Record Last Season + Quick Summary:
League Two - 10th; W 17 / D 16 / L 13 / F 62 / A 54 / Pts 67
Disappointment would be the operative word for the Cumbrians’ 2017/2018. On the back of a 6-5 aggregate loss in the play-off semi-final to Exeter City in the previous campaign, the season started slowly, yielding only two wins from the opening eight fixtures. There were some impressive margins of victory before Christmas, broken up by high-scoring draws. A mixed Christmas segued into 2018, where Keith Curle’s men have only lost four in the current year, but they didn’t manage to turn one point into three in an exceedingly high number of games, and there arose a sinking feeling that Curle had taken the club as far as his talents allowed. John Sheridan was appointed in early June, immediately setting the ambition for Carlisle United to be promoted in 2018/2019.
Top Goalscorer: Jamie Devitt (10 goals in 30 starts/2,871 minutes)
Top Creator: Jamie Devitt (5 assists in 30 starts/2,871 minutes)
Manager/Head Coach: John Sheridan; the former Republic of Ireland midfielder, capped at USA ’94, had an excellent playing career, amassing over 700 appearances in all competitions and the bulk of those were in the top flight. Retiring at Oldham Athletic a few months short of his 40th birthday, his relationship with the Latics would be renewed several times a manager. Controversy saw him leave Boundary Park after three fruitful years, whereupon he crossed the county border into Derbyshire to take over at Chesterfield. In his second season, he lifted the League Two title with the Spireites, just about holding off the challenge of a resurgent Bury and Wycombe Wanderers. Despite winning the EFL Trophy in 2012, he couldn’t prevent them slipping straight back into the basement division.
He was put on gardening leave by the club that August, taking up the cudgels at Plymouth Argyle at the turn of the year. His best period with the Pilgrims was leading them to the play-offs in 2014/2015, only to succumb over two legs against Wycombe. A brief spell at Newport County was followed by a return to Oldham, saving them from relegation before again moving away, this time with Notts County. A disastrous nine-game losing streak and a rant at the officials got him sacked for gross misconduct.
10 days later, he was back in the dugout at Oldham (for a fifth time, including caretaker roles). He led them to safety when they appeared utterly doomed. In September of last year, he left for what might prove to be the final time, but it wasn’t too long before Fleetwood Town came calling, who were hovering just above the drop zone. Once more, he led a side to safety in the third tier and now finds himself in Cumbria, tasked with steering his charges into at least the top seven.
Ins: Gary Miller (Plymouth Argyle), Joe Fryer (Middlesbrough U23s on loan), George Glendon (Fleetwood Town), Macauley Gillesphey (Newcastle United U23s) & Adam Collin (Notts County).
Outs: Luke Joyce (Port Vale), Shaun Miller (Crewe Alexandra), Morgan Brown (free agent), Nicky Adams (Bury), Mark Ellis (Tranmere Rovers), Jamal Campbell-Ryce (Stevenage), Tom Miller (Bury), John O’Sullivan (Blackpool), Reggie Lambe (Cambridge United), Cameron Salkeld (Gateshead), Samir Nabi (Torquay United) & Clint Hill (retired).
Predicted First XI & Shape:
Tactics: Adam Collin will need to convince the Brunton Park from the get-go that he still has the capability to be an imposing force in goal. This is his second spell with the Blues and he does not return with glowing references from Notts County. He’s a puncher and has a tendency to rush out of his comfort zone, two aspects of play that can go horribly wrong. Protecting him will be Tom Parkes, who’s tall, strong and does the basics well. Unusually, both starting centre backs are predominately left-footed. Macauley Gillesphey had two loan periods in the last couple of years before signing permanently this summer, and has proven himself to more effective in the middle than out wide.
Replacing one Miller with another, Gary won’t roam forward too much and this is likely to be the case with Danny Grainger. The back four as a unit could sit quite deeply in matches they’re not expected to control, but Grainger’s early crossing accuracy does give them a creative outlet, if he’s given the time to pick out one of the target men up top. George Glendon will hold fort, mopping up loose balls and will aim his passes for the runs of Jamie Devitt. Mike Jones is more of a central midfielder these days, adding more aggression in the tackle and positional flexibility to his playing style. He hasn’t lost any of his speed and his dribbling can mesmerise defenders at times.
Next to him could be either Jason Kennedy or Kelvin Etuhu, two quite different players who both suffered awful injuries last season. The latter is nominally defensive, but has a tendency to drift out wide to the right flank, which is a double-edged sword when things need to be kept tight. On the other hand, it means he can offer more immediate support to Devitt and any forays forward Miller manages to make.
Devitt will once again carry the creative burden of the team. He’s the one that they look to in order to conjure something up out of nothing. He’s agile, potent from free kicks and usually opts for placement over power with his long range shooting. He’ll need to stick close to the front two to prevent them from becoming isolated. Cole Stockton is a hard-working striker, who is quick on the turn but needs to take some of the strain away from Devitt in the goalscoring department. He’ll be partnered with Richie Bennett, who’ll use his power in the air to win knockdowns and get on the end of any diagonals played into the 18 yard box.
Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Safe but sorry; the business done by Sheridan to date doesn’t particularly set the pulse racing. That in itself is not necessarily a negative, but they didn’t have anyone up front in double figures last season, and that must change for Carlisle to achieve what Sheridan stated on his first day in situ. The over-reliance on Devitt must cease also, as opposition managers and scouts will be wiser to the threats he has in his arsenal. The melancholy that appeared in the latter days of Curle’s reign doesn’t show any signs of dissipating, and the goalkeeper area is a worry. Harder times might be around the corner in Cumbria.