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Thursday, 21 August 2014

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Impressive display and incredible miss help Carlisle Utd win

Carlisle United 1 Coventry City 0: It can now be revealed that Carlisle United signed not one but two defenders on the eve of this first win of 2013: Sean O’Hanlon, who performed stoutly for the cause on his debut, and also Leon Clarke, who normally checks in for work as a Coventry City striker.

Matty Robson photo
Matty Robson

Carlisle’s regular rearguard men, including the heroic, head-bandaged figure of O’Hanlon, certainly did an admirable job in keeping the ball away from their net but so did Clarke, a 12-goal centre-forward who graced Brunton Park with the miss of the season.

Clarke, in fact, made two entries for that unhappy competition yesterday but his second was the surefire winner. It came in the 79th minute, amid some Coventry pressure, when the substitute Stephen Elliott located him at the back post with a cross.

On his own, enviably close to the net, the striker jumped to claim the obvious equaliser. What followed was a moment of grim farce, as Clarke, having got his calculations badly wrong, headed the ball into the floor and then deflected it past the post with another part of his body.

“When luck’s on your side, that’s great,” said Danny Cadamarteri, one of United’s subs, when reminded of Clarke’s howler after the game.

It would be wrong to describe this high-energy victory as a simple dice-roll which went Carlisle’s way – the Blues were actually good value for their result, earned by Matty Robson’s early header – but on most days Coventry’s main frontman would have devoured such a chance.

He did not, and that is for Clarke and his manager Mark Robins to be bothered about, frankly. United, who themselves had a few more near-misses, did the hardest task better then their opponents and gave their supporters something better to get their teeth into, at last.

A university thesis is waiting to be written on how the same bunch of players (other than 30-year-old O’Hanlon and another wounded combatant, Chris Chantler) can perform so dismally one week but be a million times sharper and more urgent against another of their division’s form teams. From the mess of Swindon 4 Carlisle 0 came this one-goal victory, against a side who had laced six straight away wins together before that record-breaking run was swept away in the Cumbrian snow.

In no particular order, the search for explanations leads you to O’Hanlon, who already appears to have added a certain ruggedness to Carlisle’s back line; to Robson, who was again a menace after being restored to the attack, following his left-back role at Swindon; and even to the surprising decision by Greg Abbott to switch captains before the game (along with the general standard-raising in the midfield).

The armband passed from Danny Livesey – reluctantly, you have to assume – to Lee Miller, as Abbott described the move as a means of reducing the load on one of his overworked defenders. Supporters will speculate that it may just as equally be a political gesture, designed to make Miller feel even more wanted as he enters the last months of his contract.

Those matters will play out as the season goes on, but first evidence since the change showed Livesey in more reassuring form while Miller, another respected figure, did not seem weighed down by the duty.

Overall, and regardless of who got to wear a small band of lycra, Carlisle had to prove themselves better than the lost-looking group who showed up the previous week, and they did so, going urgently at Coventry from the off and unsettling them at many stages afterwards, while keeping their sheet clean with a mix of brave defending and shoddy away finishing.

It started like a dream. After a Miller-led huddle, the game kicked off, and one minute and eight seconds later the ball was in Coventry’s net, after JP McGovern had swung a left-footed cross into the box and Robson had met it with a looping header which beat Joe Murphy, the keeper, who had walked a couple of steps off his line.

Robins, the manager of the month, already had cause to curse and had more reasons for dismay as Liam Noble charged down a Murphy clearance and nearly scored, and then as John Fleck blew the guests’ first true opening, missing the target badly when Steve Jennings had driven the ball across the six-yard box.

Already it was plain that United’s early strike had opened up the game, as Coventry came back in search of chances but saw most of their industry fail around the penalty area, where their final ball was imprecise and Carlisle’s defending was pleasingly aggressive.

With Robson’s alertness remaining a weapon downfield, United came strongly again, as the scorer of their last goal of 2012 and their first of 2013 turned onto another chance and shot wide, but then declined to shoot when McGovern again found him in a useful position to the left of the box.

Carlisle’s cause was being aided by their own industry – Noble the leader in this regard – and some anxiety in Coventry’s play, notably their centre-halves, Richard Wood and William Edjenguele. But they offered another scare when Franck Moussa hit the post from the left, before Mark Gillespie was sharp to tip over Clarke’s header.

Later, Livesey bashed away one tricky cross from Gary McSheffrey, then Robson ambushed Jennings and sped downfield, a run that ended with James Berrett shooting over. Moments on and Noble chipped Brad Potts through, only for Murphy to save superbly.

In the remainder of the half Carl Baker, a talented wide player, looked increasingly frustrated with both his own failed runs and the service coming his way from the back. And Carlisle threatened again with a McGovern free-kick – just wide – before an O’Hanlon block from McSheffrey saw the ball rebound into Coventry’s half.

If that confirmed the former Hibs and MK Dons defender as one of life’s sturdier customers, so did the 47th minute leap which accidentally took the shaven-headed O’Hanlon into Chantler, both men having to leave the field for treatment and reducing United to nine men for a few minutes.

O’Hanlon was the first back on, and immediately got his hurt head onto a McGovern corner, sending it over the bar. Chantler also eventually reappeared and he then made a swift run to set up Berrett to shoot wide from 25 yards. Moments later, after Miller had tested Murphy with a low shot, O’Hanlon was taking another turn, putting a fine McGovern set-piece wide and holding his head in dismay.

He would mainly be needed back at base, of course, and thankfully for a player whose only first-team football since August has been for Scottish non-leaguers Bonnyrigg, he rarely looked off the hectic pace. As time went on Coventry came more urgently and Carlisle sat deeper, Gillespie haring off his line to deny Blair Adams, Baker shooting wide and then Clarke missing his first sitter, shinning over the bar from six yards out.

Anxiety was building, certainly, but on both sides, as Carlisle became strangers to possession and Baker responded to a throw-in decision (he wanted a free-kick) by hammering the ball into the grass with his fist, earning himself a booking and much derision from the crowd.

Then, with fit-again Paul Thirlwell on to replace Potts, Clarke brought the house down with his next miss and Carlisle dealt with the remaining minutes – including six added ones, a figure that appalled the home supporters – with no little guts and then finally some pace, once Dave Symington came on to lead a few time-killing counter-attacks.

It almost ended spectacularly, in fact, as one such break saw the ball at Robson’s toe, and he floated it over Murphy, only to see it strike the top of the crossbar. But those who like their football defiant and square-jawed (including Abbott, it's safe to say) will have enjoyed more the sight of O’Hanlon striding for the tunnel at full-time, briskly unwrapping his bloodied bandage as he did so.

Though Miller now boasts a 100 per cent record as skipper, the newest recruit was surely the figurehead of United being more angry and stubborn in their campaign for a victory.

Let there be no talk of turning corners until there have been several more of these, but for now Carlisle have been patched up by O’Hanlon’s arrival and yesterday appeared the better for it.

MARK GILLESPIE - Got some better protection this time but still had to be sharp to save from Clarke and Adams. Another confident showing from the 20-year-old keeper.

FRANK SIMEK - Early on he was strong in his support of McGovern and then did some solid defending to keep the Sky Blues at bay, as Moussa, Adams and then Elliott threatened down the left.

CHRIS CHANTLER - Back from his ankle trouble, the left-back had a fine game, showing good pace to deal with trouble, and he also made a couple of handy attacking runs after having his head patched up.

DANNY LIVESEY - No longer the captain but Livesey responded admirably, winning umpteen challenges in the air and on the floor, and he contributed heavily to United’s welcome clean sheet.

SEAN O’HANLON - Given his lack of frontline football lately this was an impressive debut. New boy showed plenty of aggression, was sharp enough to deal with most danger, and his bandaged head earned him instant cult hero status.

BRAD POTTS - Yet again came so close to his first goal, when Murphy brilliantly denied him. Otherwise the youngster’s energy helped to stretch Coventry even if his quality on the ball was mixed.

JAMES BERRETT - One of many who disappointed at Swindon, Berrett was much more involved here, doing some responsible defensive work and looking brighter going forward.

LIAM NOBLE - Perhaps the hardest working player on the pitch. A couple of creative moments but Noble mainly shone for his sheer effort, which never allowed the visitors to settle.

MATTY ROBSON - For the third home game in a row Robson’s finishing earned United three points. Back on the left of the attack, he again looked dangerous for good spells, and almost claimed a second at the death.

JP MCGOVERN - His cross set up Robson’s early opener and there was plenty more quality from the Scot as he linked up play and worked his right wing well. A couple of set-pieces almost led to more joy for the Blues.

LEE MILLER - In the first half his line-leading visibly unsettled Coventry’s centre-halves Wood and Edjenguele. Some of his touches were full of quality and he remained the focal point when United tried to counter-attack late on.

Subs: Paul Thirlwell (for Potts 78) – A few useful challenges ; Danny Cadamarteri (for Noble 82) – Helped close game out well; Dave Symington (for McGovern 89) – Some good counter-attacking pace. Not used: Adam Collin, Andy Welsh, Rory Loy, Mark Beck.

Goal: Robson 2

Booked: Robson

Coventry City: Murphy, J Clarke, Adams, Edjenguele, Wood, Baker (Wilson 76), McSheffrey (Thomas 70), Jennings, Fleck (Elliott 54), Moussa, L Clarke. Not used: Cameron, Dunn, Barton, Christie.

Booked: Fleck, Moussa, Wood, Baker, Elliott

Ref: David Webb (Lancashire)

Crowd: 4,071 (520 Coventry fans)

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