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Thursday, 17 April 2014

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Injury to Rory Loy takes shine off Carlisle Utd and Preston thriller

Preston North End 3 Carlisle United 3: Only one thing stops this game being written up as a classic of its kind: the fact one of its participants was carted off to hospital with a mangled leg and a ruined season.

James Berrett photo
James Berrett celebrates his goal

No appreciation of Preston 3 Carlisle 3 can begin until sufficient regret has been recorded about the awful-looking injury suffered by Rory Loy, in an incident which happened before all the more wholesome drama started breaking out at this famous old ground.

Until David Gray’s 10th-minute challenge on United’s No9 is properly scrutinised, with replays, it is advisable not to convict Preston’s right-back for brutality. At first viewing, his touchline lunge appeared ill-thought-out and unnecessary, the result being several minutes of treatment for Loy before he was stretchered away to stadium-wide applause.

The former Rangers man was in sufficiently good spirits to acknowledge some of this sympathy before he disappeared into an ambulance. A debate will now reopen on over-exuberant tackling (evidence may cause us to change that adjective) but with Loy having just been helped into a hospital bed the first priority is to register concern for a promising player’s health and welfare.

Gray was booked for the challenge that ended Loy’s day and which caused some of the visiting players to turn away in shock once they saw what had happened to the Scot. The 23-year-old duly ends 2011 as the second Carlisle man to come off very badly from such an incident in the calendar year, the other being Ben Marshall, at Wembley.

It is the flair player’s lot to be targeted for rough-house treatment but it should never end with the convergence of St John’s Ambulance staff, and the treatment Loy will now undergo. “I don’t think there was any malicious intent, but we have to assess the need to make that type of challenge,” said Greg Abbott, post-match, covering all diplomatic bases until the full truth of the matter can arise.

Immediately after Loy was felled, Abbott briefly turned steward when a Preston supporter accused the injured party of milking his predicament. That was before the gravity of the situation struck all members of the 17,580 crowd. That fan left with a managerial flea in his ear as Carlisle’s left-sided attacker was tended to.

It is this – that Carlisle left Deepdale with a spare seat on their team coach, rather than their concession of an injury-time goal – that was the major cause for regret on Boxing Day. Jamie Douglas’ 92nd minute equaliser for Preston was the Blues simply getting back a little of what they have been dishing out to other League One teams recently.

Abbott’s side have often shown the value of driving on until the final whistle, benefiting from late interventions against Oldham, Scunthorpe and Wycombe, to name three. At the end of this thrilling match, which seized the attention from beginning to end and did United considerable credit for their involvement, it was their misfortune that Preston retained enough competitive spirit to see them through to Douglas’ tap-in.

This, it’s possible to argue, might be a result of the Lilywhites having been freshened up by the caretaker manager double-act of Graham Alexander and David Unsworth, who have raised Deepdale’s mood after the bleak Phil Brown era. North End are now controlled by men whose nicknames make them sound like a pair of kids’ TV characters – Grezza and Rhino – but these are serious football men whose popularity counts for plenty in this corner of Lancashire.

But enough about Preston. What we saw here was Carlisle approaching their vibrant best – certainly in attack, where Francois Zoko appeared to be operating with new batteries installed. The rest of the Blues team looked sharp and clever, their defence (sometimes) apart. In most areas they contributed richly to a derby worthy of that title, and Douglas’ last act is no reason to lower optimism for a 2012 play-off push.

In front of 4,500 travelling supporters, who filled the Bill Shankly Kop with stirring noise, Zoko began repaying Abbott’s decision to field him from the start (Liam Noble was dropped) with a first-minute surge and cross which forced Thorsten Stuckmann, the home keeper, to claw from under his bar. Carlisle quickly came again with JP McGovern, who linked with Lee Miller to feed the floating Zoko for a blocked shot.

United had begun with pace and purpose, leaving Preston scampering to keep up. Sometimes this resulted in fouls, with Nathan Doyle tripping Matty Robson, Miller knocked over near the box and then Loy fatefully downed by Gray after a brief moment of Blues confusion whilst in possession.

Eventually, Noble emerged from the bench to replace his stricken colleague. More free-kicks duly came Carlisle’s way, as Zoko and James Berrett then took their turns to be fouled. When United advanced the ball into the box, Jamie McCombe’s tangle with Lee Miller led to a penalty which the Blues’ top scorer dispatched.

This was fair reward for Carlisle’s enterprise, but it also provoked Preston. Two minutes later, a huge Stuckmann goalkick caught Abbott’s defenders on their heels, allowing the crafty Iain Hume to scamper clear and beat Adam Collin with a measured shot.

The game was now alive. North End finally began attacking with greater vigour, especially down the flanks, but Zoko continued carrying Carlisle’s fight, the lively forward thumping another shot into Stuckmann’s midriff after a Paul Thirlwell pass.

Then - another Preston break, and another goal. McCombe pinged the ball out to Conor McLaughlin, the left-back cushioned a pass to the raiding Paul Parry, he went over as Michalik made a clumsy challenge, and then Parry sent Collin the wrong way in front of the baying United fans.

A half full of relentless events was not slowed by the home team’s advance into a lead. Downfield, McCombe stepped in to thwart Peter Murphy after a superb Miller leap. Berrett was then booked for a dangerous slide on Craig Morgan, who later returned the favour but strangely avoided an entry into ref Steve Rushton’s notebook.

The home fans then rose as the besieged Michalik tugged back Adam Barton and Rushton played the advantage for the onrushing Hume, but Collin heroically saved from the dynamic Canadian (Michalik, somehow, avoided a card when play eventually halted). Then, in the seventh added minute of nine, United struck back, as Frank Simek glided down the right and crossed for Zoko, who controlled the low pass, spun and aimed it into Stuckmann’s top corner.

This breathless game finally reached half-time, as heart-rates slowed. The second period duly began with the rival teams going about their work more methodically, until Carlisle roused their followers with a brace of Berrett corners, the last of which saw Miller’s header kicked off the line by McLaughlin.

As the travelling numbers hit full volume again, Carlisle went back in front. Thirlwell showed calm control and quick feet around the Preston box, allowing Berrett space to swing his left peg. The shot hit a home defender, changed course, and trickled in, past the wrongfooted Stuckmann.

The end of it? Not on your life. Back in Blues territory, Murphy expertly robbed Barton as North End advanced again. Juvhel Tsoumou then replaced Parry, and the sub then had the best view in the house of Nathan Doyle’s humdinger from 30 yards, which smacked the left post, flew across and hit the right post, and somehow bounced clear of further Preston attention.

United reached for their tin hats. On came the hosts. The muscular Tsoumou served Danny Mayor with a chance, but the midfielder wastefully directed it at Collin. Rushton then played another advantage as Tsoumou raced through himself, but Collin repelled his shot. United almost then released the steam through Zoko, who skinned two men by the touchline, and through Paddy Madden, who replaced the cramp-ridden Ivorian and was thwarted under the crossbar by Gray when Simek crossed.

But the puck was swiftly sent flying back downfield for the finale, which saw Coutts earn space to the right and drill the ball across the six-yard box, where Douglas was waiting to snaffle the close-range chance. So ended a ridiculously entertaining game which will go down in the annals for a thousand good reasons, and one desperately bad one.

ADAM COLLIN – Twice saved superbly when Preston players were clean through, and often tried to release pressure by claiming crosses.

FRANK SIMEK – Another strong showing by the American, who was bright in attack and made some solid challenges.

MATTY ROBSON – Did some sharp work at left-back as Preston frequently attacked down United’s left side.

LUBO MICHALIK – Had some difficulties in the first-half, looked more solid after the break.

PETER MURPHY – Snuffed out danger more than once, tried to hold firm as Preston came at the Blues.

PAUL THIRLWELL – His calmness on ball led to Carlisle’s third, and he was exemplary in most of his midfield work.

JAMES BERRETT – Often appeared in good, advanced positions for the Blues and one gamble was rewarded with his sixth goal of term.

JP MCGOVERN – Didn’t leave anything on the pitch, as the old saying goes. Worked tirelessly and used ball well.

FRANCOIS ZOKO – One of his best showings for the Blues. Full of pace, keenness and invention – and a fine goal.

RORY LOY – A dreadful way to end his fine recent run – deserves all good wishes for a speedy recovery.

LEE MILLER – Won and then buried Carlisle’s penalty and his clever link-play helped Zoko and McGovern to flourish.

Subs: Liam Noble (for Loy 15) – A good showing; Paddy Madden (for Zoko 86) – Nearly snatched a goal. Not used: Danny Livesey, Tom Taiwo, Christian Ribeiro.

Goals: Miller 20 pen, Zoko 45, Berrett 62

Booked: Berrett, Simek

Preston North End: Stuckmann, Gray, McLaughlin, Morgan, McCombe, Doyle, Parry (Tsoumou 68), Mayor, Coutts, Barton, Hume (Douglas 85).

Not used: Turner, Carlisle, G Miller.

Goals: Hume 22, Parry 31, Douglas 90

Booked: Gray

Ref: Steve Rushton (Staffordshire)

Crowd: 17,580

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