CARLISLE United boss John Ward refused to concede the League One title after his side were forced to settle for a battling point against impressive leaders Swansea.
A share of the spoils was a fair return from a game that didn’t quite match the top-of-the-table hype – and although the Cumbrians remain four points behind Roberto Martinez’s slick Swans, Ward believes nothing has been settled yet.
The calm-mannered Carlisle boss seemed irked afterwards by their opponents’ celebrations in the tunnel and responded with a pledge to fight all the way to peg back the league leaders.
“Interestingly enough, one or two of their players were saying in the tunnel that they think they’ve won the league now, but as far as we’re concerned they haven’t yet,” he said. “There are four games still to play and we could have a say in that. We’ll chase them all the way and, while we know they’re a good team, there are still four to play.
“People have said to me that it’s a healthy lead over Doncaster but I’d still rather be where Swansea are. I’ll settle for where we are now but I’ll settle for going to Leeds on Saturday and trying to get something there.”
The stalemate prolongs the wait for Carlisle, but the point could prove precious in the long-run. It moves the Cumbrians six points clear of Doncaster with just four remaining. Even taking into account their treacherous next two games against high-flying rivals Leeds and Southend, it would now take a collapse to rival the England cricket team’s top order to prevent the Cumbrians from clinching their place in the Championship.
After his side survived a blitz of first-half pressure – Andy Robinson rattled the woodwork with a wonderful curling free-kick – Ward declared himself happy with the resilience shown by his Carlisle team. “We stood up to the best team in the division and that speaks volumes for our resilience,” he said. “We’re not quite at their level in terms of where we are as a football club but when it’s 11 versus 11 we can give them a game.
“We had a couple of good chances but, to be fair, I thought both teams defended well, although we probably had a bit more to do than them. They’re very sharp and very bright – they’ve got a big squad and you only have to look at the calibre of players they’ve put on as substitutes to see that.”
A lively first half ended with a scuffle in the tunnel as Robinson – consistently a thorn in the side of the home team – clashed with home players.
It was a suitably tempestuous climax to an entertaining first period in which Robinson sparked a manic three minutes when he curled a free-kick on to the bar from 30 yards just after the half-hour mark.
That heralded a flurry of pressure as the Swans’ top scorer, Jason Scotland, drilled a right-footed shot inches over the bar on 34 minutes after neat footwork took him past David Raven.
And with Carlisle on the ropes, Scotland’s lively strike partner Fabian Brandy prompted more panic in the home side’s penalty area when he skipped past three defender before fizzing a shot just wide.
Swansea’s momentum was punctured briefly when Marc Bridge-Wilkinson threaded the ball into the path of Danny Graham, but he shot wide. Carlisle prevailed in the second half war of attrition but, despite a couple of clear cut chances for the Cumbrians, they couldn’t find a way past Dorus De Vries.
Robinson gave the home side another scare in the second half when he smacked the woodwork with a dipping free-kick, while Simon Hackney went close for the hosts.
CARLISLE: Westwood, Raven, Livesey, Murphy, Horwood, Dobie (Taylor 71), Grant Smith, Lumsdon, Bridge-Wilkinson, Hackney (Madine 89), Graham. Subs (not used): Howarth, Joyce, Arnison.
Booked: Grant Smith, Bridge-Wilkinson, Raven.
SWANSEA: De Vries, Tate, Williams, Lawrence, Austin, Butler (Anderson 87), Britton, Pratley, Robinson, Brandy (Bauza 74), Scotland. Subs (not used): Painter, Tudur-Jones, Way.
Booked: Robinson, Bauza, Scotland.
Attendance: 10,623 Referee: Steve Tanner (Somerset)