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Saturday, 20 September 2014

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Carlisle Utd draw inspiration for league challenge to come

Huddersfield 1 Carlisle United 1: Other than one belated Christmas gift to League One’s best finisher, Carlisle United closed the book on 2011 in decent order and are entitled to enter Olympic year believing they can leap even higher.

Only the sabotaging effect of an injury list and some uncertainty over a couple of loanees can hold the Blues back from a serious attempt at a play-off place. Beyond reasonable doubt, the talent is there.

No team gets to the season’s halfway mark in Carlisle’s position by accident.

Driving home through Yorkshire’s rain last night, the first temptation was to give thanks that Jordan Rhodes was only able to profit from one of three great scoring chances he received in United’s final fixture of the year.

This wasn’t, though, the story of one man’s generosity. That Rhodes was unable to add to his 38th minute equaliser was down to some unusual inaccuracy from Huddersfield’s prized asset, but Carlisle had by then gone painfully close to more goals of their own.

Rhodes 89th-minute near-miss snags in the memory but only because it was the most recent.

Earlier in the piece, James Berrett narrowly failed to cap a weaving run with a goal and the home captain Peter Clarke also had to execute the interception of the season to deny Lee Miller his 10th of term.

Other attempts whistled past both sets of goalposts, or were beaten away by a pair of upstanding goalkeepers.

Conclusion: this was an evenly-contested skirmish which tacks a useful point on to Carlisle’s total and takes them into the New Year amid a healthy run of just two defeats from 14.

“Huddersfield are a big, strong side, but we went in and competed,” said a satisfied Greg Abbott, who must now tackle a large January in-tray in order to keep his team on their positive path. “There was a lot of effort out there tonight.”

For this brightness and endeavour to lead to something in 2012, United need to emerge from the first month of the year without having shed any more key men. Rory Loy’s regrettable loss to a broken leg was acknowledged in second-half song by the travelling support at the Galpharm Stadium, while Frank Simek was another absentee here with a twisted ankle.

When Sheffield United head up to Cumbria on Monday, the Blues will also be without their final goalscorer of 2011. Liam Noble’s fifth booking of the season puts him on the sidelines for the last game of a loan spell which may or may not be extended. With Christian Ribeiro one game from the end of his temporary stay, and Andy Welsh, Stephen O’Halloran and Craig Curran still out, it is clear that Carlisle cannot afford any more names to disappear off their roster.

With this in mind, there may not have been much Cumbrian sympathy for Huddersfield last night as the home supporters saved a their biggest roar for Rhodes as the teams were being read out – a little local love, perhaps, for a man who drew upwards of 20 scouts to the Terriers’ futuristic stadium yesterday and who has already been the subject of a £3.2 million bid from West Ham.

Huddersfield, known for their relative wealth in the third division, would hate to lose such a marksman but have the funds to go big on a replacement. Carlisle live a more precarious life and are deeply reliant on the line-leading strength of Lee Miller, who began physical combat with Peter Clarke and Antony Kay from the off on this rainswept evening.

Rhodes’s first attempt can generously be described as a sighter. When he linked with Lee Novak down the left, the newly-minted Scotland international ballooned a shot from 25 yards. Carlisle retrieved the ball, marched downfield two minutes later and showed the normally deadly Rhodes how it’s done.

Noble, restored to the side after Loy’s injury, began a theme of urgent scampering by pressuring Ian Bennett, the home keeper, into a poor clearance. Berrett, back on his old ground, won a challenge and fed Francois Zoko, whose dynamic burst then saw him leave Kay on his behind. When the Ivorian then cut the ball back, Noble pinged it first-time past Bennett.

Any risk of this game needing to be chiselled open was now gone. Huddersfield accepted the challenge of Carlisle's early goal and swept back at the visitors. Two minutes after falling behind, Novak cut into space from the right and smuggled the ball to Gary Roberts, who shot wastefully high from a fine position.

United then offered some pleasing bursts of passing, with Miller the inevitable link-man, as Lee Clark’s side searched for further gaps. This required a degree of patience in possession which was not always to the home crowd’s taste. Yorkshire moods were further tested when Carlisle almost went two-up through Lubo Michalik, whose booming 25-yarder was saved by Bennett.

Three quick-fire home chances came and went – Collin thwarted Novak, Kay had a header blocked ,and Danny Cadamarteri shot wide – and then anxiety gripped the normally impeccable Clarke, whose pass to his goalkeeper allowed Noble to intercept, but the midfielder’s attempted chip was weak.

So, regrettably, was Noble’s next contribution: a moment of dithering deep in Carlisle territory, which saw Tommy Miller cut out the Sunderland loanee’s pass and feed Rhodes to finish smoothly across Collin.

The fear now was that United had given their hosts an unnecessary leg-up into a tricky contest. Yet Carlisle remained chipper enough to test the Terriers again before the first-half was through – a run from Zoko which panicked Jack Hunt into a mistake and required a narrow-angled save from Bennett to deny the African.

The second period saw Clark’s team in more urgent mood, but the Blues were exerting tighter defensive control than they had over Preston four days earlier.

Peter Murphy defied Novak at the near post, Collin thrust out an arm to keep out a flick from the same striker, and when a rare Paul Thirlwell lapse allowed Novak to isolate Murphy, his touch was too heavy and the opportunity passed.

Noble’s late slide on Clarke then earner the midfielder his yellow card, but Carlisle’s midfield unit then advanced to better effect, as Berrett claimed a Zoko header and galloped into the box, feinting into shooting space but stumbling as he did so, allowing defenders to close off his path.

The arrival of substitute Alan Lee offered Rhodes another strong foil, and as the game entered the closing 15 minutes the pair combined, putting Rhodes a yard behind Michalik but incapable of hitting the target. Roberts then whipped a shot wide after Collin had clawed away Oscar Gobern’s hanging cross, before Carlisle’s keeper was engaged again by Clarke from 30 yards.

Then, the end-game, as Clarke’s toe somehow took Berrett’s cross away from Miller’s path, and then the ball squirmed through to Rhodes at the other end and the Galpharm rose to acclaim the inevitable, but the normally clinical finisher clipped the chance past the post.

Undeniably, the 21-year-old will receive fewer such chances when he makes the jump to the Championship or beyond, and will need to be ever more ravenous. The opportunity being pursued by Carlisle is of a different nature but the fact it is visible, at 2011’s end, speaks highly of the way they have travelled since August. The month to come will tell us much about their ability to take it.

ADAM COLLIN - Made a couple of vital stops and quick dash from line in last minute made life difficult for Rhodes.

CHRISTIAN RIBEIRO - Unfussy return to the side, the loanee’s defending and use of the ball was sound.

MATTY ROBSON - The wily Cadamarteri posed a few problems, but Robson stuck well to his task.

LUBO MICHALIK - Much improved from his tricky day at Preston, the Slovakian did his best to limit hosts’ threat.

PETER MURPHY - No-nonsense display at the back as he was often engaged by Rhodes and Novak.

PAUL THIRLWELL - Helped the defensive effort on umpteen occasions, another sturdy showing from the skipper.

JAMES BERRETT - Looked up for the contest against former club and often got the better of his rivals in midfield.

LIAM NOBLE - At the thick of the action on what might be his last Blues game. Took goal well but mistake let in Rhodes.

JP MCGOVERN - Used ball brightly at times, linked well with Miller and did his bit on the defensive side.

FRANCOIS ZOKO - Fine work to make Carlisle’s goal and was always keen to run at defenders, though finishing deserted him.

LEE MILLER - Led the line impeccably against strong defenders, and linked most of United’s best attacks.

Not used: Mark Gillespie, Danny Livesey, Tom Taiwo, Paddy Madden, Ben Mckenna

Goals: Noble 8

Booked: Noble, Murphy

Huddersfield Town: Bennett, Hunt, Naysmith, P Clarke, Kay, Gobern, Miller, Roberts, Cadamarteri (Arfield 78), Novak (Lee 71), Rhodes.

Not used: Colgan, T Clarke, Parkin

Goals: Rhodes 38

Ref: Michael Naylor (South Yorkshire)

Crowd: 13,962 (634 Carlisle fans)

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