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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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Bridges on song as Carlisle Utd rout Huddersfield

Carlisle United 3 Huddersfield 0: Cover versions are all the rage this Christmas, so this was the perfect time for Carlisle United’s most illustrious name to join in and finally belt out some familiar old tunes.

Carlisle action photo
Michael Bridges scores

It’s been 32 months since Michael Bridges last successfully put his foot through a bag of air at the Warwick Road End, but the years were scattered the moment he buried the ball past Huddersfield’s Alex Smithies in the 55th minute yesterday.

As Bridges embarked on his long celebratory sprint, and thousands of joyous Cumbrians threatened to rip the roof from Brunton Park, the irresistible feeling was that United’s unsatisfactory campaign can in fact be salvaged as long as the former £5 million man is around to run his influence through the men in blue, three seasons on from his majestic contribution to Paul Simpson’s title-winners in 2005/6.

At last, Greg Abbott is handing Bridges the sequence of games required to deliver the striker to the necessary levels of fitness and sharpness, and yesterday’s classy performance was the first big dividend on that obvious policy. The 30-year-old scored one, made another and was swept off the field with the kind of standing ovation which told you a cult hero had just reannounced himself.

“Michael has been frustrated with his form and fitness, and so have I because we know what he can do,” said Abbott. “But the impact he had on this game was there for all to see.” It irks to contemplate that it has taken half a season to summon such a display from the loan man, but that shouldn’t be the prevailing emotion today.

It should be delight at the high quality Bridges and United stamped onto most things they did against a Terriers side who bounded up to Cumbria after six wins from seven but hobbled out of town with their teeth having been forcibly removed. Yesterday’s pummelling goes down as the first acute lesson on the game's tough realities for Lee Clark, the new leader fresh out of the wrapper at the Galpharm Stadium.

Such is the whizzing speed of managerial change down the divisions that Abbott, appointed at the start of the month, is nowhere near the latest boss to take office in League One. At 44, veteran status may not yet be conferred on the Carlisle commander, but he certainly had the motivational edge on his younger rival yesterday.

For Carlisle’s vibrancy, read Huddersfield’s sluggishness. Praise for the way United attacked the challenge of upsetting an authentic form team has to be matched with recognition that Clark’s men had patently trotted into Brunton Park without the necessary edge.

After a token Gary Roberts shot in the first minute, the game kept fizzing towards the Huddersfield target - mostly via the flanks, where the visitors’ 3-5-2 system never looked capable of silencing United’s wide men and their forward-thinking full-backs. In the fourth minute, Bridges glanced a David Raven cross just wide, then deftly teed up Cleveland Taylor for a deflected left-foot drive.

Then the first goal arrived, and it was simple reward for United’s spirit, their verve. Jeff Smith gets credit for the way he barrelled through a cluster of challenges in his own half, before Taylor earned a throw-in down the right. Eventually, Bridges sneaked a cross towards the near-post, and when Smithies - preferred to former United hero Matty Glennon - made an unconvincing attempt to kill the danger, Danny Graham pocketed the chance from a tight angle.

United’s fortitude, not much in evidence at Northampton last weekend, continued to impress. Bridges’ hustling led to further chances for Smith - whose 30-yarder was palmed over by Smithies - for himself, when an ambush on Robbie Williams led to a jink into the box which the former Premier League man just overran, and then for Graham, who attached himself to Bridges’ disguised pass and saw his shot blocked by Nathan Clarke.

The common factor in much of this, you’ll have detected, was the influence of the roaming Bridges who, encouragingly, looked at ease with the physical rigours of battle while adding his obvious streetwise quality to United’s attacking. Nothing could be taken for granted as long as the skilful Roberts was arrowing down the channels and the wily Jim Goodwin was patrolling midfield for Clark’s side, but it was overwhelmingly Carlisle’s half.

So was the second, after some misleading early Huddersfield bluster. United were swiftly onto the front foot, Bridges slicing a decent chance after Smith’s tidy cross from the left - and then finally liberating himself from recent frustrations with that goal. He started it himself, with a splendid scooped pass which Graham failed to control.

No matter; Bridges simply sped onto the loose ball and planted it low and hard past Smithies.

A squandered free header from Roberts, and a Michael Collins run which Tim Krul thwarted, briefly interrupted United’s procession. Soon enough, they claimed their splendid third, after Bridges had earned a free-kick. The happily recalled and excellent Peter Murphy rolled the ball to Michael Liddle, whose thoughtful run allowed Graham Kavanagh to loft the ball towards Graham and then motor onto the striker’s chested lay-off and bullet the ball past the static Smithies.

More goals might have arrived had Graham been able to convert late half-chances, while Huddersfield’s best effort - a drive from the persistent Roberts at the death - was capably contained by Krul.

That was several minutes after Bridges had departed the stage to acclaim, to begin contemplating a demanding duel with Oldham tomorrow. “A while ago I wouldn’t have thought I’d be able to play two games in three days, but things have changed and I’m looking forward to it,” said the smiling striker.

In his optimistic words lay a reminder of the fragility which has disturbed his career, and enough reason for us to keep the lasting tributes in storage until we’ve seen similar things on a regular basis.

But don’t apologise for thinking yesterday had the air of a return to more cheerful times. The trick for Bridges, Abbott and United is to make sure it keeps on feeling this good.

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