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Thursday, 23 October 2014

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Late goal denies Carlisle Utd share of points at Brighton

Brighton 4 Carlisle United 3: It was suggested in the aftermath of this boggling afternoon of brilliant goals and absent defending that it was just the type of game of which a professional gambler like Tony Bloom, Brighton’s millionaire chairman, would have approved.

Ben Marshall photo
Ben Marshall, left and Tom Taiwo

Not true. Poker champion Bloom, nickname The Lizard, is a master of the disguised bluff, the tactical rapier. Such a calculating operator would have winced at the way both teams hurled themselves at each other with so little thought for self-protection.

Admirers of resolute tackling and velcro marking, look away now. This seven-goal contest was a selection box for the senses. By scoring in the third minute, Carlisle drew out all Brighton’s dizzying pass-and-move football, and were obliged to score twice more themselves just to stay alive.

It was punt after optimistic punt until the final gamble – a beautiful, scoring volley on the drop by Liam Bridcutt – left United feeling like an empty-pocketed Vegas hopeful who got within one roll of big money before the dealer scooped back all his chips.

“It must have been great for the neutral, but I’ve got a dressing room that’s on its knees,” said Greg Abbott, the Blues manager who suffered a 60-second emotional shift when Harry Arter’s arrowed equaliser was followed by Bridcutt’s belting winner, seconds before the final whistle.

The record says Brighton simply did here what they managed in their 18 previous league games at the Withdean: avoided defeat. It’s also true that, in taking their route to home triumph number 12 in League One this term, the division’s leaders were abetted by some neglectful Carlisle defending at this rickety stadium.

Cumbrian optimists will accept that, and then steer the conversation back to the better things United brought to the table, such as the trio of magnificently-taken goals they crafted before being downed in Sussex. Such is the relentless quality of Gus Poyet’s team that you can become the first visiting side to find the way to their net three times in 2010/11 and still leave with nothing.

Each of Carlisle’s strikes was fit to decide a game. First, Tom Taiwo lasered in the superb early shot which declared the game open. Later, after Glenn Murray and Ashley Barnes had shot back for the hosts, Ben Marshall’s blurry, orange boots supplied perhaps the best individual goal of United’s season. Minute 92 then saw Bournemouth loanee Arter dispatch a peach of a right-footed shot into the top corner on his Blues debut, before Bridcutt brought the house down.

“It was a perfect hit,” enthused Poyet of the winner. “The goalkeeper didn’t have time to move. Maybe that was the stuff of champions.”

Even as Carlisle are gulping down their medicine and staying justifiably positive for tomorrow night’s derby with Hartlepool it’s right and proper to throw a little salute in the direction of Brighton’s Uruguayan boss.

In little more than a year in charge, Poyet has successfully reprogrammed a team of lower-league workhorses into a smart, one-touch passing unit who routinely start their attacks with a short pass from their goalkeeper, Casper Ankergren, to one of their centre-halves, who then feed the ball to attack-minded full-backs or deep-lying midfielders before it is advanced, at dizzying speed, to the men on the wings and at the front.

The Seagulls’ continental style is an intellectual rebuke to the more clumping tactics employed by others in League One, and it is to Carlisle’s credit that they stayed with their hosts until the final, cruel seconds.

United’s opener arrived before Poyet’s Championship-bound team had the chance to hit their attractive stride. James Berrett’s outswinging corner was hacked away, but smashed back high into the net by Taiwo from the edge of the box. The finest goal of the midfielder’s short career, it momentarily unsettled the leaders. In the sixth minute, captain Gordon Greer sliced the ball out of play, unchallenged. Seconds later, Liam Noble whistled a decent shot just over from 25 yards. At this point it was Carlisle who had set the early pace with their energy and movement.

Brighton’s reply, though, came soon enough. Craig Noone, a dervish down the left, was fouled by Berrett in the eighth minute, and Gary Dicker’s clipped free-kick was volleyed against the bar by Glenn Murray, who had sneaked onside. Danny Livesey then charged back to thwart the Cumbrian after a poor Adam Collin kick.

Elliott Bennett whacked a shot over and then Collin denied Noone after another pacey raid. Brighton kept rumbling on and they forced their leveller in the 23rd minute, when Barnes nodded forward, Murray outflanked Peter Murphy (from, it seemed, an offside position) and drilled the chance under Collin.

Now the ball-hogging hosts were displaying their full range. Inigo Calderon tested Collin with a 25-yarder, Murray wasted a Noone cross, and Marshall’s airborne shot from a rare Carlisle foray was borne of growing frustration. There were times in the first half when it seemed like United’s players must have felt like staying out there for the interval, in order to be reacquainted with the round thing.

Half-time brought a pro-active change from Abbott, who removed the toiling Rory Loy and replaced him with Francois Zoko, back from illness. United’s floor-football and angles of attack duly increased with the arrival of the mercurial Ivorian. But Brighton remained the prevailing force, and after Collin had saved from Marcos Painter, Barnes put them in front when he outpaced the exposed Murphy and rasped a shot past Carlisle’s keeper.

If home supporters thought that was to herald a familiar victory swagger, Carlisle had different ideas. On the hour, Berrett won a brave challenge, Zoko slipped a nice pass to Marshall, and the Stoke loanee dribbled his way towards the box, evaded a pair of challenges and dispatched the ball left-footed past Ankergren. Brilliant.

Three minutes later, and the torch was shining back on United’s defensive ills, when Barnes was allowed to coast onto Greer’s lofted pass and batter a shot in off the post. The feeling was that another slapdash piece of work at the back had done for Abbott’s team, who were by now bolstered by the floppy-haired Arter, on for Noble.

What followed was a breathless sequence of Carlisle attacks and near-deadly Brighton breaks. A Frank Simek cross panicked Ankergren into a hasty tip-over, before Zoko mishit from a good position after out-muscling Calderon. The African then tore forward on the counter-attack and was crudely felled by the sliding Tommy Elphick. A minute later, Murphy drew the save of the game from Brighton’s keeper with a 20-yard drive.

At the other end, Simek cleared after a Bennett surge and Collin rushed from his line to thwart the same man, before Arter slugged his way to the byline and saw a handy cross receive criminally little attention from United’s strikers.

Next, Arter supplied a finish that seemed to bear the family imprint (he’s the brother-in-law of West Ham’s heroic captain, Scott Parker), when he ran onto a shanked Simek shot and buried the ball in the top corner of Ankergren’s target. Yet all that did was provoke an instant riposte, ending with a challenge in the Carlisle box from the home substitute Fran Sandaza, a headed clearance from Livesey, and then Bridcutt’s showstopping finish.

At the moment ball reached net, a firework went off above the unloved athletics arena that Brighton will vacate next season. Their spanking new stadium at Falmer will host some of the Championship’s most watchable fare, provided Poyet’s soaring reputation doesn’t take him to a higher calling before then.

At times on Saturday you wished that football could clone Brighton’s leader and send a small army of Poyets to all those lower-league clubs who think that muscular slogging is the only way to prosper. It speaks highly of Abbott’s Carlisle, on this bittersweet afternoon, that they did not look like a team in such desperate need of a South American makeover.

ADAM COLLIN - Didn’t appear at his most confident, but made a couple of key saves to keep United in the game.

FRANK SIMEK - United’s best defender on a below-par day at the back, got forward well and inadvertently set up Arter’s goal.

MATTY ROBSON - Put under pressure by Seagulls’ pacy attackers, he defended gutsily for most of a tough afternoon.

DANNY LIVESEY - Solid aerially and did all he could to silence strikers, but Murray and Barnes cut loose too often.

PETER MURPHY - Not his most memorable afternoon. Eluded for more than one Brighton goal, denied one of his own by Ankergren.

TOM TAIWO - Took his first away goal with great style and competed strongly against skilful opponents.

JAMES BERRETT - Set-pieces caused some problems and passing was sound, but tricky hosts edged midfield contest.

LIAM NOBLE - Started brightly and battled away but drifted in and out of game and later replaced by Arter.

BEN MARSHALL - United’s most dangerous player when he got on the ball, and scored a brilliant goal.

CRAIG CURRAN - Led the line with usual selflessness and hold-up play impressive, but wasn’t a major goal threat.

RORY LOY - Few chances to repeat last Tuesday’s heroics, chased plenty of lost causes before being subbed.

Subs: Francois Zoko (for Loy 46) – Close control improved United. 8; Harry Arter (for Noble 61) – Bright debut, fine goal. 7; Paddy Madden (for Curran 89) – Had small part in third goal 6. Not used: Tony Caig, Gary Borrowdale, Nahki Wells, Liam Cooper.

Goals: Taiwo 3, Marshall 60, Arter 90

Booked: Curran

Brighton: Ankergren, Calderon, Painter, Greer, Elphick, Dicker, Bridcutt, Bennett, Noone (Wood 57), Murray (Kishishev 70), Barnes (Sandaza 90). Not used: Brezovan, Sparrow, Taricco, Dunk.

Goals: Murray 23, Barnes 53, 63, Bridcutt 90

Booked: Elphick

Ref: Oliver Langford (West Midlands)

Crowd: 7,466 (227 Carlisle)

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