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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

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Red card and red faces as Hartlepool fire four past Carlisle Utd

Hartlepool United 4 Carlisle United 0: Give Carlisle United this: they aren’t dull. This is plainly not a season that will die of boredom.

Lee Miller photo
Lee Miller checks on Andy Monkhouse before leaving the pitch

Eight unbeaten matches, so much encouraging momentum, and then this: a four-goal stinker which sidelined their best player for three games, plunged their goal difference back into the red and left 934 fans the shade of Francois Zoko’s green boots as they trudged out of Victoria Park.

Greg Abbott’s troops are enemies of the predictable, who win and lose with a flourish, nothing less.

There’s no middle ground when you give Sheffield United a 3-2 shock in the same month that Hartlepool (who had previously taken just 10 home goals since August) are allowed to aim the ball into your net again, and again, and again.

And again. At least Colin Nish’s goal in the 82nd minute gave Carlisle’s supporters a statistical memory to take away from their trip to the north-east. If nothing else, those travelling hundreds can say they were present at the Blues biggest chasing of all time at this chilly stadium.

Otherwise there was not much to show for the £25 cost of watching – a “disgraceful” charge, according to Abbott – unless, of course, the sight of a 17-year-old trainee outwitting the Blues’ experienced defenders floats your boat.

Luke James. Note the name. United may have been at their most hospitable on Saturday but it still goes down as an extraordinary feat for a boy of James’ years to show up so impressively in a League One skirmish. The busy teenager from a town called Amble is the youngest player in memory to have inflicted so much pain on the Cumbrians. Only the most partial watcher will deny him headline space today.

United’s back five, goalkeeper Adam Collin included, share more than 900 professional appearances but they could not restrain James, who still describes himself as a “youth team player” on his Twitter page and will have to wait 10 more months before he can legally toast his man-of-the match achievements.

His pair of goals and bright bustling spooked seasoned players like Lubo Michalik and helped see to it that Carlisle have now conceded four goals on three separate away missions in 2011/12.

The good news is that those losses have been spread out thinly.

The Blues remain seventh and within a decent burst of the play-offs if this howler can be dealt with (responding to defeats has been a strength this term). The bad news is that their leakiness has become such a concern that Abbott himself has now ceased to apologise for it.

The hard truth of events two days ago is that United were flawed with and without Lee Miller, whose controversial red card in the first half will be contested through an appeal.

Being deprived of Miller for a trio of games will be a desperate blow but his banishment here does not get United off the hook.

“I have told the players not to start throwing accusations around that the referee cost us the game,” agreed Abbott.

“Let’s be honest and take it on the chin. The whole team has to defend better.”

The Blues have often scored enough goals to mask the holes, but not here. On a toothless day they needed to summon some bite to deny this Pools team who have rediscovered some of their own appetite since Neale Cooper’s return as manager.

Instead United performed without the necessary authority and control, made a middling team look like experts and allowed Paul Murray, the 35-year-old Cumbrian in the home midfield, to enjoy perhaps the most satisfying day’s work of his season.

More than twice James’ age, Murray rolled away the years in the 81st minute when he dropped his shoulder and motored past Chris Chantler as if he was a YTS thruster all over again.

Again, you have to admire Murray’s longevity but Carlisle, missing James Berrett in midfield and any sense of purpose in many other areas, caused as many of their own problems as Hartlepool’s veteran and his sprightly colleagues.

For instance: goal one, which came after six minutes of probing and offered the first evidence of United’s discomfort. James held the ball up strongly, Gary Liddle kept the ball in play with a crafty backheel, Andy Monkhouse’s right-wing cross was poked to the edge of the box by Michalik, and then James reappeared to send a deflected drive past Collin.

From this dramatic early moment Pools looked sharper, tighter.

Another attack saw Liddle belt a 20-yarder wide and then the sky fell in again, when Neil Austin had a throw returned to him on the right and was then granted time to cross for Antony Sweeney, who devoured the header.

Something went badly amiss for Frank Simek to find himself occupied by two Pools players (Sweeney being one) at the moment of that second goal.

Over on the left, meanwhile, Ben Parker was working his way through an uncertain debut and Carlisle’s attempts to find a way back were perishing to tackles and blocks around the home box.

Then Miller received a Danny Livesey pass with a heavy touch, and his bid to retrieve the ball led to contact with the sliding Monkhouse and then a red card from ref Bobby Madley which so appalled the United contingent it looked like Abbott might combust right there in his technical area.

The suggestion that Miller deliberately left a foot in on the writhing Pools player horrified Carlisle’s manager and players and an unsuccessful appeal will leave the Blues without their top scorer for the next 270 minutes of their promotion bid.

Where it left them here was with Francois Zoko and JP McGovern in a reshaped strikeforce which could not subject Scott Flinders, the home keeper, to any on-target shots, despite a few earnest runs from the Ivorian.

Pools retained their superiority with Monkhouse volleying wide and James Brown testing Collin after a Michalik blunder, and then dealt with the loss of Evan Horwood to a knee injury after a (fair, in Mr Madley’s view) challenge from Tom Taiwo.

Horwood, uncharitably branded a “Carlisle reject” by some travelling fans as he struggled to put weight on to his right foot, was then applauded as he departed on a stretcher (Pools later confirmed the blow not to be serious).

Cooper dealt with that damage by sending on Steve Haslam, as Abbott opened the second half with the twin introduction of Jordan Cook and Paddy Madden, by way of improving Carlisle’s dwindling goal threat.

This led, finally, to some persistent pressure in the Hartlepool half, but serious chances were there none, beyond a Liam Noble free-kick (blocked), a Cook shot (sliced) and McGovern’s latest set-piece attempt (just wide).

Then, when the hosts reappeared, the clinching third swiftly followed – started and finished by James, who this time charged down Collin’s clearance and then received the ball back from Brown in the left corner, before cutting into space and driving it home.

The young man, who received a pre-match Apprentice of the Month award, then displayed further skills to wriggle past a couple of challenges down the middle of United’s depleted rearguard.

Zoko acrobatically hooked Peter Hartley’s attempt at a fourth off the line and then had a clean finish at the other end wiped out for offside, before Nish, on for Brown, accepted the ball in enviable space and drilled low and true.

“Jeff’s nearly passed out with excitement,” said the man from Sky Sports as Pools’ last goal flashed in. One consolation of being imprisoned inside Victoria Park two days ago was that Blues supporters did not have to endure presenter Stelling’s gleeful features on their screens, in high-definition.

But then the eye was caught by another grim detail: the number 43, Carlisle’s goals-against record, and a figure which cannot be allowed to continue escalating at its current rate if all the colour is to remain in their campaign.

ADAM COLLIN - Hesitancy led to Pools’ third goal but was criminally unprotected for others.

FRANK SIMEK - Struggled to hide his frustration as the hosts repeatedly got the better of the Blues.

BEN PARKER - A trying debut, the left-back did not appear confident but ought to improve with games.

LUBO MICHALIK - Outwitted too often by Pools’ frontmen and will be glad to se back of livewire James.

DANNY LIVESEY - Not the worst of United’s players but couldn’t hold off Pools in first half and sacrificed at break.

PAUL THIRLWELL - Quiet game from the skipper, who was unable to impose himself in midfield as hosts got on top.

TOM TAIWO - The pick of an under-performing midfield, but Taiwo couldn’t drag Blues back into it.

LIAM NOBLE - Nothing came off for the ex-Sunderland man, who was one of many below-par players in a yellow shirt.

JP MCGOVERN - Tried to use the ball creatively but delivery not up to his highest standards.

FRANCOIS ZOKO - Showed willingness to take on his man, but couldn’t find end product.

LEE MILLER - After 27 frustrating minutes, his afternoon ended abruptly and United will appeal his dubious dismissal.

Subs: Jordan Cook (for Taiwo 46) – Couldn’t be faulted for effort; Paddy Madden (for Livesey 46) – Looked hungry ; Chris Chantler (for Thirlwell 76) – Lost cause by then. Not used: Mark Gillespie, Peter Murphy.

Booked: Michalik

Sent off: Miller

Hartlepool United: Flinders, Austin, Horwood (Haslam 39), Hartley, Collins, Murray (Baldwin 85), Liddle, Sweeney, James, Monkhouse, Brown (Nish 71). Not used: Rafferty, Humphreys.

Goals: James 6, 68; Sweeney 17, Nish 82

Booked: Brown, Liddle

Ref: Robert Madley

Crowd: 5,994 (934 Carlisle fans)

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