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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

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Carlisle Utd overcome early scare to battle back for victory

Carlisle United 2 Chesterfield 1: Two images of home debutant Ben Parker perfectly characterised Carlisle United’s fluctuating fortunes on a bitingly cold afternoon at Brunton Park.

Francois Zoko photo
Francois Zoko scores

First, the sight of Parker lying deflated on the pitch, hands covering his face, as he took in the full horror of his role in giving away a toe-curling opening goal to Chesterfield.

Then, the stirring image of the Leeds United loanee powerfully heading home the equaliser, before confidently grabbing the ball out the back of the net and racing to the place it in the centre circle, sensing a victory was in reach.

Crushing despair one moment, soaring optimism the next, all made possible by some perspiration on the pitch and some inspiration off it.

It was a never-say-die fight-back by Carlisle’s players and a clever game-changing tactical switch at half-time by their manager, who admitted afterwards he feared it wasn’t going to be their day.

“We’re delighted to win a game that at half-time we didn’t look like winning,” admitted Greg Abbott afterwards.

“This is a difficult league this season because top can beat bottom and bottom can beat top, so greatest of respect to Chesterfield because we knew it was going to be really tough.

“We were disappointed with how we played in the first half as we looked edgy and nervy, which is strange.”

If Abbott’s players achieve their dream of capturing a play-off place, they might well look back and see it was achieved on days like this – when everything goes against you but you somehow find what it takes to make it over the line.

After the woeful 4-0 capitulation at Hartlepool seven days earlier, this was one for Abbott, his players and the fans savour.

The result, however, was the only enjoyment to be derived from this one on a bitterly cold afternoon when entertainment was in short supply.

It was the kind of grisly spectacle that perfectly matched the weather conditions, but the path to a possible play-off place will be paved with results like this when Carlisle’s players will simply have to roll up their sleeves and grind out a victory.

You wouldn’t shove the dog out the door on a day like Saturday.

But 4,313 diehards turned out for a game played in gusting wind, mixed with lashing, icy sleet – and they were rewarded by seeing their side turn up the heat on their play-off pack.

United moved on to level points with sixth placed Stevenage after the weather forced their rivals’ game at Notts County to be postponed.

And they did it without three of this season’s key performers -– suspended pair James Berrett and Lee Miller and the injured Matty Robson were all shivering in the stand – as a depleted side went out into the trickiest kind of contest: against a struggling side where you’re supposed to win comfortably.

Saturday’s victory means Carlisle now haven’t lost at home since September 10 after finally conquering the jitters which have crippled them in the past in front of the Brunton Park fans.

But some old habits die hard, and Carlisle can still be relied upon to make a meal out of seeing off the League One lesser-lights.

Chesterfield, fighting for their lives near the bottom of the table, put up plenty of stubborn resistance on Saturday but even they must have been pleasantly surprised at the generosity of United, who gifted their struggling opponents an early goal with the first proper attack of the game.

It was a study in slapstick and a personal calamity for Parker, who gave away a soft goal that handed the Spireites the sort of break teams in their situation dream about.

Mark Allott saw his effort cleared by United skipper Paul Thirlwell, but Drew Talbot picked up the loose ball, spun and got the better of the despairing Parker, before the ball squirmed under keeper Adam Collin on 16 minutes.

So far, so bad.

Carlisle enjoyed plenty of possession and showed plenty of endeavour, but struggled to get into their stride against a side chasing a fifth straight league and cup victory and which had not lost at Brunton Park in 19 years.

Liam Noble, with all his youthful exuberance, tried to get Carlisle up and running again. The midfielder combined with Peter Murphy for a well-worked free-kick which saw Chesterfield keeper Tommy Lee tip Noble’s 25-yard effort round the post. Then, just before half-time, Noble forced another excellent save from Lee from the same distance.

Carlisle went in at the break in desperate need of some fine-tuning after a poor first-half display.

Abbott clearly thought so too and sacrificed Noble to switch from a 4-3-3 system, with Francois Zoko, JP McGovern and Jordan Cook in a three-pronged attack, to a 4-4-2 formation with the introduction of young Irishman Paddy Madden.

The Blues boss later explained that Taiwo’s industrious first-half efforts and their reliance on Thirlwell’s on-field leadership qualities meant Noble was the most obvious candidate to make way.

The balance of power began to swing United’s way, although it was still far from being a convincing performance.

McGovern and Madden combined well to set up Thirlwell, whose powerful volley looked like it was heading for the postage stamp corner, only for Neil Trotman to block the skipper’s effort. The lively introduction of Chesterfield sub Nicky Ajose – a one-time target for Abbott – caused some real discomfort for the Cumbrians.

Ajose’s awareness and pace saw him get the better of Lubo Michalik, but Murphy rescued Carlisle with a timely interception.

So far it’s been a season to forget for Andy Welsh, a summer arrival from Yeovil, but the wideman stepped up his comeback from a calf injury when he came on as a 71st minute sub and made an immediate impact.

The former Sunderland player injected pace and his positive influence seemed to give the whole side a lift. So much so, it wasn’t long before they were back on level terms.

Welsh’s good run and cross found Madden, but his effort was tipped behind by Lee and, from McGovern’s resulting corner, Parker rose head and shoulders above everyone else to head home the equaliser.

The relief was palpable in the Carlisle side – but they weren’t done yet, although they owed their winner to a massive stroke of luck

A terrible back-pass by James Hurst, nine minutes later, seemed to bobble on the increasingly wet pitch and Zoko was alert to it. The United frontman then rounded Lee and fired into an empty net for his seventh goal in nine games.

It provided a heart-warming end to a drab contest in freezing conditions, but the collection of another three points by United rendered everything else meaningless.

ADAM COLLIN - Made some crucial blocks and had to be alert to a lively Chesterfield attack

FRANK SIMEK - Steady-away and played an important defensive role

BEN PARKER - Caught out for Chesterfield’s goal but deserves credit for overcoming a shaky start and redeeming himself with equaliser

LUBO MICHALIK - Few shaky moments at the back at the hands of Nicky Ajose but recovered well

PETER MURPHY - Welcome return to the side after injury and made a few important interceptions

PAUL THIRLWELL - Dug deep in the middle of the pitch, got in some crucial blocks and defensive headers, and marshalled the men around him

TOM TAIWO - Tireless shift in midfield although his hard work often goes unnoticed

LIAM NOBLE - Two good efforts on goal as he tried to get Carlisle back in the game but sacrificed for tactical change at half-time

JP MCGOVERN - Shaven-headed, tattooed warrior continues to be a shining light in Greg Abbott’s team

FRANCOIS ZOKO - Poor first half showing but came good in the end by hitting winner

JORDAN COOK - Promising full debut from the Sunderland loanee who showed some good glimpses of what he can do

Subs: Andy Welsh (for Cook, 71) His sparkling arrival on the pitch got Carlisle up and running; Madden (for Noble 46) Lively introduction after coming on as part of tactical switch. Not used: Gillespie, Chantler and Livesey

Goals: Parker (75), Zoko (84)

Chesterfield: Lee, Trotman, Robertson, Thompson, Allott, Ridehaigh (Lowry, 87), Lester (Bowery, 84), Hurst, Boden (Ajose, 59), Talbot and Davies, subs (not used): Fleming and Whitaker.

Goal: Talbot (16)

Referee: Geoff Eltringham

Attendance: 4,313

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