Carlisle United suffered a 3-1 home defeat to Reading on Saturday - but what did we learn from the game? Let's take a look...


Carlisle are capable of scoring at home. The only problem (well, one of the problems) is that it’s usually much too late.

One accusing stat this season is that Paul Simpson’s side have netted only one first-half goal (Owen Moxon on the opening day against Fleetwood Town) in the league all season, and not one in the first 45 minutes at Brunton Park from open play.

Another is that their better second-half efforts, when they come, too often arrive when a game has all but gone.

News and Star: Jon Mellish, pictured on the attack, got a goal back for Carlisle but, as ever, it was too lateJon Mellish, pictured on the attack, got a goal back for Carlisle but, as ever, it was too late (Image: Barbara Abbott)

Saturday was typical of their 2024 efforts so far, Jon Mellish scoring in the 71st minute at a time United were 3-0 down.

Their previous goal on home soil was Jordan Gibson’s against Bolton Wanderers: also in the 71st minute, when United were 2-0 adrift.

Prior to that, Alfie McCalmont netted in the – you guessed it – 71st minute against Oxford United. By then Simpson’s side were 3-0 down.

Considering Carlisle haven’t scored three in a home game all season, there can be no basis of hope that these moments will be anything other than scant consolation.

Playing when the other side are over the horizon, and either easing up or shoring up tactically, says little about Carlisle’s capacity to unlock defences. When a game’s there to be steered, at Brunton Park they are mainly nowhere.


Carlisle’s failure to pick up any more than one win and nothing more from their last ten games means they are by no means out of the woods in the bid to avoid this being a historically bad season in terms of points.

The Blues are on 23 with 11 games to go. Relegation is all but certain, but just how short will United end up?

Well, the all-time low benchmarks are there in the archives and it will still require a degree of improvement if the 2023/24 side isn’t to join or emulate them in the annals.

News and Star: Carlisle's meagre points total needs work if the team is to avoid an historically low erturnCarlisle's meagre points total needs work if the team is to avoid an historically low erturn (Image: Barbara Abbott)

United’s worst-ever points return in a Football League season is 23 in 1934/35. If they’d been playing three points for a win instead of two back then, the Blues would have finished on 31 points.

So, another nine are needed to go past that.

The lowest total in the three-points-for-a-win era is the measly 34 picked up by Aidan McCaffery’s basement boys of 1991/92.

They, though, had four games fewer in a 42-game Division Four campaign (as did the lads of 34/35 in Division Three North, for the record).

The worst Carlisle effort in a 46-game season was the 1986/87 side’s 38-point return en route to third-tier relegation.

Sixteen points from 11 games, then, are required to beat that, at an average of 1.45 a game.

Carlisle’s current average is 0.66 points per game. Grim. And not promising.


Doubtless, Carlisle showed good resolve and determination to defeat Burton Albion last Tuesday.

That result, alas, is an anomaly on paper and looked very much the same to the naked eye on Saturday.

Reading played a polished calibre of football that was closer to the League One average at Brunton Park than that offered by the lumpen Brewers at the Pirelli Stadium.

News and Star: Reading's football was far superior to Carlisle'sReading's football was far superior to Carlisle's (Image: Barbara Abbott)

It was far better than United’s bottom line and as such the game took a familiar and predictable route to a Royals victory.

At Burton, the two sides had been relatively close in passing numbers and long and short passes attempted. On Saturday, the stats were much more notably different, Reading making 50 more passes than Carlisle, and 59 more short ones, across the 90 minutes.

Those are raw numbers but other patterns tell a tale. Three-quarters of Burton’s attempts came down the middle of the pitch last Tuesday, as the Brewers tried (and often failed, given how Carlisle defended) to work off their big young striker Ademola Ola-Adebomi.

Reading, like more of their third-tier peers, offered much more variety in, with Andy Yiadom – creator of their second goal – also joining a right attacking side already well staffed by Femi Azeez, while Kelvin Ehibhatiomhan patrolled the left and Harvey Knibbs operated more centrally behind the mobile Sam Smith.

Had they not been cutting the Blues to ribbons at times, the Royals would have been very good and highly interesting to watch. A neutral would have enjoyed their proficiency in passing and movement in the first hour of the game.

Carlisle, we learned at Burton, can dig in and fight when it’s a more rudimentary contest. When the quality level is cranked up, they just don’t have the League One smarts to live with it.


This has not, clearly, been a vintage season in the matter of taking hold of games, nor have United been much cop at salvaging them.

As noted above, their recent home goals have come largely after the event, while the idea of substitutes turning a match tends to be a matter of hope over expectation too.

Carlisle have had six league goals this season scored by substitutes. The takers of three of those (Joe Garner and Ryan Edmondson) are no longer at the club.

News and Star: Jordan Gibson's free-kick assist came in a bright cameo but the wider picture remains poorJordan Gibson's free-kick assist came in a bright cameo but the wider picture remains poor (Image: Barbara Abbott)

That leaves us with three sub scorers in the remaining squad: Dan Butterworth v Exeter City, Jordan Gibson v Bolton Wanderers and Sean Maguire v Leyton Orient.

All consolations. All dots on the page in terms of a pattern that might overhaul a result. None part of a dramatic recovery of any kind. Gibson's cameo which included an assist was, in isolation, bright on Saturday but that's all it was: a bright cameo in defeat.

Some 14 of United’s 23 points this season have been taken from a losing position. So they do have it in them to respond to adversity, at times.

In this wretched run since January, though, that has been almost entirely a futile hope too. Each game they’ve been behind in over the last ten, they’ve lost.

All these aspects add up to a side that cannot expect to win, not nearly often enough, and while Simpson praised his team for not going under against Reading, defeatism remains in this side’s core, and one senses it’s going to take some significant surgery to remove it.