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Carlisle Utd are not safe to assume anything yet

Back in 2001 the great foreign correspondent Robert Fisk visited the offices of his old student newspaper. After shaking hands with the editor, he rifled through some copies of the rag, emitting a series of strange screeching noises as he did so.

sm leemillerrrrr
Issue: Lee Miller

“Cliche... cliche... cliche...” he said, as he ticked off all the hackneyed phrases he saw in print. The weird noise, he explained, was a siren. Fisk hated cliches, still does. It’s part of what makes him such a peerless chronicler of life in dangerous places.

Twelve years on, I would like to borrow his siren and put it to use on Carlisle United. It will be set off by any further talk that the Blues are now comfortably safe in League One, that the job is as good as done. Not yet, it isn’t. The prospects of survival look much better than they did before Christmas, certainly, but the idea that it’s going to be a smooth ride home feels rather previous.

This week, Greg Abbott publicly set his sights on a climb towards mid-table, and you will struggle to find anyone who thinks Carlisle, with their seven-point cushion, are now going to slump back into serious trouble. It’s not a bet you would confidently make, that they will tumble backwards again. At the bottom, Hartlepool look beaten and the crisis engulfing Portsmouth plainly isn’t going to blow over by the end of winter. Other teams, too, look in a more perilous spot than the 17th-placed Blues.

But still, this cannot be a time for complacency. Any sentence uttered by anyone inside Brunton Park that begins with the phrase “We’re too good to...” needs to be gunned out of the sky like a clay pigeon.

A look at the League One table today does not make your legs wobble, if you’re a United supporter, but things can still plummet quickly without due care. Take Abbott’s first season in charge, 2008/09, if you can bear going back to that bleak time.

By February 14, Carlisle had negotiated two-thirds of the season, a couple more games than they have reached now. They had just polished off Brighton with a fine 2-0 away win and sat comfily in 15th place.

The gap from them to 21st (Brighton themselves, incidentally) was eight points. With just 16 games to tick off, most of the chat was about how far into mid-table Abbott’s team could eat.

On to May, and we know how it panned out. Carlisle embarked on a hideous run after that triumph on the south coast, and required snookers to stay up on the final day. They only succeeded, by the skin of their teeth, after a hellish period when the whole thing seemed to be coming apart at the seams.

This is not to say it will happen again, or even that it is likely, but simply that it is possible; that teams have fallen further, and in quicker time, than Carlisle would have to now in order to get embroiled with League One’s dead men.

There are other parallels with that time. A rotten collapse in the autumn, some rejigging over the winter, an improved run after the new year. Curiously, we also had the case of the team’s leading striker entering a contract saga which became a sideshow, featuring the man being made captain towards the end of his deal.

We don’t yet know how Lee Miller’s situation will pan out but it appears certain we shall be asking questions about it for many weeks, as we did with Danny Graham, which cannot be a helpful picture.

Other distractions abounded, back then. There was a row over diving, a couple of pot-shots at the media: pitfalls the less experienced Abbott walked into four years ago, the sort which you would hope, fingers crossed, he could avoid this time if results were to bite again.

It is true to say that his squad now appears more tightly-knit than the fracturing group he was trying to manage after John Ward’s unhappy handover in 08/09, but still, you instinctively call out for realism, not the premature notion that United are out of sight thanks to a handful of results.

Consider the most recent evidence. If 21st-placed Scunthorpe prove so difficult to put away at home – the way struggling teams can be at this time of year – then it stands to reason that points are not going to be given out freely, not when you are still so far into the bottom half of the table as Carlisle are, on merit.

Last Saturday their buffer zone was reduced by two points, because of Colchester’s win against Walsall, which was achieved largely thanks to an important new signing (Jabo Ibehre). So one straggler may be stirring. Others surely will, too. United visit the league leaders today. The demands increase, not lessen.

They surely must not let their guard slip, not when they have so much of the campaign still to go. In their favour may be the attitude of certain players, such as Danny Livesey and James Berrett, both of whom have spoken recently about the need not to look too far ahead, not to get big ideas about the season whilst ignoring the finer, weekly detail.

Carlisle have walked on too much flimsy ground this campaign for anyone to make their conclusions so soon. With the Blues, the complications are rarely over by the first weekend of February. Things may look sunnier than they did six weeks ago but the time to switch off the alarm is not yet here.

Have your say

FAO Bill, Johnstones paint trophy 2011?? wow what a great competition to win 2 year ago carlisle united's form in the past 2 year has seriously deteriorated, the level of football is shocking. come on MK dons on Saturday,

Posted by carl whitehead on 22 February 2013 at 16:49

FAO Carl Whitehead - Johnstones paint trophy 2011??

Posted by bill on 21 February 2013 at 16:54

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