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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

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Carlisle Utd boss has some thinking to do ahead of Yeovil game

Carlisle United's play-off hopes took a hit at Brentford and left manager Greg Abbott at the end of his tether over his team's defensive failings. He has hinted strongly at changes for this weekend's home clash with Yeovil as the Cumbrians aim to bounce back. Jon Colman investigates how the manager should react...

Danny Livesey photo
Danny Livesey

1. COME IN NUMBER FIVE

Out of the mess of Monday night at Griffin Park, perhaps only one man in a blue shirt emerged with his prospects improved

Danny Livesey cannot reasonably be blamed for any of the calamities that cost United their pride against Uwe Rosler’s men.

If we are looking for small mercies, in fact, we can point to the fact Carlisle conceded no further goals once Abbott had hooked Lubo Michalik and introduced his fellow ex-Bolton player.

The feeling was that something significant was behind that substitution, as United’s Slovakian took his leave in the 56th minute after a run of unconvincing form.

Michalik, for mainly good reason, has been a regular pick this campaign and ever since he joined the Cumbrians from Leeds.

Some supporters, though, argue that his sometime off-days have been indulged for too long, when at least one other proven and ready centre-half remains in the ranks.

It may be that Abbott has seen enough of his tallest defender to know his winter fortunes are not turning quickly enough, and now accepts the need for change.

A centre-half pairing of Livesey and Peter Murphy against Yeovil would rejoin Carlisle’s two longest servants and would hardly need much bedding-in time – crucial at this time of season.

Abbott has pledged to think long and hard about his next moves on the teamsheet but the way he spoke after the Brentford horror show suggested his No5 may be about to come in from the cold.

2. PLAY HIS BEST DEFENDER

Lee Miller, that is. All through United’s three-game run without their (controversially) banned centre-forward it has been accepted that Carlisle do not look half as potent without him, even when results (a win, a draw and a defeat) have not all been bad

But the effect can also be witnessed at the rear end of the team, which is coming under extra pressure directly because Miller’s ability to make the ball ‘stick’ in the other team’s half has not been there.

When Miller engages centre-halves with his canny line-leading he is both improving Carlisle’s lines of attack and preventing the opposition from working the ball downfield as often, and as effectively.

The Scot’s return to the side against Yeovil is a given and already you can sense the greater confidence that will return to Abbott’s midfielders and front-runners, who can expect more of the ball in the right areas and can push on with confidence in the knowledge that they won’t be punished so obviously for entering nosebleed territory.

It doesn’t guarantee victory – United were struggling badly at Hartlepool before his calamitous dismissal – but it gives the operation a more reliable feel.

And money here also says Abbott’s back four, whichever men he chooses, will be as grateful as anyone to see him back.

3. NUMBERS GAME

The temptation after the malfunctions of Monday might be to can the favoured 4-3-3 system and look for other tactical options. 

United rarely looked comfortable or dangerous in their most familiar hide in the first half and looked a shade more compact after the break – but only a shade.

Ben Parker, for instance, may be one man whose left-back play improves with a winger up in front: a scenario which makes the case for 4-4-2 with, say, Andy Welsh on the flank.

But Miller’s return is significant in this department too.

United’s advance on the play-off places has come about because Abbott hit upon a tactical shape which suited his most influential players down to the ground.

In other words: Miller down the middle, waging battle with defenders, with Zoko released to carry out his elusive running, and JP McGovern able to aim at a more reliable target from his right-sided position.

The 4-3-3 shape also enables Paul Thirlwell to slot into his normal sentry work in front of the back four as the other central men (two from James Berrett, Liam Noble or Tom Taiwo) can join the forward play.

Without a target-man, the strong likelihood is that Abbott would have rearranged his bodies in a different way for Yeovil’s visit.

But the probable conclusion the manager will draw over the next few days, when he looks at his available players and reflects on their recent history, will be to stick with what he knows works – and hope Miller is the man who can make it tick.

4. PROMOTE FORGOTTEN FEW

Abbott cannot let Miller’s return allow all his underperformers off the hook for Monday’s depressing events.

Even with the talisman back in the team, he would be entitled to upset a couple more reputations, even temporarily, just to keep the competitive fires burning in his squad.

Chris Chantler, whose full debut against Walsall was a joy, has not figured since but is certainly an option in midfield or at left-back. Then there is Stephen O’Halloran, whose form flickered early in the season but missed many weeks through injury.

Now he is back and ready, and worthy of consideration.

In attack, Paddy Madden’s efforts on Monday in his first start of 2011/12 earned him praise from the manager, who may wish to have another look at the Irish forward from the off. But Jordan Cook is a livewire alternative, as is Welsh. And Tom Taiwo, dropped on Tuesday, might raise his hand again.

In goal, meanwhile, Adam Collin’s faults at Brentford have prompted a campaign in some quarters for Mark Gillespie to be given his head.

That is probably the least likely change, given Gillespie’s inexperience and United’s precarious place in a play-off push. But Monday’s disappointments mean nothing can be discounted. Abbott must also ask himself which of these fringe men has made a solid case for selection before he presses the ejector button on certain seats.

5. KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON

Another option open to Abbott is to do little or none of the above. Keep the faith, hold the nerve and ask the same players to show Monday was an aberration, nothing more.

Other than restoring Miller – an inevitable change – the manager could leave well alone and trust in his team to get the motor running again.

Two days on from the horrors of Griffin Park and it’s right to remove our fingers from face and look forward with hope.

The stats say United are still the seventh-best team in their division and can still be in the play-off places by Saturday night, if all goes well. That alone suggests Abbott has prepared a squad and a team that have done far more good than bad in this campaign.

Their record of bouncing back from defeats is strong, and Yeovil, the latest opponents, have won two games on their travels all term. Yes, Carlisle must certainly improve dramatically from their last game. What they must not do is panic – or be seen to be panicking.

Have your say

One big reason why Danny stood out for me was he was talking the defenders around him, doing the role of the captain. The others in that back four were very quiet - they look like four individuals at times and the need to work as a unit and Danny I think might be able to pull it together. Positionally Parker was not good and still looks like he's short of fitness. I don't see what extra he brings. I hope Chantler gets his chance - he's fit, skillful, creative and keen. Murphy you can see is thinking about how he plays the ball out of defense which is great, but defensively he can wander - can O'Halloran do better? I'd go with: Simek, Livesey, Murphy and Chantler. I'm sure that youth will not be given the chance though.

Posted by Adrian on 24 February 2012 at 13:01

Lubo is (to quote the old joke about Simon Jeffels) the only player in our team who is shorter when he jumps.

Posted by Luke Donald on 23 February 2012 at 12:48

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