Shamal George the fall guy as Carlisle Utd hopes slip away


Carlisle United 0 Stevenage 2

There isn’t a goalkeeper on the planet who will not have suffered a night or two like this.

That, though, won’t be much comfort to Shamal George or Carlisle United right now.

This game went away from the Blues in the space of nine awful second-half minutes, by the end of which the first instinct was to feel desperately sorry for George, the young man at the centre of both Stevenage goals.

The first came when Carlisle’s keeper spilled a ball that appeared to be safely in his clutches as a corner came into Carlisle’s box.

Ben Kennedy took advantage there, and then the nightmare was extended, as Tom Pett’s header inexplicably slipped through George’s fingers and landed in the net.

There was not a lonelier soul in Brunton Park than the Liverpool loanee from then on, and the only good thing was that Stevenage’s travelling support only numbered 34 people, as they occasionally chanted “dodgy keeper” at United’s number 23.

After a tight, hard-to-call game was opened up in this way, Carlisle failed to re-close the gap.

They did not particularly threaten to stage a mighty revival and while they threw bodies, and crosses, at the challenge, there was a lack of finesse about a comeback attempt that rarely looked like taking off.

All in all, it was an unfortunate and, ultimately, disappointing follow-up to Saturday’s storming win at Crewe.

Without George’s mistakes, they might have built their way to victory, but there could be no guarantees there either given their general display, and so they now must start again at Crawley, no further up the League Two table.

United, unchanged from Crewe, had risen to 15th after that welcome display; Stevenage, who might have made the play-offs last season were it not for an injury to the free-scoring Matt Godden, were seeking to launch themselves up from 11th.

The game also gave United supporters their first chance to see Clint Hill at Brunton Park.

The 38-year-old put in such a consummate debut at Crewe that hopes were already high of season-turning influence.

It can never be that simple, of course, but would Carlisle at least look secure for another game with the ex-Rangers man at the back? To start with, yes, even though Stevenage appeared a well-organised side with a sense of control in possession.

The contest took a while to warm up, as Shaun Miller tried to test the concentration of Darren Sarll’s defenders at long balls in the channels, while the visitors worked the first serious opening on 11 minutes.

They carved Carlisle open down the left with some skill and, after overloading that side, cut the ball back for the arriving Kennedy in the box.

His low finish was deflected wide and United had been duly warned.

Carlisle looked to build from the back as they sought a better tempo and this was steadily achieved as Mike Jones saw more of the ball and Tom Parkes showed an eagerness to help their forward movement.

One bright passing move saw Parkes clip the ball into the box and when it broke for Reggie Lambe, he shot over the bar from the D.

Miller’s touch and movement gave Nicky Adams a half-chance and then there was a flurry of further pressure, often involving Hill.

His ability to read the flight of the ball in the away box appeared an asset as United sharpened up.

From an Adams cross, the former Rangers man had a header touched over the bar.

Next, he met a hanging George free-kick and glanced it narrowly wide.

Kelvin Etuhu, in midfield, earned bursts of applause for the way he ran back to regain possession and, in so doing, keeping United generally on top.

From another Hill header, Parkes set up Adams for a whipped effort that just cleared the bar.

Carlisle were managing to keep this up while also mopping up their own mistakes.

A loose moment in midfield saw Sarll’s men counter-attack, but shots from Danny Newton and Pett were successfully blocked.

By half-time, though, things had petered out.

Miller had fallen foul of the offside flag a couple of times too many while United failed to take advantage of a corner in added time, Lambe placing a second attempt too high.

Pett also shot wide for the visitors but, with Hill and Parkes largely on top of their frontmen, one felt it was at the other end where Carlisle would benefit from an extra spark.

Their job, though, got needlessly harder five minutes in, and while George had enjoyed a mostly safe start to his young career, this was his first real moment to forget.

It seemed that he had successfully claimed Joe Martin’s left-wing corner, but then the ball popped out and, from a cluster of players, Kennedy pounced.

For both United and George that would have been bad enough, but the next one was, if anything, worse.

The keeper had reacted well to save a deflected Godden shot after a Stevenage counter-attack but then from Pett’s hanging header, George reached above his head to catch it yet the ball kept travelling, dropping into the net.

Carlisle now needed to redouble attacking efforts which had now become laboured.

Richie Bennett replaced Etuhu, and Jamie Devitt came on for Lambe, Joyce had handball appeals turned down after a shot struck a Stevenage body, and there was now nothing left for United to do but throw themselves forward and try to salvage something.

Hallam Hope, for Brown, was next into this desperate attempt, which saw several crosses land in Stevenage’s box as Sarll’s men sat deeper.

Carlisle kept trying, kept searching, and when the ball broke to Miller in the 86th minute a glimmer was there – but the striker couldn’t keep his shot down.

Nine added minutes followed, the result of several Stevenage injuries which annoyed United because of the speed – or lack of – with which they were dealt with. Carlisle felt it was tantamount to repeated timewasting and throughout there was plenty of jeering from the Paddock and an obviously frustrated challenge from Bennett on Terence Vancooten which brought the sub a booking.

There was more frustration as United then tried one last time to make something happen, yet they were short of any real creativity for too long. Luke Joyce was denied by Joe Fryer with the last kick, and now all they can do is leave this bad night behind – and hope, in George’s case, the scars can heal quickly.

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  , Wednesday, 27 September, 2017 at 5:56PM
pay peanuts you get monkeys
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