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Saturday, 19 April 2014

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Collin and Keogh shine but Carlisle Utd fall short against Southampton

Carlisle United 1 Southampton 4: About 15 minutes from the end of this lopsided cup final, Southampton’s Adam Lallana took aim from the edge of Carlisle’s penalty area, battered a low shot against the heel of a team-mate, N’Diaye Papa Waigo, and the ball spun innocuously clear.

The thought immediately went up: had the Saints’ ownership of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final become so embarrassingly complete that they had now decided to do United’s defending for them?

That kind of acid conclusion, it is a mighty regret to report, was sweeping Wembley Stadium yesterday afternoon after Greg Abbott’s error-plagued rearguard had drained all the colour out of their own tilt at the ‘Paint Pot’. This was a humbling in high definition and little is achieved by pretending otherwise.

Let us not patronise Carlisle’s players by doling out excessive sympathy today. Professionals like Peter Murphy and Evan Horwood don’t need to be told it just wasn’t their day, or that they still deserve a badge for trying hard. A colder judgement cannot be spared simply because this was a showpiece confrontation and not a skirmish for league points and positions.

Scrutiny must still be applied and yesterday the overwhelming feeling was that big-game smoke got in the eyes of too many blue-shirted performers and did not clear until Southampton had danced over the horizon with the silverware.

What Carlisle also lacked, apart from an ability to spin the game’s decisive moments in their own favour, was a few additional inches at the core of their defence. Sometimes football submits itself to over-analysis; sometimes it’s simple enough to say that a slightly taller Murphy wouldn’t have needed to swat away Michail Antonio’s 15th minute cross with his hand and set the rejuvenated Saints off on their victory pageant.

Pummelling Murphy in print isn’t the intention here. More players than Danny Livesey’s replacement came up short in both senses for United. But the long-serving defender’s reverse-Maradona moment, which allowed Rickie Lambert to smash his 32nd goal of the season from the penalty spot, opened the gate to the rest of Alan Pardew’s kaleidoscopic attackers.

High-calibre lower-league performers like Lambert, Lallana, Papa Waigo and Antonio do not require such encouragement to set about a depleted rearguard. Stick a sizeable chunk of your salary on these dervishes sending Southampton back into the Championship in a year’s time, once they are able to start next season without a points deduction. For Pardew’s players and their 44,000 congregation, this was a happy, champagne-soaked preface to their inevitable stride back up the divisions. Abbott, meanwhile, will tick off Carlisle’s remaining league commitments this spring after reflecting on a cup run that thrilled on many levels but ended with an unfortunate splutter.

“If you make mistakes like we did, you are going to put yourselves under pressure,” conceded United’s manager. “We couldn’t recover against a very good side.” Any analysis of events under Wembley’s arch yesterday must certainly factor in Southampton’s excellence before Carlisle’s errors can be addressed.

But get to work on those slips we must. The first one – a spilled catch by Adam Collin in the third minute – turned out to be deceptive, since the goalkeeper later emerged as United’s stand-out player in a game they might even have lost more heavily. But the next one sank the hearts of 21,000 Cumbrians in their noisy horseshoe around one end of Wembley and its giant red slopes.

After a decent opening spell, during which Ian Harte drew a fumble from Kelvin Davis with a free-kick and Richard Keogh steamed past four Saints with his first meaningful gallop from his right-back base, Southampton imposed their pace on Carlisle and after Antonio had chipped a chance wide after a purposeful run, the winger forced the game’s defining moment.

Collecting a weak Horwood clearance on the right, Antonio devoured space before crossing for Lambert. Instinct told the backpedalling Murphy to claw the ball away with his mitt rather than risk letting Southampton’s lethal striker made contact so close to the target. All that decision did was delay the moment Lambert would scorch the Cumbrian net. Collin read the Scouser’s penalty but couldn’t defy League One’s goal-gobbling sensation.

Carlisle’s task – to defy the script that most of the media were clutching as they filed into Wembley – duly became more daunting but they did put some urgency into their response before the game vanished completely. One attractive one-touch passing move ended with the galloping Matty Robson putting a cross just out of the isolated Dobie’s reach.

At the other end, Papa Waigo tested Collin with a hooked shot, before the classy Lallana pummelled a volley into the goalkeeper’s body. United were remaining competitive in the midfield disputes but it was Southampton who attacked with greater sharpness and pace. In the 35th minute, Collin saved superbly from Antonio after Lambert had air-kicked a Papa Waigo pass, following a misdirected Murphy clearance.

Carlisle then perked up with a Robson cross which found Harte’s head and then the top of the crossbar. Moments later, Marc Bridge-Wilkinson found further encouragement when he turned away from attention and aimed a 25-yard volley a fraction too high. Yet all this was simply the prelude to another calamity. A minute before the break, a long throw from the right was hurled into Carlisle’s box by Antonio, Lambert beat Harte to the flick, and Lallana detached himself from Adam Clayton and buried the most basic of headers.

By the touchline, Abbott wore a beaten expression. Before the whistle, composure briefly abandoned Keogh when he scythed Papa Waigo and was booked. Four minutes into the second half, United’s attempt to regroup and go again was dismantled, as Lambert and Papa Waigo swapped passes down the left, Horwood made a Horlick’s of dealing with Lambert’s cross, and when the besieged Collin parried Antonio’s blast, Papa Waigo headed home the rebound and terminated the contest.

Keogh, whose appetite continued to shine through most of the bleakness, then put Clayton in for a sliced shot from decent territory. Then the excellent Antonio delivered another seminar in clinical finishing, when he turned and drilled in Southampton’s fourth on the hour after Lambert had again soared above Harte and Murphy failed to clear United’s lines.

Five minutes later, Carlisle’s bewildered supporters suddenly burst into song. Down below, their flattened heroes tried to give them a morsel of a memory to take from their emptying day. Joe Anyinsah, off the bench, sliced wide after another Keogh run. Davis then climbed out of his armchair to push away a Harte free-kick. Finally, with six minutes on the clock, United rippled the Saints’ net when Robson was impeded, Harte pinged in a fine set-piece and Gary Madine – on for Graham Kavanagh – soared to score.

This provoked Pardew’s men into a final charge, during which Collin denied Lambert, Simon Gillett and the imperious defender Jose Fonte. This closing spurt was interrupted by a sharp Davis save after Dobie had pounced on a rare slip from Fonte’s skyscraping Tunisian accomplice, Radhi Jaidi.

That it took Carlisle’s lone centre-forward 87 minutes to find a goalscoring opportunity of note tells a certain tale; the fact United had long since been doomed to their fourth defeat from five such finals was more profoundly depressing to contemplate. The manner in which they ushered Southampton to the pot bruised the brain.

At least the sometimes under-valued Livesey’s reputation will have risen in absentia after yesterday’s events. Madine’s own terrace standing certainly needed the enhancement that his consolation goal will have brought.

Perspective reminds us to credit Abbott and his team for diverting a stream of cash into United’s depleted account as a result of their stride to Wembley. And a weekend procession to the national stadium can never be entirely without charm, as Cumbria’s weary legions may tell you today.

But the day’s biting shame remains. It is that, when opportunity turned up at Carlisle’s door, it was rather carelessly swiped away.

ADAM COLLIN United’s goalkeeper did not let the side down on the big stage. The Cumbrian couldn’t keep out Lambert’s perfect penalty and was left exposed for Southampton’s other three goals, but he pulled off some gutsy saves and deserved much better protection.

RICHARD KEOGH - As is so often the case, it fell to Keogh to provide United with some urgency and impetus and some of his runs from right-back almost paid dividends. On a difficult defensive afternoon, his wholeheartedness still shone through.

EVAN HORWOOD - Will cringe at the memory of his part in Southampton’s third goal and that mistake summed up Carlisle’s afternoon. Took part in a couple of decent forays down the left but he couldn’t keep the menacing Antonio quiet.

PETER MURPHY - Handball gave Southampton the crucial leg-up after 15 minutes and United’s afternoon got harder from that point on. Both Murphy and Harte struggled to contain Lambert and his high-class team-mates around the United box.

IAN HARTE - Class didn’t shine through as readily as it has on other occasions this season. Couldn’t get on top of Saints’ daunting frontmen although a mixed bag of set-pieces did produce Madine’s late consolation goal, and he hit the bar with first-half header.

PAUL THIRLWELL - Tends to get criticised for not being Tom Taiwo, but it would be wrong to finger Thirlwell for this defeat. The skipper used the ball as tidily as any United player even if he couldn’t dominate the Southampton midfielders.

ADAM CLAYTON - Showed some decent touches on the ball but sliced at his best goalscoring chance and couldn’t craft anything for the Blues when it was needed. Didn’t stop trying to make things happen, but it certainly wasn’t the Man City man’s day.

GRAHAM KAVANAGH - Popped up in a few dangerous places and linked some of United’s early attacks, but couldn’t find a moment of quality to get United back in the game and was substituted for Madine in the second half.

MATTY ROBSON - A couple of first-half surges got Carlisle’s fans going and he ended the game strongly, but in between the left-winger was dealt with well by Harding on the right of the Southampton defence.

MARC BRIDGE-WILKINSON - Short of match time in recent weeks and not in his preferred position, but he coped well enough on the right of United’s midfield and came close with a first-half volley.

SCOTT DOBIE - Needed more support as the Cumbrians’ toiling frontman against Pardew’s imposing centre-halves. Almost got on the end of a couple of first-half crosses but had to wait until the 87th minute for his first real chance, and Davis was equal to it.

SUB: JOE ANYINSAH (for Bridge-Wilkinson, 61) - Gave United some extra attacking presence but could not be expected to be at peak sharpness in his first game back after hernia operation.

SUB: GARY MADINE (for Kavanagh, 73) - The teenager can take home a moment to treasure in the shape of a well-taken Wembley goal and a decent run-out from the bench, but the game had long gone for the Blues by then.

SUB: TOM TAIWO (Thirlwell, 79) - Won a couple of crowd-pleasing tackles but there was nothing the ex-Chelsea man could do to change the course of events by the time he got onto Wembley’s turf.

Subs not used: Lenny Pidgeley, Tony Kane.

Goal: Madine 84

Booked: Murphy, Keogh

Southampton: Davis, Harding, Mills, Jaidi, Fonte, Hammond, Wotton, Lallana, Antonio, Papa Waigo, Lambert, Gillett (for Papa Waigo), Connolly, Perry (for Jaidi). Not used: Bartosz Bialkowski, Lloyd James

Goals: Lambert 14 pen, Lallana 44, Waigo 49, Antonio 60

Referee: Scott Mathieson (Cheshire) - Has not always been to the liking of Carlisle fans but his refereeing gave little cause for complaint here. The Cheshire official had no choice but to award Saints an early penalty and did not miss much over the 90 minutes.

Crowd: 73,476

Man of the match - Rickie Lambert

 

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