At the beginning of this season, I wasn’t really sure what could be have been described as a success for Carlisle United. As delighted as I would be to gain promotion to the Championship, with the attendances we currently attract and with a distinct lack of the kind of funds being invested by the likes of Huddersfield and Charlton I don’t believe promotion to be a realistic aim for Carlisle United Football Club quite yet.
That said, I don’t believe us to be a long way short of building a squad capable of having a serious crack at the play-offs. The mixture of youth and experience which Greg Abbott has brought together, largely (although not solely) for free, seems to be beginning to reap the rewards of a little continuity within the ranks. After years of squad upheaval and turmoil behind the scenes at Brunton Park a couple of years (almost boring) solidarity was exactly what the doctor ordered.
There is however one single huge issue within our squad. Left back. In his first season at United Matt Robson, firmly a left winger by trade, was player of the season. His direct running at defenders with the ball and raw pace turned him quickly into a fans favourite. His transformation into a left back has far from been the ideal solution to a problem which Carlisle have faced in this position since another fans favourite, Zigor Aranalde, hung up his boots in 2008.
Evan Horwood was tried there, and although he did have some good attacking attributes, for a left back most of his defending was extremely suspect. Ian Harte followed but was quickly transferred to centre half after some more shaky defensive displays. Thomas Cruise, once of Arsenal Champions League fame rather than that bloke from films, also had a go. Less we mention about that the better.
It looked at one point as if we’d cracked it. Sean McDaid joined as United’s first signing from Doncaster Rovers before the 2010/2011 season and quickly impressed. Playing in Carlisle’s first twelve games of that season, McDaid looked to have overcome the injury problems that had blighted his last few seasons at Doncaster. It wasn’t to be. After only twelve games McDaid suffered a completely fresh knee injury which ultimately lead to his early retirement from professional football.
Robson initially stepped in as cover in the position and has used every cliché in a footballers armoury to describe his switch back a row on the field. Happy to be playing, giving it his all, helping the lads out, would play in any position if asked, the list goes on. The fact of the matter is Robson isn’t a defender and however you dress it up, as a defender, your primary job has to be defending. Perhaps he is good at going forward, perhaps his crossing is good, perhaps he is quick, all of these attributes are the ones that made him that player of the season on the left wing.
His defensive positioning isn’t a strong point; I can see that and I’m not paid to coach our team. I don’t blame Matt Robson for this, it’s a fact of life. He’s an attacking player in the same way I’m not playing every Saturday as I’m really not very good, that’s just the way things are. Robson certainly still has a role to play within our squad. His attacking attributes frighten many a full back every Saturday in the same way his defensive efforts frighten me.
Until we address this elephant in the room then a serious crack at the Championship is nothing but a pipe dream for United. A January signing or two could well turn another mid-table season into something a whole lot more.
Written by Mark Nicholson, We Are Going Up’s Carlisle United Blogger
Mark tweets at @fromthepaddock