As much as you never like missing a game in person it was quite an enjoyable thought to be leaving work on Friday afternoon in the knowledge you could get the telly on in a few hours at watch Carlisle United.

They got the job done comfortably in front of the BBC2 cameras and as much as people talked about banana skins, I always felt that if they were professional and strong in their approach, Steven Pressley’s team would have far too much for Dulwich Hamlet.

That’s how it panned out. At times it wasn’t a great game and there were a few hairy moments – a few things from Carlisle that made you think a better team would have capitalised.

But all you can ask for in a tie like that is that they find a way through, and that’s what they did.

It wasn’t a great game to watch, like a number of games this season, but they got themselves in the hat and you never know where that can lead.

There have been enough times this season when we have said it’s all about the result, no matter how they get it. You can’t then turn around and criticise too heavily when they dig out a win against Macclesfield and then get through against Dulwich.

At times, particularly when you have been on the sort of losing run Carlisle were on before the draw at Leyton Orient, you just need to win any way you can. They’ve done it twice now and nobody can deny these results have been much-needed.

There are always upsets up and down the country at the first round stage. We saw a number of them over the weekend. Performances really aren’t that important as long as you get that result.

We saw, during Keith Curle’s tenure and also during John Sheridan’s losing streak at Brunton Park, a common debate about entertainment. Particularly at Brunton Park, a number of supporters said they wanted a better spectacle from the team.

At first, though, when you are not in good form you have to go back to the basics of winning games.

Away from home Curle would also often play a certain way, and we would say we can only put up with watching this if we come away with the points.

A decent number of times we did, and when that happens you can say the ends justify the means.

The way Pressley set the team up at Dulwich looked more like the kind of line-up that you would hope to see.

There have been times earlier in the season when Harry McKirdy and Nathan Thomas have not been in the team and supporters have been crying out for the bit of flair they can provide.

The formation has changed at times but I always felt those two should be starting.

Thomas went past people early in Friday’s game and while McKirdy didn’t have the ball at his feet as much as he probably wanted, he got two goals and was the key player on the night.

You have to play these lads now – that should be clear. I don’t care whether they are at the absolute maximum of fitness, their “data” is off the scale or they are tracking back constantly. They are matchwinners. And in a team that has taken a while to win matches with any kind of regularity, they really need to be on the pitch.

I wouldn’t say this current team has been stumbled upon exactly, but it was significant that Pressley brought McKirdy back in against Macclesfield when he and the team really needed a result. We saw McKirdy, Thomas and Olufela Olomola as the front three again and Carlisle were a bit more on the front foot.

Sometimes events land in your lap. Against Macclesfield, Byron Webster was suspended and it saw Jarrad Branthwaite and Jon Mellish really step up at centre-half. Managers can get a bit lucky at times when players aren’t available and someone does really well in their place.

Would Friday’s team be the XI I would go with at Port Vale this Saturday? Probably not. I would rather go back to the side that started against Macclesfield and go from there.

Can an unbeaten run of three games be a platform? Well, we clearly can’t get carried away by a period when United got a bit of a fortunate win against Macclesfield and then beat a National League South side. After Morecambe in the Trophy tonight it is back to the bread-and-butter at Port Vale and that is the sort of game where we will find out a bit more about the team.

United still have to prove they can find some consistency. Without being disrespectful to Port Vale, they are not pulling up any trees either and a lot of these teams and games in League Two are much of a muchness.

Vale Park is a ground where Carlisle have done well in recent years and they should be able to pick something up there.

In interviews we hear United’s players often saying they feel they should be doing better. We hear the manager saying that things are starting to bear fruit.

Well, they have got to now. We are in November now and if Carlisle are going to deliver on the things they have been saying, lifting themselves from 19th in the table has to happen now.

Supporters have been frustrated for much of 2019/20 and crowds have dipped. They need to find any positives they can at the moment, and a couple more good league results – coupled with a cup run – would help in that respect.


There were some dramatic games and upsets in the FA Cup over the weekend.

Thankfully Carlisle did not make any unwanted headlines but one game that caught my eye was Walsall v Darlington.

Walsall are struggling and under pressure in League Two and Darlington, whose assistant manager Darren Holloway is a good friend of mine, went there and gave it a real go.

They clearly fancied themselves to turn Walsall over and were 1-0 up going into the latter stages.

The home side scored two quickfire goals and you think that’s it done and they are going to bow out.

Then all of a sudden they scored in the 97th minute to level it at 2-2 and it’s now a great replay back at Darlington for the National League North club.

Walsall won’t be looking forward to that one bit.

Another game that caught the eye for different reasons was Macclesfield’s 4-0 defeat to Kingstonian.

Macclesfield deserved something at Brunton Park the other week but played more or less a youth team in the cup as senior players were on strike over unpaid wages.

There were upsets elsewhere, as Maldon & Tiptree got the better of Leyton Orient, and Dover Athletic knocked out Southend.

Can a cup run help in a season like Carlisle are having?

I have played in and watched seasons where cup runs have been detrimental but also those when it has been a real boost.

Sometimes it can take your mind off league struggles and help you back into form. At other times it is a different kind of distraction and can get you out of your rhythm.

In other seasons it can make no difference at all.

All you hope for is just to go as far as you can, make the most of it and treat it for what it is.

Carlisle still have that chance, while a number of others don’t.