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Monday, 28 July 2014

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Andy Welsh making late run at glory with Carlisle Utd

I’m bound to be a bit rusty, says Andy Welsh. “It was my first start since September.” Upon its first hearing it was a statement which surprised, but a quick check of the stats confirmed the truth of it.

Andy Welsh photo
Andy Welsh

Eight months, nearly, had passed since Welsh last galloped down Carlisle United’s left flank from the first whistle of a game. The most part of a season, in other words, until Greg Abbott gave him a go from the off against Exeter.

This has not been a campaign which the winger will treasure for all his days. Too much injury, too much pressing his nose against the window whilst other players have had all the fun.

Yet this is football, where a surprise and a story lies around every corner. A campaign is never done until it’s done. Having reappeared in United’s first-team for 2011/12’s penultimate game, has Welsh emerged from the shadows in time to work some season-turning magic on the last day?

When you watched the former Yeovil man trudging to and from the gym on his painstaking path back to fitness after a calf injury which ruined his autumn, bit into his winter and almost crept into his spring, this didn’t seem a very likely outcome.

On Saturday, though, the 28-year-old benefited from Abbott’s desire for more pace and purpose down Carlisle’s wings, and it would not be a surprise to see him there again at Oldham, in four days’ time, given that it is a game United have to win.

For the most part this campaign Carlisle have pressed on without too much involvement from last summer’s signing, who has shown flickers of his undoubted talent but not had many opportunities to convince regularly. Five starts and 18 substitute appearances in all competitions are figures which tell a certain tale.

But on the basis that it’s how you finish, not how you start, this term could yet round off with something happy, a good moment or two for Welsh to take into his summer. If he can get Carlisle on the front foot at Boundary Park, and should other results fall in the Cumbrians’ favour, then his might be the widest smile around.

At present, Welsh has banked his experience from the 4-1 Exeter win and declines to get ahead of himself as Abbott sifts through his options for Oldham.

“I felt it went well on Saturday,” he says. “I created a few opportunities and had a few myself. It was good to be out there. It’s a squad game, I know that, and I’ve just had to keep my head down and keep going, and when called upon, do as much as I can for the team.

“If the lads are doing it, which they have been, then I haven’t got an argument. So I’ve had to bide my time.”

From the off this season Welsh was edged out of Abbott’s starting line-up but a cluster of bright efforts from the bench earned him the “impact sub” tag, a double-edged title if ever there was one.

Then, early in September, his calf went pop just as he tried to convert those cameos into something more lasting. It was not until February that he was able to get his boots back on and even begin to compete again for his place. “Just to play a game, it helps,” he says. “And obviously whatever position I am playing in, I’ll be delighted.”

That sounds suspiciously like the voice of a man who is desperate for extra involvement. All Abbott’s attack-minded players will have to report for duty at Oldham, certainly. The Carlisle manager’s latest scheme to get goals out of his Lee Miller-deprived team was to send Welsh and JP McGovern out to work the wide areas and get deliveries in by the bucketload.

The score – 4-1 – said it worked better than any other tactical ruse this past month, and the United boss knows nothing will be gained this weekend from sitting and squeezing the Latics. Welsh will be happy, in the Cumbrian cause, to be asked to get the ball down and run.

“We wanted to take it to the last game and now it will be twitchy bum time,” says Welsh of the three-club contest for the final play-off place, which sees Stevenage and Notts County ahead of Carlisle by a point and goal difference, but both catchable if fortune favours the Blues.

“We’ll be looking forward to it. Oldham probably haven’t got lot to play for, but we’ve got a hell of a lot to play for. We want to give a good account of ourselves.”

Carlisle certainly did that against Exeter, who were consigned to the drop by Francois Zoko’s two goals and those from Liam Noble and Jordan Cook – another man who won’t be around for the final push this weekend.

That was another must-win game, and United found a way to win it, in part by committing themselves a little more than usual to enterprise at the expense of a little security. Hence Welsh, McGovern and even Matty Robson’s return, as Tom Taiwo and Peter Murphy parked their defensive bodies on the bench.

“Four-one at home, some might say it was an entertaining performance in the sense that we could have had a lot more than we scored,” Welsh says. “But the manager mentioned that Exeter could have had more as well, and that we should have tightened up a bit. But sometimes if you’re going to win 4-1 at home you’re going to need to ride your luck a bit, and that’s what we did. It was definitely an open game. We were needing a win to keep our play-off push going and Exeter were needing a win to steer clear of relegation, so it was never going to be a defensive game.

“I wouldn’t say there were nerves. We went into it confident enough. We just wanted to win the game and concentrate on ourselves. We thought that if we did our job it would be fine.”

On another day the game might have thrown up another significant rarity. It is another unwelcome feature of Welsh’s first season in Cumbria that his quest for a goal remains ongoing. Welsh has not been without his assists this season but the other pursuit failed by millimetres, and the giant frame of Lenny Pidgeley, on Saturday.

“I just missed out on them this time but that’s what I want to be doing, getting goals at the back stick,” he says. If he’s saving one for Boundary Park then he and we will be able to get over that minor disappointment quickly enough.

It would be an unwise man who forecasts confidently what will happen not just at Oldham but also at Notts County and Stevenage. This season has defied so many predictions from game one to 45 that a decisive contribution from Welsh on the last afternoon could never be written up as a complete shock.

“We’ve just got to go there and win,” he says, brightly. “Hopefully results will go our way and we can look forward to more.

“The fans were great on Saturday and they have been great all season. We just want to repay them and try to get ourselves into the play-offs.” And there would be no better way, surely, of removing all that rust.

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