364 days ago I wrote the report for the last time we lost a league game at home. I despaired at the chronic lack of goals, the severe lack of confidence from our strikers, and the lack of quality service they were receiving. Oh dear. January is clearly not a good month for our club. To the doom and gloom merchants out there, sharper those knives and fill your boots for this was another poor performance.
Derailing our season a little further were;
Early indications were of an entertaining evening ahead as both teams contributed to a bright start. Beresford looked lively and sharp and helped out defensively to good effect. But once the visitors had got deeper down our left flank they caused some notable problems. Their goal, after just 9 minutes, came from a ring wing cross which went right along the face of the area unchallenged before being swept in, with the benefit of a scuffed shot, at the far post by an unmarked striker. Even before that a similar cross had been met on the full from a similar position but the effort landed straight into Musselwhite's midriff. And they got a man free at that same far post again before we'd reached the quarter of an hour mark but he couldn't pick out a colleague with the header.
We had been pressing too and the two wide midfielders had seen plenty of the ball. Whilst Beresford looked dangerous, unfortunately Rob Matthews went on to have a bit of a stinker. No criticism from me that he tried to take on his opponent, but no matter what he tried he couldn't find a way past and the loss of possession often lead to a fast, incisive break from the Cumbrians. From the other wing, the quality of the crosses was again disappointing. Beresford had more luck when he cut inside and one such move looked to have created a clear opening but his vicious shot was charged down and cleared. The two strikers battled on gamely trying to hold up the play but too often there was no-one pushing up in support. Rowe kept his marker on his toes with his nimble twists and turns but the understanding between he and Alexander is not yet there. Edwards had a good chance with a near post header from a corner and Beresford had another shot from the edge of the area fly wide. Whitmore was hardly in the game at all and Sneekes looked totally uncommitted to the cause. Yes, he is often available and looking for the ball when we are in possession, but in central midfield (especially if playing alongside Whitmore) we need someone who is going to get stuck in, track back and win the possession for us. He doesn't do that.
The visitors were giving as good as they got and looked more than capable of increasing their lead. They passed the ball well, moved around intelligently and, for a team that was 91st in the league, they looked incredibly confident.
A final chance of the half for us summed up the night pretty accurately. It started with a 'nothing ball' from out of defence that Alexander did well to flick on into the area. Matthews and Rowe arrived simultaneously, managed to get round the first centre half and get some sort of shot in as the keeper advanced and, to be honest, it could have gone absolutely anywhere as the three of them and another defender converged, but it looped up tamely and fell wide of the post. Oh for just a bit of luck ? Hmm, I'll come back to that later.
Almost the entire 45 minutes of the second half was spent in the Carlisle half of the field but it would be misleading to suggest that we were totally in control. Possession was wasted, no real intense pressure was built up and we never actually forced their keeper into a difficult save. Whitmore had started to get involved at last but we just didn't seem to have the ingenuity to open up a stubborn defense or force anything like a clear scoring opportunity. So there then followed another of Mr Little's triple substitutions. A panic attack or a masterful tactical change ? Well, we saw Dudfield on for Rowe and Greaves and Johnsson take over from Sneekes and Whitmore. I could see the reasoning behind some of this (if we were going to continue to play high balls up and look for midfielders to push on and help, then Greaves and The Whaler were the ideal pairing) but taking off, admittedly a quiet, Whitmore removed the option of trying to play our way past them and left the Carlisle defense knowing exactly what to expect. Matthews and Petty continued to have a torrid time down the right in terms of their contributions to our attacking play but, mystifyingly, that didn't result in us concentrating our efforts down the opposite flank. Why not ? I've no idea. I would have thought it was clear for everyone to see
In amongst all the frustrating and fruitless play around their box, we had one enormous scare when they should have wrapped the game up. A hoofed clearance fell to Ben Petty just inside his own half with Wicks in support and a bit of time. But his attempted control was woeful and the ball skidded behind him into the path of a gleeful striker. Only a great, solid block, low down to his right, from Muzz kept us in the game. Chances for us ? Sort of. Beresford continued to hare down the wing and put in a succession of crosses of differing pace and quality. Most were cleared low at the near post, some flew across the area untouched, and whenever they were only partially blocked we never, ever had anyone coming in to pick up the half clearance to finish it off. He had a couple of efforts on his right foot, again after cutting inside. One flew wide, the other straight at the keeper. Alexander did likewise when he eventually worked himself some space on the edge of the area and Johnsson also had a dipping drive fly just over. But it was all a bit too frantic and uncontrolled. Right at the death Matthews failed to get his foot over the ball when it fell invitingly to him inside the area resulting in the crowd on Bunkers again being called into evasive action.
In conclusion then, another very disappointing evening. We could question the tactics, the choice of players, the substitutions. We could question the attitude of some of the team. We could put it down to well organised opponents. But we'd be wasting our time. If our season is to get back on the rails in time to get us into that third automatic promotion spot, or into the play-offs again, then it can only be done by the club staff. Mr Little said earlier in the week about us just needing to get a goal, a win, somehow, anyhow, just to get us back on track. Ah yes, a flukey deflection, a fortuitous referring decision or an outragous own goal could well spark a revivial. It just needs a bit of luck. Sorry but I'm not totally convinced. I make no apologies for delving into the 'Football Manager's Book of Standard Cliches' and suggesting that there is more than a grain of truth in the one about making your own luck in this game. We aren't going to strike it lucky in front of goal unless we show far more inventiveness, unless someone miraculously gets their confidence back, or we put teams under greater pressure than was on show last night.
For the superstitious amongst you, the defeat by Blackpool this time last year was followed by that great run of results that took us to two extra games against Orient. So there is hope obviously. But I have to admit that recent performances have dented even my faith and belief a little bit.
Report by: Keith Dean