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Saturday, 19 April 2014

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We sink or swim now, says Carlisle Utd new-boy Paul Black

When waiting to speak to one of four Carlisle United debutants after the Bradford City debacle one wondered if the first man would come out blinking and covered in soot, like a coal miner who has seen daylight for the first time in weeks and needs time to readjust.

Paul Black photo
Paul Black

All around Valley Parade after full-time there were thousand-yard stares. First from the 779 fans who witnessed United’s dire display, then from the manager, staff and players. A few hard-hearted journalists even found themselves in a daze.

Carlisle’s season was already being called into serious question. Their defence had been breached for the 12th time in three games. Unfavourable chants were being aimed at Greg Abbott. Bradford, seventh in League Two last season, had picked them off with chilling ease.

It seemed almost cruel to wade into this scene and ask for opinions. One good thing is that players were not in deflection mode, even those who had only been on the books for a matter of hours. This was not a hard-luck story, and they knew it.

Paul Black, for instance. Whistled up from Mansfield on the eve of the game as left-back cover, he found himself making his first United appearance with the score Bradford 4 Carlisle 0 and 20 long minutes remaining.

So much for the optimism of a fresh start. Already Black is here to help alleviate a crisis. What, if it is not too much to ask, did he make of his first taste of life with the Cumbrians?

“Well, it wasn’t nice, a 4-0 defeat,” he said. “And the manner of it, as well. I thought we were second-best all over [the pitch] and we have to bounce back from it.

“We’re two games into the season, and if we don’t learn now – and quick – then we’ll be in trouble.

“You can imagine what was said in the dressing-room afterwards. We were all completely deflated. But that’s all been said and we have to be positive and move on from it.

“We sink or swim now. If we don’t, it’s going to be a long season. This is a test of character for everyone.”

Normally a debut offers supporters the chance to cast an analytical eye over the new boy and wonder how he is going to fit in.

Given the circumstances of his arrival at Bradford, that opportunity was not really available. A full debut, in this Saturday’s firefighting home match against Coventry, appears a likelier time to judge.

This may be a marginal sub-plot compared with the bigger problems United already appear to be facing, but the success or failure of their latest loan gamble will still help push things in either direction.

It came as a surprise, Carlisle’s signing of the 23-year-old Black, who had not been able to push his way into Mansfield’s opening League Two games after signing for the Stags in May.

Yet this player with decent League One experience, with Oldham and Tranmere, has been recruited partly because he knows the terrain. All he himself promises is maximum effort while he is here.

“I only met the lads briefly at the hotel on the way [to Bradford], everything happened really quickly for me,” he said.

“I signed for Mansfield in the summer but at the minute they have a left-back in there [James Jennings] who sort of established himself in the pre-season games.

“I’ve not really had a sniff. I said to the manager [Paul Cox] that I need to be playing, and if an opportunity comes where I need to get games, he said he wouldn’t get in my way.

“Then there was the phonecall from Carlisle, saying they had picked up an injury. It just went from there. I’m here now and itching to play.”

Left-back has long been a jinxed role under Greg Abbott’s regime, going back to the career-ending problems suffered by Sean McDaid which led to a series of applicants for the problem position.

Now, with Chris Chantler out with a long-term problem, his loan replacement Reece James sidelined by a thigh injury and 17-year-old Patrick Brough the only other available cover, Black followed an unsatisfactory start to the season by leaping up a division.

“I’ve still not played a game in League Two,” he said, almost smiling at the unexpected jump. “So I’m yet to see the difference between the two [divisions]. But it’s nice to be back in League One, especially at somewhere like Carlisle.”

Black totted up 70 appearances for Oldham before a slip from favour took him to Barrow, on loan, then Tranmere permanently. After 11 outings for Ronnie Moore’s team he was released at the end of last season.

“I wanted to stay in League One, and I had a few options at doing that, but Mansfield are a club going in the right direction,” he said of last season’s Blue Square Premier champions.

“I just wanted to play football. If I’m not playing, at any level, I’ll back myself that I should be.

“I’ve never had an easy game against Carlisle. They’ve always been a good footballing team when I’ve seen them. I just want to play well in my time here and after that, who knows? Whether it’s Carlisle or wherever, I can’t honestly say what could happen in the future.

“I’m just itching to play now. And especially after the [Bradford] result I can’t wait to get into the mix.” Little was to be achieved after coming on at Bradford other than preventing the hosts extending their generous margin of victory, and making a steady personal start to life in a blue shirt.

Brough was one of few to come out with any credit from the humiliating defeat but Abbott is unlikely to subject the Silloth youngster to more risk of damage by association, at least in the short-term.

Enter Black. “There’s nothing you can do, watching from the bench. And I’m in that position, as a left-back, where you can’t really come on and change the game.

“When he [Abbott] put me on I just thought I would do my job, try and put a cross in, try to help give us a lift. But it’s obviously difficult to come on at 4-0 down, I understand that.

“Bradford are a very organised team, they have big, strong lads right through their spine, and I think that’s where they won the battle. They have momentum from last year and they will probably be a force.

“As a team we just have to go back to basics and be difficult to play against. I get the impression now that everyone can’t wait for the next game to put things right.”

Black’s Brunton Park debut, he hopes, goes better than his previous outing at the ground in January 2011. “It wasn’t a nice memory – I was playing for Oldham, we were 2-1 up into the last minute, then [Francois] Zoko came running behind me and I conceded a penalty. “Hopefully it can be nice in the right way this time.”

One thing in Black’s favour is that he does not carry any baggage into the Coventry game from previous United stinkers, such as last season’s. It may be pushing things on the hunt for “positives” to say that Carlisle have not yet conceded in the time he has been on the pitch, but just now any 20-minute spell negotiated safely feels like a little victory.

A big one is now required, desperately. “Every game in this league is a big one,” Black said. “Now it’s important that, even if we don’t get the right result, we have to come off the pitch feeling we couldn’t have done any more. I’m sure [at Bradford] every one of us could have given a bit more.

“Me, I’m just desperate to play. I’ll do my best for the club. I’m an honest guy, I’ll give 100 per cent and that’s all I can do. I just want to have a positive effect on the team.”

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