Cracking strikes save Carlisle Utd's league one skin
Last updated at 11:52, Monday, 04 May 2009
Carlisle Utd 2 Millwall 0: This was ecstasy with a ‘but’. Jubilation with brackets.
The riotous acclaim which followed Carlisle United’s thrilling escape from relegation came with a whopping condition which needs to be repeated a thousand times between now and August.
It is that Saturday’s thundering victory over Millwall, which secured a fourth straight term of League One football in Cumbria, needs to be remembered as the day a quite insipid season was shoved into a cell and locked away for good.
Carlisle liberated themselves two days ago, but every decision-maker at Brunton Park needs to know that they are only out on parole. Total forgiveness can only be granted if scissors are taken to the thread of incompetence which has run through most of 2008/9 down Warwick Road.
First, today, it is right and proper to scatter praise over Greg Abbott and his players for a performance of energy, nerve and quality against one of the third division’s platinum sides (a few tributes can go Leeds’ way, as well, after the unloved Yorkshire giants whipped Northampton and ensured that Carlisle’s own survival work was not wasted).
Soon, however, the bouquets will be gathered up and put to one side. Then we will be left with the same club we have been staring at for most of this excruciating campaign: one which has staggered and lurched through nearly 10 months of failure until Graham Kavanagh and Paul Thirlwell timed their personal goal-of-the-season duel to perfection.
The midfielders’ matching missiles ensured Carlisle can plot journeys to Charlton and Southampton instead of Dagenham and Burton. That fact alone is worth some staring time after a day which United started in grievous arrears near the foot of League One.
And certainly, nobody can deny Kavanagh, Thirlwell or their team-mates the right to toast their own deeds, since it could all have been dramatically, desperately worse. But there is also a ban on any United high-roller using this remarkable crescendo as a means of camouflaging the deficiencies within. Andrew Jenkins’ Carlisle’s veteran chairman, set an appropriate early tone by using his programme notes to “apologise for the poor season we have just completed”.
The obligation on Jenkins and his fellow owners – and Abbott, if the manager is to remain in office in the face of lingering public criticism – is now to make Carlisle appear ambitious again, capable of skimming the heights of this division instead of splashing around in the gutter.
On Saturday’s evidence, there are frankly too many good things to waste. Leading the way was the impressively boisterous crowd of 9,470 (apart from the hasty few who invaded the pitch before the final whistle, and the sad collective who elected to taunt the Millwall supporters instead of congratulating their own team at close of play). Next in line came Abbott’s players, all of whom were responsible for this triumphant performance at the end of a season most will prefer to forget.
Pre-match, it was all about Jimmy Glass and the miracle of 1999 as the goalscoring ‘keeper trotted out to a stirring welcome. There was no fairy story 10 years later; just a simple exhibition of Cumbrian superiority. This was evident in United’s urgent early play, which led to Joe Anyinsah shielding strongly and laying the ball to Kavanagh, whose ripping strike from distance in the seventh minute smashed through the tension.
There have been days this season when Kavanagh’s qualities have deserted him; others when the veteran’s lingering class has been there in neon. This was an afternoon from Column B. Recalled after suspension, at Chris Lumsdon’s expense, the player-coach kept United rumbling on after Neil Harris had spooned over a makeable ninth-minute chance for the visitors.
Carlisle’s purpose and zeal repeatedly took them into dangerous places. Lewis Neal’s clipped pass had Anyinsah steaming through, but Tony Craig made a sliding interception. Cleveland Taylor, an inspiration down the right all afternoon, drew a save from David Forde with a neat volley. Later, Anyinsah’s pace on the counter-attack took him to the edge of the Millwall box, but the raiding Neal smashed his pass into the Warwick Road End.
At the rear, United were as sturdy as the situation demanded. Peter Murphy, normally a centre-half, excelled at left-back while David Raven, Richard Keogh, Ian Harte and Ben Williams absorbed most Millwall attacks. On the brink of half-time, the relentless Kavanagh also charged back to clear after Harris had skipped into the box from the right.
News of Leeds’ opener swept the stadium. Then came another sonic boom five minutes into the second half, when the ball popped up for Thirlwell 25 yards from goal and the captain arrowed his left-footed volley beyond Forde’s reach.
It was the goal that soothed Cumbrian nerves, since United had proved themselves incapable of retaining a one-goal lead in so many recent engagements. Taylor almost made it three when he popped up on the right of the box, but Andy Frampton hastily intervened.
At the other end, Kenny Jackett’s mostly becalmed troops roused themselves into a couple of dangerous surges, notably when Kavanagh diverted James Henry’s cross fractionally over the home target, and later when Gary Alexander temporarily loosened Keogh’s shackles and planted a soaring header against the bar.
The penultimate scare came 15 minutes from time, when sub Jason Price scampered onto Craig’s pass and plunged to ground under Keogh’s challenge. Referee Neil Swarbrick saw no infringement; an alternative view would have seen the United defender – the last man – sent off. By the time Nadjim Abdou whacked one wide in the 88th minute, however, Carlisle had completed a pretty steady job of shutting the game down.
Ditto Leeds, who motored to a 3-0 win to confirm Northampton’s demise, as Brighton dodged fate’s bullet with a late Nicky Forster goal at home to Stockport.
Somehow the Seagulls finished their own traumatic season in 16th position, while United remained in the third tier despite a run of three wins from 21 matches: two facts which, it needs to be said, expose the general mediocrity of League One and the inconsistency of its members.
Carlisle earned their latest term at that level by scooping up all their energy and combative courage and turning it into a 90-minute festival of the spirit, while accepting fortune’s timely swing back towards Brunton Park (how many other times this season would Kavanagh and Thirlwell’s shots have simply sailed to nowhere, and how often might Alexander’s header otherwise have dipped under Ben Williams’ bar?).
The day’s daunting demands – United needed to win to have any chance of survival – actually helped Abbott, too, since a tactical shift to sit on the 1-0 lead would have been too risky. Carlisle continued to attack with greater daring, kept their foot on the Londoners’ throat, because they had to.
What they also have to do is fence off this campaign and give the poor, bloody infantry on the terraces more reasons to come back.
“I’m going to have to sell something so I can buy a season ticket now,” said one frazzled fan as he descended the Main Stand and trudged back towards the recession.
That’s the stimulating effect of one momentous afternoon. It’s also United’s cue to give the man proper value for his dosh in 2009/10.
BEN WILLIAMS - Rarely tested by the visiting strikeforce but claimed a stream of Millwall crosses and set a confident tone.
DAVID RAVEN - The Lions made few inroads down the left and Raven was as solid as he needed to be.
PETER MURPHY - First game at left-back for some time but was a picture of composure and quality throughout.
RICHARD KEOGH - Along with Williams, he is United’s most improved player in recent weeks and this was another towering display.
IAN HARTE - Priority number one for Carlisle must be to secure the Eire man on a longer deal, after another authoritative performance.
PAUL THIRLWELL - Brilliant clinching goal capped a midfield effort high on aggression and discipline.
GRAHAM KAVANAGH - Returned from ban with a stupendous opening strike, and made Millwall’s midfielders look ordinary.
LEWIS NEAL - Provided some clever passes and dangerous runs on the counter-attack for the Blues.
CLEVELAND TAYLOR - Defensive work high up the field was inspiring, and the winger gave the visiting defence plenty of problems too.
JOE ANYINSAH - Strong, persistent front running vindicated Abbott’s decision to recall him.
SCOTT DOBIE - Led the line with heaps of effort and never allowed the Millwall back line to settle.
Subs: Danny Graham (for Dobie, 79) - Helped Blues close game out; Not used: Chris Lumsdon, Tony Kane, Gary Madine, Ian Morris.
First published at 11:22, Monday, 04 May 2009
Published by http://www.newsandstar.co.uk
Have your say
well done to Carlisle United. As a loyal supporter there has been a lack of guidance in the club since this board took over . I dont think greg abbott should take all the blame.we look forward to next season have a nice summer from andrew Ryan
If we carry on how we finished this season then i will go back to walking my dogs on a saturday afternoon,days at brunton park are not cheap these days and i expect to be entertained but at the moment i get more pleasure from throwing sticks in the eden than watching this pathetic excuse for a football team.
All it is is woof bang it foward and hope we create something from a flick-on,nothing more.
Not all the managers fault but it does start with him first and foremost so he must expect plenty of stick.
Hopefully summer will bring around new signings and a change of direction in play or else it will be bitts park for me and the dogs and not brunton park!!!
keith "terrior" lard
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