team-sheet a couple of hours earlier, when it showed both sides were lining up with a player called Noble.
ADAM COLLIN - Little chance with the goals, otherwise not his busiest night but was alert when required.
FRANK SIMEK - The mainstay of an ever-changing back four, he was more impressive in attack than defence.
MATTY ROBSON - Galloped forward whenever he could, and battled away at the back.
DANNY LIVESEY - Looked more secure as the game went on and will benefit immensely from the run-out.
PETER MURPHY --At fault as Exeter struck in the first half, tightened up his game well after break.
TOM TAIWO Energetic, relentless midfield effort, his tackling helped pin Exeter back.
JAMES BERRETT - No repeat of Saturday’s heroics but he was always involved in middle of the park.
LIAM NOBLE - Committed and sharp in midfield, another good night’s work from the teen.
BEN MARSHALL - Stoke flyer was devastating in the first half, but much quieter afterwards.
CRAIG CURRAN - Recalled striker carried the attacking fight superbly and now has two goals in three games.
FRANCOIS ZOKO - Took goal well and was often troublesome for defenders, but decision-making sometimes flawed.
Subs: Rory Loy (for Marshall 90) – No time to make impact. Not used: Tony Caig, Paddy Madden, Ben McKenna, Nahki Wells, Steven Swinglehurst, Marco Gbarssin.
Goals: Curran 9, Zoko 45
Booked: Noble, Livesey
Exeter City: Hamer, Jones (Nardiello 58), Archibald-Henville, Taylor, Tully, Golbourne, Sercombe, Noble (Cozic 86_, Harley, O’Flynn (Dunne 68), Cureton. Not used: Krysiak, Edwards, Stewart, Logan.
Goals: Harley 13, 27
Ref: Andy Haines (Tyne & Wear)
First published at 11:45, Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Published by http://www.newsandstar.co.uk
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