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Friday, 18 April 2014

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Last-gasp Thirlwell secures deserved point for Carlisle Utd

Leyton Orient 2 Carlisle United 2: Greg Abbott described the act of picking his starting XI on Saturday as the toughest task of his reign so far.

Carlisle action photo
Tom Taiwo beats Orient’s Ryan Jarvis

Make that second toughest now, because nothing has tested Carlisle’s manager quite so much as the need to clamp his tongue after a penalty decision that spun this game beyond his team’s control.

Somehow Abbott contained his wrath into the following curt sentence: “I never criticise referees too much, but it was one bad decision and it changed the game.”

It was as if the United boss was using kitchen tongs to lift his words from this confounding match and then drop them carefully into the public domain. To have done otherwise would have invited the attention of the Football Association’s disciplinary beaks, of course.

Abbott’s captain and United’s eventual saviour, Paul Thirlwell, also sensibly declined an invitation to say what the Cumbrian dressing room really thought of Graham Horwood’s 46th-minute call to penalise Peter Murphy for a high-footed challenge in the box, from which Scott McGleish took Orient’s game-turning equaliser. But don’t doubt the extent of Carlisle’ fury.

Decisions, decisions. Let this not be a grievance United and the rest of us lug around for too long, because a) ‘ref rants’ are among the most distracting, tedious things in the game today, and b) there are better things to be saying about the quality of Carlisle’s football just now. But equally, let us not allow incidents like Saturday’s to sail through customs unchecked.

From the press vantage point at the Matchroom Stadium (and most others, judging by the general absence of home appeals for a foul) there were some clear enough reasons why the penalty shouldn’t have been given. The main one is that Murphy’s boot, although raised, wasn’t elevated especially highly as Ryan Jarvis stooped to head. “Dangerous play” it wasn’t.

“Their bench were staggered and were offering their apologies,” added Abbott, straining at his leash of verbal restraint, after watching McGleish score a second time in the 85th minute to plunge the Blues towards their first away reverse of 2009/10, until Thirlwell popped up with a splendid goal in injury-time.

The record needs to show that Carlisle were easy value for a point in London and wouldn’t have been flattered remotely had they banked all three. If the criticism holds that the Cumbrians didn’t blast Orient out of sight during their long spells of dominance, it should also be noted that they are laying down some tighter performances, with a more reliable pattern of play emerging than was visible last season.

There was an almost embarrassing superiority about much of their work in the first half, when they took a 42nd-minute lead through Matty Robson. Then came the penalty which briefly took an axe to their state of well-being. Into the negative column drops the memory of Orient’s avoidable second goal, but don’t finish your analysis without a word about the resolve that took United back down the Os’ end and led to Thirlwell’s act of salvation.

“It was as good as we have played on our travels,” continued Abbott, whose team have emerged from duels on the road with Millwall, Stockport, Bristol City and Orient unbeaten in the season’s first month. It wasn’t the complete performance, because there was a spell of sterility in the second half which might have been enlivened by an earlier substitution (Richard Offiong, the new signing, and Gary Madine weren’t summoned into action until late in the day).

But the level of threat they posed to the other team’s target was on a different page entirely to what we saw for much of last season. That alone implies progress. It took them fully 10 seconds to force their first corner on Saturday, and by the time Kevan Hurst and Joe Anyinsah had put matching shots just off target in the ninth and 10th minutes, a sense of United dominance was emerging.

The opening goal should have been delivered on the quarter-hour, when Hurst skinned Charlie Daniels and clipped a cross to the near post, but Anyinsah – who was slowly torturing the Os’ plodding centre-half Luke Ashworth – headed wastefully wide.

A hash of an overhead kick from McGleish was the best Geraint Williams’ men could summon at this point, as Carlisle’s obdurate midfield pair of Thirlwell and Tom Taiwo shielded their defence with admirable aggression.

A diving header from Scott Dobie, saved by Glenn Morris, preceded the overdue opener shortly before the interval. Moments later, Carlisle dealt with an Orient corner and broke through David Raven and Hurst, who sent young Taiwo scurrying into enemy territory. He fed the overlapping Robson, and the ex-Hartlepool man finished confidently.

Never was a lead so handsomely deserved. Yet a minute into the second period, it was zapped, when Jason Demetriou chipped the ball into Jarvis, Murphy made his challenge and Mr Horwood made his costly call.

Orient were inevitably lifted by McGleish’s spot-kick (buried twice, after the official ordered a re-taken for encroachment) but United continued to fashion the more authentic chances. Danny Livesey drew a flying save from Morris with a header from Ian Harte’s free-kick, Dobie poked a fine chance straight at the Os ‘keeper after a scramble, then the Cumbrian shot on the turn and was again denied by the home custodian.

Eventually, Orient stirred. Demetriou nipped into the box and went to ground under Raven’s challenge – appeals dismissed this time by the referee – and McGleish blasted one just wide from 25 yards before the veteran poacher finally rippled the net for the second time.

It started with an off-target pass from Raven, which was collected by Jimmy Smith and advanced to Adrian Patulea on the edge of the United box. The long-haired sub spun intelligently away from Livesey and slotted the ball to McGleish, who cruised into space and clipped the chance over Pidgeley.

Carlisle’s ‘keeper had greater success a minute later, heroically denying McGleish as he raced through for a likely hat-trick. How crucial this save would be. United’s final surges took place with Offiong finally pitched into battle at Murphy’s expense, and they almost cracked it when Madine rose to meet a Robson cross but was brilliantly denied by the diving Morris.

Orient’s admirable gloveman had no answer to Thirlwell’s 92nd minute peach, however: the skipper emerging on the right of the area before cutting back and curling a perfect left-footer into the bottom corner, proving that his quartet of useful goals last season did not hit the net by accident.

Carlisle’s captain deserves credit for bolting a genuine goalscoring threat onto his game at the start of his fourth decade. And self-improvement can still go down as a workable theme for the rest of his team-mates, even if the frustration of not beating sides as obviously weak as Orient might return to bite when more demanding opponents are occupying the other half of the field.

A broad observation from the campaign’s first month is that United have started this season more coherently than they ended the last. The next requirement is to turn the trickle of victories into a flow (which is where Offiong presumably comes in). Dodging the occasional refereeing gaffe would be a decent habit for them to start forming, too.

LENNY PIDGELEY: Close to keeping out McGleish’s penalty, and made a crucial save from the veteran late on.

DAVID RAVEN:Hardly put a foot wrong until the 85th minute, when his wayward pass led to the Os’ second goal.

IAN HARTE: Solid, uncompromising defending from the left-back, whose set-pieces posed Orient problems.

DANNY LIVESEY: His usual battling effort at the heart of Abbott’s rearguard, and was an occasional threat at set-pieces.

PETER MURPHY: Harshly penalised for Orient’s spot-kick amid a steady enough performance at the back.

PAUL THIRLWELL: Sturdy overall display from the skipper, who popped up with the vital late leveller.

TOM TAIWO: Had the measure of midfield and United missed the all-action teenager when an achilles problem forced his withdrawal.

MATTY ROBSON: Ex-Hartlepool man took his goal well and put in some testing crosses from the left.

KEVAN HURST: Kept home rearguard occupied down the right, decent on the ball.

JOE ANYINSAH: Had the beating of Ashworth, a shame Carlisle couldn’t isolate the Orient defender more.

SCOTT DOBIE: Held ball up well and got into some decent positions without taking advantage.

Subs: Graham Kavanagh (for Taiwo, 68); Gary Madine (for Dobie, 81) – So close to late goal 6; Richard Offiong (for Murphy, 87) – Unremarkable late debut 6. Not used: Adam Collin, Tony Kane, Gavin Rothery, Evan Horwood.

UNITED Goals: Robson 42, Thirlwell 90

Orient: Morris, Purches, Mkandawire, Ashworth, Daniels, Demetriou, Smith, Townsend (Chambers 54), Melligan, McGleish, Jarvis (Patuela 70). Not used: Cave-Brown, Pires, Baker, Hall, Giddens.

ORIENT Goals: McGleish 48 (pen), 85

Crowd: 3,546 (424 away fans)

Ref: Graham Horwood (Luton)

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