High-flying Rochdale bagged all three points at Gillford Park on Tuesday afternoon as they took advantage of a first half sending off for the home side to turn the screw and grab a goal either side of the break.
Two very disciplined teams kept each other at arm’s length for the first 20 minutes of the encounter and clear-cut chances were few and far between as the 18-yard boxes stayed well protected.
But the young Blues were dealt a blow when Kieron Olsen tangled with Neil Kuemo as a deep free kick dropped into the visiting box. The assistant referee waved his flag as the pair came together, and the Carlisle midfielder was subsequently sent from the field of play for the use of an elbow as he tried to get on the end of the delivery.
The hosts responded well to the setback and a set piece from Cowburn wasn’t too far away as he went for glory from 26-yards.
Dale started to settle into their stride as they took the possession into the Carlisle half and Taylor had to jump high to clear an inswinging free kick as Tavares and Hoti lurked.
It was a short-lived reprieve for the hosts though as Harrison Hopper was left completely unmarked for the resulting corner, and he was able to pick his spot as he nodded an unstoppable header into the top corner.
Keeper Regan Ward showed good bravery to keep the deficit down to just the one goal ahead of the break when he raced off his line as Kuemo beat the offside trap. The striker was just about to pull the trigger when a low dive took the ball away from his toes.
United came out of the second half blocks with purpose and they gave as good as they got through a nip and tuck exchange. A whipped Brockbank cross was begging for a touch when he bent the ball past the back line, and McCarron was unlucky when he kept his eye on a ball which looped out of the sky in front of him. He put his boot through a volley but Matheson was on hand to make an excellent and much-needed block.
The good Carlisle work was undone when Tavares stayed on the shoulder of the last man to beat the offside trap. He kept his cool and drilled a fierce shot into the bottom corner to leave the hosts with a mountain to climb.
The Blues finished the game on the front foot and Lloyd was unlucky not to register when he dropped a shoulder and fizzed a rasping effort at the target. Davis-Hale readjusted to make a two-handed save.
Defender Aidan Hutchinson dropped a header just wide as the Blues continued to push, but Dale kept their shape and they saw the game out to a clean sheet and three points which keeps their challenge at the top of the table well and truly alive.
United – Ward, Kelly (Casson 82), Brockbank (Miller 76), Taylor, Hutchinson, Watson (Lloyd 76), Cowburn (Papa 34), Olsen, Brown (Dixon 65), Adewusi, McCarron.
Sent off – Olsen (25)
Dale – Davis-Hale, Matheson, Appiah, White (Ward 46), Neild, Renner, Hoti, McKley, Tavares, Hopper, Kuemo. Subs – Ward, Hamzat, Yonsian, Kearney.
Goals – Hopper (38), Tavares (67)
Booked – Ward (51)