Carlisle United and Preston North End served up some typical derby-day fare at Brunton Park on Saturday in a full-blooded game which just about had something for everyone.
The promise from within the corridors of Brunton Park to end the season on a high has certainly come to fruition as United made it just one defeat in nine with a hard-earned point against a battling Preston outfit who were reduced to ten men with almost half an hour left to play.
“We’ve been magnificent over the past few weeks and I’m delighted for the players and the fans that we are finishing the season off like this,” manager Greg Abbott said. “This was a big game because it’s important to our supporters, and it’s good that we’ve been able to give them plenty to cheer about. We’re disappointed because we would have liked to have won it, but we’ll take a gritty and determined performance like that any day of the week.”
A vibrant atmosphere accompanied the tense opening exchanges but the game quickly settled into a decent rhythm as both sides tried to play football.
Jeffrey Monakana created a good opening when he beat Mustoe out wide. His low cross invited King to shoot but O’Hanlon, fresh from signing a new two-year deal, stepped in to make an important block.
John Mousinho wasted the first real chance of the day when he held his position on the edge of the box for a John Welsh corner. He volleyed early but he couldn’t keep it down and it sailed high into the sky.
Carlisle responded with a flowing move which set Mustoe free on the left. He beat his man but his cross was blocked at the near post. Andy Welsh followed up with a curling delivery and Rory Loy, back in action for the first time in over a month, was inches away from finishing it off.
Preston grabbed the lead moments later when King used his strength to muscle Mustoe off the ball. Jeffrey Monakana took over and a winding run ended with a crisp shot which flew into the bottom corner.
The Lilywhites looked confident and Danny Livesey had to concentrate as Monakana tried to weave more magic. He followed the ball and made the block as John Welsh let one fly on the penalty spot.
Good defending from Brad Potts brought another important intervention when he followed King as he pulled into space. A header moments before the striker pounced prevented what would have been a clear chance.
The Cumbrians started to edge into the game as the half wore on and Rory Loy did well to keep possession as he rode a string of challenges. Potts took over on the overlap and Stuckmann was relieved to be able to grasp the ball from out of the air. James Berrett then drilled an off-balance volley into the stands as he threatened to break through and Loy caused more problems with some testing runs at the heart of the back line.
United grabbed a deserved equaliser when Jon-Paul McGovern whipped a powerful 24-yard free kick over the wall. Stuckmann got a touch but Lee Miller was there to tap the rebound off the woodwork into an empty net as the visitors appealed for offside.
Temperature levels increased after the break with Noble and Wroe booked for a running exchange of feisty tackles and it needed brief moments of excitement to punctuate what became a full-blooded encounter.
Livesey, a rock throughout, made another crucial intervention as a Monakana cross was touched into the path of Mousinho and Loy inadvertently got in the way of a rasping Noble volley at the other end as clear-cut chances became few and far between.
McGovern sent a diving attempt into the side netting and Livesey slid in to stop Monakana in his tracks as the bulk of the action stayed in the middle areas of the park. A piercing cross from Wroe deserved better as Mousinho arrived late, but he took his eye off the ball and he was left to explain why his eight-yard header hadn’t hit the target.
Things boiled over with 25 minutes left to play when Nicky Wroe burst through to go one-on-one with Gillespie. A heavy touch gave the keeper the advantage in the race and the midfielder showed his frustration as he clattered feet first into the diving stopper. A second yellow card meant an early shower and a chorus of boos.
There was still work to do for Carlisle and Gillespie tipped over from the dangerous Jeffrey Monakana when he cut in from the right and bent one towards the top corner. Rory Loy took himself off on a mazy run as Carlisle regained possession but he stroked his shot over as he reached the edge of the box.
United upped the pace and substitute Mathieu Manset exchanged quick passes with Miller before drilling his effort right at Stuckmann.
And the Cumbrians were unlucky not to nick it with the last attack of the game when a Manset cross was spilled by Stuckmann. He recovered to make a block and his reactions from the missile of a shot which followed from Potts was nothing short of amazing as he somehow did enough to prevent it from streaking into his top corner.
United - Miller (37)
Preston - Monakana (12)
United - Berrett (45), Noble (51), Manset (90)
Preston - Wroe (51 & 65 - sent off), Connolly (76)
Carlisle United - Gillespie, Potts, Livesey, O'Hanlon, Mustoe, McGovern, Berrett, Noble, Welsh (Manset 63), Loy (Cadamarteri 79), Miller. Subs - Collin, Murphy, Edwards, Beck, Todd.
Preston North End - Stuckmann, Huntington, Wroe, Garner (Procter 87), Connolly, Buchanan, Monakana (Cummins 87), Welsh, Mousinho, King, Wright. Subs - Rudd, Byrom, Beardsley, Foster, Davies.
Referee - Mr Andrew Madley
Attendance - 5,965 (963 away fans)