Coventry City 2 Carlisle Utd 0: At half-time it looked okay, but by the end the feeling was the same: another rainswept defeat for Carlisle United, whose inconsistent start to this League Two season has now officially become a bad one.
A fourth defeat from seven games was applied in the second half, when Coventry raised their game and Keith Curle’s reshaped team went the other way.
Duckens Nazon and Peter Vincenti got the goals, and the Blues’ response to both was tame in the extreme.
Before the break, their shape and style had frustrated Mark Robins’ team. Carlisle appeared to have dealt with some of the sloppiness that had marked Saturday’s grim afternoon at Accrington.
Early in the second half, though, and their resolve was broken by Nazon. From here, United’s work was deeply disappointing. They did not offer nearly enough. Although they ended the game with three strikers on the pitch, none – nor anyone else in a Carlisle shirt – looked likely to change the outcome.
Although still early in the campaign, it leaves Curle’s team very much in the wrong half of League Two and slipping. This always looked like a difficult fixture against the side with the division’s best defence, but extra pressure now falls on United’s boss and his players ahead of a home game with Barnet that they could really do with winning.
If not Saturday, against a Bees team in nick, then when? Curle made six changes last night and while expecting instant success may have been unrealistic, United must change the tone of this campaign and quickly.
So poor had they been in that defeat at Accrington that being sent to Coventry next sounded appropriate in all sorts of ways. A 90-minute dressing-room lock-in at the Wham Stadium also preceded this second away trip in four days.
Many of the travelling supporters stuck in traffic after an accident on the M6 could only pick up Curle’s immediate reaction remotely. Stuck on the buses, they learned that the manager had made all those changes in direct response to some of the things he had seen in Lancashire.
Out: Jack Bonham, Tom Miller, Mike Jones, Richie Bennett, Hallam Hope and Reggie Lambe. In: Shamal George, James Brown, Kelvin Etuhu, Jason Kennedy, Jamie Devitt and Shaun Miller.
Among that starting group were three league debutants (George, Brown and Etuhu) along with a striker (Miller) many supporters have called to be given a better stretch of first-team time.
Either way, it was another big selection shake-up. The Ricoh Arena, meanwhile, remains an enviable place to play whatever Coventry’s problems, and United needed to take whatever inspiration they could.
Mark Robins, for his part, was without one of that rearguard, the suspended Rod McDonald, as well as a pair of injured frontmen. United’s selection hinted at a more progressive, floor-based style than the recent reliance on Bennett’s height.
As Storm Aileen arrived, with strong wind and heavy rain, the game did not begin as a whirlwind; a more even first half, in fact, unfolded as both rejigged sides tried to work each other out.
United, with Devitt playing off Miller, were tested early on by Nazon, who showed pace off the shoulder. One sweeping run required Brown to get back to protect Carlisle in the seventh minute.
For the hosts, Michael Doyle looked to set midfield tempo. Etuhu, for Carlisle, made a solid start, showing ball-winning presence alongside Luke Joyce. One intervention by the big midfielder allowed United to attack useful space on the left, as Nicky Adams and Danny Grainger combined, but Devitt’s wait for a goal went on, as Lee Burge parried his close-range shot.
Some end-to-end flurries followed, Beavon failing to trouble George with a low skimmer, and Adams shooting wide for Carlisle as they tried to profit from space between the home defence and midfield.
Serious chances, though, remained scarce. United’s shape was limiting Coventry, whose ponderous play left their fans frustrated at times.
One break from Nazon gave Liam Kelly an opportunity, but he couldn’t keep it on target. Carlisle ventured back through Devitt, who fed Miller in the box but saw his pass miscontrolled by Kennedy.
On the right, Brown was making some sharp contributions in both halves, and the one other time Coventry found more space than normal, George made his one proper save of the half, diving well to parry Beavon’s shot after Jack Grimmer sent it infield.
United would have settled for the goalless outcome at the break, for their game plan seemed to be taming Robins’ team. Needed next was a cutting end to some of the half-chances they had made in the hosts’ territory.
Alas, when it came, it was at their own end. It took Coventry just three minutes to find some of what they had themselves been lacking in the first 45, and when Robins’ men won a midfield battle, Nazon had too much pace for United’s centre-halves as he surged onto Kelly’s precise through-ball and confidently shot past George.
The ball hit the net just as many of those poor travelling supporters finally got to their seats. Now United had to produce something more to reward their endless evening.
The fightback attempt was, though, slow in coming, and if anything the next goal seemed likelier to be Coventry’s. As Mark Ellis found himself in the wars with a facial injury, and Nazon also limped off with hamstring trouble, the hosts came eagerly back at United, Jodi Jones finding extra room on the right.
Once, he dropped a shoulder to send Grainger skidding through the wet turf, but Carlisle survived a goalmouth scramble.
Next, with Bennett on for Adams and Gary Liddle on for the injured Ellis, it really should have been two, as home sub Maxime Biamou got the better of Liddle and allowed Beavon to find Jones in acres.
His finish, though, was too deft, beating George but allowing Grainger to get back and clear off the line. That kept United alive, but they really had to find a few more gears.
Hope, replacing Etuhu, was Curle’s final attempt to inject some fresh ideas, but Carlisle remained painfully short of penetration. In their own box, Liddle denied Grimmer in front of goal, but then Jones proved too good for Grainger again, and Vincenti volleyed his back-post cross into the ground and slowly into the net.
It was, alas, comfortably enough. Tom Parkes struck the woodwork, and then headed a gaping chance wide at the far post as United tried to give their fans something, but, as at Accrington, they left with nothing but some wet clothes and a few extra worries about this sterile form and, increasingly, the direction of this season under Curle.