Hallam gives Carlisle Utd hope but red cards taint victory at Crawley
Crawley Town 0 Carlisle United 1: One-nil, the simplest score in football, can never be straightforward when Carlisle United come into the equation. And so, a valuable and deserved victory at Crawley came at a punishing cost, as the Blues lost two players for a combined seven games.
The red cards for Richie Bennett and Tom Parkes saw Keith Curle's team reach full-time with nine men on Saturday. So secure did they look defensively that they could probably have shed another couple and still kept Harry Kewell's tame hosts at bay.
So, firstly, high marks for United's rearguard and their ability to see out a lead gained through Hallam Hope's close-range header. Only across the next month, though, will we discover how damaging the loss of Parkes in particular will be.
The big centre-back's second red of the season, and hence a four-match ban, came two days after Curle had sanctioned the loaning out of defensive cover in the form of Mark Ellis, who suffered defeat on debut for Leyton Orient against AFC Fylde.
Talk about timing. Curle admitted he would probably not have allowed Ellis to head to London had he known one of his first-choice men was about to miss a chunk of games for scrapping on the floor with Crawley's Josh Yorwerth.
Hindsight was not available on Thursday to make that call, the manager said. Critics of the decision felt loaning out a recognised centre-back from a department without vast cover was always too risky.
Curle, though, stressed that either Gary Liddle or Tom Miller will now have opportunities to stake their claim. Either man will surely enjoy playing alongside Clint Hill, who was again excellent here. James Brown, at right-back, also added another game onto an impressive personal run as part of that same back four.
At the other end, meanwhile, it was reassuring to see United win a game from an old familiar route. Adams' delivery for Hope was the cross of the match, one from last season's fine vintage. Hope, who started on the left of a forward three, arrived perfectly to score his fourth in eight games.
That is the sort of mini-form that, if extended, can deal with some of the criticism Hope has faced. The former Bury striker did seem more effective in a slightly wider role here, not that this was a fiesta of attacking football in any great sense.
Kewell, a richly talented former player, wants Crawley to play with a passing style, but has now lost five home games out of six. He would not be the first new manager to find that fine principles only get you so far in England's lower leagues.
United were not necessarily slick themselves but they were, overall, the better side, and certainly more streetwise. Only after Bennett's dismissal for felling Yorwerth with an arm (he will now miss three games) did they come under persistent pressure but Jack Bonham, recalled for Shamal George, was not greatly extended.
The hosts looked short of a tough customer in a No9 shirt, while their attempts to build from the back also clashed with the fourth-tier personnel trying to execute it. This was a feature of an ordinary start to the game, as Carlisle saw opportunities to press mistakes out of Kewell's defence and midfield.
In a 4-3-3 system that featured Hope and Adams either side of Shaun Miller, United's midfield men did some useful scavenging even when the game was not that appealing to the eye. A mistaken pass from keeper Glenn Morris gave Carlisle a bonus corner while Hope sped through on 16 minutes, tumbling against the keeper but Crawley getting a goal-kick.
Either side of this Miller was falling foul of the offside flag too many times, Adams also denied by the flag as he set up Hope to tap his centre into the net. Crawley found a brief flourish when they got the ball wide, but Carlisle found Bonham alert when Jordan Roberts and Jimmy Smith arrived onto far-post crosses, this after Roberts had been denied a penalty after going down against Hill.
Kewell was animated in his coaching area but there were too many misplaced balls from both sides for it to be a great spectacle - and nor, in truth, were United endangering the goal much. Hope's shot over the bar from 25 yards was the best of it and by the break you felt they needed to be much more effective in the final third.
Five minutes after the restart, they were. Curle had apparently demanded Carlisle use their width better and their goal certainly delivered on this, as their midfielders worked the ball from left to right, Adams cut inside, and Hope was the one United man unattended by defenders as he put away the unmissable header.
It was a close-up treat for the travelling fans on the away terrace, some of whom had benefited from food and drink vouchers given as a "thank-you" from the club. As they tucked in, United dug in. Hill, with his sense of positioning and timing, was excellent alongside Parkes, making a sliding block from Enzo Boldewijn on a rare occasion when Kewell's men got a glimpse.
A more accurate picture of Crawley's general threat came when sub Ibrahim Meite hit a dreadful shot high and wide, troubling a control box window in the far corner rather than Bonham's net. United's sub, Bennett, then finished his 13-minute cameo with a slow walk off, Johnson having taken a dim view of the arm that caught Yorwerth and left the home defender prone.
Carlisle could have done without that, yet the remaining 10 men filed back in and kept things tight. Another block denied Boldewijn and there was a moment when Danny Grainger cleared the ball out of the ground and two more were mistakenly thrown back on that you wondered if the extra sphere might be Crawley's best bet at scoring.
With Kewell adding additional height from the bench, there was, in the end, more for Carlisle to contend with, but at no point did the hosts look a serious threat. Smith broke onside but cleared the bar with a header, Panutche Camara's first touch cost him a proper opening, but the only remaining incident was the one that cost United in another way.
It was, in the 93rd minute, an ugly exchange, as Yorwerth committed a foul in the United box and was then embroiled in an exchange of blows with Parkes, with both men on the deck and other Carlisle players crowding in. Mike Jones tussled with Boldewijn and Lewis Young in a marginally less violent manner and the outcome - reds for Yorwerth and Parkes, yellows for Jones, Boldewijn and Young - extended an already lingering period of added time.
Even with nine men, it mattered not. Boldewijn struck the roof of the stand with Crawley's final shot and Carlisle took a second away win in eight days back up the road - this one very welcome after a near 10-hour motorway journey to Sussex the previous day.
Now 14th, the top half is in reach if Curle and the players can somehow unearth some consistency from here. The complication of Parkes' extended loss, though, means that challenge just got harder.