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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

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Overhauling the Shrimps brings net gain for Carlisle United

Morecambe 0 Carlisle United: Brunton Park’s boardroom was probably the best place to watch this cup tie reach its soggy conclusion.

Carlisle action photo
Tom Taiwo and Danny Livesey have a disagreement on the half-time whistle

Morecambe 0 Carlisle United has already been forgotten as a spectacle, but in the language of the balance sheet it goes down as the result of the Cumbrian season.

Purists might consider it vulgar that the romance of the Cup can be reduced to an argument over hard cash. They would be advised to drive straight past United’s ground if they are passing through town this week. After a year of financial disarray down Warwick Road, Carlisle’s advance to a profitable second-round tie with Norwich is just the booster jab their coffers needed.

That is by several furlongs our headline theme today, not the sub-standard nature of the Blues' performance on Lancashire’s rainswept coast last night.

There will be other nights when we can get lyrical about the wonders of football’s oldest knockout competition; other occasions when magic dust falls on a lower-league stadium as a few thousand eager punters look on. Here, Christie Park was the scene for a functional, scruffy United victory, and it’s that V-word that should hold the gaze before anyone starts sifting through the imperfections in their 90-minute display.

Pre-match, Greg Abbott insisted that the financial incentives attached to this game were not at the front of his mind. It’s a claim he repeated after the final whistle. And you can well believe him, since United’s manager is such a competitive soul that defeats in pre-season friendlies probably destroy his summer.

Still, it would be naïve to assume that the fiscal significance of this engagement had not penetrated the manager’s office. Neither Abbott nor his players would have much fancied being remembered as the men who flunked the chance of securing a six-figure payday for their strapped club (£67,500 in broadcasting readies due to the Norwich game being screened on the internet, £18,000 in prize money for advancing to round two, and handsome gate receipts from such a high-profile collision with Delia Smith’s Canaries).

Intelligence from the dressing room confirmed that Abbott’s troops were acutely aware of this bottom line as they prepared for combat. There was something of the trenches in the way they somehow fended Morecambe off at the stages when the League Two side were bridging the divisional gap with worrying persistence.

The record says that Joe Anyinsah smashed Carlisle through their obstacle at the second attempt. It is true to say that the winger, with his fifth-minute goal, was Morecambe’s executioner. But this game was won in the following 85 minutes (and another five of injury-time), thanks to the home side’s erratic finishing and the upstanding efforts of men like Danny Livesey, the Carlisle captain who brought some no-frills defending to the table when some of the men in front of him were having an off-night.

Livesey’s appetite for victory last night briefly frothed over on the brink of half-time, when he took out a grievance over Morecambe’s surges of pressure with a verbal salvo at Tom Taiwo, his teenage team-mate. The detail of that brief dispute is not known, but if anyone had earned the moral right to be roaring the odds at his under-performing colleagues, it was Livesey.

Forty minutes earlier, United had lit the path to victory with the game’s only moment of clinical quality. There was a spate of one-touch passing on the Blues’ right, then a smart pass from Graham Kavanagh which had Anyinsah scampering through Morecambe’s gaping back line.

He ripped the chance past Barry Roche with impressive conviction, but what followed was a rather disjointed evening, rather than the night of dominance some observers might have expected from this point onwards.

Morecambe’s response was immediate and spirited. First, Craig Stanley broke down the right and put a cross on Phil Jevons’ toe, only for the striker to volley over. Then they broke at pace down the left through Laurence Wilson, who pierced the Cumbrian defence with a through ball to Paul Mullin, who was brilliantly denied at the moment of truth by the sliding Livesey.

More home surges: Stanley testing United with a series of crosses, Michael Twiss squandering a makeable close-range chance and Lenny Pidgeley turning over a testing Jevons free-kick. It took the Blues half-an-hour to recover their range, and even then their attacks of note were not sufficiently ruthless, such as the fine low cross bent over by Evan Horwood which Anyinsah clumsily bundled wide from a golden position. Generally – and for all their occasionally attractive one-touch passing – Carlisle were not lacing together enough attacks of genuine purpose, their wide men devoid of inspiration and Vincent Pericard enduring one of his less impressive days at the front of Abbott’s team. At the other end, Ian Craney aimed a decent shot just over for the Shrimps, Jevons turned and poked one anxiously across goal, and then Pidgeley plunged to deny Twiss after a Garry Hunter cross (it was this attack, once dealt with, that led to Livesey’s withering blast at Taiwo).

After some early blue bluster in the second half – and a plausible penalty appeal from Richard Keogh, who seemed to be shoved by Wilson – the Shrimps returned. Ten minutes in, Kavanagh headed a Twiss effort off the line. Later, once Roche denied Pericard and Kavanagh aimed off-target, Stanley ought to have brought Sammy McIlroy’s men level, but he skimmed his shot millimetres wide after a cutting one-two with Twiss.

That 77th minute effort was Morecambe’s last authentic sight of goal, however many corners they continued to force, however many more times they pressed into Cumbrian territory without properly testing Pidgeley. Carlisle’s own attempts to kill the tie properly were in vain – Roche saving Taiwo’s blast, Robson firing a cute Kevan Hurst pass into orbit – ensuring a level of dramatic tension remained to the point when goalkeeper Roche bounded forward for a home corner in the 95th minute.

That final set-piece duly negotiated, United’s rulers could at last get down to the business of counting their projected income from the Norwich set-to, which will be beamed live on the FA’s website for those who can’t watch the Cumbrians facing down Grant Holt and co in person in 10 days’ time.

The online audience may require a better spectacle than this to keep them at their monitors, but don’t expect any apologies from Carlisle’s end today. Losing attractively is a trait we have seen enough from Abbott's team this season. Winning ugly is a welcome development the Blues can happily take to the bank.

LENNY PIDGELEY - Dealt well with the shots he faced, although didn’t look in complete command of his area.

RICHARD KEOGH - Had to be alert to keep Shrimps’ left-wing raids in check, and contributed to a hard-earned clean sheet.

EVAN HORWOOD - United could have made better use of his early crosses, while the left-back was solid in defence.

DANNY LIVESEY - This contest was made for Livesey’s no-nonsense, battling style. A defiant captain’s performance.

IAN HARTE - His quality came through when it mattered as United toiled to protect Pidgeley’s goal.

TOM TAIWO - Not at his most effective as United struggled to win the midfield battle, but kept at it and almost popped up with a goal.

ADAM CLAYTON - Used the ball well when it came his way on a mixed night for the Blues’ middle men.

MATTY ROBSON - Had little joy down the left wing and end product wasn’t to his usual high standards.

JOE ANYINSAH - Took United’s winning goal with aplomb but otherwise struggled to influence the game down the right.

GRAHAM KAVANAGH - Expert pass for Anyinsah’s goal and tried to create other openings for United, with mixed results.

VINCENT PERICARD - Laboured through his night’s work, the big Frenchman was well shackled by the Shrimps’ rearguard.

Subs: Scott Dobie (for Pericard, 89) - Fresh legs late in game; Kevan Hurst (for Kavanagh, 89) - Clever pass almost put Robson in. Not used: Adam Collin, Gavin Rothery, Richard Offiong, Michael Burns, Tony Kane.

Goal: Anyinsah

Booked: Clayton

Morecambe: Roche, Artell, Wilson, Parrish (Duffy 78), Haining, Stanley, Twiss, Hunter, Craney, Jevons, Mullin (Curtis 64). Subs: Davies, Moss, Adams, Wainwright, McStay.

Booked: Twiss, Mullin, Stanley

Ref: Jonathan Moss (West Yorkshire)

Crowd: 3,307 (1,171 Carlisle fans)

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