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Friday, 29 May 2015

Last-gasp Zoko strike seals dramatic win for Carlisle Utd

Carlisle United 3 Yeovil Town 2: If Carlisle United were a man in a bar you’d be terrified of spilling their pint. This is a team that responds to provocation like no other.

Carlisle Utd photo
Carlisle's players celebrate Zoko goal

Humiliate them and question their credibility and they come flying back, every time, without fail.

Saturday’s victory has been described as a thriller, a five-goal ding-dong and the other usual terms for a game when the ball bounces from one net to another before a final blast of melodrama. But maybe it would have been more newsworthy had Carlisle failed to do what they did to Yeovil.

Stat time. Since September 17 last year, the Cumbrians have lost six times in the league, often heavily. On each occasion they have won the next game, often excitingly. The obvious conclusion is that Greg Abbott needs to sign a hypnotist, soonest, and get it into his players’ heads that it was Yeovil who won two days ago, not the bounce-back merchants in blue. Then the manager can sit back and watch Notts County feel the backlash next weekend.

This latest spring from the ropes happened because three expert finishes from Abbott’s forwards converged on the same afternoon. Lee Miller’s penalty was up there with the best of its genre, Paddy Madden’s debut goal was dispatched with a veteran’s authority, and Francois Zoko’s threaded winner was perhaps the finest of the set.

This is not a vintage season for defending down Warwick Road – Saturday saw two more goals disappear into Carlisle’s net, five days after the 4-0 trouncing at Brentford – but the mind struggles to summon a campaign when the Blues have themselves scored so freely and with such a fun factor. United are observing the sacred principle that the team who finds the target most often wins the game, however winding that journey has to be.

Their third 3-2 home win of term extends an unbeaten home sequence to 12 games and if we are searching for information which explains their rise to sixth, it’s hard to look further. Yeovil contributed amply to this contest but the last team to storm Brunton Park remains Hartlepool, more than five months back.

Many tales were fighting to be told on Saturday, and we could have settled for Miller’s spot-kick, which was the most emphatic 12-yard finish since Ian Harte was doing his dead-ball work two seasons ago. Nearly a month of frustration, surely, went into the striker’s high, leathered shot in the 32nd minute which confirmed Miller’s relish to be back, after a three-game ban.

Madden’s own frustration-scattering attempt at the Warwick Road End then threatened to make him the headline act; as did a man-of-the-match performance which did the likeable striker great credit. But when Yeovil equalised twice, United needed a third hero, and not for the first time this season it was Zoko, who was possibly the only man able to locate such a narrow space between Yeovil bodies and the right-hand post in order to get three more points in the can.

The celebration was a joy: a merry sprint towards the Paddock and a roar of delight, as Zoko’s team-mates swarmed around him. That goal, his 11th of 2011/12, took Carlisle’s African forward past his total for last season and restored United’s authority as the best rivals to Stevenage for sixth place (the men from Hertfordshire, beaten at Charlton, can reclaim the position if they avoid defeat against Huddersfield tomorrow).

The pattern of this open game, full of attacking boldness and mistakes further back, established itself after eight long seconds. Yeovil kicked off, Andy Williams bundled through a Danny Livesey tackle then outpaced Frank Simek, and failed, just, to chip Adam Collin.

United survived that scare and then the next, when Williams got beyond Peter Murphy and slotted across goal as Simek came to the rescue. When the right-back was engaged again, in the sixth minute, to clear a tease of a cross from Lawson D’Ath, you wondered if Abbott’s latest reshuffle (Livesey for Michalik, Tom Taiwo for the injured Thirlwell, and Miller for Liam Noble as Carlisle adjusted to 4-4-2) was going to be able to lift them from Monday’s wretchedness.

Eventually, though, it did. Miller’s return upfield gave United a greater presence in Yeovil’s half and Carlisle steadily grew into their new shape. In the 12th minute, Miller fed Zoko for a run and a saved shot. Later, the duo swapped roles as Miller’s attempt from the left was repelled. Next came one of many James Berrett corners which Livesey met with his head, obliging Sam Walker to make a reflex save.

Carlisle’s improvement led Gary Johnson, the visiting boss, to pull all his outfield players across for an impromptu team-talk during a brief stoppage, and this, briefly, prompted the Glovers to come back out of hiding through Jonathan Franks, who broke away from a Berrett mistake and fed Williams for a cross which had to be palmed over by Collin.

But United’s urgency remained impressive and they soon parked themselves behind enemy lines once more. Madden met a Simek cross with a volley into the ground, and then Bondz N’Gala met a JP McGovern cross with his arm, allowing Miller to arrow in his penalty.

This encouraged Carlisle to end the first half at a canter, as McGovern’s curling free-kick tested Walker, Zoko dribbled a couple of steps too far from a good position and then the Ivorian had another attempt blocked. Cumbrian ascendancy lasted just 20 more seconds when the second half began, however, because Yeovil took their equaliser, through Jonathan Obika’s shot which Collin failed to deal with at his near post.

Brunton Park cursed that malfunction, but two minutes on and United’s appetite was on display again, as N’Gala was pickpocketed by Madden and the former Bohemians man slotted expertly past Walker, rapped hands with a cluster of fans in the Warwick Road End and then performed a little Irish jig.

The fun was back. One problem, though. There were still 42 minutes to go. Back Carlisle retreated, as Collin redeemed himself with a fine tip-over from Franks’ rising shot. The need for further defiance was certainly grasped by the recalled Livesey, who competed keenly alongside Murphy and put himself limpet-like on Obika, while Taiwo started unveiling his repertoire of blocks and interceptions.

The game duly slowed from its breakneck pace, but in Zoko, United always had a willing runner, as Miller kept feeding his colleagues crossing chances and ref Scott Mathieson entered an especially fussy spell. Yeovil, meanwhile, upped their intent with a 72nd minute attack which saw substitute Jonathan Grounds crack a clean, low shot which Collin pushed away. Zoko then glided into the box from the left and won a corner, but Johnson’s men silenced Brunton Park for a second time when Grounds rose to nod down a free-kick and another replacement, Dominic Blizzard, clipped the chance home.

This gave the drama dial a firm twist. United responded with a McGovern cross on to which Zoko sneaked ahead of Walker, heading against the post, and then back came the Glovers through Williams, who put Simek on the back foot before curling against Collin’s crossbar.

The likelihood of a winner seemed strong, but at which end? That was anyone’s punt, really, until the 93rd-minute skirmish which saw Walker fail to lay his gloves on the ball and Zoko gather up possession, before he sidestepped into space and steered the ball through the tiniest of tunnels.

Normally, it would have sent the masses home shaking their heads at the absurdity of it all. But the surprise factor has long been removed from these turbulent Carlisle victories. It’s what they do.

ADAM COLLIN-  At fault for Yeovil’s opener, but showed character to respond with some important saves.

FRANK SIMEK - Not yet back to his best but American was much improved from Monday’s poor showing.

BEN PARKER - Didn’t always look confident against Franks but just about got the job done.

DANNY LIVESEY - Seemed to relish being back in the front line, he defended and captained with full commitment.

PETER MURPHY - Steady showing from the longest-server, who had to be up to the physical test.

TOM TAIWO - Grew more impressive as the game went on and got Carlisle out of several scrapes with his interceptions.

JAMES BERRETT - Struggled to stamp his authority on the midfield but kept competing as United played to the end.

JP MCGOVERN - Relished Miller’s return and was often bright on the ball on the right of United’s midfield.

FRANCOIS ZOKO - Always keen to run at Yeovil’s defenders and if it didn’t always come off, his winner was worth the wait.

PADDY MADDEN - A fine, confident finish marked an exuberant front-running display alongside Miller.

LEE MILLER - United were better for the big Scot’s presence, and his penalty was unstoppable.

Subs: Mark Gillespie, Jordan Cook, Liam Noble, Chris Chantler, Lubo Michalik

Goals: Miller 32pen, Madden 48, Zoko 90

Booked: Taiwo, Zoko

Yeovil Town: Walker, Ayling, Jones (Grounds 62), N’Gala, Hinds, Upson, G Williams, D’Ath (Blizzard 51), Franks, Obika, A Williams. Subs: Woods, Haynes-Brown, Stewart.

Goals: Obika 46, Blizzard 81

Booked: Hinds

Ref: Scott Mathieson (Cheshire)

Crowd: 4,265 (120 Yeovil fans)


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