Bristol Rovers 1 - 0 UNITED

Last updated : 24 January 2004 By Al Woodcock
Kevin Gray
Gray: Costly lunge
United remain stuck at the bottom of the league following their 12th defeat in 14 away games. A penalty early in the second half, conceded by Kevin Gray was despatched by Wayne Carlisle to register the only goal of the match.

United welcomed back Tom Cowan who replaced Peter Murphy at left back with Murphy moved into midfield in place of Will McDonagh. Up front Kevin Henderson kept his place with Matty Fryatt starting on the bench. Cheap admission prices ensured a healthy attendance of 8,485 at the Memorial Ground, with 537 United fans present.

Defender Christian Edwards had the first sight of goal in the fifth minute when United got sucked into the goalmouth and the stopper shot just wide from the edge of the box. Carlisle had an opening themselves on seven minutes when Murphy's free kick dipped late but cleared the cross-bar. Kevin Austin got up to meet a corner on 14 minutes but Glennon was on hand to save comfortably. A Ryan Williams corner on 23 minutes was punched out by Glennon as far as Wayne Carlisle who shot wide of the target. Glennon was tested again moments later when he saved an Austin header.

Then Paul Simpson found space in the box and volleyed over the bar when he might have done better. Lee Matthews got to the byline and pulled the ball back for Haldane who unaccountably couldn't get on the end of it when the goal beckoned. Then Carlisle and Williams combined down the right to give Matthews an opening but his header went narrowly wide.

United would have been happy to go in at the break goalless. Rovers had created by far the most chances and had more possession, but United had defended strongly, in particular the central defensive pairing of Gray and Andrews.

Carlisle made a busy start to the second period. Cowan shot low but unmenacingly straight at Kevin Miller. Henderson tried to set up Preece who was tackled as he shaped to shoot with his left foot. Disaster struck a few minutes later as Williams fed Haldane and Gray made a clumsy lunge to concede a penalty. Wayne Carlisle stepped up and drilled low into the net. Within a minute Matthews headed over when he could have made it 2-0. Billy did well to deliver a cross but Preece was unable to control on the penalty spot when a chance beckoned.

The pacy Junior Agogo replaced Ryan Williams after 61 minutes. McGill turned sharply and fired a left footer which was deflected into the path of Miller. Haldane chopped down McGill to become the first player booked by referee Bates. Glennon had to turn a long-range Matthews effort round the post after Billy had given the ball away. Henderson was replaced by Fryatt on 70 minutes. It was hoped the injection of pace from the 17-year-old loanee striker would make the difference.

The teenager made a nice turn to create an opening but Dave Savage made an important tackle to concede a corner. Carlisle quickly forced another corner but Miller's long punch almost set up a rapid counter-attack for the Pirates. Simpson took himself off with 10 minutes remaining, Adam Rundle getting a chance to show some sparkle as substitute. The Cumbrians forced their fifth corner in eight minutes and from it, Arnison was fouled to set up a free kick. Preece's shot hit the underside of the cross-bar. Gray followed up but Miller reacted and blocked with his legs.

Preece wasted the Cumbrians' last chance deep into stoppage time when he blasted a free-kick way over the bar.

Al's verdict: Our luck wasn't in when Preece's terrific free kick came off the woodwork but it would have been an undeserved point as we didn't play particularly well. The quality of our balls into the box was generally poor and it was only when Fryatt was introduced late in the game that we looked more dangerous and created some pressure with a string of corners. In fact, we played our best football at the start and finish of each half but in the middle, it was the home team who looked the more likely. Clearly if we are to pull off a Great Escape it's going to have be mainly through home victories. Good effort from the defence who at least didn't concede an outfield goal for the first time this season but we are still awaiting that elusive away clean sheet.