There is a lot of talk among supporters now about Carlisle United’s strikeforce, and the question of whether they have left themselves short up front in light of Mark Cullen going off injured against Swindon.

It was certainly a blow to see the club’s only recognised, senior centre-forward fail to last the first half as a result of a groin injury. The hope was that Cullen, who recently came back from a leg injury, would get fitter with every game and play a massive part in the run-in.

So you have to be gutted for Cullen now, and you can understand the supporters’ concern. Let’s hope it doesn’t prove serious and that the Blackpool man can return sooner than some are fearing.

In the meantime, it is up to Steven Pressley and his staff to find solutions and in that respect it is positive that they managed to win against Swindon without Cullen.

Carlisle started the game well and Pressley’s change of formation was designed to get the best out of the likes of Callum O’Hare, Stefan Scougall and Jamie Devitt. The first half-hour was good, there was some bright link-up play and Hallam Hope got the opening goal.

Things turned when Cullen went off and Swindon made quite a savvy change with a substitution and also a different system to try and stop at source the supply that Regan Slater was giving to those creative players in front of him.

That made some of them anonymous for a decent spell – but, just as Swindon boss Richie Wellens deserved credit for that tactical move, Pressley can also be praised for recognising the substitution that needed to be made to get Carlisle back on the front foot.

Some managers can be very proud about their decisions and refuse to see when they need to be altered. Pressley has explained his reasons for leaving Kelvin Etuhu on the bench but importantly he didn’t stubbornly keep him there when the game was starting to get away from Carlisle.

He brought him on early in the second half and straight away there was a big difference. Etuhu grabbed control of that midfield area, won three or four headers in a row, his team-mates could press further up the pitch and it paid off.

It allowed O’Hare to go further forward and throw off some of the shackles. He found himself in better and more comfortable positions and the winning goal was the outcome. Not having quite so much defensive responsibility seemed to suit O’Hare in those closing stages and that advanced role looked more like the position he has been used to at Aston Villa.

This is what Pressley and Carlisle’s scouts will have seen in O’Hare before signing him and it was significant that his goal came when he got into those areas more often.

Had United not won I’m sure there would have been more doom and gloom around, made worse by the Cullen news. The performance wasn’t great and six games without a win would have been a worrying run.

Getting that victory could take things the other way. It can lift confidence, get the monkey off the players’ backs and encourage them to play on the front foot, however they line up without Cullen.

Pressley has used the false nine system before with Devitt and Scougall in that position. Hope could also go up there, while on Saturday I also thought Nathan Thomas showed a few signs of what he can do. Hopefully that was evidence he is settling in.

It is Notts County tonight at Brunton Park and an obvious opportunity for Carlisle. I have said for months that League Two is poor this season and Notts are bottom of that pile.

Carlisle have now shown they can win despite not playing well so you would hope that, even if they are halfway towards their best, it should be enough.

We can’t be thinking about anything other than three points and that would cement Carlisle’s place in that top seven ahead of a tricky trip to Forest Green. Seeing off Notts County would take a little pressure off that game in terms of an absolute need to win it.

The club have also secured a couple of senior players for next season in Hope and Adam Collin. I don’t think Hope is appreciated enough by some when you consider the number of goals he has been involved in.

He might not fly past people regularly but he is a very fit lad, always gets to the back stick, gets up and down, keeps the ball well and does a lot of defensive work.

If he was out of contract this summer I’m sure there would have been a lot of takers for him. Collin, meanwhile, has been very steady all season and seems very settled back at the club.

Hopefully the club will soon sit down with others like Devitt, Tom Parkes and Gary Liddle, who I’m sure will have options elsewhere.

Ideally Carlisle will be able to convince players like that to stay. The fact they are settled at Brunton Park will maybe go in the club’s favour.

If it can’t be done, I at least hope we don’t see situations like last summer when they were getting nowhere near certain players’ wages.

If it’s not meant to be, and they can’t get close to what some players expect, surely it would be better to be straight with them about that, rather than make offers which they would regard as a bit of an insult.


One of the worst things I’ve seen in terms of fans abusing players up-close on the pitch was when a Sunderland supporter spat in Niall Quinn’s face.

It came in the season after we had been relegated from the Premier League and had started the next campaign poorly.

I have to say that Quinn took it better than the rest of us. As his team-mates, we didn’t hold back and, rightly or wrongly, got fired into the lad who had spat at him.

Niall went on from that moment to be player of the year for two years running as Sunderland started moving in the right direction again - and Jack Grealish also responded in the most positive way on Sunday when he scored the winner for Aston Villa having earlier been attacked by that Birmingham supporter.

What happened at St Andrew’s was obviously a disgrace. I felt sorry for the Birmingham manager Garry Monk, a friend of mine, and his players. It’s not their fault and in a way it’s not the club’s fault either.

Sometimes people just have to take responsibility as adults and not look for outside things to blame.

It was a premeditated assault, and Paul Mitchell was yesterday jailed for 14 weeks. With any luck the sentence will deter others from doing something similar.

It is tempting to argue the case for Birmingham to play some of their next games behind closed doors and also be deducted points by way of punishment, but I don’t necessarily agree with that either.

The club had stewards in place, police were there, and if anything, maybe it’s time for the governing bodies to plough more money into this side of things.

Often stewards are just students working for a few quid. If the game demands a better standard of security then the resources should be made available for it.

It’s not as if football is short of money that could be directed that way.