IT'S a good job Denis Law left at half time.

The Leeds Road legend watched Andy Booth and Jon Stead give Town command in a first half featuring 23 efforts at goal, 12 of them on target.

Law might have doubled the tally himself against a woeful Carlisle side and, as he left the directors' box, he remarked: "Well, you can't beat that for excitement and entertainment."

The same could not be said for the second half, unless you were one of the 501 travelling supporters who saw their side pull a goal back through Darren Kelly and hit the woodwork twice in the closing stages through Craig Farrell and ex-Emley man Shaun Smith.

Town were lucky to hold on for a win which puts them back in the play-off placings - and what the Reading scout made of it all will make interesting reading for new manager Steve Coppell.

You could certainly imagine the voice of watching BBC pundit John Motson raising a decibel or two had he been describing the action towards the end - when Town's followers were just bellowing in frustration and disbelief.

No-one could have foreseen the game becoming so close, although the half-time dismissals of Steve Yates and Carlisle striker Ritchie Foran for a head-butting incident in the tunnel affected Peter Jackson's side far more than the visitors, who went within an ace of avoiding a seventh straight League defeat.

Town seemed to lose all urgency and, after conceding their first goal in seven hours and 13 minutes of McAlpine action when Kelly prodded in, they were living on their nerves for the final 17 minutes.

Loan man Smith - who left Emley to become a stalwart at Crewe alongside Efe Sodje before joining Hull City - caused lots of problems with his crosses and corners from the left and should have equalised himself in stoppage time.

Farrell was unlucky to see a header go over and a shot crack a post - both from Smith crosses - before Smith lashed a left-foot drive from no more than four yards up against the underside of the bar.

It stayed out and their ex-Town star and captain, Chris Billy, philosophically mused: "That's the sort of luck you get when you're down at the bottom."

While Carlisle could point to a positive closing spell and something to work on before the teams meet again in the LDV Vans Trophy at Brunton Park a week tomorrow, Town's only worries are that they didn't kill them off in a dominant first-half and that they weren't positive enough when down to 10 in the second.

With more composed finishing and less impressive goalkeeping, Town could easily have been six up at the break - and the floodgates may well have opened had Booth not been denied in breathtaking fashion with only three minutes gone.

Firstly, Stead was extremely unfortunate to see a raking 18-yard drive smash against the lefthand post, but when the ball fell to Booth in the six-yard box he seemed certain to score. Glennon, however, pounced not once but twice and three times to keep the ball out as Booth was left clasping his head in his hands.

Jon Worthington, Sodje and Yates all tried their luck as Town piled forward after that (with Danny Schofield at the hub of many moves), and when Glennon blocked a deflected Andy Holdsworth effort with his legs before touching Booth's header over the bar, it maintained the standard for the keeper's memorable display.

Hard-working Tony Carss and the lively Stead went close with curling free-kicks, while Sodje couldn't believe that Glennon got down to save his powerful header from Lee Fowler's probing cross.

At that stage, the nearest Carlisle had come was with an overhit Sodje backpass which Ian Gray had to clear and a Town goal was inevitable.

It came in the 37th minute thanks to Booth, who reacted smartly with a left foot shot after Schofield's drive from a Stead free kick had hit him and dropped invitingly in the box.

Carlisle got half a chance soon after when Gray had no option but to handle Sodje's backpass, but the shot by Kelly was blocked by Holdsworth and it inspired Town towards a storming finish to the half.

Firstly, after a free-kick had been moved forward 10 yards by bewildering referee Brian Curson, Worthington had a fierce drive touched against the bar.

Then Glennon starred again as he tipped over Stead's header from a Carss corner.

There was no help for the keeper in stoppage time, however, as Stead reacted before a static defence to score with a curling opportunist drive (his 11th goal of the season to add to Booth's sixth).

Town created opportunities at the start of the second half without any real venom - Schofield, Booth, Carss and Stead all making attempts from long range as Yates took a seat behind the dug-out to watch.

There was time, too, for Holdsworth to go close with a stretching back-post effort from Schofield's cross before Town went completely off the boil.

Teenager Holdsworth, in fact, was easily Town's best player on the day, building on a bright start to continue raiding with purpose down the right.

This is now his longest run of starts at senior level, and don't bet against him extending it on this sort of form.

Town will be disappointed it all went pear-shaped in the second half, but they've now won six McAlpine matches on the trot and they are back in the play-off placings.

So it's the points that count, just ask Carlisle.

Town form (3-5-2)

Ian Gray Didn't really have a save to make. Fouled before Carlisle's goal and relied twice on the woodwork late on Rating: 6/10

Andy Holdsworth His most impressive first team game so far. Raided well down the right flank and adapted nicely to right back second half Rating: 8/10

Tony Carss Worked hard on the left and whipped in some decent crosses. Inches away with a free kick in the first half Rating: 7/10

Steve Yates Solid first half and tried his luck with a header. Not so lucky in the tunnel at half time: off for violent conduct Rating: 5/10

Efe Sodje Unlucky not to score with a cracking header and made some valuable clearances as Town were stretched Rating: 6/10

Nathan Clarke Won some vital headers in the closing stages of the game as Town rode their luck. Relieved pressure with his throw Rating: 6/10

Lee Fowler Saw plenty of the ball and had time to play, directing well until Town lost their way with 10 in the second half Rating: 6/10

Jon Worthington Worked hard and was unlucky to see a blistering drive touched onto the bar by keeper Matty Glennon Rating: 6/10

Danny Schofield His trickery on the ball caught the eye and he was especially lively in the first half, linking play with genuine promise Rating: 7/10

Andy Booth Scored a smart sixth goal of the season and saw three early efforts blocked brilliantly on the line by the keeper Rating: 6/10

Jon Stead His 11th goal of the season eventually proved the decider and he was unlucky not to add at least two more Rating: 7/10

Carlisle United

Glennon, Shelley, Kelly (Jack 82), Billy, Foran, Livingstone, Andrews, McDonagh, Farrell, McGill (Wake 58), Smith.

Subs not used: Rundle, Byrne, Lynn.


Star Man: Andy Holdsworth

Started very brightly with his raiding down the right and continued to supply decent support and crosses in the second half. It was Holdsworth who blocked Carlisle's penalty-box free kick in the first half, too, so all round he had a splendid game to take top marks

Turning Point

The half-time dismissal of Steve Yates for a tunnel altercation with Carlisle frontman Richie Foran seemed to disrupt Town more than the visitors. All urgency went from Town's play and Carlisle were able to run them close


Subs used: Town: None. Carlisle: Wake for McGill 58, Jack for Kelly 82..

Subs not used: Town: Holland, Senior, Mirfin, Brown, Mattis. Carlisle: Rundle, Byrne, Lynn.

Referee: Brian Curson (Leicester).

Scorers: Town: Booth 37, Stead 45. Carlisle: Kelly 73.

Dismisals: Town: Yates. Carlisle: Foran.

Bookings: Town: Sodje, Fowler. Carlisle: Kelly, Billy, Farrell.

Shots on target: Town: 15. Carlisle 6.

Corners: Town 4, Carlisle 5.

Caught offside: Town 0, Carlisle 2.

Free-kicks awarded: Town: 16, Carlisle 10.

Attendance: 9,059 (Away: 501).

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