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Monday, 21 April 2014

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Carlisle Utd held to draw by gritty Plymouth

Carlisle United 1 Plymouth Argyle 1: Plymouth’s Green Army have never seemed so appropriately named. The followers of League One’s latest crisis club, who slugged their way to a point at Brunton Park last night, are the colour of envy every time they turn up at a rival ground where the inhabitants are in much better financial nick.

Tom Taiwo photo
Tom Taiwo challenges Kati Arnason

Currently, that means the other 23. Carlisle United don’t get to lord it over many opponents in the cash stakes but Argyle’s lemming-jump into the red meant this was a rare occasion when the Blues were the richer partner in a third division set-to.

With a £13 million black hole in their budget and a 10-point deduction consigning Peter Reid’s team to the base of the table, Plymouth are this season’s lower-league basket case. With this in mind, a respectful salute should be thrown the way of the 153 Pilgrims who sailed up to Cumbria for this tight tussle.

At the moment the size of the travelling contingent was announced, the man from the Plymouth Herald phoned his desk and asked for space to be cleared on the back page to record the stat.

The voyaging supporters’ reward for a second hike in the space of four days (they were at Hartlepool on Saturday) was a late equaliser from Yannick Bolasie which popped Carlisle’s bid to bank back-to-back home wins in the league for the first time since last November.

These are the trying days when the game’s foot soldiers reveal their true value.

In a thin, recession-deep crowd of 3,354 was a cluster of Devon loyalists who are doing their best to whistle through the bleak times until daylight appears.

The boardroom individuals who have authored Plymouth’s near-collapse hardly deserve such faithfulness.

Currently their hopes are pinned on the ability of Peter Ridsdale, who held cheerful court in the directors’ box before start of play, to smoke out a buyer for the West Country club in his role as “football consultant”.

Carlisle’s own, similarly distressing off-field episodes are sufficiently sharp in the mind for the durability of Plymouth’s fans to be acknowledged.

For the instigators of Argyle’s fall, read Michael Knighton in his bitter late years. Back then United’s followers travelled with similar devotion.

The tally of the most adhesive Blues fans is dwindling, on last night’s evidence, but those who are able to remain attached to the cause saw a performance which cast away the nightmares of Saturday’s 6-0 howler at Peterborough, without carrying quite enough quality to overturn Reid’s doughty, physical collective.

“We knew it would be difficult, because there can be a psychological hangover from such a heavy defeat,” said Graham Kavanagh, United’s assistant boss. “But credit to the lads, they were back on it.”

Not to the extent that they could profit from substantial second-half pressure to kill the game after James Berrett’s eye-catching 34th minute opener, but Kavanagh’s observation was one of relief: that the half-dozen goals that flew into their net at London Road had not left a lasting scar on a young, inconsistent team.

Argyle, who are making a spirited fist of their survival campaign against the odds, were at Carlisle from the start here and aimed to unsettle a Blues rearguard in which Lubo Michalik was rushed back into action, with Paul Thirlwell also returning from injury in midfield.

In the apprehensive opening stages, only a heavy pass from the bustling Bolasie failed to give Chris Clark a free shot in the box.

Rory Fallon then drilled an attempt down Adam Collin’s throat, before Michalik’s rustiness led the Slovakian to miscue a cross-field pass which was intercepted by Bolasie, who dashed past Peter Murphy and bashed a shot into the side-netting.

Murphy, generally a picture of composure on his 400th appearance, heralded Carlisle’s improvement with a 21st minute header from a Berrett corner which Stephane Zubar somehow hacked clear.

Downfield, Collin saved well from a Fallon header as both sides traded possession cheaply.

Out of the anxiety then came a goal of superb simplicity. Francois Zoko, a potential door-opener on any tight evening, carried the ball forward and then played an astute pass to the galloping Matty Robson.

The left-back’s accurate low pass was accepted by Berrett and then dispatched across Romain Larrieu by the midfielder with impressive precision.

United now scented their chance to smother their guests. Craig Curran, who led the line admirably all night, failed by a whisker to play Zoko through, then Tom Taiwo was close with an instinctive backheeled shot.

After the break the Blues continued to accelerate into Plymouth territory, after an early scare when Mason tested Collin after another Michalik mistake.

Repeated home surges were made down the right, with Curran and Frank Simek prominent, but the measured final ball proved beyond Abbott’s men.

One cute flick from Zoko put Marshall on the gallop, but the chance ended with a wasted pass. The Stoke loanee then met a fine, deep Taiwo cross and drew a smart block from Larrieu.

A deflected shot from Curran swiftly joined the list of near-misses, while captain Thirlwell and Michalik gradually rose in confidence further back.

A Michalik header, anxiously shuffled away by Larrieu, provoked Plymouth into the response from which they took their equaliser.

One quickfire attack saw Bolasie pip the sliding Michalik to Fallon’s pass and force a fine save from Collin.

Then the leveller: a debatable free-kick, awarded for Taiwo’s tackle on Carl Fletcher, and a decent right-wing delivery from Jim Patterson which Bolasie met with a leaping header that sneaked into the bottom corner of Collin’s target.

The orange-booted Bolasie, Argyle’s most athletic and distinctive threat all evening, celebrated with some choice dance moves in front of the Main Stand before trotting back to help his colleagues repel the Blues’ late attempts, the best of which saw Zoko fail narrowly to make acrobatic contact with a Marshall long-throw.

Plymouth’s grim position conceals an obvious spirit of defiance which Reid has done admirably well to foster against a background of winding-up orders, administration and howling terrace recriminations, the kind of which Carlisle are now mercifully without.

As the worried but merry Green Army took their leave of Brunton Park you observed United’s three-thousand regulars and thought of Bob Geldof’s most famous lyric: Tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you.

ADAM COLLIN - Continued his fine form with some important saves, unlucky to be beaten by Bolasie’s header.

FRANK SIMEK - Much sharper than at Peterborough, he defended diligently and was active in United’s forward play.

MATTY ROBSON - Teed up Berrett’s goal, and put in a workmanlike defensive performance.

LUBO MICHALIK - Showed some signs of rust with early errors, improved as game went on.

PETER MURPHY - Sound display on his 400th United outing, almost marked milestone night with a goal.

PAUL THIRLWELL - Like Michalik, the skipper started patchily but soon raised his game in midfield.

TOM TAIWO - Was at the heart of United’s second-half dominance with his endless running and tackling.

JAMES BERRETT - Expert finish for his eighth of the season, otherwise steady enough without standing out.

BEN MARSHALL - Tried to make things happen without much success, but never gave up the chase.

FRANCOIS ZOKO - Moment of class opened Argyle up for Berrett's goal on a decent showing from the Ivorian.

CRAIG CURRAN - Led the line strongly and his efforts helped set up numerous attacks for his team-mates.

Subs: Harry Arter (for Berrett 87) – No late impact. Not used: Tony Caig, Rory Loy, Paddy Madden, Ryan Bowman, Nahki Wells, Steven Swinglehurst.

Goal: Berrett 34.

Plymouth Argyle: Larrieu, N’Gala (J Patterson 82), Duguid, Nelson, Zubar, Fletcher, Arnason (Peterlin 72), Clark (R Patterson 63), Mason, Bolasie, Fallon. Not used: Button, Timar, Young.

Goal: Bolasie 83.

Booked: Arnason, R Patterson.

Ref: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire).

Crowd: 3,354 (153 away fans).

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