Improved weather conditions and early morning snow clearance duties left the pitch surface near perfect for the visit of Scunthorpe and it was rewarded with a hard-earned share of the spoils from two sides growing in confidence as the season goes on.
“Dave [Mitchell] is an unbelievable groundsman,” manager Greg Abbott said. “He has pulled out all of the stops yet again and he has got this one just right. It’s a fantastic effort and I don’t think you could tell there had been any snow at all by the time it got round to kick off.”
Carlisle made it four home games without defeat courtesy of one of the best goals ever seen at Brunton Park when youngster Dave Symington came off the bench to bulge the back of the net with his first searing touch of the game from a 30-yard free kick.
“It’s one of those where you just know you’ve hit it right,” Symington said. “It was my first touch of the game as well, so that made it even better. I decided to go for it and I couldn’t believe it when I saw it fly into the top corner. I don’t know what else to say ... it’s just superb!”
“The manager told me to go on and make an impact and he said I was on set pieces. It was a distance from goal but it’s something I practice over and over. Mind you, I still haven’t got a celebration sorted because I don’t even know what to think when something like that happens.”
“It’s not rocket science to see why we tell him to get onto set piece duties when he comes off the bench,” manager Greg Abbott said. “He has it in his locker to do that and it really is amazing. He can strike the ball with the best of them and it just doesn’t surprise us any more.”
It was tense and tight as the ball pinged around in the densely packed midfield area with Scunthorpe willing to try their luck whenever an opening appeared.
Barcham dragged a shot wide when he pounced on a moment of hesitation from Simek, but the right back made amends when he blocked the same player with a brave tackle just moments later.
A Sodje lay-off again released Barcham as the visitors settled into the game but his attempted curler angled just over the bar with Gillespie confident the shot was missing.
Andy Welsh looked lively on his return to first team action and a jinking run took him past two and into the box. He went for a shot on his weaker foot and Slocombe dropped low to gather the effort.
The Iron should have taken the lead on 18 minutes when Duffy drilled a low free kick from a tight angle across the face of goal. Jimmy Ryan moved to meet it and somehow sent his close range volley high over the bar.
An enterprising run in what was a good spell for the visitors took Newey deep into the Carlisle half and it needed a lunging dive from Robson to send it behind to safety. Duffy popped the corner onto the penalty spot and Tom Newey was unlucky to see his firm header graze the top of the crossbar.
Good work from Welsh took two defenders out of the game as the Cumbrians attacked in numbers and Robson raced into space to create an angle for the cross. The retreating Niall Canavan breathed a sigh of relief as it ricocheted off his shin and just wide of the upright.
Former-Blues hero Karl Hawley was then guilty of a horrible miss after doing the hard work to leave Berrett and Robson in his wake. The angle was tight but that was no excuse for the poor finish which followed.
Carlisle almost grabbed the lead just seconds after the break when McGovern took charge of a deep free kick. His delivery invited O’Hanlon to move and a powerful header had to be tipped over the bar by the alert Sam Slocombe.
Liam Noble then opted for precision when he went on the overlap on the edge of the area. The pass from McGovern left him with options but he could only send the grass cutter into the keeper’s hands.
Intricate football involving Noble, Potts, Welsh and Robson left Scunthorpe flat-footed but midfielder Brad Potts took his eye off the ball and tapped his tame volley right at Slocombe.
Scunthorpe weathered the storm and went close when Barcham jinked his way into the box. He picked out Hawley and it needed a clearance off the line from O’Hanlon as Gillespie found himself in no man’s land.
The respite was brief though as Tom Newey shrugged off the attentions of Matt Robson before making his way to the bye line. He hesitated before putting it on a plate for Karl Hawley to stab into the net from very close quarters.
A response was needed and Slocombe again saved from O’Hanlon when he tipped over from a guided header from another well taken set piece. And the keeper edged towards hero status when he reacted sharply to grasp a goal-bound header from Miller.
Scunthorpe looked happy to do their work on the break after the goal and it almost paid off when Kennedy fed Hawley with his back to goal. O’Hanlon was tight and a roll from the striker paved the way for a piledriver which whisked just over the bar.
A deep cross from the left then found Livesey unmarked but the defender was off balance as he crashed his first time volley into the stands. Welsh was next to go close when he used pace to break into the area. He cut back inside but failed to find the contact he needed.
With the Iron standing strong there was a sense that Carlisle would need a set piece to get themselves any kind of result and substitute David Symington duly obliged with a wonder goal with his first touch of the day. He took just one step before thumping an unstoppable 30-yard free kick into the top corner past the flapping arms of the airborne and completely stranded Sam Slocombe.
Both sides had chances in the closing stages, with Robson hitting the bar with a dipping cross at one end and Gillespie producing a fine save from Grella at the other, and it was a deserved share of the spoils as the referee called time on what had been an intriguing game.
“We said it would be tight because both sides were confident of getting a result going into the game,” manager Greg Abbott said. “We’ve had to work hard and we’ve seen again that we have a really good group here. Four home games unbeaten is good for everybody and particularly because we have felt we owed the fans something for the way the results went for us here at Brunton Park before Christmas. It’s key for us to keep this going now.”
United - Symington (76)
Scunthorpe - Hawley (52)
Scunthorpe - Newey (87)
Carlisle United - Gillespie, Simek, Livesey, O'Hanlon, Robson, Noble (Beck 66), Berrett, Potts, McGovern (Symington 73), Miller, Welsh. Subs - Collin, Loy, Cadamarteri, Thirlwell, Todd.
Scunthorpe United - Slocombe, Kennedy, Reid, Ryan, Sodje, Barcham (Mirfin 90), Canavan, Duffy (Grella 90), Collins, Newey, Hawley. Subs - Severn, Godden, Howe, Wootton, Adelakun.
Referee - Mr Michael Naylor
Attendance - 3,829 (123 away fans)