D3D4 Carlisle Correspondent Nathan Ridley hopes his side can bounce back from the heartbreak of last season….
It was a truly heartbreaking, bitter end to Carlisle’s season back in May. Jack Stacey’s wonder strike, a former Carlisle loanee for what it’s worth, hitting the top corner and Exeter going into delirium as Carlisle hit the ground with a stomach-turning collapse. With that, John O’Sullivan’s vital goals in both play-off legs seem without meaning. The changing room door was left open by manager Keith Curle who will forever divide opinion within the Cumbrian fan-base. Celebrating Exeter players had their dream day ahead of them and Carlisle had well and truly bottled their ‘promotion campaign’.
Now Carlisle set out a new path to promotion. With key men in the dressing room such as Mark Gillespie (previously the club’s longest serving player after 8 years at the club), vice-captain and defensive stalwart Michael Raynes and goal-scoring fan’s-favourite Jabo Ibehre all leaving due to contract expiry, Carlisle look depleted. The arrival of Brentford goalkeeper Jack Bonham on a 6-month loan deal, defender Tom Parkes on a free from relegated Leyton Orient, and former Bury pair Kelvin Etuhu and Hallam Hope also putting pen to paper for the blues (the latter of the two returning to Brunton Park after a loan spell for most of the 2015/16 season) have slightly boosted spirits. Numerous trailists have impressed for the Cumbrians in pre-season and the likes of former West Brom youngster Samir Nabi and the promising Cameron Salkeld will act almost like new signings. Keith Curle still needs to add to his squad in the coming 3 weeks as the start of the new season looms ominously and is publicly addressing his desire for both another loan goalkeeper to challenge Bonham. He is also after a big striker with a likeness to Charlie Wyke who left back in January to Bradford for a 6-figure fee, with automatic promotion hopes going with him too.
Unfortunately, the ongoing disputes over the ownership of the club and their insecure financial status are hampering the Blues recruitment. Carlisle are struggling to attract the big stars they did last summer such as Mike Jones and Nicky Adams who were integral to last season’s run. Fans have reason to be unsure of the coming season but optimism will be apparent if we make a solid start in the opening few games. After some truly woeful defensive displays last season, shoring up the backline has to be the priority this season for the one time defender, Keith Curle.
Like Adams and Jones, many players who have been at the club a decent amount of time will be hoping to shake off last season by making amends this time around. Jones, arguably, was the most important player in the 4-4-2 system that Carlisle found success with in the first-half of the season until an injury, at Luton in December, hampered him for the rest of the season. Longest serving squad member, Captain and the only non-Curle signing left in the squad, Danny Grainger, will hope to show his qualities yet again as injuries in the winter for 2 seasons in a row have hampered his impressive displays. Jamie Devitt had a less than successful season last time out which started with 2 unlucky yellow cards that saw him sent off at Portsmouth in the first-half of the opening game. The Irishman staked his claim in the side in the latter stages of the season and, given the number 11 shirt this time round, he looks to be an integral part of the squad. Shaun Brisley and Tom Miller didn’t have particular good seasons last campaign so will naturally be aiming to improve. Defender Mark Ellis won promotion on loan with Forest Green from January onwards but is back and despite being moved numbers from 6 to 16, is sure to challenge for that out-and-out centre-back role. His experience in winning League 2 in 2015 with Shrewsbury and that play-off Final promotion last season could prove vital in the dressing room for Carlisle. Gary Liddle played at centre-back under Keith Curle at Notts County and after being given the number 5 shirt, looks set to play there again this season. Parkes is also set to be the ball-playing centre-back due to his excellent left foot. Shaun Miller will look for more goals this season as he went dry during the winter months last season. Jason Kennedy and Reggie Lambe will need their typical goal-scoring boots on this season again if Carlisle are to gain promotion. John O’Sullivan, Kelvin Etuhu and Luke Joyce will find it difficult to nail down their place early in the season due to the strong competition in their positions. Finally, Hallam Hope has a chance to truly prove himself as the main striker to the Brunton Park faithful as Keith Curle has been desperate for him to return since he left for Bury back in May of 2016.
In terms of tactics, Carlisle can operate decently in a 3-4-1-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 whether those be defensive or offensive depending on the circumstances. Keith Curle’s pragmatic style shows he very much focuses on ‘earning the right to play’ by stopping the opposition first then focus on his side’s way of playing. Since his arrival at the club he has never had a true formation but due to rhyming and the beginning of the 2015/16 season, that 3-5-2 has become his most famous system as the popular song ‘Mysterious Curle was created’. With versatile players yet again and flirting with the formation in pre-season, he is likely to use it again this season.
The Cumbrians have a first game of the season, Boxing Day, and last game of the season all to look forward to at home for the first time in a number of years but a limited number of ‘local’ away days compared to what League 1 would have offered for the very Northern side. Trips to Accrington and Crewe within 2 weeks in September and a trip down to Morecambe on April 14th are the only games that you could consider ‘close’ and will be looked forward to with relish by a hardy Cumbrian away core.
To conclude, Keith Curle and Carlisle have a lot to prove this season and the heartbreak of last time out will remain fresh in the mind for many. Fans seem to have a short fuse with the former Manchester City captain and England international, Curle. In his final season of his contract, his future really is ‘mysterious’. Like always, Carlisle’s squad will change dramatically between now and the final match of the season at home to Newport on 5th May but one thing will always be the same, it’s sure to be eventful.
words Nathan Ridley