David Cameron Walker

Archive for the ‘Carlisle United’ Category

Square Peg, Round Hole.

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

At the beginning of this season, I wasn’t really sure what could be have been described as a success for Carlisle United. As delighted as I would be to gain promotion to the Championship, with the attendances we currently attract and with a distinct lack of the kind of funds being invested by the likes of Huddersfield and Charlton I don’t believe promotion to be a realistic aim for Carlisle United Football Club quite yet.

That said, I don’t believe us to be a long way short of building a squad capable of having a serious crack at the play-offs. The mixture of youth and experience which Greg Abbott has brought together, largely (although not solely) for free, seems to be beginning to reap the rewards of a little continuity within the ranks. After years of squad upheaval and turmoil behind the scenes at Brunton Park a couple of years (almost boring) solidarity was exactly what the doctor ordered.

There is however one single huge issue within our squad. Left back. In his first season at United Matt Robson, firmly a left winger by trade, was player of the season. His direct running at defenders with the ball and raw pace turned him quickly into a fans favourite. His transformation into a left back has far from been the ideal solution to a problem which Carlisle have faced in this position since another fans favourite, Zigor Aranalde, hung up his boots in 2008.

Evan Horwood was tried there, and although he did have some good attacking attributes, for a left back most of his defending was extremely suspect. Ian Harte followed but was quickly transferred to centre half after some more shaky defensive displays. Thomas Cruise, once of Arsenal Champions League fame rather than that bloke from films, also had a go. Less we mention about that the better.

It looked at one point as if we’d cracked it. Sean McDaid joined as United’s first signing from Doncaster Rovers before the 2010/2011 season and quickly impressed. Playing in Carlisle’s first 12 games of that season, McDaid looked to have overcome the injury problems that had blighted his last few seasons at Doncaster. It wasn’t to be. After only 12 games McDaid suffered a completely fresh knee injury which ultimately lead to his early retirement from professional football.

Robson initially stepped in as cover in the position and has used every cliché in a  footballers armoury to describe his switch back a row on the field. Happy to be playing, giving it his all, helping the lads out, would play in any position if asked, the list goes on. The fact of the matter is Robson isn’t a defender and however you dress it up, as a defender, your primary job has to be defending. Perhaps he is good at going forward, perhaps his crossing is good, perhaps he is quick, all of these attributes are the ones that made him that player of the season on the left wing.

His defensive positioning isn’t a strong point; I can see that and I’m not paid to coach our team. I don’t blame Matt Robson for this, it’s a fact of life. He’s an attacking player in the same way I’m not playing every Saturday as I’m really not very good, that’s just the way things are. Robson certainly still has a role to play within our squad. His attacking attributes frighten many a full back every Saturday in the same way his defensive efforts frighten me.

Until we address this elephant in the room then a serious crack at the Championship is nothing but a pipe dream for United. A January signing or two could well turn another mid-table season into something a whole lot more.

Written by Mark Nicholson, We Are Going Up’s Carlisle United Blogger

Mark tweets at @fromthepaddock

The Road to Recovery

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

In the summer of 2004 Carlisle United signed an unknown goalkeeper. Released by Manchester City (before the Middle Eastern millions arrived let’s not forget) and seemingly on his way out of football, he was offered the chance of being backup to the largely popular Matty Glennon. The footballing journey Keiren Westwood has been on since is truely astonishing.

After grasping his Carlisle United first team opportunity with both hands, Westwood quickly established himself as United’s number 1 ‘keeper. During the 2007/08 season Westwood managed a record 20 clean sheets (although the centre back pairing of Danny Livesey and Peter Murphy certainly helped the shut-outs) and gained a glowing reputation as one of the best goalkeepers outside the Premier League.

A simply stunning performance in Carlisle’s League 1 Play Off Semi-Final First-Leg away at Elland Road against Leeds United – which went a long way to ensuring United won the game – made sure he was to be snapped up in the summer by Coventry City. Since then Westwood has been capped seven times by the Republic of Ireland and earned himself another summer transfer, this time to Premier League Sunderland.

Further names such as Michael Bridges, Ian Harte, Richard Keogh, Danny Graham and Vincent Pericard have seen Carlisle United as the place to try and regenerate their ailing careers. All have managed to excel, to the benefit of both club and player and perhaps with the exception of Pericard (dependant on your view of Swindon Town being a step up from Carlisle United at the time), all have managed to get themselves a move up the footballing pyramid.

The latest addition to this list is Lee Miller. Having accumulated combined transfer fees of over £1million during an eleven year career, Miller joined The Cumbrians with a record of 86 goals in 318 games – roughly translated a goal every three and a half games.

Miller’s transfer to Middlesbrough, in the midst of any Scottish-born player Gordon Strachan could get his hands on making the move marginally south of the border, was largely lost among the names of the likes of Willo Flood and Kris Boyd. Two loan moves, eleven ‘Boro appearances and no goals later, Miller joined Carlisle United for what was reported to be a nominal fee.

An extremely bright start with three goals in three appearances has fans talking about him being the next player to use Carlisle as a stepping stone on the road to getting his career back on track. This shouldn’t be regarded as a problem, in fact, it should be seen as a complement. It should be seen as a complement to the work of the manager, the coaching staff and the club as a whole. Players see Carlisle United as a good place to come and play football – a place to get their careers back on track.

Having a reputation of being able to resurrect the flagging careers of quality players is not something that should be taken lightly. There is an important point to be made here – players are not coming to Carlisle United for one last pay day when they are well past their best. If anything, the pay day is generally for United.

This reputation doesn’t just limit itself to older players, it extends to younger ones too and has gone as far as to create a working relationship with Manchester United. During the 2010/11 season, four Manchester United’s young starlets headed up the M6 to Brunton Park, three of whom are now plying their trade in the Championship. The work of the staff within the club on developing these players even managed to gain a glowing tribute from Sir Alex Ferguson.

There is a gamble when taking players from either of the aforementioned brackets and thrusting them either back into league action, or giving them their first taste. It’s a calculated gamble, or so you’d expect and one United have taken more often than not due to their budget constraints. As long as the fans keep seeing players like Ben Marshall, James Chester, Ian Harte, Keiren Westwood and Michael Bridges at Brunton Park there can’t be too many grumbles. Should they manage to discover or regain their qualities as footballers then the benefits to both club and player could be great.

However – there is always going to be the odd Thomas Cruise in there somewhere..,,.

Written by Mark Nicholson, We Are Going Up’s Carlisle United Blogger

Mark tweets at @fromthepaddock

Slow and steady wins the race…

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

1st November 2008. Stockport County 3, Carlisle United 0. That cold, bright November day will never be pushed from my memory. As a Carlisle United fan I’ve been through my fair share of highs and lows, but that was the lowest in my memory. The absolute bottom. A Carlisle United side totally devoid of any bottle, any fight, any pride and most importantly any real quality went down to the most dire and lackluster defeat I’ve had to witness in my, admittedly modest, 23 years.

It was to be the last act of a man who had split the opinion of Carlisle fans everywhere. The 3rd of November 2008 brought about the enviable sacking of ex-Cheltenham Town man John Ward. With a run of 10 games without a win (a run that had included 9 defeats) the writing had been on the wall for a while.

If John Ward had split the opinion of Carlisle fans then his eventual replacement was to create a chasm of biblical proportions (a touch sensationalist, perhaps?) between a seemingly black and white Carlisle United support.

That man was Greg Abbott, number 2 to both Ward and his predecessor Neil McDonald. Abbott also had a successful stint as caretaker after McDonald left in somewhat bizarre circumstances after the first game of a season filled with hope. After Ward’s sacking Abbott was again placed in caretaker charge and wasted no time in putting his hat in the ring for the main job at Brunton Park.

Another successful (by the standards of what United fans had been subjected to so far in that season, anyway) stint in caretaker charge paved the way for Abbott to be given his wish as he took over the managerial position on a full time basis almost a month to the day after Ward’s sacking.

At the time Abbott took charge Carlisle were looking doomed. 20th in League 1 and squad devoid of any real quality or any players who looked like they were up to the challenge of fighting for their lives. A steady improvement in results was to follow and Carlisle United, with doing things the hard way etched into their history, survived courtesy of a 2 – 0 home win over Millwall on the final day of the season.

What more any Carlisle United fan could have asked for is beyond me.

Abbott then set about improvement. Improvement on an extremely tight budget. A task that was almost instantly made more difficult when top scorer Danny Graham rejected a new contract and eventually joined Championship side Watford.

A summer which saw Abbott’s hunt for a replacement front man seemingly stumble at every possible moment was to culminate with the arrival of sensational flop Richard Offiong. That story however, is for another time.

There were however shoots of recovery beginning appear from Brunton Park, with the arrivals of exciting Winger Matt Robson from local rivals Hartlepool, tenacious midfielder Tom ‘Tiddleface’ Taiwo (initially on loan) from Premier League giants Chelsea and slightly later in the year, what proved to be a real masterstroke, exiled French battering ram (he used to play for Juventus, don’t you know) Vincent Pericard.

Season 2009 – 2010 was, in my opinion, a fantastic one for Carlisle United. More so considering what had been the season before. A 3rd Round FA Cup draw away at Goodison Park, in which United put up a very good account of themselves and although ending in a 3 – 1 defeat to a strong Everton side was undoubtedly a very proud day for all Blues fans.

Add to that a Wembley cup final in a competition that has been very kind to the club over the years and a respectable 14th place league finish and I certainly believe you have a season which can be classed as a successful one for Carlisle United. That Wembley final was the largely disappointing point of the season, a lackluster 4-1 loss in front of more than 70,000 spectators saw Southampton lift the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy with relative ease.

Again, what more any Carlisle United fan could have asked for is beyond me.

Onwards to 2010 – 2011 and what was to be another season full of the usual Carlisle United highs and lows. Dumped (respectably) out of the League Cup at the first hurdle by a strong, and expensive, Huddersfield side; the FA Cup campaign wasn’t to be quite as respectable. A 2nd round scare at home to Tamworth was followed by a dire loss in the 3rd round away at Torquay. Yet again the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy came to the fore as a important competition for the club. A run to a second consecutive final included a fantastic win over Sheffield Wednesday and a two leg victory (although only just) over old foes Huddersfield.

The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final was to be much kinder this time around, serving up a largely nervy game which United triumphed in 1 goal to nil.

League position again improved, albeit only marginally, a rise up to 12th position. A rise which could have been much larger had it not been for a catastrophic end to the season loosing 3 games on the bounce. A run that has since been blamed, rightly or wrongly, on fatigue.

Getting back to what was the original point of the blog, why such dislike for the man who has performed the latest fire fighting act at Carlisle United Football Club? Why such dislike for the man who has slowly and steadily improved a flagging Carlisle United side? Why such dislike for the man who brought the first piece of silverware to the Brunton Park trophy room for 5 years?

What do Carlisle United fans expect of our manager that he hasn’t managed to deliver so far?

This blog isn’t me trying to tell the world how perfect Greg Abbott is. We’ve had some poor results, some very poor results in fact. We’ve had some poor signings, both permanent and loan and I’ll admit the way he can come across in interviews is perhaps a touch arrogant. The point of this blog is me trying to tell Carlisle United fans that I don’t believe Abbott is deserving of much of the negativity aimed in his direction.

This coming season is going to be make or break. This is now a team fully made up of players that Greg Abbott wants at the club. Not players he’s inherited or players that are being forced on him, players that he and his trusted coaching staff have chosen. Where that will lead us remains to be seen, but the incoming players so far this season have had a real impact and look to have the quality and experience our squad has been craving. Only time will tell.

But please remember. Slow and steady wins the race…

Written by Mark Nicholson, We Are Going Up’s Carlisle United Blogger

Mark tweets at @fromthepaddock