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Saturday, 19 April 2014

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Carlisle Utd aggrieved after Southampton snatch point in 95th minute

Carlisle United 1 Southampton 1: No amount of good feeling stirred up by Brunton Park’s centenary celebrations was likely to linger long enough to allow Graham Salisbury an anonymous stroll down the tunnel at close of play on Saturday.

Carlisle action photo
Scott Dobie scores

A Hundred Years of Drama, the title of the anniversary magazine issued by the club two days ago, did not look any less appropriate after a piece of questionable officiating by Mr Salisbury allowed Southampton to take a 95th minute equaliser at the spiritual home of the injury-time goal.

Drama, certainly, but this time with a harsh aftertaste.

The reason that the Lancashire ref received venomous boos from the supporters who had earlier lifted the roof for a half-time parade of ex-United stars was that he had erred in awarding Alan Pardew’s visitors the set-piece from which Radhi Jaidi was able to snaffle their leveller at the Waterworks End.

One point that needs making at the outset is that free-kicks, even when dished out in error, need to be defended better than Carlisle managed at the death here. Lenny Pidgeley’s handling mistake, the first of an otherwise superb afternoon’s work from United’s goalkeeper, allowed the giant Jaidi to pounce and gave the home followers ample excuse to send Mr Salisbury on his way with a vocal blast.

Generally, their indignation could be forgiven, because if the trifling challenge by Scott Dobie on Lee Holmes on the left of the United box was indeed a foul, then fouls are committed on a daily basis in the Marks & Spencer till queue or in those notoriously competitive WI coffee mornings.

“The players wanted to go and knock the referee’s door down, but you can’t do that,” reported Greg Abbott, who had to reorganise his thoughts in a split-second after spending 20 minutes preparing to analyse a first win in four games for his dogged troops.

Rearranging the furniture in the officials’ room is generally a bad idea, but the sentiment goes plenty of the way towards explaining how aggrieved Carlisle felt on the back of Mr Salisbury’s iffy decision.

“Southampton are a good side,” added Abbott.

“They will win games, improve and be up there challenging for the play-offs.” Carlisle’s manager duly flagged up another reasonable point which might otherwise be lost in the reams of analysis which a game like this, and an outcome like that, inevitably triggers. United, without being fluent or easy on the eye, fronted up strongly to an able Saints team who have just about adjusted to life after their plummet from the Championship last term.

That’s why the finale bit so hard. On balance of play, Pardew’s team may have been value for a point.

That couldn’t be less relevant, however, since on balance of play this season Carlisle might themselves be leaping into League One’s top half. The key stat from minute one to 94 on Saturday is that United – through an increasingly powerful and persistent second half performance – forced a goal out of the game and their visitors didn’t.

It should have been enough. It wasn’t. But that doesn’t mean we can’t commend the Cumbrians for containing Southampton; for restricting their £1 million sniper Rickie Lambert to half-chances; for vindicating, in part, Abbott’s pre-match claim that “we generally do well against these types of clubs” (referring to the Saints’ stature).

If you are going to commit to print the recurring defects in Abbott’s team – the lack of genuine creative cunning through the middle, for instance, and the fact that goals have to be forced out of the side rather than delivered in a flow – you also have to balance the scales with an appreciation of their strengths. They were typified on Saturday by the recalled Richard Keogh, the relentless Matty Robson and the redoubtable Pidgeley, who scarcely deserved to fall victim to the kind of last-gasp mistake which haunts every ‘keeper in the land.

Ninety-five minutes earlier, Carlisle had rolled the ball forward with a degree of purpose in front of an eerily-precise crowd of 7,000. Opening up at a high tempo, they unsettled Southampton via an Ian Harte free-kick which triggered some penalty-area pinball, a Robson corner which somehow fizzed right through the six-yard box, and then a surge down the left and cross from Richard Offiong which evaded the sliding Kevan Hurst by a whisker.

Southampton, their team packed with muscular and expensive talent, were always likely to emerge, and in Adam Lallana and Jacob Mellis they possessed two intelligent young players who were starting to link midfield and attack effectively. It took a stunning tackle from Tom Taiwo to deny Mellis in the Carlisle box, and then a grateful grab from Pidgeley after Mellis had ambushed Harte and crossed for Joseph Mills at the back stick.

The game continued to fizz back and forward across Brunton Park’s smooth turf. Taiwo battered an Offiong flick into a Southampton body; Paul Thirlwell steamed back to thwart the counter-attacking Mills. Pidgeley tipped away a corner as Jaidi motored into view; Kelvin Davis nudged away an equally threatening Hurst cross. Robson booted a Neal Trotman header off United’s line, Pidgeley athletically tipped over from Lambert and then, after Harte’s dominant header was hacked off the Saints line by Dan Harding, half-time allowed us all to exhale.

After the interval, and that warmly-received parade of former United heroes, it began again, albeit at a less frenetic pace. Gaps generally became tricker to find, but for Southampton’s edge in possession there was a growing sense that Carlisle’s own energy might provoke something.

And it did, after Taiwo had put a tricky chance onto Dobie’s head and then Mellis had lashed a belting opportunity into the side-netting on the counter. Carlisle’s next raid put them in front, as Joe Anyinsah played in Robson, and the winger’s sprint towards the target eventually allowed Taiwo to whack in a shot which ricocheted off a Saints body and then Dobie, the ball dropping happily for the Cumbrian to roll in the most basic of chances in his eighth minute on the pitch after replacing Offiong.

Yes, it was perhaps the simplest goal the 30-year-old will ever score. But Dobie has absorbed ample criticism for his failings in front of goal at Oldham the previous weekend, so let’s throw the man some praise for putting himself in the right place on this occasion. Now we wait for the confidence-infusing effects of his first strike of the league campaign.

In the meantime, it fell to United to see out the closing 20 minutes here. Pidgeley superbly clawed away another Lambert header and then plummeted bravely to his left to deny the same man, incidents which sandwiched a race down the other end by Robson which ended with a low shot that flashed just past Davis’ post.

Then came the descent into injury-time, United’s desperate attempts to loosen the noose of late Southampton pressure, that free-kick call by Mr Salisbury, an inswinging delivery from Morgan Schneiderlin, Pidgeley’s solitary slip, and Jaidi’s gleeful header at the end of the ground more famous for what Jimmy Glass did there 10 years previously.

Two things we didn’t need a commemorative magazine to tell us on Saturday: strange things come to pass at Brunton Park once the clock ticks past 90 minutes, and refereeing aberrations don’t tend to get past the locals unchecked. Ultimately, all that happened two days ago was that a couple of traditions were faithfully observed. Abbott and his fuming players might get round to acknowledging that, if you give them another 100 years.

LENNY PIDGELEY – Did all his duties with great authority and skill until that final, cruel mistake.

DAVID RAVEN – Solid afternoon’s work, the right-back didn’t do much wrong.

IAN HARTE – A couple of slips but improved with some strong challenges and kept United on front foot down the left.

DANNY LIVESEY – A little short of his best in first half but grew in authority after the break.

RICHARD KEOGH – A fine, committed return from the fit-again centre-half against Saints’ testing frontmen.

PAUL THIRLWELL – Put in some important tackles as he went about his usual midfield work.

TOM TAIWO – Energetic as ever and tried to add his presence to United’s attacking at various stages.

MATTY ROBSON – Always positive and dangerous, particularly in second half when the game opened up.

KEVAN HURST – Mixed day for the right-winger, plenty of effort but didn’t exert huge influence on the game.

JOE ANYINSAH – Needed all his strength and persistence to keep up the attacking threat against the bulk of Jaidi and Trotman.

RICHARD OFFIONG – Didn’t trouble Saints consistently, although aerial service probably not to his advantage.

Subs: Scott Dobie (for Offiong, 62) – Pounced for welcome goal; Not used: Adam Collin, Evan Horwood, Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, Peter Murphy, Graham Kavanagh, Gavin Rothery.

Booked: Raven

Goal: Dobie 70

Southampton: Davis, Harding, Jaidi, Trotman, James, Mellis (Holmes 76), Hammond, Schneiderlin, Mills (Waigo 64), Lallana, Lambert. Not used: Bialkowski, Saganowski, Perry, Wotton, Patterson.

Goal: Jaidi 90

Ref: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire)

Crowd: 7,000.

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