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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

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Christian Ribeiro settling in at Carlisle Utd - but wants to see improvements

The interview that follows was conducted roughly 14 hours before the death of Gary Speed. As such Christian Ribeiro was free to talk happily about a successful Carlisle United home debut before digesting the appalling news of his international manager’s suicide.

Christian Ribeiro photo
Christian Ribeiro

Neither of Ribeiro’s two Wales outings to date came under Speed’s command, but a safe guess is that Carlisle’s latest right-back had a high regard and wished to play for his country’s head coach, whose 85 games in the scarlet shirt was an outfield record.

Ribeiro has yet to comment on Speed’s tragic death. That is his business. Should he go on the record in the coming days, safe money will go on the 21-year-old adding his impressively measured voice to the tributes for a man about whom a critical word has seemingly never been spoken.

Until such a time, we shall have to get by with Ribeiro’s thoughts on his start with United.

Any regulation interview seems trivial in the wake of Sunday morning’s bleak news but if football must continue, then it may do so to the poignant sound of a promising Welsh player talking eagerly about the game to which Speed contributed so much.

Admirably fluent in conversation for such a young professional, Ribeiro’s arrival in the media room at close of play on Saturday was followed by a lengthy stream of thoughts on the new challenge he is accepting keenly with the Blues.

His first experience of Brunton Park, in the rain and bluster of the 1-0 win against Colchester, ended successfully and enabled the Bristol City loanee to look on with further optimism and hope.

“All the guys are helping,” he said. “The manager and players have been very open with me and I’m really enjoying playing.

“It’s been a while since I played some first-team games. My fitness is getting there, through playing week-in, week-out, so it’s all pointing in a positive direction.

“If you speak to most pros they will say it takes five to 10 games to hit top form. I’ve played three games and feel I’m getting better each week so it’s gone well so far.”

Ribeiro’s job on Saturday was to limit Colchester’s threat down Carlisle’s right side.

That task completed, he then felt able to diagnose a problem which may have held the Blues back from a more convincing victory.

Accounting for the tempest that made smooth, carpet football a mighty challenge three days ago, Ribeiro still feels United could acquaint ball with turf a little more often over a 90-minute period.

This he pointed out while praising a Brunton Park surface that was far superior, he says, to Sheffield United’s bobbly pitch on which he made his league debut for Carlisle.

“It was much nicer to play on a flat pitch,” he said. “But sometimes we were lumping too many balls up to big Lee Miller, who is doing a fantastic job for us.

“It’s difficult for him to hold off two defenders for 90 minutes. He’s going to get tired. People were getting a bit nervous in that after two or three touches they felt we weren’t going anywhere, so it got launched a bit.

“We’ve got some really good players here. If we can use the ball a bit better we can improve. But we’re doing really well, to be fair – still up there with the top six, and on Saturday we came away with a clean-sheet and three points so we’ve got to be happy with that.

“Grinding it out and getting a clean sheet, especially when everything’s blustery and horrible, is really good. Everybody gave 110 per cent and people were cramping up at the end. That’s what you need to win games in this league – you have to give everything you’ve got.”

Ribeiro’s advice on United’s playing style is a bracing show of confidence from Greg Abbott’s latest recruit to fill Frank Simek’s gap at right-back. Carlisle’s absent American is on the brink of a return from hip and calf injuries and Ribeiro readily acknowledges that a strong rivalry may soon develop for that position in the back four during a loan spell that lasts until the new year.

An eventful start to life in Cumbria has included two brushes with authority in the penalty box for the Neath-born player: both, in their own way, also coming with a reprieve.

At Sheffield United, his trip on Ryan Flynn was penalised but Adam Collin saved the resulting spot-kick. During injury-time on Saturday Colchester appealed loudly for handball in the area against Ribeiro but neither referee nor player saw an infringement.

“It definitely hit my chest but because the ball skidded so fast I could understand if the referee had given it,” he said.

“A Colchester player was behind me, I knew I had to get a touch on it, I leaned down and it definitely hit my chest, but I had a nervous glance, especially after giving a pen away last week – I thought unfairly. Thankfully it didn’t happen again.”

The next fate Carlisle and Ribeiro are keen to avoid is heavy defeat at Charlton, when Abbott’s team return to The Valley for FA Cup action only six weeks after a 4-0 thumping in the league.

This weekend’s trip to south London will subject United’s new defensive strength to a considerable test, as Ribeiro freely acknowledges.

“It’s the toughest game we could have got. I’ve played Charlton already in pre-season with Bristol City and they were very good then.

“We know what to expect. They are flying in the league, and it’s going to be a really tough ask. I know they beat the boys 4-0 a month ago and all the lads know what a good side they are but we are determined to put that right next week.”

A more distant aim for Carlisle’s number 19 might be to take his fledgling form on to a place where Wales might call again. Should that happen, it is haunting to consider that the person making that call will be someone other than Gary Speed.

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