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Thursday, 17 April 2014

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Carlisle Utd's rookie keeper praised after brilliant performance against Swindon

Carlisle United 2 Swindon Town 2: Few contests involving Swindon Town this season will offer enough to divert the attention from you-know-who, and most reports concerning Carlisle United’s latest opponents are required by law to start with reference to the Robins’ manager. But here, for once, there was plenty more for the eyes to feast upon.

Mark Gillespie photo
Mark Gillespie

Not even Paolo Di Canio can hold the gaze for an entire game when it also features three goals in three minutes, oodles of breakneck action and a possible career-defining performance from a young man in a position Di Canio has notoriously grappled with this season: goalkeeper.

Were it not for the opera down by the technical areas this might have been remembered as the Mark Gillespie show. In fact, it still probably should. Pre-match we knew what Swindon’s boss was going to bring to the stage but this was a day of revelation where Gillespie was concerned.

On an afternoon of hand gestures, mostly from Di Canio, there was a lingering urge to slap the palms together to congratulate Carlisle’s rookie keeper, who came of age with a sequence of saves and brave catches when Swindon were coming at United like a gale.

Having deposed Adam Collin after two years of waiting, Gillespie performed on Saturday’s home league debut like a man who knows his time has come.

While Carlisle and their thin squad continue their hard search for ways to get by, there is much pleasure to take from the sight of a player emerging from the ranks so impressively.

“I thought Mark was terrible,” argued Greg Abbott. “He should be catching those shots he parried. But I might give him another go on Tuesday.” No need to scratch the head at these remarks – this is United’s manager in familiar comic mode when one of his players stands out a mile.

Di Canio, who infamously hooked his own keeper (Wes Foderingham) after 20 minutes a fortnight ago, had cause to curse another glove-man on his maiden appearance at Brunton Park.

It’s hard to pick one showpiece moment from so many, but from this view it was probably the 56th minute attack which had Swindon’s Andy Williams sprinting clean through from the right, only to be denied by a superb stop from Carlisle’s former youth team No1, age 20.

This might feel like an odd game to be describing in terms of someone’s skill at keeping the ball out of the net. United’s trawl for a clean-sheet in the league this season came up empty again on September’s third Saturday. But the scoreline might easily have been steeper without Gillespie and some late bravery from Chris Chantler and Danny Livesey, who put head and body in the way of many things as Swindon kept advancing.

Gillespie’s guts in the face of heavy bombardment helped Abbott sum up what he saw, overall. Carlisle, who also ended with 18-year-old subs Mark Beck and Dave Symington on the field, had to mine deeply into their resolve to take a point from a contest in which the visitors looked better-equipped.

“We put two players on the pitch who are on combined wages of less than what some of their [Swindon’s] players will pay in tax,” said Carlisle’s boss, who must have felt envious when Di Canio unveiled the former Huddersfield maestro Gary Roberts from his collection of subs in the second half. “So we’ve got to pay a huge amount of credit for the type of performance we put in, in terms of the resolve, and not wanting to get beat.”

Among the other useful returns were two confidence-building goals from Jake Jervis, which United actually needed to hold Swindon off. In the negative column goes a fifth, suspension-triggering booking for James Berrett and a couple of lax moments which allowed the visitors in.

Di Canio? He came and went elaborately, as usual. “He means no harm to anyone,” Abbott had insisted of his opposite number, though Foderingham might disagree with that, as might the other Swindon players who found themselves on the end of his Italian temper on Saturday.

For 14 minutes the attention magnet was front-of-house in his technical area. The theatrical antics were under way early, as Gillespie saved a first-minute shot from Williams and Matty Robson replied with an off-target blast downfield.

Body language experts everywhere were still trying to analyse Di Canio’s early repertoire when Matt Ritchie overran the ball and felt a fierce gust from the touchline. Simon Ferry was next in line for a blast after a trifling mistake. Yet Swindon’s passing remained sharper than United’s, their aerial attacking threat through Paul Benson also more plain, as Abbott’s team struggled for flow.

But then fortune handed the Blues a useful card. Alan McCormack passed hastily from defence and saw the ball rebound off Berrett to Jervis, who accepted his good luck and instantly buried a low shot, scattering the frustration of the previous weekend’s howling miss at Hartlepool.

At this point Di Canio buried himself in his dugout, away from view for a good 15 minutes. In that time Berrett upended Williams and threw his hands up at the familiar sight of yellow, Gillespie punched away a testing cross, Chantler almost deflected the ball into his own net and then Swindon levelled from nowhere, when Adam Rooney nabbed a Benson header and put an unstoppable daisy-cutter into the bottom corner from 25 yards.

This triggered a new burst of drama in fast-forward. United marched downfield, JP McGovern crossed to Danny Cadamarteri, and his expert, chested lay-off was demolished by Jervis with a shot that was too hot for Foderingham to hold. Then 2-1 swiftly became 2-2, as Benson stepped through a gaping gap and drilled the second equaliser past the exposed Gillespie.

This provoked a surge to the touchline from Di Canio, who got one of many fleas in his ears from the Paddock for his troubles. Yet there was animation on the other side of the tunnel too, as Abbott protested furiously when ref Darren Drysdale failed to play an obvious advantage as Matty Robson raced away.

Moments earlier, Foderingham’s reflexes had kept out a Robson free-kick, and then the visiting keeper pushed a Peter Murphy header against the bar. The first half closed with United on top but this soon changed after the restart, as Edwards just about cleared lines as Benson and the gifted Ritchie lurked. Chantler then got a vital foot in after Roberts had replaced Rooney, and Gillespie duly bailed Edwards out with his save from Williams.

Abbott, concerned at Benson’s dominance in the air, sent on Livesey in place of Edwards and then swapped Cadamarteri – suffering with a foot knock – for Beck. The latter man soon went close with a header from McGovern’s free-kick but mostly afterwards the pressure remained red, as United grew over-reliant on long balls, and became more forgivably wary when the nimble-footed Roberts was fed down Swindon’s left.

Yet these late Wiltshire advances – sometimes on the floor, sometimes airborne – allowed Gillespie to excel further, the keeper saving sharply from James Collins after a perfect Roberts pass, and then denying Ritchie from distance and Roberts from close quarters.

A running commentary on all these events was being offered to his staff, throughout, by Di Canio, who also contributed possibly the most unusual protest against a refereeing decision Brunton Park has seen: an odd little tap-dance, which was met with more bellows from the Paddock.

If that was an audition for Saturday night TV, they should sign him up, pronto. But out there on the dancefloor the star was strictly Gillespie.

MARK GILLESPIE - Came of age in United’s goal with an outstanding display. Was regularly tested by Swindon’s dangermen and he met the challenge with a series of top-quality saves and confident catches.

FRANK SIMEK - American was given a tough time against Williams, and then his problems increased when Di Canio brought on the talented Roberts. Simek battled away but visitors were often able to make inroads down United’s right.

CHRIS CHANTLER - Did his best to limit Ritchie’s impact and after a mixed start he eventually rose and ended as one of Carlisle’s better players. Some of his tackles and interceptions were superb as he defended stoutly and linked with Robson.

MIKE EDWARDS - Put himself in harm’s way, as usual, but Benson enjoyed some success against the Blues’ centre-halves. Edwards made some timely clearances but paid the price for a couple of misjudgements as Abbott sent on Livesey in second half.

PETER MURPHY - Like all United’s rearguard men, Murphy came under regular pressure and struggled to keep Benson and Rooney quiet. Did tighten up during second half and put in some important clearances alongside Livesey.

PAUL THIRLWELL - Too often Carlisle bypassed their midfield, where Thirlwell struggled to have a lasting impact on the game. Made some good defensive contributions when the heat was on but Swindon’s middle men had the better of it.

JAMES BERRETT - Industrious effort without making much of a mark on Swindon’s defensive line. Some of his distribution was good but at other times drifted, and another booking means he is banned tomorrow.

MATTY ROBSON - When United were reduced to counter-attacking, they often looked to Robson’s pace down the left. Did his utmost to put Di Canio’s men on the back foot and a couple of dynamic runs almost opened the door.

JP MCGOVERN - Use of the ball was mostly sound, had a role in Blues' second goal, and set-piece almost served Beck with a winner. Otherwise had limited attacking impact and was more notable for his work in support of Simek until he was replaced.

DANNY CADAMARTERI - Will remain a popular player as long as he leads the line like this. Was full of energy and strength and one crafty touch enabled Jervis to double his account.

JAKE JERVIS - After a couple of weak showings, the loan man got himself going again with two good finishes. Clearly troubled Swindon in first half but was indifferent after the break and had no chances for a hat-trick.

Subs: Mark Beck (for Cadamarteri 59) – Put himself about; a few naïve fouls; Danny Livesey (for Edwards 59) – Added his bravery to rearguard effort; Dave Symington (for McGovern 73) – A couple of crowd-pleasing runs. Not used: Adam Collin, Paddy Madden, Brad Potts, Alessio Bugno.

Goals: Jervis 14, 30.

Booked: Berrett.

Swindon Town: Foderingham, Mceveley, Devera, McCormack. Ferry (Coke 70), Ritchie, Williams, Miller, Ward, Rooney (Roberts 52), Benson (Collins 60). Not used: Bedwell, Archibald-Henville, Thompson, Bessone.

Goals: Rooney 29, Benson 32.

Booked: Benson, Ward.

Ref: Darren Drysdale (Lincolnshire).

Crowd: 4,987.

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