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Saturday, 20 September 2014

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Still plenty for Carlisle United to play for

So what’s left? Carlisle United enter the final stretch of the League One season without a realistic hope of the play-offs but with relegation also now unlikely, writes Jon Colman.

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Abbott: ‘David just needs a breather. He has found life tough. It’s his first season in professional football’

With two months of term to go, what do the Blues still have to play for? What should be their hopes and aims so that the campaign does not simply fizzle out on April 27?

Here, we look for some answers.

1 DON’T TAKE EYES OFF THE BALL JUST YET

United look safe, their 10-point advantage over 21st place healthy, but mid-February is still early enough for a nosedive.

Carlisle’s general form looks strong enough to avoid such a calamity but they have dipped from this sort of position before, back in 2009.

Complacency is an enemy that should not get anywhere near Brunton Park’s gates. United have rightly been looking up these past few weeks but the fixture list between now and the end of the season offers few freebies.

MK Dons, who are due a turnaround, are up next. Promotion-chasers like Brentford, Doncaster, Sheffield United and Bournemouth must all be faced before the final weekend.

Then there is the visit of the green-and-white winning machine of Yeovil, and a certain former Carlisle striker named Madden, on March 23.

The smart money is on United remaining comfortable in League One now but another form flop would be depressing. It can’t be allowed to happen.

2. NURTURE RORY LOY

Happily, Carlisle’s player of the moment is the man who has not long been back from a year out, with a broken leg.

The best possible news for his and United’s progress is that Loy is now scoring genuine striker’s goals, showing sharpness of mind and deed in the penalty box.

The latest goal he claimed, at Portsmouth, was a classic centre-forward’s strike: the well-aimed run at good speed, and the clinical finish, without fuss.

Already he looks like a key man again. It would now be in United’s interests to establish how best he is to be used: coming in from the left of a front three, or as a central operator alongside Lee Miller.

Chances are we’ll continue to see him in both roles, and Loy himself will be perfectly happy to be in the team regularly, wherever he is deployed, given all he has been through.

But there is plenty to be gained by mapping out a more consistent and longer-term role for the Scot, since the policy of putting a player in his happiest position and letting him thrive is currently getting the best possible advert at Yeovil.

3. PLAY THE CONTRACTS GAME CAREFULLY

At Fratton Park three days ago there were not many strong cases made for new deals, but some players appear to be obvious picks nonetheless.

Loy, for one, has dealt with any doubts left by his long injury and clearly yearns to make up for all that lost time. Matty Robson, although now being used in his second-best position of left-back, has been this season’s most consistent player.

These are the players that United’s supporters can justifiably hope to be kept on board, as part of a reorganised team for 2013/14. Chris Chantler too.

Others will be the subject of serious debate between now and late April. Some, such as Sean O’Hanlon and Danny Livesey, are making a decent case right now.

Abbott will no doubt suggest that throwing around new deals like confetti, here in late winter and with the budget squeeze no secret, would be too hasty. And he is surely right to use that sort of line as a motivational tool to those with things still to prove.

But it could still send out a good message to get one or two tied up in good time, while keeping the paying masses informed on the likely fate of big personalities such as Lee Miller.

4. RENEW VOWS WITH THE KIDS

Abbott is devoted to the idea of “hardened criminals – experienced players – as the core of his side, and this principle has never seemed as strong in 2012/13 as it does now. A campaign often defined by youth now sees Brad Potts, Dave Symington and Mark Beck all on the bench.

There are plausible arguments for this, even if they can sometimes be hard for supporters to stomach. But the moment United appear cast-iron certainties to stay in League One should be the moment the youngsters are unleashed again.

Playing the teens is the best public relations tool available to Abbott now. Organising a team must always be about more than easy popularity but there will be sound football reasons for selecting them, too.

In welcome bursts they have all shown the talent and potential to thrive at Carlisle’s level. Now and again they have brought some genuine magic to the show, like Workington’s Symington and his wonderful free-kicks.

On long-term deals and with the club at heart, all the signs point to the youngsters having an even bigger say in United’s fortunes next season. Best to give them another airing soon. A decent go for Josh Todd before the end of April would be welcome, too.

5. MAKE BRUNTON PARK AN ENTERPRISE ZONE

It is true that Carlisle’s home ground has seen much better things since late December. The horrors of October and November have certainly passed into history. Stability has been restored. A round of applause for that.

Now it’s time to push the creativity button. At Portsmouth United were sterile for too much of the game against the worst team in League One.

Nobody says it can ever be easy to rip rivals to shreds, especially when your starting place is 16th in the table, with all that implies.

But this is now the advertising space that United have to fill with commercials for new season tickets, for 2013/14.

Efficiency is a good thing if it works every week but equally there is nothing wrong with the occasional cheap thrill.

No supporter who was at Fratton Park has come home arguing that United’s side is overburdened with flair players, or lightning pace. There is no shame in flagging this up as an area for concern.

It wouldn’t be right to complain that Abbott has put defensive rigour before all other wishes since the winter months. Sometimes we cannot have it all ways. But with safety in sight, it ought not to be neglected that Carlisle have just 14 more opportunities to engage their dwindling fanbase before summer arrives.

Only seven of those remaining games are at home. Putting more entertainment on the menu would not come a moment too soon.

Have your say

A sad situation to be in. The board want the fans to come and spend their money at the turnstiles, yet the fans want value for their money.
It can take only a couple of bad performances to lose many fans but many more in good results to claw some of them back.
This season has seen Carlisle struggle in all competitions, with our team being on the receiving end of massive goal defeats again and again.
Until recent games our defense record was the worst in the league.
Carlisle lost it's way and lost its supporters along the way.
With the season two thirds complete, it is difficult to see the lost fans returning this season. We need to secure our position in league one and then draw a line under it and move on.
That is when Carlisle United's battle really begins.

1. Managers and assistant managers contact to be sorted.
2. Several players contracts to be sorted.
3. Finance available to strengthen the squad.
4. Rebuilding confidence.
5. Persuading fans to buy season ticket for 2013/14.

This board have a hard job ahead and having heard that there's no money in the pot, i struggle to see how the fans can be persuaded to return.
Something has to change.

Posted by Dave on 20 February 2013 at 19:00

The problem this season is that the team and board havent matched the fans expectations. Year on year we've improved , so naturally this season the play-offs were a dead cert?!! , or so we thought. And with that not happening it creates negativity! As for madden , it's amazing what a forward can do with the right service. We're an established league one side and until someone comes forward and spends , thats where we'll stay.

Posted by Dishmonkey on 20 February 2013 at 17:31

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