Carlisle United 2
Dicker 29, Paynter 50
by Rick Cowdery
LONG way to go for nothing.
For a team whose first-choice colours are green, Argyle did not enjoy the rub of the same at faraway Brunton Park.
In a game from which victory would have put them within a point of qualifying for the Sky Bet League 2 play-offs, they started brightly but fell behind after a third of the match to a worldy strike from Gary Dicker which the Irishman will do well to repeat in his career.
They then fell further behind early in the second period to a goal from a player – Billy Paynter – who had begun the afternoon as fourth-choice striker and was on the field so early only because of first-half injuries to two Cumbrian colleagues.
Argyle remain in the last of the divisional play-off places but, if they want to stay there and extend their season past the conclusion of the league campaign, they will almost certainly have to relegate Tranmere at Home Park next week and quite possibly nick something at already-promoted-but-going-for-the-title Shrewsbury on the final day of the season.
Having brought a squad of 20 on the three-day trip to Sky Bet League 2’s northernmostout post, Argyle manager John Sheridan had opted to select the same starting 11 that paved the way for their 1-1 draw with AFC Wimbledon at Home Park four days earlier.
Given the way they had performed against the Wombles, with Bobby Reid especially potent in central midfield, and Olly Lee’s possibly season-ending groin injury, it was a no-brainer really.
Carlisle’s lowly position in the division came about more by a poor first two-thirds of the campaign, than current form which has picked up significantly as this season ebbs away. There was no better evidence of this than their midweek draw at Burton, who needed a goal in the 99th minute of play to nick a 1-1 draw.
Manager Keith Curle, who has not been slow to hand out some very forthright and very public criticism to his players, made one change to the Pirelli Stadium starting 11, with Steven Rigg replacing Mark Beck in attack.
For ten minutes, Argyle played as if they did not have a care in the world, mounting wave after wave of attacks, forcing three corners, all of which Carlisle were grateful to deal with.
Then, after being penned inside their own half, the Foxes finally found the Argyle box, and it nearly proved fatal. Rigg was at the centre of things, having two golden chances to score within seconds of each other after finding himself in too much space deep inside the penalty area.
His first shot was brilliantly stopped by Luke McCormick, but still had enough power for the ball to roll on to a post. Carl McHugh reacted well to clear the immediate danger, but presented his hasty clearance to Rigg once more. Surprised by the sudden second opportunity perhaps, Riggs did not connect properly and the Argyle defence snuffed out the danger.
It was a warning, sure enough, and gave the home side a little more confidence. Derek Asamoah fired off a shot which McCormick needed to get everything behind, before limping off to be replaced by Brad Potts midway through the first half.
Argyle struggled to reimpose their earlier superiority, and it was some time before they asked a serious question of home goalkeeper Mark Gillespie, when the recent conversion to goal-machine Anthony O’Connor sent him sprawling to deal with a low long-range shot.
Bobby Reid then sparked into action, forcing a corner after another shot from distance was sent looping over the Carlisle crossbar by a blocking boot. When his subsequent flag-kick was returned to him, his low shot was on target but saved by Gillespie.
The pendulum then emphatically swung back in favour of the home side when they swung a free-kick into the Pilgrims’ penalty area. McHugh dealt comfortably with the cross, but his header fell sweetly for Dicker, who despatched a magnificent volley past McCormick.
Carlisle then saw a second starting striker leave proceedings when Rigg hobbled off in favour of veteran, and one-time Argyle target, Paynter.
Any thoughts that Argyle’s best hopes of getting back into the game might be if the home side ran out of players were dismissed by some further enterprising Pilgrims’ play as they sought to come from behind to get something out of a game for only the fourth time this season, and Alessandra went close with an effort form the left that probably started out as a cross.
There was no doubting the Pilgrims’ passion for the occasion as the half ended with Peter Hartley embroiled in a furious argument with, first, Gillespie and, then, Cumbrians’ goalkeeping coach Tony Caig.
An uncertain start by Argyle to the second half cost them dearly. After failing to clear their lines, Hartley was bundled off the ball by Kyle Dempsey’s aerial challenge, with the ball falling for Paynter, using the nous of many years, to clip it past McCormick.
Soon afterwards, John Sheridan made a triple substitution – bringing on Zak Ansah, Ryan Brunt and Lee Cox for Reuben Reid, McHugh and Gethin Jones – and reshaped to a 4-3-3, but they were unable to reverse the miserable trend that has seen the Pilgrims fail to win after conceding first for now 25 months.
Indeed, the better chances fell to the home side, whose fans were able to celebrate Football League survival long before proceedings were brought to a conclusion.
Guys – we need you at Home Park next weekend: #TogetherForTranmere.
There is still a long way to go. For something.
Carlisle United (3-5-2): 1 Mark Gillespie; 23 Sean O'Hanlon, 2 Danny Grainger (capt), 36 David Atkinson; 31 Matt Young, 22 Kyle Dempsey, 10 Gary Dicker (35 Paul Corry 73), 4 Jason Kennedy, 18 Patrick Brough; 25 Derek Asamoah (16 Brad Potts 19), 21 Steven Rigg (9 Billy Paynter 34). Substitutes (not used): 5 Nathan Buddle, 17 Mark Beck, 20 Dan Hanford (gk), 34 Anthony Griffith.
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 16 Carl McHugh (28 Ryan Brunt 61), 29 Peter Hartley; 20 Gethin Jones (4 Lee Cox 62), 17 Bobby Reid, 19 Anthony O'Connor, 11 Dominic Blizzard, 13 Tareiq Holmes-Dennis; 7 Lewis Alessandra, 9 Reuben Reid (27 Zak Ansah 60). Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner (gk), 2 Kelvin Mellor, 3 Ben Purrington, 8 Jason Banton.
Booked: R Reid 56.
Referee: Geoff Eltringham.
Attendance: 4,651 (538 away).