‘We now face the biggest battle we have had in years’: relegation fears loom large at Carlisle United

Twelve months ago, everything was looking extremely bright and promising for Carlisle United – but fast-forward to now and everything is extremely dull and disappointing.

The Blues, who were closing in on a return to League One for the first time in seven years, are now fighting to prevent Brunton Park (pic above by Ben Challis) from losing its Football League status.

Under former manager, Chris Beech, Carlisle United sat in second place at the closing of the January transfer window in 2021. At the end of the 2022 January transfer window, with new manager Keith Millen at the helm, the successor to Beech, Carlisle United now find themselves sitting third bottom of the league and only a mere two points clear of the dreaded relegation zone.

So why do Carlisle United find themselves in such danger now?

Mike Booth from the ‘Brunton Bugle’, a podcast dedicated to Carlisle United, believes that the current campaign isn’t a massive shock to himself and other United fans.

He said:” This season has been a hangover from the abysmal second-half of last season, but with a poorer squad.

“Whilst the change in manager brought in a new style of play and provided us with a few good results, the fundamental issue still remains in that we don’t have any leaders or any nastiness amongst the players, and it’s costing us games.”

Jon Colman, a reporter for the News and Star who covers Carlisle United, agrees with Booth that the season has been both disappointing and worrying.

“Carlisle have spent most of the campaign in the lower reaches of League Two and, other than a brief winter revival under Keith Millen, remain very much in the mire. They are the lowest goalscorers in the division, which in itself sums up how weak they have been. It is going to be a long and arduous run-in and victories are needed soon to generate any confidence that the Blues can pull away from trouble,” said Colman.

The January transfer window was a big opportunity for manager Millen to bring in new additions to the squad to increase quality and depth to help improve the Blues’ chances of survival.

The best news of the transfer window for United faithful was to see the return on former fan-favourite Jamie Devitt on a permanent deal until the end of the current season.

As well as the addition of Devitt, United also brought in three more forwards in Owen Windsor, Tobi Sho Silva and the experienced Kristian Dennis, all in the final hour of the window to boost the attacking options for Keith Millen.

Booth said: “It’s hard to cast a real judgement over the transfer window but with four attacking players all signing on deadline day screams panic stations to me, but time will tell.

“We did bring in some experience in Dennis and Devitt, but I still feel we needed to add more faces who are experienced with lower league football and that are tactically smart.”

Only one time in the history of Carlisle United the club lost their football status which was in 2004 before coming back up the very next season as Conference play-off winners, beating Stevenage 1-0 at Wembley thanks to a goal from Derek Holmes.

The previous time before then, when Carlisle United were close to relegation, is arguably the most famous goal in English football. The date was the eight of May 1999, and Carlisle needed a win in the final game of the season to stay in the Football League.

The game, against Plymouth at Brunton Park, was level 1-1 and with 10 seconds remaining on the clock, Carlisle goalkeeper, Jimmy Glass, thundered a rebound from a corner into the goal and kept Carlisle in both business and the Football League.

Jimmy Glass’ heroics kept Carlisle United Football Club alive

With the business aspect of football significantly changing over the last few years, relegation now for the Blues could hurt a lot harder than it did in 2004, and it’s down to one thing…money.

“It would be fanciful to expect Carlisle to bounce straight back, for particular reasons. One is that the National League now is hyper competitive, with clubs spending big money and other established clubs of good size all competing to get back up.

“Another is that, in 2004, Carlisle were already in the process of transformation under the management of Paul Simpson and, subsequently, the ownership of Fred Story. There were good vibes around the club after many years of crisis. The current regime do not enjoy that sort of popularity to say the least, and it would feel like a really dispiriting slump were Carlisle to go down in this shape” Colman expressed.

With 17 important games left to go in the season, there is still time for Carlisle United to progress away from the relegation zone, but, results need to start picking up to ensure that fans will not be praying for Jimmy Glass-esque moment to save the Blues once more.