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Sunday, 20 April 2014

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Carlisle Utd humiliated by struggling Hartlepool

Hartlepool United 4 Carlisle United 1: A painful reckoning swept across Victoria Park with the shivering coastal wind last night and it is up to Carlisle United first to take it and then respond, without delay.

Carlisle action photo
Scott Dobie scores

Take it and respond together, by the way. It was not just Greg Abbott who was strung up and left to dangle by the ‘Monkey Hangers’ but a team which rapidly needs to retrieve the hard, essential qualities of backbone and leadership.

Whether Carlisle’s damaging defeat at Hartlepool was the result of tactical misdirection is out there for debate, but not a single player is entitled to drop in behind their manager and allow him to take every bullet.

What appalled the most about this plummet in the coldest corner of the north east, in fact, was the inability of anyone in a red shirt to summon the necessary authority to grab this winnable game by the collar and shake United into coherent life.

Individual and personal responsibility scattered as Hartlepool slashed through Carlisle at will during the most depressing first-half collapse this Cumbrian season has witnessed. And it didn’t reassemble after the break, when Abbott’s team showed themselves incapable of assembling convincing chances against opponents who started battle a point and a place above the drop zone, and without a win in seven goes.

Here is the news: United’s own record is now a single victory from the same number of attempts. Many of those unsuccessful outings pitched Carlisle against high-quality opponents from high altitude in League One, but there was no such defence last night.

The way Hartlepool’s sprightly but limited team made mannequins of United dragged fans back to that wretched October afternoon when Yeovil, another of the division’s stragglers, did similar things to a Blues side that we are frequently being told has too much quality in too many areas to be winched down towards the third division’s weakest members.

Recent performances and results suggest they have fallen back onto the sword of their inconsistency. Another theory is that they are suffering an emotional sag after their Wembley-achieving cup efforts (this was game 45 of a crammed campaign). But the problem with lifting your game to skyscraper heights against Leeds in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy is that it gives you little room for moral manoeuvre when it comes to less glittering nights like this.

Answers from Brunton Park, please, to this enquiry: if Carlisle are capable of rousing themselves at Elland Road, how do they explain being left for dead at Hartlepool’s more prosaic arena? For that is the sharpest description of what came to pass once Ritchie Jones and Scott Dobie had traded goals in the first 10 minutes last night.

Jones, the former Manchester United midfielder, gave Carlisle an unholy jolt when he scooped up Danny Livesey’s defensive header and got the better of Peter Murphy down United’s left before clipping a shot over Adam Collin. Yet the Blues summoned a rapid response and took their leveller four minutes later, Matty Robson displaying cunning and skill to put a cross on Dobie’s head.

United, and especially Robson at his old haunt, at this point seemed to have the measure of an obviously nervous home team. Insecurities flooded through much of Pools’ defensive work as Carlisle occupied some advanced territory. The game’s third goal seemed comfortably within the Blues’ reach. Instead, it flew into their own net with shameful simplicity.

In the 28th minute, with Chris Turner’s men perking up, Kevan Hurst felled the lively Colin Larkin. Jones’ free-kick was clawed away by Collin, but from the resulting corner, Antony Sweeney soared to plant a free header into the bottom corner of the net.

Three minutes on, after Adam Clayton had swept a shot over Hartlepool’s bar, Sweeney was again allowed to stroll onto a set-piece. This time he squandered his header, but Carlisle’s disorganisation persisted. Moments on, as the ball hung in the wind, Jones sneaked onto another chance and lobbed the ball over Collin and onto the bar.

United’s own attacks had by now slowed to a trickle. Turner’s emboldened side instead continued to find gap after gaping gap at the other end. From another corner, Adam Boyd headed over a makeable chance. From the next one, they scored again: Joe Gamble’s inswinger catching the wind and outfoxing Collin, the ball drifting across the line before the goalkeeper could scoop it clear.

Good fortune or another symptom of United’s shambolic approach to fending off these deliveries? A slice of both. Half-time brought Abbott the chance to remind his team of some of their obligations as they flipped around and took the wind at their backs. The demand was for some renewed vigour, and an examination of Hartlepool’s nerve.

Neither came. Abbott threw on Tom Taiwo and Evan Horwood on the hour in a belated bid to run some energy through his team, but United’s search for a creative catalyst remained futile. Hartlepool continually absorbed their token, unimaginative thrusts. Larkin buzzed past Hurst and warmed Collin’s hands, Harte extended Scott Flinders with a trademark free-kick, and then, out of the scuffles, came Pools’ fourth: the dismantling of a Carlisle attack, a rapid sweep downfield and a surging run from Jones which took him beyond a depleted defence and through to score with admirable ease.

Collin, with a later save from Jones, denied the midfielder his hat-trick and spared United further shame. Clayton’s injury-time missile, palmed away acrobatically by the under-employed Flinders, was not much more than an afterthought.

A five-team, five-point buffer zone of mediocrity now protects Carlisle from League One’s bottom four. An about-turn against Gillingham this weekend, and at Wycombe the following Saturday, can still wipe such bleak thoughts from the page. So the question goes up, and not just to Abbott: who is ready and able to lead United back into the light?

ADAM COLLIN - Judgement was often poor in a difficult wind and struggled to impose his authority.

RICHARD KEOGH - Put some heart into the battle but Pools made too many inroads down United’s right.

PETER MURPHY - Outfoxed by Jones for opener on a difficult night for United’s defenders.

DANNY LIVESEY - Struggled to get Blues’ wobbling defence in order and picked up late booking for dissent.

IAN HARTE - His set-pieces posed danger but was not tight enough at the back.

PAUL THIRLWELL - Not the worst of Carlisle’s performers but didn't do enough to contain home side’s surges.

ADAM CLAYTON - Didn’t hide from responsibility and tried to spark things, but without much success.

MATTY ROBSON - Started very brightly but didn’t see enough of the ball to do lasting damage.

KEVAN HURST - Positive start but influence dwindled as the hosts got on top.

SCOTT DOBIE - Took his goal well and did his best to add more with paltry service.

DARRYL DUFFY - Limited impact and few chances against his former club.

Subs: Tom Taiwo (for Thirlwell 57) – Got stuck in; Evan Horwood (for Murphy 57) – Did nothing wrong; Ben Marshall (for Hurst 65) – Couldn’t turn game. Not used: Mark Gillespie, Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, Graham Kavanagh, Tony Kane.

Goals: Dobie 10.

Booked: Hurst, Livesey.

Hartlepool: Flinders, Austin, Collins, Liddle, Hartley, Jones, Sweeney, Gamble, Larkin (Humphreys 71), O’Donovan (McSweeney 82), Boyd (Brown 60). Not used: Cook, Behan, Fredriksen, Bjornsson.

Goals: Jones 6, 75; Sweeney 28, Gamble 41

Booked: O’Donovan.

Ref: Colin Webster (Tyne & Wear).

Crowd: 2,975 (354 Carlisle fans).

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