Friday, 27 November 2015

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Symington shines against Doncaster but Carlisle Utd lose again

Carlisle United 1 Doncaster 3: Carlisle United’s frail credibility on the pitch is now being propped up by an 18-year-old from Workington who happens to have weapons-grade material in his right boot.

Brad Potts photo
Brad Potts

Without Dave Symington and his rocket shot, where else do we go for cheers? This young man from Cumbria’s western point is the blameless jewel in all the gloom that continues to spread around and through Brunton Park. If it carries on in this manner he can expect a few more duties to head his way.

Manager’s press conferences? Let Symington take care of those. Public appearances? Send out the boy. Boardroom decisions? Well, why not? Carlisle have few other PR weapons to wield right now.

What stopped this from being another home humiliation – at United this autumn, a 3-1 reverse is translated as progress – were the positive qualities Symington brought. His 35-yard free-kick may already have sewn up the goal of the season contest. The way things are, he might soon have a free run at the player of the year titles, too.

Symington tries, runs his heart out, and the best thing? He also succeeds. Not always, but more often than team-mates who have been around the block dozens more times. Watching this youth team product evolve into an effective pro has been an isolated joy during Carlisle’s skid down the slopes of their division.

The overall outcome against Doncaster was not healthy. Three more goals vanished into United’s net, which is about par for a home match. The road to redemption for this team and Greg Abbott still can’t be found on the satnav.

Tension was not chased away last night, however much time Abbott and his assistant, Graham Kavanagh, spent telling us how much more fight the players had showed. If the threatened comeback had been seen through, then perhaps.

As it was, the Blues banked a sixth Brunton Park league defeat in front of another small crowd (3,229) and moved down one more place in the table, to 19th. Faith may not have taken another outright pummelling – Mark Brown, the enigmatic referee, took care of most of the night’s anger – but nor was there much propaganda to win back those who have given up on this regime.

Perhaps the most distressing concern for Abbott, who now takes this desperate search for a turnaround off to Yeovil in three days’ time, is that many of the tools at his disposal simply do not appear useful enough. When Doncaster hit their stride last night they were comfortably clear of Carlisle. The goals they took were a mixture of the convincing and the fortunate but in they went, hardly by accident.

In response United offered one Roy of the Rovers strike from Symington in the 66th minute and a decent appetite for the contest across the piece, especially once Doncaster’s defensive commander, Rob Jones, had gone off injured at the interval. But from those in blue there were no further successful ideas on how to unlock Dean Saunders’ back line. Were it not for one long-distance wonder strike this would have been a blank day.

The longer this proceeds the more it risks becoming the grimmest of spectacles, best viewed through the fingers to the sound of a ticking watch. Those who wish Abbott to be removed will say that time is already with us. Up to press, United’s board appear not to share any appetite to tip their manager from office.

And so it continues. Before play last night, Abbott perched himself at the corner of his technical area and watched his latest selections search for some fluency against Donny, who looked the more physical side on view but also the team surer of its attacking ideas, out wide and centrally.

United – with four changes, including the broken-handed Danny Livesey in for the latest injured man, Peter Murphy; two teens (Mark Beck and Symington) joining their contemporary, Brad Potts; and the recalled Matty Robson – started with some competitive intent and an early skirmish between Joe Garner and Andy Griffin. There were forays at both ends, from Symington and David Cotterill, without any joy, but Doncaster got themselves forward keenly enough again to claim the lead. Iain Hume’s cross had to be palmed over by Adam Collin, then Cotterill’s corner saw the giant Jones outleap Livesey to bury a header.

It all felt disturbingly familiar, more so when Doncaster then came on again – Hume hitting the post, Martin Woods drawing a parry from Collin, and then Cotterill curling home the second from outside the box.

This classy finish was worthy of applause but United’s inability to get into Doncaster’s space as they worked the ball to him was the reason it was able to happen. And here they were, 2-0 down after 18 minutes against one of the best away teams in their league, their negative goal difference stacking up like a bad gambler’s debts.

Already it looked a painfully long route back. Symington, who else, almost scored with a cross, which Gary Woods had to backpedal and tip over. Potts then began putting himself about effectively in midfield, lifting the deflated crowd. Beck could have joined this festival of youth but headed inaccurately when Symington picked him out with another good delivery.

The sparsely-filled Warwick Road End echoed to a few defiant songs, as Mr Brown’s decisions then drew some poisonous responses from the gallery; likewise Griffin after a bash from Garner left him down for a while. United, in their new 4-4-2 shape with different personnel, were not especially coherent but their appetite was decent enough.

A James Berrett free-kick caused a degree of havoc in the Doncaster box, then Beck tested Woods with another header, and Symington drove into the side-netting from 35 yards, which seems to be his favourite range.

With Jones absent from the Doncaster team that reappeared after the break – Shelton Martis took his place – Carlisle’s opportunity was at least visible, if faint. With the crowd now in admirably hearty voice, Berrett almost wriggled through in the 47th minute, Symington had a blast blocked, a long Chris Chantler ball almost caught Woods out and Garner then battered one into the stanchion.

The goal which would carve the contest back open remained out of reach. Until, that was, Symington was fouled, and then jogged up to the resulting set-piece and put it high and hard into the top right corner.

In a past, more confident era, this might have been the spectacular cue for Carlisle to overwhelm a suddenly uncertain foe. Not here, alas. Tommy Spurr’s diving defensive header got one Robson cross away from Garner, but just as United were hoping this frantic pressure might lead to another goal, they shed one more themselves, as Cotterill bent a free-kick into the box, and Spurr’s header hit Symington and wrongfooted Collin.

Once Doncaster had applied that puncture, the game was up. A sub, Chris Brown, should have nabbed another after shrugging off Mike Edwards, but he shot wide. Carlisle’s final futility was then captured by Symington beating one more man and bending one more cross into tempting space.

Nobody was there. It drifted away, as, after giving the team a sympathetic send-off, did the remaining supporters, to the Tannoy sound of John Lennon’s rasping voice: “Whenever you’re in trouble, won’t you stand by me…”

The deep worry for the Blues, however spirited they might have looked last night, is that it is an invitation many are now choosing to reject.

ADAM COLLIN - Doncaster’s opener was unstoppable and their third fortunate, but nor could Collin lay a glove on Cotterill’s effort. Some useful saves but seemed slow on his feet sometimes.

FRANK SIMEK - Brighter going forward than defensively. Doncaster didn’t make hay down his side but the right-back still does not look near the force of old.

CHRIS CHANTLER - A trying night for the left-back, who was put under pressure by Cotterill and co as Doncaster asserted their first-half superiority. Linked well with Robson later but this wasn’t an error-free showing.

DANNY LIVESEY - Back ahead of schedule after injury, Livesey was beaten by the towering Jones for the opener. Afterwards looked closer to his solid self but United remain far too leaky.

MIKE EDWARDS - After Saturday’s horror show, Edwards tightened up his game but Doncaster’s dangerous frontrunners still posed problems, and Brown beat him too easily for late chance which should have made it four.

BRAD POTTS - At times in the first half his endeavour helped United get into Doncaster territory. Came more into the game after the break and kept going in difficult circumstances.

JAMES BERRETT -  One free-kick caused bother and a couple of bright runs in the second half, but not enough impact overall from Berrett, who remains short of his old form.

MATTY ROBSON -  As ever, Robson tried all he could to put United on the front foot, but Griffin was a strong opponent and limited the winger’s threat. Was in and out of things during attempted second-half fightback.

DAVE SYMINGTON The shining light in a struggling team, Symington produced any number of quality crosses and his goal was a stunner, one of the finest free-kicks you will see.

MARK BECK -  In the second half the teenager got amongst Doncaster’s centre-halves and tried to make his presence felt. Earlier he struggled for impact and couldn’t get on the end of enough things.

JOE GARNER - Disappointing. In the early stages he looked to spread play usefully from the front of United’s team, but Garner was starved of opportunities and was unable to hunt anything down himself.

Subs: Kallum Higginbotham (for Garner 81) – Couldn’t turn tide. Not used: Mark Gillespie, JP McGovern, Andy Welsh, Liam Noble, Josh Todd, Sean McGinty.

Goals: Symington 66.

Booked: Garner.

Doncaster Rovers: G Woods, Griffin, Husband, Jones (Martis 46), Spurr, Martin Woods, Keegan, Harper, Cotterill, Hume (Brown 68), Paynter (Syres 75). Not used: Blake, Michael Woods, Maxted, Ball.

Goals: Jones 14, Cotterill 19, Spurr 76.

Booked: Cotterill.

Ref: Mark Brown (East Yorkshire).

Crowd: 3,229 (188 Doncaster fans).


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