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Thursday, 24 April 2014

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Millwall fail to roar as Carlisle Utd make their point in London

Millwall 0 Carlisle United 0: Millwall’s manager ought to be re-named Kenny Strait-Jacket, given the way his team were constricted by Carlisle United on the League One season’s second weekend.

Carlisle action photo
Joe Anyinsah is upended by Andy Frampton

You pitch up at one of the third division’s least welcoming venues, your goalkeeper does not make a single meaningful save, and you leave the capital with a point tucked under your arm: Jackett’s counterpart, Greg Abbott, would have bargained hard for that kind of outcome at 3pm on Saturday.

It was duly achieved by a defensive performance that was on a different page entirely from the slapdash work we saw from United against Brentford a week earlier. After tossing three goals into their own net nine days ago, Carlisle have suddenly stitched together a pair of welcome clean sheets.

Their false start against the Bees retreated into the past when the Cumbrians throttled Oldham in a Carling Cup victory in midweek. Then they put the squeeze on Millwall, who might easily have been a Championship side this season had a play-off final fallen differently in May.

Determination is a word which can fly from Abbott’s lips at a moment’s notice, but on Saturday it was comfortably the best description for the quality which enabled Carlisle to register 2009/10’s first league point at the second attempt. “It is the trait I want in my team,” said the Blues boss.

“Now we need to build on the defensive part of our game and then start taking that play into the other part of the field, and score the goals to win this kind of game.”

Steady on, you are tempted to cry. The brain overheats with the idea of Carlisle, in their current guise of threadbare underdogs, repeatedly slicing open a rival defence with imagination and guile. On this day, you could forgive Abbott for letting loose his imagination as he tries to add two pedigree attacking players to his squad (a right-winger and a striker, as if you didn’t already know).

Until that happens, there is much to be said for assembling a back line that can keep the following predators at the gates: Oldham’s Darren Byfield, Chris O’Grady, Pawel Abbott and Keigan Parker, and Millwall’s Gary Alexander, Steve Morison, Neil Harris and Jason Price.

Effective third tier players all, but not against Abbott’s tightly-organised rearguard this past week. Morison, the former Stevenage poacher, came closest of the lot when he clipped the post after 54 minutes of Saturday’s skirmish. Yet Millwall were not entitled to lug a sizeable grievance away from their home ground. Yes, they had the bigger chunk of possession and attacking pressure.

But they made nothing of it, and might even have lost the game when Carlisle popped out of their shell and created a golden chance 20 minutes from time for Tom Taiwo, which the otherwise excellent young Chelsea loanee was unable to take.

Back in his more comfortable habitat at the base of United’s midfield, the endlessly-aggressive Taiwo teamed up with United’s defenders to give Lenny Pidgeley the ultimate protection on his return to his former club. Frankly, the Blues goalkeeper was tested more meaningfully by the jeering home crowd than Jackett’s attackers.

Other than one minor flashpoint, when he was booked for a tangle with Alexander, Pidgeley made light work of a potentially thorny fixture for both himself and his new colleagues. “Lenny loved it,” confirmed Abbott. “And he looked like a good goalkeeper.”

In the main, he didn’t need to be. He was there when required, such as the 10th minute when Alexander met Chris Hackett’s free-kick at the back-post (Pidgeley gathered the striker’s header) but otherwise the likes of Danny Livesey and Richard Keogh were combining to block most things that came United’s way.

After 13 minutes, the wily Harris – fresh from a cup hat-trick against Bournemouth – warned Carlisle of his menacing potential when he arrowed onto a Hackett cross at the near post and hooked the chance into the side-netting. At the other end, a pleasing move down the right involving David Raven and Marc Bridge-Wilkinson led to Graham Kavanagh firing a deflected drive narrowly wide.

Livesey and Keogh, with a brace of brave headers, dealt with a dangerous Hackett corner after 25 minutes, Pidgeley easily repelled innocuous efforts from Alexander and George Friend, and the home side’s irritation with United’s resolve flashed up eight minutes later, when Alexander attempted to prevent Pidgeley kicking from hand, conceded a free-kick and then received a shove from Carlisle’s goalkeeper, who was yellow-carded by referee Darren Deadman.

Neither sides’ ball-retention was of premium quality, but a cluster of half-chances came and went at the end of the first half: Joe Anyinsah having a shot on the turn blocked, Morison steaming past Ian Harte and forcing a corner, and Alexander dropping a header onto the roof of Pidgeley’s net.

If Carlisle were earning decent marks for their defending and willingness to break at speed, their lack of craft around the home box was getting in the way of their own quest to win the game. This was almost punished nine minutes into the second half, when Deadman played an advantage after a Keogh foul on Harris, allowing Morison to advance towards goal, draw Livesey and then bend a low shot with the outside of his foot which bounced back off the left-hand upright.

The Blues almost then took the full dividend from their good fortune 15 minutes later. Scott Dobie, who tirelessly led United’s line all afternoon, shielded the ball well on the right and glanced it inside to Anyinsah, who burst into the box and squared for the arriving Taiwo.

The Den waited for the net to bulge. At the feet of a more composed finisher, it surely would have done. As it was, Taiwo’s off-balance swipe barely troubled David Forde in the home goal. It was quite the only blemish on the teenager’s afternoon.

Carlisle had locked out Jackett’s frontmen so successfully by this stage that the Millwall boss summoned a pair of substitutes – Price and David Martin – in pursuit of victory. The former’s impact was negligible; the latter almost vindicated his promotion from the bench with a run down the left, which ended with Martin skipping past Keogh and miscuing a cross which floated over Pidgeley and hit the crossbar.

An accidental chance being the best the Lions could summon in the closing stages, United’s manager was entitled to wear his expression of cautious satisfaction – particularly as this point was achieved without two of his senior statesmen (Paul Thirlwell, injured, and Peter Murphy, dropped and injured).

Their absence makes Carlisle’s squad appear not so much thin as positively emaciated, so the need for Abbott to deliver a couple of signings this week is considerable. To repeat a familiar theme, a good quantity of points and goals will remain beyond the Blues until they receive the attacking additions they so plainly require.

Yet this wasn’t the most appropriate day to point the finger at United’s weak spots. It never is, when you emerge from The Den with a justifiable smile. Stung by the Bees, unharmed by the Lions is a decent measure of Carlisle’s early-season progress.

LENNY PIDGELEY - Few saves to make but answered home fans’ boos with a confident all-round display.

DAVID RAVEN - Sturdy and responsible performance from the right-back to limit Millwall’s threat down the left.

IAN HARTE - Occasionally beaten for pace by the nippy Hackett and Morison but was generally solid and used the ball well.

DANNY LIVESEY - A tough, risk-free captain’s performance which helped United to another clean sheet.

RICHARD KEOGH - His usual committed effort meant Millwall’s strikers got little change out of the United defence.

TOM TAIWO - The teenager’s energy and bite in midfield played a huge part in Blues’ point. Shame he couldn’t convert their best chance.

GRAHAM KAVANAGH - Helped ensure United always stayed competitive in the middle of the park.

MATTY ROBSON - Not the most penetrating of left-wing performances but was always a handy outlet for the Blues.

JOE ANYINSAH - Worked hard down the right with limited success, but one incisive run almost led to a goal for Taiwo.

MARC BRIDGE-WILKINSON - Occasionally popped up in some dangerous areas before being replaced by Madine.

SCOTT DOBIE - No opportunities to repeat last Tuesday’s heroics, but worked tirelessly to ensure Carlisle defended from the front.

Subs: Gary Madine (for Bridge-Wilkinson, 72). Helped keep Lions’ defence occupied. Not used: Adam Collin, Evan Horwood, Gavin Rothery, Conor Tinnion, Michael Burns, Tony Kane.

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