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Sunday, 13 July 2014

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Walloping header enough for Charlton to beat patched-up Carlisle Utd

Charlton Athletic 1 Carlisle United 0: When Tom Aldred fled down the tunnel for head stitches after a mid-air collision with Paul Thirlwell in yesterday’s first half, leaving Carlisle briefly to fight Charlton Athletic with 10 men, it was tempting to think that the finale to their season has become so drained of dramatic tension that the Cumbrians decided to create some of their own.

Carlisle Utd action photo
Tony Kane wins a header

Hence the Blues’ rookie centre-half and his skipper leaping for the same ball, the theory goes, then cracking skulls and obliging United to spend seven minutes of their contest against one of the third division’s high-rollers a player short.

Aldred’s enforced departure saw both Scott Dobie and Tom Taiwo fill in on the right of Greg Abbott’s defence, as Tony Kane – yesterday’s recognised full-back who was making his first start of the season – rushed infield to partner Richard Keogh at centre-half.

When you then consider that Keogh has himself spent most of this season at right-back, the impression should by now be forming that United’s squad was not exactly in the rudest of health for this face-off against Charlton, who squeezed out the victory they needed to fuel their promotion push thanks to Sam Sodje’s walloping header shortly before half-time.

It is normally Carlisle themselves who are in a state of high anxiety by the time the season reaches Easter’s undulations. Uncommonly secure in mid-table, the Blues this time intruded on the fretfulness of the race for the Championship and what came to pass led us to a fistful of conclusions.

One is that United have been very wise in banking 51 points before having to confront opponents of the Addicks’ stature in the season’s defining weeks, particularly with several key men down. Another is that an admirable resilience has nonetheless grown at the core of the Cumbrian ranks, one which might have carried them to an unlikely point in south London yesterday with a fairer wind.

The third is not really a matter for United, but it suggests that Charlton themselves require a serious injection of potency if they are able to smuggle their way into the second tier in a few weeks’ time. A team with a sharper edge to apply to the darting wing runs of Lloyd Sam and Kyel Reid would have put Carlisle away by the mid-point of the second half here.

As it turned out, United’s obduracy in the face of the hosts’ flawed forward play almost enabled them to escape The Valley with a draw. Had Jason Price not been in an offside position when he flicked Paul Thirlwell’s drive into the net in the 65th minute, Phil Parkinson’s exasperation would have been audible across the capital. Instead, Charlton’s manager continues to jostle with his rivals at Swindon, Millwall and Leeds for the right to join Norwich’s Paul Lambert on May’s automatic promotion rostrum.

United, who now crave little more than a respectable finish to their own campaign, can take some comfort from the spirited efforts of their patched-up team, even if Good Friday’s creative efforts deserted them here. Ian Harte, Matty Robson, Peter Murphy, Danny Livesey, Kevan Hurst, Joe Anyinsah, Darryl Duffy: all these first-teamers were unavailable to Abbott, who gave the lie to the idea that Carlisle are coasting to the finish line by springing from his bench to verbally lacerate Evan Horwood for an early aberration down United’s left.

Upfield, a handy through ball from Scott Dobie unsettled Christian Dailly and Darren Randolph to the extent that Price almost got his frame to the ball ahead of the Charlton keeper. Randolph spilled the ball, but was reprieved by a free-kick call in his favour.

Carlisle then slotted into a modus operandi of absorbing their hosts’ mediocre surges while occasionally attempting to snap back. The best of Charlton’s early moves came when Reid turned sharply away from Kane and won a corner, which led to a Dailly header that Price battered clear at the far post.

Aldred, on his second United start, then collided with Thirlwell and disappeared for treatment, but Carlisle continued to deal with the best Parkinson’s troops had to offer. Nicky Forster got little change out of a desperate penalty appeal under a Kane challenge, then Keogh raced across the box to thwart Jonjo Shelvey after another Reid sprint.

Aldred’s return enabled him to renew battle with Forster, while Keogh remained impressively alert to the darting movement of the shaven-headed Shelvey. With half-time two minutes away, however, Carlisle were cut down by the kind of set-piece that often tends to decide such edgy contests. After Keogh repelled a Jose Semedo blast, Sodje detached himself from the Carlisle centre-half and applied a powerful, scoring header to Frazer Richardson’s inswinging corner, which Adam Collin had himself failed to grasp.

Ten minutes into the second half, with Charlton making excruciating pursuit of the killer second, Sodje then intervened on more familiar territory, the defender sliding in superbly to foil Price as the United striker swept onto an Adam Clayton pass. United’s best spell of pressure continued, as a press down the left eventually led to Clayton finding Thirlwell inside the box, and the skipper’s firm drive was fatally nudged home by the offside Price.

Nicky Bailey, Charlton’s ginger-haired midfield agitator, then rose from the bench and was brilliantly thwarted by Kane before Shelvey lashed a loose ball wastefully high. Moments on, another sub, Akpo Sodje, converted a Richardson pass but was denied by an offside flag, and then Collin kept out the same man after a cutting pass from David Mooney.

United’s own salvation attempt, which involved the introduction of the teenagers Gary Madine and Ryan Bowman in the late stages, perished with a mishit cross in the final minute from Kane. Randolph remained redundant, but Kane can be credited for an otherwise tidy performance on a rare appearance in Abbott’s reshuffled rearguard.

The idea that United are now embarking on a meaningless sail to the season’s conclusion is challenged by Aldred’s rise, which might not have come had Carlisle been aching for points at this stage. Their brace of Easter engagements was worthwhile for that alone. And Abbott, surely, will relish a couple more chances to play kingmaker in the promotion race; the Blues will certainly not prostrate themselves before Leeds, in a week’s time, or at Norwich on the final day.

While other managers reach out for the stressball, Carlisle’s boss will hope to delve into his treatment room and pull out a couple of refreshed bodies for those enticing battles. But a big part of you still hopes Aldred is there to test his potential against Jermaine Beckford, Grant Holt and the other high-calibre strikers who would shoot the Blues out of League One’s top half.

ADAM COLLIN – Misread the corner which led to Charlton’s goal, made a couple of decent saves later on.

TONY KANE – Rarely let the side down on his first start of the season, made one brilliant challenge to thwart Bailey.

EVAN HORWOOD – Was not at his peak but plugged away in defence.

TOM ALDRED – Teenager looked sharp and strong on his second senior start and gave the wily Forster little change.

RICHARD KEOGH – Led Carlisle’s rearguard action well from centre-half and helped keep the Blues in the game.

PAUL THIRLWELL – Nearly earned the Blues a point, got stuck in without standing out.

TOM TAIWO – Was an effective, aggressive presence at the base of United’s midfield although his passing wasn’t always of high quality.

ADAM CLAYTON – At the heart of Carlisle’s best creative efforts in a difficult midfield contest against Racon and Semedo.

BEN MARSHALL – Wholehearted effort down the left, defensive qualities were tested against the raiding Richardson.

SCOTT DOBIE – One fine pass almost put Price in on an afternoon of toil down the right from the Cumbrian.

JASON PRICE – Thwarted by Sodje on a rare raid, Price led the line strongly but without much inspiration.

Subs: Gary Madine (for Price 67) – Put himself about; Ryan Bowman (for Thirlwell 81) – Took up some good positions; Not used: Lenny Pidgeley, David Raven, Graham Kavanagh, Gavin Rothery.

Booked: Thirlwell, Dobie

Charlton: Randolph, Richardson, Borrowdale, S Sodje, Daily, Semedo, Racon, Sam, Reid (Bailey 69), Shelvey (Mooney 81), Forster (A Sodje 69). Not used: Warner, Llera, Wagstaff, Solly.

Goals: Sodje 43

Booked: Semedo

Referee: James Linington (Isle of Wight)

Crowd: 17,229

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