Wednesday, 25 November 2015

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Lee Miller injury-time back header seals dramatic Carlisle Utd win

Carlisle United 2 Huddersfield Town 1: Before this barn-burning game got under way, Carlisle’s leading Premier League representative tweeted that he was heading for the Paddock, armed with “a Bovril and a Brunton Pastie.” Grant Holt, suspended from top-flight action, will now return to Norwich wondering how the world’s most showbiz division can top this for wholesome fun.

Lee Miller photo
Lee Miller

The hope is that Holt demolished both his snacks before the end on Saturday, otherwise his drink might have ended down his shirt, and his hot meat-filled pastry – these wealthy footballers, eh? – thrown in the air amid the chaos of it all. There might be no later goal taken this season than Lee Miller’s 95th minute back-header; there will surely be none that triggers so much wonderful bedlam.

“I was backpedalling all the way, expecting to get clattered by the goalkeeper,” said Miller, recalling the moment he applied his influential head to Danny Livesey’s high ball in the last seconds. “And then I thought I had put too much on it. So I actually didn’t see it go in. But then I turned around and saw the crowd going mental.”

They weren’t the only ones. Down by the technical areas, the madness was being captured perfectly by Greg Abbott in a personal performance more wildly exuberant than anything his celebrating players could muster. As the knee-sliding Miller was being mobbed by team-mates, and as young fans in the Warwick Road End scampered across the terrace to get close to their heroes, Carlisle’s 48-year-old manager started high-fiving supporters behind his dugout, as kitman Colin Nixon also joined in the air-punching fun.

A few seconds later, as time was called by another Miller (referee Nigel), the eye temporarily fell on a couple of broken Huddersfield men, Tom Clarke and Danny Ward, in hands-on-knees bewilderment. But United’s leader was by now dominating the stage. Briefly unhinged, his eyes bulging, Abbott pumped his left fist three times, provoking roars from the Paddock (Holt presumably included). Once his players had taken their leave, he switched hands for two more with the right, before speed-walking down the tunnel.

“I don’t know what I was doing,” Abbott later confessed. “That’s what football does to you. For 90 minutes we become different people, then later on you realise what a fool you’ve made of yourself.

“I actually did a pirouette around Simon Grayson. I ran around him three times. Gloating over other managers is not my style, and he [Grayson] knows there was nothing to that. But I’m not apologising for being excited. And I actually lost weight doing it – if Lee can score more late goals I’ll be down to 14 stone by the end of the season.”

With these quips following his display of extreme jubilation, Abbott was in danger of mounting a one-man cabaret act at around 4.50pm two days ago. But the amusement was pouring in from other angles, too, with Livesey, an unlikely provider, insisting that “not a lot of players see that pass”, before breaking into laughter and confessing that Miller’s poaching work had turned a hopeful hoof into something splendid.

All this daftness concealed a serious point: Carlisle are now dominant favourites to nail down the play-off place to which they have long aspired – and, at this rate, won’t be nervous about facing any of League One’s big hitters if and when they get there. A brace of last-minute 2-1 victories against well-heeled rivals (MK Dons were last Tuesday’s victims) has put some serious petrol in the Cumbrian tank. It is their stumbling rivals who now face the fuel crisis.

In truth, we could have had any number of narratives two days ago. But Jordan Rhodes, Huddersfield’s 35-goal assassin, was an irrelevance and the woodwork stopped Francois Zoko, Liam Noble and, excruciatingly, Alan Lee from being the day’s headline men. As it was, we had to get by with James Berrett’s stirring opening goal against his old club, Lee Novak’s deflating leveller and then Miller’s showstopper at the very end of a game which mainly showed Carlisle at their sharp and combative best.

Huddersfield, beaten just once on the road before Saturday, eventually showed some of their own strengths, but to start with it was all United. After 52 seconds, fully, Peter Murphy, Miller and Zoko had organised a shooting chance for Berrett from 20 yards which whistled just wide. Zoko, retained despite Jordan Cook’s strong claims, then set about ruining Jack Hunt’s afternoon in perhaps the most one-sided forward-versus-full-back contest since Ben Marshall shredded Southampton’s Dan Harding here last season.

In the middle of the park, meanwhile, Grayson’s Uruguayan loanee Diego Arismendi cut a curious figure, with his red shirt, blue gloves, orange shirt and off-colour passing. Carlisle, by pleasing contrast, were brighter, hungrier. Zoko time and again eluded Hunt (who plainly needed more help down Huddersfield’s right) and then the Ivorian clipped the left post with an imaginative scissor-kick.

With Tom Taiwo tackling superbly, Huddersfield’s openings were few. One quickstepping move involving Antony Kay and Novak saw Rhodes glimpse a gap, but Murphy stepped in to destructive effect. Sean Morrison next went wide with a header, but there was considerably more imagination downfield, as Noble shot wide after another Zoko run and then the midfielder missed by a whisker from 35 yards.

After half-an-hour the game slowed and the error count went up, as tension briefly seized the goalless contest. But Carlisle were soon back out of their shells, as Taiwo and Chris Chantler symbolically ganged up on Rhodes and Noble bashed the post from the edge of the box, after Adam Collin had stunningly denied Novak at the other end.

The need at the start of the second period was for United to add a clinical edge to their strong work from back to front; from Murphy’s dominance to Noble’s fizz to Zoko’s resurgent running. How wonderfully they located it.

In the 49th minute United’s best qualities finally conspired to produce the team goal of their campaign. Down the right, JP McGovern located Zoko through a narrow gap. The Ivorian glanced the ball intelligently to the galloping Frank Simek. In a trice, the American drove the ball across the box, where Miller left it alone for the arriving Berrett to dispatch it past Alex Smithies and enter this one-touch move into the goal-of-the-season stakes.

Grayson was plainly upset with his promotion-chasing side’s inferiority at this point, and six minutes later made a double change, taking off the disappointing Gary Roberts and the dreadful Arismendi. On went Scott Arfield in midfield, and into attack went the experienced, sizeable Lee, last seen scoring twice but then missing a third critical header against the Blues in February’s JPT northern final decider.

The challenge duly became more physical, as Lee parked his stature among United’s defence and Morrison started bombing long throws into the home box. Carlisle’s own attacking remained fluent enough – Morrison denying Berrett with a fine slide and McGovern almost profiting from Zoko’s next work – but less frequent, as the visitors now had a more lasting presence behind Cumbrian lines.

With 20 minutes to go, confusion between Murphy and Chantler gave Novak a sniff, but his pass for Lee was poor. Chantler then limped off, forcing Abbott to throw on Lubo Michalik and shift Murphy out to the left. The Terriers started rapping harder on the door and the equaliser duly came when Ward slipped it left to Lee, who clipped the ball from left to right, where Novak ghosted in to score.

From this 80th minute goal onwards, the game could have veered off in any number of directions. Noble went close from 30 yards as Carlisle came again, Peter Clarke and Rhodes flailed unsuccessfully at a close-range ball, Cook – on, late, for the relentless Taiwo – drew a parry from Smithies, Lee outpaced Michalik and hit the inside of the post, and then heroism settled onto Miller’s shoulders, as a final, training-ground free-kick was cleared, then returned high from the halfway line and into the box by Livesey, where United’s unattended top scorer beat Smithies to the final punch.

Cue delirium. “A few minutes earlier I’d put a similar one out for a goal-kick, so when the ball was in the air I heard a few boos,” said Livesey, describing his “third assist” of 2011/12. “I was thinking, ‘cheers, thanks for that, fans’. But then Lee [Miller] made a very average ball into a good pass.” That he did, by wolfing it down; a little like Holt and his precious pasty.

ADAM COLLIN – First-half save from Novak was top-class, the Cumbrian seems back in confident form.

FRANK SIMEK – Strong effort from the right-back, who defended stoutly and had big hand in opening goal.

CHRIS CHANTLER – Superb once again; Abbott and supporters will hope his injury is nothing serious.

DANNY LIVESEY – Gave high-class opponents little change; tested by Lee late on but will treasure his assist for Miller.

PETER MURPHY – Superb. Murphy was dominant and sharp, and an easy winner against the illustrious Rhodes.

TOM TAIWO – Possibly his best of the season. Tackled himself into ground as United won the midfield battle.

JAMES BERRETT – Looked in good nick from the first minute, took his goal well and was good on the ball.

LIAM NOBLE – The heartbeat of the team; Noble ran his socks off, used ball brightly and so unlucky not to score.

JP MCGOVERN – United continue to benefit from his savvy and patience in tight areas. Some clever contributions.

FRANCOIS ZOKO – Tortured the highly-rated Hunt and vindicated Abbott’s decision not to replace him with Cook in the line-up.

LEE MILLER – Line-leading was strong against tough opponents, and brought the house down with clever header at the end.

Subs: Lubo Michalik (for Chantler 72) – Filled in steadily; Jordan Cook (for Taiwo 87) – A couple of sharp runs. Not used: Mark Gillespie, Andy Welsh, Paddy Madden

Goals: Berrett 49, Miller 90

Huddersfield Town: Smithies, Hunt, T Clarke, Morrison, P Clarke, Kay, Arismendi (Arfield 56), Roberts (Lee 56), Ward, Novak, Rhodes. Subs: Bennett, Gudjonsson, McCombe

Goals: Novak 80

Booked: Arismendi, P Clarke, Arfield

Ref: Nigel Miller (Durham)

Crowd: 7,530 (1,041 Huddersfield fans)


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