A Carlisle Season Of Mysteries Even Sherlock Would Struggle To Solve
Carlisle United spent the first half of the season finding ways to win. They have spent the second half exploring new ways of losing.
It has been an extraordinary season of ups and downs. The marvellous form up to Christmas when United exuded confidence, followed by a dreadful run of defeats, and the inability to score, just when a play off place was the least supporters might have anticipated.
Sherlock Holmes the great detective said that, once the impossible has been eliminated, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, is the truth. But even the expert sleuth of Baker Street would have struggled to account for Carlisle’s difficulties.
Yes, some factors are obvious. Not least among them the departure of 18-goal striker Charlie Wyke, with his move to Bradford at the end of the January transfer window. Significantly Wyke continued banging in the goals in the higher division. It seems United had no choice but to allow Wyke to speak to his new club after a £250,000 clause in his contract was triggered.
Chief executive Nigel Clibbens, at the time, insisted: “Bradford submitted an offer and we could not have done any more in trying to keep him.”
But Carlisle’s slide can be traced back weeks before Wyke’s departure, to a game just before Christmas away to Luton Town when both skipper Danny Grainger and influential midfield man Mike Jones sustained injuries that were to prove lengthy and costly.
Whenever Carlisle have had an injury this season it has invariably affected a key performer. And every time they get a player back they seem to lose another one. With Wyke already gone, second top scorer Jason Kennedy was next in the treatment room and in one fell swoop, United had lost 29 goals out of their team at an important stage in the season.
As if to rub salt in the wounds, they were also to lose the man who, in the eyes of just about every supporter, had been player of the season, Nicky Adams, to a hamstring strain.
Manager Keith Curle agreed: “Adams has been a very industrious and creative player for us. With the amount of games Nicky has played it would have been nice to have the option of giving him a rest, but we haven’t been able to because of results and his ability.”
Add to that injury list the likes of Michael Raynes and Jabo Ibehre and it’s been a testing time for United’s squad which, when the campaign opened, looked one of the strongest in quality if not in depth in League Two.
Curle said: “At the start of the season we had a squad of 21 players and we went undefeated for a long time.
“We have had challenges to face and we accept we have not been able to get the consistency in our team because of different circumstances.”
He added: “Results breed confidence in this industry and you get results by doing the right things at the right times.”
With a threadbare squad, the Carlisle chief brought in a number of late season signings, several of whom did not nearly match the impact and quality of those they were asked to cover for.
At times United played like a team waiting for something to go wrong; defeats as much a mental aberration as anything to do with lack of effort or ability. At least the play offs remained feasible going into the Easter program.
For Danny Grainger, the mystery of United’s declining form remained exactly that.
He said: “You don’t go on a run we had at the start of the season and then become a bad team overnight. We lost a lot of goals from the team in January and we lost key players at key points.”
Grainger felt that few teams in League Two had sustained an injury run as severe as Carlisle’s.
He added: “We are not going to sit here and use that as a reason. There’s enough in our dressing room that could have got us more results than we have got.”
After a season of off-field distractions, notably the “billionaire” saga, on-field injuries, record unbeaten runs and dramatic loss of form, at least Carlisle kept their fans’ interest alive at the right end of the table, not always the case at Brunton Park in recent times.