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Friday, 11 July 2014

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Forster double sinks Carlisle Utd at Brunton Park

Carlisle United 0 Brighton & Hove Albion 2: Hindsight now tells us that Brighton’s Russell Slade threw the first managerial curve ball of Carlisle’s season with his pre-match claim that his team’s youth and vitality would have to carry the day over United’s experience if the Seagulls were to fly south with three points on Saturday.

Kevan Hurst photo
Kevan Hurst

Nothing of the sort happened, of course. It was the penalty-box wiles of Nicky Forster, Albion’s 36-year-old sniper, that put daylight between hosts and visitors on a steaming Cumbrian afternoon.

“Forster is a proven goalscorer who, given half a sniff, will score goals,” observed Slade’s beaten counterpart, Greg Abbott. The tally sheet reads that United gave the ageless striker a total of one-and-a-half sniffs during 90 minutes, enough for him to claim two goals and have a third wiped out for offside.

That this was sufficient to do for Carlisle for the third time at Brunton Park this season tells you plenty about what Brighton brought 364 miles up the country two days ago, and what Abbott’s team left at home: namely, a capability to settle a demanding game with a moment or two of clinical quality. Forster’s capability, in other words.

Sometimes, in defeat, you have to stack all your frustrations in a pile at the side and then clear the way for the members of the other lot who made it all happen. Brighton’s tough and diligent defenders get plenty of floor space for successfully shutting down Carlisle’s own attackers, but they still have to drop into line behind Forster, who has been rippling the net on a regular basis since 1992.

Small wonder that the baseball-capped Slade declined to top off his eve-of-battle address with a reminder about what Forster was capable of doing to Carlisle. After poaching his fourth and fifth goals of the season – one in either half – the old stager boarded the Albion coach, presumably before a member of the Blues backroom staff could kidnap him for United’s own purposes.

This isn’t to discredit the encouraging work put in recently by men like Joe Anyinsah and Scott Dobie in Carlisle’s front line. It’s merely to say that, on this belting afternoon, the Blues’ own forward-thinking was flawed. Three home defeats by mid-September suggests the visible improvement Abbott’s team have made these past few weeks was never going to advance completely unchecked.

A work in progress will always cough up flaws and problems. On Saturday Carlisle proved themselves incapable of cutting holes in Slade’s aggressive back line. Add to that deficiency a couple of defensive slips which let in the predatory Forster and Brighton’s claim to the points, and their first triumph over United in eight attempts, is beyond dispute.

“We weren’t useless – we just didn’t do enough to win the game,” added Abbott. Fair comment. Countless worse United displays than this have flashed before our eyes in recent months. The trick Abbott must work now is to prevent this setback from eating into the confidence generated by the four-game unbeaten run which Albion just detonated.

That confidence was on show after fully 16 seconds on Saturday, in fact, when Anyinsah slipped the ball inside to Dobie and the Cumbrian troubled the Seagulls’ goalkeeper Michel Kuipers with a firm low shot. The positive spirit was already spreading across Brunton Park, until Forster intervened four minutes later.

That Carlisle did not give the impression of being totally convincing at the rear on this afternoon probably had lots to do with the manner of Brighton’s opener: an exasperating bout of head-tennis which resulted in Arron Davies nudging the ball to Forster in space, allowing the veteran to carefully clip the ball over Lenny Pidgeley.

United’s response was predictably energetic, with the relentless Matty Robson appearing their most promising outlet down the left. Shortly after Brighton’s opener, Danny Livesey steamed onto a Kevan Hurst corner and headed just wide. Then a long-throw from Robson panicked Tommy Elphick into a miscued header which Kuipers had to tip over his own bar.

This was the preamble to the brain explosion suffered by referee Andy Haines, who somehow failed to detect Andrew Crofts claiming a fistful of Livesey’s shirt in the Brighton box in the 18th minute, an aberration which, when followed by a Forster dive in the Carlisle area moments later and a further perplexing free-kick decision by Mr Haines, served to infuriate Abbott to the extent that the fourth official had to intervene as heated words were batted between the technical areas.

Tempers were eventually settled; the game resumed. Anyinsah, who attracted the limpet-like attentions of Brighton’s defenders all afternoon (his recent performances have evidently not gone unnoticed by rival scouts) showed one impressive burst of speed to evade two visiting players, but failed to test Kuipers. Robson then clattered a shot against a Brighton body. At the other end, Davies whipped a free shot narrowly wide, then Hurst replied with an off-target curler, and Graham Kavanagh and David Raven saw fierce shots of their own repelled on the brink of the break.

Brighton’s resolve quickly showed up again in the second half, when James Tunnicliffe thwarted the sliding Anyinsah at the near post after Robson’s impressive run and cross. After Dobie’s confidence appeared to desert him when given a decent opening to run for goal, Abbott then decided to give Richard Offiong’s pace a whirl from the bench in pursuit of an equaliser. At which point Forster leapt from the bushes to ambush the Cumbrians again.

Maybe it was the startling presence of so many Brighton shirts in Carlisle’s half that cost United the crucial second, such was the hosts’ territorial dominance by now. No matter: Elliott Bennett’s pass, Liam Dickinson’s delayed cross and Forster’s ghosting run and point-blank finish effectively put matters beyond United’s reach.

A goal-line tap in, after Pidgeley had parried Gary Dicker’s shot, seemed to have completed the striker’s hat-trick shortly afterwards, but the offside flag tempered Forster’s jubilation. From that point on it was simply left to Carlisle to force their final chances out of the game, the best of which saw Livesey have two attempts blocked and then Offiong inexplicably head a volleyed Robson cross at Kuipers’ legs, when the ex-Hamilton man’s maiden United goal seemed certain.

In truth, it was a snapshot of their afternoon, which left Abbott and the rest of us mourning the lack of a lockpicker’s touch around the penalty area on a day when the physical battle was generally being won by the enemy.

“There’s not too much to be over-critical about, but we need to do better in both boxes,” concluded Carlisle’s manager. That’s another valid assessment which he can put into action on the training pitch this week, safe in the knowledge that Nicky Forster won’t be appearing on his agenda again until April 10 next year. The 208 days until then are advised to crawl by.

LENNY PIDGELEY - Little to do other than pick Forster’s goals out of his net. Dealt with crosses well.

DAVID RAVEN - The pick of Carlisle’s back four, the right-back didn’t do much wrong.

IAN HARTE - Distribution mixed but the ex-Leeds stalwart was generally secure in defence.

DANNY LIVESEY - Troubled the Seagulls defence at set-pieces but, along with his team-mates, couldn’t snuff out Forster when it mattered.

PETER MURPHY - The long-serving defender has enjoyed many better days than this. Competed all game but not at his composed best.

PAUL THIRLWELL - Did his usual midfield duties well enough without setting the game alight.

GRAHAM KAVANAGH - Tried hard to inspire a comeback but the openings just didn’t come for the player-coach.

MATTY ROBSON - United’s most consistently threatening player who deserved better reward for his efforts.

KEVAN HURST - Saw plenty of the ball but couldn’t influence the game as he did against Tranmere.

JOE ANYINSAH - Well-shackled by Brighton’s physical defenders, did his best to give them the slip.

SCOTT DOBIE - A difficult afternoon against Slade’s tough back line. Committed as ever but struggled for opportunities.

Subs: Richard Offiong (for Dobie, 64) - Got in good positions but wasted golden chance; Tom Taiwo (for Kavanagh, 72) - Put bite into midfield but game was lost by then; Gary Madine (for Hurst, 72) - Toiled but couldn’t inspire comeback. Not used: Adam Collin, Evan Horwood, Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, Tony Kane.

Booked: Anyinsah

Brighton: Kuipers, El-Abd, Virgo, Elphick, Tunnicliffe, Dicker, Crofts, Bennett (Thornhill 89), A Davies, Forster, Dickinson (Hart 76). Not used: Wright, Navarro, McLeod, Smith, C Davies

Goals: Forster 4, 66

Booked: Dicker, Dickinson

Ref: Andy Haines (Tyne & Wear)

Crowd: 5,368

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