It shows how little strength in depth Cumbria has got football-wise when a County Cup semi-final is played on a park pitch, with no turnstiles, no cover, and er, no nothing. Add to that the most overly physical approach from a side I have seen in a long time, constant intimidation of the officials from the opposition coaching staff, and spectators being sworn at by Netherhall players then you have a recipe for a pretty grim day out.
Personally, I'd have given Netherhall a walkover right from the start, as winning the youth team league is surely a bigger target, although that's an easy thing to say when you don't know what the consequences would have been. Having said that, if the Cumberland FA had threatened us with a five-year ban from the competition then I'd have asked them to extend it to ten years.
Anyway, the game, in which some football was actually played at one point. The United youngsters had the hurricane at their backs in the first-half but you could tell what kind of game it was going to turn out to be early on. Matthew Wood and a Netherhall player going in for a crunching, but fair, 50-50 challenge on six minutes which saw both players substituted after lengthy treatment, the opposition player seemingly coming off worse but I'd guess at Wood being out for the rest of the season as well.
That change for Carlisle seeing John Seaton come on to the right with Stephen Hindmarch then switching into Wood's central midfield spot. Nine minutes on the clock and an Andy Cook lay-off saw Connor Tinnion's pacey 18-yard left-footed drive tipped over by the home keeper, United being on top in the early stages with the conditions in their favour.
Netherhall should have opened the scoring in the 13th minute though when Alex Mitchell dropped a cross in the swirling wind and sideways rain. One of the home side strikers somehow hitting the underside of the crossbar with the loose ball from just six yards out. Netherhall then screaming for a penalty seven minutes later when one of their players seemed to go to ground a little too easily under a challenge from Blues left-back Matt Duffy.
Mitchell was then forced into a good save low down at his near-post from a 25-yard shot moments later, before he made an even better one-handed save in the 25th minute from a close-range toe-poke, after a deep free-kick had been pumped into the Carlisle box. Mitchell again being the busier goalkeeper of the two when he caught a back-post header on the bounce from a set-piece, given after Hindmarch had once more been softly penalised.
United came back into it though as the half went on and Tinnion sent a left-footer from 22 yards over the top on 33 minutes before Hindmarch hit a right-footed shot, from well out in the right-hand channel, across goal and wide of the Netherhall far-post seven minutes later.
Tinnion, probably due to his tricky runs more than anything, was the most fouled of the Carlisle players and the Netherhall number eleven was yellow carded for slicing him down in full flight on 43 minutes. Tinnion, being heavily involved in the opening period, as he curled corner after corner on the wind either too far or under the home crossbar, only for Netherhall to defend strongly in the air at the back.
Matthew Brown broke up from his right-back spot in first-half injury time to fire a 25-yarder with his stronger foot across goal and wide of the far-post before the last chance of the half fell the way of the home side. A good deep ball into the Carlisle box seeing one of their strikers send a diving header straight into the arms of Mitchell, when, directed anywhere else, it would surely have been the first goal in the game.
The second-half got underway at a rapid pace when a close-range header from a Netherhall corner went inches over Mitchell's crossbar two minutes after the restart. United responding sixty seconds on when a Jonny Blake pass from the left found Cook unmarked 15 yards out. Cook's right-footed strike from there flying right into the gloves of the grateful home keeper.
Netherhall, with the wind now in their favour, having a good spell in the game now with two headers in the space of a minute shortly afterwards, the first from a corner saved by Mitchell and the second flying over the top from a left-wing cross. Tinnion was again trying to superglue his legs back on in the 50th minute when he was scythed down by the home right-back, that earning the Netherhall player a booking.
A lot of poor challenges had gone unpunished by the dreadfully inconsistent referee but he seemed to give every soft foul going, one of those earning the Blues a penalty after 51 minutes. Skipper Dan Wordsworth, adjudged by the official to have been hauled to the floor as he challenged for a Tinnion chip into the box. Duffy then stepping up to the spot to confidently send the Netherhall keeper the wrong way with the inside of his left boot.
With 56 minutes gone a free-kick from 40 yards out, conceded by Blake, was thumped into the Carlisle box on the wind, the set-piece in seeing Mitchell make an excellent save low down at his far-post as the ball deflected off the scrum of players camped on the six-yard line. The resultant corner in, of which there must have been at least ten for each side during the game, coming to nothing.
Ryan Bowman got his first sniff of a chance for the Blues just after the hour-mark when, chasing a ball down the right-hand channel from Seaton, he showed some neat footwork before his 15-yard right-footed shot was deflected over. The 68th minute saw a weak free-kick given against Duffy on the right-side of the Carlisle box and Tinnion go into the book for dissent. The left-footed curler in at pace somehow seeing a Netherhall player head wide of the target from almost on the line at the back-post.
Another home player went into the book in the 71st minute for a bad foul on Bowman. Then, despite some of the other challenges in the match, what looked like nothing more than a bout of handbags saw Wordsworth and a Netherhall player red-carded three minutes later as they had a disgreement while waiting for a free-kick into the United penalty area.
The sending-off, from a Carlisle point of view, seeing Bowman replaced by Shaun Law, and meaning that Brown moved across to centre-half, Blake went to right-back and Law replaced Blake in the Blues engine-room. Cook, now playing as a lone striker, firing a 15-yard right-footed shot from the left-hand channel after 77 minutes which forced the Netherhall glovesman into a good stop at his near-post.
United were showing some pace on the break in the latter stages as their full-time training began to show, but they still couldn't get a second goal to settle the tie once and for all. Cook, from another well-hit Seaton pass down the right, firing across goal but wide from 18 yards out with just five minutes to go as the game really opened up at ten-a-side.
As the clock ticked into injury time, a corner in from Netherhall saw Blues man-of-the-match Tom Aldred, head the ball out of the box. Possession dropped straight to a Netherhall right boot 20 yards out though, only for the resultant shot to disappear at speed over Mitchell's crossbar. Another effort then flying wide from distance moments later, before, after an utterly ridiculous six minutes of injury time, in which the home side had made two substitutions, the final whistle came at last.
So, where do you start?, Matthew Wood looking likely to be out for the season and Dan Wordsworth seemingly now serving a three-match ban is going to be a real blow to United's title challenge in the youth league. As for Netherhall, they did try to play some nice football despite the conditions but, unlike all the other local sides we have played recently in the Cumberland Cup, their discipline and attitude was dreadful and I won't be in a rush to see us play them again.
United line-up :
Alex Mitchell, Matthew Brown, Matt Duffy, Tom Aldred, Dan Wordsworth, Jonny Blake, Matthew Wood (John Seaton 6), Stephen Hindmarch, Andy Cook, Ryan Bowman (Shaun Law 74), Connor Tinnion.
Unused substitutes :
John Jamieson (GK), Michael Dowson and Simon Lakeland.
Reserve Team Results : Click here
Reserve Team Table : Click here