It was the ideal start to the season for Paul Simpson’s Carlisle United. But what did we learn from their 1-0 opening-day victory over Crawley Town?

Let’s take a look.


This didn’t often feel like a tight game. There were attacks and chances aplenty, and certainly no shortage of enterprise and open space.

News and Star: Kristian Dennis fired the only goal early onKristian Dennis fired the only goal early on

All the same. It was still, in the main respect, a close call, and on that basis we’ve already seen the value of someone who’s able to sniff something out when nobody else can.

Five minutes had gone when Kristian Dennis scented a lucky ricochet as a Crawley clearance bounced off Owen Moxon.

It wasn’t the cleanest finish, but it was an accurate and clinical one: an experienced penalty-box operator doing his thing, having shown sharper anticipation than anyone else.

For everything that Carlisle threw at Crawley across the piece, it was the cold eye of Dennis that won the day – three points sewn up by a proven operator, rather than all the potential around him.


Paul Simpson’s midfield ideas have been reasonably fluid in pre-season but on Saturday we had an early glimpse of where he feels Jordan Gibson can do most damage.

News and Star: Jordan Gibson was a key man in United's attacking styleJordan Gibson was a key man in United's attacking style

The former Bradford and Sligo man is by instinct a creator, an attacker, someone who has often seemed his most dangerous in the number 10 position.

So it was against Crawley. Gibson, like everyone else, had his defensive share to do, acres to cover in the name of driving Simpson’s Carlisle.

But the 24-year-old was crucial to United’s overall strategy in the way he worked and carried the ball snappily forward when Simpson’s team won it back.

This was fundamental to the way they went relentlessly at Kevin Betsy’s side early on, keeping them in their own half, and again later in proceedings.

One piece of halfway-line skill from Gibson was mesmerising and, though a goal did not result from that or his other forays, this licence to put opponents on the back foot in various middle and final-third areas looks suited to Gibson.


As a creative midfield player, Moxon won’t mind that his first assist for Carlisle was, well, perhaps not from the training ground.

News and Star: Owen Moxon enjoyed a good Football League debutOwen Moxon enjoyed a good Football League debut

Otherwise, this was an impressive and controlled step up to the professional ranks from the city-born player, who moved straight into a position of responsibility in Simpson’s team.

Moxon dominated corner-taking duties and was always in the game when the ball needed to be chased, won, recycled, used.

Considering all his previous first-team appearances have come in part-time football, it spoke well of Moxon’s adaptability as well as his fitness for the fight.

If the Denton Holme man was nervous at his first pro appearance for his boyhood club, it didn’t show.

Hopefully the ability he brings with him to Annan will now go on to flourish further after what must have been a proud July 30 in the Moxon family.


There is a definite blend of qualities and abilities in United’s back three, and all were on show in a largely excellent defensive performance here.

News and Star: Ben Barclay had a strong game in defenceBen Barclay had a strong game in defence

Ben Barclay enjoyed a fine debut on the right of the central trio. His timing and reading of danger against a tricky Crawley forward line will surely have impressed Simpson.

On the left, Jon Mellish was Jon Mellish – full of running and battle, the occasional snarl, a couple of raw touches but still maximum commitment and aggression.

Then, in the middle, there was the kingpin; the new captain.

There have been few Morgan Feeney games in a Carlisle shirt that you wouldn’t mark at a minimum of seven out of ten. The consistency that comes with his combative work is a major reason why Feeney is such an asset to the Blues.

Crawley were never going to get a free chance, a bonus gift, while Feeney was there to marshal the operation and extend limb and head to keep them at heel.

It is no surprise, given his history in age-group football, to see him appear a natural leader. He is plainly going to be a major player for United this season. Maybe THE major player.


Callum Guy certainly did not look like a man burdened by disappointment at losing the armband.

News and Star: Callum Guy, right, did some crucial midfield workCallum Guy, right, did some crucial midfield work
Indeed, there appeared a freedom about some of his work that made you wonder if, at the end of it all, Simpson’s captaincy decision may benefit more than just Feeney.

It was, especially in a driving first half, very much like the old Guy, as he carried out some crucial destructive work in midfield, bringing his experience to bear when United needed to prevent Crawley working their shapes.

He also bombed forward a few times, more than we’ve seen in the fairly recent past.

It was too much to expect Guy to break his goalscoring duck from such advances. But the substance of his general play, until he went off injured, made this a strong start to 2022/23 from the 25-year-old.


An excellent showing this was. Perfect, though, it was not - and the improvements Paul Simpson will want to make from this winning position concern the obvious.

News and Star: A chance goes begging in the second halfA chance goes begging in the second half

Goalscoring. Finishing. Carlisle could, had they been better in the Crawley box, have run riot on Saturday.

Instead, they had Dennis’s one moment to thank for the points. Other attacks were energetically and impressively set up, but rather frantically finished.

There were occasions when United’s decision-making got lost in their enthusiasm. This you would expect from a side that is young in many places.

It is not, to be clear, that Carlisle didn’t get into many good positions. This was a tribute to their general efforts and Simpson’s strategy.

It is simply to say that learning to translate this into maximum ruthlessness will be the difference between United going along ok in 2022/23, and really cranking up the possibilities.