Carlisle United Season Preview

carlisleThe Football Lab interviewed Carlisle United fan John McGee ahead of the new season. You can follow him on Twitter @epouvantail. Here, he discusses the key signing of goalscorer Billy Paynter, the departure of midfielder James Berrett, and an all-round hectic summer for the club.One of the players has openly stated that lack of effort was a factor behind Carlisle’s relegation. With 21 squad members leaving, have you got rid of the players you needed to?That needs some context. The player in question was Liam Noble who’d just that week been released to the surprise of many fans. The lad was never one for keeping himself to himself. That said, the words did bear the ring of truth, we were absolutely dismal in the second half of last year and deservedly relegated. As for the slash and burn approach being the right one, time will tell, but it certainly would have been most folks’ approach. A lot of players had gone stangnant and many simply weren’t very good. It’s freed up an enormous amount of wage bill too. This is now Kavanagh’s team – it stands or falls in his image. There’s a pleasingly pure truth in that; in triumph or despair the start of our season is bound to be worth following.

Midfielder Anthony Sweeney had been a loyal servant at his previous club, while left-back Danny Grainger supported Carlisle as a kid. Are these new players the type who will offer more commitment to the cause?

I think that’s the idea. They’re also big lads – both 6’2″. The defining image of last season was probably Wigan loanee Danny Redmond, all 5’3″ of him, scampering about all guile and thrust, and being muscled off the ball. We were a tiny, timid team and these signings look to address that. Sweeney will probably offer something going forward, we lacked goals from midfield last year. And Grainger has undoubted quality – he’s a lad many have wanted in a Blue shirt for a long time and has gone on record that he wants to perform ‘to a level where I can still be proud to walk down the high street in Carlisle.’ You have to love that.

You used 4 different goalkeepers last season, and now Dan Hanford arrives on a free. Who do you expect to see between the sticks against Luton on the opening day?

Barring injury it’ll definitely be Mark Gillespie. He played every game until injury in December and most of the previous season too. His reputation is as one of the best young keepers outside the top two tiers and his injury was a real shame development wise. That said, Ben Amos and Jordan Pickford were probably the best two loanees we had last year so the fact we used 4 keepers is a minor grumble!

Defender Troy Archibald-Henville had an injury-stricken time on loan at Brunton Park last season. Are you confident the worst is behind him?

That isn’t strictly true. Troy was only with us a month and played every game. He returned to Swindon with an injury but then played most of the latter part of the season. His injury issues are a worry, but that’s the type of risk smaller clubs have to take. A 75% fit TA-H is the best centre-half in this league. The suggestion is that he now knows how to nurse his knees, a la Ledley King. I hope so as if he stays in the team, we’ll be very tough to beat.

Midfielder James Berrett played 198 times for the club in 4 years. Are you saddened to see him leave?

Personally, yes, but that isn’t a widely held sentiment. ‘Bez’ was quite poor last year by his excellent standards, but even then his place in the side should never have been in question. He’s a very savvy player who moves the ball quickly and cleverly. He’s a bit lightweight, so many fans just never fancied him but he never ‘went missing’ as many thought. He should probably be remembered as Greg Abbott’s best ever signing. It says a lot that he was the only player to survive ‘Kavanagh’s Cull’ to my eyes. I’m less upset now he’s been replaced with Gary Dicker, who was a Rolls Royce in Gus Poyet’s instaiable Brighton side. He should have League 2 on toast. One thing I won’t miss are Berrett’s corners – absolutely dreadful.

In recent years, midfielder Danny Kearns has played a part in League Two promotions for Rotherham and Chesterfield. Could he be a good signing?

I hope so. Of the players we’ve signed he’s the one I know the least about, but his track record looks positive. We lacked flair last year and I think he’s come in to fit that bill – from the Posh fans I’ve asked about him, he’s had a good write-up so I’m excited to see what he can do.

Lee Miller scored just 5 goals last season, and now joins Kilmarnock. What are your thoughts on his departure?

Glad to see him go for his and our sake. In his first season he was the best centre forward in League One. Last year he was an absolute donkey who couldn’t hit a barn door. The sitters he missed against Shrewsbury and Stevenage probably got us relegated in the end and the crowd had massively turned on him. A shame that he isn’t remembered for the good times, but for his scratchy impression of the Tin Man lying in a crumpled heap on the Brunton Park turf all too often last year. I wish him well at Kilmarnock, he’s a really nice fella, but the romance flickered out for he and Carlisle a while ago.

Just 2 years ago, striker Billy Paynter was Doncaster’s top scorer in their League One promotion season. Could he be a good signing?

I’m tempted to start his answer by asking ‘what do you think?’ When I saw the released list and made my imaginary list of targets I thought we might stretch ourselves to get I scrubbed his name off as ‘no chance’. I was absolutely gobsmacked when he pitched up. A mate of mine met another L2 gaffer recently and the subject of Paynter came up – ‘top of everyone in our league’s list, no doubt’ reckoned the man in the know. Can’t remember the last time that happened for Carlisle. I just hope we get Doncaster and Swindon Paynter, not Leeds United Paynter.

You used a total of 48 different players last season. Is more consistency in team selection needed this time?

Unquestionably. What wasn’t much reported was that we had a ridiculous injury list, loan players who’d replaced loan players were getting injured! That said, it did feel a bit like Blind Date looking at the teamsheet at times last season and one or two of those names are rightly banished to the Carlisle United annex of Room 101 (Paul Black, Nacho Novo, I’m looking at you two lads). You can see from the calibre and thrust of the signings that there’s a plan now, where there was none. All going well the team will be built around Gillespie, Archibald-Henville, Dicker, Brad Potts, Sweeney, Kearns and Paynter. Our matchday 18 looks pretty settled already.

With most bookmakers, Carlisle are at around 9/2 for promotion. Where will you finish?

Those odds have come in quite far in the last couple of weeks. I guess that’ll happen when you sign 11 players in 26 days! As to where we’ll finish, I never like answering questions like this. I said we’d be midtable last year! Our fans are optimistic though – providing the team gels they think we have a playoff squad. I see merit in that view, but they said it at large, not me.

TFL Verdict

Carlisle’s squad certainly needed an overhaul, but it might take a change of manager to truly re-ignite things. Late play-off challenge. 8th

(Image from http://www.carlisleunited.co.uk/)