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Sunday, 20 April 2014

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Foxes come from behind to snatch victory from Carlisle

Carlisle Utd 1 Leicester City 2: Niegel Pearson gets another scruffy goal at the Waterworks End to dine out on, and the rest of us are handed a precise lesson on why Leicester City are sailing away from the likes of Carlisle United and towards the Championship.

Cleveland Taylor: Nearly stole late winner at Oldham

There were enough similarities in Bruno Berner’s 70th minute winner with what Jimmy Glass did on the same patch of turf nine years earlier - the well-aimed corner, the striker’s header, the close-range finish - to give Leicester’s former Brunton Park boss a few flashbacks on his first day in Cumbria as a manager since the glorious insanity of May 8, 1999.

And when the double-taking has stopped, Pearson can play back the tape of Berner’s volley and let the footage explain why his team are superior to Greg Abbott’s spirited Carlisle troops (and the rest of League One, it is becoming apparent).

In other words - even when the division’s foremost unit are not at their brightest, they still unearth three points by getting the fundamentals right; in this case, ensuring their set-pieces are of the required quality. It is the way to come through the most demanding games and it is exactly why United’s players and manager were speaking of a valiant defeat instead of a startling win or a decent draw at close of play.

Everything about Leicester’s winner told you about their ability to capitalise on the slightest advantage. Matt Oakley’s corner, headed on by Steve Howard and finished off by Berner, carried all the menace that was absent from most of United’s own set-pieces. Too many of Graham Kavanagh’s deliveries petered out at the near post for the Blues to argue that they matched up with their illustrious opponents in this crucial discipline.

Leicester’s superiority therefore deserves to be registered today, however much encouragement Abbott was entitled to take from a strong, hustling performance from his own team.

“I’m not happy that we have lost, but we have taken Leicester right to the wire and that is progress,” said United’s manager, fairly. “I’m disappointed, but not downbeat.”

Given how difficult it is to knock Abbott from his positive perch, imagine his bouncing thoughts when Danny Graham took the game’s opening goal to leave us staring at the season’s most remarkable result, until Andy King restored brutal normality just after the hour and then Berner made his statement nine minutes on.

Graham’s strike, his 12th of the season, was another display of the striker’s poaching qualities which tend to be taken for granted.

Even with Michael Bridges happily promoted to the starting line-up, Graham remains in front by several furlongs as Carlisle’s most credible goal threat, a fact which ought to be reflected by Abbott’s keenness to pin him down to a new contract soon.

A few more games in his legs and surely Bridges will be sharp enough to pocket the kind of chance which arrived moments before King surged up the other end and diverted the course of this absorbing dispute. United do not have much time to hang around until the former Premiership man becomes the sniper of old, but there was enough quality in the 30-year-old’s performance on his first league start of the season (a fact which looks crazier the more you stare at it) to suggest he can be a player of defining influence in the second half of Carlisle’s season.

Indeed, Bridges almost fashioned a golden chance for Graham as soon as the second minute, only for United’s top scorer to lose the ball in a tangle of feet.

It was, in fact, a rare opportunity in a tight first half in which the hosts fronted up well to their muscular rivals.

Paul Thirlwell had got through 27 minutes of excellent work in the midfield squabbles by the time he emerged on the edge of the Leicester box to provide Carlisle with their goal - winning a telling header and allowing Graham to sneak through a shoddy offside trap, touch the ball past the advancing Dave Martin and tap the ball tome.

Matty Fryatt was denied by Richard Keogh and then Michael Liddle in his doomed pursuit of a third consecutive hat-trick, but it’s possible to view the precautionary half-time withdrawal of Thirlwell as the moment the Foxes were offered a plausible route back into the match. Fryatt tested Tim Krul and Oakley whizzed a shot wide early in the second half, and then, seconds after Bridges had wriggled free in the box only to be denied by the alert Martin, Pearson’s men finally levelled.

Howard, perhaps the best target man League One can offer, displayed a deft touch to send Lloyd Dyer scampering in from the left, and when the winger’s cross was blocked by Danny Livesey, he simply retrieved the ball, slotted it to King, and the Welsh midfielder powered it past Krul from the fringe of the area.

Howard then clattered the bar from close range after Dyer’s pull-back, before the striker rose to serve Berner with the visitors’ unsightly second - an affront which Abbott attempted to challenge by introducing Simon Hackney and then Gary Madine from the bench.

Still, however, Carlisle’s most likely opportunities had Bridges at their heart. In the 77th minute, he headed over one of a stream of excellent right-wing crosses from the improving Cleveland Taylor, then he boomed a classy volley millimetres wide. Then, near the end, he made a frustrated late lunge for Marc Bridge-Wilkinson’s pass which was certainly ill-advised but did not excuse the pointless theatricals from Martin (who ought to have been yellow carded along with Bridges for his part in the unsightly incident).

More from Bridges soon, we hope, and certainly more victories for Pearson, whose team will be promoted by strength rather than style. Graham’s injured arm, and a host of other bashes and bruises, told you everything about the way United’s former boss has put power above art on the inventory at the Walkers Stadium. It also explained the booing Leicester’s players got as they trotted down the tunnel - other than Fryatt and Pearson himself, both of whom did Carlisle some decent service in years past.

Decent service - there is the day’s theme again, in neon. For the last time, it’s the quality which will enable Leicester to win many more games like this. You trust Abbott was paying close attention.

TIM KRUL - Saved well from Fryatt and generally commanded his area, but was convincingly beaten for both Leicester goals.

DAVID RAVEN - Defended wholeheartedly but given the slip more than once by the elusive Dyer.

MICHAEL LIDDLE - A pretty strong performance from the young left-back against dangerous opponents.

DANNY LIVESEY - Did his best to keep Fryatt quiet, steady enough effort against Leicester's dangermen.

RICHARD KEOGH - A tough aerial contest with Howard but stood up well to the influential target man.

PAUL THIRLWELL - Arguably Carlisle's best player in the first half and was undeniably missed after the break.

GRAHAM KAVANAGH - Industrious as ever but United needed much more quality from his set-pieces.

JEFF SMITH - Gets marks for effort but Carlisle didn't threaten too often down the left.

CLEVELAND TAYLOR - Contained by the veteran Powell early on, but grew in confidence and influence in the second half and sent over several fine crosses.

MICHAEL BRIDGES - United would surely have wrapped up victory had he made it 2-0 on the hour, but it was still an encouraging return from the star loanee.

DANNY GRAHAM - Expertly claimed his 12th goal of the season and partnership with Bridges deserves to be given a chance.

Subs: Marc Bridge-Wilkinson (for Thirlwell, 46) - Quiet afternoon following Thirlwell's withdrawal. 5; Simon Hackney (for Smith, 71) - Didn't really get going. 5; Gary Madine (for Graham, 76) - Put himself about. 6. Not used: Ben Williams, Chris Birchall


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