You know a team has a bit about them when they go away from home and win as Swindon did on the opening day. You knew, when looking at their squad, that they were going to be strong opposition for Carlisle.

It was always clear United were going to face a tougher test than against Crawley. It was going to set a more difficult challenge especially for those players new to the league, like Jon Mellish and Christie Elliott.

It was also going to be an obvious examination for Carlisle’s midfield. You hoped that, on a big pitch, if Steven Pressley’s team could get their game going and get their matchwinners on the ball, they could get something from it, but t didn’t work out that way. As Pressley said, Swindon were clearly the better side.

I enjoyed the Carlisle manager’s honesty in his post-match interviews: he saw what we had seen, acknowledged Swindon deserved to win and accepted their good players had stepped up.

All that said, League Two is still League Two and it would have just taken a bit of tightening up for Carlisle to have made it a much better afternoon. They scored two goals away from home and might have had another couple if they’d got Nathan Thomas and Harry McKirdy in the game more.

It’s going to be a division of ups and downs, everyone beating everyone, and Saturday’s game summed this up: there were good passages of play from both sides but also lots of mistakes. The sloppy passes that came after the better quality moments must have been frustrating for both managers to watch.

The final analysis, though, says that Swindon got things right more often than Carlisle.

Thomas and McKirdy have quite rightly been spoken about as United’s matchwinners and the question is how they can be brought into the game more often. McKirdy’s run for the opening goal was spectacular and every time Thomas got the ball he went by a defender who has played at higher levels.

To get the ball to them you have to make sure your midfield and defence are strong, and that you keep possession for longer periods, working the ball, manipulating it until you get that space for your game changers.

Either that, or show you can counter-attack quickly. None of that happened enough at the County Ground: Carlisle didn’t defend strongly enough as a unit, there were lots of misplaced passes and lots of sloppiness.

It is still early, and we are still working out what this team is about, still getting the measure of players we haven’t seen very much before. It’s hard to say with any conviction who should or shouldn’t definitely be playing. It’s a work in progress like most teams at this stage.

Pressley’s substitutions – taking off McKirdy and Olufela Olomola for Ryan Loft and Canice Carroll – have come in for some debate. When he was initially looking to make the change it was probably because McKirdy had been starved of the ball and Olomola hadn’t had much service.

The theory was that Loft would have more of a chance of keeping Carlisle up the pitch even if the balls forward weren’t brilliant. Also, in keeping Stefan Scougall on the pitch and moving him to the left, it may have been because he is someone who normally keeps the ball quite well, even if he doesn’t go past people.

McKirdy then produced that outrageous run to set up the goal, so Pressley kept him on a while longer, but after the equaliser he did make the change. Some felt Carlisle needed McKirdy on the pitch at that stage to turn the game again but we don’t see what gets worked on during the week, every day in training, and Swindon were, after all, coming at Carlisle time and time again.

Thomas, on the right, was the more dangerous player and it was right that he was kept on. The changes were intended to get back that control which Carlisle didn’t have, but it isn’t something they ever managed to achieve.

Carroll’s red card was another obvious talking point and my first thought was that it would have been seen as fantastic tackle 10 years ago. It was still a fantastic tackle for me anyway, but it was probably the follow-through that caught the referee’s eye.

I suppose I can see why the official saw it the way he did. It reminded me of Luke Joyce getting sent off at Wycombe a few years ago and there is always that risk when you go in for aggressive tackles like that.

Carroll will know those risks but I wouldn’t want to take away this side of his game. Sometimes you have to live on the edge a bit and that’s what makes you as a player. Had it happened at home I’m not sure we’d have seen that red card: Swindon’s players surrounded the ref and their crowd were up the moment it happened.

Referee Nick Kinseley made his decision very quickly and I’m sure those reactions contributed to that.

I can’t help feeling disappointed by it. Sometimes you need a tackle like that and Carroll’s game seems to be built on this kind of thing. By his own admission he’s not going to be the sort of midfielder who runs a game with his passing – he wants to get stuck in and do the horrible part.

Now, he might be more wary. From an old-school point of view, 1990s-2000s, those are the tackles you would put in to make your mark but unfortunately they aren’t regarded in the same way today.


Carlisle’s League Cup trip to Barnsley tonight will bring back plenty of memories for me.

I spent the best part of three years at Oakwell before moving to Cumbria and it was certainly an eventful time.

I moved there as a 21-year-old for a decent fee and it was my first time living on my own, away from home. I was in the Championship and being named player of the year capped a fantastic start.

Unfortunately we got relegated but, despite having opportunities to move on, I really enjoyed it there and, ever the optimist, felt we would have a right go at bouncing back up.

We had a strong squad but the problems then came with ITV Digital’s collapse. Wages weren’t being paid and it did affect the spirit in the dressing room.

It affected me, too, because there came a point where they couldn’t play me, otherwise it would trigger a payment to Sunderland.

The year after we had a decent stab at it under Gudjon Thordarson and we were fighting against the odds, top of the league with a squad of 16-18.

Peter Ridsdale then took over the club and one day we came in and found 12 new players were there. That upset the balance of the dressing room and when Paul Hart came in as manager he got carte blanche, and we ended up with a squad that was far too big and, inevitably, some noses out of joint.

Some of the big earners had to go, myself included, but I still look back on it as a great club to play for – and, now, they’d still be a good team to join, having played their way straight back up from League One.

They get decent, passionate crowds, they have good training facilities and it while they don’t pay fortunes, it is a good stepping stone for people who want to step back up to the Premier League.

Oakwell is a decent ground too, a good place to play - and I certainly hope that’s how Carlisle find it tonight.