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Monday, 24 November 2014

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Carlisle Utd cruise past Alfreton in FA Cup

Alfreton Town 0 Carlisle United 4 Carlisle United’s commitment to charity begins and ends with the hair that’s now sprouting above their top lips. Greg Abbott’s moustachioed heroes currently resemble players from a different age but this was no throwback cup tie where the little man has his day.

Each of Carlisle’s four goals, all of which came during a 20-minute seminar on clinical finishing, was taken by a player who has signed up to the ‘Movember’ movement, in which the growing of a ‘tache is intended to raise awareness of men’s health issues.

Lee Miller, Rory Loy, James Berrett and Liam Noble just need a little Brylcreem in their hair and longer shorts and they’ll resemble 1920s icons with names like Albert and Ernie. With their long balls and missile throw-ins, Alfreton also did their best to drag this game back into the past until they fell down the quality chasm.

ITV’s seven cameras, which were strewn around this small Derbyshire arena, got the reverse of what they came for. From the moment Miller passed his eighth Carlisle goal into Joe Day’s net in the 24th minute this became the opposite of a giantkilling. United will rarely be so happy to take their place in the Sunday newspaper smallprint.

First Round day for the highest clubs in League One is mainly about swerving one of the bullets that lesser teams traditionally fire on November’s second weekend. During their defining first-half spell Carlisle dodged and danced around Nicky Law’s players as if they were training-ground cones.

With a quartet of net-ripples at the end of all that enterprise, Abbott’s men successfully completed their exercise in headline-avoidance. It allowed them to negotiate the second-half in less dynamic mode, give a decent workout to their defenders and goalkeeper, and observe the strength of one of the crossbars at the Impact Arena, which was appropriately named in the 58th minute here.

Chris Senior’s penalty at that time hit the frame of Adam Collin’s target with such force that it bounced back as far as Alfreton’s own half. It was a symbolic moment from a day when skill and placement beat power and gusto. Law’s team improved when they added their two smallest players to their XI – Senior and his fellow Lilliputian substitute, Jamie Mullan – but by then they were gazing up at a mountainous target.

“At times in the second half we took our foot off the gas, but the game was won and lost in the first half,” observed Abbott. More than that: United’s four goals killed any dramatic tension surrounding this fifth-versus-third-tier contest and obliged producers and editors to look elsewhere for their romance.

Don’t expect to hear any apologies coming out of Brunton Park for that. United have undergone enough exhausting tests against lower-ranked opponents down the years for them to pass up an easier opportunity. Alfreton’s defence, statistically the worst in the top five divisions, was that opportunity.

Last season’s Blue Square North champions went skyward in their attempt to tip Carlisle off their perch. The opening minute was not through when the defender Liam Franks aimed the first bomb into United’s box. Collin claimed this one without fuss but there were other grenades to diffuse before Carlisle could bring the ball into contact with the sloping surface.

Alfreton’s early bombardment yielded four corners in the first 10 minutes, one of which was delivered by Josh Law (the manager’s son) onto the head of Anthony Wilson, who hurled himself at the chance but put it over.

Franks’ long throws added to this early pressure, which yielded further half-chances for Theo Streete – who whacked one wide from 25 yards – and Nathan Arnold, who over-dribbled after intercepting a Paul Thirlwell pass.

Gradually, this nuisance badgering stopped and the balance shifted as Carlisle adapted to their surroundings. In the 22nd minute Loy was finally given the freedom to run at Law. He did so at pace, crossing for JP McGovern who was unable to convert a difficult chance.

Seconds later, Loy skinned Law again, requiring Franks to execute a saving challenge. Then, from a short corner, Loy rolled the ball back to Berrett, the taker, whose deep cross was headed back by Miller, shielded by McGovern and then fed back to the top scorer, who dispatched the opening goal through Day's legs.

Carlisle duly seized control. Law senior’s touchline shouts remained persistent but this swiftly became a mismatch. Franks weighed in with another firm interception on Loy but lost track of the ex-Rangers man in the 33rd minute, when Noble sent McGovern chasing down the right and his cross was met with a peach of an overhead-kick from United’s number nine. 

The cameras will have loved that one. So did Abbott, who offered Loy a burst of touchline applause. Law junior then departed with an ankle injury and then Carlisle increased Alfreton’s pain with their third goal – McGovern again the catalyst, picking out the raiding Noble, whose volley spun goalbound off Franks, was clawed away from the target by the backpedalling Day, but then tapped in from close-range by Berrett.

Alfreton’s boss was now a picture of silent bewilderment. That feeling duly spread to his players, who went oddly static when Berrett’s next corner was allowed to sail onto Noble’s head for the fourth.

There was even very nearly a fifth, but Day, finally, got a glove on Miller’s curling effort after McGovern had played the striker through.

Half-time can now be recorded as the moment of Carlisle’s declaration. Alfreton’s mission from here on was to claw back a little pride. Mullan, a jinking presence on both flanks, led this campaign, crossing for Arnold whose volley was deflected behind by Christian Ribeiro, who looked comfortable on his Blues debut.

Mullan’s replacement of Law meant the giant Streete had to retreat from midfield to right-back. Loy responded by making a mug of the Mohawk-haired utility man in the left corner and shooting hard, but off-target.

With United throttling back, Alfreton made a few fresh inroads, such as the Mullan cross which saw Wilson tumble under trifling Miller contact and earn the generous penalty which Senior – on for Arnold – thumped at the bar.

From the closing formalities came a small spurt of final opportunities – Matty Robson testing Day with a free-kick, Mullan shooting against his team-mate Paul Clayton, Greg Young engaging Collin with a back-post header, Noble and Miller shooting wide in response – and then a little late drama which could easily have cut or increased Carlisle’s margin. 

Five minutes from time, Nathan Jarman tried to profit from Collin’s inability to hold a cross by hooking for the empty net. Except it wasn’t empty, thanks to Danny Livesey’s alert goalline dash. That minor scare dealt with, United wound up the game with one more surge, involving a left-sided run and cross from Francois Zoko and a flying volley against the inside of the post by his fellow sub, the luckless Craig Curran.

Curran, whose thick facial fuzz is so far the most striking in the Carlisle ranks, might be forgiven for wondering when fate is going to grant him a goal. The Scouser had a similar encounter with the goal frame from close-range against Bury in August and has since become a reluctant spectator as Miller and Loy have started to feast on their opportunities.

On Saturday it was Alfreton's misfortune to be served up as a snack. The Blues tucked in with a pleasing disregard for Cup folklore, and charity was left at home.

ADAM COLLIN – Stood up strongly to early barrage and was alert to keep out Young’s header on an otherwise quiet day.

CHRISTIAN RIBEIRO – A decent leg-stretcher for his debut, the loanee looked sharp and defensively secure.

MATTY ROBSON – Gave Blues some early impetus and otherwise did his duties without any trouble.

DANNY LIVESEY – In paradise as Alfreton kept throwing it forward long – the big defender headed and blocked with relish.

LUBO MICHALIK – Had to be watchful in the testing early stages, afterwards the Slovakian was as solid as he had to be.

PAUL THIRLWELL – Captain's sensible passing launched many a move and helped Carlisle exit their difficult start.

JAMES BERRETT – Made one goal and took another on a decent return to the midfield ranks after ban.

LIAM NOBLE – Use of the ball was as good as ever and he took advantage of defensive slumber to head Carlisle’s fourth.

JP MCGOVERN – The ex-Swindon man showed all his creative class when United started opening up their hosts.

RORY LOY – Had right-back Law for breakfast in first-half, and his third goal of the season was taken beautifully.

LEE MILLER – Calm finish got Carlisle going, his strong line-leading presence was important throughout.

Subs: Francois Zoko (for Thirlwell 63) – A few elusive runs; Craig Curran (for McGovern 73) – Thwarted by woodwork; Tom Taiwo (for Berrett 76) – Some trademark tackles.  Not used: Mark Gillespie, Peter Murphy.

Goals: Miller 24, Loy 33, Berrett 40, Noble 45

Booked: Thirlwell, Miller

Alfreton Town: Day, Law (Mullan 39), Brown, Young, Franks, Streete, Arnold (Senior 57), Hall, Church, Clayton, Wilson (Jarman 80). Not used: Lowson, Franklin, Mackin.

Booked: Franks

Ref: Eddie Ilderton (Tyne & Wear)

Crowd: 1,488 (381 Carlisle fans)

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