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Sunday, 23 November 2014

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Carlisle Utd move up table despite defeat to Yeovil

Carlisle United 0 Yeovil Town 2: Carlisle United’s man of the day was not one of the worn-out players in a new blue strip, but a chap called Troy Archibald-Henville, who sounds like a royal wedding guest but is, in fact, an Exeter City defender.

Frank Simek photo
Frank Simek

Why the salute to Troy? Because, with his winning goal at Sheffield Wednesday, he enabled Carlisle to leap a place in League One with one minute of term remaining.

The result was that the Blues could jet off for the summer as a top-half team for the first time since 2008.

Before the demise of Ceefax, being on ‘page one’ of the divisional standings was a little badge of honour. It made the tiny gap between 12th and 13th appear artificially substantial. Inspection of the 24-team rankings shows that the small matter of goal difference will allow United to tell prospective signings that they are in the upper 50 per cent of the third division.

If this sounds like a trivial obsession with numbers, it’s because United’s last-afternoon performance gave them little else to put in the prospectus which Greg Abbott will now take around his transfer targets. With no points or goals from their final three games, the record says 2010/11’s clocks stopped for the Cumbrians after the 3-2 win at Rochdale on Easter Saturday.

Again, this might seem a modest quibble given that Carlisle reached the latter weeks of term with no prospect of leaving their league in either direction.

Their final trio of defeats to Leyton Orient, Dagenham and Yeovil need not have supporters howling at the moon. Yet they contributed to a final position which tells the tale of their year quite perfectly.

Twelve months ago, when the Blues finished two places lower and one point further back, the gap from play-offs to drop zone was 33 points. This time it has compressed to 24. That accurately suggests League One has been tighter, less predictable, and United – slap bang in the middle – are its archetypal team.

The memory of this inadequate closing-day defeat can be swiftly washed away in the rain that greased up the Blues’ award-winning pitch. Two days later and the end-of-term reckoning is upon us. At this early stage in the aftermath, the average fan probably feels torn between applauding the Blues for punching at decent weight despite modest finances, and cursing the avoidable points Abbott’s side have shed at various stages, sabotaging their play-off ambitions in the process.

The presence in sixth place of cash-light Bournemouth is a rebuke to the idea that Carlisle have butted their ceiling. Likewise seventh-placed Orient and eighth-placed Exeter, who have both gathered up 11 more points than the Blues in this campaign without lavish resources. With better form and fortune – and setting aside the separate and fine achievement of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, which was paraded in a lap of honour at full-time here – that is where United ought to have been.

“I’m satisfied, but only just,” said Abbott, whose team started the season like a train but then fell back into inconsistency from autumn onwards.

“It’s been good but not fantastic. I have an obligation to the fans to make things better.” To this end the manager will contine his bid to tie up out-of-contract players this week before attempting to beef up his physical resources for August 6, when the next saga begins.

Game 46 of this one began with some pre-match fun, with parachutists landing with a pleasing skid to deliver the match-ball and newly-designed home strip, which we are informed comes in “reflex blue”. Another impulse is Liam Noble’s when he gets the ball 30 yards from goal, and a firm shot from the loanee which Steven Henderson parried was the game’s first meaningful act.

Yeovil, with their three-man defence and well-stocked midfield, soon asserted themselves. With Paul Wotton pinging passes from deep and Dean Bowditch and Andy Welsh making buzzing runs up ahead, they began to control the game as Carlisle failed to turn Terry Skiverton’s back line.

One Welsh dart from the left led to a shot which flew just wide. Bowditch then skimmed a cross just out of Jon Obika’s reach. By the 26th minute they seemed to have the measure of Carlisle, for whom Paddy Madden was a front-running full debutant, and when Shaun MacDonald made a high-stepping run through midfield and evaded a Paul Thirlwell lunge, Obika accepted his pass and curled the ball past Adam Collin.

Exasperation was slowly spreading around Brunton Park. Such a feeling then lapped over into the Warwick Road End, where a supporter’s flag was confiscated to a soundtrack of angry chants. On the grass, meanwhile, Frank Simek took a painful, unchallenged tumble, dislocated his elbow and left for hospital just an hour short of completing every minute of Carlisle’s season.

Tom Taiwo jogged on to fill the right-back hole, but United couldn’t rediscover much bite. Yeovil’s sub Andrew Tutte, on as a first-half tactical replacement for Ed Upson, was given space to shoot wide, while Noble ended the half with a volley from range which flew narrowly off-target.

After the interval, United made a more energetic effort to finish their campaign with a flourish, but there was little inspiration to conquer Yeovil’s discipline and awkward tactical shape. Adam Virgo had to put in one sliding block as Craig Curran made for a Matty Robson cross, but Abbott’s adjustment in the 56th minute which brought Robson forward from defence to wing yielded not a great deal more than a few futile gallops and crosses.

United’s persistent but often incoherent attacking drew a few corners, one of which saw Obika make a heavy put unpunished aerial challenge on Peter Murphy. Reprieved, the Glovers dashed downfield at an outnumbered rearguard and killed the game when Obika fed Welsh down the left to slide Bowditch in for a tap-in.

The final 20 minutes were played out with little to divert the game’s exasperating path. Nathan Smith put in one terrific slide to thwart Curran close-in, and Lubo Michalik booted a 40-yarder over, but soon enough it was time for the formalities: a brief pitch invasion from some of the more excitable members of the ‘Warwick’, a decent and generous outbreak of applause for Yeovil’s departing players and then the trophy parade.

The day duly became a snapshot of Carlisle’s season: a “nearly” performance in the league (to borrow Abbott’s post-match term) and the memory of a boisterous cup triumph.

Appearing for that final showing of the silverware at full-time was Ben Marshall, the injured loan star who hobbled along a few yards behind his team-mates, supported by a crutch.

Carlisle’s task in 2011/12, after this campaign of flickering promise, is to find their own way of catching up with the crowd.

ADAM COLLIN - Not much he could do about Yeovil’s well-worked goals, the keeper caught and distributed well.

FRANK SIMEK - A shame the doughty American’s campaign ended painfully, but he has contributed plenty to United this season.

MATTY ROBSON - Looked more adept at full-back than down the wing, where his crosses failed to hit the spot.

LUBO MICHALIK - Much better than his Dagenham nightmare, even if he was unable to keep the Glovers out.

PETER MURPHY - Obika was a dangerous opponent, but Murphy’s use of the ball from the back was good.

PAUL THIRLWELL - Took some responsibility in midfield and made good interceptions, but outflanked by MacDonald for opener.

JAMES BERRETT - A quiet end to the campaign for the News & Star player of the year, and no joy from his set-pieces.

LIAM NOBLE - Tried his luck a couple of times from distance but couldn’t make much happen around the Yeovil box.

PADDY MADDEN - Enthusiastic effort on full debut, but couldn’t find end product.

FRANCOIS ZOKO - Always tried to create, but Yeovil were usually alive to the Ivorian’s threat.

CRAIG CURRAN - Almost got on the end of a couple of crosses, but couldn’t find any inspiration.

Subs: Tom Taiwo (for Simek 35) – Battled away at right-back; Danny Livesey (for Berrett 56) – Steady outing; Rory Loy (for Madden 56) – Took up some good positions, under-served. Not used: Mark Gillespie, Graham Kavanagh, Ben McKenna.

Booked: Thirlwell

Yeovil Town: Henderson, Virgo, Smith, Ayling, Alcock (Ehmer 46), Welsh, Wotton, Upson (Tutte 22), MacDonald, Bowditch (Jones 70), Obika. Not used: Stewart, Russell, Gibson, Fitzsimons.

Goals: Obika 26, Bowditch 69

Ref: Jock Waugh (South Yorkshire)

Crowd: 6,473 (233 away fans)

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