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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

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Carlisle Utd hit by late Wycombe equaliser

Wycombe 1 Carlisle United 1: Several possible readings can be taken from this tricky draw, such as Carlisle United finding themselves on the end of the refereeing clanger of their season, but a broader view says that Wycombe should probably be praised for their spirit in the face of adversity before the rest of it can be unpicked.

Lee Miller photo
United’s Lee Miller, left, battles with Wycombe’s Marvin Mccoy

Carlisle did not exactly stalk out of Adams Park in a state of rage over the penalty that never was, but it was certainly on a few Cumbrian minds, and with good reason. But it wasn’t the only tale in town. And only the sour would argue that Gary Waddock’s team did not warrant some kind of return from this tense, combative game.

Controversy aside, what we had here was a display of the qualities which have taken both these sides on mood-enhancing unbeaten runs, at different ends of League One. Between them, Carlisle (sixth place) and Wycombe (21st) have now stitched together 15 games without knowing the pain of defeat.

These unbroken spells have been sustained by extremely late goals. The play-off chasing Blues snatched injury-time points in their last two games but Wycombe have been no strangers to this sort of thing, either, on their gutsy pursuit of survival, and their persistence here led to Stuart Lewis’ cracking equaliser in the 90th minute.

So be it. Waddock’s men rapped on United’s door enough to force it open, at the death, just as Carlisle did at MK Dons and against Huddersfield. Lewis’ left-footed rocket was a blow to the midriff but it need not cripple the Blues, and nor should the 59th minute flashpoint which preceded their opening goal, and which provoked a few curses during the post-match reckoning.

From the same official who brought United their most disputed red cards of 2010/11 (Gary Borrowdale and Greg Abbott’s dismissals at Southampton last February) came the worst call of 2011/12, in this feisty corner of Buckinghamshire. That Chris Hackett fouled Liam Noble as the midfielder prepared to dispatch a free shot close to Wycombe’s goal seemed blissfully obvious to all except Rob Lewis and his assistants, who allowed play to proceed.

“It was a penalty, it’s as simple as that,” said Abbott, opting not to refer to his previous with Mr Lewis (“I will never speak to the man again,” Carlisle’s boss had said after his Southampton woe) but leaving inquisitors in no doubt as to his view on the ref’s odd failure to put whistle to lips – a call which, had it been made, would presumably have triggered a straight red card for Hackett.

“The fourth official came up with an unbelievably lame excuse, saying he played the ball,” Abbott continued. “But it’s gone and you can’t dwell on that. I’d only get into trouble.” Which is the last thing Carlisle need at a time when their promotion push is entering its crucial closing phase, and with seventh-placed Notts County having chomped United’s four-point advantage down to two after dispatching Leyton Orient 3-0.

After the merry madness of the Dons and Huddersfield wins, the Blues’ latest game was less attractive to the eye but still an urgent dispute between two sides chasing serious prizes. Carlisle can take some pleasure from the way they managed the early loss of a key player (Chris Chantler) to keep themselves chipper, while Wycombe’s fight to avoid the drop continues despite a few local difficulties, including the arrest, pre-match, of their owner, Steve Hayes, on suspicion of computer hacking, and the club being placed under a transfer embargo over the late filing of accounts.

The last time United filed into this decent lower-league stadium, which is coldly plonked on the end of an industrial estate, the result was a goalless draw notable only for its extreme tedium. This Good Friday skirmish never seemed likely to be so dull when Liam Noble got things going with a clever early pass which almost put JP McGovern in, and then when Francois Zoko opened his shoulders and gave Nikki Bull, the home keeper, an early test.

That third-minute surge earned Carlisle a corner which resulted in Hackett hacking Peter Murphy’s header off the line. The opening stages were duly played out in Wycombe’s half until Chantler pulled up when chasing a Tom Taiwo pass and had to be swiftly replaced by Lubo Michalik.

Chantler departed to the warmest send-off issued by Carlisle’s travelling fans since Rory Loy’s sad journey out of Deepdale on Boxing Day. Dealing with the loss of the left-back to a hamstring problem was an unwanted challenge for Abbott but the readjustment looked smooth enough when Murphy, moved out from centre-half to accommodate Michalik’s arrival, quickly intercepted a right-sided run from the mobile Lewis.

Still, though, Wycombe took Carlisle’s enforced change as their cue to step up their attacking play, sensing that the early disruption might have left behind a few weak spots. Stuart Beavon, the home team’s 22-goal sniper, tested Adam Collin from 25 yards and then Michalik stepped in sharply to clear danger, before the game briefly descended into chaos when Craig Eastmond and Taiwo were hurt in successive challenges and then Lewis and Murphy squared up, leading the Blues man to fall to the floor as United attacked unsuccessfully a few dozen yards upfield.

By the time order had been restored, Danny Livesey (who had joined in the shoving match with Lewis) had been booked, along with the Wycombe midfielder. Eventually the game resumed with a dash of extra spice but not a great deal of composure or quality in the defining areas.

Defenders remained in control, just about. When Anthony Stewart slipped and booted a clearance into Noble, the United man briefly broke for goal, but the young centre-half quickly atoned. Livesey then repelled an Eastmond shot before Berrett burst onto a McGovern cross and went down, appealing hopefully for another penalty that never came. Graham Kavanagh, thrusting his arms into the air as Berrett tumbled, was a picture of dismay down by the dugouts.

Half-time arrived after a couple of moments of attacking clarity; first a sweet, volleyed passing move from Carlisle which ended with Lee Miller drilling over the bar, and then Collin blocking a Ben Strevens drive with his legs. It remained a game waiting to be won by a single moment of inspiration, or a mishap, and one which would reward the team who could show the greater daring in the second half, yet it continued to be hard to judge which way it would bend, as Zoko ignored Noble to shoot against a defender in the 52nd minute, Collin plunged left to tip away a Hackett cross and then, after a throw, McGovern craftily headed the ball into Noble’s promising path, before Hackett made his questionable intervention.

Carlisle’s fans roared their disapproval, but their anguish was brief. From another counter-attack, Miller held up play and invited Noble to send it left to Zoko, who duly skinned Marvin McCoy, slipped, then retrieved the cause and eluded Strevens for good measure, before squaring cannily for McGovern. The Scot’s sidefooted finish cannoned off the bar, struck the retreating Basey and dribbled over the line.

This provoked gleeful celebrations in the Carlisle end, and confident cries of “the Blues are going up”, but there was much still to be done as Wycombe further upped their efforts. With 20 minutes to go, Eastmond danced into space and shot over the bar, then the non-stop Taiwo had to be at his best to pick Lewis’ pocket.

The pleasingly combative Michalik, playing like a man with a point to prove, then panicked Lewis into a slice from a good position. Collin was next to be engaged, hurling himself through the air to tip away a header from the sub, Anthony McNamee, and still Wycombe did not call off the chase, even when United were going through the time-killing motions in the home half.

Their reward finally came when Beavon backheeled into Lewis’ path and the hosts’ number 18 stepped onto the ball on the edge of the box, and arrowed it home.

Both these teams know that even a 90th minute goal is not necessarily the end of the drama. When you are Carlisle, or Wycombe, much can be achieved in three minutes of stoppage-time. And one more opportunity duly came along, as a corner sneaked through to James Berrett. The midfielder’s cushioned volley was achingly close to the target, but the sense at the final whistle was that a decent tussle had ended with a suitable outcome, on a day when one Lewis excelled, another didn’t, but nobody, in the end, was unseated at the home of the Chairboys.

ADAM COLLIN – Was commanding at crosses and made a few excellent saves when tested by Wycombe’s dangermen.

FRANK SIMEK – Was defensively secure and made a couple of useful forays down the right.

CHRIS CHANTLER – Did his duties for 11 minutes before injury cut short his afternoon.

DANNY LIVESEY – Did the defensive basics well enough and took plenty of responsibility for protecting the target.

PETER MURPHY – Was often a calming presence on the ball and switched positions with minimal difficulty.

TOM TAIWO – United’s best outfield player, the midfielder got through heaps of work to prevent hosts winning midfield contest.

JAMES BERRETT – Quieter than against Huddersfield, steady without standing out, but nearly won it at death.

LIAM NOBLE – Often looked the player most likely to turn the game, and would surely have scored but for Hackett’s dubious challenge.

JP MCGOVERN – Involved in a couple of Carlisle’s best moments, including the near-miss which forced Basey’s own-goal.

FRANCOIS ZOKO – Looked keen to test defenders from the start and was at the heart of the attack that led to United’s goal.

LEE MILLER – Set a tough test by Doherty, but he chipped in with some useful touches.

Subs: Lubo Michalik (for Chantler 11) – Solid return from the Slovakian. 7. Not used: Mark Gillespie, Andy Welsh, Paddy Madden, Jordan Cook.

Goal: Basey 62og

Booked: Livesey, Noble

Wycombe Wanderers: Bull, McCoy, Basey, Doherty, Stewart (McClure 87), Eastmond, Lewis, Bloomfield (McNamee 68), Hackett, Strevens, Beavon.

Not used: Laing, Johnson, Ainsworth

Goal: Lewis 90

Booked: Hackett, Lewis, Bloomfield

Ref: Rob Lewis (Shropshire)

Crowd: 4,823

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