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Thursday, 30 October 2014

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Crunch time for Carlisle United after four-goal first-half horror show

Carlisle United 1 Leyton Orient 4: Naturally, all the talk will now be out there about regrouping, of bouncing back, of taking the angst out on Doncaster. But then what? Would it do anything other than push the reckoning back a few more days?

Peter Murphy photo
Peter Murphy scores

It feels like such a time is coming, has to come. These are the bleakest, bitterest afternoons Brunton Park has known for a disturbing while. One angry victory tomorrow night – as though that could be relied upon, to any confident degree – would not wipe these words from the page.

The finger of judgement points at all the levels of responsibility down Warwick Road and the verdict coming back is not favourable. Greg Abbott will walk into the strongest gale but the storm takes in many more men than the manager.

This shambolic business two days ago, which has to be written up as the most abject defensive performance since the dying days of John Ward, maybe even the worst of what Roddy Collins brought, was the latest official representation of Carlisle United, the weekly advertisement for what the club is.

Today it has to be fair to ask: who would buy this? Who, at supporter level, would dip into their wallet and invest £20, say, with any certainty that the money is supporting a coherent, imaginative bid for good times?

At the highest point of the club the charge is of allowing the operation to go backwards by standing still. Creativity and panache appears to give Brunton Park a weekly swerve. In trying financial times, all the thinking remains inside the box, all the eggs in the basket of a new stadium scheme riddled with uncertainty and unpopularity. The latest health-check on this approach shows a £124,329 operating loss and a Saturday crowd of less than 4,000 on this sunny afternoon.

Abbott, after the annihilation by Leyton Orient, came up with one good line when he described his players’ approach to the Londoners’ fourth goal as “decision-making of the highest disorder”. Yet that allegation now comes bending back his way from a fanbase which has seldom sounded more furious than it did at the 44th minute here.

United’s boss, hindered by injuries and a tiny budget, can still be examined as a problem-solver and this latest battering at home says the hunt for answers is only turning up fresh ways to fail. While one possible help, Manchester United’s Sean McGinty, sat on the bench, the Blues conceded four goals in a league match for the third home game in four.

Abbott is a master at kicking and punching his way out of any corner and has resolved to do so again. Only the unwise would wager against it happening another time. But this cannot become a fortnightly campaign, as it seems to be heading. Not even Houdini had to work so many tricks.

It is known that some of Abbott’s best tools are currently broken, injured, but experienced players are still contributing to the crisis and also have to take ample blame. “I’ll have nightmares about [Orient’s] fourth goal for evermore,” confessed the manager, who had his hands on his head and looked quite inconsolable after David Mooney had cruised through gaping space at that barren moment.

Away from home, Carlisle have remained at least competitive even when results have turned against. On their own smooth soil they remain locked in a cycle of calamity. Good players look enfeebled, strong characters weakened. There is no muscle, no backbone. Only the kids, such as Dave Symington and Brad Potts, appear capable of lifting up the public mood.

It is simply not enough. You sensed it even as Orient mounted a few early attacks, as though they were testing not only Carlisle’s system but also their queasy stomach, their lack of power and strength. What they found, they liked, and they came back again with ever more intent.

One fifth minute surge almost let in the excellent Kevin Lisbie, then another counter-attack saw the striker fail to slide home Lee Cook’s cross. On both occasions the knife did not need to be pushed hard to open United up.

Downfield, Carlisle offered short glimpses – JP McGovern hunted down a dire Lloyd James pass and crossed for Liam Noble to head at the keeper, Ryan Allsop – but it was not hard to identify the more dangerous of the two teams. Eventually the dam broke: Dean Cox crossed, Mooney outjumped Edwards, his header trickled past Adam Collin’s dive, and it then came back off the post, allowing the striker to tap in.

This is the sort of clanger that has become commonplace at the Warwick Road End this autumn. To start with, United looked to be making decent ground in their attempt to improve: Potts, now an England Under-19 international, outbattled Moses Odubajo down the left to earn big applause, then a McGovern free-kick was flapped at by Allsop, allowing Peter Murphy to steer home a header.

But the sense of calm lasted seconds. From Orient’s next attack, Collin came hurtling out of his goal and Carlisle needed Mike Edwards to repel Cox’s goalbound volley. From the corner, one Orient header was blocked but then Ben Chorley, free in the six-yard box, forced the next attempt in.

Defensively the worst in their division, United are the gift that keeps on giving. On 32 minutes Cook curled a free-kick millimetres wide. On 33 the isolated Joe Garner couldn’t slide in a half-chance. On 38, a fresh fiasco, as Carlisle gave up possession, Lisbie’s touch defied Edwards’s botched rescue job on the right, then he steamed into the box and squared for Cook to pass home Orient’s third.

The next six minutes brought two more very-near misses, from Gary Sawyer and Mooney, before that hideous fourth came along, as a bad Edwards pass saw Lisbie put Mooney through to finish with force.

This brought about the most cutting crowd response, as Abbott, in his technical area, looked completely bereft. A trio of subs (Symington, Mark Beck and the fit-again Matty Robson) were summoned after half-time, by which point gallows humour had finally arrived, courtesy of a lone fan in the Main Stand: “We’re gonna win 5-4.”

Nobody was in the mood to join in. Then the 45-minute formalities were played out, as Carlisle found a little purpose, and Orient slipped contentedly into a lower gear. The feisty Symington nearly set up the sliding Beck and then Berrett shot wide, but the next best chance was again Orient’s: Mooney, driving from outside the box, and seeing his hat-trick attempt strike the crossbar.

Out of all the futile remainder came a few small incidents worthy of reporting. Collin parried well from Cox, Symington nearly removed Sawyer’s head from his neck with a screaming shot, Garner went close from 20 yards, Symington again raised spirits with a brilliant right-sided run, and then another Orient man put himself in the way of danger: Nathan Clarke, who took a Garner rocket full in the face.

The temptation to compare this bravery with Carlisle’s own defensive generosity was impossible to resist. By this stage the fantasy of a comeback had long drifted off, along with many fans, some of whom had been on their way home even before half-time.

Those who stayed could barely rouse themselves to boo again at full-time. They seemed to get more pleasure from the other team’s performance than the token efforts of the Blues. Lisbie, among others, got a kind ovation from the Paddock when he was substituted. Even at the gloomiest of times there is no shame in saying how well he and his ruthless team-mates played, in spells.

Yet the distressing truth is that Orient are not League One’s biggest shakers, not by a mile. Future opponents will review this footage and mentally tot up the points before they have actually been won.

That detail in a dark landscape says that United are skidding towards a kind of bankruptcy: appallingly easy meat for middle-rankers like the Os and Slade, whose musical namesakes make you think festive thoughts – appropriate, that, when teams are coming to Brunton Park and finding that it is Christmas every day.

ADAM COLLIN - Not a convincing display by the keeper, who seemed slow to react at the first goal and struggled to appear commanding afterwards, though others in front of him were more culpable.

FRANK SIMEK - Cook was a regular threat down the left and Orient were often keen to attack down that side. Not the worst of Carlisle’s rearguard but Simek cannot say he won all his battles.

CHRIS CHANTLER - His sharpness got United out of some tight spots but he couldn’t always keep Carlisle’s left side as tight as was needed, and the visitors had some joy there.

MIKE EDWARDS - Was all at sea at too many stages, none more obvious than Orient’s third and fourth goals. Looked short of pace and certainty and was too easily outdone by Slade’s forward men.

PETER MURPHY -  Briefly sparked hope with equaliser and sometimes tried to take game by the scruff of neck, but this was a grim defensive day and Murphy sometimes struggled.

BRAD POTTS - Teenager lifted the crowd at times with his endeavour and was perhaps the only starting player to earn any plaudits. Not always accurate in the pass but did more good work than most.

JAMES BERRETT - Orient’s middle men got too much joy and Berrett was unable to exert any authority. Tried to get United going at times but mainly it was an afternoon of struggle.

LIAM NOBLE - Found it hard to have any impact on the game. Made too many errors with and without the ball in the first half and his unhappy afternoon was ended at the break by Abbott.

JP MCGOVERN - A couple of early contributions suggested promise, but then faded as Orient took complete command. Another who was hooked at the interval as Carlisle chased the lost cause.

KALLUM HIGGINBOTHAM - Continues to struggle for a lasting impact in a United shirt. Down the left he found it hard to make anything happen as the visitors got on top. Replaced at half-time.

JOE GARNER - Other than a couple of shots, Garner did not make much of an impression on the contest. Clarke got the better of him more often than not and United did not offer enough danger from other areas.

Subs: Dave Symington (for Higginbotham 46) – Some fine crosses; Matty Robson (for McGovern 46) – Added some pace; Mark Beck (for Noble 46) – Some aerial presence but no goals. Not used: Mark Gillespie, Andy Welsh, Josh Todd, Sean McGinty.

Goal: Murphy 24

Booked: Potts

Leyton Orient: Allsop, Odubajo, Sawyer, Chorley, Clarke, James (Griffith 65), Cook, Rowlands, Cox (Smith 82), Lisbie (Symes 76), Mooney. Not used: Jones, McSweeney, Baudry, Brunt.

Goals: Mooney 18, 44; Chorley 26, Cook 38

Booked: Cox

Ref: Tony Harrington (Cleveland)

Crowd: 3,964 (113 Orient fans)

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