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Friday, 18 April 2014

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Carlisle Utd banish opening day defeat with win at Bury

Bury 0 Carlisle United 2: Greg Abbott has spent the early days of term with his nose in a book called The Smell Of Football, and on Saturday Carlisle United’s manager and his team chased away a particularly unpleasant stench.

James Berrett photo
James Berrett celebrates

The whiff of defeatism that hung over Brunton Park last weekend has been neutralised in the space of seven days. A pair of battle-hardened victories has given the Blues their self-esteem back, which has to go down as an impressively quick turnaround from the bleakest opening-day loss for 27 years.

Carlisle 0 Notts County 3 now appears so last week. Nine days on, a happier scoreline is Lancashire 0 Cumbria 2. With a cup win on penalties at Oldham and now this maiden league triumph of 2011/12, Abbott’s successful quest to run some belief through his players has teed up a regional hat-trick attempt at Rochdale tomorrow night before the Blues can reacquaint themselves with their home ground.

United’s confidence is visibly on the climb. Leafing through the memoirs of the former Everton physio Mick Rathbone has convinced Abbott of the precious value of that elusive commodity. In his playing days ‘Baz’ Rathbone was so awestruck by lining up alongside his hero Trevor Francis at Birmingham that his footballing faculties shut down, so that even the basic act of passing the ball became tougher than a quadratic equation.

No such anxieties plagued the Blues two days ago. From a disciplined, aggressive base they worked the ball around Bury’s white shirts often enough to create a stream of chances, two of which were taken by James Berrett and Liam Noble. They also rapped the woodwork twice and were a whisper away with further attempts, while Ryan Lowe, the hosts’ prolific number 15, barely got a glimpse of Carlisle’s target.

Two triumphs should not bring the bunting out of storage, but at Bury there was the feeling of something bad being laid to rest. Nobody at United seriously believed they were as poor as last Saturday’s three-goal humbling had implied, but it remained a relief to witness a more spiky and efficient afternoon’s work in their second league contest.

“Sometimes it’s nice to be in this job but it wasn’t so nice last Saturday,” Abbott said. “So let me enjoy my pint this week.” Carlisle’s boss was entitled to clink glasses with all his players at full-time here, perhaps saving his cheeriest greeting for Paul Thirlwell, whose disciplined midfield leadership in a game played at express speed helped stitch the winning performance together.

At half-time Thirlwell exited the pitch with a forearm so deformed it looked like he was concealing a cricket ball beneath his skin. This ugly swelling, the result of an accidental encounter with Lowe’s studs, duly faded and enabled Carlisle’s skipper to return – strapped up – for a second half in which United finally capitalised on their superiority. “We were concerned Thir might have broken something,” said Abbott. “But at half time he said, ‘Don’t even think about substituting me’. That’s just the type of captain you want.”

Leadership was required in other forms on Saturday. Before supporters started clicking into Bury’s 126-year-old ground, Abbott brought Danny Livesey onto the pitch for a 10-minute diplomatic discussion during which the manager explained to the defender why he had gone from first-team starter at Oldham to tracksuited extra at Gigg Lane. Lubo Michalik’s return from international duty saw the unlucky Livesey dispatched not just from the starting line-up but also from the 16-man squad, as Stephen O’Halloran retained the defensive berth on the bench.

After making other selection tweaks – a debut for the Newcastle loan defender James Tavernier, and a start up front for Rory Loy – Abbott saw United trot into battle in competitive mood, Michalik showing alertness to thwart an early run from Damien Mozika before Carlisle started making their own advances.

One hopeful run from Francois Zoko was effortlessly thwarted by Efe Sodje, Bury’s 38-year-old defender, but Carlisle’s appetite brought them straight back at Richie Barker’s team. A rapid break from a home free-kick led to a gliding Matty Robson run and a pass to the overlapping Tom Taiwo, who flicked the chance across Cameron Belford and watched it clip the inside of the post and bounce clear.

Thirlwell then tested Belford and Berrett fizzed a 20-yarder close, as Carlisle dipped into their energy reserves to stay with Bury’s crisp passing game and mobility, both symptoms and causes of last season’s League Two promotion. Here, the ‘diamond’ system was at last showing its worth, often giving the Blues a useful extra body in the centre to dismantle home breaks and turn defence into attack.

From their industrious middle men, more forays followed: Robson, in lively mood, fastened onto a clearance and whipped over a low cross which Loy failed to convert from a handy position. Bury, meanwhile, offered plenty of vigour but minimal penetration.

Lowe, monitored well by Michalik and Peter Murphy, engaged Adam Collin with a curler, then, after his accidental collision with Thirlwell, the striker headed over a Jones cross.

Downfield, a Carlisle corner on half-time led to a close-range chance from which Michalik strangely withdrew.

The big Slovakian’s reticence there was at odds with the rest of his, and Carlisle’s willingness to “confront”, to use Abbott’s pre-game term of choice. They absorbed a brief burst of pressure at the start of the second half – Collin dashing from his line to thwart David Worrall – and gradually worked their way back into a promising position.

This led to their 69th minute goal, as a Berrett corner was dealt with uncertainly by the home defence. The midfielder duly retrieved the ball, cut into space and uncorked a low shot that wrongfooted Belford.

In a trice, Jones clipped Bury level, but the goal was wiped out for a foul. Andy Welsh then arrived from the bench to help United stretch their opponents and the sub might have sealed matters in the closing stages, had he not got underneath a cross from Noble, who had by now replaced Zoko.

By then, Bury’s best late attempts had passed with Robson taking a Lowe screamer in the chops from close quarters and Murphy putting a timely foot in the way of a pass from Bury’s chief marksman. Later, Murphy was defied by Belford after a corner, before Carlisle finally accelerated away from their stubborn hosts: Welsh motoring down the left and setting up Noble for an injury-time shot which the Sunderland loanee powered through the keeper’s attempted save.

Noble, who had a 94th minute cross butted against the bar by another sub, Craig Curran, now has four goals from his last 10 games, a stat which rewards his attitude to practice.

Before completing his pre-game warm-up the young midfielder lingered longer than any team-mate in pinging shots into the net. The connection between this and his confident finish in front of 892 merry Carlisle supporters was not hard to spot.

“We don’t like letting those people down,” said Abbott of the travelling legions. “They pay their money, come a long way, and they’ve had a nice day out in the sun and seen us play well.” None of those words were on his lips nine days ago, but this time it felt better, smelt better.

ADAM COLLIN - Wasn’t often called into service but he was alert to foil Lowe and Worrall in either half.

JAMES TAVERNIER - An impressive debut from the Newcastle teenager, who wasn’t outbattled or outran by Bury’s attackers.

MATTY ROBSON - His energy and positivity down the left got United going and helped turn the heat on the hosts.

LUBO MICHALIK - Dominant defensive performance but strange hesitancy when a good chance came his way.

PETER MURPHY - Helped put the shackles on Bury’s frontmen and barely put a foot wrong all game.

PAUL THIRLWELL - Playing through arm injury, his experience shone through as he broke up Bury attacks and passed intelligently.

TOM TAIWO - Ran himself into the ground in defence and attack, only the post denied him a fine goal.

JAMES BERRETT - Industry in midfield overrode occasional passing inaccuracy, and his keenness to shoot earned him a goal.

JON-PAUL MCGOVERN - Kept trying to test Bury from different areas and used ball responsibly in closing stages.

FRANCOIS ZOKO - Always looked for opportunities to run at Bury’s defenders even if end product wasn’t always tidy.

RORY LOY - Led line selflessly and took up some good scoring positions but couldn’t take the one good chance that came his way.

Subs: Craig Curran (for Loy 59) – Crossbar thwarted late effort; Andy Welsh (for Taiwo 72) – Pacy winger laid on Noble’s clincher; Liam Noble (for Zoko 80) – Confidently clinched the points. Not used: Mark Gillespie, Stephen O’Halloran.

Goals: Berrett 69, Noble 90

Booked: Zoko, Michalik

Bury: Belford, Picken, Skarz, Sodje, Hughes, Sweeney, Worrall, Jones (Haworth 72), Mozika, Bishop (John-Lewis 67), Lowe. Not used: Branagan, Cregg, Futcher.

Ref: Oliver Langford (West Midlands)

Crowd: 3,640 (892 Carlisle fans)

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