Nathan Critchlow prepares to tell the children that Carlisle United’s struggling manager is living happily on a farm.
I am not often one to pen an article in anger; however the recent events at Brunton Park have prompted me to do just that. The 4-0 home defeat to already crisis-riddled club Coventry City was the final straw.
Now even I accept League One football is hardly front page news, however the plight of Carlisle United is scarcely covered by the national press who prefer the predicaments of ‘sleeping giants’ such as Coventry City, Sheffield United and Wolves. In fact I had to look with all the cunning of a fox who has just been appointed as professor of cunning at Oxford University to locate much national reference to Saturday’s home debacle. I know that the little Northern stronghold of Carlisle isn’t exactly Barcelona or Bayern Munich, nor are we being forced to play our home games at Gretna (or some other close equivalent), but without publicising our current predicament we may become another club on the footballing scrap heap.
Without the supporting prop of Coventry City (who have been deducted points for administration) Carlisle would be rock bottom of League One and quite simply hapless manager, Greg Abbott is running the club into the ground. I accept the argument that it is too early in the season to judge a club’s true performance; however the problems under Abbott’s reign of manager are much deeper than just a few bumpy results this season.
Greg’s tenure at Carlisle reminds me very much of the tale of ‘Old Yeller’. Okay, admittedly nobody has (publically) seen Greg stealing meat from smokehouses, nor has he saved many young children from wild boar attacks. But Greg (I’m not calling him ‘Old Greg’, this isn’t Mighty Boosh) seems to have fought his last fight and is being left penned in by the board until his last growl prompts them to take him out back and introduce him ‘to their little friend’ (no euphemism intended). Just like Old Yeller we’ve had some good times with Greg (he won the Football League Trophy at Wembley), but reliance on that focal moment in history is dangerous and the story is turning sour. Current attendances are tumbling both home and away and it is easy to see why.
Firstly Abbott has completely ignored the defensive frailties of last season. In fact Carlisle’s current defence has all the stability of a blind, one-legged person, made incredibly dizzy, standing on the wing of a fighter jet at supersonic speed. In context, the defence shipped a League One high of 77 goals in 2012/2013 and it certainly seems like Abbott is a man for beating his own standards. So far results in the league (5-1 to Leyton Orient, 4-0 to newly promoted Bradford City, 4-0 to rock bottom Coventry City) suggest, that at an average of 4.33 goals conceded per game, we may ship 199 goals this season. That’d would leave as the English equivalent of that American Samoa team that got humped 21-0 by Australia (it is handy to have the Guiness book of World Records by the toilet, it makes for fantastically pointless facts like that).
Such fragility could have been sorted by a few shrewd transfers in the summer. In particular the holes left by previous custodian Adam Collin (now at Rotherham United) and club Legend Peter Murphy (‘Murph’, now retired) have not been filled, nor have the gaps that already existed. The core and the spirit of the side which reached the play-offs in recent history allowed to drift off without amble replacements.
Although Carlisle don’t have unlimited funds, Abbott certainly hasn’t had his hands tied behind his back as he has brought in ten players during the summer transfer window. However, from those ten players only three were actually defenders and even worse of those three one has already gone (Reece James, injury) and one was signed from lower league Mansfield (and seems to have been at a lower level for a very good reason). Honestly, watch some of Carlisle’s highlights this season, some of the defending would have the members of Monty Python scrambling for paper to take notes on comedy timing and execution.
His flexibility and versatility in the transfer windows seems to be one of Abbott’s main weaknesses (with the exception of David Amoo and Rory Loy who appear to be half-decent). A classic example of recently poor transfer dealing and leadership was the sale of Paddy Madden who, now a league up in the Championship with Yeovil Town, made his debut for the Republic of Ireland last week. Abbott clearly couldn’t get the best out of Madden and, despite his successful loan spell at Yeovil, still decided to sell him rather than harness his recent good form in Carlisle’s midfield. Couple the Madden decision with the sale of midfielder Andy Welsh and Mathieu Manset (who played in the 4-0 home rout) then it is not hard to see why Carlisle are struggling. Why rotate and ultimately sell 1st choice keeper Adam Collin, when his replacement (Mark Gillespie) would seemingly struggle to have his voice heard in a library, let alone by the teenage defenders 10 yards ahead of him? Is this a bit harsh? No watch the Bradford highlights. The communication is simply embarrassing.
Even worse than the Madden debacle is Greg Abbott’s handling of Nakhi Wells. Having being offered a contract after a trial even I must admit that Wells didn’t set the world on fire. That said, he was quick, committed and clearly had a good eye for the game. He publically announced that he wanted to play in the Football League Trophy final against Brentford but ultimately didn’t make the match day squad and was released from the club in the summer of 2011. Wells, however, did eventually get his Wembley wish, playing for Bradford against Swansea City in the League Cup final (scoring against Aston Villa in the semi-final of the competition). Moreover, he has scored 31 goals in just 75 appearances since joining Bradford. I watched him throughout the latter rounds of the cup and couldn’t believe we’d just let him walk away. Why couldn’t Abbott get the same out of Nahki Wells as Phil Parkinson is? Bad tactics? Bad man-management? Bad luck? Truth-be-told it was probably all three. But a lucky manager is better than a talented one, no?
It could be argued that maybe Wells was just not suited to the level of League One football. However, when we consider his recent form with Bradford City we have to think that maybe he is every bit a League One player. Just to rub coarse salt into the wounds Wells scored in the recent 4-0 demolition of Carlisle at Valley Parade. Did he celebrate? Of course he did.
Even victory over Blackburn Rovers in the Capital One cup (via penalties) has struggled to life the mood of Carlisle supporters. The supporters know all too well of the perils of relegation (with a spell in the conference still within recent memory) and, myself included, are scared all of the good work over recent years is becoming stale and being undone. Truth-be-told the game against Blackburn just saw two youthful teams, devoid of leaders, playing like, well, like two youthful teams completely devoid of leadership. Many will perhaps be looking to the visit of Leicester City (in the next round) will trepidation rather than excitement. Will they be as lax as Blackburn? No. League clubs will look at the success of Bradford last season and they’ll fancy a run this season. We don’t have a chance, although I pray otherwise (money, money, money).
However, it is important not to lay 100% of the blame at Abbott’s door (only 96% of it). He isn’t a bad guy. He took Carlisle to Wembley twice (winning once) and even took a reduced contract at the club. But this situation reminds me of Steve Kean (less chickens though), Terry Connor and Old Yeller. Sometimes, it is just better to admit our mistakes, get the shotgun out and nip round the back on the promise of better things. However, it must be noted that the Carlisle board remain scared to react to such poor results. It is easy to understand why the board gravitate towards Abbott’s ability to ‘penny pinch’, but they seem to fail to understand that the results so far have been terrible, soulless, relegation-standard football. They also fail to understand that, without positive results, attendances will continue to drop which will force them to tighten the purse strings even more which will lead to more crap football which will lead to lower attendances and……you get the picture.
It is not like the fans are even asking the board to relocate Brunton Park to the bloody moon. League One and League Two is blessed with a number of good managers (both experienced and new) who are great a working with and blooding younger players. Take Eddie Howe for example who structured and led Bournemouth to the Championship (and even secured a glamour friendly against Real Madrid) or Micky Adam’s Port Vale who are on continually well-run upward curve. These guys know how to build a solid foundation and effective football club. That’s what the fans want, and presumably that is what the board want. So why can’t the board just take the gamble? Greg Abbott, as one fan wryly noted on the club’s Facebook page, “couldn’t run a bath”. The worse that could happen is they could gamble and get relegated. What the alternative? Stick with Greg and (by his own admission) get relegated anyway?
The future could be bright for Carlisle. Youngsters like Alex Salmon and (ex-Manchester City) Chris Chantler are decent young players, who need an arm around them that allows them believe their own hype. Nineteen year old Mark Beck is another good example. One can’t help but think he could be as good as Gary Madine, yet Abbott’s tactics leave him helplessly isolated.
Greg is out of his depth and Carlisle United are sinking faster than the Titanic. It’s time for change. C’mon Old Greg, there is something out back…..