Carlisle's title hopes teter on the brink after a narrow defeat against North End at the QED Stadium

Irongate, Bamber Bridge
With only two games left in the second-string season the Blues were in the position prior to kick-off of needing two wins from those matches to have a chance of taking the title, while also hoping that Wrexham would drop points in their final two fixtures. Today's need for a victory taking place at Irongate, Bamber Bridge FC, the venue that Preston use for the majority of their reserve matches.

As normal it was the usual mix of youth team and young professionals for Carlisle at this time of the season, one of those being Andy Cook who returned to action after a long period out with a broken bone in his foot. While at the other end of the pitch Matt Osmond once more filled in at left-back, and remaining in the defensive ranks Tony Kane was the United skipper for the day.

Preston's side was of a slightly weaker strength than Carlisle's overall, despite them having won the youth team title this season, but they did have the first chance of the game after three minutes when a cross-shot in from Jamie Proctor was partly saved by United goalkeeper Lenny Pidgeley, Kane then able to make a sharp clearance off the line.

Carlisle then responding three minutes later when Manny Richardson and Michael Burns set up Ryan Bowman for a quick touch and shot from a useful position just inside the Lilywhites penalty area, Bowman though cracking his left-footed shot inches wide of Dominic Comrie's left-hand post. Preston then coming back in the tenth minute with a mid-range Ryan McGreevy drive that was easily saved by Pidgeley.



Three minutes later, as the game swung from end to end, Cook was just caught marginally offside when he looked to chase down a through ball from Ben McKenna down the middle. Then for Preston sixty seconds on Neil Dougan put a good cross in from the left which found its way to the feet of Proctor eight yards out, Proctor's quickfire effort from there then forcing an excellent low one-handed save from Pidgeley.

United's best chance to get their first goal in their last six opening halves of reserve team football came and went in the 16th minute when, from a Steven Swinglehurst header back in, following a partly cleared Carlisle corner, Cook had a close range shot on the turn. The Blues returnee though unlucky to see his effort ping back off the base of the post with Conor McLaughlin then able to complete a North End clearance.

As the game went into a quieter spell Dougan smacked a long range half-volley over the top for the home side on 24 minutes, with Simon Lakeland, following the off-target shot, being booked for a foul on Sam Hart in the build-up. Three minutes later and Gavin Rothery made a good tricky run into the Preston box only for his resultant shot to end up being expertly tipped wide by Comrie, the Carlisle corner though coming to nothing.

Dougan then made it one booking apiece moments afterwards when he brought down Richardson, then after 32 minutes it was yellow cards all the way as United's Michael Burns was booked for persistent infringement following one foul too many. Burns then, with his skipper Kane in attendance, getting a stern final warning talking to three minutes later from the referee after a bit too much backchat.

With five minutes to go until the interval, Australian defender Bailey Wright, up for a North End set-piece, sent a speculative scissor kick wide from just inside the Carlisle penalty area. The last action of the half coming a minute into injury time when Richardson picked up the fourth booking of the game for a foul on Dougan, Dougan then dusting himself down to swing in the Lilywhites free-kick which was only headed weakly by Proctor straight into the arms of Pidgeley.



Straight after the interval under-16s midfielder William Hayhurst came in on place of McGreevy for Preston, North End also having the opening shooting opportunity three minutes in when another under-16s player, in Doyle Middleton, played in Dougan who fired right-footed but over the top from distance. Burns then sixty seconds later, from just beyond the Lilywhites 'D', after a Richardson touch into him, pulling his left-footed shot off target as United looked to press on.

Cook then trying his luck for the Cumbrians after 50 minutes with a well-hit drive that sadly for the Blues only flew straight at Comrie. Rothery then seeing what he could do for United two minutes later when he got a shot in from distance which was well blocked for Preston by the giant frame of centre-half Dominic Collins.

Collins then involved up at the other end for North End after 54 minutes when his knock-down from Dougan's corner in saw Naim El-Harrati whack in a well-hit volley which pinged away from danger off the body of Swinglehurst. The Lilywhites then, in a strong spell of the game for them, attacking again sixty seconds later, with the end result being a half-volley from the impressive Dougan which whistled away just inches wide of Pidgeley's far-post.

Dougan was once more heavily involved for Preston on 58 minutes when he was brought down by Osmond 22 yards out from the United goal. Dougan then stepping up himself to take the free-kick, the Northern Irish youngster perhaps picking out on Osmond on purpose as he smacked a direct shot straight into the Carlisle wall.

Bang on the hour-mark and Cook was just caught offside again when he looked to get on the end of a Rothery pass through. The Cumbrians then looking to attack once more sixty seconds later when Bowman made a good tackle on Collins before maybe a little selfishly choosing to shoot with Richardson and Cook both well placed in the North End penalty area, Bowman's 12-yard effort only seeing Comrie make a useful save with his legs.



Just before the midway point in the second-half Middleton tried his luck for North End with a long range shot that was blocked by Kane, then Preston did get the only goal of the game with 70 minutes on the clock. Things starting with an El-Harrati shot that flew away out for a corner off Swinglehurst, Dougan then the man again with the delivery as his flag-kick in was thumped into the Blues net by the towering head of Collins from eight yards out.

A similar situation occuring two minutes later when a cross in from Hayhurst saw Proctor's volley disappear behind off the body of Lakeland for a corner. This time though Collins having his header, from the Dougan flag-kick, well tipped over by Pidgeley, the Cumbrians then getting a thankful bit of respite when North End's next corner in produced nothing.

That action having even come shortly after the Lilywhites had to break up play to make a double substitution as Joshua Thomas and Sadik Kamara replaced Middleton and El-Harrati respectively. Dougan then setting up Proctor once more in the 74th minute on the edge of the Carlisle box, Proctor quickly taking the ball in well on his chest only to smack it on the volley over the top of Pidgeley's crossbar.

Moments afterwards and Burns struck a long range shot well wide of the target, with the break in play seeing United, down to only three substitutes, making their only change of the game when Phil Towler came on for Richardson in midfield. Burns seemed to be trying to find an equalising goal all on his own for United and in the 81st minute he fired wide from 22 yards out, then two minutes later another effort from his left boot almost took out the corner flag.

Carlisle not really having any further chances to trouble the scorers in the closing stages, with Preston actually having the last chance of the match as we ticked into injury time when George Miller struck in a skiddy shot from long range which skipped just wide of Pidgeley's goal. The final whistle moments later pretty much ending United's title hopes with Wrexham now needing just one win from their last two games to take the trophy.



Preston line-up :

Dominic Comrie, Conor McLaughlin, Sam Hart, George Miller, Bailey Wright, Dominic Collins, Doyle Middleton (Joshua Thomas 70), Jamie Proctor, Ryan McGreevy (William Hayhurst 46), Naim El-Harrati (Sadik Kamara 70), Neil Dougan.

Unused substitutes :

Scott Leather and Fred Holtom.


United line-up :

Lenny Pidgeley, Simon Lakeland, Matt Osmond, Steven Swinglehurst, Tony Kane (c), Manny Richardson (Phil Towler 75), Gavin Rothery, Michael Burns, Andy Cook, Ryan Bowman, Ben McKenna.

Unused substitutes :

Mark Gillespie (GK) and Mark Sloan.



Reserve Team Results : Click here

Reserve Team Table : Click here