Sir Chris pretty much summed it up in his programme notes. We were indeed “keen” to get to the third round; not desperate, but not entirely indifferent. The first-half performance didn’t get much above indifferent, but by raising the effort in the second period we did enough. You can’t expect the same level of commitment as we saw on Monday night, not from the players - with changes to the team but Wright-Phillips and Kermorgant on the bench if required – nor from the fans. With the crowd down to around 7,500 the atmosphere was missing until we attacked the Covered End. But again, we did enough. And we’re still happy.
Enforced and optional changes to the team were always on the cards. Sullivan started in goal, Wiggins and Solly were retained, but Cort came in to partner Morrison, with captain Taylor taking a break. Evina started wide-left in place of the unavailable Ephraim, with Green on the other flank and Pritchard alongside Hollands in the centre. Up front Hayes was partnered by Wagstaff rather than either Euell or the not-departed Benson. It looked like a decent enough mix, with a chance to look at Evina playing further forward and the opportunity for Wagstaff to show he can do a forward’s role if required.
However, when the work-rate drops and players aren’t fully focused, it’s hard to make things happen. Through the first half there were flashes and moments when we threatened, but I can’t remember their keeper being forced to make a save. I did see Wiggins get caught out trying something he wouldn’t in a league game and Hollands robbed of possession. That summed things up. After a wobbly start Cort settled into what he likes best, heading the ball clear – and almost getting on the end of a couple of corners at the other end – but it was telling that Sullivan was by far the more active custodian, making a couple of more than decent saves and leaving those in front of him in no doubt if they’d erred – especially when a back pass or two put him under pressure.
The second half brought a more determined approach and with the effort raised suddenly players who had looked peripheral in the first half – Green, Evina, Hayes, Wagstaff and Pritchard – were suddenly involved. Hayes had a good spell in linking up play, Wagstaff managed to control well a through ball to get in, but stretching the shot was saved. And their keeper splendidly turned one over the bar. It wasn’t all one-way traffic and Sullivan added to his tally of decent saves. But we were looking the more likely and the break came from a set piece, with two or three attempts blocked before the ball sat nicely for Morrison to plant it into the net.
After that Carlisle didn’t exactly go for it with all guns blazing, perhaps still stung by their recent league reverse at The Valley. There wasn’t a great deal of conviction about their play after going behind and, while we looked comfortable – especially with Solly blocking off their left side - with just one, we were more likely to add to the total. Evina managed to wriggle his way through and provided one delicious cross which was nearly converted. Kermorgant came on for Green, with Wagstaff moving back out wide, and then Wright-Phillips was obliged to break sweat for Hayes. His first involvement was to run onto a through ball, but the angle wasn’t good as he declined to shoot with his left and the chance was gone. Finally Euell came on for Evina and as the clock ticked around to 90 minutes Kermorgant made progress inside the area and squared it for Euell to slide in and round things off.
So, we’re in the bag for the FA Cup proper. Any one of three options will do for me: home or away to one of the big boys, home to a decent Championship team, or home to one of the remaining minnows (I’ve nothing against sneaking into the last eight playing no-one of note; after all, Millwall made it to Wembley that way). Equally, I’ll not have many gripes if the cup run ends in the next round, although I will be ‘keen’ that we go through whoever we’re against. The games come thick and fast after Christmas; a cup run mixed with a couple of postponements and we’ll have an unwanted problem. But it’s not such a bad problem to have.
According to the recent ONS study, apparently about three-quarters of people in the UK are satisfied with life. But the survey was conducted between April and August. If it had been done between August and November the reading would surely have been much higher, given our season to date and the effect this must be having on the mood throughout the country. It couldn’t of course be 100% as it’s impossible for a Palace or Millwall fan to be happy, whoever they roll over in secondary competitions.
No player ratings from me for today, given the proverbial game of two halves. Suffice to say that Sullivan should take the man of the match award, with special mention in dispatches for Solly and Cort. On to Walsall on the back of seven straight wins since the Stevanage game, including five clean sheets. May it continue. I just can’t help worrying that this time around Powell might just get that manager of the month award.