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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

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Last-gasp strike ends Carlisle Utd's Carling Cup hopes

Carlisle United 0 Huddersfield Town 1: Pantomime directors ought to be punching the number of Joe Garner’s agent into their phones this afternoon.

Paul Thirlwell photo
Paul Thirlwell

Beat the rush, book him now. Today’s top line is that Carlisle United have been cruelly cast out of the Carling Cup, but a trifling fact like that was never going to keep the old Brunton Park agitator away from the front of the stage.

Described pre-match as a “scallywag” by Greg Abbott, Garner slipped into Huddersfield’s red-and-black change strip and then mounted the Cumbrian turf in full Dennis the Menace mode.

The 22-year-old rarely got the chance to aim his catapult at Carlisle’s goal, such was the excellence of Ian Harte and James Chester – the night’s desperately unfortunate fall-guy – in United’s defence. Instead, he left his mark in other areas, such as Harte’s head, in a late, elbow-led aerial challenge that ought to have seen Garner dispatched with a red card.

Only booked by referee David Webb, Garner was then swiftly substituted by his manager, Lee Clark, as the frustration of home supporters started to bubble. Moments later, Chester slipped on the greased turf, allowing Garner’s replacement, Lee Novak, to serve up Jordan Rhodes’ winner at the Warwick Road End.

How that stung, given the excellence of all of Chester’s earlier work against one of League One’s highest-rolling teams. In a fairer world, Carlisle’s Manchester United loanee would not have lost his footing at such a crucial juncture in this first-round tie. And on a more just evening, Clark would not have been able to send creator Novak onto the pitch when he did, because Garner would have been dismissed before Huddersfield’s boss got the chance.

For happy endings, seek out the fairy tales section in the library. For exasperation and melodrama, last night had the lot and Garner was your man. Usain Bolt would have approved at the speed with which the striker travelled from returning hero to cartoon pest on his first date back at Brunton Park since he left these parts for Nottingham Forest in 2008.

Applauded down the tunnel after his warm-up, it took Carlisle’s record signing fully nine minutes to provoke public indignation, when a trademark collapse under a Harte challenge earned the United man a cheap booking and Garner some noisy jeering. What followed was an individual performance at the furthest frontiers of acceptability, which included more dubious plummets and challenges.

Precisely the sort of performance, it should be said, that was once a guilty pleasure for United fans in the days when Garner was causing mischief in a blue jersey between goals. “Joe lives and dies by the sword – he will be loved by whichever club he plays for and hated by everybody he plays against,” said Abbott, who managed to record his opinion that the frontman should indeed have seen red for his lunge on Harte without chasing an inflammatory headline.

The risk is that the burlesque of Garner’s return will distract from the more meaningful things we saw last night, so attention should be turned immediately to the skill and willing shown by Abbott’s side against the formidable, cash-splashing Terriers: a gutsy campaign which was only ended by Chester’s regrettable slip and Rhodes’ deadly finish in the 90th minute.

For the second summer in a row, Clark – fortified by chairman Dean Hoyle’s card shop millions – has filled his shopping trolley with expensive talent in his bid to propel Huddersfield into the Championship. Let the record show that Carlisle’s collection of wise veterans and free transfers upset their rich guests’ certainty to the point that Clark later acknowleged to Abbott that the inferior team won the tie.

United’s display, which lacked only a dash of penalty-box devil, was in keeping with their efforts in Saturday’s opening league game against Brentford. As their manager abandoned his usual touchilne tracksuit for a suit, the fresh era continued in the opening minute as Gary Madine and Frank Simek conspired to create a half-chance for Francois Zoko which the Ivorian pummeled over the crossbar.

Huddersfield’s response was brisk in the early stages, with Anthony Pilkington testing Adam Collin with a whipped cross and Scott Arfield curling a shot down the Carlisle keeper’s throat. By now, Garner was coming under the crowd’s fire after Harte was yellow-carded; upfield, Zoko skinned Lee Peltier down the left and was upended by the visiting right-back, who was also cautioned.

Rhodes then lobbed one makeable chance into the side-netting, but otherwise United were growing into the contest. A brace of determined tackles from Tom Taiwo and Craig Curran allowed Paul Thirlwell to drive through an open midfield but then shoot wide. Then Simek tested Alex Smithies with one of umpteen quality right-wing deliveries. A route one hoof from Collin almost put Curran in, before a Harte free-kick led to a blocked blast from James Berrett and then a Madine cross-shot which fizzed agonisingly through the six-yard box.

Another Rhodes close-shave, as Garner’s attacking accomplice slid wide a Gary Roberts cross, closed the first-half’s entertainment. Then the Blues started the second period in persuasive fashion, as Madine and Zoko made off-target efforts, Taiwo and Curran drew a brace of desperate blocks from Gary Naysmith, Madine forced Smithies into a scampering save from 25 yards and then Chester failed by a fraction to convert a cross from the teenage striker.

The tie was now fizzing. Rhodes, always a live threat, then stepped forward with two dramatic near-misses: first heading against the bar after Collin had slipped and aimed a clearance straight to Roberts (Sean McDaid then superbly clearing Garner’s follow-up), and then smashing the woodwork from range. We then witnessed a Harte free-kick which whipped just wide, and Matty Robson’s introduction for the wilting Zoko, before the Garner soap opera came to its crescendo with an acrobatic dive near the Blues box and then his 88th-minute challenge on Harte, and his subsequent withdrawal by Clark.

On jogged Novak, and through went Huddersfield. Little in Chester’s Old Trafford schooling will have prepared the defender for the moment when his feet gave way on the edge of his box, allowing the Terriers substitute to dance forward and feed the raiding Rhodes to score at the death and jettison Carlisle from the cup.

“James is upset, but these things happen,” said Abbott.

“He is a tough lad from the right stock.” That view tallies with most things we have seen so far from the 21-year-old, who will make the endless jaunt to Plymouth on Saturday and attempt to dispatch last night’s slip with a favourable result against the club where he spent time on loan last term.

Carlisle are entitled to advance on Devon in decent heart, despite suffering 2010/11’s first blow. Garner, meanwhile, scampers back across the Pennines for an encounter with Tranmere at the Galpharm Stadium.

Students of comic-book villainy should know that he is back at Brunton Park in the league on January 1.

ADAM COLLIN - Looked confident, claimed a series of testing crosses, had little chance with Rhodes’ winner.

FRANK SIMEK - Stood out for the Blues for the second game running. Did little wrong and plenty right against quality opponents.

SEAN MCDAID - Got turned a couple of times by Terriers’ wide men but defended gutsily and used ball well.

JAMES CHESTER - Cruel slip shouldn’t detract from a defensive performance of high quality against Huddersfield’s lethal strikers.

IAN HARTE - Given a testing examination by Garner, the centre-half got the measure of his young opponent with a classy display.

PAUL THIRLWELL - Sturdy in all his duties, helped Carlisle compete well in the midfield battle.

TOM TAIWO - The ex-Chelsea man’s tackling was immense and set the tone for Carlisle’s midfield urgency.

JAMES BERRETT - Frequently involved against his old club and put in some decent deliveries.

FRANCOIS ZOKO - A few dangerous bursts early on as he used his pace and strength well, faded in second half.

CRAIG CURRAN - Only a brilliant Naysmith block denied the relentless frontman his debut United goal.

GARY MADINE - Carried the fight to quality defenders like Clarke and McCombe, looks confident in his work.

Subs: Matty Robson (for Zoko 82) - Too late to turn game. 6; Marc Bridge-Wilkinson (for Thirlwell 90) - Injury-time introduction. 6. Not used: Tony Caig, Peter Murphy, Kevan Hurst, Jason Price, Tony Kane.

Booked: Harte, Taiwo

Huddersfield: Smithies, Peltier, Naysmith, Clarke, McCombe, Gudjonsson, Arfield (Johnson 57), Roberts (Carey 77), Pilkington, Garner (Novak 88), Rhodes. Subs not used: Bennett, Kay, Robinson, Croft.

Goals: Rhodes 90

Booked: Peltier, Garner

Ref: David Webb (Co. Durham)

Crowd: 3,475 (336 away fans)

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