Carlisle United leave League One after a bruising experience – but also, hopefully, an educational one.

Throughout 2023/24 the Blues faced opponents who showed them the way in terms of the standard for the level, and others who produced stand-out individual performances along the way.

Here is a team of the season based on performances against Paul Simpson’s strugglers during the campaign.


Not a frontline player for most of the season, nor one who’ll figure in any other team of the year XIs.

But Wright was a classic example of a back-up player being primed and ready…as he demonstrated excellently at Brunton Park.

Called up when regular Imps No1 Lukas Jensen was injured in the warm-up, Wright, in his only league appearance of the season, produced some athletic saves in a display of character as Michael Skubala’s side put distance between themselves and the Blues.

News and Star: Jordan Wright, filled in impressively for Lincoln at Brunton ParkJordan Wright, filled in impressively for Lincoln at Brunton Park (Image: Barbara Abbott)


Carlisle found themselves on the end of a pair of beatings by the Royals: 5-1 in Berkshire, and then 3-1 at Brunton Park.

The latter game in particular saw the experienced Yiadom expose Carlisle with some lively and focused work down the Reading right.

His work to set up their second goal in that victory in Cumbria left United cold…and, perhaps, pining for someone of Yiadom’s ilk with those attacking wing-back traits.

News and Star: Andy Yiadom was effective for Reading in both games against CarlisleAndy Yiadom was effective for Reading in both games against Carlisle (Image: PA)

DEFENCE – LUKE LEAHY (Wycombe Wanderers)

A fine left-footed player himself in years gone by, Paul Simpson must have envied the delivery of Leahy when Wycombe did the double over Carlisle.

At Adams Park he slotted a no-fuss penalty after Jokull Andresson’s brain-fade, whilst at Brunton Park his pinpoint delivery enabled Garath McCleary to wrap up a 3-1 victory.

Carlisle lacked that sort of precision too often, and the adaptable Leahy looked a high-calibre opponent on both occasions.

News and Star: Luke Leahy helped Wycombe punish Carlisle twiceLuke Leahy helped Wycombe punish Carlisle twice (Image: Barbara Abbott)


Perhaps the stand-out central defender of the 2023/24 season, Shaughnessy showed his class and hurt Carlisle in different ways in their respective meetings.

At Fratton Park he delivered one of United’s most painful defeats of the season, heading home in added time to dash a hitherto good performance from Simpson’s visitors.

The return game at Brunton Park saw Shaughnessy highly adept both on the defensive side and also with the ball, the ex-Burton man stepping up in an accomplished way to aid John Mousinho’s ball-play for the champions.

News and Star: Conor Shaughnessy (No18) scores for Portsmouth against CarlisleConor Shaughnessy (No18) scores for Portsmouth against Carlisle (Image: Barbara Abbott)


Carlisle struggled to lay an attacking glove on the Us in both their meetings and the tall figure of Moore was a particular reason.

The captain showed clear League One pedigree as the Blues bashed against a brick wall in their first away game of the campaign at the Kassam.

And Moore offered United no change at Brunton Park either when Des Buckingham’s side completed a league double.

News and Star: Elliott Moore was a dominant defensive figure for OxfordElliott Moore was a dominant defensive figure for Oxford (Image: PA)

MIDFIELD – JOSH SHEEHAN (Bolton Wanderers)

Carlisle stunningly got the better of Bolton in the autumn, but come January at Brunton Park and the Trotters’ strength was reimposed.

Pivotal to that was the display of Sheehan against the Cumbrians. The former Newport County man pulled all the strings he could, supplying the opening goal and performing with a midfield intelligence Carlisle simply lacked.

Sheehan was an adept foil for other strong runners in Ian Evatt’s side, such as Kyle Dempsey, and oozed quality on United’s pitch.

News and Star: Josh Sheehan pulled the strings for Bolton at Brunton ParkJosh Sheehan pulled the strings for Bolton at Brunton Park (Image: PA)


On neither occasion were Carlisle blown out of sight by Pompey, despite the gaping gap in the table between the two sides.

But the south coast club’s 1-0 win at Brunton Park still had the stamp of champions when it came to game management and the know-how to get in front and stay there.

Pack’s display was not spectacular but it was a classic in terms of experience, positional wisdom, oiling the wheels for dynamic team-mates, and not allowing a struggling and desperate Blues side the space to hurl themselves back into the contest.

News and Star: The midfield intelligence of Marlon Pack was on show when Portsmouth won at Brunton ParkThe midfield intelligence of Marlon Pack was on show when Portsmouth won at Brunton Park (Image: PA)


The Imps’ 3-1 win on April Fool’s Day was a superior performance overall, and in Ethan Erhahon they had a strong midfield fulcrum.

Bishop, though, was the creative spark, the kind of fluid, intelligent No10 Carlisle could not emulate at this level.

The ex-Ipswich player capped an elusive performance with a deft free-kick that left you realising one of the many things United lacked in 2023/24.

News and Star: Ted Bishop shone for Lincoln against the BluesTed Bishop shone for Lincoln against the Blues (Image: PA)


Stevenage may not have been the most fashionable side in League One last season but Reid’s performances and goals deserve the highest respect.

That eventually came with a Northern Ireland call-up, some months after he had shown his finishing skills against the Blues.

In September’s 2-2 draw he escaped United’s defence twice and showed no mercy in front of goal: two of 23 goals across the campaign from a high-performing striker.

News and Star: Jamie Reid was a two-goal star for Stevenage against UnitedJamie Reid was a two-goal star for Stevenage against United (Image: PA)


It is true that Carlisle were not the most forbidding of opponents for much of their season.

Yet few took greater advantage than the Royals’ Knibbs, who totted up four goals in their two meetings with the Blues.

He was twice alert to pounce at the Select Car Leasing Stadium when Reading battered United 5-1. Then, as if motivated by some of Paul Simpson’s pre-match comments, he smartly found space to punish a brittle Blues defence on two more occasions at Brunton Park.

News and Star: Harvey Knibbs, left, put away four goals against the Blues in 2023/24Harvey Knibbs, left, put away four goals against the Blues in 2023/24 (Image: Barbara Abbott)


In three blinks of an eye, Collins accumulated three goals against Carlisle in matching 2-0 victories for the promoted Rams.

On each occasion it was clear to see why the 33-year-old has long been one of the most admired finishers around at certain levels.

At Brunton Park he unlocked the door in a decent contest before rattling in a penalty. Then at Pride Park he showed timeless sniffing qualities to find space in the box and rifle Derby to the Championship: his 19th of another predatory season.

News and Star: James Collins was predatory for Derby against the BluesJames Collins was predatory for Derby against the Blues (Image: Ben Holmes)

Substitutes: Wildsmith (Derby County), Beckles (Leyton Orient), Dembele (Blackpool), Wiredu (Fleetwood Town), Wing (Reading), Harris (Oxford United, Sotiriou (Leyton Orient).