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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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Carlisle Utd can improve but there will have to be signings, says defender Murphy

Anyone stopping by Brunton Park this summer and hoping to hear the splashing of cash may be disappointed by the silence. This is not an era of heavy spending at Cumbria’s only professional club.

Peter Murphy photo
Peter Murphy

Down at United these days the principle is of careful progress and only cautious dips into the player market. If the Blues are to advance from last season’s eighth-placed finish any additions must be carefully-sourced and responsibly funded.

But come they still must, says Peter Murphy, a man who has seen a fair few dozen players step in and out of Carlisle’s ground down his 10 years with the club, and who believes the only way to progress is by strengthening in the right places.

From this authoritative corner of United’s dressing room comes an opinion which most people on the terraces and seats share: that Carlisle have just completed a strong season which faltered at the end only because a thin squad was under-equipped to cope with Lee Miller’s absence, up front.

The view from the centre-half position is therefore the same as the sight from beyond the touchline. Somehow United must maximise their limited resources and make a good squad better, deeper.

“I think it’s been a great season for us,” says Murphy, who is one of eight men considering a new contract offer from manager Greg Abbott.

“I think we’re overachieving, for a club like ourselves, based on the wages and budget and things like that.

“Stevenage are probably like ourselves, and good luck to them. We had the luck a few years ago coming up from the Conference, but they’ve worked their way back up and now they’ve got a chance to go up to the Championship.

“Other than that, if you look at the teams above us, with the money, the attendances and the backing that they have, the likes of ourselves have tried our best to keep up with them, which isn’t easy.”

The story of 2011/12 will be split into several chapters, including an inconsistent start, the booster jab of a brilliant signing [Miller], a September slump and then a strong rise into the top third of the table, before the frustrating conclusion.

Amid all the good times there may have been no more significant moment than the time Miller went hurtling over a Scunthorpe defender in April, damaged his groin upon landing and left Carlisle to fight their remaining battles without their best player.

They tried to see it through without him, but it was too much. That final stagger to the line, says Murphy, highlights an obvious area to address.

“It’s been a good season, unfortunately we couldn’t follow it through with missing a player like Lee Miller,” the Dubliner says. “When you look at what he brought, and what we’ve got as a club, it’s been hard to replace him.

“When you’ve got the likes of Mark Beck coming in, who hasn’t got much league experience, that’s what we’re dealing with – the squad not being the biggest.

“Hopefully next season we can add a couple of players and push on. When you’ve got a key player out of the team and are relying on young kids, it’s hard for them. Hopefully we will have that extra quality. It just depends on where the club goes.”

It is also true that retaining current players is more important, at present, than securing new ones. The uncertain eight will, Abbott hopes, begin to commit themselves over the coming days and weeks. The last thing Carlisle’s manager needs this summer is to go shopping with an entire cupboard to fill.

Murphy is one of three centre-halves to be weighing up new terms, on the back of a campaign judged his best and most consistent in six years by Abbott.

Whatever arrangement of defenders Carlisle’s manager lines up next season, stemming their leakiness is another obvious challenge. For some time United remained in the play-off hunt despite a negative goal-difference column but it did for them in the end.

It needs to be a positive figure next season if the next demanding step is to be taken.

Murphy, for the moment, is able to reflect with some contentment on his personal contributions to 2011/12, which may go down as the first in which he has enjoyed the full trust of Abbott from first to (almost) last.

“I’ve been playing centre-back, I’ve played a lot of games and enjoyed it,” he says. “I feel I have played well. It’s just unfortunate I didn’t play the last two games.

“After moving to left-back, Lubo [Michalik] and Danny [Livesey] were awesome in the Sheffield Wednesday game, so they started the next two games and he [Abbott] brought in Matty Robson, who’s a more attacking full-back.

“And we had a great result against Exeter so he stuck with that for the last game.

“Apart from that, though, it’s been a great season for myself. I’ve enjoyed it and it’s been good to be in a team that’s done very well. Hopefully we will be even better next season.”

United without Murphy remains a hard picture to conjure with. On the face of it, Abbott’s warm words about the 31-year-old at last Sunday’s end-of-season awards dinner suggest the manager would much prefer to have him around than not.

A testimonial game this summer (yet to be finalised) and other events to mark his 10 years of service also remain on the calendar for the Blues’ longest-serving player, who broke the club’s outfield appearances record last term and has long secured for himself a permanent place in supporters’ affections.

You sense there was no more frustrated man inside Boundary Park than Murphy, who watched the dream fade from his position on the substitutes’ bench. Now the bigger picture looms.

“With Carlisle there’s always something up or down on the last game, and this time it was a chance of going up,” he says. “We had that chance, but unfortunately it didn’t work out that way and it wasn’t in our hands.

“But overall I think the fans will have enjoyed the season and we’ve given them some things to cheer about. Hopefully we can go even further next year.”

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