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Thursday, 10 July 2014

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Five star Carlisle Utd give high-flying MK Dons football lesson

Carlisle United 5 MK Dons 0: There are two possible explanations for what we saw at Brunton Park two days ago.

One is that Carlisle United’s mischievous fans were at it again with their lasers. The other is that the vision of MK Dons’ defenders wasn’t impaired at all, and that the Blues simply took them to school.

The first interpretation might get some sympathy around a table in a Monaco apartment, if nowhere else.

Ken Bates’ suggestion that the crafty use of light-emitting implements by United supporters was to blame for Leeds’ penalty shoot-out failings against “little” Carlisle (his word) last Tuesday gets the title for Most Creative Excuse of the Year.

Good luck to any conspiracy theorists who try to draw similar conclusions from events four days on. In truth, the only flashes of light visible to the naked eye on Saturday were those blue blurs, names of Robson, Hurst, Clayton, Duffy and others.

This is the best hangover cure on the market: to go out and do it all again, only twice as well. Carlisle’s midweek Wembley-clinching cup win over Bates’ club sent Greg Abbott and his team onto an emotional trampoline.

Then we felt obliged to ask whether it would take more than four days to restore all that spent energy, both mentally and physically.

With five goals and the most relentless second-half performance witnessed during Abbott’s 15-month rule, those queries can consider themselves spiked. United reduced one of League One’s genuine high-rollers to a set of humiliated shadows. Paul Ince, the Dons’ illustrious manager who was later moved to apologise to his travelling supporters, may have never felt so enfeebled.

“We played with gay abandon at times,” said Abbott. “It was terrific.” United normally prefer to put their followers through the mangle, so it was extra pleasing to witness the damage they are capable of creating when they keep their foot on their opponent’s throat.

Abbott’s men fully opened their shoulders after Darryl Duffy snaffled a goal on his home debut to put the Blues 3-0 up with nearly half-an-hour remaining. In the minutes that followed, Carlisle could have scored half-a-dozen more. They settled for an additional two, which was the minimum return their football deserved.

Led by the effervescent Matty Robson, whose left-wing display may haunt the Dons’ lumbering right-back Jude Stirling for the rest of his days, they assembled quite the most fizzing and ruthless football Brunton Park has seen for many months. “It was great to see the players showing that much confidence and positivity,” added Abbott.

At the very root of Carlisle’s victory was their manager’s decision to pair up Duffy and Scott Dobie in a pleasingly attack-minded 4-4-2 formation and carry the fight to Ince’s play-off contenders, who were significantly short of five senior defenders, were also missing their two best strikers – Jermaine Easter and Sam Baldock – through suspension and injury, and included the 40-year-old coach Alex Rae and a brace of YTS players on their bench.

Abbott denied that the depleted nature of the Dons line-up influenced this tactical shift from his preferred lone striker system, but he still gets high marks for a) refocusing his players’ minds on a still wide-open league campaign after their cup dramatics, and b) setting both Dobie and Duffy on Ince’s wobbling rearguard, allowing their team-mates further back to profit too.

The visitors’ modus operandi was to use Aaron Wilbraham’s height as a focal point and encourage the nimble-footed Luke Chadwick and Andros Townsend to create havoc between midfield and attack. The Dons duly bombed balls forward in the early stages, when there were little hint of the carnage that would follow.

In the ninth minute, Chadwick jinked forward and smuggled the ball, via Stephen Gleeson, to Dean Morgan, who dug out a shot that required a full-stretch save from Adam Collin. Morgan then had a free-kick attempt deflected behind as Carlisle battled to force their guests back.

It was not football at its most appealing, but through their early toil the first goal arrived. Pressure down the right led Sol Davis to head behind his own goal-line, and from Kevan Hurst’s delivery from the right, Ian Harte strolled into a meadow of space and headed home his 12th goal of the season.

Now United were perking up. Dobie bustled onto a half-chance down the right and blasted off target, then a Hurst free-kick provoked a scramble from which Carlisle were marginally unable to benefit. There was then a brief set-to between Dobie and Gleeson, when a heavy challenge from the former drew a bad-tempered reaction from the latter. Then Carlisle emerged from the tempest and scored again.

Adam Clayton, rising in influence amid the midfield disputes, turned intelligently away from attention on the right, cut inside and let rip with his left foot. The shot spun off a defender and deflected across the box, evading further Dons attention and landing for Robson, whose anticipation allowed him to snaffle the chance at the back post with a convincing finish across Willy Gueret.

Second-half events mean Robson can be forgiven his only blip of the day – the sitter he then missed from Dobie’s pass in front of goal. The wide man’s right foot was responsible for that spooned attempt. When the ball was transferred to his more reliable left peg after the interval, the effect was notably different.

United have sometimes descended into nervous confusion after taking a two-goal lead this season. Not this time. Two minutes into the second period and Peter Murphy – impressing at left-back in the absence of the injured Evan Horwood – won a corner which Duffy almost flicked home.

Murphy then raced back to block Peter Leven’s goalbound shot before United came again. On the hour, Harte’s ball out of defence was collected by Duffy, who ran through and failed to beat Gueret. Three minutes later, the Scot atoned splendidly, sneaking through two Dons bodies to poach his first Carlisle goal after Paul Thirlwell had sent Robson into perfect crossing territory.

All mental blockages were now cleared, as United swept on. Gueret saved desperately from Hurst, Duffy volleyed over a cross from the ebullient Richard Keogh, and then it was four: a pass from Murphy, an early cross from Robson, and an alert run from Dobie to get in front of his marker, control the dropping ball and fire a perfect shot past Gueret.

As Ince sent on Rae in an attempt to calm the storm, Abbott decided he could no longer hold Joe Anyinsah back from the fun. On he went for Dobie, and through the fit-again striker went to score a minute later, clipping home from close range after Duffy had dummied Murphy’s pass from the left.

Any other business? Yes; plenty. A standing ovation for Robson, as Ben Marshall trotted on. Another near miss from Harte after a corner. A couple more Anyinsah surges. Some token efforts from Chadwick, who curled one narrowly wide from the left. A fizzing, low shot from Marshall, which Gueret pushed away. A pacy drive from Anyinsah and a shot that bashed the crossbar. Then a final press from the visitors, dealt with by the admirable Murphy.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, and this is an up,” concluded Abbott, without fear of argument. “Hopefully it will spread some positive energy through the town.” Not bad for a little club, he might also have said, in the firm direction of Monte Carlo.

ADAM COLLIN – Sharp save kept out Morgan’s effort before United had embarked on their goal glut.

RICHARD KEOGH – Got the crowd going with some typically energetic contributions in both defence and attack.

PETER MURPHY – A classy alternative to the injured Horwood. Used the ball intelligently and linked well with Robson.

DANNY LIVESEY – For all United’s style, Livesey’s sturdy, no-nonsense defending played a big part in their victory.

IAN HARTE – Yet another goal, and a composed, error-free display at the back.

PAUL THIRLWELL – Full of aggression and appetite and had a hand in two goals.

ADAM CLAYTON – A supreme midfield performance from the Man City loanee, possibly his best for the Blues.

MATTY ROBSON – Scored one, made two and tortured Stirling down United’s left. Deserved his ovation. 

KEVAN HURST – Lively and creative down the right and his set-pieces were of particularly high quality.

SCOTT DOBIE – Kept the pressure on the Dons defence and took his goal with style.

DARRYL DUFFY – Classic centre-forward play to snaffle his first United goal during an impressive display alongside Dobie.

Subs: Joe Anyinsah (for Dobie 72) – Goalscoring return; Ben Marshall (for Robson 76) – Looked dangerous; Tom Taiwo (for Thirlwell 80) – Fresh legs. Not used: Lenny Pidgeley, Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, Richard Offiong, Tony Kane

Goals: Harte 21, Robson 39, Duffy 63, Dobie 71, Anyinsah 73

Booked: Dobie

MK Dons: Gueret, Stirling (Flanagan 82), Lewington, Tunnicliffe, Davis (Rae 72), Morgan (Gobern 53), Gleeson, Leven, Chadwick, Townsend, Wilbraham. Not used: Carrington, Howell, Randall, Harrison.

Booked: Gleeson, Chadwick, Townsend, Davis

Ref: Eddie Ilderton (Tyne & Wear)

Crowd: 4,930

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