Carlisle Utd ninety minutes from Wembley final after beating Leeds
Last updated at 11:42, Wednesday, 20 January 2010
Leeds United 1 Carlisle United 2: Leeds United’s disgruntled followers are probably rewriting one of football’s oldest terrace ditties today.
“Can we play anyone but you every week?” is the song that would capture the rising feeling of White Rose irritation whenever Carlisle United swing into Elland Road.
Expect Ken Bates, Leeds’ irascible chairman, to commission an academic study into the Cumbrians’ peerless record at this Yorkshire stronghold. From five visits to Bates’ manor since 2008, the worst United have managed is an unfortunate 3-2 defeat when Leeds’ winner carried a stench of handball. Their four most recent trips have since brought one draw and a trio of belting victories.
Simon Grayson’s team have not lost a league match on their own acres for more than a year. That tells you how forbidding Elland Road has become as Leeds strain to escape League One at the third attempt. It also puts Carlisle’s opportunist cup triumph last night into the most stunning context.
Don’t let any white-shirted loyalist attempt to dilute United’s win here by claiming Grayson’s men – whose overwhelming priority is promotion – throttled back for the demands of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Northern Final. A home team-sheet containing such talent as Jermaine Beckford, Richard Naylor, Leigh Bromby, Jonny Howson, Bradley Johnson, Neil Kilkenny and Mike Grella hardly implies managerial apathy.
True, some Leeds supporters probably cringe at the sight of their heroes facing-off with Carlisle in a competition previously sponsored by Auto-Windscreens and Leyland DAF, when their brains can still churn out memories of Champions League collisions at this famous arena. But do not doubt that Grayson went for Carlisle last night. The highly-regarded manager picked a team he hoped would pummel Greg Abbott’s troops and clear a lucrative path to Wembley.
That it is the Blues, and not Leeds, who take a 2-1 lead into February 9’s second leg is to the immeasurable credit of Abbott and his doughty players. The blue flag was planted in Elland Road’s turf once again thanks to Graham Kavanagh’s net-ripping first half strike, Joe Anyinsah’s snaffled winner and the kind of big-stage defiance which almost brought Carlisle unbridled joy in the FA Cup at Everton 17 days earlier.
The chance of a kind of redemption for 2008’s play-off demise is now in Cumbrian mitts. Two years ago they also skipped back to Brunton Park with a 2-1 advantage before the dream perished. Then, Dougie Freedman’s injury-time consolation goal in the first leg gave Leeds the tailwind which helped them take aggregate victory. The difference this time is that the momentum is with United, thanks to Anyinsah’s 84th minute header which zapped a sustained surge of home pressure.
United, with Adam Clayton a welcome sight back in midfield after his loan return from Manchester City, and Lenny Pidgeley given an outing in goal at Adam Collin’s expense, had to sponge up some early attacks last night, too. Leeds opened up with a trio of menacing forays, the best of which saw Johnson slide Beckford through on goal only for the normally lethal striker to clip his shot wide.
Soon enough, however, Abbott’s men rose. Kavanagh, given licence to create behind Scott Dobie (the lone hunter in Carlisle’s 4-5-1 system), duly assembled a first-half masterclass, starting with a 12th minute nudge which allowed Matty Robson to fizz a low cross onto Kevan Hurst’s toe at the back post, obliging Bromby to make a desperate goalline clearance.
The centre-half then stretched to deny Dobie after Robson had torn down the left onto a wayward home pass and tested Casper Ankergren. United’s keenness for the contest was by now glowing. Pidgeley dealt with another Beckford effort at the near post, but then the Blues swept back downfield and scored.
Robson, again, devoured umpteen yards on the counter-attack and fed the ball back to Evan Horwood, whose arrowing cross was met by Richard Keogh. Kavanagh, in pleasing defiance of his 36 years, motored onto the defender’s knock-down and aimed a violent volley high into Ankergren’s net. Nobody in Carlisle’s ranks can connect with the bag of air quite like their player-coach at moments like this.
Leeds’ response was a triumph of bluster over craft. Grella curled one wide from distance, then had a bicycle kick parried by the alert Pidgeley. Between those chances was a startling scare, when Tom Taiwo turned and aimed a weak pass to his goalkeeper from deep in the rival half, but the raiding Beckford was only able to meet his good fortune with a limp, lofted finish into Pidgeley’s arms.
Matching blasts at the other end from Hurst and Kavanagh drew saves from Ankergren, before Kavanagh was ambushed in midfield and Robert Snodgrass slipped Beckford through to the left of the target. This time, the post came to United’s aid, before the first half reached its breathless end.
Then, finally, came the Leeds riposte. After Ian Harte squandered a makeable header early in the second half, Grayson’s men gave the dial of pressure a twist and equalised, working the ball left to Andrew Hughes, whose deep cross was met with a scoring header by the undetected Jason Crowe.
Cue the stride to victory, many home supporters must have presumed. Crowe almost snatched a quick second, but volleyed over. Johnson smashed a 20-yarder down Pidgeley’s throat. Crowe, cutting in, then curled one millimetres wide. Pidgeley saved from Snodgrass, Johnson poked a volley wide, and the best Carlisle could manage themselves was to come up for a gulp of oxygen with a wayward drive from Kavanagh.
With 15 minutes to go, Carlisle’s revival finally gathered more convincing pace. Anyinsah, on for Dobie, offered fresh legs and a more muscular problem for Grayson’s centre-halves. Released by Taiwo, the substitute made one promising sprint down the right which Naylor intercepted at the moment of truth.
Then came his moment to savour, as United earned a free-kick on the right, Harte curled in the most troubling of set-pieces at his old haunt, and Anyinsah stole in front of Ankergren to devour the header. The handful of closing minutes were, inevitably, not devoid of drama. United glimpsed a third goal when the endlessly-impressive Clayton advanced from midfield but delayed his shot. Then, at the death, Leeds’ Argentine sub Luciano Becchio drew a remarkable save from Pidgeley before Danny Livesey heaved the follow-up effort off the line.
The need for 90 more minutes of this spirit to complete the job in three weeks’ time is so obvious it scarcely requires committing to print. Likewise the obligation on Abbott’s players to take ruthless care of Stockport on Saturday, when a backward stagger in the league would taint this joyous cup win.
But it’s also necessary to take any victory at Elland Road in isolation and throw due plaudits towards its authors. As a rule, romance rarely adheres to the ‘Paint Pot’, unless you count crisis-gripped Luton pipping Championship-bound Scunthorpe to the trophy last April whilst tumbling out of the League.
Carlisle booting Leeds off the road to Wembley at its final junction would therefore go down as another of the competition’s most uplifting tales. And our riveting sub-plot on February 9 will be United’s shining opportunity to heal some of 2008’s lingering scars. Let them take it.
LENNY PIDGELEY- Not adequately positioned for Crowe’s goal, but made a string of excellent saves including injury-time heroics.
RICHARD KEOGH - Towering header to create Kavanagh’s opener, and defended strongly throughout.
EVAN HORWOOD - Linked well with Robson, used the ball capably, defended responsibly.
DANNY LIVESEY - Stuck to his task against the elusive Beckford and led the second-half rearguard well.
IAN HARTE - Masterful set-piece for Anyinsah’s winner, and a composed defensive display against former club.
TOM TAIWO - Chasing and tackling disrupted Leeds’ midfield play. Only blemish the backpass that nearly cost United.
ADAM CLAYTON - The most welcome of returns. Used the ball smartly and gave hosts plenty of problems.
GRAHAM KAVANAGH - Freed to attack by his younger colleagues, he responded with stunning goal and more intelligent contributions.
MATTY ROBSON - His pace in the first-half was a potent weapon, and he kept plugging away after the break. 7
KEVAN HURST - Millimetres away from an early goal, and got through plenty of important work down right.
SCOTT DOBIE - Lone striker had the night’s most thankless job, but Dobie didn’t shirk from his duties. 7
Subs: Anyinsah (for Dobie 68) - Heroic winner. 8; Bridge-Wilkinson (for Kavanagh 83) - Fresh legs. 6. Not used: Collin, Murphy, Offiong.
Goals: Kavanagh 21, Anyinsah 84
Leeds: Ankergren, Crowe, Hughes, Naylor, Bromby, Howson, Kilkenny, Johnson, Snodgrass, Beckford, Grella (Becchio 83). Not used: Jones, Doyle, Michalik, White.
Goal: Crowe 56
Ref: Andy Penn (West Midlands)
First published at 11:28, Wednesday, 20 January 2010
Published by http://www.newsandstar.co.uk
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