11 May 2009
Millwall's last league game of the season finished with a whimper rather than the roar that boss Kenny Jackett demanded as thunderbolt's from Graham Kavanagh and Paul Thirlwell secured League One survival for Carlisle.
The Lions handed away vital home advantage in the second leg of the playoff against Leeds United with the slip-up in the squad’s last preparation before the biggest six days of their career.
And having notched up three straight away defeats to teams at the wrong end of the table - Carlisle, Bristol Rovers and Yeovil - the confidence and motivation heading up to Elland Road will need a serious boost at the Den come Saturday.
The Lions were immediately on the back foot as the Cumbrians rocketed out of the blocks. Former Republic of Ireland international Kavanagh let fly from 30 yards on his return from suspension as the Lions' backline stood back and watched him.
Joe Anyinsah got in down the Lions right to tee-up the veteran who left David Forde in goal little chance with the pile-driver five minutes in. Neil Harris, returning to the first team for the first time in seven games, fired over the bar after Lewis Grabban's neat cut back from the byeline that should have got the south Londoners back on level terms.
James Henry, a constant threat all afternoon, teased a delicious in-swinging cross that fell between striker Harris and Gary Alexander and forced former Leeds full back Ian Harte into action as he cleared off the line with 'keeper Ben Williams well beaten.
Carlisle belied their recent relegation form and looked more like the promotion contenders of last season's fruitless campaign as they passed well and restricted the Lions to very little.
Winger Cleveland Taylor's 21st-minute volley was well saved by Forde between the sticks after Andy Frampton failed to clear his lines. A minute later Frampton nearly equalised when Henry's corner was only half-cleared to the Player of the Season who poked a volley through a crowded penalty area only to see his effort bobble wide with Williams yet again stranded.
Alexander had his first sight on goal well saved by Williams from a tight angle after Anyinsah miss-controlled the ball into his path in the danger area that was snubbed out.
The hosts should have taken a two-goal lead ten minutes before the break when Lewis Neal was put in the clear by Anyinsah's 60-yard run and pass. The hapless wide-man mis-fired wildly over the bar before heading another cross straight at Forde just a minute later with the goal simply gaping.
Jackett's rallying call at the break was quickly forgotten by the visitors who seemed more interested in avoiding injury and any rash challenges.
That was all the invitation midfield Thirwell needed when he smashed a left-foot rocket up and over Forde to put the hosts beyond touching distance in the one-sided affair.
Taylor's cross was headed clear by skipper Tony Craig only to find swivelling Thirwell on the turn to dispatch a well-executed second and sign, seal and deliver Carlisle's rescue mission.
Jason Price's introduction at the break followed by midfield pair Marc Laird and David Martin before the hour-mark added some fight to the Lions who finally begun to click into gear.
Kavanagh was fortunate not to deflect Henry's low cross beyond his own stopper just moments before Alexander crashed his header off the underside of the crossbar with keeper Williams a bystander for both.
Hard-working Nadjim Abdou side-footed just wide of the mark after a neat lay-off from Alexander fifteen minutes from time before a cynical last ditch hack by defender Richard Keogh ended Price's thoughtful run on the edge of the box.
The Welshman was bearing down on out-rushing Williams when Keogh scythed him down - only for referee Neil Swarbrick to wave play on. No free kick, let alone the most blatant of straight red cards as the remaining Lions fans went ballistic in the away end.
Jackett and the Lions faithful can only hope that they have used up every last inch of bad luck before the two-legged battle with the Yorkshire club and the frustrated boss hit-out at ailing ref Swarbrick after the game. He said: "I hope we get a better referee for the play-offs.
"We had chances but I've seen it again and it should've been a red card. It's disappointing."
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