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Friday, 21 November 2014

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Carlisle Utd out of FA Cup after being outclassed at Brunton Park again

Carlisle United 1 AFC Bournemouth 3: The biggest lie being told to defend those behind Carlisle United’s gloomy output at home is that Brunton Park is yet to become a hostile place, where the faithful turn in on themselves and boo the players and manager to kingdom come.

Mark Beck photo
Mark Beck scores

The die-hards, those who can still bring themselves to show up, can plainly not bear to do anything other than support. Once their admirable faith goes then it really will be lights-out time.

But please let nobody claim that United’s fanbase are not laying their disapproval down hard. The thing to do is not count those who were there on Saturday – 2,550 of them – but those who were not.

This is a silent protest but still a profound one. Just because the anger isn’t noisy, coming down from the seats and terraces, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It’s there, surely, in the man or woman who has found something more rewarding to do with their weekend than commit a £20 note to such a flimsy cause.

What we have here is a mass walkout by another name, one that should trouble deeply anyone concerned about Carlisle’s general health.

The latest damning attendance figure of 2,980, which included 430 doughty travellers from the south coast, can hardly be written up as a ‘crowd’. Soon we will only be able to describe the regular audience at Brunton Park as a gathering. Watching the Blues risks being classified as a niche hobby, practised only by a small interest group, the sort that meets in the village hall once a fortnight.

You peer around corridors at Carlisle’s ground for someone furious enough to alter this, someone who can register and then react to the dissent that is out there in the city, and see little to encourage you. United are out of the FA Cup, outclassed at home again, with emptiness all around.

Nobody in power shows the acumen to deal with it, now. Nobody speaks out to the supporters and says it has become so criminally bad that emergency solutions must and will be sought. Nobody observes a team under-performing again and asks whether it has, after all, been put together with enough care and thought. Nobody does anything imaginative to stop this cycle of disinterest from spinning.

These words are excruciating to write but this club has been so much more vibrant, even in the recent memory. Now this lemming-leap into disarray, where comfortable home defeats no longer surprise.

Bournemouth’s strength, their confidence, their big financial backing, their managerial shrewdie; all these things are known. They may have beaten better opponents than Greg Abbott’s injury-troubled Carlisle two days ago. But the gap was not just of quality, but of conviction, and once again it was disturbingly large.

Certainly, United have played worse this season, but this is again another fact that condemns. If this was not the lowest of it then what does that say about the overall picture?

More numbers: three, three, four, two, four, one, four, two, three. Working back from this 3-1 defeat that is the sequence of goals conceded by United at Brunton Park. Those who continue to protest that this is a single-solution problem, that solution being the return of Lee Miller, ought to be tested for banned substances.

The striker will help, sure, but it is ludicrous to expect one man to wipe an entire team’s defensive problems off the page. Miller can only operate in certain parts of the pitch at any one time. He cannot dart around the place, healing all the wounds, settling all the chaos.

This endless quest for answers now continues in the league alone. A new year without a big-money third round FA Cup tie will doubtless have many at United feeling the squeeze of the belt. Bournemouth, who are at that stage for the first time in eight years, and will go to Premier League Wigan, began here with a racing run from Charlie Daniels down the left which Danny Livesey had to stretch to intercept.

Howe’s upbeat troops started at pace, often attacking United’s right-hand side, where Daniels and the classy Marc Pugh were linking smoothly. In the fifth minute, the ball dropped into Abbott’s technical area after the Cherries were awarded a free-kick. Carlisle’s manager hoofed the ball away and had his collar felt by ref Paul Tierney.

From this minor quarrel, Carlisle emerged with some new intent. The tackling of the fit-again Paul Thirlwell and Joe Garner lifted players and fans. Then the alertness of Matty Robson took him into two great scoring positions, but his first shot was easily saved by Shwan Jalal, and his next was volleyed wide.

The left-winger almost profited again minutes later but Jalal came off his line to smother the danger. United, plainly, needed a finish to capitalise on their vigour, but having spurned these three openings you began to fear for their safety.

After half-an-hour, a decent contest duly went lopsided. A weaving Pugh run forced a corner, and when the set-piece dropped for Wes Fogden, his shot deflected past Adam Collin.

Six minutes later, Howe’s men punched another hole through. Simon Francis’ diagonal free-kick was won by Pugh, who twisted into the box and moved the ball, via Fogden, to Eunan O’Kane, who scored clinically to make it 2-0.

The three teens, Brad Potts, Dave Symington and Mark Beck, tried to lead a fightback down the right, earning a corner which led to Livesey having a volley blocked. Mike Edwards, who had earlier been sharp in the tackle against Lewis Grabban, then headed a Symington free-kick over the bar.

These half-chances aside, it suddenly looked a long way back. With Frank Simek succumbing to knee trouble, Valentin Gjokaj came on for a second half debut at right-back, along with JP McGovern (for Symington). This did not, though, enable Abbott’s side to find the creativity button, as Bournemouth spent some more quality time in the home half, enjoying too much comfort in possession and sending United towards some serious toil to stop the lead increasing.

Grabban, after a Chris Chantler mistake, had a further effort blocked. Andy Welsh then replaced Robson in the third like-for-like change, which did not come with any tactical shift. Still the tide would not turn, though McGovern did supply a handful of useful set-piece deliveries, one which Beck and Edwards couldn’t convert.

With Gjokaj contributing aggressively, though not silencing Pugh by any stretch, United eventually stayed downfield long enough to tease a goal out of the game. Jalal failed to lay a glove on McGovern’s in-swinger and Beck headed it home at the back post. The youngster, who scored twice at Yeovil the week before, now has goals in three different competitions in his first professional season.

And another nearly came, when he linked with the otherwise off-colour Garner, but Jalal made the best save of the day to keep out Beck’s low drive. United then laboured unconvincingly to apply further pressure but in injury-time they sprang one more leak, when Francis skipped past Edwards on the right touchline and squared for Pugh to clean the game up.

It was apt that the best player on the pitch had the final say. Here, meanwhile, was Abbott’s say, when he was asked if it was time to hold a seminar with his players on this awful home form: “Probably not, if it’s going to affect their mindset. The more you mention pressure, home form, crisis, words like that, people start believing them.”

Maybe they should, you are tempted to reply, since the softly-softly approach is plainly not working. Coaching minds to think this season is not in peril has brought us to this point, after all. So why not try speaking the truth more bluntly, before this becomes a movie nobody at all wants to watch?

ADAM COLLIN - Beaten by a deflection for the opener and not to blame for Bournemouth’s other goals. Collin made a couple of decent claims and this defeat could not be pinned on the keeper.

FRANK SIMEK - Targeted by Howe, whose team repeatedly fed Pugh in the early stages. Simek toiled to defend Carlisle’s right side but knee problem forced him off at the break.

CHRIS CHANTLER Tried to inject some urgency at times but wasn’t able to get going fully, and sometimes ran into trouble. Bournemouth had joy in many areas, including United’s left.

MIKE EDWARDS - For periods Edwards looked quite sharp, dispossessing the dangerous Grabban more than once. But United couldn’t keep the back door locked when it mattered and the centre-half was outpaced by Francis for the third.

DANNY LIVESEY - Tried to dominate in the air, and put some early blocks in, but Cherries opened United up enough to get the tie in the bag and Livesey couldn’t hold back the tide.

BRAD POTTS - Put some aggressive tackles in to try and lift the crowd and a few driving runs showed promise, but the youngster could not inspire United on his own and Bournemouth won the midfield battle.

PAUL THIRLWELL - Back after a month out, the captain got stuck in during the early stages but seemed to run out of gas the longer the game went on, as the Cherries enjoyed too much comfort in possession.

MATTY ROBSON - Alert to get on the end of United’s best chances, but finishing let him down. Afterwards got little change out of Francis and the rest of the visitors’ back line.

DAVE SYMINGTON - Tried to contribute with a few set-pieces but his right-wing runs were mainly well attended by Daniels, and the youngster was replaced at half-time as Abbott called on McGovern’s experience.

MARK BECK - Won a few aerial contests and though the Cherries’ defenders were usually too smart for him, he got himself in the right place to head United’s consolation goal.

JOE GARNER - Not in the game anywhere near enough, Garner engaged in his usual battles with centre-halves but won little beyond a few cheap free-kicks. One nice link-up with Beck aside, he posed little goal threat.

Subs: JP McGovern (for Symington 46) – Some handy set-pieces, including one that led to Beck’s goal; Valentin Gjokaj (for Simek 46) – Up for the battle but found it hard to contain Pugh; Andy Welsh (for Robson 57) – Couple of runs but little impact. Not used: Mark Gillespie, Liam Noble, Josh Todd, Sean McGinty.

Goal: Beck 73.

Bournemouth: Jalal, Francis, Daniels, Cook, Elphick, MacDonald (McQuoid 58), O’Kane, Pugh, Fogden, Grabban (Fletcher 90), Pitman (Partington 82). Not used: James, Demouge, Tubbs, McDermott.

Goals: Fogden 30, O’Kane 36, Pugh 90.

Ref: Paul Tierney (Lancashire).

Crowd: 2,980 (430 Bournemouth fans).

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