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Monday, 22 December 2014

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Last-gasp Zoko goal sends Carlisle Utd on play-offs charge

Scunthorpe 1 Carlisle United 2: Carlisle United manager Greg Abbott emerged from the dressing-room into the perishing evening air of Glanford Park to address the shivering media, claiming he didn’t feel even the slightest bit chilly.

Zoko photo
Francois Zoko scores Carlisle's second goal

The day might have been bitter cold but the football served up by his team was clearly enough to warm the cockles.

Abbott and his players could be excused for basking in the rosy warm afterglow of Saturday’s victory, which was as dramatic as it was deserved.

Substitute Francois Zoko may have stolen the headlines, the glory and all three points with his injury-time winner, but what will have thrilled the Blues boss the most was that this was one of the best all-round team performances of the season.

Only goal difference is currently denying them a League One play-off place – and if Carlisle continue to show this much drive, desire and collective self-belief and can keep their squad intact in the January transfer window, then nothing can deny them their top-six dream.

This was neither a stunning Carlisle United revival nor a jaw-dropping Scunthorpe collapse.

Even though the struggling home side took a shock third-minute lead, this game had a Carlisle victory stamped all over it.

They may have had to wait until the dying embers of the game to be sure of it but you could just sense that the winner would come as Abbott’s players controlled and excelled and looked destined to return to Cumbria with all three points.

James Berrett’s equaliser on 64 minutes was the very least United deserved for a relentless battering of the Scunthorpe goal.

Then enter Zoko, axed to the bench in recent weeks after indifferent form this season, to plunder victory with an exclamation mark of a goal in the 91st minute.

He showed just how he manages to stir the emotions for better or worse.

On his day, the Ivorian frontman is one of League One’s most talented, exciting and irrepressible imports.

Otherwise he is a frustrating picture of inconsistency who only produces in short bursts and has a questionable goals-to-chances ratio.

Protest as he might that he should be in the starting line-up, a belief prevails that Zoko is at his best as an impact sub, who can come on for a cameo appearance and turn games around – and he did that to perfection on Saturday.

With outstanding skipper Paul Thirlwell directing midfield traffic, Berrett’s impressive set-pieces and crosses and Liam Noble faster and keener than his Scunthorpe counterparts, Carlisle comfortably won the battle for supremacy in the centre of the park.

Up front, every time Lee Miller got the ball at his feet Carlisle’s tempo changed.

The Scottish targetman’s bustling presence made him a constant threat on his return to Glanford Park, where he had a spell on loan last season, and not only did he have a hand in each goal, he could have had a couple himself with a bit more luck.

Alongside him in a potent three-pronged attack, JP McGovern and Rory Loy did Trojan work to carry the fight to Scunthorpe’s defence.

Carlisle looked purposeful and positive from the first whistle and yet it was Adam Collin who was picking the ball out of the net as Scunthorpe shocked them by taking an early lead.

Eddie Nolan’s throw-in was held up by Gary Thompson and, after Christian Ribeiro was guilty of some Dog and Duck defending, Thompson found Andy Barcham who curled the ball home.

But the goal sparked a ferocious fight-back by Carlisle, who delivered the perfect riposte to their disappointing FA Cup exit at Charlton last week.

Within two minutes, Berrett’s in-swinging corner was met by Miller but his shot rattled the post and was scrambled clear. His reaction, head in hands, said it all.

It was the signal for United to take total control with a barrage of chances.

Berrett’s perfect delivery into the box found Rory Loy but his shot was blocked by Iron keeper Sam Johnstone.

By now Carlisle weren’t just knocking on the door as repeatedly hammering it with a battering ram.

Peter Murphy then rattled the bar, Thirlwell saw a stinging 30-yarder go wide and Murphy then had a header blocked by the keeper.

Somehow Scunthorpe managed to keep their lead intact and had a great chance to double their lead before Carlisle even had chance to digest their half-time cuppas when Michael O’Connor’s corner clipped the bar.

Such is life around these parts at the moment.

Carlisle were not as electrifying as they were in the first-half but they made enough of the chances that came their way to finish the game infinitely stronger than Scunthorpe, who were fighting to stave off the threat of a fifth straight defeat.

If the best time to kick a team is when they are down, Carlisle obliged with gusto.

Berrett took a great pass from Miller and then, cool-as-you-like, drew Johnstone out of his goal before equalising with an unflappable finish.

Scunthorpe then missed a great chance to restore their lead when a quick throw-in allowed Bobby Grant to make strides down the left and his cross into the centre found sub Jimmy Ryan unmarked but his poor shot went wide.

United puffed their cheeks out in relief and Abbott threw on Zoko to try to spark something.

It didn’t happen instantly and there was to be another heart-in-mouth moment for United when Niall Canavan blasted a fabulous chance high and wide.

The Scunthorpe player looked towards the heavens, as well he might, as it looks like it is going to take a bit of divine intervention to save Iron from a relegation battle.

Then came the defining moment of the game when an unforgettable afternoon entered dreamscape.

Miller sent the ball over the top for Zoko and the big Ivorian frontman lifted the ball over Johnstone for an exquisite finish which sparked scenes of wild jubilation.

Carlisle might have left it late, but as 271 Carlisle fans spilled out into the freezing night could confirm, that took nothing away from the enjoyment of a memorable afternoon.

ADAM COLLIN - Didn’t have a great deal to do but always looked safe pair of hands.

CHRISTIAN RIBEIRO - Scunthorpe goal was a personal calamity for the right-back but he deserves credit for bouncing back.

LUBO MICHALIK - Accomplished display by the giant Slovakian.

PETER MURPHY - Immaculate defensive display and a potent attacking threat.

MATTY ROBSON - Showed lots of energy down the left and linked up well with Loy.

PAUL THIRLWELL - Immense in midfield, where he led by example, breaking up attacks and sparking moves.

LIAM NOBLE - Energetic midfield display which proved handful for home side.

JAMES BERRETT - Set-pieces caused havoc and capped fine display with fifth goal of season.

JP MCGOVERN - Creative in attack and useful helping out with defensive duties.

RORY LOY - Showed plenty of pace and bustle down the left but ran out of steam.

LEE MILLER - Workaholic striker did everything apart from score and set up both goals.

Subs: Francois Zoko (74 minutes for Loy). Made a big impact with his bustling presence and coolly converted winner. Not used: Gillespie, Livesey, Madden and Taiwo.

Goals: Berrett, 64, Zoko, 91.

Scunthorpe: Johnstone, Wright, Nolan, Togwell, O’Connor, Thompson, Duffy (Ryan, 68), Grant, Canavan, Barcham and Duffy, subs (not used) Slocombe, Ryan, Dagnall, Robertson and Palmer.

Goal: Barcham, 3.

Referee: Darren Deadman.

Crow: 3,624 (271 from Carlisle).

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