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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

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Super sub Mark Beck rescues point for Carlisle Utd

Carlisle United 1 MK Dons 1: If this was a clash of styles, it ended up being more clash than style. For a long time the most striking thing about the contest was Danny Livesey’s gushing head wound, until MK Dons finally passed themselves to a standstill and Carlisle United stole a late equaliser.

Mark Beck  photo
Mark Beck slides in to score

No prizes for the obvious comparison to make when you watch Karl Robinson’s team work their spaces and triangles across any League One pitch. The match-up two days ago was Arsenal Lite against Carlisle’s height.

Neither approach looked especially satisfactory but at least United took the prize for persistence. With their patient, passing visitors unable to kill the game off, young Mark Beck barged through the open door after an 86th minute set-piece, and the Blues went off with a point.

“The worst goal of my career,” as the teenage sub described it, will win no beauty contests but good centre-forwards build careers on basic finishes from close-range, like the one Beck dispatched whilst sliding onto his backside at the Waterworks End.

Had MK Dons been so ruthless in enemy territory, that would only have been a consolation strike. But a lack of clinical penalty area work is the one serious failing of Robinson’s Buckinghamshire reign. The best footballing team in the third tier (according to Greg Abbott) have yet to put enough value on the most important bit of the game, and need to take lessons from Brighton circa 2011 on how to attach a sharp blade to lots of attractive ball-retention.

United themselves took a much less appealing route towards their opponents’ target, and this brought its own frustrations until Beck pounced. Because they trailed with four minutes to go this ended up feeling like a bonus point for the Cumbrians, who are now unbeaten in six at their home ground despite being logjammed in 16th.

“A draw wasn’t great for either team, but on the day, it was probably fair,” said Abbott, who conceded his team had been “footballed to death” in an infuriating first half. A livelier showing after the break at least gave supporters something better to remember the afternoon by. That, and a fifth senior goal by 19-year-old Beck, who had been on the pitch for six minutes when he turned in Dave Symington’s corner.

Otherwise, this was a better day to be a defender than an attacker, unless you were Livesey, who had to leave the field twice to have his bonce attended to before United finally admitted defeat and withdrew the centre-half. Few games pass without their No5 having his upstairs regions looked at by physio Neil Dalton, or, in this case, the club’s doctor.

After his first-half collision with Dean Lewington there was stapling, stitching, bandaging, more bleeding, and, during his second temporary absence, a MK Dons goal from Adam Chicksen, which interrupted the pattern of rearguard dominance, with Sean O’Hanlon commanding against his old club, Gary MacKenzie prominent at the back for the visitors and left-back Jordan Mustoe looking up to the mark on his Blues debut.

Carlisle-Dons meetings are not normally so sterile. With 40 goals in nine meetings before play you wondered if either side would possibly be able to contain themselves when they got into their rivals’ half. Mustoe, who shot forward from his defensive station in the third minute, leaving Luke Chadwick in acres down the right, seemed to hint at another day of abandon.

But that was actually a defensive move. The Wigan loanee cut out a pass and Carlisle could return to their safe 4-3-3 shape, which was better in theory than practice because the Dons still hogged the ball in midfield and out wide. Rory Loy made a couple of sharp runs for United but by 20 minutes the guests were on top.

With Livesey down the tunnel for his first bout of treatment, Ryan Lowe drew a good block from O’Hanlon and then shot wide from a good position. Chris Lines then strolled through the middle to test Gillespie, with O’Hanlon again denying Lowe on the follow-up.

This pressure continued when Livesey came back on and then went off again, with Carlisle noticeably disrupted (though the Dons also had to readjust, when keeper David Martin succumbed to a back problem and was replaced by Ian McLoughlin). Going forward they could not muster much more than a few free-kicks, while a poor Gillespie hack almost allowed Shaun Williams to put Chadwick through.

United briefly threatened again when Loy ran onto Lee Miller’s nod-down and tested Martin, but then the Dons came down Carlisle’s under-staffed left side and right-back Chicksen cut inside to shoot past Gillespie, via a deflection.

Along with the goal they had conceded, the flatness and timidity of United’s general play was the main topic of chat at the interval, and not just among the fans. Abbott had Symington stripped in an instant, the youngster clearly briefed to add some gusto and get the Blues around the Dons’ box more often, and in greater numbers.

On for Paul Thirlwell and sent to the left wing in a 4-4-2, the young west Cumbrian duly announced himself with a run and cross which Antony Kay sliced over his own bar. This revival could have been killed off at birth, but Williams fluffed his shot after Lowe and Chadwick had broken onside.

Slowly, painstakingly and with an overdue bite about their pressing play, United then got themselves forward more meaningfully, even if their aerial route was still taken too often. Miller, who mainly toiled, had a brief sight of goal from 30 yards but cleared the crossbar by a yard. Then the target-man pinched the ball on the right and fed Loy, but MacKenzie got in a block.

Then, a nearer miss, as Mustoe came inside and floated a fine ball into the corridor of uncertainty, where it was met by JP McGovern. The underside of the bar denied the Scot his first league goal of the season, as the goal-frame also had against Stevenage and Portsmouth recently.

Although enormously frustrating these attacks did still hint at better things, as Livesey was finally replaced by Peter Murphy and the atmosphere briefly grew agitated, with United’s inability to score adding to Robinson’s constant gesturing and ear-bending of the officials.

Into the void then came two moments of farce which nearly killed Carlisle. First, a sliced, looping Darren Potter shot which Gillespie thought of no danger, until it dipped against the bar and struck the Blues keeper, who fortunately could then claim the ball. Then, a calamitous backpass from Liam Noble, who had not noticed Gillespie miles from his line, to the right.

The keeper’s tidy burst of pace to clear the ball from the line averted disaster. Then on came Beck, who duly put himself into some useful areas, none better than the back stick when Symington’s corner fell to him, leading to a poached goal and a big bear-hug between Abbott and Graham Kavanagh down by the technical areas.

With James Berrett an inch away from a 95th-minute winner it was quite a finale to a game which had not been overloaded with drama, and felt like it always had to end level. United being unbeaten in two but winless in three is another kind of stalemate.

The lessons from this one were that decoration can only get you so far, and that Beck is welcome to score as many more ugly goals as he likes.

MARK GILLESPIE - The keeper’s sprint to clear Noble’s backpass saved the day for the Blues. Didn’t have many saves to make, but catching and kicking were mostly sound.

FRANK SIMEK - Started getting forward in second half as United pushed on. But this was mainly a steady defensive display in which Simek took no chances.

JORDAN MUSTOE - Caught out a couple of times but otherwise looked comfortable on the ball and used it well on debut. Sharp enough and will surely improve as he adjusts to the team.

DANNY LIVESEY - Spilt lots of blood for the cause and kept coming back for more until he had to go off for good. Didn’t let the side down with his defending during the game’s most difficult spells.

SEAN O’HANLON - Seemed to relish shutting down his old team-mates and was consistently strong for the whole game, including some vital blocks in the penalty area. Also posed problems at set-pieces.

PAUL THIRLWELL - In midfield it was a mighty task to get the ball back from the Dons, and United often struggled, though Thirlwell often found himself as a deputy centre-half when Livesey was off. Subbed at the break.

JAMES BERRETT - A couple of early challenges boded well but Berrett otherwise struggled to get into the game as Dons hogged the ball – though he almost won it at the death.

LIAM NOBLE - Work rate cannot be faulted but did not leave his mark on the game in other ways. Found it hard to create or dominate in the middle against Robinson’s men and almost guilty of a bizarre own-goal.

JP MCGOVERN - Had been United’s most creative player at Portsmouth but couldn’t be as influential here. Lewington was wise to most of his work, while he hit crossbar with one great chance.

RORY LOY - In the early stages Loy was the only United player to look dangerous, down the left. Seemed to run out of steam more centrally in second half as he was replaced by Beck.

LEE MILLER - Won his share of free-kicks but did not offer a great deal of threat from open play. Some flicks found their man but Miller struggled to outwit his opponents and rarely had a sight of goal.

Subs: Dave Symington (for Thirlwell 46) – Helped Blues onto front foot; Peter Murphy (for Livesey 68) – Looked sharp and strong; Mark Beck (for Loy 80) – Saved the day with poacher’s goal. Not used: Adam Collin, Andy Welsh, Danny Cadamarteri, Brad Potts.

Goals: Beck 86

Booked: O’Hanlon

MK Dons: Martin (McLoughlin 39), Chicksen, Lewington, MacKenzie (Doumbe 77), Kay, Williams, Potter, Lines, Harley (Powell 64), Chadwick, Lowe. Not used: Otsemobor, McLeod, Baldock, Rasulo.

Goal: Chicksen 36

Booked: Potter, Chicksen

Ref: Kevin Wright (Cambridgeshire)

Crowd: 4,283 (179 MK Dons fans)

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