Peter Murphy. Now there was a versatile player. Centre-back, left-back, left midfield, even holding midfield occasionally – all occupied very well by one of Carlisle United’s most enduring pros.

He still knew, though, what he was and what he preferred to be. On YouTube there is a recording of United’s 2005/6 squad taking part in Sky Sports’ crossbar challenge. Each player runs to the camera and announces their name and position.

“Peter Murphy – defender,” he declares. For all his usefulness elsewhere – and for the fact that two of United’s most meaningful goals of recent years (promotion winner at Stevenage in 2005, title-clincher at Rochdale in 2006) were scored by Murphy from midfield – he was at heart a centre-half.

Even those players who have to trade on their versatility tend not to wish to be typecast that way. A master of one, rather than a jack of all, is more often the reputation sought.

Football’s realities are seldom this simple, and there is strength in being adaptable. Particularly given Carlisle’s budget restrictions, one imagines the fact several of their summer signings could wear a few different hats greatly appealed.

A few for the price of one: that’s what John Sheridan got with, for instance, Jack Sowerby and Jerry Yates. Other squad men can perform a range of tasks too yet when watching the Blues struggle around the 18-yard box recently, the growing suspicion has been that they are short of a specialist or two.

Ashley Nadesan apart (and Richie Bennett, who has more often been a sub lately), there is not a fully-fledged centre-forward in Carlisle’s ranks. Others who may view themselves this way are either used there only sometimes, or have not made the most of chances.

Yates’ goal at Notts County on Tuesday was a proper poacher’s finish. “It was like back to the old days,” he smiled afterwards – an acknowledgement that, having joined as a frontman, he has generally been used elsewhere, either on the right or left. The fact it was his first league goal this season underlined the point.

Yates is, needless to say, a willing worker wherever he is selected. While he had not, by his own admission, taken enough goalscoring chances in previous games, there is no denying his attitude, and attributes, have been appreciated by Sheridan and team-mates throughout this campaign.

Could he get a regular go down the middle? Could Sheridan risk it, and lose Yates’ ability to cover so many other areas? We don’t yet know, and with January approaching this is part of the most important picture for Carlisle to clarify.

One of the reasons that losing Nadesan back to Fleetwood (or elsewhere) would be such a blow is that United are short of another sure thing in the No9 position. Hallam Hope has played there without looking deadly and on Tuesday was back on the left, and much more involved than when up front against Forest Green.

Adam Campbell, another forward player, is not an obvious leader of the line and there have been times, when goals have been short, that United have appeared to possess a few too many in-between players; not enough who are equipped to dominate the most important attacking position.

The issue, given the budget, is whether Sheridan can risk committing funds to a specialist at the expense of broader value. The judgement call is to decide how many times 11th-placed Carlisle have benefited from versatility this season, and how often it has held them back.

It might feel that United are nurturing some rounded footballers when, for instance, Sowerby is starting at right-back one week and then stepping into midfield the next, or when Yates is bustling up the right and stepping in from the left before reaching his favoured goalscoring territory.

At the more experienced end, Gary Liddle’s ability to go from centre-half (his preference) to right-back without a noticeable drop in performance has made him essential. Today’s trip to Lincoln also brings back to mind the most striking example of versatility this season: Bennett’s one-off stint in defence, when the teams met in October.

Another chap likely to be at Sincil Bank this afternoon could write the book on switching up, too. Dean Walling may not have become so iconic had he stubbornly stuck to his centre-forward status when United asked him to give the back four a try. That, though, was a complete costume change rather than lasting utility.

A fact of life for a small squad is that it has to contain a few who can be flexible. It is also the case, given last summer’s upheaval, that this was never going to be United at their best equipped. Assistant manager Tommy Wright’s opinion that two more transfer windows may be needed to better shape things sounded a reasonable view when all the circumstances are considered.

At the same time, when you think of the best Carlisle sides down the years, you tended to know who went where, more often than not, and whenever someone in charge bemoans a lack of clinical finishing that is restricting a play-off push, some of the explanations appear in plain sight. So narrowing the search, within reason, is surely a wise way forward.


Les O’Neill has never pretended that his most famous Carlisle goal was entirely design rather than accident, but it's nice to imagine that at least some of that magic will rub off on the current side from time to time.

Forever known for the cross that swirled over Peter Bonetti’s head when United stormed Stamford Bridge in their first-ever top-flight fixture in 1974, O’Neill was also a classic case of making one’s own luck.

“A heart as big as the Den,” was how the former Millwall player Eamon Dunphy referred to him in his seminal book, Only a Game?, and was there a man who did more, through the sheer power of his industry, to earn what came his way over all his years in a blue shirt?

It is his 75th birthday on Tuesday and, to mark the occasion, Les is holding a party tomorrow at Dempsey’s on Warwick Road.

It is, he says, something he wished to stage in order to say thank-you to friends and anyone with Carlisle and United in their hearts, for the way they have adopted him in the city where he has made his home.

It is also a hallmark of men like Les, and many of his contemporaries, that they are the ones who feel the gratitude, who believe they are the people who need to do the thanking.

It is, you hope they know, very much a mutual feeling, and that the annals of Brunton Park history – the very best memories of our club and sporting community – would be much poorer without the feats of people such as Les O’Neill.

They did nothing less than deliver United to their greatest times and should always be treasured.

A party is as good an excuse as any to reinforce these feelings, so here’s hoping plenty turn out for Les tomorrow. Kick-off is, naturally, 3pm.