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Friday, 28 November 2014

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If we lose by going for it at Oldham, then who can blame us? asks Carlisle Utd skipper

Danny Livesey laughs, then repeats a line which is familiar at times like this. “If there was nothing on the last game of the season, it wouldn’t be Carlisle,” he says. “If I’ve picked up one thing in the last seven bleedin’ years here it’s been that.”

Danny Livesey photo
Danny Livesey

Carlisle’s most robust centre-half and captain arrived at Brunton Park half a decade after the miracle of Jimmy Glass, but has crammed two play-off campaigns, a championship, a relegation tussle and much else into those seven bleedin’ years. He knows the terrain.

There may be no coaching for the kind of one-off occasion United are faced with this weekend, no failsafe preparation to cope with a day when you have to win and hope others don’t. But it helps to have some experience of the last-afternoon pressure that will be applied to various League One grounds on Saturday.

In this regard alone Livesey seems indispensable as Carlisle aim for Oldham. In the more basic sense of guarding United’s goal, the defender also enjoys that description, at present.

After a season of dramatic opposites, which started with Livesey out of the matchday 16 but now with the captain’s armband, it will end, this Saturday, with some kind of drama, and with the 27-year-old at the heart of what the Cumbrians do at Boundary Park.

Back in Livesey’s promotion campaigns with the Blues he and Carlisle all filed in behind Kevin Gray, the captain supreme. Now the man from Salford has to be the player spreading motivation and comforting thoughts to Greg Abbott’s players as they head into this weekend of uncertainties.

How does he sit with the responsibility? “I’ve always been captain, for junior teams, my town team,” he says. “It’s something I enjoy. It gives you that extra per cent.

“I know what I am. I’m never going to be graceful on the ball. But if by winning a header or a tackle it rallies people, that’s what I need to do. And if I need to give someone a telling off, I will do that.

“If I’m having a go at someone, I hope people respect that all I’m doing is trying to get a bit more out of them. I’m pretty certain the lads do respect that.”

The value of vocal captaincy might remain an English obsession, though Livesey freely concedes that not all players organise their games around the barking words of the bloke with the lycra band across his bicep.

But it is undeniable that Carlisle were propelled in a significant way by Gray’s leadership, while Paul Thirlwell, though a different kind of skipper, retains deep respect in United’s dressing room.

“Kev,” Livesey smiles, when I invite him to compare his approach with that of his old team-mate. “He was the master of having an absolute nightmare but of somehow making you think you were the one having the nightmare.

“If a goal was his fault he would find a way of making it the fault of someone who gave the ball away 20 minutes earlier. He had wings of steel, that bloke. He was the best at deflecting.”

He is jesting, of course. A little, at least. “It’s one of the hardest things, when you are not playing well, to have a go at someone. They are looking at you thinking, ‘Hang on...’ but you still need to do it. If it helps people help you out, and helps the team in the bigger picture, you have to do it.”

So can Livesey’s captaincy style be written up simply as all stick, no carrot? No, he insists. “Players respond differently – with Francois [Zoko], for example, if you keep patting him on the back and saying well done, he will keep going back and running at people.

“Some people, like Bez [James Berrett] and Nobs [Liam Noble] aren’t bothered. They just do their own things, get on with their games. I think captaincy’s important, but people can take it or leave it.”

Those last five words offer a handy slogan for Carlisle’s challenge this weekend. Either they go into Paul Dickov’s domain eager to attack and to win, or they go in with trepidation, in which case they may as well concede sixth place to Stevenage or Notts County now.

Nobody would argue that United have any kind of advantage this weekend. The Blues are away, the rivals are both at home, and Carlisle are a point down and submerged by goal difference. Perhaps the only thing in the Cumbrian corner is that they are free just to give it a lash and see how the others cope with expectation.

“I haven’t got a very good record at Oldham so it might be a nice change to go and attack them,” Livesey says. “We’ve got to go for it. If we lose by going for it, then who can blame us? There’s no point defending and trying to nick an 89th-minute goal. We can’t have any regrets. Let’s just give it a blast.”

Livesey is content to be there to give it a blast in the first place, after a first half of 2011/12 when he seemed to be drifting towards a summer exit. Then came an opportunity in February, which he has since gripped as tightly as any player in Abbott’s gang of hopefuls.

In some respects his campaign has mirrored Carlisle’s run-in. “It’s unbelievable, really,” he says. “We’ve been in it, out of it, people thought we’d blown it and yet we’re still in with a fighting chance. The fact the other two teams can draw as well as lose maybe gives us a bit more optimism.

“If we nick an early goal, they [Stevenage and Notts] will soon know about it at their grounds. And then they’ll know they have to go and win. We’re not in a great situation but we’re actually under very little pressure because of that.”

No pressure? Pull the other one, surely? “Seriously, it’s been like that since the Sheffield Wednesday game,” he says, referring to the 2-1 defeat that left United staring up a ravine.

“And I think it’s because we’ve got a bit more experience this year, too. Back when we were going for promotion [in 2008] we had quite a young squad who hadn’t been there before. This time everyone is just going to enjoy it and see where it takes us.

“We’re quite relaxed. We’re still working hard but we have fun in training, too. We’re just a group of lads who want to do well for each other, the club and the fans. There’s no point worrying about it.”

Brunton Park is not a place short on perspective at the moment. Last Saturday was memorable in part for United’s season-prolonging 4-1 win against Exeter, but more profoundly for the way a community rallied around Lee Miller and his sons following the tragic death of the striker’s wife.

With that awful news so recent, and the stirring response of Carlisle’s fans so fresh in the mind, it is small wonder that none of Miller’s team-mates can be heard talking about a football match in the most serious terms, however important it seems.

There was last weekend, though, a need for Livesey and his colleagues to retain their professional focus for 90 minutes, after which they were then free to attend to their grieving friend.

“In a sense we had to distance ourselves from that situation,” Livesey says of the emotional, interval kickabout which saw Miller and his three boys on the pitch. “We saw Lee in the tunnel coming out at half-time, but that was it until after the game.

“We saw him then and he was talking about the reception he got from the fans, which was unbelievable. I know he really appreciated it.”

Miller since put his own thanks on the record, and is also encouraging his team-mates to get the outcome they want this weekend. A couple of thousand fans, maybe more, will file into Boundary Park sharing the same hopes.

Meetings with the Latics are rarely uneventful. Working back from October, Carlisle’s last three encounters have produced a 3-3 draw (containing a public dispute between Dickov and Liam Noble), a penalty shoot-out win and a 1-0 victory scarred by a touchline rumble involving the Latics No2, Gerry Taggart, and a host of players.

With all-out-attack on the menu in two days’ time, a bland 0-0 will not feature on many betting slips this time, either. “We have had a few incidents,” Livesey concedes, “with the Gerry Taggart incident and what happened with Nobs. But I don’t think that’s on anybody’s thoughts this week. There’s too much on the game.

“Anyway, I think we might find Liam Noble will be a bit quieter this weekend. I don’t think he can afford any more trouble.”

That is a reference to the Twitter rumpus of last week involving the midfielder and some Sunderland fans, which came a few months after the famously feisty Dickov branded Noble a “coward” due to his apparent over-celebrating in the Oldham manager’s face, and also an (unproven) claim that he elbowed a Latics player during the game.

Livesey, understandably, wants the young schemer to do his damage with the ball this time, and the same goes for them all.

“It will be a tough battle, Oldham are often a big, physical team and they seem to raise their game at their own place,” he adds. “We’ve got to brace ourselves for that.”

And if it goes in United’s favour? “Just imagine,” he smiles again. “That’s the thing – you want to believe everything can go for us. We don’t want 3,000 people walking away from a very good season feeling disappointed with how it ended. I remember going to Stockport [in 2006] when we clinched the league, and we had loads there. It was brilliant. I imagine it would be something similar this time if it went our way. It would be unbelievable.”

But not, this veteran of many Carlisle causes has to concede, entirely unpredictable.

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