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Thursday, 23 October 2014

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Ex-Blues Reid and Hawley deny Carlisle Utd third win in row

Scunthorpe 3 Carlisle United 1: The latest obstacles to three wins on the spin were a ropey first half performance and an opposition team who now look in a false position, down there among the dead men. Scunthorpe were good, Carlisle United not good enough. And so we start again.

Lee Miller photo
Lee Miller leads from the front

For the 15th time in more than four years, the Blues went into reverse after back-to-back victories. An upbeat fightback in the second half came too late, after two early home goals had knocked them sideways.

The debate will now continue about whether this is stat obsession or evidence of an inconsistency problem which Greg Abbott simply cannot chase away. The manager once compared this to the behaviour of a drunkard – two steps forward, followed by a stumble – and today’s headache will be painfully familiar.

“We’ve been rocked a bit tonight,” confessed Abbott after this 3-1 defeat. The men who did the rocking were Akpo Sodje, with two clinical finishes, and Paul Reid, who grew up in Harraby and is employed mainly to keep goals out, not dispatch them into the net of his boyhood club.

Yet Reid’s 22nd minute header from Mark Duffy’s corner, which put Scunthorpe 2-0 up after Sodje’s opener, rather summed up the state of the game at that stage. With a quarter of proceedings gone League One’s 20th-placed team had been too fast and too strong for their guests.

Overall, it was United’s most uncomfortable defensive day since last month’s annihilation at Swindon. Naturally it did not plunge to those terrible depths but this was still a jolt to everyone who assumed the Blues had since found an unbreakable strength at the back.

Sean O’Hanlon, until now an unbeaten four-game talisman, has finally been in a contest. Both he and Danny Livesey will not wish to confront Sodje and Karl Hawley again any time soon. Sodje in the air, the crafty Hawley on the deck: this was a strong double act which got the better of United’s form centre-halves.

With the classy, creative Duffy also making mischief across much of Glanford Park’s wet pitch there was plenty for United to contend with. By the time the Blues looked like getting their measure they were slogging their way up a steep hill. James Berrett’s 45th minute goal was welcome, and there were near-misses from the teenage subs, Dave Symington and Mark Beck, but Sodje then nailed matters with his second goal in injury-time.

So United head off to Portsmouth this weekend with the canvas blank again. The play-offs – the subject of excitable chat after Saturday’s win over Stevenage – now look as distant as Carlisle’s next destination. The hope is that their meeting with football’s basket case club (Pompey are winless since October 20) can help them resume the form they had been building since O’Hanlon arrived in mid-January.

Here at Glanford Park on this chilly night the hosts were celebrating 100 years as a professional club and were also out to correct a more recent historical issue: a failure to put three straight home wins together since 2009. This throwback contest – 4-4-2 versus 4-4-2 – began with a lot of hasty passing and heading, and a groan from the Scunthorpe fans as Duffy gave the ball away in his own half.

This has not been a happy home for the claret and blue faithful since they came down from the Championship. Anxiety was already plain.

Yet United could not profit. One handy JP McGovern cross reached Andy Welsh at the back stick, but it seemed to catch the winger by surprise and the chance drifted by. And Scunthorpe duly found their stride, coming energetically down the middle through Sodje, who lured O’Hanlon into a bookable foul, before Niall Canavan volleyed wide and O’Hanlon scuffed a clearance to Josh Walker, the midfielder failing to beat Mark Gillespie.

These were ominous signs and after Sam Slocombe had dealt with a tricky Matty Robson cross, United buckled. Frank Simek needed a team-mate to tell him that he did not need to head the ball hastily from his right-back zone, but the call did not come, and Duffy was able to collect, cut onto his right foot and whip over a fine cross which Sodje, in front of O’Hanlon, headed home.

Travelling fans were advised not to adjust their sets. O’Hanlon had indeed been outdone by a big opponent. If any player has earned an off-day lately it is probably the new boy but nobody else in a green shirt could contain Scunthorpe in the spell that followed. Five minutes after Sodje's strike, Tom Newey forced a corner, Duffy bent it onto Reid’s head, the hosts toasted a simple second goal and then nearly added more, through Hawley and Newey.

In this sort of mood, with his twists, turns and clever shifts of direction, Hawley must be an infuriating customer for defenders. Livesey will have tussled with the former Blues striker hundreds of times on the training ground but neither he nor his team-mates ever looked on top of the 31-year-old. After McGovern had shot wide for United, Hawley again outfoxed O’Hanlon but Sodje’s finish was ruled out for offside.

Carlisle themselves were unable to click out wide or down the middle. There was nobody to match the imagination of Duffy, who sent a beautiful chip to Hawley, only to see the forward fall over as he went past Livesey. And yet, improbably, the half ended in United’s favour. Finally Rory Loy’s willing front-running got him the ball close to the box. He spun sharply and shot just wide, via a deflection. Then Lee Miller, whose winning of free-kicks was upsetting many home fans, managed to work the ball infield from the left, allowing Berrett to stride forward and, after a stumble, fizz the shot past Slocombe from 25 yards.

United – who then survived a Sodje header that came off the post – had played their joker with Berrett’s first league goal since August. Out of nothing there was a path back into the contest. Abbott tried to eat into any Scunthorpe doubts at the break by bringing on Dave Symington, scorer of a sensational free-kick in the previous meeting, for the disappointing Welsh.

Typically, the young man put some new life into Carlisle’s work. In a flash he was breaking down the right and whipping a demon of a cross through the box, which somehow eluded several green bodies. Then a scare at the other end, as Jimmy Ryan blocked a clearance with both hands yet was allowed to continue, shooting over from a handy spot.

This now opened up into an end-to-end affair, with United raising their urgency levels and Scunthorpe seeking quick breaks. A Loy surge saw Symington aim a cross to Miller, but the striker was on his heels and could only pass the ball to Slocombe. O’Hanlon was next to try from distance – wide – and then Symington uncorked a familiar free-kick, Slocombe’s sharp dive denying the youngster.

So no heroics this time. Then Duffy, as if to remind us that there were other set-piece maestros on the park, curled one wide for the hosts, after which Ryan missed from the right after ambushing Robson and Hawley went even closer, after spinning away from Livesey.

With Mark Beck now on for Loy, and Laws sending on defender David Mirfin for Duffy – a destroyer for a creator – we reached the endgame, as Slocombe saved brilliantly from Beck after Berrett’s cross, and then the outstanding Hawley made a mug of Simek with another shrewd move, before finally, appropriately, the old Brunton Park favourite made the final cut: sliding Sodje through the middle to thump the clincher past Gillespie.

Scunthorpe, now lifted five points clear of danger by Laws after a traumatic campaign, are surely too good to stagger backwards into League Two. United’s good recent work has also put them in that category.

But with Abbott’s Blues nothing is so consistent as their inconsistency. Are they simply the victims of a volatile league or is there a reason why a pair of wins seems to build up intolerable mental pressure?

Fifteen times is a pattern that must be worthy of deeper investigation. So will be a failure to bounce back at Fratton Park.

MARK GILLESPIE - Beaten by a pair of close-range headers, the keeper made one important stop from Newey but did not get the protection he needed when Scunthorpe were on top.

FRANK SIMEK - All of United’s back line had a difficult day against the inventive Iron forwards. Simek did some steady work after the break but at other times Duffy and Hawley had too much craft for the American.

MATTY ROBSON - An uncomfortable evening in defence for Robson, who was tested and often beaten by Newey and Ryan. Always tried to be positive with the ball but found the going difficult.

DANNY LIVESEY - After his recent commanding displays, Livesey was often outfoxed by Hawley, while Sodje’s height posed another demanding problem. Will be looking to raise game at Pompey.

SEAN O’HANLON - Comfortably his hardest test since joining the Blues. Beaten by Sodje for opener and given more uncomfortable moments by the big striker. More controlled after break but damage was done.

PAUL THIRLWELL - Tried to break up Scunthorpe’s rhythm and some of his passing got United out of tight spots and onto the front foot. But Iron did have some joy coming through the middle.

JAMES BERRETT - After a quiet start, his first league goal for six months got United back into the game and he tried to drive the Blues further forward in the second half, almost providing leveller for Beck.

ANDY WELSH - After encouraging recent displays, Welsh couldn’t get into the game here, as Scunthorpe’s speed forced Carlisle back. Blues made little impact down flanks until Symington was introduced.

JP MCGOVERN - Almost unlocked the door with a couple of useful deliveries and clever ball to Berrett nearly led to Beck goal. Threatened to create something at various stages but end result not there.

RORY LOY - Starved of useful service in the early stages, but he gave Scunthorpe some worries with his pace and urgency from around the 40th minute onwards. As threatening as any Blues player until he was subbed.

LEE MILLER - Upset Iron fans as he won several free-kicks against Canavan, but couldn’t make anything happen in the box and wasn’t sharp enough to take advantage of a couple of half-chances.

Subs: Dave Symington (for Welsh 46) – Added some life to Blues’ attacking; Mark Beck (for Loy 71) – Good save denied him an equaliser; Danny Cadamarteri (for Livesey 90) – Last throw of dice. Not used: Adam Collin, Peter Murphy, Liam Noble, Brad Potts.

Goal: Berrett 45

Booked: O’Hanlon, Thirlwell, Berrett, Simek

Scunthorpe: Slocombe, Newey, Kennedy, Reid, Canavan, Walker, Collins, Ryan, Duffy (Mirfin 78), Hawley, Sodje. Not used: Severn, Barcham, Grella, Godden, Nolan, Adelakun.

Goals: Sodje 17, 90; Reid 22

Booked: Walker, Kennedy.

Ref: David Coote (Nottinghamshire)

Crowd: 3,112 (200 Carlisle fans)

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