Carlisle United in league freefall after fourth straight defeat
Last updated at 19:58, Monday, 06 October 2008
Carlisle United 1 Tranmere Rovers 2: Cumbria's climate on Saturday appeared to have vaulted autumn and landed in winter with a miserable thump.
There’s no better metaphor just now for Carlisle United and their disintegrating season.
Cold reality came slashing in with the weekend rain, and yesterday every Blues supporter woke up with the brain-ache that says the good times are being washed away. That won’t sound anything like an over-reaction unless John Ward can author an immediate revival from today’s bleak position.
A parliamentary bill needs to be passed which prevents anyone at Brunton Park speaking of the Championship until Carlisle again resemble a capable collective in League One. In body-language alone, Ward’s players are currently speaking as fluently as Joe Kinnear after a bad day at work.
Four straight defeats have blasted all confidence from the system and it is the greatest challenge of the manager’s reign to set this matter straight.
Everyone here present can make a decent stab at writing a list of the things which are clunking and jarring in the machinery. Saturday’s soggy mess of a performance flashed the faults up in neon and they are, in no particular order: an incoherent and increasingly fractious defence in which every player has plummeted in form.
A midfield which must now be classified as a creativity-free zone. A strikeforce which can’t swerve its own segment of the blame just because it isn’t receiving proper service. A goalkeeper bereft of assurance, not that any purpose is served by making a scapegoat of Ben Williams.
And the most popular criticism of all is that Ward’s selections are now impeding the progress of a squad which isn’t, for all these woes, devoid of talent. Saturday’s team sheet, which showed the dynamic loanee Jennison Myrie-Williams still wedged in with the substitutes, never looked like the most threatening letter the manager could slide under Tranmere’s changing room door.
Myrie-Williams, who showed some spark and willing even on this hideous afternoon after his second-half introduction, can be absolved of blame.
The only other names to emerge completely untainted are such as Luke Joyce, Grant Smith, Josh Gowling, Gary Madine, Chris Howarth, Darren Campion and Jeff Smith: players Ward has kept back from combat so far this season and who might now receive their opportunity by default.
Excessive faith in under-performing players, muddled tactical thinking and other rasping accusations are currently being hurled at United’s manager, who is too experienced to crumble under the weight of bitter terrace complaints but must now pour all his years into challenging the rising suspicion that Carlisle are declining as a force on his watch.
Quite the best he can say of this defeat is that standards can’t possibly drop any lower.
When a visiting team looks solid value for the lead they claim after 52 seconds, you know something abject is coming to pass. That’s the precise stretch of time it took Ian Moore to take Tranmere’s opener after collecting Andy Taylor’s high ball which skimmed off Danny Livesey’s head, turning Evan Horwood with scandalous ease and clipping a deflected shot past Williams.
Praise has to be thrown Tranmere’s way for the manner in which they continually attacked Carlisle’s deficiencies. It’s reasonable to say they would have threatened better teams than United in this mood.
Moore, still a bundle of pace at 32, displayed all the urgency that the Cumbrians left at home.
Ed Sonko, despite his occasional melodramatics, was a persistent threat down his left wing. And in Ian Goodison the Wirral side possess one of the division’s pedigree centre halves. The solid Jamaican coasted through his weekend work here.
As United groped for rhythm in the rain, the visitors applied steady pressure. Sonko drew a decent save from Williams after a pitiful home attempt to clear Ryan Shotton’s long throw.
Then the Gambian volleyed wide after Richard Keogh’s inadequate defensive header. Then Antony Kay squandered a free header from a corner. Then Moore ambushed Horwood and put his low cross at David Raven’s feet, only for the Carlisle right-back to donate another chance to the lurking Sonko, who smashed it over the bar.
Carlisle – who barely stirred, save for two edge-of-the-area efforts from Cleveland Taylor and Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, and a whole bunch of overhit thumps from the back – needn’t waste time grumbling about the booking dished out to Paul Thirlwell on the brink of half-time, which tips the captain into a one-match suspension.
To dwell on that subject - and yes, it did seem excessive punishment for a sliding challenge on the over-reacting Sonko - is to divert the gaze from the problems which kept showing up after the break.
Kay, who directed traffic expertly from midfield, split the Carlisle defence and allowed Moore to smash a shot from the right which spun off Danny Livesey and hit the bar. United, with Michael Bridges and Danny Graham belatedly thrown into proceedings, hollered for a penalty when Ben Chorley appeared to handle, but that unsuccessful appeal was where their ambition began and ended.
More Tranmere chances flowed – Keogh denying Bas Savage after Thirlwell’s mistake, and Williams saving from sub Gareth Edds - before they found the second goal which summarised Carlisle’s afternoon.
There was a corner cleared by Livesey, a high ball back into the box from Moore, appalling hesitation from the besieged Williams, and a simple scoring header from Shotton.
United’s scarcely-deserved consolation goal in injury time – converted by Graham after Livesey’s header hit the post – brought another mental thud with the knowledge that the striker’s goalline poke was United’s only shot on target.
The side Ward selects at Rochdale tomorrow night cannot now be predicted. Likewise next Saturday’s trip to MK Dons, who whacked Millwall 4-0 on Saturday and will fancy doing something similarly brutal to Carlisle on live television.
Armchair fans would be advised to watch that through a gate of fingers unless there is a sudden raising of blue standards. If the howling abuse which came Carlisle’s way at the end of this hellish afternoon is a measurement of the public mood, their winter of discontent has just arrived early.
Ben Williams - Made a few tidy saves but then ruined his afternoon with the howler that allowed Shotton to head Tranmere's winner.
David Raven - Indifferent display from the right-back who is one of several players yet to regain last season's form.
Evan Horwood - Poor performance from the young left-back who was turned too easily by Moore for the opening goal.
Danny Livesey - Not always convincing against the awkward Savage as Tranmere applied pressure.
Richard Keogh - Didn't shirk from combat but United's defensive unit looks less secure with every game.
Paul Thirlwell - Scant influence on proceedings, and now facing suspension.
Marc Bridge-Wilkinson - Not providing the creativity Carlisle need from midfield. Playing deeper than last season and suffering for it.
Simon Hackney - Disbelief from the fans when he was replaced, but the winger rarely threatened the visiting defence.
Cleveland Taylor - Given the nod on the right wing and was far from the worst player in a blue shirt, but wasn't in the game enough.
Danny Carlton - No player worked harder but couldn't add any quality to United's attacking. Angry when subbed but Ward had to make changes.
Scott Dobie - Didn't enjoy a single scoring chance. Hurt after a fleeting second-half attack and replaced shortly after.
Subs: Michael Bridges (for Carlton, 55) - tried to create but couldn't inspire comeback. 5; Danny Graham (for Dobie, 55) - Unable to change game despite injury-time tap-in. 5; Jennison Myrie-Williams (for Hackney, 67) - sprightly cameo, ought to have started. 7
First published at 11:48, Monday, 06 October 2008
Published by http://www.newsandstar.co.uk
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