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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

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Rory Loy back on scoresheet as Carlisle Utd beat 10-man Tranmere

Tranmere 0 Carlisle United 1: Not many strikers would have wished to trade places with Rory Loy over the past 12 months but safe money says that Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, the Tranmere forward, would be first in the queue for a swap today.

Loy scores photo
Tranmere defender Zoumana Bakayogo cannot stop Rory Loy’s shot

The happy news is that Loy reported for training this morning as Carlisle United’s latest matchwinner, a status that must have seemed cruelly distant during his long recovery from a broken leg.

Akpa Akpro, meanwhile, can expect to be fined by his manager the moment he gets back through the door at Prenton Park. Ronnie Moore’s main frontman let down the League One leaders with an appalling piece of indiscipline, and how gleefully Carlisle leapt into the void.

Two kicks, two defining moments, on this overthrowing of the third division’s surprise leaders. First from Akpa Akpro, who swung petulantly at Frank Simek’s calf, off the ball, in clear view of the referee Tony Harrington by the touchline, and was banished. And then from Loy, who graced a bright individual performance on just his second start of the season by converting the most welcome goal of his career in front of Tranmere’s steep Kop stand.

The background detail to those key incidents was Greg Abbott’s tactical victory over Moore and the defensive discipline shown by United’s team, who stifled the home side’s dangerous wide players and dictated more of the game than 17th-placed teams are supposed to, when facing the cream of their league.

But back to Loy’s moment. “For me that was better than Dave Symington’s goal last week,” said Abbott, who appeared to be stretching credibility by comparing Saturday’s winner to the teenager’s wonder-goal against Scunthorpe – until he qualified his words: “Because it got us three points instead of one.”

Since the former Rangers player must, at times, must have measured his comeback from an awful injury like a prisoner chalking off the days, it pays to calculate the time since the 24-year-old last registered. The sums say that 413 days separated his previous goal, against Wycombe on December 17, 2011, and this one. There is surely no price on how it must have felt both at the moment the ball crossed the line, and then when full-time confirmed it as the winner, two days ago.

Overall for United, moods cannot have been much sunnier all season. Abbott has made various tactical tinkerings in 2012/13 without success, but here the manager nailed it by taking out a central midfielder (Liam Noble), putting on a striker (Loy) in support of Lee Miller and matching up, numerically, to Moore’s dangerous combinations down the flanks in a 4-4-2 system.

On Carlisle’s right, for instance, Simek and JP McGovern obliged Andy Robinson and Zoumana Bakayogo to defend more often than attack. The same on the other side, where the recalled Andy Welsh and Matty Robson set Danny Holmes and Adam McGurk a proper contest. This allowed James Berrett and Paul Thirlwell to offer a masterclass in defensive midfield play, by way of backing up their team-mates’ industry high up the field.

With the rearguard unit also having a strong day, this turned out better than many will have feared when Carlisle lined up against Moore’s vibrant troops at 3pm. When Robinson, August’s hat-trick nemesis, put a sighter over the bar in the sixth minute there were early concerns about what havoc the squat creator could wreak.

But further Tranmere raids were thwarted, often by the superb Sean O’Hanlon, while Carlisle’s optimism showed when McGovern almost caught out Owain Fon Williams, the home keeper, with a 50-yard free-kick, the ball sailing onto the roof of the net.

Tranmere’s pace, through Akpa Akpro and David Amoo, kept Moore’s side in Carlisle’s territory at times but United’s appetite was also plain. One attack involving Miller and Welsh saw the winger elude Ash Taylor and almost serve Loy in the six-yard box. Next, Welsh charged down a clearance by the anxious-looking Taylor but Fon Williams smothered his low cross.

Things got livelier still when Amoo suddenly broke through, only to be denied by the alert Gillespie. A couple more half-chances then drifted by at Carlisle’s end before Tranmere’s nerve failed them; or, more accurately, Akpa Akpro’s did, the striker jabbing angrily at Simek after McGovern had nipped into their dispute and stolen the ball.

Nobody could credibly argue with the flash of red, though Tranmere’s fans did raise their vocal campaign against Harrington after that, as the ref waved away a few handball shouts and a Loy nibble at Taylor. Otherwise, we waited to see how Carlisle would deal with the new challenge of facing the table-toppers with a numerical advantage.

Within minutes we found out. With Robinson being kept on the periphery, United went downfield another time and Berrett found Loy, who brought the ball down in the box and cut it across Fon Williams, his shot skidding along the bobbly pitch and beating Bakayogo’s slide on the line.

For this the striker earned the adulation of his team-mates and, at half-time, a backslap from the smiling Noble, the man whose place he had taken. Fifteen minutes later and the campaign to protect this lead was under way with a fine Gillespie save when McGurk met Bakayogo’s cross.

With Moore retaining two men up front – McGurk now joining Amoo – the question was whether Carlisle could hold enough possession to work the resulting spaces. The answer, often, was yes, as Loy fed the overlapping Robson superbly, then O’Hanlon almost barreled through for a second at a free-kick, after Welsh had been impeded by Bakayogo.

Another man who has not enjoyed many happy months recently, Welsh was opening up down the left and helping get Carlisle back on the counter-attack with a few energetic runs. After Taylor had contested a Robinson free-kick, the ball was cleared and Welsh made it all the way to the Tranmere byline before overrunning it.

Although without a conclusion, these forays were helping keep Carlisle honest as an attacking force at a time when Moore’s side were trying to raise their own tempo. As Tranmere came again, Liam Palmer tested Gillespie from 25 yards, and then put the ball in the net on the goalline after Robinson’s free-kick had hit the post, only for the offside flag to interrupt the celebrations.

Reprieved there, United were given another worry when Loy seemed to start hobbling as he chased for a Berrett cross. False alarm – the Scot was able to continue, as Noble replaced Welsh, Moore sent on Cole Stockton and Berrett almost squeezed in another goal, after a Miller flick.

For the remainder, Scouser O’Hanlon, Danny Livesey and colleagues kept Tranmere at the gates, with Stockton twice shooting against green shirts, the excellent Gillespie gobbling up a Bakayogo header and a last corner seeing Fon Williams sprint forward, to no avail, as the ball was cleared and the final whistle came a second later.

In those frantic late moments Tranmere could really have done with their best striker joining in. But he had long been a remote spectator by then. Instead, all the plaudits were justifiably Loy’s.

MARK GILLESPIE - Was well protected by some stout defending but Gillespie still made a couple of excellent saves, and was faultless with his work at crosses and with his kicking on a tricky surface.

FRANK SIMEK - In the first half he helped McGovern put Tranmere’s left side onto the defensive, and later put in some good graft at the back to limit the leaders’ danger.

MATTY ROBSON - Beaten a couple of times in the early stages but as the game went on he emerged as a useful attacking option from left-back, and toiled to keep McGurk and others in check.

DANNY LIVESEY - Seems to be thriving in tandem with O’Hanlon. Livesey did not seem in the thick of things as he can be, but his work at centre-half could not be faulted. A solid showing.

SEAN O’HANLON - Has added some sorely-needed authority to the rearguard and Carlisle’s improved fortunes with O’Hanlon in the side are no coincidence. Was again a powerful presence at both ends.

PAUL THIRLWELL - Brought in to give young Potts a breather, Thirlwell justified his recall. Added all his experience to an important role and he seemed to relish doing the dirty work in central midfield.

JAMES BERRETT - Alongside Thirlwell, this was an excellent showing from Berrett, whose defensive work in the centre often stopped Tranmere in their tracks. Used the ball sensibly and covered heaps of ground.

ANDY WELSH - Teamed up well with Robson to give Carlisle a line of attack down the left and to limit McGurk threat in early stages. End product still rusty but was always in the game.

JP MCGOVERN - Some of his set-pieces caused problems and he certainly earned his corn against the rapid Bakayogo. Some canny touches and contributed to the strong overall effort.

RORY LOY - Other than the goal he will cherish, there was plenty of strong and clever front-running play from Loy, whose confidence ought to soar from being the man to gun down the leaders.

LEE MILLER - Seemed to appreciate the extra support he got from Loy. Miller was influential in many of United’s attacks and his intelligent link-up play almost set up more goals.

Subs: Liam Noble (for Welsh 74) – Looked bright; Dave Symington (for Loy 86) – Helped kill game. Not used: Adam Collin, Peter Murphy, Mike Edwards, Brad Potts, Mark Beck.

Goal: Loy 44

Tranmere Rovers: Fon Williams, Holmes, Bakayogo, Taylor, Daniels, Palmer, Power (Bell-Baggie 85), McGurk (O’Halloran 76), Robinson, Amoo (Stockton 62), Akpa Akpro. Subs: Black, Goodison, Harrison, Mooney.

Booked: Holmes

Sent off: Akpa Akpro

Ref: Tony Harrington (Cleveland)

Crowd: 5,713

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