Leeds United 1 Carlisle United 1
Report of match 29th September 2009
All it took for Leeds' 15-match run of supremacy on their own turf to be ended was for Carlisle United to pull on their boots and skip back over the Pennines.The Cumbrians' role in League One these past three seasons has been to prick the illusion of Elland Road invincibility.
Before this amply-deserved draw, Carlisle's previous two visits to the White Rose's most imposing arena resulted in a brace of victories.
Only when Carlisle swing into town does Leeds' 40,000-seat stadium appear less a fortress than a field of opportunities to a visiting team.
Simon Grayson, the home manager, was able to slap onto the table a record-breaking sequence of league victories to challenge Greg Abbott's pre-match claim that the third division leaders are "not infallible".
That string of success was duly terminated by the 18th-placed Blues, who rebounded from a perplexing penalty decision in the hosts' favour, the banishing of Abbott from the touchline, the loss of their captain to injury and the effects of a heavy cold on their goalkeeper to claim the point that was the minimum their performance merited.
Conclusion: Confronting League One's most dangerous collective seems to stimulate Carlisle to the point where even a steady stream of misfortune isn't enough to finish them off.
Leeds' dodgy spot-kick alone - saved by Lenny Pidgeley but whacked home on the rebound by Jermaine Beckford after half-an-hour - would have smashed the resistance of many third-tier pretenders, considering the pedigree form that propelled the hosts into battle here.
Not Carlisle. Slotting intelligently into a smart tactical system prepared by Abbott, their red-shirted players assembled a performance of composure and nerve which saw them put Casper Ankergren's goal under sustained second-half pressure, resulting in Scott Dobie's fine equaliser 15 minutes from time.
For two-thirds of this match, Abbott was obliged to observe his strategic triumph from a seat near the press box, after referee Russell Booth had disapproved of his complaints about the Leeds penalty from the technical area.
"The view wasn't bad from up there, as it happened," smiled Abbott, who was adamant that no salty language or abusive words had featured in his touchline protests, and who relied on youth team goalkeeper Mark Gillespie to ferry instructions down to the bench for the game's last hour.
When Dobie rippled the net, five minutes after rising from the bench to replace Marc Bridge-Wilkinson, Abbott jerked from his new vantage point and punched the air.
Around him, a sea of Leeds faces scowled. For Carlisle's manager, it was the moment his decision to string five midfielders across Elland Road's acres was utterly vindicated.
Both Bridge-Wilkinson and Graham Kavanagh found themselves promoted to the starting line-up, in fact, after Paul Thirlwell succumbed to an Achilles injury earlier in the week.
With Richard Offiong sacrificed and Joe Anyinsah leading a demanding front line alone, both midfielders brought their experience to bear in the middle ground last night.
Tacked onto that was a defensive effort of classic defiance, another scampering masterclass from Tom Taiwo against his home-town club, and individual displays of due diligence from every other Carlisle player (not least Pidgeley, whose illness had put his appearance in some doubt in the hours before kick-off).
From the early stages, and beyond a brace of half-chances for Luciano Becchio and Robert Snodgrass, the sense quickly grew that United were comfortable with the demands set by Abbott - and their opponents.
Kavanagh's industry soon caught the eye as the Cumbrians effectively stifled their hosts' midfield threat.
Jonny Howson and co were struggling to make use of the tiny spaces they were being granted.
Then Mr Booth intervened, to widespread bafflement. Thirty minutes into proceedings, Richard Naylor quarterbacked a ball into the box, which was nodded down by Becchio and resulted in Michael Doyle stumbling over Taiwo's challenge and skidding to the floor.
Not a single appeal was raised by a home player or fan. In spite of this, and the strong suspicion that the challenge had occurred outside the area, Leeds' penalty was awarded.
As Abbott and Carlisle fumed, Beckford rattled Leeds in front at the second attempt.
By the time United's boss had been dispatched into the John Charles Stand for his protests, Snodgrass had bent another chance against the inside of the post and Bridge-Wilkinson had put a deflected drive just wide at the other end.
Despite United's skill at containing the bulk of Leeds' threats, most of Elland Road presumed the remaining obstacles to home victory number 16 would be removed at the point Carlisle came hunting for a leveller and the game opened up.
That this did not happen is a tribute to the Cumbrians' quality, and the resulting frustration of the hosts' own play.
Early in the second spell, Snodgrass motored onto a Becchio ball and blasted wastefully wide, although he was waved offside, Beckford whipped an ambitious effort just over from the left of the box, and Howson - United's play-off executioner two seasons back - latched onto a Richard Keogh clearance and missed the target.
But steadily, Carlisle grew. Working the ball effectively across the pitch, they organised several opportunities, one of which led to a Kevan Hurst shot which ricocheted off a white shirt, another saw a testing Matty Robson cross which Ankergren anxiously punched clear, and then there was a collection of corners which seemed to be coming to nought, until Dobie was summoned from the bench to try and repeat his substitute's heroics from three days earlier.
Against Southampton, it took him eight minutes to find the net. Last night the revitalised striker shaved three minutes from the gap between arrival and impact.
Hurst's persistence earned a corner down the right, the winger bent over a testing set-piece, and Dobie soared to bury a superb header.
The trigger for a Leeds riposte? Eventually, yes, but only after further raids from Carlisle which led to a headed half-chance for Joe Anyinsah and then a counter-attack which died when the frontman just failed to detect Dobie motoring into promising space.
Grayson's late response was to hurl the giant Enoch Showunmi into battle as the game rattled on. Pidgeley saved a Snodgrass free-kick, Bradley Johnson squandered a free header from the resulting corner, Dobie nodded another Snodgrass effort off the line and then, after Leeds' Scottish winger had been helped from the field with injury, Beckford spooned the game's final chance over the bar after scurrying onto Showunmi's flick.
Such has been Beckford's proficiency in front of the target in recent times, the sight of the striker fluffing such a make-able chance almost required a second viewing, just to be sure it happened.
In reality, it offered a convenient snapshot of a night of White Rose mortality.
Exposing Leeds as a team of human beings has become a role Carlisle patently relish. How we will miss these evenings, should Grayson and his troops finally escape into the Championship next May.
Casper Ankergren: Dobie's header was fairly close to Ankergren but the power of the finish took the ball past him before he had a chance to react. A competent outing...6/10
Leigh Bromby: Bromby's substitution did not alter United's formation but it disrupted their team at a time when they seemed to be getting a grip. The first half hour was a breeze for him...6/10
Richard Naylor: Took time to find his bearings but did not look out of place or short of fitness. Provided Ankergren with adequate protection and was not to blame for the goal...6/10
Patrick Kisnorbo: Routinely the top performer among United's players and can claim to have been once again. Quite what he's doing in this division is anyone's guess...7/10
Andrew Hughes: Did what was asked of him defensively, though at no stage was Hughes able to offer his presence in attack. Made one crucial tackle on Kavanagh as Carlisle attempted to nick a win...6/10
Robert Snodgrass: Made the best of a mediocre collective job and might have won the game had his first-half shot not struck a post. Looked in a bad way as he left the stadium last night...6/10
Jonathan Howson: Probably the first occasion this season when a game has passed him by. His probing runs were missing, as was his range of passing, and it was no surprise to see him replaced...5/10
Michael Doyle: A repeat of MK Dons in as far as Doyle found it almost impossible to get on the ball and pick Carlisle apart. Against a five-man midfield, he and Howson were too often pinned down...5/10
Bradley Johnson: A forgettable display in terms of what he was able to create, but he ran himself into the ground and was no more to blame for the result than anyone else on the night...5/10
Luciano Becchio: His return to the team failed to provide the link between United's attack and midfield which was lacking in Milton Keynes. Dobie out-jumped him to nod home the equaliser...5/10
Jermaine Beckford: Lucky to see a weak penalty returned to him, though he kept his composure to drive the ball home. Unable to take a fine opportunity presented to him in injury-time...6/10
Neil Kilkenny (for Bromby, 38) David Prutton (for Howson, 66)
Enoch Showunmi (for Becchio, 83)
Subs Unused: Andy Robinson, Mike Grella, Lubomir Michalik, Frank Fielding.
Carlisle: Pidgeley, Raven, Livesey, Keogh, Harte, Hurst, Taiwo (Murphy 85), Kavanagh, Bridge-Wilkinson (Dobie 70), Anyinsah.
Subs Unused: Collin, Horwood, Rothery, Offiong, Burns.
Goal: Beckford 30
Ref: Russell Booth (Notts)