Carlisle needed to beat Macclesfield any way they could, and thankfully they did. The second half performance was better and United enjoyed a fair bit of luck during the game, but so what – sometimes you need that.

What really shone through, though, was the emergence of Jarrad Branthwaite.

I wondered if, having been substituted at half-time at Leyton Orient, he would miss out on Saturday and the more experienced Nathaniel Knight-Percival would get the nod.

Steven Pressley, though, went with Branthwaite and the 17-year-old looked very accomplished on the right side of the centre-half pairing, having played in a three in previous games.

He used both feet well, wanted to defend, but also showed he can play out. He does not deserve to be saddled with predictions that he is going to be a massive star at this early stage in his career, but it is already obvious that many bigger teams up and down the country would take him.

It doesn’t really cost clubs in the Premier League and Championship anything these days to take talented young lads from the lower leagues. They are able to stockpile players and see how they go.

That is obviously not to everyone’s liking but the reality is there will be no shortage of interest in Branthwaite – there were people watching him on Saturday, and I’ve had phonecalls myself from some in the game wanting to talk about him – and there will be decisions to be made in the fairly near future.

I just hope that Carlisle supporters get to see him for a while yet, and that Branthwaite himself gets a decent amount of first-team football before making that step up.

I have mentioned in this column a few times about how Brad Potts, another ex-Carlisle youngster, has already passed the 300 career appearances mark at 25.

That’s what a young player should want, rather than disappearing into someone’s academy and not being seen for three or four years, then having to be loaned back to the same level to get going again.

Potts has played constantly and must have had the desire to do that. I know clubs want to take players early and mould them their way, but clubs change managers every 18 months these days, so a young player going into a higher system could find himself being moulded a different way at the drop of a hat.

It would be better if Branthwaite was allowed to become an established centre-half at League Two level first. Let him play, let him get his career going.

We have seen teams fielding young players on loan from higher levels and you naturally get a mixed bag of performances. I think of defenders like Harry Souttar at Fleetwood, who is on loan from Stoke via Dundee United.

He has not played heaps of first-team games even at 21, and to me Branthwaite is ahead of him. He looks more comfortable on the ball, for one thing.

There will be a game where he gets a lesson. He will come up against a striker who will school him. But just as often he will have a good game, as he did on Saturday, because of the potential he has.

The only way he will get better is to keep learning on the job, and we all have to be patient with a player so young.

In terms of his future, we have seen a couple of young players sold by Carlisle recently in Liam McCarron and Josh Galloway and with that in mind it would not surprise you to see Branthwaite go the same way.

With the position the club is in at the moment, cashing in on these young lads seems to have become inevitable.

It is a shame for those bringing these players through the youth system that the lads aren’t staying around for long when they reach the first team. Darren Edmondson was the academy manager who brought McCarron and Branthwaite through and it is Eric Kinder’s responsibility with the next crop.

I can imagine it’s a bit soul-destroying for a youth coach to nurture lads like this and then see them sold after a handful of appearances.

Surely they and many others would prefer to see their club hold strong and go down the road of building a team of home-grown players, Cumbrians, over a four or five-year period.

That seems unlikely, though, given the current financial shape of United, which makes it all the more important that we enjoy these glimpses of Branthwaite’s development while we can.

In the short term the question is whether Pressley sticks with his young centre-half unit – Branthwaite and Jon Mellish – or falls back on the experience of Byron Webster, who is available after suspension. Knight-Percival is also waiting in the wings having lost his place.

For me, the young lads deserve their chance to remain in the side. The older defenders will come back in at some stage, as you can’t expect inexperienced players to sail through a season without a lull in form, but right now there is a case for keeping things as they are.

Defensively, Carlisle have not been good enough for most of this season, and the other factor is that Branthwaite and Mellish will get a bit more patience from supporters, because of their age.

With that encouragement from the crowd, they should benefit, and so could the team.


A win can always change your mood completely. Carlisle’s problem this season is that they have never been able to follow up victories, but they have a fantastic chance to do that at Dulwich Hamlet in the FA Cup.

Let’s be honest – Friday night’s game is one they should win. I don’t care about talk of upsets. United should have enough.

Non-league teams at Dulwich’s level are all much fitter these days than they used to be. They are stronger and more professionally-run.

We can’t set too much store by that, though. We are talking about Carlisle United here, a team of League Two professionals, and nine times out of 10 they should be able to overcome the opposition in a tie like this.

Pressley certainly needed the last four points United have gained. The rot has been stopped. He also now needs to avoid an upset in the cup.

His assistant, Gavin Skelton, was honest in his interviews after Saturday’s game. He accepted it was just one win and they need to continue picking up better results, otherwise the pressure will return.

Shock results do happen in the cup and there will be some in this weekend’s first round. It isn’t unheard of for them to can happen in front of the live TV cameras, either.

United must take that out of it, though, and focus on what really matters. It’s up to Carlisle to be strong and impose what should be superior levels of skill and fitness on opposition from two levels below them across the 90 minutes.

It might not be a breeze, but Dulwich will also have their nerves from being on TV. They will have a go but if you weather that, you often see these sides run out of steam after about an hour.

Carlisle can’t afford to give them anything to hold onto in the early stages. Be professional, do everything right, and you should come out on top, bank the prize money and get your name into the second round draw.