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Friday, 29 August 2014

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Players could not have given more in Brentford defeat, says Carlisle Utd boss

Brentford 2 Carlisle United 1: Carlisle United’s defensive record, numerically the worst in League One, suggests where the Blues’ biggest problems lie, but it wouldn’t be right to dump all the complaints there; not when something else needs healing a few dozen yards up the field.

Carlisle Utd photo
Liam Noble, right and Frank Simek, left, with David Symington

The risk of over-reliance on Joe Garner is now upon us. Garner’s goalscoring form is impressive but the striker now needs one or two of Greg Abbott’s other forward players to join in.

That way, Carlisle’s leading marksman will be able to sustain the odd malfunction in front of the target, like Saturday’s saved penalty, without it hurting his team as much as it did here.

For all the hand-wringing over that damning goals against tally of 30 from 17 league games, United’s lines of attack also need to be increased, widened, enhanced. This doesn’t explain how the Cumbrians failed badly to defend a pair of Brentford corners two days ago but it’s another major reason why Abbott’s team left the capital with nothing.

“The players couldn’t have given much more,” said the manager. United’s competitiveness in this demanding game was indeed no illusion, nor was it at Preston last Tuesday. But one point from all these improved endeavours says the path to better times is still not cleared of obstacles, not by a distance.

These past 180 minutes in Lancashire and London have seen the Blues recover, to the naked eye, a certain combative quality in open play after some appalling business at home. But all that grind, that discipline, did not extend to staying awake at a 20th minute corner which allowed Jonathan Douglas to open the scoring, nor to applying the clamps to Paul Hayes at a similar set-piece in the 61st, as the Brentford striker eased himself into space to beat Adam Collin.

At the other end Garner was embarking on a one-man campaign to correct this pair of errors. The feeling persisted that if Carlisle were going to damage Uwe Rosler’s strong unit then their feisty No22 would have to be the man swinging the wrecking ball.

His equaliser, six minutes after Douglas had made it 1-0, offered evidence that his old swagger is on the return; his spot-kick, saved by Simon Moore in the second half, less so. But this cannot be a war waged with one weapon alone, and you would think Carlisle had learned plenty in this regard by now.

Last season the responsibility for their attacking, and in a sense their defending, was carried stoically by Lee Miller, who is now injured. In these last two games, even when performing hungrily in midfield and out wide, there is not a great deal of devil visible unless Garner – Miller’s borrowed replacement – is applying boot to ball.

A focal point, up front, is something most good teams need but when United go at opponents using other means they are too often paper tigers. The upshot: a stalling in lower mid-table or, to the more pessimistic, four points above the relegation zone.

“If we play like that we will win games,” insisted Abbott, in an interview where the manager also regretted a handful of bad moments in the “critical areas”. The fact is that you cannot have one and also the other. A good performance can only be so if the big moments, which traditionally turn matches, are dealt with more responsibly.

For instance: Brentford’s opener, which came after a rather blustering start notable for an early Harry Forrester shot and replies from James Berrett and Liam Noble. By the midpoint of the first half an even duel was in the making. Then Forrester aimed a corner into the deep and Douglas cruised onto it, without a marker in sight, and met the training-ground routine with a firm finish.

This was not the Blues’ finest defensive hour, frankly, but at least their fightback was impressively instant. Kallum Higginbotham did better heading in the other direction, and when he slipped a pass to Garner after a pacy run, the forward eased around Harlee Dean and beat Moore with an emphatic shot.

Seven in 12 now for the Watford man: a tally which may have antennae twitching outside of Brunton Park, if not at his parent club. This latest strike in his third Carlisle spell reset the game as an energetic, sometimes error-laden but entertaining spectacle from which Abbott’s side seemed to be emerging the better.

Once Brad Potts had put himself in the way of Hayes’ attempt to capitalise on a Collin flap, and Frank Simek had dealt with the mercurial Clayton Donaldson, better things started happening in the Brentford half. Potts, now with England’s Under-19s, got underneath a volley and Noble was denied by Forrester after a brisk, left-sided attack. Garner then curled one close from 25 yards and Potts hit a spicy shot from similar range which Moore parried away.

With Brentford also upset by some of Andy Davies’s refereeing the hope was that United could eat into the home team’s uncertaincy, though which side would come out of this counter-attacking contest with the points was still a tough guess at half-time.

Not for too much longer, alas. At the interval Rosler instructed his team to file into a tighter 4-3-3 system to combat United directly, and the extra zest about their already muscular play took Carlisle aback. Donaldson, with his left foot and his head, twice went close, Forrester tested Collin and then Toumani Diagouraga went high-stepping through midfield, only to fluff his final pass.

No matter. All of this new pressure, with the canny Douglas and the industrious Adam Forshaw to the fore, was putting a strain on United and on the hour they buckled. One of several right-sided corners was headed into the ground by Diagouraga, and Hayes’s freedom to finish so close to the target ought to lead to a pointed inquest when Abbott picks through events today.

This was not a failure of the back four, as a rule, but a basic collapse of responsibility from whoever was detailed to Velcro himself to Hayes (ditto Douglas, earlier). That investigation was suspended, though, for 30 more minutes as Carlisle tried to force a second leveller out of the game, a bid that began with Higginbotham heading a Berrett cross over.

The difficulty was that Brentford, having lost just once in 12 before play, were still accelerating at a decent lick, and Chris Chantler had to be at his pugnacious best to get in the way of further shots and runs. Dave Symington, from the bench, then entered the equation and Carlisle came anew, as Garner had a blast blocked, Mike Edwards volleyed the rebound an inch wide and then Tony Craig leapt clumsily over Symington in the box.

Penalty number two for Garner in the space of five days, but no dice this time. This was not among the striker’s more convincing finishes and Moore’s successful dive was greeted merrily by the home support.

Abbott made more tweaks, putting on Andy Welsh and Mark Beck, and after quite some toil at the back they eventually popped up with one last chance to take a point. It came to Beck, via Chantler’s clipped cross and Potts’s helpful header across the box. Beck’s finish, though, lacked purpose. On to the net roof it flopped and from then Rosler’s men were able to shut the remaining minutes down. Beck, 18, will hopefully learn to be cold-blooded with these “killer” chances, to borrow Abbott’s description. There should be no appetite to load too much of the job on to his young shoulders but the duties do have to be spread more thinly than they are.

Likewise the defensive obligations, which on this day happened to be met quite strongly by Edwards and Peter Murphy at centre-half, even though it will be hard for many not to call for Sean McGinty, benched here, to be given his head next weekend.

Abbott defended his decision to leave out his Manchester United loanee but he must know that the fanbase’s yearning for solutions will not stop as long as Carlisle find so many different ways to lose games and points. That is the wrong sort of creativity.

ADAM COLLIN - Brentford were never afraid to throw crosses into Carlisle’s box and Collin did not deal with everything safely. Was alert at certain times to defend United’s cause but unconvincing at others.

FRANK SIMEK - A steady display by the right-back, who put in a couple of important interceptions in the first half and tried to get forward. Was responsible enough on the ball and in the pass.

CHRIS CHANTLER - Always defended feistily and put himself in harm’s way umpteen times. In the first half he was very bright on the ball and nobody did more in the trenches afterwards.

MIKE EDWARDS - Was rarely outmanoeuvred by Brentford’s front men and there was a robustness about his game which the situation demanded. Also came within a whisker of a first United goal.

PETER MURPHY -  Looked strong alongside Edwards as United battled manfully to contain the danger of Donaldson. With McGinty waiting in the wings, it’s hard to fault Murphy much for his contribution.

BRAD POTTS - In the first half the teenager picked up where he’d left off at Preston, buzzing into tackles and helping drive the Blues forward. Less prominent after break but remained one of United’s better players.

JAMES BERRETT - Saw plenty of the ball and tried to keep United honest in the middle of the park. Lots of drive in the first half but Douglas and co imposed themselves later on.

LIAM NOBLE - Did not really see enough of the ball to have a lasting impact on the game. Did some industrious work in attack and defence but things wouldn’t quite click for him in Brentford’s danger zone.

JP MCGOVERN -  In his second start after injury the Scot used the ball reliably in the first half, linking tidily with Simek and Garner. Less noticeable after break and replaced by Symington.

KALLUM HIGGINBOTHAM - Had a lively role in Garner’s leveller when he put the Bees on the back foot. Looked to be bright on the ball afterwards but impact was more limited.

JOE GARNER - His fine goal was a display of his ever-growing confidence, and he was Carlisle’s main weapon all game. But failed to bag a second equaliser from the penalty spot.

Subs: Dave Symington (for McGovern 67) – Busy and earned penalty; Andy Welsh (for Noble 81) – Barely saw the ball; Mark Beck (for Higginbotham 81) – Missed good chance. Not used: Mark Gillespie, Danny Cadamarteri, Josh Todd, Sean McGinty.

Goals: Garner 26

Brentford: Moore, Logan, Bidwell, Dean, Craig, Douglas, Forshaw (Saunders 87), Diagouraga, Forrester (Barron 83), Hayes, Donaldson. Not used: Lee, Dallas, Oyeleke, German, Pierre.

Goals: Douglas 20, Hayes 61

Booked: Dean, Donaldson, Douglas

Ref: Andy Davies (Hampshire)

Crowd: 6,763 (350 Carlisle fans)

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