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Friday, 18 April 2014

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Carlisle Utd lose ground in play-offs race after Tranmere bore draw

Carlisle United 0 Tranmere Rovers 0: Sometimes you just have to pop a positivity pill and let it do its thing. When the morphine kicks in, all that can be seen through the haze is a clean sheet, another unbeaten evening at home and a fourth point from two games without Lee Miller.

Paddy Madden photo
Paddy Madden heads at goal

It would take some masterful PR to spin the hour-and-a-half between kick-off and final whistle as anything more relevant or stimulating. When Francois Zoko spoke earlier in the week about “playing for the result” he did not have this in mind: a night where it would have paid to skip the football and get straight to the bit at the end.

Share a couple of points, add the details to the league table and then get the hell out of here; if they’d known what was coming, 4,152 spectators would have filed that request at 7.45pm to save everyone the bother. Instead they had to sit and stand through a colourless grind at a stadium that has sometimes fizzed and crackled with entertainment this season.

In any review of last night’s snooze-fest it has to be accepted that tedium has not often been on the menu down Warwick Road in 2011/12. The law of averages said a bore draw would be inflicted on the masses at some stage.

In the event, it left United a couple of points further adrift of sixth place after Stevenage won at Sheffield Wednesday, but no worse off compared with their rivals beneath (Bournemouth and Brentford lost). “You take the point and the unbeaten result, but it’s not one we want to take with us, performance-wise,” conceded a dissatisfied Greg Abbott, after Carlisle’s boss had chewed over the permutations. “We can leave that behind.”

Abbott last night diagnosed the absence of Miller to suspension as the main reason his team struggled to summon much magic here. The missing target-man would surely have been an asset against Les Parry’s diligent workers, and the challenge to look potent without the big Scot has one more match to go: at Brentford, next Monday.

Carlisle have taken one earnest victory and one drab draw from the first two matches of Miller’s ban. That’s not the worst return to carry to the bank and it suggests the sky has not, contrary to some fears, fallen in without the 10-goal talisman. There is enough positive mettle about Abbott’s team to keep things on a reasonable keel even when a big player is forced to watch from the viewing gallery. Should United avoid calamity in front of the Sky cameras at Griffin Park then they can welcome their most influential forward back for the next game and ask him to re-stoke the fire from a still promising position.

But there we go again, leaping forward in happy-clappy mood without accounting for the detail of this goalless draw which did not show the Blues in a good light, save for the general sturdiness of Adam Collin under occasional bombardment and Peter Murphy and Lubo Michalik, who manned the barricades well enough at centre-half.

Creativity downfield there was little, and this was only an appealing night’s viewing if the sight of the ball skimming thoughtlessly downfield and out of play, or into a goalkeeper’s hands, floats your boat. Tranmere were as guilty as United in this regard but Parry’s men, with one win from their previous 14, gave the Blues a few more concerns than Abbott’s men managed at the other end.

For the first 20 minutes, in fact, the men from the Wirral clipped the ball around with surprising confidence and had the Blues looking rather flat. In the first minute Ben Parker was obliged to halt Martin Devaney’s progress with an important tackle, and two minutes on the winger’s deep cross was nodded down to Ryan Brunt, whose prodded finish wa controlled and cleared off the line by Murphy.

United’s attempt to make headway was built on the sometime flourishes of Zoko, who led the line as manfully as he could, and the erratic Jordan Cook, who showed dynamic pace but lacked composure in the key decision-making areas. With James Berrett trying to exert influence on his return to midfield, one wriggle into the box by Zoko was halted by the 39-year-old Ian Goodison.

The veteran Jamaican may now have the mobility of an old oak tree but he was as defiant as necessary last night until he limped off with 18 minutes to go. In Tranmere’s goal, meanwhile, Owain Fon Williams was untroubled by wild attempts from Berrett and Cook before a superb Zoko burst saw JP McGovern fail by a fraction to tee up Berrett.

By now, Tranmere had slotted back into containment mode, emerging less often but still with decent pace. Adam McGurk, galloping into space down the left, drew a solid save from Collin and then the keeper sped to the edge of his box to thwart Brunt.

Devaney, whose footwork gave Parker difficulties at various stages, then eluded the Leeds loanee but swiped at the shot. It was to United’s relief that their opponents were also victims of their own haste around the penalty box, and as half-time came after a Zoko run and (blocked) shot it was tough to see how either door might be unlocked.

Paddy Madden’s introduction at the interval for Tom Taiwo was Abbott’s first attempt to freshen his team up and allow Zoko to drop back from centre-half combat. But Carlisle were no more dangerous for this tweak and it was Tranmere who restarted the brightest, as Frank Simek charged infield to halt the darting Devaney, Brunt wasted a handy David Buchanan cross, Robbie Weir made a mess of a shot from another useful position and then McGurk slotted an inch wide after another purposeful break.

Parry, who last week went angrily on the record to accuse unnamed job-seeking managers of trying to unsettle the Rovers board, may at that moment have been cursing the absence of his own big striker, Enoch Showunmi, among a cluster of top Tranmere absentees. As Carlisle regrouped on the hour mark, Zoko headed a Berrett free-kick close but was penalised for jostling.

Andy Welsh and Liam Noble were next to step up from the bench, and both tried hard to open things up for United, but the temperature only really raised when a couple of spicy tackles were made; first by Weir, who was booked for upending Parker, and then by James Wallace, whose bad slide on Zoko earned both men a card; the Tranmere man for the foul, and the Carlisle forward for his angry reaction.

From that latter free-kick in the 90th minute, Noble’s delivery was attacked by Madden at the Warwick Road End, but Fon Williams responded with an expert tip-over. Fate may soon grant the young Irishman a goal but it wasn’t happening here. Not much was, in truth, and if you believed Abbott and many fans at the end of it all then Carlisle’s man of the match was probably the bloke in the tracksuit from Lanark who wasn’t allowed to play.

ADAM COLLIN – Made a sharp save from McGurk and was alert to see off a couple more moments of danger.

FRANK SIMEK – Despite the welcome clean sheet, the right-back rarely looked his confident self.

BEN PARKER – Given a testing night by the dangerous Devaney, who got the better of the loanee more than once.

PETER MURPHY – United’s best outfield player kept things steady at the back, despite some mixed distribution.

LUBO MICHALIK – Did just about enough alongside Murphy to protect Collin, his defending was better than his passing.

PAUL THIRLWELL – A fairly quiet night, but skipper didn’t do much wrong and use of the ball was sound.

TOM TAIWO – Competed and tried to be bright on the ball but was sacrificed at break.

JAMES BERRETT – Not at his most influential on return to side, will hopefully be back up to speed at Brentford.

JP MCGOVERN – Didn’t see enough of ball to cause lasting damage, tried to be imaginative in attack but couldn’t find the killer moment.

JORDAN COOK – Pace and direct running sometimes panicked visitors but lacked composure in final third.

FRANCOIS ZOKO – Led the line as well as he could and didn’t stop trying to make things happen.

Subs: Paddy Madden (for Taiwo 46) – Almost snatched winner. 6; Andy Welsh (for Cook 61) – Tried hard but no end product. 6; Liam Noble (for Berrett 61) – Tried to get Blues going. 6. Not used: Mark Gillespie, Danny Livesey.

Booked: Simek, Zoko

Tranmere Rovers: Fon Williams, Buchanan, Holmes, Goodison (McChrystal 72), Taylor, J Welsh, Weir, McGurk (Akins 86), Devaney, Wallace, Brunt (Tiryaki 70). Not used: Coughlin, Labadie.

Booked: Weir, Wallace

Ref: Darren Drysdale (Lincolnshire)

Crowd: 4,152 (138 away fans)

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