Kavanagh strike earns Carlisle United three vital points against Cheltenham
Last updated at 12:36, Monday, 24 November 2008
Carlisle Utd 1 Cheltenham 0: Life at Cheltenham Town ceased to be boring the moment they hired a manager who a) carries the nickname “Mad Dog”, b) goes jumping into icy rivers when he’s in the mood, and c) thinks nothing of signing 11 players in the space of 40 days, including a jobbing striker called Elvis.
A little less conversation and loads more crazy action is therefore guaranteed for the inhabitants of Gloucestershire as they try to deal with Martin Allen’s assault on their tranquility, while Greg Abbott attempts to bring about the opposite effect at Carlisle United.
To clarify: dull and plain aren’t quite the right terms when you try to describe anything said or done by United’s livewire caretaker boss, but Abbott is certainly trying to restore a level of calm to Brunton Park. In other words, a return to the days when they could line up against a team of relegation battlers, bank the points and then move onto the next assignment without too many screaming headlines.
Carlisle fans have read enough nightmarish back pages already this campaign. Saturday’s complicated but deserved victory over Allen’s hustlers - the Blues’ second in a row under Abbott’s reign - took them another small step closer to a relatively quiet life in the middle of League One, as opposed to the bottom end where stability and order are often the first things to fly out of the boot.
Let’s be frank and say that United, who have got through seven loan players in the last four months and are on their third goalkeeper of the season already, are in no position yet to start issuing lectures on harmony.
But this triumph, courtesy of Graham Kavanagh’s second half goal and a first clean sheet in 17 tortuous attempts, allows Abbott and his circle to keep suggesting that the new regime is bringing some reassurance to a place which resembled a chamber of horrors during the death throes of the John Ward era. “The dressing room is starting to become a nice place to be, which it wasn’t three or four weeks ago,” said Abbott. “Gradually we are spinning it around, getting people to believe.”
In exchange for six points out of six, Ward’s would-be successor has purchased some important time and patience. Imagine the public unrest and boardroom anxiety had Cheltenham and Brighton scampered back down the M6 with victories in the last fortnight, at a time when United are scrapping desperately against Grays Athletic to stay alive in the FA Cup? Would Abbott’s claims to the top job have looked anything other than fanciful today?
Doubtful. Instead, however, he can applaud the early work put in by his first two recruits - Tim Krul, although scarcely tested, looked capable between the sticks on debut, while the praise continues to flow for Michael Liddle at left-back - and journey to Millwall tomorrow night in perkier mood than seemed possible at the start of the month.
That will be another test entirely compared with Saturday’s skirmish against an earnest but limited Cheltenham side who swung into Brunton Park in pursuit of a point and occasionally lapsed into gamesmanship in their attempt to achieve it (Allen’s theatrical appeal for David Raven to be booked in the 48th minute was the least impressive piece of touchline behaviour we’ve seen so far this season).
Given the Robins’ stifling tactics, it was always likely to be an afternoon requiring patience, a quality which was certainly tested during a patchy first half. United threatened in the second minute - when Danny Graham headed Richard Keogh’s lofted pass just behind the sliding Marc Bridge-Wilkinson - and in the eighth, when Keogh bundled a Kavanagh corner at the visiting ‘keeper, Scott Brown.
But too often there was no authentic final ball worth attaching to the Blues’ urgent passing, prompted by Kavanagh and encouraged down the left by the excellent Liddle. Cheltenham, beyond an Elvis Hammond header which drifted onto the roof of Krul’s net and a low Lee Ridley shot saved by the debutant custodian, were offering painfully little themselves, which might explain why Keogh and Krul combined to bring some dramatic tension to the struggle on the brink of half-time.
Alan Wright’s left-wing cross had sailed beyond the interest of any red-and-white shirted attacker in the 43rd minute, but was nevertheless attacked by Keogh, whose header sailed over the stranded Krul and bounced back off the United bar. Post-match enquiries suggested Krul’s call came a fraction late, hence Keogh’s attempt to clear and his brush with calamity.
To the big defender’s credit, this was otherwise one of his better days in blue. Early in the second half, with United now attacking with extra purpose, he battered the same bar from close range as he tried to convert a rebound after Graham’s shot from a Kavanagh corner had been saved. Moments later, it was Graham’s head-in-hands moment, the result of a woefully miscued header after so much good work by Cleveland Taylor had set up the golden chance.
No matter; United’s goal was at hand, and it came when Danny Livesey repelled a Hammond shot and allowed Kavanagh to mount a stirring counter-attack, which took the midfielder from deep in Cumbrian territory to the brink of the Cheltenham box. With Allen’s defenders backpedalling, Kavanagh slipped the ball left to Simon Hackney, whose low cross was pushed out by Brown, allowing the alert Dubliner to follow in and bury the chance.
It was a strike Kavanagh earned through a hugely influential second-half effort and, while the mind instantly now turned to Carlisle’s attempt to bolt the back door for the first time since August, it almost heralded further goals at the Cheltenham end. Kavanagh himself had an effort blocked, Liddle had a right-footed blast saved, Hackney slid over a menacing cross which no-one attacked, Taylor drew a sharp tip-over from Brown, and then the right-winger shoved the ball across the six-yard box but only saw the sliding Bridge-Wilkinson fail to connect and then Hackney make a weak, unsuccessful attempt to force it in at the far post.
We then witnessed a predictably agitated spell of injury time, when Allen’s men knocked the ball high and long into the United box, but Keogh and company limited the threat to Krul’s goal. A dishonourable mention, meanwhile, goes to Ashley Vincent for the raised-foot sliding challenge which Liddle was nimble enough to avoid but still earned the Cheltenham sub a merited booking.
From this end, Vincent’s lunge looked like more evidence that Allen will happily make his team disliked if it is a means to League One survival. Whether or not he can keep the Robins on their perch - they are already six points adrift in the drop zone - one certainty is that they won’t go quietly.
As for Abbott, a one-goal victory against the country’s leakiest defence isn’t something to belt from the rooftops for too long.
But since we’re still many miles from the point where Carlisle fans can pick and choose the manner of their victories, it seems wrong to deny the man a short roar of approval today.
TIM KRUL - His communications breakdown with Keogh aside, the loanee seemed confident on his debut although was rarely tested.
DAVID RAVEN - After his superb display against Brighton the previous weekend, this was another sturdy, committed effort from the right-back.
MICHAEL LIDDLE - Other than a couple of wayward passes, the Sunderland youngster again performed with enviable maturity and confidence.
DANNY LIVESEY - Steady performance against limited threat, should take confidence from United’s much-needed clean sheet.
RICHARD KEOGH - One of his better games in a blue shirt, commanding in the air and deserved the luck that came his way when the crossbar prevented calamitous own-goal.
PAUL THIRLWELL - Another influential effort from the skipper whose combative presence was crucial in a packed midfield.
GRAHAM KAVANAGH - After a patchy first-half, the veteran ran the show after the break and deserved to be United’s matchwinner.
MARC BRIDGE-WILKINSON - Millimetres away from a goal but otherwise had limited influence on matters compared to his silver-haired midfield partner.
SIMON HACKNEY - United could have trebled their tally had his end product been better, but the winger had a hand in Kavanagh’s goal and his pace remains a huge asset.
CLEVELAND TAYLOR - Looks to be benefiting from Abbott’s positive approach. Was always a threat in the second half.
DANNY GRAHAM - Could do with a goal and will want to forget his second-half miss, but can’t be accused of not putting in a shift for the cause.
Subs: John Welsh (for Bridge-Wilkinson, 88) - Fresh pair of legs to help close game down. 6. Not used: Ben Williams, Josh Gowling, Michael Bridges, Gary Madine.
First published at 11:26, Monday, 24 November 2008
Published by http://www.newsandstar.co.uk
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