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Friday, 25 April 2014

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Carlisle Utd defender Peter Murphy bangs in two goals against Crewe

Carlisle United 3 Crewe 1: Brunton Park was last night rebranded as a pantomime theatre just in time for the festive rush, thanks to a bumbling striker with a Mohawk hairdo and a civic hero who found himself on the brink of an unlikely hat-trick.

Carlisle Utd photo
Peter Murphy scores against Crewe

Carlisle United’s advance to the last eight of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy was destined to be remembered as the Clayton Donaldson Experience until Peter Murphy strolled onto a brace of set-pieces and performed a very plausible impersonation of Ian Harte.

Irish ball-playing centre-half with a knack of nodding in corners? The comparison was irresistible as Murphy met James Berrett deliveries in the 76th and 85th minutes to keep United on the highway to Wembley.

The tie in the can with five minutes to go, Murphy’s every subsequent receipt of the ball was greeted with a plea from the home crowd to shoot for his treble, even from the least likely of scoring positions, such as the left-wing, or the halfway line.

This told you Carlisle’s longest-serving player has shed none of his terrace popularity during the spell in the wilderness from which he has just emerged.

The crowd’s efforts to prompt a third Murphy goal with their entertaining cheers were in vain, not that the defender will be unduly troubled by his failure to seize the match-ball.

Earlier in the second half, the sight of Crewe’s Donaldson motoring towards United’s own target was greeted with similarly melodramatic noises from the Paddock, on account of some tragi-comic finishing and a clanger in his own box which had gifted the Blues a 14th minute lead.

With his volleyed own-goal from a whipped Matty Robson free-kick, Donaldson displayed heaps more conviction than he could muster at the correct end, other than the instinctive poke which served as the visitors’ consolation goal between Murphy’s double.

Three misses from the former Hibernian man were among the most farcical United’s ground has seen this season – particularly the 39th minute swipe from a golden position which saw the ball dribble apologetically into Adam Collin’s arms.

This followed an amusing first-half moment when the ball bounced off the striker’s freakish barnet and went in the opposite direction to Donaldson’s gangly stride.

Then there was the second-half episode when slapstick completely consumed the 26-year-old, as he staggered and then tumbled to the turf, entirely unchallenged. Gradi, who has spent a footballing life preparing young footballers of balance and refinement, must have felt his mental wiring start to overheat as he viewed the specimen in Crewe’s number seven shirt here.

A more familiar reflection of Gradi’s work was that seven of his starting line-up were punched out by Gresty Road’s academy – including the 16-year-old midfielder Nick Powell – with a further two hothoused youngsters on the bench.

The veteran manager’s philosophies were evident in plenty of Crewe’s play, which was high on ball-retention and midfield probing but foundered on Donaldson’s neurotic finishing.

In sprites such as Ajay Leitch-Smith and the highly promising England Under-17 star Powell (a rumoured target for Arsenal), Crewe have evidence that their famous production line remains oiled and functioning, even as they thrash around in the basement division.

From a Cumbrian perspective, last night’s best revelation was that United now have a more-than-handy bunch of set-piece operators: a quality that will serve them well in tight games.

From their last three outings, Greg Abbott’s team have taken eight goals in the moments immediately after a dead-ball has been struck.

Even accounting for the non-league marking of Tipton on Saturday, that remains a healthy output and one which many supporters feared was beyond the Blues after the prolific Harte’s August bolt for Reading.

Berrett, one of Carlisle’s best players last night, can take plenty of credit for this.

It’s always handy, though, when fortune also lands in your lap, as it did when Donaldson opened the scoring with his mistimed lunge towards Robson’s excellent inswinger from the right.

This opening goal put something other than Gary Madine’s earlier court appearance on supporters’ agenda. The striker’s state of mind after being sentenced for assault was up for inspection here under the floodlights. The record can show that the 20-year-old led Carlisle’s line well enough to support the claims coming out of Brunton Park that he is finally ready to put some distance between himself and the troublemaking habits that led to his now-concluded courtroom saga.

In the 19th minute last night, Madine went close with a volleyed attempt. Moments later, he climbed onto a hanging Robson cross and dropped a header just wide. This was during Carlisle’s brightest spell, after which the visitors found some of their range and began to concern their hosts.

Midway through the first half, Collin had to surge from his line to save at Leitch-Smith’s feet after a perceptive pass from Powell. Mike Grella, recalled by Abbott, then made a crucial interception of a Danny Blanchett cross which was bound for Leitch-Smith. Upfield, the Leeds loanee ran onto a Madine flick but failed to attack his opportunity with much conviction.

Donaldson then assumed the stage to theatrical effect – first outpacing Tom Cruise and shooting dismally wide, then wasting Leitch-Smith’s perfect centre. Carlisle, not at their slickest in this period, then closed the half strongly as Madine volleyed Robson’s cross against the outside of the post and then Murphy aimed a shot wide after Grella, Tom Taiwo and Ben Marshall had pressed down the right.

The second goal almost arrived on the hour, when Marshall and Madine combined to feed Grella, but the American striker’s shot hit the underside of the bar and reprieved Gradi’s men. Donaldson then miscued a fine Ashley Westwood pass and Collin pushed away a Leitch-Smith blast before the Blues came again, with a Berrett corner which saw Madine’s header cleared off the line, and then a delivery from the same man which ended with Murphy’s scoring leap.

Finally, Crewe summoned a more meaningful response. Another Westwood cross was nodded down by Byron Moore and was dispatched by the arriving Donaldson, to widespread surprise. Taiwo then headed an effort from the enigmatic striker off the line before United dealt with matters once and for all with a Marshall cross, a Rhys Taylor save, a Berrett inswinger and a meaty header from Murphy.

The Dubliner’s double duly helped United negotiate another awkward tie in a cup which they continue to embrace like no other club. It’s appropriate, too, that his loudest selection statement to Abbott so far this autumn came in the ‘Paint Pot’ – a competition from which, after last season’s handball aberration under the arch, he has a few demons to chase.

That notorious Wembley error came against Southampton, who are, conveniently, United’s guests in League One this weekend. Three more days, then, until we learn whether Murphy has done enough to repel either Lubo Michalik or James Chester from the starting line-up and take a timely shot at redemption. His audience awaits.

ADAM COLLIN - Didn’t have much to do but seemed confident in all his work and remains in reliable form.

FRANK SIMEK - Not at his formidable best but Crewe didn’t cause too much danger down United’s right.

TOM CRUISE - Caught out defensively at times but used the ball well enough down the left.

LUBO MICHALIK - The usual solid effort from the recalled Slovakian, who was as uncomplicated as ever.

PETER MURPHY - Another eyecatching night two goals and a sharp defensive effort.

TOM TAIWO - Plenty of energy and battle but gave ball away too often in midfield.

JAMES BERRETT - Performed with plenty of authority and corners led to two more goals.

MATTY ROBSON Mixed bag of frustrating runs and dangerous crosses from the wide man.

BEN MARSHALL - Continues to look confident and often had Crewe on the back foot with his pacy running.

MIKE GRELLA - So close to second-half goal but the American frustrated at times.

GARY MADINE - Led the line strongly and came close to scoring hours after his final court appearance.

Subs: Francois Zoko (for Grella 66) Looked positive; James Chester (for Michalik 72) Slotted in comfortably; Craig Curran (for Madine 82) Helped close game out. Not used: Tony Caig, Kevan Hurst.

Goals: Donaldson 14 og, Murphy 72, 84.

Booked: Taiwo.

Crewe: Taylor, Tootle, Blanchett, Dugdale, Ada, Westwood, Powell (Bell 72), Murphy, Moore, Leitch-Smith, Donaldson. Not used: Phillips, Artell, Grant, Davis.

Goals: Donaldson 76.

Booked: Dugdale.

Ref: Nigel Miller (County Durham).

Crowd: 2,142.

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