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Thursday, 17 April 2014

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Carlisle Utd claim point from bore draw at Wycombe

Wycombe Wanderers 0 Carlisle United 0: If this is supposed to be the most dramatic period of the season, when teams argue over points with increasing urgency and fizz, then the chap assigned to deliver that message to Adams Park must have got lost on the way.

Carlisle Utd action photo
Richard Keogh wins a header

The result is far from a calamity for Carlisle United but this was an afternoon when entertainment took a hike. Saturday’s goalless draw was a scoreline that flattered both teams.

At least United’s manager, Greg Abbott, was able to take to the bank a sturdy enough defensive performance, a second clean sheet off the reel, one wonder save from Adam Collin and a welcome skip into League One’s top half. There are worse outcomes from a day’s toil.

But neither Wycombe nor the Blues satisfied any kind of obligation to stir the blood of nearly 5,000 supporters, some of whom were reduced to pointing at the red kites soaring above this tidy Buckinghamshire arena in order to take home something memorable for their dosh.

Birds of prey overhead, zero predatory work down below. Sift through the dreary detail of this non-event and only a modest handful of scoring chances can be reported back. At least Collin, with his remarkable, scooped save from Alan Bennett in the 40th minute, meant we were not completely bereft of talking points.

The nasty eye wound suffered by Tom Taiwo in a jump with Wycombe’s John Mousinho also enabled us to reopen the debate about how such aerial challenges ought to be policed. Elsewhere on the agenda is a growing striker problem for Abbott, after Darryl Duffy shuffled off Wycombe’s bobbly pitch in the first half with a hamstring injury to join Joe Anyinsah on the sick list.

United’s supporters may as well get to work on those topics, because anyone who starts a conversation about Saturday’s action itself will set a world record time for clearing a room. Even the normally-upbeat Abbott concluded his trawl for “positives” by saying: “I don’t think I’m going to watch the game again on the DVD, as I normally do. I might scrap that and watch Coronation Street instead.”

Observations to take two days ago were that Wycombe are an earnest but limited team who do not seem to have sufficient potency to climb their way to safety, and that Carlisle possess a strong enough base to keep themselves away from danger but still need to attend a few seminars on consistent creativity. “My main criticism was that we got the ball into good areas but didn’t deliver enough quality,” agreed Abbott. “The service to Scott Dobie was ordinary.” And that’s being polite.

Black armbands and a minute’s silence before kick-off allowed a civilised tribute to be paid to Keith Alexander, the tragic Macclesfield manager. What followed was a rather unappealing spectacle where effort and slog completely overrode any of the sport’s more eyecatching charms, such as clean passing and convincing movement.

Ian Harte, the classiest outfield player on display, sounded a promising early note with a fine, sweeping pass to Kevan Hurst, whose cross for Matty Robson was hurriedly put behind by the home right-back, Julian Kelly. Regrettably, a more telling indicator of what was to follow came when Kevin McLeod advanced through midfield space and then scuffed an entirely wasteful 30 yard shot to nowhere in particular.

Hurst’s industry allowed United to terminate further home attacks, before a deflected Jon-Paul Pittman shot forced Collin into a scrambling save. At the other end, a quick free-kick from Harte enabled the Blues to assemble a decent attack which led to a cross from Evan Horwood, a challenge from Dobie and a smashed shot into the side-netting from Adam Clayton, as the offside flag was hoisted.

Harte was a whisker wide with a free-kick after half-an-hour, but United’s policy of sending long, channel-balls for Dobie and Duffy to chase was yielding few dividends. Ben Marshall then stepped off the bench to replace Duffy, who has yet to fully hit his straps for the Cumbrians, as Wycombe closed the first half with a measure of urgency.

While Danny Livesey was off the field for treatment to a head gash, Collin flew off his line to palm away a Matt Phillips free-kick, and when the resulting corner found its way to Bennett, the defender aimed a deflected header towards goal only for Carlisle’s ‘keeper to hurl himself back and flick the ball to safety.

The save of the season contest was nailed right there. It was a moment to treasure from the former Workington Reds man and brightened up many half-time conversations. Ten seconds into the second half, Mousinho leapt with Taiwo and left the Carlisle man with a bloodied eye and in a such a state of dizziness that paramedics had to come to his assistance.

There was plainly no intention on Mousinho’s part to wound Taiwo but it is reasonable to suggest that every such challenge that goes unpunished – no card was flourished by the referee, Phil Crossley – extends the time we will have to wait before this manner of dangerous play is properly dealt with. Must a player be blinded before a more meaningful deterrent is introduced?

As Taiwo was helped from the field, Paul Thirlwell rose from the bench and offered a steadying presence to United’s midfield, which was shielding the back four well enough but crafting little to trouble Gary Waddock’s own back line. Dobie and Marshall almost worked a chance on the hour and Richard Keogh met a bouncing Harte set-piece with a looping header, and then, out of the mediocrity, McLeod was allowed to turn and shoot from 25 yards, drawing a fine, diving stop from Collin.

Waddock went for Stuart Beavon’s pace from the bench as he tinkered in pursuit of victory, but the substitute’s best surge died on his own heavy control and then a thumping tackle by Horwood. By the time the ever-willing Marshall aimed a rare shot down the throat of Tom Heaton, the home goalkeeper, Carlisle’s fans were reduced to ironic cheering.

Their hopes of snatching all the points perished with their last attack of note; a pleasing move involving Thirlwell and Hurst, whose cross for Dobie was intercepted by a defender.

Dean Keates and then Mousinho concluded Wycombe’s remaining bluster with off-target attempts before United could tack the point onto their total and the rest of us could finally consign the game to the memory’s dustbin.

What Abbott needs to do now is prove that United’s healthy position of 12th is not a mirage, by coaxing a better standard of performance from an increasingly-depleted pool of players against a succession of higher-class opponents (Millwall and Colchester, from the business end of League One, are up next, and the Blues still have to confront Charlton, Southampton, Leeds and Norwich).

To repeat: a goalless draw at Wycombe doesn’t even register on the scale of calamity with which United were well acquainted this time last season. And it needs to be acknowledged that points have to be wrung out of certain games, rather than taken with flair. For doing that, Abbott’s team deserve some praise, not censure.

But that doesn’t make it wrong to recoil from much of what we saw on Saturday. It was sport as heavy industry: clunking, functional, dull. To accept that as your weekend’s treat without passing critical comment would be an affront to what football is supposed to be.

ADAM COLLIN - Wonder save from Bennett kept the scores level and was alert and tidy in all his other work.

RICHARD KEOGH - Defensively secure, limited attacking forays from the right-back.

EVAN HORWOOD - A couple of important interceptions on a steady enough afternoon.

DANNY LIVESEY - Watchful and strong at centre-half to help keep Wycombe’s modest attack at bay.

IAN HARTE - Most of his contributions were laced with quality. The best player on the pitch.

TOM TAIWO - Competitive as usual until nasty eye injury forced him off at start of second half.

ADAM CLAYTON - Kept United ticking over but little creative spark from the Man City man.

MATTY ROBSON - Toiled away down the left, couldn’t find a telling cross.

KEVAN HURST - One of Carlisle’s livelier players, threatened at times and worked tirelessly.

SCOTT DOBIE - Chased everything for the cause, received highly limited service.

DARRYL DUFFY - Little service to work with and limped off before first half was through.

Subs: Ben Marshall (for Duffy 38) - Bright enough; Paul Thirlwell (for Taiwo 49) - Responsible effort. Not used: Mark Gillespie, Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, Peter Murphy, Graham Kavanagh, Tony Kane.

Wycombe: Heaton, Woodman, Bennett, Hinshelwood, Kelly, Keates, Phillips, Mousinho, McLeod (Beavon 68), Harrold, Pittman (Revell 82). Not used: Shearer, Hunt, Bloomfield, Montrose, Westwood.

Booked: Phillips, Hinshelwood

Ref: Phil Crossley (London)

Crowd: 4,876.

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