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Saturday, 19 April 2014

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Super-show nudges Carlisle Utd towards trophy final at Wembley

Carlisle United 3 Sheffield Wednesday 1: The rhythmic chants reverberated around Brunton Park as confirmation that the star turn was rocking again.

Lubo Michalik photo
Lubo Michalik

“Lubo, Lubo” was the shout, the electrifying response to every tackle made and every header won by the giant Slovakian.

When he scored Carlisle United’s second goal on his return from a one-match suspension to set them on the road to a place in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy northern final, Carlisle’s fans hailed their new cult hero.

The Big Man was back.

Supporters are using every trick in the book to emotionally tie the on-loan Leeds United defender to the club for a bit longer.

The chance of playing at Wembley might just seal the deal.

What better incentive for Michalik and fellow loan stars Ben Marshall, James Chester and Tom Cruise to agree to stay at Carlisle than the opportunity of playing in a Wembley cup final?

Carlisle are now just two games away from the final and last night they showed their love affair with this competition is as passionate as ever.

As the snow tipped down, temperatures plunged to minus 4C and a carpet of white covered the pitch, you couldn’t really blame those hardy souls who braved the bitter chill for dreaming of Wembley in spring-time.

United’s ice-cool slaying of Sheffield Wednesday in the northern semi-final tie will have sent a shiver down the spine of Huddersfield and Tranmere – as one of them will face Carlisle in the two-legged northern final.

November has been some month for Greg Abbott and his players. Six wins and a draw at Brunton Park, a place in the FA Cup fourth round with a winnable game against Torquay and now a place in the JP Trophy northern semi-final. Carlisle have it all going for them.

On Saturday when they struggled to get past Tamworth in the FA Cup, they looked fragile in the centre of the pitch, vulnerable at the back whenever their opponents attacked and anything but unstoppable up front.

Three days later, with Michalik, Cruise and Paul Thirlwell returning to bolster the team, every element of Abbott’s side functioned well.

Special mention should be made of the men in the middle of the park.

Thirlwell, making his first start in 17 games after a knee injury, Tom Taiwo and James Berrett were faster and keener than their Wednesday counterparts.

Francois Zoko, Gary Madine and Ben Marshall were three livewires in attack who really carried the fight to the Wednesday defence and at the back the return of Michalik added some steel to the defence.

Sheffield Wednesday arrived in snowy Carlisle on the back of a six-match winning run and yet last night they failed to translate their undisputed talents into this cup tie – and the Blues ran rings around them.

The 3,149 diehards who braved a perishing night and dicey roads, were given the sort of committed, never-say-die performance which would warm their hearts.

From the first whistle, Carlisle looked like a different side to the one that nearly made an embarrassing exit from the FA Cup as they immediately put Wednesday to the sword with some dynamic play from Marshall and Gary Madine in attack.

Nicky Weaver had to be alert to block a great shot from Madine with his legs and then a 35-yard effort from Michalik drew a diving save from the Owls keeper.

United capped their early domination with a goal on the half hour mark.

A lovely move involving Cruise, Madine and then Taiwo carved open the Wednesday defence and Zoko’s goal-bound header went in off the post.

Wednesday offered little resistance but it looked as if Alan Irvine’s men had found a way back into the game shortly after the break when United keeper Adam Collin was almost punished for a moment’s recklessness. Collin raced out of his area but miscued a simple kick out and the ball went just five yards, spun up in the air and landed handily for striker Jermaine Johnson.

Johnson raced away before hitting the deck under the close attentions of Collin, who was frantically racing to get back to his goal-mouth, but the referee waved away the visitors’ penalty appeals.

Then Wednesday had their best chance when Johnson broke clear but Michalik was always closing in on him and forced the striker wide before blocking his shot.

Marshall and Madine were a constant menace with their pace and youthful exuberance and the pair were involved in United’s second goal.

Madine’s sent over a great cross for Marshall but his shot was cleared for a corner on 61 minutes.

Corner king James Berrett worked his magic with another excellent delivery and Michalik fired home an unstoppable shot from 12 yards.

Eight minutes later it was 3-0 as an amazing night went into dreamland. Madine hoofed the ball over the top of the Wednesday defence and Marshall raced through and lobbed Weaver from the tightest of angles.

The 659 Wednesday fans drifted away to begin the journey back to South Yorkshire in the snow and missed their consolation goal five minutes from time.

It was simplicity itself: Tommy Miller’s corner was met by Darren Purse, who climbed high to head home.

As the white flakes began to tumble, along with the temperatures, Carlisle fans, their manager and fans could bask in the warm rosy glow of an enthralling and contemptuous win.

Not to mention the tantalising prospect of a trip to Wembley when the snow and ice has long since melted away.

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