St Helens Town made the 228-mile round trip to Gillford Park Stadium with a fear of the unknown due to the fact this was Carlisle City’s first ever game in the division and could be seen as an unknown quality.
What Town did know however, was that they could go into the game after an encouraging pre season which saw them include most of last season’s squad, however, there were six new signings on show including the returning Cole Ashton and Chris Lomax.
Town lined up with a 3-5-2 formation that had been tested during pre season and had been seldom used in last campaign.
With Ant Whelan and Ste Rigby missing, Sam Rawsthorne and Danny Brady filled in at centre back and left wing back respectively.
This defence was immediately tested as Carlisle started the brighter, encouraged by an optimistic home crowd.
They made a dream start to their first campaign in this division as Town failed to deal with a Mark Boyd free kick into the area, the ball eventually found Carlisle City number nine Jordan Atkinson fired home from close range.
The hosts doubled their advantage minutes later as another set piece was put into the box, this time a corner, which broke to Carlisle’s Mark Boyd who’s first time effort nestled into the bottom corner from 25 yards, leaving Town keeper Lee Novak with no chance.
Carlisle had their tails up at this point and smelled blood, however Town held their nerve and started to gain territorial advantage, largely down to Phil Williams’ marauding advances down the right hand side helped his team push up the pitch.
St Helens found their way back into the game through a man who knows how to score a wonder goal.
A header from a Town cross could only find Ed Pegler, who hit the ball on the half volley from 25 yards which flew into the top corner. Game on.
Just after the half hour mark, this entertaining first half had a fourth goal as the visitors equalised. The Lomax brothers George and Chris have linked up so well in pre season, and did so again here as a Chris Lomax cross found George whose bullet header put Town on level terms going into half time.
Town started the second half the stronger, as they looked to capitalise on the momentum generated at the end of the first period. Phil Williams had a shot blocked before a Rory Delap-style long throw from Sam Rawsthorne broke to last season’s league top goalscorer Andy Gillespie who fired over.
However, this pressure counted for little as a Carlisle counter attack found Mark Worrall at the back post that beat Brady to the ball to restore the host’s advantage.
Town continued to press after this and a George Lomax header forced a decent save from Carlisle keeper Greenall. St Helens levelled in bizarre circumstances as a 30-yard Gillespie free kick seemed to be a simple catch for the Carlisle City goalkeeper but he let the ball squirm through his legs to put Town level for the second time.
The visitors continued this spell of dominance with a George Lomax effort that was deflected wide. Town then surged up the field with a sweeping counter attack, a cross from substitute Danny Greene found the head of Andy Gillespie but his effort could only hit the bar.
Similarly to last season, Town’s attacking threat was strong but they conceded a fourth goal late on. Carlisle grabbed a winner through Mark Birch as his first time effort was too powerful for Lee Novak, sending the visitors on the 114 mile journey back to St Helens empty handed.
Next up for Town is an away game at Cheadle Town on Saturday 13th August before hosting their first home match of the season at Prescot Cable’s Volair Park against Sandbach United.
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