SHEFFIELD United’s remarkable winning run ground to a halt at Carlisle yesterday.
Against opponents whose former chairman once claimed he could speak to aliens, Danny Wilson’s side came crashing back to earth when they suffered a first defeat since November.
Predictably Ched Evans, whose clinical finishing has been a driving force behind United’s climb into the upper reaches of the League One table, led the visitors’ charge at a bitterly cold Brunton Park.
Twice the Wales international dragged United back on level terms during a ferociously competitive first half which also saw Francois Zoko claim a brace for Carlisle.
Having converted from close-range following a well-executed set-piece, Evans netted his 16th of the season when Carlisle failed to clear his initial free-kick.
However, against his old employers, it was Jon-Paul McGovern who settled this contest in the Cumbrian’s favour by curling home with 19 minutes remaining.
Having hit the woodwork on three occasions, United will feel aggrieved not to have returned home with at least a point.
But despite travelling north with eight straight victories to their name, Wilson’s side failed to impose themselves on a Carlisle outfit who seem well-equipped to secure play-off qualification themselves.
Traffic congestion on the motorway meant United only arrived at the stadium an hour before kick-off.
Whether or not those haphazard preparations contributed to their woeful start will remain open to debate.
But Wilson, who prides himself on fashioning teams as strong at the back as they are potent in attack, was left shaking his head in dismay at the combination of defensive errors which culminated in Zoko handing Carlisle a second minute lead. McGovern took full advantage of the time and space he was afforded in midfield to clip a lofted pass towards the Ivorian.
A delightful touch left Harry Maguire trailing in his wake and Steve Simonsen exposed.
Maguire redeemed himself by heading Stephen Quinn’s free-kick back across Adam Collin’s area for Evans to equalise barely five minutes later.
But, once again, there were question marks about the marking which handed Zoko his second of the afternoon after a quarter-of-an-hour.
Paul Thirlwell, who was later fortunate to escape with only a caution following a scything tackle on United’s goalscorer, pumped another long pass forward and although Lee Miller appeared suspiciously offside, the fact he was allowed to tee the ball up for Carlisle’s in-form African unmarked will be the source of much annoyance in Bramall Lane’s boot room when coaching staff review this contest later today.
Evans, having earlier struck the woodwork from close-range, recovered after treatment with Quinn, recalled to United’s first choice 11, following suit midway through the opening period.
But Carlisle, displaying the mental and physical fortitude which has also propelled them firmly into top six contention, responded with another attack of their own as McGovern tested Simonsen.
Chris Porter forced a fine flying save from Collin moments before the interval but there was still time for Evans to restore parity with a powerful shot after Kevin McDonald’s effort on the rebound had already been blocked.
Carlisle tested United’s resolve throughout the second period with only Neill Collins’ late lunge preventing Miller from edging them back in front.
Evans was again thwarted by the woodwork as McDonald initiated a response but McGovern made no mistake in the 71st minute after combining well with Miller.
CARLISLE: Collin 6, Robson 7, McGovern 7, Murphy 7, Thirlwell 7, Taiwo 6 (Madden 80), Zoko 7, Miller 7, Ribeiro 6, Berrett 6, Michalik 6. Not uised: Livesey, Gillespie, Chantler, McKenna.
UNITED: Simonsen 6, Jean-Francois 6, Montgomery 6, Doyle 6 (Beattie 88), Evans 7, Flynn 6 (Williamson 76), Collins 6, Maguire 6, Porter 6 (Cresswell 60, 6), McDonald 7, Quinn 7. Not used: Ertl, Long.
Cautions: Carlisle; Thirlwell (18). United; Cresswell (73). Red cards: None