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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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Carlisle United lose the battle at Stockport

Stockport 3 Carlisle United 0: This was a war zone, alright, to quote Carlisle’s assistant manager Greg Abbott from the eve of combat.

The sort of battlefield where one set of troops are scattered over the grass in the prone position, while the others line up to drive in their bayonets.

No prizes for guessing which team wielded the weapons and which side were left in a bloody mess. This was another skirmish lost by United and, judging by John Ward’s demeanour, 90 minutes closer to the time when the besieged manager withdraws from hostilities for good.

“It would be hard for my mum to stick with me today,” was Ward’s response when the matter of growing terrace hostility was raised in the post-match inquisition. It was the 57-year-old’s way of acknowledging the frustrated and persistent chanting served up by a portion of the Cumbrian faithful here.

Actually, make that faithless. This was the afternoon when belief in the regime snapped, possibly beyond repair. Trust in the leader has sped out of town with its backside on fire. And, for the first time in this bleak run – Carlisle have now scraped one point from a possible 30 – it was possible to detect signs that Ward may also be losing confidence in himself.

That’s the feeling many of us took away from Edgeley Park as Ward met a polite question on his resolve to see the job through with a quite unconvincing answer. “I’m a proud man and my pride has really taken a battering…the chances are I’ll be having another go,” he said, quietly, before shuffling away from view.

That line was delivered slowly, with a couple of excruciating pauses, and was the least emphatic declaration of self-assurance you might ever hear. To be clear: this isn’t a crafty reading between the lines on behalf of those who want Ward ejected from office without delay. It’s genuinely how it was. No defiance for the microphones, no attempt to erect the barricades.

By the time these words make it to print, Carlisle’s manager will have emerged from a weekend of reflection and we will soon know whether time has repaired his shattered conviction to the extent that he will attempt to guide his players towards an FA Cup tie with Grays Athletic, on which there is now outrageous pressure for the Blues to end this ruinous cycle of defeats.

As if it needs spelling out, this is where matters have reached: a home cup tie, against one of the Blue Square Premier’s stragglers, is effectively United’s last chance to show they can spin this mess of a season around under Ward’s command. The club official or director who challenges the validity of that claim had better do so with complete sincerity, because anyone you speak to in this city just now is coldly convinced that Grays’ visit has the look and feel of a final opportunity.

On its own, this defeat wasn’t the lowest point of the recent, wretched run. Carlisle have played notably worse than this. Since that assessment arrives after a 3-0 defeat against a side who have mustered one home win since the start of the season, how stronger could the indictment be?

Heavens, United even resembled a sprightly and coherent team in the opening passages, Graham Kavanagh shooting over amid a flurry of tight, crisp passing and Jennison Myrie-Williams making a couple of positive darts on his belated full league debut. Then, in a familiar manner, the other lot mounted an innocuous attack and claimed the lead.

First John Welsh fouled Carl Baker and allowed Stephen Gleeson to float a free-kick into the area. Johnny Mullins challenged in the air, then the ball dropped for Baker, who pipped the sliding Jeff smith and Welsh, edged into space, and scuffed his shot against Danny Livesey and watched it spin past the wrongfooted Ben Alnwick. Again, the twin impostors of inadequate defending and rotten luck had leapt out of the bushes, and United were in the customary position of attempting to reverse a deficit.

In the first half, to be accurate, they made a spirited effort of doing just that. Myrie-Williams showed willing to run at Jim Gannon’s nervy defenders down the right, while Smith was doing persistent work down the left.

But United’s two best openings drew only frustration, as first Danny Graham spooned over on the half-hour, and then the top scorer slipped at the moment of truth after Smith had skipped past two challenges on the edge of the box.

Not that County had disappeared into their shell. Far from it, as the influential Baker offered a relentless threat and the prodigious Tommy Rowe buzzed around to dangerous effect. Yet they found Alnwick in defiant mood, the goalkeeper saving from Rowe after a flurry of passes on the left of the United area, sliding in at Craig Davies’ feet after the Oldham loanee had got behind Livesey, then making a strong, one-handed parry from Baker who had slipped into space on the left of the target.

It was a decently balanced first half, which implied the game was for the taking after the interval. Sadly, it was Stockport who did the taking, as Carlisle not only failed to add the necessary edge to their attacking, but actually plunged from view. With the ill David Raven replaced by Luke Joyce, United’s back line absorbed efforts from Paul Turnbull and Baker before finally conceding the second.

After Simon Hackney had risen from the bench to flash a brace of menacing crosses just out of his colleagues’ reach, County assembled a counter-attack down the right which ended with Turnbull rolling the ball to Gleeson, who smacked it into the top left of Alnwick’s goal with the kind of style which merits unqualified praise.

It was the moment that did for United, who relied on Alnwick to beat away a Mullins header before Baker sneaked onto Smith’s attempted clearance and belted number three into the Cumbrian net.

There was even time for the substitute Peter Thompson to squander a simple header in front of goal before time was called on the carnage and the eye returned to Ward, who must prepare for the “sideshow” (his word for the debate over his future) to come quickly back in from the margins again.

Expect this week to feel even longer than the last. The best advice from this end is to take a few long country walks to separate the mind from thoughts of struggle against Grays, a true crisis club which is up to its neck in financial disarray. Not that the cup matters a jot to the real issue of Carlisle’s slump into relegation territory (they are now one point and one place above the drop zone).

Stockport has a long history of hat-making, but it’s crash helmets Ward and his men required as they hobbled out of town on Saturday. “Over our dead bodies,” insisted Abbott in his pre-match declaration of war. News from the front line: that’s precisely how it looked.

BEN ALNWICK - Made some fine saves to keep United in the game and can’t be blamed for Stockport’s second-half blitz.

DAVID RAVEN - Battled away throughout the first half but looked below par and was replaced, ill, at the interval.

EVAN HORWOOD - A more capable performance than in recent weeks, can take some personal encouragement from an otherwise bleak afternoon.

DANNY LIVESEY - Given the slip by Davies more than once and remains well short of his best form.

JOSH GOWLING - Didn’t shy from the battle but struggled to keep County at bay as they grew in confidence.

JEFF SMITH - Close to creating some good chances more than once, but much less influential when asked to switch flanks after the break.

GRAHAM KAVANAGH - Unusually ponderous in possession and although he tried to urge Carlisle into life, the veteran was below-par.

JOHN WELSH - Combative at the base of midfield but couldn’t prevent Rowe and Baker from getting at the Blues back line.

MARC BRIDGE-WILKINSON - In his preferred role at the front of the central midfield trio, but couldn’t find a killer pass.

JENNISON MYRIE-WILLIAMS - Some dangerous early runs, but had less impact as the game went on and eventually sacrificed for Hackney.

DANNY GRAHAM - Work-rate cannot be faulted but snatched at his best chance and couldn’t profit from the other scraps that came his way.

Subs: Luke Joyce (for Raven, 46) - Difficult job as stand-in right-back. 5; Simon Hackney (for Myrie-Williams, 60) - Couple of dangerous crosses but couldn’t spark a comeback. 6; Gary Madine (for Bridge-Wilkinson, 69) - United were beaten by the time the teenager was introduced. 5. Not used: Ben Williams, Darren Campion

Have your say

ward out. sack him now and stop the rot ,record with ward poor

Posted by archie on 2 November 2008 at 20:59

whats going on how much time the board giving ward till we get deeper in relegation the board need to go themselfs they seem to doing nothing if we do go down we will never get back up

Posted by TONY KIDD on 2 November 2008 at 17:33

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