Carlisle United face replay after failing to beat non-league Grays Athletic
Last updated at 12:12, Monday, 10 November 2008
FA Cup round one: Carlisle United 1 Grays Athletic 1: Greg Abbott can’t avoid Grays just now, whether that’s a reference to the non-league team who earned another pot at Carlisle United on Saturday, or the things which showed up on his head when he glanced in the mirror a few hours later, having learned the precise scale of his rescue assignment.
“Do I look like I’ve had enough already?,” responded Carlisle’s drained caretaker manager to a query on his hunger for the task, after the first week of his reign ended with a quite tortuous draw against the 23rd-best team coughed up by the Blue Square Premier.
If that sounds disrespectful to the visitors, let’s quickly address it by saying that this result should be rewritten as Carlisle Lethargic 1, Grays Athletic 1. Wayne Burnett’s down-at-heel Essex men were seven minutes away from dumping Abbott into a world of pain, and more than deserve their chance to have a blast at the Cumbrians on their own manor in eight days’ time.
Abbott, red of face and hoarse from a half-time explosion (“I hurt my hand banging the treatment table,” he confessed), accepted that a replay was the least Grays merited from an FA Cup engagement which dragged slowly across a grim autumn afternoon.
“They were organised, difficult to play against and in the first half they were the better side by a fair way,” he said. “But they didn’t beat us, and we live to go again.”
These are humbling days indeed down Warwick Road, when United emerge from a home tie against a side two levels down clutching a nuisance replay as their latest hope of salvation.
Gary Madine’s equaliser and some second-half bluster aside, this was another 90-minute package of struggle to bolt onto the run of 12 winless games which cost John Ward his job a week ago. The path out of trouble hardly seems much clearer today, even if Madine’s 83rd-minute effort finally put a red line through one damaging stat: the eight hours Carlisle had gone without a goal until the 18-year-old put a brave head onto Graham Kavanagh’s free-kick at the Waterworks End.
No miracle cures were unearthed by Abbott in his five days in charge ahead of this game. Ward’s would-be successor rearranged a couple of bodies - Simon Hackney back on the left, Marc Bridge-Wilkinson further to the right, Jennison Myrie-Williams supporting Danny Graham up front - but the problem chewing away at Carlisle is not primarily tactical.
It concerns a shocking plummet in belief and assurance and, perhaps in some cases, a reluctance to plough through the hardest times until a dot of daylight appears.
“There’s a bit of fear, a confidence drain within the side and that’s something I’ve got to address,” admitted Abbott, who must privately shudder at how deeply these faults have got into the system. “Some of the players aren’t doing anywhere near to what they can and it’s very worrying.”
No less concerning is United’s next task: that of confronting Brighton at Brunton Park this coming weekend. The fear that the Seagulls could be the team to knock Carlisle into League One’s relegation zone has not faded a jot after what we saw on Saturday. And it won’t, unless Abbott can take his side’s second-half persistence and somehow use it to run some confidence through those stumbling players.
The caretaker had reported “higher-tempo” work on the training ground since Ward’s exit, but that’s where it remained. Carlisle started with a brief flurry - Hackney feeding Myrie-Williams, whose attempt from the left was deflected into the side-netting - but otherwise their first-half work was pedestrian, uninspiring.
The visitors, who had lost every away game this season prior to Saturday’s battle, were slotting the ball around tidily enough, and certainly making the best inroads. One, in the 18th minute, saw John Welsh ambushed in midfield before Andre McCollin jinked past Kavanagh and into the area, eventually drawing a solid low save from Ben Williams.
Later, Josh Gowling’s poor pass was intercepted by the industrious Stuart Thurgood, who wriggled into shooting space and put his shot just wide.
On the brink of half-time, hesitancy from Danny Livesey required Williams to slide out of his box to deny McCollin, who had charged down the centre-half’s ball down the right.
Put bluntly, it was not a 45-minute spell which offered much basis for hope, and after Myrie-Williams ripped a rare shot wide immediately after the break, Grays rebounded to take the goal which threatened to strangle Abbott’s reign at birth. Welsh was penalised for a midfield foul, Fabian Wilnis clipped the free-kick into the box, Jon Ashton beat Gowling to win a convincing header, and Jamie Stuart nipped between Kavanagh and Livesey to bury the chance.
And so Carlisle’s epic quest for a clean sheet, which has been rolling on since the last week in August, goes on. It was the simplicity of the goal which appalled, along with United’s failure to mark Stuart so close to the target. At least Abbott made a couple of essential alterations (Madine and Cleveland Taylor on from the bench) straight away in his attempt to prompt salvation. They got there, but it was an excruciating pursuit.
Hackney headed in a 62nd minute cross but was correctly flagged offside. Then the winger shot tamely at David Button after Madine’s touch. Then Grays briefly emerged from containment mode and almost clinched the game - Kavanagh misdirecting a pass, Thurgood crunching into Evan Horwood, and Ishmael Welsh swerving into the box and rifling towards the top corner, only for Williams to tip superbly over.
Finally, with Jeff Smith enjoying a decent cameo as emergency left-back in place of the wounded Horwood, Carlisle claimed their leveller. They forced a free-kick on the right, Kavanagh’s delivery was true, and Madine sent his header soaring over Button.
There was then nearly a stunning winner, when Madine (notice how influential the 18-year-old had become) fed Bridge-Wilkinson and the midfielder boomed a 30-yard volley a fraction over the bar.
A dramatic victory and clean passage to round two might have perked up Abbott and his battle-weary troops, but would it have been worth the misleading headlines?
No, it’s far better today to accept that the caretaker has a huge pile of work to do to repair his team’s confidence and our collapsed faith, to the point where cries for total regime change (ie, the installation of a new manager who isn’t implicated in the slightest way with this slump) can be completely silenced.
Better, too, to consider the thoughts of Gary Phillips, the Grays assistant manager who rolled into his after-match press conference clutching a bottle of beer, patted his stomach while commenting favourably on the burgers at the New Recreation Ground, and then made a serious, ominous point about next week’s replay: “We are going to make it tough for Carlisle. We won’t roll over and let them tickle our tummies.”
Oh, go on, Gary. Just this once.
BEN WILLIAMS - Made a couple of important saves and could not be implicated in Carlisle’s poor performance.
DAVID RAVEN - A typically committed effort even if passing sometimes went astray.
EVAN HORWOOD - Off the boil again and one of many players who looks bereft of confidence.
DANNY LIVESEY - Defended solidly enough but was often anxious in possession against Grays’ persistent front men.
JOSH GOWLING - Couple of slips almost proved costly in a mixed display from the big centre-half.
JOHN WELSH - Had little impact on matters and does not yet seem up to speed with first-team intensity.
GRAHAM KAVANAGH - Inconsistent passing and did not have much influence around the Grays box, although supplied a good free-kick for Madine’s equaliser.
MARC BRIDGE-WILKINSON - Not at home on the right of midfield, very quiet until injury-time effort which nearly won the game.
SIMON HACKNEY - Always gets marks for persistence, but end product was another mixed bag.
JENNISON MYRIE-WILLIAMS - A couple of promising bursts but too often looked a lightweight attacking partner for Graham.
DANNY GRAHAM - Far from his most impressive, spent too much time wide of the penalty box for the frontman to properly test the Grays ‘keeper.
Subs: Cleveland Taylor (for Myrie-Williams, 58) - Gave United a more lasting threat down the right; Gary Madine (for Welsh, 59) - Put his head where it hurts for equaliser and added presence to attack; Jeff Smith (for Horwood, 74) - Filled in capably at left-back. Not used: Chris Howarth, Danny Carlton, Luke Joyce, Richard Keogh.
First published at 12:11, Monday, 10 November 2008
Published by http://www.newsandstar.co.uk
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