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Monday, 28 July 2014

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It is up to us to win the fans back, says Carlisle Utd's Danny Livesey

If everyone at a crisis club spoke like Danny Livesey it might give you a little more faith. Straight talking on its own won’t put points on the table but at least we have someone here who speaks like a fan thinks, who knows where the critics are coming from.

Danny Livesey photo
Danny Livesey

On the pitch Carlisle United’s second in command looks to emptying terraces and does not cry out at the injustice of it all. There is no hollow appeal for fans to come back at a time when there is nothing to reward them with.

“Why would they come if we are getting beat 3-1 every week?” asks the defender. “It’s up to us to win them back, keep them back.

“They are probably thinking that it’s coming up to Christmas, and they can spend 18 quid a better way. We can totally agree with their way of thinking, until we start winning.”

Those at Brunton Park who want and need the turnstiles to click more often on a matchday may not enjoy Livesey’s bracing honesty, but it has to be the right message, and surely needs to be heard more often until United’s fortunes turn.

Right now an afternoon’s experience at Carlisle’s home ground is not to be confused with something wrapped up under the Christmas tree. The slide towards a relegation battle, something which Livesey acknowledges is under way, is not being halted as the Blues enter the middle of December.

In lieu of better performances and clean sheets (one from 21 games is the accusing stat in that department) all we have to go on is a refreshing lack of evasive talking from one of United’s longest-serving players.

Livesey includes himself in the defensive problems which have plagued the Blues all campaign. Dodging blame must become a thing of the past, he says. Nor must there be any pretending that United’s next four games, all against members of the drop zone, forms anything other than a pivotal period to how their 2012/13 season may turn out.

The centre-half does not stop there. He goes on to say that even all this clarity is just talk. No angry words into a microphone or on a page will close the gaps that Sheffield United went darting through three days ago. The same goes for promises made in the tighter confines of a dressing room.

“We are coming in and everyone is saying the same things,” Livesey says. “People are saying the same things at half-time when we’re 2-0 down. It’s alright saying we’ve got to do this and that, but it’s no good unless you do it.”

Always there will be column inches to fill, trees to fall, to document the latest debates surrounding Carlisle’s poor output at Brunton Park. One of the leading complaints from the fanbase this autumn and winter is that too few inside United’s ground have appeared publicly to share their anger at this skid down the slopes.

They may take a level of heart from the way Livesey takes questions on the chaos engulfing Greg Abbott’s team. At least you can finally hear something of the right attitude, the way it is hurting one of United’s longest-standing warriors.

“It’s rapidly becoming a blame game because it has to,” he says of the weekly inquests, behind the scenes. “People can’t keep making the same mistakes and apologising.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s someone different every week, and we’ve been angry for a while. We care, care about the club, where it’s going, and no one’s happy with it. But there’s only so long you can carry on saying, ‘Oh, it’ll be alright next week’.

“There comes a point where you’ve got to start digging people out. And that’s happened a couple of weeks ago. And it will keep happening until it stops, when hopefully we will have turned the corner.”

That turn has not yet started. If it does not occur in the rest of this month, when Carlisle play Shrewsbury, Scunthorpe, Hartlepool and Bury in successive games, the outlook will get gloomier still.

If that quadruple-header against the division’s stragglers can, though, provide some points after all, then might there yet be a glimmer of brightness?

Nobody knows much which way to bet. It may be that United are now relying on other teams being worse than they are, rather than banking on themselves beating opponents with their own strengths.

In a survival fight, that is usually enough, though it makes for a bleak old show which many people will find hard to watch. Nor will it chase any of the deep concerns away about the state Carlisle are now in at the end of 2012.

An acknowledgement that there is a problem at all is not always easy to prise out of a football club, even when the numbers are overwhelming. At least, when asked if the Blues are now in little more than a struggle for survival, Livesey does not pretend otherwise.

“Until we have points on the board, of course we are,” he says. “It’s something we weren’t looking to be in at the start of the season. I remember 10 games in we were saying ‘if we win this game, we’ve had a great start to the season’. But before you know it, we are where we are.

“There’s no point fooling everyone by saying we’ll make the playoffs. If we keep playing like that and conceding the way we’re conceding, we won’t.

“We know the teams we’ve got to beat. It’s a massive Christmas period, with games against lots of teams in and around us, and that will be where our season is headed.”

Livesey is strong on the need for individuals to take responsibility at Carlisle, less so when asked to pinpoint the exact reasons why United now have the worst defensive record in their division: 41 goals shipped from 21 games.

His best offer, when it comes, is in the language of confrontation rather than anything technical which he, his team-mates or Abbott might find.

“It’s hard for me to say because...I include myself in it,” he says. “We’ve just got to be better, all of us, people have got to do their jobs more clinically, go up against their man and say, ‘Right, it’s me against you and I’ve got to win this’. We haven’t been winning them. That’s the problem.

“On Saturday we conceded two incredibly soft goals, then got it back to 2-1 and had a period when we thought we could do something, but then the third goal killed everything.

“It’s annoying that we’ve got to work so hard for our goals and then they [Sheff Utd] just put a hopeful ball into the box – don’t get me wrong, it’s a good quality ball – but one touch and it’s gone straight in. Then the second one is a joke. We’ve got to stop the free-kick, keep hold of the ball or throw it away, but then they just walk it into the net, and it’s just not good enough for everyone.”

It got quite some way into the interview before it was mentioned that Livesey did, in fact, take a goal of his own away from the match against the third-best team in League One. United’s most dangerous header of a ball from set-pieces now has three for the campaign but regards his latest as irrelevant.

“It’s nothing,” he said, when his 70th minute strike was mentioned. “Not a thing. I’d rather have a clean sheet and no goal.”

At Shrewsbury this Saturday United will hope desperately that their decent away record will again prop them up after another poor show at home. But the 21st-placed Shrews boast identical home form to Carlisle’s travelling results (won four, drawn three, lost three), so nothing is certain.

For one weekend the questions about Carlisle’s struggles on their own lawn will drop a few places down the agenda, as they bid to repeat their last away display: a 3-1 win at Yeovil which briefly took the heat off the club, manager and team.

Was that evidence that an anxiety strikes the team at Brunton Park which disappears when they board the team coach? “I can only speak for myself and say no, it doesn’t,” Livesey says. “When I go out it doesn’t really matter if it’s home or away. You just play your game. But it probably looks like it.

“In the second half on Saturday we were 2-0 down, had nothing to lose and could go for it. Well, we’ve got to go out in the first half and do that. What’s the point in being cautious? Of being scared of losing, when we are losing anyway?

“At Yeovil we just went for it. We had had enough and we were trying to stop a rot. It worked out, we got that bit of luck and that’s what we have to do again, from the start.”

If you could feed all these words into a machine and turn them into actions you would be confident of an instant turnaround, but things are a million times more complicated than that.

As festive decorations adorn the reception area of Brunton Park in this time of trouble, Livesey almost smiles when he says: “It has to change, we have to believe that we will keep a clean sheet.

“It’s on my Christmas list, anyway.”

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