Carlisle United drew 2-2 with Stevenage at Brunton Park on Saturday – but what did we learn from the game? Let’s take a look…


Let’s start with the positives. Oh, come on – we’ve had too few of them this season to bypass the odd one when it comes along.

And however agonising and exasperating the finish to the game was, it would be wrong to ignore the better parts, and the better individuals in United’s overall showing.

Star of the show from the hosts’ perspective was clearly Dan Butterworth, who made it three goals in three games with a well-taken brace.

News and Star: Dan Butterworth impressed with a two-goal haulDan Butterworth impressed with a two-goal haul (Image: Barbara Abbott)

It may not be saying much given Carlisle’s shortage this campaign, but two goal-of-the-season contenders in one game – the first a sweeping team move, the second a belting individual strike – represented an eyecatching day’s work by the former Blackburn Rovers man.

Simpson, having used Butterworth as a wider attacker at Shrewsbury Town, this time paired him with Luke Armstrong in a front two.

Like just about everyone in the United squad, Butterworth has not produced consistently this season but if he can finish the season with a flourish it will at least offer some encouragement for next season.

Against Stevenage, he became only the second Carlisle player to score twice in a league game this season (Jordan Gibson at Bolton Wanderers the other last October).

In a home game, he’s the first to achieve the feat in the league all campaign, the previous man to do it being Kristian Dennis against Tranmere Rovers last April.

It was the first two-goal match haul of Butterworth’s career, and the 24-year-old led United’s shot count, should have had an assist for his pass to Taylor Charters, was Carlisle’s leading dribbler and, all in all, has shown he’s worth a place in the side for a stint. A grain of hope, maybe, in all the current gloom.


Now the negatives. Carlisle’s defensive record in this spell is appalling and the division's worst tally by a distance increased on Saturday.

It’s now 69 conceded from 29 games and, in their last 14 games, they’ve shipped at least two on 14 occasions.

That’s simply nowhere near good enough, with 33 goals flying into United’s net in this 14-game run which has brought one win, one draw and 12 losses.

News and Star: United's poor goals-against record suffered further thanks to Stevenage's late showUnited's poor goals-against record suffered further thanks to Stevenage's late show (Image: Barbara Abbott)

For decent periods on Saturday it seemed Stevenage were setting Carlisle problems they could cope with. The visitors appeared to lack the focal threat that Northern Ireland’s new goalscorer Jamie Reid tends to provide, and not until they started feeding substitute Vadaine Oliver in the air did Evans’ side have any particular attacking identity that concerned you.

Alas, it was enough to do for Carlisle. Stats by say Oliver won a remarkable 17 aerial contests in his 45 minutes on the pitch, and of course it was his header that forced Terence Vancooten’s injury-time leveller.

United were faulty in the build-up to both Stevenage goals, Jon Mellish first failing to clear lines before Dylan McGeouch was penalised for a seemingly soft challenge on Alex MacDonald.

Then the Blues could not show enough composure or wiles to disrupt Stevenage’s glaringly obvious late line of attack: crosses, and plenty of them, into the box.

Harry Lewis, in goal, did not look entirely assured as the missiles came in, and he was also unable to push Oliver’s header away from the sort of area where someone could pounce.

Stevenage’s modus operandi was no secret, Simpson admitted as much post-match, and with this in mind it does rather beg the question why this game was not one where Paul Huntington, whose aerial stature is long-established, was not considered at least as a substitute.

Either way, Carlisle's defending, in general, is doing little to contest the argument it will need remedial work in the summer. The stats don't lie.


Had the game stopped a few seconds earlier, there would have been no grounds for casting Evans as a sage for his substitutions.

United would have earned rightful praise for seeing things out and, who knows, perhaps Simpson would have been complimented for the right approach in doing so.

Alas, judgement must be made on what happened, as opposed to the imagined outcome, and it was certainly an occasion where some radical reshuffling had the desired effect – just – for the visiting side.

News and Star: It's to United's credit that Evans had to make so many changes...but eventually they took effectIt's to United's credit that Evans had to make so many changes...but eventually they took effect (Image: Barbara Abbott)

Evans made three changes at half-time following a first 45 minutes when Stevenage looked some distance from being serious play-off contenders.

Their replacements, to give them credit, helped to improve Boro’s play. Ben Thompson, in midfield, made things less comfortable for United’s men in that area, where Harrison Neal in particular had enjoyed a strong first half and Jordan Roberts, one of the visiting men hooked, had endured a frustrating, yellow-carded half.

Nesta Guinness-Walker also showed some quality after taking the place of Louis Thompson. Oliver led the line – not always to dynamic effect, but with a definite aerial presence and much greater impact than the anonymous Kane Hemmings – and then there was Vancooten, a long-established performer, who replaced the injured Jake Forster-Caskey early on and popped up at the death to save a point. Their other scorer, Alex MacDonald, was also a second-half arrival, earning a (very soft, admittedly) penalty before converting it.

Evans could go home satisfied that he’d done just enough to shake a point out of a largely ordinary display. Carlisle’s own changes were much more sparing – Jack Diamond the only introduction, the sub failing to convert a great chance to seal the game – and Simpson otherwise declining to turn to the other defensive, midfield or attacking options he had in reserve.

There’s no way of knowing what would have happened had the Blues manager used more of his alternatives, and sooner, in a bid to hold onto their lead (Simpson argued that he wanted taller players on the pitch, hence the lack of changes, although Josh Emmanuel, at least, might have added an extra centimetre or two, even if he is not necessarily known for aerial prowess).

One thing we do know, sadly, is that United’s 90-minute men and their solitary sub couldn’t sustain things to the bitter end, and hence scrutiny automatically falls on this sort of area. And Evans could say, with evidence, that his proactive/emergency changes wrested something back in the end.


So what else can we squeeze out of this maddening season before it’s mercifully put to bed?

It’s not easy to say, especially considering the calibre of opponent United now face in their seven-game run-in.

On Friday it’s Peterborough United, who are fourth. Next Monday it’s in-form Lincoln City in eighth.

News and Star: Will Carlisle have much to cheer over their remaining seven games?Will Carlisle have much to cheer over their remaining seven games? (Image: Barbara Abbott)

After that it’s Northampton Town (11th), Cheltenham Town (22nd), Blackpool (ninth), Wycombe Wanderers (13th) and Derby County (2nd).

So that’s four out of seven who are very much in the promotion race, a couple solidly in mid-table and one who may still be scrapping for their lives by the time United visit.

Against this septet already this season United have taken a total of two points, even from their better portion of the campaign.

Avoiding matching or breaking the club record for defeats in a league season – 28 – is going to take some doing, given the Blues remain on 25 right now.

Defeat at London Road next up could all but seal the drop – if United lose, and others win, it could be 18 points adrift with 18 to play for, and a rancid goal difference.

Carlisle’s record at Posh’s home ground is…not great. They’ve lost their last four visits at an aggregate score of 13-2, and their last win there is as far back as 2000, when a bit of magic from John Durnin provided a 2-0 win.

Those who were there may still be haunted by the more recent 6-0 annihilation in March 2011 when the scoreline flattered the Blues.

We can only hope that some of the good things from Saturday’s performance reappear on Friday, and help United defy what are likely to be particularly long odds when they take on Darren Ferguson's men.