REBUILT or not, Wembley remains the spiritual home of footballing romance, but even by its standards the story Peter Murphy wrote yesterday was a remarkable one.
Little over a year ago, the Irishman was the villain whose handball conceded the penalty which kick-started a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final humiliation against Southampton. He was the mere figurehead of a collective Carlisle United failure, but his moment of madness was emblematic of a heartbreaking day.
It was fitting, then, that for the second time in a Blues career about to enter its testimonial year, Murphy should score their only goal in a final, finally picking up the trophy at his fourth last-day attempt.
Fifty-six hours earlier, Murphy’s girlfriend Lisa had given birth to a son, delaying his journey south a few hours. She spent her first Mothers Day in the stands of football’s most famous stadium, watching as her newborn’s dad collected the man-of-the-match award.
Even in the match-day programme, Murphy was trying to explain away the moment which set the tone for last season’s final, at pains to point out the detailed thought process apparently behind the split-second decision which saw him handle in the penalty area. He need not have bothered because what he did in the same 18-yard box at virtually the same stage of the 2011 game guaranteed lifelong forgiveness.
Twelve minutes in, the match had yet to really catch fire. Ben Marshall was making the most of his freedom at the point of their midfield diamond, but his crosses were yet to pick out a blue shirt.
The first real chance of the game was a good one, but Murphy headed wide from a corner. When Francois Zoko forced a good stretching save from Simon Moore a minute later, he was presented with another.
Zoko nodded James Berrett’s corner to Murphy, who calmly controlled on his thigh and volleyed with the aplomb of the left-winger he was when scoring the winning goal in the 2005 Conference play-off final, rather than the centre-back he is now. The elated Murphy ran two thirds of the length of the field to celebrate in front of his girlfriend as she cradled their new addition.
If it was the perfect way for Murphy to put right the wrongs of the previous year, Marshall’s Wembley misfortune would continue.
The man on loan from Stoke City sat out last year’s showpiece, cup-tied by a spell at Northampton Town. He looked ready to make the most of his second chance when a thudding tackle from 19-year-old Adam Reed ended his afternoon after only 20 minutes.
Although there was no malice, the Hartlepool-born midfielder, on loan from Sunderland, was fortunate to only pick up a yellow card for his rush of blood.
Even without Marshall, Carlisle continued to dominate, though the lively Zoko was caught by Craig Woodman as he skipped past him.
Minutes earlier Leon Legge had been booked for fouling the Ivorian, but an excellent tackle tracking back Sam Saunders showed the enigmatic forward – often ineffective away from Brunton Park – was neither deterred nor intimidated. Saunders provided most of the Bees’ sting, curling a free-kick just beyond the far post and hammering a shot against the stanchion.
With the giant Marcus Bean replacing Reed in midfield at half-time, Brentford started to get more of a grip on the game, realising the value of running at Lubomir Michalik, rather than try to outdo the Slovak in the air.
Carlisle had the first chance after the restart, Craig Curran heading over Matty Robson’s cross, but it would be a rare glimpse of goalmouth action in front of the Cumbrian fans.
A minute after pulling down Myles Weston as the winger threatened him on the outside, centre-forward Jeffrey Schlupp struck the base of the post – the closest Brentford got to beating former Newcastle United trainee Adam Collin.
When Zoko’s right knee finally succumbed to the umpteenth jarring tackle on him with 20 minutes left, Carlisle had lost their two most dangerous players but none of their resilience. Having tasted defeat at the ground once already, the five survivors of the Southampton debacle were in no mood to pick up another runners-up medal.
Not until the 82nd minute did the Carlisle fans seem to believe, suddenly finding their voice as they perhaps sensed the team needing pushing over the line.
Two clumsy tackles in as many minutes from Toumani Diagouraga punished with cards seemed to have done that, but the sight of Legge, frozen with his head in his hands after heading wide from an added-time corner, highlighted the match’s fine margins.
Fairy stories like Murphy’s, though, do not deal in unhappy endings.
BRENTFORD: Moore, Neilson, Osborne, Legge, Woodman (O’Connor 88), Saunders, Reed (Bean 46), Diagouraga, Weston (Grabban 78), Alexander, Schlupp. Subs (not used): Carson, Byrne.
Sent off: Diagouraga (87).
Booked: Reed, Legge, Diagouraga.
CARLISLE: Collin, Simek, Michalik, Murphy, Robson, Marshall (Noble 23), Thirlwell, Taiwo (Loy 88), Berrett, Curran, Zoko (Madden 67). Subs (not used): Caig, Livesey.
Booked: Michalik, Robson.
Goal: Murphy 12.
Attendance: 40,476 Referee: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire).