Make it a fortress. That's what they all say. It's doing it that can often be the hard part and, where John Sheridan is concerned, nothing will better examine his powers of reviving a football club.

In theory, Brunton Park ought to be a stronghold. The fact the Blues will travel more miles to away grounds than any other League Two team in 2018/19 has an obvious flipside; that reaching United's stadium takes longer, on average, than anywhere else.

Carlisle's position of relative isolation feeds both myth and memories. Sheridan has spoken about past visits to this far northern place, how "tough" he always found it and "never liked" the experience, and the facts bear this out, to a point.

Not so much in his playing days, for Sheridan made three appearances for Leeds here in the 1980s and didn't lose in any of them (two draws and a win). But as a manager, he has found the place more forbidding: four games, no wins, one draw and three losses, with Oldham, Chesterfield and Plymouth.

It is the latter pattern which may have shaped his perceptions the most. At the same time, the fact he is here at all is partly because Carlisle, although largely operating in the top half of League Two over the last three seasons, haven't won quite enough games, especially at HQ.

This is where Sheridan's "transformational" powers, as cited by CUOSC upon his appointment, really need to be applied. It is some time since you could hold a straight face whilst describing Brunton Park as a fortress; in certain campaigns, it has more resembled a bouncy castle for visiting players.

Consider last season, when a play-off attempt never truly caught fire. United prevailed in just seven of their 23 home fixtures, fewer than both relegated sides. Their Brunton Park win ratio of just 30 per cent was the equal third worst in the club's league history.

Only in 1991/2 and 2002/3 - meagre campaigns indeed - have the percentages been lower, and it was clear that the Blues were happier travellers for the final stages of Keith Curle's reign, taking more points on the road last term than at home.

Carlisle's away efforts were impressive, a feature of Curle's managerial career in fact, and holding onto some of that would be welcome this coming season. It is significant, though, that Sheridan has targeted better results at Brunton Park as a priority.

"Home form is gonna be big," he said, and if he has confidence in his skills in this respect it may be because, at Chesterfield, he steadily doubled their tally of home victories over two seasons in order to win the League Two title in 2011, also improving Plymouth's record at Home Park sharply as he led them into 2014/15's play-offs.

Similar progress at Carlisle is the task now - and an obvious challenge given the recent past. It is not hard to remember how difficult United found it to win at home in the calendar year of 2017, for instance, and when was the last period when you strolled down Warwick Road feeling that victory was something close to routine?

Assuming that more than half of all home games need to be won before considering one's ground a fortress, the last time this happened was in 2011/12, when Greg Abbott's team triumphed in 12 of 23.

A solid record for sure, but for the best recent case of Brunton Park being a nightmare for visitors, you must go further back, to 2007/8, and 17 wins reeled off by John Ward's League One team.

They produced a formidable 74 per cent home win ratio and United's best chance of second-tier football for a generation. The Blues have hit the 70s six other times, yet the most recent of those was in 1981/2. The best campaign of all for home dominance was 1950/1, when Bill Shankly secured 18 wins out of 23.

The years do reflect a steady eroding of Brunton Park's ability to be compared with the city's castle, and this follows a trend across the game, which has seen smarter tactics, less tortuous travel and, perhaps, less forgiving home atmospheres raise the number of away wins generally.

A side that can handle itself in all parts of the country is the dream. But there remains something vital about the tone that is set at base. United supporters have seen as many draws as wins here in the last two campaigns and, in the period between 2016/17's storming start and last season's belated run, things became particularly grinding.

When people have been leaving the stands with other complaints, on things like catering and the condition of certain facilities, it has become an even tougher sell. A hearty home win can always take some of the sting out of a poor "matchday experience" and while it is essential the Blues do not repeat 2017/18's problems in off-field respects, a happier camp can still be created if Sheridan and his side get some life back into the place.

In his short-term hit at Fleetwood last season he certainly achieved that, and a run of three wins, two draws and one defeat (to champions Wigan) at Highbury Stadium from February looks even more impressive given that the Fylde coast club won just seven home games all campaign, and were deep in the mire before he came in.

It can still be done, then, and so it will be fascinating to see exactly how the new boss tries to make Brunton Park less neurotic, tries to bring a little of what he has imposed in some of his past jobs.

For whatever reason, United have lost some of their nerve and poise at the place fans want to see those things the most. As they seek to push on, hopefully Sheridan can roll back some of the years.


One of the best-worked goals of the World Cup so far was John Stones' second for England against Panama.

A free-kick, conceived and executed with such imagination and movement that two players ended up with free headers at close-range; Raheem Sterling's saved attempt, Stones scoring the rebound.

It has since been reported how Gareth Southgate has studied other sports, such as basketball, for ideas on how players can find space in tight situations.

How refreshing it was to see a little ingenuity applied to England's set-piece work, even if against lesser-grade opposition.

There is no reason why lower-league clubs cannot operate as brightly. The goal that burst Carlisle's play-off balloon last season was also the result of canny training-ground method.

Nor was it the first time during 2017/18 that Lincoln City had scored in such a way: with a quickly-taken free-kick threaded through the right-channel, finished off by the striker who, with defenders otherwise occupied, had broken into that early space.

United may have the reliable set-piece qualities of Danny Grainger, Jamie Devitt and hopefully others next season.

Nothing, though, should stop the squad expanding their repertoire, and it would be good to see the Blues find a few less orthodox ways of thinking outside the box.