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Friday, 18 April 2014

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Carlisle Utd fail to hold on to two goal lead at Southend

Southend United 2 Carlisle United 2: Roots Hall has long been crossed off the list of seafront amusements in Southend, as financial trauma has set in.

Carlisle action photo
Scott Dobie celebrates with goal scorer Ben Marshall, centre and Jason Price

What Carlisle United discovered on their journey to the coast, though, is that the taxman hasn’t yet sucked all the spirit out of the Shrimpers.

With its never-ending pier and slot-machine arcades, this Essex town still trades on attractions from a fading age.

That’s in keeping with their football club, whose days of prosperity are now a matter for historians only.

A journey from the Championship in 2007 to League One’s gutter today, via an ongoing trawl through the High Court over £183,000 of unpaid tax, has brought defeatism in with the coastal breeze. So Steve Tilson, the put-upon manager, should not be spared praise for coaxing a perky response from his badly-depleted team on Saturday, after the Blues had muscled their way to an early two-goal lead.

The world’s weight appeared to be crushing Tilson’s players as United – free from such strains in their mid-table comfort and fiscal steadiness – attacked with pace and cunning from the kick-off. Goals from Scott Dobie in the sixth minute, and Ben Marshall in the 13th, must have brought familiar dismay to home supporters who haven’t seen their beleaguered heroes win in 2010.

Within 15 minutes, though, the third tier’s third-worst side were level. Partly through Carlisle’s carelessness, but partly also due to their own impressive keenness to fight their way out of a corner. Led by the nimble-footed winger Damian Scannell, who is surely too good to take the plunge into League Two, they assembled a performance which will serve them well in future attempts to challenge the inevitability of relegation.

United may curse their own inability to lock this game down from a position of early strength. Greg Abbott will get plenty of mileage out of the DVD footage of the defensive imperfections that allowed Franck Moussa and Adam Barrett to level the scores for the hosts.

And the Blues’ failure to profit from a numerical advantage, when Barrett was red-carded in the 67th minute, was another matter on which their manager might wish to dwell today.

In the cold context of 90 League One minutes, we saw the best and worst of the Cumbrians and a result that was, in the end, the limit of what they properly deserved.

But it’s not unreasonable to credit Southend for their own contributions, nor was frustration necessarily the only sentiment for United’s supporters.

Those sipping from the half-full glass will have approved of Dobie making a goalscoring return to fitness on the last weekend before Wembley. Marshall’s emergence as a potent force at 18, after leaving a calf problem behind, continues to engage.

The passage through this demanding duel without further injuries means Abbott should also be able to slot together a competitive side for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final at the national stadium in six days’ time, about which we are now free to talk without fear of distracting his players from their league tasks.

United’s pace and quality down the left is another matter which Southampton are likely to address in their preparations for next Sunday’s set-to. It was on that side of the pitch where their early damage was plotted at Roots Hall. Evan Horwood, whose performances at left-back remain of encouragingly high standard, made the game’s first decisive act, throwing to Matty Robson, then dashing to the byline to cross impeccably for Dobie, who carefully placed his scoring header across Steve Mildenhall.

Southend’s response was brisk but unconvincing, and after United had seen off a flurry of home corners and half-chances, they scored again. Robson, Jason Price and Horwood again linked, then the latter man lofted a cross over Dobie and his marker, at which point Marshall, displaying excellent opportunism, sprinted onto the bouncing ball and headed freely past Mildenhall.

Minutes later, Horwood strode confidently forward and drilled a 30-yarder narrowly over. Then Price’s presence at an Ian Harte free-kick led to a further blast from Marshall, which Mildenhall impressively repelled.

It was this act of defiance that allowed the Shrimpers to boomerang back into the contest, and quickly cut their deficit through Moussa, who strolled into space and threaded his shot past Adam Collin from the left after Scannell had been given too much room to progress from the opposite flank.

Emboldened, Tilson’s men now swept on. Horwood smuggled a Moussa effort off the line, but moments later they were level, as Collin’s attempt to claim a Simon Francis corner from the left quickly perished in a cluster of bodies and the shaven-headed Barrett was able to bury the close-range chance.

Carlisle, startled by the rapid loss of their lead, took time to retrieve their composure. One foray down their right led to Marshall sending over a deflected cross which Dobie almost poked in. But generally the home side were now on the level with their higher-ranked visitors, and were beginning to target the lack of feet and inches at the heart of Abbott’s rearguard while Price endured the least remarkable of his three Blues outings at the other end.

The second half opened up with a lacerating attack down the left from Southend which ended with Matt Paterson wasting Alan McCormack’s tidy pass. Downfield, Peter Murphy briefly emerged from his defensive toil in Danny Livesey’s absence to latch onto a half-cleared corner and draw a stunning, instinctive save from Mildenhall with a fierce shot on the swivel.

Back in his own box, Murphy was caught late by Barrett, who had been treading a dangerous line since an earlier booking for a lunging challenge on Horwood, and was duly dismissed. Yet Carlisle’s attempt to make good on their extra man was thwarted by a renewed eagerness from Southend, who would have claimed the lead had Collin not extended himself to push away a curler from the dreadlocked Scannell.

Scott Vernon, once a target for Abbott and the senior striker in these parts since 17-goal Lee Barnard bolted for Southampton, glanced a later cross wide, while Richard Keogh’s urgent ventures into home territory were not matched with any further potency from his team-mates as the closing minutes passed without incident.

“I’m still staggered Southend are in this position,” opined Abbott, whose view of Tilson’s downwardly-mobile troops may not have been shared by the individual who inflicted Chris Rea’s cheery Road to Hell on home supporters over the Tannoy earlier in the day.

Gallows humour alone won’t put sufficient points in the Shrimpers’ net, but it’s always reassuring to observe a decent old club confronting their troubles with good cheer, even when your own team ends up deprived of a couple of points.

Vitality, and a measure of success against the odds: not a bad theme to take from the seaside in the week Carlisle prepare their bid to kick Southampton off Wembley’s plinth.

ADAM COLLIN - Unable to claim corner that led to equaliser, but atoned with a couple of decent saves.

RICHARD KEOGH - Put more urgency into things than some of his team-mates, didn’t let the side down defensively.

EVAN HORWOOD - Quality deliveries lit up the first half, tried his best to help United push on after break.

PETER MURPHY - Denied a goal by Mildenhall’s reflexes, mixed results at the back as Livesey’s replacement.

IAN HARTE - Not always dominant against Shrimpers frontmen but battled away; no joy from his set-pieces.

PAUL THIRLWELL - Skipper was in and out of the game in the midfield contest.

ADAM CLAYTON - Some decent contributions but nowhere near as influential as he can be.

MATTY ROBSON - Linked well early on with Horwood, didn’t make many inroads after the break.

BEN MARSHALL - Looked very positive and claimed an opportunist goal before running out of steam.

SCOTT DOBIE - Quality finish on his return to side and kept at Southend’s defenders until he was replaced.

JASON PRICE- Put himself about but didn’t have much joy in United’s attack.

Subs: Gary Madine (for Dobie 75) - Limited impact; Marc Bridge-Wilkinson (for Price 89) - No time to change game; Not used: Mark Gillespie, Richard Offiong, Tony Kane, Tom Aldred, Graham Kavanagh.

Goals: Dobie 6, Marshall 13

Southend: Mildenhall, Francis, Herd, Baldwin, Barrett, McCormack, Grant, Scannell, Moussa, Vernon, Paterson (Sankofa 71). Not used: Malone, M’Voto, O’Keefe, Spencer, Crawford, Bentley

Goals: Moussa 25, Barrett 28

Booked: Barrett, Baldwin

Sent off: Barrett

Ref: Andy Woolmer (Northants)


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