Duncan Hart on the longest away trip of the season for a view just inside Brunton Park.
Well that was classic Pompey. Decent away following (953) for a long trip. Falling behind before fighting back to take the lead and then the standard sucker punch – a 95th minute goal of the season contender. I swear this happens to us more than other clubs, or perhaps we just remember them more easily?
Carlisle away was a game that I was particularly looking forward to. It was the first fixture I turned to when they were published in the summer. I had been disappointed to have not been able to attend the recent two league games or the League Cup game in 2009 due to varying reasons; and I was a bit too young for the last game prior to that in 1985!
I was absolutely certain that I was not going to be denied again to visit club 91 out of the current 92 league teams with Pompey, particularly as I am (still) hopeful not to be in League 2 next year. So I was more than a tad concerned when news filtered through that the pitch was completely flooded just a few days before the game. Credit to Carlisle for the big operation to pump the water out and make the pitch playable. Incredibly, it was even clear for a youth game on Tuesday.
Given the distance to the game, myself and a couple of friends decided to make it a long weekend and visited the Lake District for some fresh air and lots of real ale. We didn’t account for the cold snap though, and our Saturday morning drive to Carlisle nearly met an early end when we hit black ice driving up the appropriately named “Struggle” near Ambleside. We were saved by Gina’s rally driving skills that kept us on the road and not into a stone wall.
Onto Carlisle, and we settled into the rugby club next door to the football ground for a few beers. Blackburn RFC were the visitors for a 2.15 KO. It was refreshing to see supporters enjoying a beer while standing and watching the game – a privilege that is reserved for football supporters below the conference in England.
Brunton Park is a fantastic ground, with terracing on three sides and a great looking home terrace.
The ground was far from full, but we were jammed into two sections at the far end of the main seated stand. Why? There was plenty of space to have seats further up the stand, and one terrace behind the goal was completely unused. Many fans had a better view of the unused terrace, rather than the actual game!
The game itself turned on a penalty and a non-penalty. We had the better of the first half, with more possession as usual, but unlike last week’s home game against Wimbledon this possession did lead to several attempts on goal. Unfortunately as the half was entering into its final stages, Burgess slid in for a tackle on the edge of the area but failed to get the ball. Penalty for Carlisle, which Grainger converted from the spot and there was no time to seek an immediate equaliser.
We huffed and puffed for much of the opening part of the 2nd half, but a resilient Carlisle defence were up to the challenge. Davies fell in the box under a light challenge that the referee deemed a foul, but bizarrely adjudged it to be outside the area. It was questionable whether it was a foul in the first place, but if there was contact, then it was certainly in the area. McGurk fired the resultant free kick straight into the wall.
Changes were required and Cooky duly obliged bringing on Tollitt and McNulty for Evans and McGurk on the 64th minute. It was a particularly inspired change, as both players had a hand in our two goals that followed within four minutes of coming on the pitch.
Tollitt added dynamism and skill down the right-hand side, and it was his low cross that was turned home by Lavery at the near post. We hardly had a chance to finish celebrating when McNulty picked up a loose ball and charged into the box before striking a hard shot into the roof of the net from 12 yards out. 2-1!
Cue delirium in the away end…or is that away side…or wait, the stand half way outside of the ground. McNulty dived into the arms of blues fans and was booked for celebrating with fans that had travelled 350 miles. Sadly the referee can’t use his common sense in these situations for fear of being penalised by an FA assessor.
McNulty’s cameo appearance came to an abrupt end after a mere ten minutes on the pitch and a goal. Now in the lead, Atangana came on to add steel to the midfield. Nerves seemed to get the better of the players as the game entered into its final 10 minutes. The calm possession football disappeared and passes starting going astray too easily gifting Carlisle the opportunities to create an equaliser.
Time was ticking and then the sucker punch…5 minutes into injury time and Grainger (yep, him again) picked up the ball and rifled a shot from 25 yards into the top corner. Murphy failed to move for the shot, but to be honest he probably had as much chance to save it as I did from the away stand outside of the ground.
Overall, it was a solid performance and one that probably deserved all three points, but it wasn’t to be. It’s now six games without a win in the league. There is little wrong with the away form, and the performances on the road will need to continue if we can’t find a way to improve the performances at home where chances have been at a premium. On the basis of his performance on Saturday and other appearances, it certainly seems like Tollitt deserves a start. His youthful exuberance and obvious talent could provide the spark much needed at home.
Onwards to York at home…and hopefully Swansea in the Cup to complete the Pompey 92.
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