Who would have thought, over Christmas and January, that there would be so much concern on and off the pitch come the start of April at Carlisle United?

On Saturday we heard supporters going mad at the manager, understandably unhappy with performances, and the body language of players at Tranmere wasn’t the greatest either.

I’ve been there myself when you’re on a bad run, concede and find a game running away from you. Not taking that big chance earlier in the game doesn’t give you anything to hold onto, and anxiety starts to set in. When you then concede a sloppy goal, it puts you on the back foot.

Everyone, though, has to be honest about this situation now. Yes, the manager picks the team and has to take responsibility. But players also have to take responsibility for some of those goals conceded at Prenton Park. It wasn’t good enough by a long way.

They also have to recognise that, even though form isn’t great, there is still a chance of the play-offs with six games to go. It isn’t always a good thing but the one positive I can think of is that, when pressure and expectation has been high recently, Carlisle haven’t particularly stepped up to it.

Now many people are writing them off, some of that pressure is off. Could that help them play with a bit more freedom? We can only hope so.

Injuries certainly haven’t helped, and Steven Pressley is patching up the side at times. It’s clearly not ideal relying heavily on loan players, especially those from the Championship who don’t really know the league, but I have to say that the likes of Callum O’Hare have been a plus point in this run.

Whatever you think of his performances, and those of Regan Slater, their attitude has been good. You can’t question their energy levels, and desire.

Otherwise, though, it looks like a team that has had a long and hard season. Pressley has alluded to it himself by saying his defenders have looked a bit sluggish. Perhaps injuries have come as a consequence of that and if you are having to change your defence here and there, you are always going to be in a bit of trouble.

It is going to be an uphill struggle now to keep their play-off chances alive. From their next two games, against Bury and Stevenage, they have to take at least four points. Defeat on Saturday and it’s over for my money.

As he plans for Bury, Pressley has to feel that he doesn’t owe anybody anything. Maybe he has to rip up the blueprint and just go with players who he feels can get him a result, regardless of how United play.

I doubt the players will care how they play either – whether they stick to their recent style, go longer, whatever. It is now simply about finding a way to win League Two games, which often comes down to being organised and carrying some sort of threat.

As part of any plans from here, I’d seriously consider now just telling Hallam Hope he is playing up front for the remaining games. He is the nearest we have to a senior centre-forward. Play someone alongside him if needs be but do whatever you can to get your best goal threat into position.

Just find a way – otherwise the season will be looked upon as a real disappointment, after so much hope over the winter months.

The fact the manager is only here until the end of the season as it stands, the same as a number of players, is not ideal. If the club feels that Pressley is still the right man for the long term, regardless of these results, they should show their faith and give him that extended deal.

At this point in the year, players will be hearing those chants that we heard on Saturday, looking at the situation, and wondering if the manager is going to be here next year in any case.

The instinct might be to look after number one more than ever. As much as supporters want players and managers to show loyalty, if the club doesn’t show loyalty to you, and just considers you a financial burden or asset, you may be more inclined to put yourself first.

Players who might not be agreeing with the manager’s selection, and then hear supporters calling for his head, could be thinking all sorts of things, and the uncertainty can risk generating a bad atmosphere.

The club have said they don’t want the situation to drag on as it did last year with Keith Curle, when a decision was finally reached with two games to go and it took them a long time to find his replacement.

Chief executive Nigel Clibbens said that wasn’t an ideal scenario and I hope he has stressed to the other directors that making some sort of decision earlier is paramount this time.

If it isn’t made in the next couple of weeks, you can only surmise they are having second thoughts on Pressley. If it is, at least people can start planning from an early stage, both individually and at a club level.

If Pressley is backed, then he would have the licence to start identifying targets and building something, compared with the short-term situation he inherited when, to be fair, he lost some key players soon after taking charge.

He will be planning ahead now to a certain degree but a show of faith would give him real authority to step things up – regardless of what happens to United’s challenge in the coming weeks.


The EFL certainly got their wish on Sunday when the Checkatrade Trophy final between Portsmouth and Sunderland attracted the competition’s best-ever crowd.

I bet, after all the controversy over the format of the Trophy, they were rubbing their hands at the sight of Wembley full of supporters.

For the purists, who have turned their back on the competition, it was probably the last pair of teams they wanted to see reach the final, allowing those at the top to claim it as a big success.

I don’t feel, though, that it changes the debate about Under-21 teams being involved in it.

A big Wembley occasion will always attract fans, especially when clubs of good size are there. We saw it when Coventry faced Oxford in the final in 2017 too.

If anything, Sunday's spectacle has only highlighted the strength of the lower leagues.

Going to Tranmere on Saturday with Carlisle United reminded me of the time we played them in our run to the Football League Trophy final in the 2005/6 season.

There were over 3,000 fans in Prenton Park that night, but you aren’t getting that sort of gate in the early rounds now, and overall the competition has lost its way.

I’ve always felt there is room for the Trophy in the calendar and in a team’s list of priorities, but definitely not with the Under-21s involved.

Next season I almost want to see the final between, say, West Brom Under-21s and Leicester Under-21s, just to see what sort of crowd actually goes to Wembley to watch that sort of fixture.

When Under-21 teams have played at Brunton Park in the competition, the only crowds they have brought have been made up of parents and families. So you wouldn't expect the national stadium to be packed.

Sunday, with 85,021 inside Wembley, was the polar opposite and showed what this competition should always be about.