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Monday, 21 April 2014

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Hartlepool defeat leaves Carlisle United with one point from possible 27

Carlisle United 0 Hartlepool 1: As if the grim task of chalking up defeats hasn’t induced stat-fatigue in the average Carlisle United supporter, here’s another batch of numbers which are making increasingly bleak reading.

New boy: United’s on-loan signing from Hull City, John Welsh, gets away from Pool’s Ritchie Jones

Five hours and eight minutes. Or, in playing terms, the best part of three-and-a-half games. That’s how much time has elapsed since Carlisle sneaked the ball past a rival goalkeeper.

In other words: anxiety at the back, which is responsible for United’s failure to keep a clean sheet since August 23 and their consequent tumble down the division, has now spread upfield to the extent where creativity and conviction in the opposing penalty area has jammed.

Margins, margins: two images leapt onto the screen last night which spoke thousands of words about Carlisle and their crash in confidence and poise. The first flashed up in the 28th minute, when Hartlepool fizzed down the left flank, Andy Monkhouse threw over a cross, Josh Gowling made inadequate work of the clearance, and James Brown slipped his unexpected chance into the net.

Now reel forward to minute 77 and a facsimile attack from United: Scott Dobie’s layoff to Jeff Smith, a testing cross from the recalled left-winger, a stumbling mess of an interception from the visiting defender Sam Collins, and a sudden opportunity for Danny Graham to pocket an equaliser from an even more inviting angle than that enjoyed by Brown.

Yet United’s top scorer, who pops up from the current malaise with more credit than most, could only slam the chance into the legs of Hartlepool’s goalkeeper Aaran Lee-Barrett, who deserves praise for his alert lurch from the line.

Result: another defeat - Carlisle’s eighth from nine league engagements - and no end to the trauma enveloping Brunton Park, which is likely to be dealt with by the board today in one of two ways.

Namely, a declaration of faith in John Ward, or the termination of his 13-month tenure.

The escalating speculation over Ward’s future brought an uncharacteristic outburst from the manager in the post-match exchanges last night. Understandably, the excruciating nature of recent debate is testing the 57-year-old’s patience. So let’s deal strictly in facts. One: despite the mixed messages spewing out of Brunton Park, Ward’s fate is now unquestionably up for discussion at the top table and there can be no head-burying avoidance of that fact on these pages.

Two: public sentiment towards the manager is shifting from sceptical to hostile. Not in the form of terrace chants which, to be fair, have remained off the songsheet so far, unless you count the booing which marked the end of last night’s exasperating squabble. But the very modern unloading of anger on the internet (and in print) is rumbling along with increasing velocity, and is bringing closer the hour when firm decision must be taken in one direction or the other.

Such information will be at our disposal shortly. In the meantime, all we can do is work on the detail of another frustrating exhibition from the Blues - one which was by no means short on spirit and willing, but was, again, low on coherence and style.

Ward’s latest attempt to halt the decline involved feeding five fresh bodies into his team - including a debut for new loanee John Welsh, first starts of the League One season for Jeff Smith and namesake Grant, and rapid recalls for Evan Horwood and Danny Carlton. Depending on your stance, this was either the decisive work of an open-minded manager, or another patch-up job which offers no basis for consistency. Beyond argument is the view that this team, with an extra midfielder and lone striker, was designed to avoid defeat rather than pursue victory with any level of daring.

In the opening disputes, when United retained the bulk of possession, Carlisle were more combative and urgent in their play, but their passing was often unconvincing and there were no proper attacks of note beyond a fifth minute foray from David Raven, whose drive across goal just evaded the sliding Jeff Smith; and a 23rd minute press which saw Grant Smith turn in the box and shoot against a defender.

Hartlepool, by no means convincing themselves despite a three-match winning run, had offered nothing as a forward-thinking force until the 28th minute, at which point they made that unexpected burst down the left from which Brown took his clinical goal. For the eleventh time this season, United had gone behind - another stat which tells its portion of the tale.

Not until Danny Livesey rose for a header on the brink of half-time had Carlisle actually managed to test Lee-Barrett, which is a firm indictment of a home side tackling mid-table rivals. At least in the second half, with Jennison Myrie-Williams and Scott Dobie eventually introduced into battle, there was more purpose about their play.

Graham Kavanagh, whose game was a mixed bag of positional authority and misplaced passing, tested the visiting defence with one menacing cross, as did the persistent Jeff Smith moments later. But Hartlepool were noticeably more confident themselves, and might have taken a second when Joel Porter pounced on Gowling’s slip but left his confidence behind as he entered the area.

Ben Alnwick clawed away a dangerous cross, then United advanced again, Myrie-Williams beating his man and crossing, and Graham planting his shot narrowly wide. Gowling sped back to deny Porter before Graham missed his golden chance, at the end of Carlisle’s cleanest move of the game.

The evening’s final episodes saw Myrie-Williams pounce on Ritchie Humphreys’ slip but batter his shot at Collins, and then Pools sub Matty Robson draw a stunning save from Alnwick after Ritchie Jones’ canter down the right on the counter-attack.

On other days, Alnwick’s supreme intervention might have tacked at least one point onto the total. But such are United’s fortunes that at the precise moment someone in that flimsy back line finally produces a moment of impressive defiance, there is nothing happening at the other end to make it properly count.

Actually, scrub that word “fortunes”, since this cannot be spun as a hard-luck story. The most derogatory stat that applies to Carlisle - one point from a possible 27 - is most certainly not due to a lack of uncanny deflections, unlikely bounces or an irritating absence of four-leaf clovers around the place.

It is, in fact, the result of a dramatic system failure, and the manner in which it is now addressed will define this increasingly disturbing Cumbrian campaign.

BEN ALNWICK - Did most of his duties well, and produced a stunning save from Robson at the death.

DAVID RAVEN - Got forward well early on and defended capably, although distribution left something to be desired.

EVAN HORWOOD - Recall did not seem to have restored confidence. Tried to add to the attacking effort, but was troubled by the dangerous Brown and too many passes went astray.

DANNY LIVESEY - Not a strong performance from the centre-half, who needs to recover some authority in his game.

JOSH GOWLING - Arguably at fault for Pools’ goal but other than a couple of lapses, showed up strongly in defence.

JOHN WELSH - Unspectacular debut but kept possession tidily and did his duties at the base of United’s midfield.

GRAHAM KAVANAGH - Tried his best to dictate play but too wasteful in possession by his high standards.

GRANT SMITH - Plenty of effort, but not enough influence on the game in his first start of the league campaign.

JEFF SMITH - A decent return from the left-winger, who persisted down his flank and put in some dangerous crosses.

DANNY CARLTON - Never looked comfortable on the right and was sacrificed early in the second half.

DANNY GRAHAM - Too isolated and not the ideal target for high balls from the back. Alert when the chances came but deadly finishing deserted him.

Subs: Jennison Myrie-Williams (for Carlton, 54) - willing to run at defenders, tried to make things happen. 6; Scott Dobie (for G Smith, 69) - put himself about, United looked better with an extra man in attack. 6. Not used: Williams, Joyce, Campion

Have your say

New Month, New Attitude: United = Undivided.

Posted by James on 1 November 2008 at 11:06

NO NO NO Trust in John Ward, he has shown what he can do with the right players (and fit players). We have key players out and lack depth,which has been the case for a long time,but now its starting to show with this injury crisis! League 1 is also much tougher this year than it was last, with scunthorpe and leicster comin down and mega bucks posh and dons comin up along with the usual suspects (and millwall). I trust in the Ward and dont want him to go because iv seen in the last year what he can do...stick with Wardy and things will definatly get better...very soon! Come on,be realistic,we were in the conference not long ago!!! The comments iv heard and read from blues fans are akin to that of spurs and newcastle fans comments!WE CANT SACK WARD YET....remember who we are and where we've been.....

Posted by penfold on 1 November 2008 at 00:25

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