Fans let rip at Carlisle Utd after soggy spectacle at Accrington Stanley
Accrington Stanley 3 Carlisle United 0: The pantomime horse kicked like a mule. Carlisle had all the menace of Snow White. At the end, they were booed off stage by fans who had spent quite the most miserable afternoon in the soaking Lancashire rain.
They were entitled to their anger, justified in their jeering. This was not good enough by a distance from Keith Curle and his players, some of whom could barely bring themselves to face those furious people in the uncovered away terrace after full-time.
With one or two honourable exceptions, United's boss can start with a blank piece of paper at Coventry tomorrow, and nor can he afford many more games like this before his own command of the team and squad comes under greater question, too.
On this day, he and they were outplayed and outthought by a tightly-drilled home team and a managerial duo Carlisle's boss had compared to that panto animal. "If you get distracted by one, the other kicks you up the backside," Curle had said of John Coleman and Jimmy Bell.
That was a reference to a sometimes feisty dugout area where Coleman and Bell operate. All the kicking here, though, took place on Accrington's wet pitch. First, Carlisle failed to track the home team's obvious dangerman, Billy Kee, as he strolled through an ocean of space to open the scoring.
Next, Kayden Jackson's pace drew a foul from Tom Miller which Sean McConville punished with a fine free-kick. Finally, Mike Jones turned recklessly into trouble for the second time in five minutes, and McConville curled home another measured shot.
In response, a late flurry from United forced a couple of near-misses, but it was a token offering. The real business had long been completed and a second defeat by a three-goal margin in three weekends left serious issues at United's door.
They concern a side with pretensions of competing in League Two being so tame in attack, and so error-prone at the clutch moments. Recent recruits did not perform and nor did some of the established bunch. Curle's selection, too, is back under scrutiny, not that the manager was in a mood for going over those details - such as the continued omission of Shaun Miller, who at least enlivened United's futile second half - when he eventually emerged from the dressing room at 6.15pm.
It all parks them 16th in the fledgling table and they cannot allow it to get worse in these early weeks, which often define a season. With the likes of Luke Joyce, who fronted up here in a performance sense, they have a chance. Otherwise, two questions will land with force: are they good enough, and can Curle get the best out of them?
Bar a free agent or two, there is little else to be done but get onto the training ground and find convincing answers. United began this game deceptively, passing the ball neatly and going up evenly against a bright home side who were in decent form. But, as at Lincoln, they failed to take advantage and then blundered behind.
As the rain poured, United forced an early opening, Richie Bennett breaking onto the ball from the right and jinking past a defender, but the striker went for subtlety instead of power, and another good chance to take his first Blues goal drifted away.
Accrington, relying on Kee's canny line-leading and Jackson's pace, engaged United shortly afterwards, when McConville clipped the bar. But there was little dividing the teams; nothing, as Carlisle continued to press well, that indicated what was to come next.
The opener, though, shamed the Blues. A clearance was headed back into their half by Mark Hughes, finding space where their centre-halves had split. One home player was retreating from an offside position but Kee ran from deep, unattended, as he showed his heels to Mark Ellis and got to the ball to beat Jack Bonham.
"Super Johnny Coleman," sang the home fans as United grumbled in the rain. Dismally, Carlisle did not take their cue to reply. Bennett, although willing, was struggling to make it stick, while Hallam Hope was leaving little mark on Accrington's defence.
Coleman's men did not exactly batter Carlisle's door down from here, but they did unsettle them further, particularly when Jackson was able to find his stride. One break saw the 23-year-old sweep onto Seamus Conneely's pass, only to be denied at the last by Ellis.
United had further spells on the ball, but too many passes went astray. They were also tame both of idea and particularly of execution - and then, three minutes before the break, conceded again: Kee feeding Jackson, the striker outpacing the defence, right-back Miller lunging in with a late slide, and McConville scoring with a superb set-piece.
Even before the break Carlisle's body language in response to these blows was not promising. Curle hooked Bennett and Tom Miller, putting on Gary Liddle and Shaun Miller, yet while the latter did inject hunger and some more creative running angles, Carlisle failed to shut down their appetite for error.
Six minutes after the restart, Jones spun on the ball, straight into danger, and the resulting chance saw Bonham save valiantly from Jackson when the striker's touch was heavy. The midfielder did not learn, and shortly afterwards a similar pivot saw him ambushed by Liam Nolan. Seconds later, McConville was attacking a retreating defence, stepping past Liddle's paltry challenge and curling past Bonham once more.
That was it - game up with 34 minutes of it to go. United's attempt to find any kind of retort from here found a degree of urgency as Miller hunted for opportunities, but the general pattern remained fruitless, and at times humiliating. Hope, devoid of chances, found a portion of space midway through the half, but swiped his shot badly into the away end.
A flurry of corners followed this, Miller denied a couple of times at the near post, with Jason Kennedy also adding some belated drive. The risk of heavier defeat was, though, also present as Accrington sometimes broke from this deep comfort and got the wrong side of Curle's rejigged defence, which now had three men but still one speed.
Mallik Wilks, for one, eluded Liddle, only for Bonham to spare United again. The keeper, blameless for the general picture, then tipped over McConville's free-kick as the Accrington No11 went for his treble.
Kennedy, at the other end, drew a rare save from Aaron Chapman as he attacked a corner, but when Danny Grainger then sent a free-kick into the stand it brought an increasingly dismayed feeling from those huddled in the rain, some of whom sang an unrepeatable song about the team they had come to watch.
Six games in, and this was the picture; a drenched, passionate support, many of them then clustering towards the front of the terrace, united in anger as the players came off. After the longest post-match inquest of his reign, Curle finally appeared to discuss the farce. Oh yes he did.