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Reasons for Carlisle Utd fans to be cheerful

Lee Miller's groin injury has deprived Carlisle United of their most important player but not all hope. With five games to go, the Blues have a strong chance of making the play-offs providing they stay upbeat. Losing their top scorer for the remaining games might feel like a blow too many, but it doesn't have to be, as Jon Colman explains.

Jordan Cook photo
Jordan Cook

1. It’s still in United’s hands. However damaging the Miller loss might seem, and however frustrating their Monday draw with Scunthorpe may have been, the table says Carlisle are still masters of their own destiny.

Level on points with the sixth-placed side and with a game in hand: this should not be the moment of surrender.

Carlisle, on paper, have a thornier run-in than Notts County, but this remains the time of the season when the unexpected happens as a matter of course. Is it guaranteed that the Magpies will fly off with all the points they should, or that United will automatically lose to Charlton and Sheffield Wednesday, for instance?

Everyone knows which way they would bet but there are no certainties when a season reaches its nervous closing stages. If all we have to deal in are the facts and figures in front of us, United have 15 points to play for and Notts 12, from the same starting position (goal difference aside). Could that extra opportunity not be priceless?

2. Carlisle minus Miller does not have to equal calamity. Yes, the Blues looked markedly weaker during his absence to suspension in February, never more so than their televised hammering at Brentford.

But let’s look again at the stats. Of his three-match ban, that was United’s only defeat. Finding matchwinning inspiration was hard without the Scot but not impossible, as Francois Zoko proved against Chesterfield.

Recall, too, what happened earlier in the season, when a previous Miller groin injury occurred during a 4-1 defeat at Chesterfield: a loss which provoked some supporter calls for Greg Abbott to be axed?

The Blues rolled up their sleeves, regrouped and sweated their way to a 1-0 win over Stevenage the following weekend, a grinding spectacle which saw other influential players hold their nerve and apply their skills when it mattered (chiefly Peter Murphy, the scorer). It can be done.

3. Miller has, naturally, been a key member of Carlisle’s nine-game unbeaten run but even when he steps aside there are many more players who have contributed to, and enjoyed, the feeling of keeping the castle intact for so long.

Adam Collin, Frank Simek, Danny Livesey, Peter Murphy, Tom Taiwo, James Berrett, Liam Noble, JP McGovern, Francois Zoko: these are the mainstays of that sequence. They are entitled to be pleased with their efforts lately and in a high state of confidence.

No team can clear a campaign without readjustments being forced upon them, and they don’t have to upset the system. Livesey, for instance, has not been on the losing side once since he came back into the starting line-up.

His experience, and that of seasoned pros like McGovern and Murphy, can still see the Blues through some hard circumstances. Nor does the rest of that line-up reveal many players who aren’t battle-hardened, by now.

Chris Chantler’s injury poses another problem on the left of defence, but Carlisle are not in the losing habit for many reasons, Miller’s presence being only one.

4. The undefeated home run, 17 games and counting, is rightly a source of pride down at Brunton Park and will surely not be surrendered easily.

United’s unbroken sequence at their home ground is the club’s best since 1995. That alone is a highly impressive feat for which congratulations should head the way of Abbott and his troops.

It also says that a team assembled on limited resources has found some inner strength to repel all invaders, sometimes from bleak positions, such as a 3-0 deficit against Oldham back in October.

Abbott’s instinct midway through this run was not to talk up ‘Fortress Brunton Park’ for fear of jinxing the old place. Now he simply can’t avoid it. Since last September it has been just about the most forbidding place in League One.

Charlton will know this, when they head for Cumbria in two days’ time – as will Exeter a fortnight later, especially if the Addicks have been added to the long list of scalps.

5. Abbott and his coaching staff have the benefit of experience when it comes to filling the Miller void. Using the Brentford game as evidence, they certainly now know what doesn’t work.

Since the man from Lanark limped out of the Scunthorpe game, United’s manager – the 10th longest-serving in the country – has been set the challenge, again, of coming up with a tactical plan to make the best use of what he has left and available.

Jordan Cook, straining at the leash since his double strike at MK Dons, is plainly a young player of quality who is yearning to impress. Zoko has this season often thrived against the best opposition, as Sheffield United and Huddersfield will attest.

With players like this to lead the attacking campaign, it ought not to be beyond the wit of a manager to fathom a way of getting them into the game, on the ball, in dangerous areas in order to keep getting points on the board.

It won’t be straightforward, not least against the division’s leaders and one of the sides aiming for the runners’-up spot (Sheff Wed) but the Blues still have good players who should be desperate to prove they’re not all in thrall to one man. A system less reliant on a centre-forward’s aerial prowess has to be the way to go, from here.

6. The run-in. Charlton and Sheffield Wednesday we know about, but what of the rest? Stevenage have not won in seven games. Barring an incredible resurgence, Exeter will be toast by the time they come to Carlisle on April 28.

Oldham, meanwhile, are likely to have settled somewhere in lower mid-table, with little riding on that last fixture at Boundary Park.

Before Easter, Abbott had set his team the ambitious target of nailing sixth place before the final two games. Without Miller the challenge now shifts.

If United are still alive in the race by the closing fortnight – level with Notts County, say, or a point back – then the opportunity will remain realistic. The Magpies, incidentally, must test their recent form at Griffin Park this weekend. No easy task.

Then there is Abbott, too – a man who has punched himself out of far worse corners than this. Rough estimates say the Blues boss has saved his job three times by conjuring results when they were most needed, and with arguably less talented teams.

Carlisle’s manager faces his challenge from now until May 5 knowing that he has come through much harder times. That ought to keep stress at bay and encourage clear thinking, which may be the most important quality of all required of the Blues as they set off on their tricky path to destiny.

Have your say

6 well made points by Jon, may I suggest a 7th - the Brunton Park crowd and the impact they can have - on both teams - when they are on form. Crucial.

Posted by Dave on 12 April 2012 at 18:46

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