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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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Simek issues lots of Frank criticism of Carlisle

Anyone seeking a good January horror flick should call up the highlights of Carlisle United’s defending at Swindon while they’re still available. The squeamish should leap behind the sofa until the awfulness has passed.

Midfielders are ambushed in possession. Players run onto chances unmarked. Even throw-ins become assists for the Blues’ opposition. Slapstick is usually at play. These were the various flaws we were told would be chased away by Lee Miller’s return from injury, but many supporters doubted that one, strong centre-forward would be able to heal everything on his own.

So it has proved. Miller is no travelling doctor, capable of curing all. When he is dealt with by some strong rival defenders, such as Swindon’s, there is still no improvement in how Carlisle protect their own goal.

On Twitter one supporter has observed that Carlisle’s away form has actually declined since Miller came back. Played three, lost three is the travelling record since the big Scot emerged from the treatment room.

It may be too early to draw direct conclusions here – Miller, though not effective at Swindon, remains the least of Carlisle’s problems – but that run does give the lie to the idea that United will always be a force as long as he is around, whatever they have in all the other positions.

There has to be so much more. Against Shrewsbury and Crewe, United were competitive but still lost. At Swindon they were annihilated and lucky to be beaten only by four.

The table, then, says that Carlisle have gone on the road lately and managed to lose against teams from all parts of the ladder: the first a struggler, the second a top-half hopeful, the latter a vibrant, promotion-chasing outfit.

All this has damaged any possible progress that two wins in Christmas week might have encouraged. Any repaired faith has quickly come apart again.

At Swindon the way they conceded was evidence of a team in no kind of touch with keeping clean sheets, or fending off opponents with resolve. The Robins’ second goal, which came after Andy Williams’ skilful opener, saw United concede possession near their own box before James Collins, a prolific striker, wandered unmarked onto a header in front of goal.

Repeat viewings show that to be a calamity of organisation. Then came the third, a counter-attack which saw three green-shirted United players a yard or two behind their opposite numbers.

The fourth was a selection box of disasters, from a passing mix-up to an unlucky ricochet, but watch how the scorer, Raffaele De Vita, is still on his own, two yards from Carlisle’s goal, to tap the ball in.

Asking any United defender to speak up for this felt like intruding on a state of mourning, but at least Frank Simek, when invited, did not pretend things had been anything other than poor.

“We never got started, never got in the game,” said the right-back, who would not have found many of Carlisle’s 246 travelling supporters willing to argue with him.

Simek was one of many United players who found the going too difficult in Wiltshire. It is true that the Blues will not often face a team of such strengths, and in such electric form, as Swindon but the gulf in quality and in confidence was still too big.

As they troop in for training this week there is not much more that players can do but say how much better it has to be, and how hard they will work to deliver that goal. It naturally falls to Abbott and his coaching staff to lift the troops out of any despair after this latest hiding, whilst plotting better strategies than were on show at Swindon.

Actions, not words, has been an Abbott saying ever since this campaign began to nosedive. This, of course, has been a too regular demand to “bounce back”. Many in the fanbase have given up on the idea that any Cumbrian progress in League One this season can be anything other than temporary, if it comes at all.

The seven-point gap between United and the bottom four remains a relief, but being the best of the worst is no kind of aim or ambition. It won’t restore hope.

Yet off we go again, in the search for another staged recovery, starting with Coventry’s visit on Sunday. Ali Ross, a loyal fan and one of this paper’s supporters’ panel, jokes that “divine intervention” may have to come to United’s aid on the sabbath.

Simek, from his view in the back four, simply says that leaving the horrors of the County Ground behind will be the best way to start any improvement.

“We had been doing ok, putting in some good performances, albeit not getting as many points as we should have, but we never got going at Swindon at all,” said the American.

“We looked a bit leggy all over. We couldn’t get close enough to Swindon to stop them playing. We have to do that to teams to get a foothold in the game but we weren’t able to get back into it, and it’s very disappointing.

“It’s happened too many times this season when we’ve been comfortably beaten. Swindon were good, much better than us, and we didn’t give ourselves a chance or do ourselves justice.

“But there are still a lot of games to play. We’ve got to bounce back and put an end to it.”

Asked whether Mike Edwards’ early hamstring injury had disrupted a team already battling to contain their division’s most in-form team, Simek sensibly rejected the chance to hide behind misfortune.

United’s injuries have piled up this campaign but Simek’s analysis was that this “was not ideal, but not an excuse. We just didn’t deal with what they had all day.”

Dealing with Coventry, who have improved since the September day when United stormed the Ricoh Arena, is the next task, in five days’ time. All Simek can offer disaffected supporters is another promise to respond, to do better.

“We have to move on as soon as possible and look forward to Coventry, which is another tough game,” he said. “The dressing room was quiet after Saturday’s game, but at home on Sunday we can bounce back.”

JColman@cngroup.co.uk

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