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Saturday, 19 April 2014

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Woeful first-half show sees Carlisle Utd return pointless

Yeovil Town 3 Carlisle United 1: Vincent Pericard, Carlisle’s quotable new French striker, believes the route to success in League One is to “play with your brain”.

Carlisle action photo
Carlisle's Vincent Pericard battles with Yeovil's Steven Caulker

Quick – get that man a schoolteacher’s outfit and park him by the blackboard at Brunton Park every day this week.

If United’s kamikaze first half at Yeovil is our guide, then a lengthy seminar on engaging the old grey matter is urgently required. Intelligence is a decent word for the quality the hosts brought to the table in plundering their decisive opening two goals, but you’ll need to look elsewhere in the dictionary for the best means of describing Carlisle’s defending.

While Pericard was toiling away at one end on his debut, United were allowing themselves to be sliced open at the other by Terry Skiverton’s vibrant Yeovil team. The result of a desperate 45-minute spell in Somerset is that the Blues remain wedged in League One’s bottom four, having not sampled victory in their last seven outings.

“Defending” throws an accusing salvo at more areas of the Cumbrians’ XI than just their back four, by the way. The passes that allowed Ryan Mason to strike twice before the break emerged from Yeovil’s general dominance of midfield matters. The fact Mason then evaded attention to ripple Lenny Pidgeley’s net on both occasions is a matter for the rearguard, who are not normally quite so generous.

However well Carlisle responded after the interval, however much Greg Abbott and his players maintain that United are doing enough good work to warrant optimism that results will soon perk up, one damning truth keeps flinging itself against them. It is that football is a game which spins on key moments, on defining incidents. And they are going in the favour of the opposition too frequently for anyone to claim that pure misfortune is to blame for the Blues’ status in the third division’s gutter.

Put another way, Abbott’s team can lace together all the attractive attacking play they like – and there has been some, even on Saturday – but it will count for zilch if they are to keep succumbing to mental shutdown on at least a couple of occasions per game. Whether this is a motivational glitch, a psychological flaw or a simple case of individual carelessness, it has to be dealt with urgently if United are to avoid another ruinous relegation fight.

Their strongest critics argue they are already in one. They do so in haste, but it will be harder to prop that argument up unless Abbott can author a victory pretty sharpish (Southend and Charlton are Carlisle’s next pair of demanding opponents).

At Yeovil, a town renowned for the manufacture of helicopters, United’s efforts either side of half-time were so alarmingly different that it seemed a fresh platoon of red-shirted players had been parachuted into Huish Park at 3.45pm. Carlisle indeed chased the game with some spirit and energy in the second half. What got them into that position in the first place cannot be committed to print without a shudder.

A wayward shot from the substantial Pericard and a promising surge from Evan Horwood apart, the opening stages were unremarkable until Yeovil warmed up and duly took their first goal. Alarm was sounded when Mason skimmed a cross just beyond the sliding Sam Williams in the six-yard box. Two minutes later, the impressive right-back Craig Alcock stumbled through a Matty Robson challenge, fed Mason in excessive space, and the Tottenham loanee shot confidently past Pidgeley.

The ease with which the Glovers cuffed United aside here appalled, however much credit needs to be sent Skiverton’s way for setting out a tactically smart plan featuring the awkward Williams as the attacking focal point with the nimble-footed Mason and flame-haired Shaun McDonald raiding from deep.

Carlisle’s best early efforts relied on the strength of Pericard, who certainly gave Terrell Forbes a physical test but is plainly not yet at his sharpest, and whose pocket was picked by McDonald when he did make a rare burst into the home box.

Yeovil’s own surges continued to carry greater promise. On the half-hour, McDonald skinned Ian Harte and warmed Pidgeley’s hands from the edge of the area. United’s goalkeeper then raced from his line to boot clear another telling Alcock pass aimed for Mason. McDonald then evaded Tom Taiwo’s attentions to set up Scott Murray, but Richard Keogh repelled the veteran’s shot.

United’s goalkeeper had further cause to fire a verbal barrage at his team-mates when Williams was allowed to power onto a McDonald pass and shoot fractionally wide. The custodian’s outburst was not heeded. A needless booking for Danny Livesey later – a vocal assault on referee Fred Graham the reason – and the goalkeeper was scooping the ball out of his net again.

A malfunctioning offside trap near the halfway line was to blame this time, as Andy Welsh spied Mason’s well-timed run and fed the Spurs man with embarrassing ease, allowing him to cruise towards the target and plant the ball past Pidgeley.

Pericard poked one wide and Dobie put a header close before the interval, but those token attempts won’t have taken the sting from Abbott’s half-time address. And it’s undeniable that the manager’s choice words stirred his players into belated life.

Suddenly attacking with intent, they threatened Skiverton’s back line with runs from Robson and Taiwo, and then forced their way back into the game when Dobie was carelessly upended by the sliding Forbes and Harte banged in the penalty.

Yeovil remained potent on the counter-attack, but this was more excusable given the bodies Carlisle were committing to the salvation attempt. Pidgeley athletically denied Mason his hat-trick, but the Blues were now coughing up a steadier stream of chances themselves: Pericard’s low shot spinning wide off a defender, Dobie curling the ball agonisingly across goal after an unseemly scramble, substitute Kevan Hurst testing Alex McCarthey from range, and the same man failing to beat the home ‘keeper with United’s best chance, which had been crafted by Horwood’s persistence and Pericard’s unselfish pass.

Greater greed in enemy territory might have been displayed by the Frenchman at that point. It was certainly exhibited by Keiran Murtagh three minutes from time, when the Yeovil sub leapt from the bench and poked in their clinching third with his first touch, after Williams and Welsh had wriggled through Carlisle’s outnumbered defence.

Murtagh also earned the grim distinction of being the first player to be spotted wearing gloves for combat this season; an observation especially worthy of censure on a mild October afternoon. That being just about the worst we can say about Yeovil, however, the torch flashes back to Brunton Park and to Abbott, who can expect the dial of public scrutiny to be given a vigorous twist this week.

“We have to change it around, otherwise my position will probably be changed – it’s an either-or situation,” said United’s manager, who get marks for his pin-sharp honesty but needs a quick rush of points to see him through these coming autumn days.

The fervent hope is that John Ward’s successor hits upon the formula soon, because the prospect of another survival slog, another season of bottom-of-the-table brain-ache, could not be less appealing.

LENNY PIDGELEY - Entitled to be angry at his lack of protection. Blameless for Yeovil’s goals, did well to deny Mason hat-trick.

IAN HARTE - Exposed in the first half, the makeshift right-back improved after the break.

EVAN HORWOOD - The pick of Carlisle’s under-performing back four, and made some decent attacking forays.

DANNY LIVESEY - United’s defenders were caught out by the hosts’ frontmen in the first half. Needless booking for dissent.

RICHARD KEOGH - Unable, along with his team-mates, to see off the Glovers’ attackers in the Blues’ dismal first-half.

TOM TAIWO - Struggled to lay a glove on hosts’ midfield early on, but was much brighter as Carlisle mounted their comeback.

MARC BRIDGE-WILKINSON - Not in the game enough as Skiverton’s fleet-footed midfielders won the day.

MATTY ROBSON - Mixed results from his left-wing surges but didn’t stop trying to create.

JOE ANYINSAH - Unremarkable return to the right-wing for the ex-Preston frontman.

SCOTT DOBIE - Some promising link-up play with Pericard but the Cumbrian couldn’t find a goal.

VINCENT PERICARD - Added presence to United’s attack, enough in his performance to encourage Abbott.

Subs: Kevan Hurst (for Anyinsah, 69) - Added spark, could have equalised; Richard Offiong (for Horwood, 82) - Minimal impact, avoidable booking. Not used: Adam Collin, Peter Murphy, Gavin Rothery, Conor Tinnion, Ryan Bowman.

Goals: Harte 54 pen

Booked: Livesey, Offiong

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