Carlisle proving a class apart

Phil Shaw watches the Third Division leaders marching on at Mansfield
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Those who joke about the Boat Race being boring because the winners always come from the Oxbridge duopoly should study the Third Division summit, where Carlisle's ascendancy is a case for the Monopolies Commission.

Even when below their best, as they were in a 2-1 victory away to the play-off hopefuls of Mansfield, Carlisle maintained a record only Blackburn in the four divisions come close to matching. Most points, fewest defeats, meanest defence, best away record - the Cumbrians have them all, and what's more there is a date at Wembley to come.

On 23 April, Carlisle make their debut beneath the twin towers, battling with Birmingham for the Auto Windscreens Shield. At the behest of Michael Knighton, the only lower-division chairman who is a household name among Manchester United followers, Mick Wadsworth carries the title of director of coaching, though he sounded for all the world like a manager as he stressed the need to "wrap up promotion before the final".

Wadsworth, an articulate Yorkshireman who was a member of England's coaching staff under Bobby Robson, sets great store by technical and tactical considerations. However, as he readily admitted, Carlisle's success on a windswept, bumpy surface owed more to dogged defending, especially by the unsung Dean Walling, and profligate finishing by a Mansfield side who are Britain's top scorers.

"The purists would say that was a very poor game and I'd have to agree, particularly with the standards we've set," he said. "That doesn't really matter because the players and supporters are delighted because we've pinched a result we possibly didn't deserve."

This was a statement of two halves. The ovation Mansfield received at the end from their fans among the 5,197 crowd - Field Mill's biggest League gate this season by 1,700 - suggested agreement with only the second part. Relentless attacking by Andy King's side, with their manager urging them on from the touchline in between drags on a cigarette, saw them squander a dozen chances.

Mansfield went ahead from one of the least clear-cut of these, Kevin Lampkin striking from 25 yards. While selfless work by David Reeves soon enabled Richard Prokas to break his senior scoring duck, the visitors were hanging on for a point when Jeff Thorpe's snap shot with three minutes left gave them all three.

With 81 points on the board and seven games left, it will take a collapse as big as Barings' for them to miss the championship. Knighton, PR man par excellence, is already looking further ahead: to a Premier League place within 10 years and an all-seater stadium by 2000. Given that Carlisle are only £126,000 down on transfers since the changes at the top, how has the transformation been achieved?

"Two factors," Wadsworth asserted. "The chairman's arrival and mine. I know that sounds arrogant, but it just seems to have worked. He turned the club round spiritually and financially, and brought me in to do the football. We've done OK."

Goals: Lampkin (33) 1-0; Prokas (39) 1-1; Thorpe (87) 1-2.

Mansfield Town (4-4-2): Ward; Boothroyd, Howarth, Walker, Baraclough; Parkin, Doolan (Hadley, 32), Lampkin, Noteman (Ireland, h-t); Wilkinson, Onuora. Substitute not used: Trinder (gk).

Carlisle United (4-3-3): Caig; Joyce, Walling, Mountfield, Gallimore; Hayward, Aspinall (Peacock, 75), Prokas (Thorpe, 69); Thomas, Currie, Reeves. Substitute not used: Elliott (gk). Referee: C Wilkes (Gloucester).